make a living in the music business

Five traits you need to make a living in the music business

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Success in the music industry requires persistence and dedication. We’ve targeted five traits you need to make a living in the music business: are you missing any?

One thing I’ve noticed when conversing with many producers and composers is a general lack of confidence, a wealth of excuses, and an unwillingness to make moves. I hate when people say “Yeah, but you’re lucky” or “They’re lucky.” Luck is walking through a busy intersection and not getting struck by a vehicle, or blacking out and waking up with $1 million in your pocket. When people use the word “luck” as a crutch or excuse, it makes me feel as if my dedication and education are not the reasons behind my success and my ability to make a living in the music business. Frankly, it’s an insult.

I gave it some thought, and I think there are some definable traits that set those who make a living in the music business apart from those who don’t.

1. A willingness to please the client
The moment you decide to operate as a business, you’re telling the world, “I’m here to cater to your needs,” “I can deliver the goods,” and “I am the right person for this project.” If all you can do is complain about the “wants” of the client and how they don’t fit you, then you’re targeting the wrong audience — or maybe being in business is not something you’re ready for.

2. An ability and desire to self-educate
Even with schooling and degrees, there’s a lot of self education that takes place because this business is constantly changing. When a new application or trend surfaces, I can’t afford to for a college or tech school to come out with a course. I have to get it under my fingers yesterday and turn into income stream. Even if you find a school that’s on the ball (i.e. always updating), you still have to educate yourself (sometimes through trial and error) to make the trend/technique or piece of technology work for you.

Here’s a great example. In November 2013, I wrote a post called “Maschine Studio vs. MPC Renaissance.” I wrote this post for several reasons:

– I wanted to spark a debate between MPC Renaissance and Maschine Studio users.
– I had a unique view most don’t consider in gear debates.
– Tax season was coming and people get a little gear lust around that time.

As expected, there were great responses, debates, traffic… Hell, I even got some hate mail. Long story shortened, those who purchased Maschine Studio were all over it when it first came out. People were flocking to as if it were the missing link to their success. But as months past, those same people (most) were reverting back to their old setups. How do I know this? Simple: social feeds and forums.

Why was this happening? Learning curves! I still chat with people on Instagram and ask, “How’s Maschine Studio working for you?” The responses falls along the lines of:
– “I just don’t have time to learn it right now.”
– “I’m waiting for someone to put out a thorough course.”
– “Still learning it.”

Funny thing is, there was a boatload of money to be made (for everyone) within the first three months of Maschine Studio’s release and a lot of people missed the initial wave, much of it due to a lack of self education.

3. Positioning oneself in front of opportunities
Successful people are go-getters. They put themselves in front of as many opportunities as possible. Ever wonder why the artist with less talent and skill gets more exposure than you and is able to make a living in the music business? It’s because they are putting themselves out there, connecting with people who need their services as well as people who can put them in front of people who need their services.

Lazy people, on the other hand, believe the clouds will part and opportunities will fall from the sky. In the event that anyone finds a herd of parting clouds, please let me know, I’d like to trade five magic beans for them.

4. Successful musicians are persistent
Persistent means rarely ever take “no” for an answer. “No” means “not right now, come back and try again.” Some believe that persistence can turn into annoyance, and that’s true, but it’s all in how you do it.

When a company tells me “No thanks,” I improve my idea’s worth or I bring something brand new to the table. There’s always something I can change or some way to enhance the value. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the target audience.

I was able to do this successfully with companies that wanted nothing to with my music.

5. Successful musicians take action
I know, the phrase “Take action” is getting worn out, but it’s true. Successful people are always in motion, they act on their ideas and newly found education. If they learn something today, it’s going into action tomorrow, or even as they’re still in the process of learning. Others wait until they see everyone else’s results then contemplate. They take forever to decide what they want to do while opportunities pass them by. Then, the next wave or big thing comes along and they repeat the process!

There’s nothing wrong with analyzing the situation or possible outcomes, but after your analysis you have to make a decision, you gotta do something!

Greg Savage is an entrepreneur from California who makes a living producing music and sound designing for various companies without the use of a record label or manager. He started DIY Music Biz because he wanted to create a reliable resource for musicians, producers, composers, and artists that would be useful regardless of their success or skill level. Topics covered on DIY Music Biz include: Marketing Music, Music Licensing, Sound Design, Gear Reviews, Personal Experiences, Income Generation, Case Studies, and much more.

Get Your Music Noticed!

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9 thoughts on “Five traits you need to make a living in the music business

  1. So, if you’re a damn good musician, and you have all the aforemention traits and skills and still can’t attain music success, are you a failure, or just unlucky?

      1. With all due respect, Greg, that can only mean that you haven’t met that many people. Just think about the odds of what you are saying for a second. If only the successful people in the world have this special brew of personality traits then there are nearly 7 billion really uninspired, unmotivated people out there who are either comfortable to fail or scared to succeed. That’s nonsense.
        We’ve all heard those success stories where the person overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to win in the end and we are left to infer that it was only their “drive”, their “special talents” that made it all work, but what about the 10,000 other people who did exactly the same thing as that guy but just weren’t in the right place at the right time to meet the right person with the unique connection that sparked the interest of the investor who etc, etc, etc… you get the idea.
        You say it’s insulting to you for people to say “luck”?
        I say it is insulting to the rest of the world and mind-numbingly oblivious to assume that out of 7+billion people on this planet, you and only you are attributable to whatever success you’ve had and good fortune had no role in the matter.
        Shall we compile the list of amazingly talented, driven people that have met with spectacular failure? We can start with every inventor that had their idea stolen or suppressed by big industry, every small business person ruined by a bad economic downturn, or shall we keep it in the realm of entertainment with every band with a story like Badfinger or Big Star?
        The bottom line is, you are not in control of all the doors in front of you, no matter how much you think you are. You can do everything right in this world and still fail, you can do everything wrong and succeed. In the end, we are all just crossing that metaphorical road trying to dodge traffic.

    1. I agree with Greg.
      But in other words:
      It also mainly depends on how you define success.
      perhaps you’re expecting too much? it’s like in the music scene here where I live: when people talk about success they refer to world tours, millions of CDs sold, and producers all over the world calling for a gig paying thounsands… and everything below is not to be successful.

      The humble approach would be just to be able to have a full income through music, like in the title: make a living through music, that is possible with the traits above.

      Perhaps (just as a humble suggestion), revise your skills in 3 and 5: luck is not something assigned by an invisible hand. Luck is something you provoke… and sometimes it means put the ego away and for those tough minded ones: sometimes also prostitute yourself (musically not sexually), as in trait 1…

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