music business

You’re in the music business, so act like a business person

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Like it or not, if you are interested in how to make money with music, you are officially in the music business. Now, the “music” part of the phrase “music business” is not a free pass for showing up late, writing emails with incomplete sentences, smelling grungy for a meeting, and having disorganized finances. The “business” part of that phrase is the part we indie musicians often overlook. You’ve got the music bit covered.

So here’s the cold, hard truth: you are in a business now, so play the part. As a musician, I see more responses (which lead to more results) when my communications are clear and professional. I tend to be [annoyingly] persistent, so I want to make sure my messages are not annoying to read or decode. When I’m on the other end of those messages, I have an easier time reading a longer email that is well-written than reading a short-hand email, trying to figure out if the writer meant “there” or “they’re.”

If I had a penny for every email I get from an indie artist inquiring about career coaching that doesn’t have a greeting, punctuation, or decent grammar, I’d be on a plane to Tahiti right now. I stare at my computer screen, about to book a mentoring session when really, I want to scream, “Have you heard of spell check… or periods?”

But alas, my coaching sessions are not focused on proper grammar. They are, however, focused on getting results in your chosen career. And if that choice has led you to the music business, then there are certain things that will give you a leg up and impress those who are looking to purchase, invest in, or promote your music. How you present yourself sends very specific messages.

Don’t flake out
Read emails in their entirety. I had a coaching client send a payment to a completely wrong address because he didn’t read the whole email with the directions. The message this sends: I’m unfocused and flighty. You can’t count on me for important things. You probably can’t count on me to put the money you may give me in a safe place. Being on top of things sends the opposite message: I am grateful for your time and treat you with the respect you treat me. I am a good investment.

Be on time
People want to count on you. Every minute you are late (and don’t communicate it as soon as you know you will be late) has a negative impact on the person waiting for you, whether they admit it to your face or not. The message you send: My time is more important than yours. I’m difficult, and a diva. Being on time sends this message: I am grateful for your time and this interaction is important to me. You can count on me.

Craft your emails, don’t spit them out
This also goes for phone calls, texts, any type of communication. Show that you care about your interactions by using greetings, signatures, punctuation, generally correct grammar, capitalization at the beginnings of all sentences, and spell check. It can still be informal and have your voice, it just won’t be messy. Anything other than a perfect email says the following: I’m lazy, in a rush, impatient, and you need to work around me. Instead, you could send this message: I am educated, patient, and careful with my interactions. I respect you and what you are doing for my career. You can count on me.

Keep your receipts organized, finances clean
Do yourself and your accountant a favor and keep a folder of your receipts and important papers. I have one from Staples with 10 folders in it- I keep personal and music-biz related receipts separate so I can write off those items come tax time. I have a separate bank account for my music income, and a separate credit card. Many people won’t notice how you pay for your dinner, but the message to yourself is loud and clear: I am a professional. I am organized, business-like, and I have my act together. That’s how I roll.

How to make more money with music, vol. 1

Read More:
Getting the most from your entertainment attorney
Networking is the key to success in the music business
Navigating the business end of the music business
Five traits you need to make a living in the music business
Want music success? You’ve got to love the grind.

Cheryl B. Engelhardt is an established pianist/singer/songwriter who has toured the US and Europe, licensed songs to over a dozen TV shows, and who composes music for films, national ads, and Cheryl is the author of “In The Key Of Success: The 5 Week Jump-Start Strategy,” an incredibly effective, result-oriented eCourse for independent musicians who are serious about breaking through plateaus in their careers. Because you are a loyal Echoes reader, you get a ridiculous 70% discount off the regular price by typing in IHEARTDM in the “discount code” field.

53 thoughts on “You’re in the music business, so act like a business person

  1. Bravo! I am so tired of flaky musicians and performers. I worked for years to learn every aspect of the business, especially the business end. Business etiquette is of paramount importance.

  2. I agree with the article completely.  Presentation matters and some very lucky and/or ultra talented people get away with less than professional presentations, but for the rest of us (beyond the quality of the music) we are judged by emails, sales pitches, two minute TV interviews, showing up for gigs early, not having strings break in the middle of a song, acting sober and keeping finances in order.  I’m a Canadian and I even make an effort to switch from the occasional Canadian spelling  to American spelling on those few words–labour/labor, and on our album,  It’s A Marvellous Night (Canadian)  to It’s A Marvelous Night (American).
    Check it out on–see, I’m always promoting and presenting.

  3. I found this article offensive and it typifies the crappy postmodern reduction of anything and everything to money and business. The nasty posturing and demanding attitude really sucks; so much so that I think I will use a different company to produce my CDs after reading this.

    1. Hi Nudonx,

      I have performed over 50 years….seen a lot of musicians come and go. Even though we are musicians, often the people that hire us are not and their bottom line is profit.

      I’ve performed with a featured artist that did not furnished photos/bios where I did and 100,000 people read the article in the newspaper about me as the featured artist.

      As time passes you will come to realize that the buiness end determines what sells and the artist that succeed.

      Without business skills you are doomed to fail every time. This is the real world of music. If you are not involved in the business end of your music, you are a dime a dozen….there is a reason many “artist” live in their parents basement.

