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Basics of the Business

November 11, 2010

Because it’s so hard for an independent artist to make a living by selling music, it pays to have an understanding of the basics (and then some) of the wild world that is the music business of today. In making my transition from the finance world to the biz over the last few years, I’ve come across a lot of great resources that artists can tap to gain knowledge of how the business side of music works and to stay up on current trends (which seem to change daily) that impact how we all bring in money. I also think that these are useful sources of information for people working at labels, publishers, music technology companies, and other businesses that are tied to music.

Here are my picks:

  • THE Book—if you’re looking for an informative, entertaining read on the essentials of the music business, there is nowhere to go but All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Don Passman. The author is one of the top entertainment lawyers out there, but not only does he know his stuff, he presents it in a very entertaining and understandable way. There is A LOT of detail in here, but it’s stuff that you really want to know. You can always skip sections if you really don’t have the time—say, if you are not and will never be a songwriter, pass on the publishing royalties sections. This book is in its 7th Edition now, updated last year, so it’s pretty current and applicable to today’s environment (the version I read years ago was before iTunes!).
  • An Industry Conference—I went to South By Southwest a couple of years ago and it was really worth it. The good ones like SXSW, CMJ in New York, and Next Big Nashville here in Middle Tennessee offer a lot of information on current trends but also some basic knowledge here and there. While the attendance fees can be tough on the wallet, the payoff in knowledge can be pretty big, and if you can score a local gig either through the conference showcase or at another venue in town, you might even be able to break even on the trip.
  • Basic Finance Course—this might not seem like the most interesting thing for right-brainers, but everyone could use a basic budgeting and money management education, no matter what their profession. I can’t recommend any specific courses or programs, but anything near your hometown at a community college or even at your community center that’s geared toward Personal Finance 101 would help.
  • Billboard Magazine/—There is no better magazine for keeping up with the music business. Because it prints on a weekly basis, the magazine has articles on all of the latest happenings in the business, and they also do a lot of annual stories like the Maximum Exposure List, which ranks the best ways for promoting music, that are helpful. The subscription of $299/year for the print/online versions or $19.95/month for the online only version is a little pricey, but you get access to all of their daily articles and extended album charts, too.
  •—this is a website I came across the other day that has good web videos, some from conferences, from industry veterans explaining some financial basics, including the revenues streams available to artists/songwriters and costs of touring. The main sight also has videos and articles on some other relevant industry topics (Marketing and Promotions Budgets in Today’s Smooth Jazz Market?).
  • Blogs,Blogs,Blogs—there really are some good blogs out there dedicated to the music business, and while I haven’t found any current ones specifically related to artist finances or business basics that I recommend, you can stay up-to-date on changes going on in the business by reading or get tips from industry pros at The constant changes of the business can also have a big impact on the ways that you can make money and ultimately your personal financial situation, so it’s best to stay up on this information, too.

But you say that you’re just too busy with the artistic side of your job to possibly read all of this stuff? I’m with you there, especially when things are changing so much. My advice is to put Passman’s book next on your list of reading material (on the road, at the beach, etc.) and reach out to someone you trust who can fill in the blanks—a mentor who’s still in the business and has been there before, your mom who has balanced her checkbook for all these years, or an accountant friend you can trust.

With so much information out there on the Internet and in books and magazines, it really is easy to get a solid grasp on how the financial side of music-making works. I hope that you find these tools useful, and I invite you to use the comments section to post links to other resources that you’ve found helpful.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 10:53 PM


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