15 Things You Must Do

15 Things You Must Do to Make it in the Music Industry

15 Things You Must DoWondering how to make it in the music industry? In this guest post, TakeLessons Teacher and music industry veteran Nick Gunn shares 15 tips musicians can’t afford to ignore… 

I’m not particularly famous (in most people’s eyes) and I’m certainly not financially wealthy (in Wall Street’s eyes); I’m just a guy who has pretty much done it all in the music business with some major successes, and some even larger major flops!

Just so we are all on the same page: I am a part of the approximate 98% of all music artists, music producers, and other music professionals who didn’t wake up one morning and put on their famous pants.

Yes, we exist! In fact, we are the majority. Sure, I can boast about my great track record in sales and the awesome albums I’ve produced, but the truth is I struggle like most music artists.

I’ve sold close to two million records but no one would recognize me, and the bulk of those royalties are all gone now. I also owned and ran a 75 artist roster label that died in the 2008 recession with the closing down of record retail.

Basically… I’m the perfect guy to write this article. I’m a music industry survivor and I’m still doing it!

Not only am I still doing it, but, shockingly, I’m still extremely optimistic and still finding new successes from what I have learned. So with pessimism aside, here are my top 15 tips on making it in today’s music business.



In this section, we’ll cover tips to help you get your head in the music game.

1. Be Optimistic at Every Turn


It’s the only true survival tool you have that you can control. If you start with undying optimism you will be more resistant against the neglect you may feel when first starting out.

Trust me, this will be tested!

Try not to take things personally, as the barrier to entry in the music business is set incredibly high.

There are approximately 80,000 albums released every year, of which Billboard and other associated charts report on a revolving Top 200. That’s 0.25% of the total releases each year that are moving and shaking enough to get on the radar.

Still feeling optimistic? Keep reading….

2. Observe Excellence and Be Excellent at Your Craft


This applies to everything you do!

It all starts with the music you listen to. Sometimes, society can train us to lower our expectations by convincing us mediocrity is acceptable. It is not. Excellence is at your fingertips, it simply needs to be understood and observed.

Study carefully from music teachers who are well versed in music theory and music appreciation. Study those who are successful in music and what they have done.

Listen to everything, no matter what the genre, and try to see the beauty in everything that is music, despite your personal preferences.

The foundation you lay now with your acceptance and understanding of these basic essentials will define who you will be in your own music career.

3. Be Careful Who You Take Advice From


People often tend to seek advice from those who have been unusually successful. It’s a natural human tendency to do so.

But remember, the best advice always comes from those who have failed and are painfully aware of their mistakes.

4. Form a Strong Professional Peer Group as Your Sounding Board


Family and friends are great but they are often too biased to give proper guidance and advice when it comes to your music.

Music professionals tend to give more constructive guidance and can set more realistic goals and expectations.

Remember: Grandma will most likely love everything you do, no matter what, so don’t take her advice too seriously!

5. Know That No One Simply Gets Up and Puts on Their Famous Pants


The road to success in the music business is never a straight one. By the time an artist breaks into mainstream consciousness there is always a story to tell about how and when it all happened.

Unfortunately, the bulk of your new fans will never experience this part of your journey. The illusion is, to the general public, that one day you woke up, wrote a song, and put on your famous pants.

Don’t let the long and winding path to your success get you down, it’s totally normal!


This section is all about the business of making music, and making sure you get paid.

6. Understand What the Top Revenue Streams are in the Music Business


Touring, Publishing, and Branding.

These top three revenue makers in the music industry encompass a wide range of sub-topics, but it’s important you understand how you can make money from these three main sources.

Touring: Touring and playing live is self explanatory. Festivals in particular are currently at an all time attendance high. It’s about getting the fans to your shows and having the promoters wanting you on stage.

Publishing: Writing and recording original music can ensure you own both your master rights and your performance/mechanical rights, giving you the ability to publish and control your own works.

Branding: Branding requires that your image and likeness – your logos, who you are and what you represent – are clear and aligned with similar products that aggrandize your musical mission.

I highly recommend reading This Business of Music, which is currently in it’s tenth edition, as a reference guide to your business future.

7. Incorporate Your Brand


At first you most likely will be pinching pennies at every turn, so be smart about your cash flow and your spending!