      It’s tough out there with a lot of competion… have to have business skills to sustain.


  4. My experience is that many musicians do not see the “big picture.” There are many ways to be sucessful in music from teaching, writing, retail, and performing. As there are many different ways to be in music, there are many different motivations from making money, promoting the art or finding fame (play the lottery…you have a better chance). Understanding your personal goals and motivation determines what path to follow. One size fits all does not work with the business end….if you are performing in bars, your business methods would be different than a classical musician booking concerts. If you think you will find a mananager that will promote you while you just rock away you will fail. Nothing replaces professionalism…

  5. We live in a culture where all forms of art (especially the universal one we’re discussing) are viewed as a form of play. It becomes difficult to see who is playing and who isn’t; this article is almost as much a wake-up call  to the people on the receiving end of these interactions. (In addition to making my own music, I’m running a studio.) I love articulate responses from people who want me to record them, and when I’m asking a favor from someone, I love it when they articulate their own responses. It’s frankly terrifying (and I choose that word deliberately) when someone I’m working with doesn’t do the things you describe, Cheryl. I like knowing when I can count on someone to maintain a degree of professionalism.

  6. This article is right on point. So many artists shoot themselves in the foot daily on these types of matters.

  7. Rocker ARE disgusting disheveled slobs….it’s part of Rock n’ Roll! Keith Richards, Ozzy Osbourne, Joe Walsh, etc are Billionaires and look how they always looked and acted as being disheveled and disorderly worked wonders!  🙂

    BUSINESS/BAND Managers are for whom this article is for, not the rockers on stage entertaining folks….musicians create their art/music and their management handles all the meetings, paperwork and b.s. and they better be professional! FIRE your business manager if they aren’t professional and don’t help you make money.

    So keep rockin’, misbehavin, smelln’ bad and keep rockin’ and let ‘the suits’ take care of the necessary business side of things.

    ROCK ON!

    1. Smelly Rocker Dude, wake up and smell the music business, There are no billionaire musicians. And Keith Richards and Ozzy and Alice Cooper are all very serious business men. They also came from I different era when there were only 15 million fingers learning how to play. Now there are 100 million fingers vying for financially viable careers . You keep playing to 30 people mate but serious musicians require smart business ethics off stage!!!

      1. Hi Blue Tongue,
        Welll….I know I was exaggerating with billionaires….so how about millionaire musicians?
        I totally agree an artist/band requires a savvy and professional manager…. on the flipside…if there’s a band or artist that is drawing large crowds, selling their music & merch and radio airplay… labels, clubs, promoters etc don’t care is the band/artist is a slob, inarticulate, illiterate etc…why? Because the artist is commercially viable.

        It’s also to the benefit of labels et al if an emerging popular artist with a hit song is uncouth and uneducated as the labels and other music money making entities can take financial advantage of the unwise artist/band.

        So I’m certain labels are chomping at the bit for monetarily successful artists with a large fanbase that don’t know their behind from their elbow….
        That is why a pro manager is truly essential.

        Case in point from my own experience: My band was discovered online and we hooked up with a well-connected mgmt firm in the music industry and he/they introduced our music to chief A&R Kirk Lightburn at HQ SONY on Madison Ave NYC. Lightburn/SONY heard our music and liked it enough to invite us to meet him @ SONY HQ.
        We jumped at this opportunity and met with SONY staff. The band and I went in as we are…grungy, stinky, silly, goofy…all that.

        SONY loves our music and we did discuss our image and demeanor and if we should change ourselves and SONY reps said “NO WAY!” Our grimy, grungy, sloppy, disheveled and goofy image is our charm and our fan base in our genre loves that. It’s our niche and it works for us very well.

        So we are releasing a CD via SONY music! …and our savvy manager is working the monetary details to get the best deal.

        So it’s the commercial viabilty of the band/artist that matters most…labels don’t care how you look and act if you have commercial music.

        Fyi-yes, many years ago we did play to only 30 people or even less but now the clubs we play in have 100-200 fans there to see us play…full capacity. Didn’t happen overnight, but with persistence, we got there…

        My band is Ross Phazor …Google Ross Phazor and watch our video titled “2012” as that’s the song SONY music loves the most.
        Follow @rossphazor on Twitter and Like us on Facebook and we always reciprocate with Likes and Follows to help other artists and share fan bases… best wishes to you and everyone and rock on!

        1. i would re-read what Blue Tongue Management wrote to you above.  and I would like the 30 seconds back of my life that i just wasted watching your 2012 video… knowing very well it was gonna suck based on the way you’ve defended yourself and name dropped all of that Sony BS on this comment thread. 

           I don’t like being rude, since I am a musician too, but since you started it, I’ll go ahead and let you in on a little secret… Desperately posting links to youtube and twitter on the DiscMakers forum isn’t gonna help your career.PS… i didn’t capitalize the first letter of the first word in every sentence of my comment for you, in hoping that this non-spellchecked comment would help you understand how important Grammar and Spellcheck can be to your future in music.PSS… I’d like to hope that I am way wrong, and you have found success with your song “2012”.  As stated before, I am a musician as well, and for that I am an optimist… so best of luck to ya, big smelly rocker guy!!!

