Making it in the music industry can mean numerous things. You could become a powerful music industry lawyer, a skilled producer, the head of a record company, a sought after sound technician, or an instantly recognizable musician. Usually when people ask this question, they refer to making it as a musician, where “making it” implies a degree of fame and an ability to live on what you make from performances and recordings.
For all the musicians in the world out there, there are relatively few that will ever hit the top of the industry. This is no reason not to try, especially if you feel that you are born to become a musician. However, expanding your definition of “making it in the music industry” may help you launch a more successful career. Here are a few tips for making it in the music business:
1) Although there are a few musicians who have a certain "it factor" who get by on little talent, talent, knowledge and skill are all main requirements for the music business. Talent alone is not enough, but must be paired with continual practice, gaining new knowledge, and studying. No musician is made worse by learning more, but many musicians with natural talent fail to apply their talent and suffer from arrogance, thinking that they have learned all they need to know. Essentially, you should never stop learning, because in a lifetime, there is still more to master and learn.
2) People who want to make it in the music business need to take criticism seriously and well, especially from teachers. However, many now famous musicians ignored statements like “You’ll never make it.” Feel free to ignore these blanket statements, but tune in to criticism like “You are always flat on that high C, “ or “Your technique needs improvement.”
3) The music business isn't limited to sold out concerts, and making records. Take opportunities to perform, even if they seem beneath you. A good wedding singer can support him or herself while waiting for their more public career to launch. Every chance to perform can benefit you financially, and also hone your performance skills.
4) Don’t wait for your big break. Increase your exposure by performing, sending tapes to record companies, meeting people in the music industry, and writing letters to producers and agents. People who sit on their hands, waiting to get noticed, seldom do. As with any job search, you have to keep looking until you find someone in the business who believes in your talent. Interactions with record companies and agents should be professional, so come up with a good resume, a good recording, and a professional cover letter.
5) Stay away from the temptations that plague the music business and the entertainment industry. Lots of beautiful careers were cut painfully short by drug and alcohol addiction. If you do use drugs or too much alcohol, focus on getting clean prior to getting a contract. Likewise, don't fall victim to eating disorders to achieve the "celebrity" look you may feel is required. The music business can be grueling, and living a healthy lifestyle will get you far.
6) Work in careers that will keep you in touch with other musicians. Teach music, be a roadie, work as an assistant at a record company, work at a musical instrument store, or manage a box office. This keeps your exposure level relatively high, and gives you the chance to meet people that could influence your career.
7) Consider free self-publishing. You have to look at bands like OK Go that suddenly became hugely popular because they put a couple of videos on YouTube. If you have a great song you want the public to hear, then let them hear it. The general public, rather than the more standard music industry is becoming increasingly more effective in defining what they like.
8) Have a full and happy life aside from your music. If you do become famous at some future date, good relationships with family and friends from your pre-fame days can often normalize the experience. All musicians need to make music an important part of their daily life, but have other things in your life that make you happy too.
Even with these tips, you may never properly “make it” in the music business. Many try and few succeed. But you can do what you love to do, which is to play. In the end, getting to do what you love, even on a small scale, is still “making it.”