One way to do this is by incorporating so you can receive tax breaks and manage your cash flow and expenses properly. It can also protect you as an individual and be more effective in financial growth.

Honestly, it’s not that hard. Just go to LegalZoom.com and spend the $500 to start your own LLC, or whatever structure company you want.

8. Learn How to Produce Your Own Music


Let’s face it, the days of needing big recording studios is long gone.

I have constantly given this advice from the beginning and the result is always the same. Those who learn how to produce their own music have a much higher chance at success.

Not only does it make you well versed at your craft but it makes you highly authentic with your sound.

Yes, there is a learning curve. Sure, it’s gonna take some time and money.

But if you are serious and passionate about your music, this will be an amazing experience for you. Gear today is accessible and affordable and you can set up shop in your parents closet, if need be.

Make it work for you! Your recorded music is your calling card to your artistry, so start producing now.

9. Register Your Works


If you are writing and recording your own music then you need to have a clear understanding of what Performing Rights Societies are and how they collect money for you!

In the United States you primarily have ASCAP and BMI (which collect on the same thing, so only register for one) and also SoundExchange.

These societies monitor performances of your works (ie. when your song is played on the radio, TV, a film, etc) and pay you – the writer/composer and/or publisher/administrator – according to how you have these works registered with the society.

If you are the sole writer then you will receive the entire share of the writer’s revenue stream. If you are also the Administrator/Publisher (which you are if your works are original and you’re putting them out yourself) you’ll collect the entire share of publishing revenue stream, as well. So make sure you register as both a writer and a publisher!

Yes, this requires some investigation but it’s important you do the work – this is money while you sleep, people!

So, if you haven’t already, you should look up ASCAP, BMI, and SoundExchange. Registering is easy; it will seriously take you less then ten minutes.

10. Understand What a Copyright Is


Copyrighting is a process used to protect your works from theft. The United States Copyright Office offers a verified method that is used universally to acknowledge protected works.

However, in today’s age, time stamps on computers (that created the work) or using your originating publisher information, as well as sending self addressed, date stamped copies through the mail to yourself, can all suffice as proof of ownership.

Contrary to popular belief, deliberate music copyright infringement is quite rare. It often mistakenly occurs as we all emulate what we have heard over our lifetimes.

Also, choosing to flagrantly rip off music does nothing to benefit your career in the face of your peers.

11. Distribute Your Music Effectively


It used to be that having your music distributed was reserved for signed artists to large record labels. That is no longer the case!

There are many distributors, large and small, now operating in the music and media business.

Some are harder to establish relationships with, however companies such as CD Baby are now at your fingertips and offer emerging artists a way to get their music in stores such as iTunes, Amazon, Beatport, and many others.

Music streaming platforms are now an integral part of how people listen to your music, so be sure you are well represented at sites such as iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora for streaming services.

Also, make sure you are visible on apps such as Shazam, as it’s an extremely effective way for fans to locate your music without knowing your name or the song.

12. Have a Clear Focus on Social Media Platforms


This is a topic that rarely needs significant discussion, as everyone today is a social media pro. However, it’s important you separate personal social from business social, even though they may appear to be the same.

Make sure your social media platforms are engaging fans and representing your overall brand.

You don’t always have to post about your music. Make sure you are talking about related topics to the music industry, your favorite artists and things you love as an artist too!

Social media is a lot of work and can consume hours per day for most professional musicians. Try using tools that blast all social platforms at the same time or buffer posts throughout the day.

Having a great team player for your social media will soon become a top priority for you.

13. Create an Amazing Team


This takes time and can be in constant flux. However, you can’t do this all by yourself.

If you look carefully at the most successful music careers you will see that it’s the team that creates the success, not the individual or band alone. Labels, managers, booking agents, publicists and social media all go into making a well oiled team.

Recognize talent in others and hold them close to your chest. It’s about surrounding yourself with talented and highly motivated people that believe in you and bring resources to the table.

Granted, getting the attention of the right team players is a difficult task. However, Rome was not built in one day and staying the course is part of what makes you attractive to influential team players.


Now that you’re a success, keep on going! Use these tips to continue developing your career in music.

14. Stay The Course


There’s a saying I often use that relates to success in the music business: “If you play golf long enough in a lightning storm you will eventually get struck by lightning.”

This basically means that you must stay the course, not deviate, and have faith that eventually your hard work will pay off. This is the same for artists that have already received success.