    2. Smelly Dude,

      Great plan, if it works for you. If you don’t take care of your business you will join the countless artist that found success only to find they were broke while the mananagers (suits) made the profit. Don’t be naive.


  8. Thank You very much,sometimes Artists and Writers get so entirely Involved in just the Music part of the buisness,they tend to forget,That there are Two Parts of it(Music)&(Buisness),And if your in it for the Long Haul,and you are Serious about persuing a Career in Music,You had better learn the Ins and Outs of Both words,Because You can’t Know One,without having some serious knowledge about the Other,and if you don’t,There is a High possibility that you may be doomed before you start.Definetly don’t want to Cruz through the Process Avoiding the other part of the system,The Buisness Part.So Thank You for reminding me,That you have to keep your eyes on Both Sides of Fence!

  9. Great article. Too bad many who need to read it will not. The untold truth is many (not all) do not want to spend time on education and basic learning. And when you see others making money from speaking and writing the style of new short hand crossed with ebonics then it is no wonder some entertainers think they can get away with it. My frustration is I like to talk about artist on my show and I can’t get bio’s, good photos, or even a little background on music. It is frustrating to want to talk about a group of people who don’t know how to talk about themselves. If you want to be DISCOVERED then take time to build portfolios online. So many tools and so little entertainers using them. If you need help reach out to someone. You tube is pack with how to’s. On that note I will say CBEMusic has a nice site. A bit annoyed at the instant play of music. Though you do sound great so I got over it. Peace. 

    1. Thanks for a great comment Jewell. Debated for a long time on that instant play of music thing (I think I got overruled by web designers and manager-wanna-bes – it will probably be different on the new site). Thanks for the feedback!

  10. I am not an artist, but I have been in the music business many years…this is exellent advice. Being punctual mankes me feel good.

  11. I am conviced as well that associates who won’t return phone calls and e-mails, but persist in texting as the only form of communication, have slowly spiraled down to the bottom of my priority list. I need face time…with the ability, the courtesy, to look someone in the eyes when I collaborate in my musuc career. And keeping track of expenses? Who does that? ‘Just pay me in cash, man!’

    1. CWH3939 Bad financial plan…..the IRS will shoot you out of the sky dude. Keep records and report income… success includes avoiding disasters…

      1. I was being sarcastic, my friend. As painful as it can be at times, keeping track of mileage and expenses is essential to running any successful business. And keeping things straight with the IRS is always a blessing!

        1. cwh3939I

          I like face time too, but it isn’t always possible.  I find that many “professional” clients do not conduct business in a professional manner.  I require my performance information in writing so there will be no mistakes.  I confirm dates and times for every performance ( I book up to a year in advance ) and I take the responsibility for everything to be perfect. 

          I work with what is available.  If the client uses text for communication, I respond with text, but I still provide the promotional materials, technecial requirements, and programs in snail mail..  I also carry a Bose Sound System, 2 Peavy Sound Systems, Publicity Posters, etc.

          I’ve been let down on every end from performing live to promoting and publicity when I’ve trusted others.  It’s a business and everything from the promotion to presentation is important and has to be done in a professional manner.

          Good Luck cwh3939……….you’re on the money.


  12. Talk about common sense. If any of this was news to anyone reading this, quit now and stop wasting the time of the rest of us. 

    1. Thanks for writing Andrew. Sometimes common sense is hard to see when you’re in the trenches of making stuff happen for yourself. A lot of these articles are great reminders of this, weather new information or just a nice little reminder. 🙂

      1. Dear Cheryl,
        I am uneducated but I try to not let it show.  Did you mean to say “weather” or “whether”?  Please educate me.
        Gary L. Johnson

      2.  This may be common sense, but some of my band-mates would benefit from reading the article.  I am not sure, however, they would make it all the way through. I’ve seen some pretty awful emails from talent buyers and other people in the industry.

      3. Cheryl,
        That should be whether not weather. I agree with everything you are saying and 97% of how you said it.

  13. A less than perfect plan, well executed, will likely succeed – while a perfect plan, poorly executed will likely fail.  The things you are talking about are part of “execution.”     

  14. People Hear what they See. First impressions are extremely important. If they see you dressed as a slob, someone who doesn’t care about appearances they will assume you don’t care about your music.
    If you have the money to pay someone to manage your act, then it’s great… you can just work on your chops and play. But if you don’t, then you must enter into music business 101 and that’s where it gets tough. I spent 35 years playing lead in someone else’s bands where all I had to do was learn the songs and show up to play. Once I started my own band, I had to be agent, manager PR, and janitor all rolled into one. It’s a big step..

  15. Right on Cheryl!!  That’s some really solid advice!

    The timing on this is really funny for me – because I just put up two music business posts on that talked about treating the Music Business as business and…well…let’s just say that some people weren’t that happy. ; )
    If anyone’s interested in those (it goes into the Amanda Palmer/Louis CK/David Lowery/Emily White stories that have been floating around as well…)

    Here’s part 1:

    And here’s part 2:

    Thanks again!

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