How to get started in the music business
So many people want to succeed in the music business, but they don't themselves a chance. This page can't guarantee success, but your chances are improving already. First you need an ambition. Let's put a few of the most desirable careers in order of preference:
- To become a solo artist
- To have a band
- To play in a band
- To be a producer
- To be a songwriter
- To be a recording engineer
- To be a live sound engineer
- To work around music
Now you need to consider what your chances are of success in each of these.
- Look at yourself in the mirror. Do you see a charismatic person who can inspire millions of people to love you? Are you a success in your social circle? Do people want to be with you? Do you have your pick of girlfriends/boyfriends? If you want to become a successful solo artist you have to be able to say yes. And that has to be a very honest yes. Ask your friends - see what they think your chances are.
- Or, when you look in the mirror do you see someone who could inspire sympathy, empathy, emotional connection. Are you deep and meaningful? Or just vague. If you have deep thoughts and emotions, and millions of people would want to tune in to them, then you could be a solo artist.
Hmm. That should have sorted quite a few people out.
To Have A Band
Let's drop down the ladder a rung. When I say 'have a band', I mean be the leader, or perhaps co-leader. It's your band and the other members will gladly do things the way you want.
- Are you any of the following:
- A great showman/woman?
- A great singer?
- A great writer?
- A great musician?
- Notorious for your personal excesses?
- Unless you are at least one of the above, you can't have a band. Tough. The last point is oddly true - more than a few bands have little more to offer than the vicarious enjoyment of bad behavior. There's really nothing to admire in someone drinking or drugging themselves to death or despond, but the public does seem to feed on this sort of stuff. They have a word for it in Germany, meaning taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others, but it's a worldwide thing.
So, assuming that you are not kidding yourself about your abilities, you can make a start. Do these things:
- Convince some great musicians to play with you, at the same time recognizing you as the leader
- Write some songs
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
- Get on the telephone and get some gigs
- Wow your audience
- Develop a following and sell out the biggest venue within 50 miles of where you live
- Get an A&R scout to come and see you. If you can play to several hundred people who obviously all love you, you are in with a chance
- Don't bother sending out demo tapes. Waste of time.
Playing In A Band
This can be a great option for some people, if the band is successful of course:
- You get to travel the world and stay in nice hotels
- You can bask in the front man's reflected glory
- You get all the women the front man can't handle (if you're into women of course)
- You get to play your instrument, hopefully in some great music
- If you are a founder-member of the band, you should get a reasonable cut of the profits. If not, then you will be paid for the work you do, sometimes well - but nothing stratospheric.
Of course you have to have something to offer:
- You are a great player
- You can sing backing vocals
- You provide a good supporting stage presence
- You don't try to hog the limelight, because you're comfortable with the fact it isn't yours
- You don't mind not getting paid as much as the front man and/or writer
You have to find a band to play with of course, led by someone exceptional. Elvis would do.
The problem with this situation is that people commonly get too big for their boots. After several years of doing this they just can't stand being in second place all the time. They get troublesome, perhaps leave the band, squander their money, hit the bottle and die penniless. It is only really dedicated players of their instrument that really succeed in this role.
Many people are attracted to the role of producer because it sounds sexy, but they don't really know what it involves. OK, let's translate it into language people do understand. How about becoming a film director? You could be Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott - hey you could even be Orson Welles! You know this is going to be difficult. It's obvious that you need to know a hell of a lot to be a film director. Well it's just as hard to be a record producer, and don't kid yourself that it isn't. This isn't the place to tell you how to do it, but you could start by reading 'How To Become A Record Producer'. You can see it listed over on the left.
Having an ambition to become a songwriter is a good thing. Why? Because you can do it and hold down a regular job at the same time. Everything we have mentioned so far requires complete, 100%, every-minute-of-the-day dedication. This is not to say that you don't have to be dedicated to become a songwriter, but you can turn it on and off as long as you stick to a reasonably frequent and regular schedule.
We're getting more realistic by the minute. You have to be lucky to get the chance to become a recording engineer, and once you get the chance, you are going to have to be very dedicated to learn your trade properly. But if you do land a trainee job in a pro studio, it's all there for you if you want it enough. And you could progress to being a producer. There are only two tricks to getting a job in a studio. The first is to prove your commitment by going on an audio course. The course has to be realistic, not fill you full of hot air and SSL consoles, and offer you the means to prove your dedication. Audio Masterclass's distance learning courses are recommended. Courses that offer internships can also be good, as long as you project the right attitude (humble and eager to please) while you are in the studio.
Once you have got your proof of commitment in place, you should write lots of letters to studios. That's how most engineers get in. They strike lucky and their letter lands on the manager's desk the same day a vacancy arises (usually because the last trainee didn't make the grade). You can also try asking to visit the studio, without pressuring for a job. This has worked in the past, and could work again. Aim to write to every studio there is. When you have written to them all, start back at the top of your list again.
Live Sound Engineer
Now we are talking realistic. Live sound isn't perceived as being as sexy as studio work, therefore there is much more chance that your determination and tenacity will get you a trainee job. Make sure you get into the kind of company you want to work for, then be a great employee and work your way up. Good training in sound engineering, as opposed to recording engineering, can only help. Once again, check out Audio Masterclass.
To Work Around Music
At the end of the day, to achieve any of the above is always going to be tough. Few people will achieve their dreams. However, there are many opportunities to work around music, and that can be as satisfying and pay as well as any regular job. Why be a trainee manager at a store, when you could be a trainee publishing assistant, just to take one example? It's all up to you. All you need is to want it enough...