Sooner or later, every artist must redefine their path moving forward. As in most business, every five years you should take inventory of where you are in your career and map out the next five years with your team.

15. Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You


I am actually a perpetrator of this one.

Music artists, including myself when I was younger, can have a slightly egotistical view of their music and persona after they receive some success.

We often think that the success we are receiving is the result of “my music,” “my hard work,” “my talent,” etc and make unusual requests of labels and team players.

There is no positive outcome here. Being a diva never results in long term success, it simply results in having a bad reputation.

BONUS: Give Back and Mentor

The generation behind you needs your support and wisdom. Reach out, donate money to arts and education, teach, mentor!

There is nothing more gratifying to the soul than watching a young person flourish from what you have shown them.

If you are experiencing success, donate to a cause that provides opportunity to underprivileged kids so they can experience something larger than themselves – the gift of music!

Well, there you have it. I hope you soaked some of this in and can use it on your musical journey. Good luck and keep on rocking!


Do you have any more music industry tips, or questions about how to make it in the music industry? Let us know in the comments below!


profile_79983_pi_Nick PicPost Author: Nick Gunn
Nick Gunn teaches audio engineering, songwriting, and music composition in Chicago, IL. Nick is a multi-platinum selling composer and producer.  Learn more about Nick here!

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How to Get Gigs

Musicians’ Checklist: 23 Little Things That Will Help You Nail Your Next Gig

How to Get Gigs

Congrats on getting the big gig! Whether you’re preparing for your band’s first show or your album-release party, these tips will help you learn how to promote your band, make your best impression on stage, and get invited back to the venue to do it all again.

Musicians Checklist Gigging Tips

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At Least One Week Before

  • Put up posters around town. Don’t rely completely on social media and the Internet to promote your band. An eye-catching flyer or poster is another great way to grab attention and bring people out to your show.
  • Step up promotion on social media. Share and re-share your Facebook event and a digital image of your flyer or poster, and make sure you’ve invited all your local friends and followers.
  • Contact local bloggers, radio personalities, and alt weekly writers. If you can get a little media coverage for your gig, you’ll be able to reach new fans. Plus you can share the coverage you get on social media to keep your current fans engaged and excited. Look for people who specialize in covering local music or music in your genre to help you out.
  • Send an email to your local fans. Maybe you’ve noticed that it’s hard to reach all your fans on Facebook? For that reason, it’s a great idea to have an email list, as well. When you have a big show coming up, you can be sure your fans will get your email. The same can’t be said for your Facebook posts.
  • Confirm advance information with the venue. Make sure you know what time you need to set up, how long your set is, and the terms for payment have been agreed upon.

The Day Before

  • Double-check your gear. Do all your cables work? Do you need new strings? Better to take care of those things now than have an equipment issue on stage.
  • Pack your gig bag. I like to bring a bottle of water, a couple protein bars, a roll of duct tape, extra ear plugs, sharpies, spare guitar strings, a handful of guitar picks, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a small notebook with me to each show. Pack your bag the day before to get it out of the way and reduce stress the day of the show.
  • Print or write copies of your set list. Don’t wing it on stage. Make sure you’ve planned your set and practiced it before your show.
  • Plan your outfit. Figure out what you want to wear and lay it out somewhere. Don’t add stress by scrambling to find the right stage look at the very last minute. If you’re in a band or ensemble, talk about what you’re going to wear with the group so you can present a cohesive image.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll perform better when you’re rested, and you’ll have more fun.

The Day Of

  • Banish your stagefright with a calming activity. Get into a good mindset by reading a book, meditating, exercising, or watching your favorite show. Figure out what calms you and helps you prepare to play like the rockstar you are.
  • Eat a light meal two to three hours before you perform. When you’re on stage, you don’t want to feel heavy and sleepy like you’ve just eaten five Thanksgiving dinners, but you also don’t want to get hungry and lightheaded. Have a healthy meal so you’ll be on top of your game.

