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The music business is one of the most competitive industries out there. For decades, the best a good band could hope for was to tour extensively, praying that a talent scout was at one of their shows or somehow got their demo (and actually listened to it) and then signed them to a label deal. But to say times have changed is an understatement, as big as the business itself.
With an endless pool of talent out there — not to mention countless ways to share and release your music — what does it take to break in?
Start with three of the most popular books about the music business, written by authors who all speak from experience and offer a road-map to success, based upon their own unique perspectives.
How To Make It in the New Music Business tells the real-life inspirational story of Ari Herstand, from his narrative, quitting his day job and supporting himself as an independent musician ever since. The book lays out a clear path of steps to take if you want to build up a following and earn royalties from getting your tracks into television and film. It’s a fun and informative read for every artist out there looking to live off their creative craft.
The Realist’s Guide to a Successful Music Career pairs a successful indie musician, Umphrey McGee’s Joel Cummins, with author Matt DeCoursey. The book pulls no punches when it comes to practical steps to becoming a professional, with testimonials from celebs like Robbie Williams and Huey Lewis.
Finally, All You Need to Know About the Music Business isn’t told by a musician at all, but rather a lawyer who’s worked in the business. The book has been consistently updated for over 20 years, and offers both current and timeless advice for anyone looking to make it in this fiercely competitive field.
All three may offer different viewpoints, but one key driver of success they all share: hard work. Talent is necessary, but will only get you so far. The rest relies on focusing your efforts on the right places — like establishing a constant presence on social media — playing frequent shows, and building a strong and loyal fan base from scratch.
It’s an unprecedented era for artists right now. Home-recording is easier and more accessible than ever, as is interacting with fans from a phone, and building a following from your bedroom studio. If you’re making music and hoping to make it big, definitely add these to your reading list.
1. How To Make It in the New Music Business
Ari Herstand’s book argues that now is the best time ever to be a D.I.Y. musician, and he explains how to take advantage of all that this industry renaissance has to offer.
Herstand walks you through everything here from the ground up, citing his own personal experience, quitting his barista job and diving in fully to be an independent musician. The book explains the importance of things like establishing a constant presence on social media, getting songs placed in film and TV shows, and building a grassroots fanbase. And of course, earning money to keep your career going for the long haul.
The book does a great job of explaining the process of generating royalties and crowdfunding goals, all while delivering important info in a witty and wise tone that’s comprehensive but never condescending.
2. The Realist’s Guide to a Successful Music Career
This book covers all the bases of building a lifelong career in music – both onstage and off, breaking down the giant industry into easily digestible chunks.
Joel Cummins, keyboardist/vocalist for Umphrey McGee, speaks from experience here, clearly communicating the avoidable traps and setbacks that rookie artists tend to fall into, all while inspiring ideas and driving the point home at the end of each chapter with relevant interviews with stars like Huey Lewis and Susan Tedeschi.
But this book isn’t just for musicians either. The advice here expands to others that may want to get into the business, like agents and managers, and presents the path to success without sugar-coating it.
3. All You Need to Know About the Music Business
Donald Passman’s iconic music guidebook was first published in 1991. Nine editions later, this book is still a go-to bible of the business, providing advice for musicians, managers, promoters, and publishers alike.
Though the landscape has changed significantly since the Nineties, the book effortlessly keeps up with the times. Passman, a Texas-based attorney, clearly walks you through navigating record deals, securing copyrights, immersing your music in digital streaming, and maximizing profits all around.
At a time when no one really knows what’s next, or even if the giant labels will survive, Passman offers authoritative wisdom to keep you focused and make sure your career is on-track.