At the Gig

  • Be there on time. Being punctual shows the venue that you respect their time, appreciate the opportunity you’ve been given to perform, and that you’re professional. Seriously, if you don’t follow any of these other tips, you must at least show up on time.
  • Always be polite and professional. Save your complaints about the crowd, venue, or other bands for the privacy of your rehearsal space. When you’re at the gig, be positive and kind. You never know who’s watching, and you want to make a great impression.
  • Say ‘hi’ to the sound person, and remember their name. The sound guy or gal is the person who has the biggest impact on how you’ll sound in the audience. Be nice to them, and always remember to thank them for the help.
  • Make friends with the other bands. Hang out and watch their sets, and they’ll want to stay for yours, too. If you’re lucky, the other bands will like you and offer you another great gig.
  • Don’t forget to bring merch. One of the best ways to make money at a gig is to have something for sale. Additionally, people will remember you better if they have something to take with them. Whether you’ve got stickers and CDs or vinyl records and t-shirts, don’t play a show without putting something on the merch table.
  • Always thank the venue, the fans, and the other bands during your set. Be gracious, and spread the love. Being likable will help you get further in your local music scene than just talent alone.
  • Have fun on stage!!! Enjoy your time in the spotlight. Your audience will feel the vibes and have a great time, too.

The Next Day

  • Post thank you’s on social media to your fans, the other bands, and the venue. Keep the good times rolling by thanking everyone again. They will notice and appreciate it.
  • Re-post the photos that your fans shared at the gig. If someone captured a really great live shot of you, show other people what they missed out on by sharing it. You can generate buzz for your next show by sharing how much fun your show was last night.
  • Update the upcoming gigs list on your website. Make sure your concert listings stay current by updating your site the next day. Or, if remembering to update your list is too hard, sign up for Songkick and their widget will update for you when the gig has passed. All you have to do is enter your performance dates, and Songkick will display them on your website, Facebook, SoundCloud, and other sites.

Once the gig has come and gone, remember that the most important thing is the music. Keep practicing and working on your craft, whether you have a show coming up or not. You can always improve musically, and you’ll likely find you get better with every gig you play. Rock on, and good luck!


Do you teach music lessons? Teaching music lessons is a great way for musicians to earn more on the side. Create a TakeLessons profile today to help you grow and manage your private teaching business!

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apple music streaming service infographic header

Infographic: What Apple Music Means to Artists and Fans

Streaming is changing the way the music industry operates, and this week it’s in the news again. Tech giant Apple announced that they will be offering a new music streaming service, Apple Music, at the end of this month. Here’s what their service will offer, and what fans and artists can expect…

apple music streaming service infographic

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The Music Streaming Population

Currently, 41 million people pay to stream music online; this number makes up just 4% of the world’s population. Many, many more people stream music online for free using services like Pandora and Spotify.

Apple hopes to nearly triple the total number of paying streaming customers in the world when they launch their streaming service Apple Music on June 30th.

Does Apple Music Offer Anything New to Fans?

In terms of features, Apple Music’s offerings are very similar to Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, and others. Apple Music does boast a larger library than any of the other popular streaming services, and also features the option to control the app via Siri on your iPhone.

The most revolutionary thing about Apple Music might actually be its pricing structure. Apple Music offers a three-month free trial period to new users, following which you pay $9.99 per month for an individual user or $14.99 for up to five users on a family plan.

Other streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, allow users to remain on free accounts indefinitely. Additionally, Apple’s family plan allows users to add more people at a lower cost than any other music streaming service currently on the market.

What Does Apple Music Mean For Artists?

Musicians are already making pennies for every song sold on iTunes, and streaming royalty payments are significantly lower for a number of reasons. Reliance on ad sales and small groups of paid users means that music streaming services have less money to pay out to artists.

Additionally, after royalties are paid out by streaming services, they must be divided again between an artist’s label, distributor, and any songwriters or additional rights holders. For every $10 that is paid out in royalties, artists see less than $5.

Initially, Apple Music might be even worse for artists. A contract leaked to Hypebot suggests that during the 90-day free trials of the service, $0 in royalties will be paid to labels and artists.

As more people pay to stream music online, many artists hope to see their royalty payments from streaming increase. Whether this business model can truly scale and help independent artists support themselves still remains to be seen.

Streaming music online is fun, and it’s a great way to discover new music. However, it’s not always great for the artists involved. Ultimately, the best way to support your favorite musicians is still attending a concert or buying their physical merchandise. If you’re true a music lover, support live music!


Update 6/22/2015: Following a critical blog post from Taylor Swift explaining why she will withhold her music from the service, Apple has announced that they will pay royalties to artists during the free trial period for Apple Music.


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