Why starting and maintaining a career in music takes business skills, musical talent, and the mind of an entrepreneur
Music consultant Rick Goetz started his career in music and entertainment as a bass player and manager for a funk band while attending New York University in the early ’90s. Managing the group lead him to Lava/Atlantic Records, where he rose to the position of Director of A&R and worked with artists such as Kid Rock, Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray, and The Corrs. In 2001, he moved to Elektra Entertainment Group, becoming the label’s Sr. Director of A&R and Marketing, working with several developing artists as well as with established acts like Dream Theatre, Pantera, and Damage Plan. In 2007, he founded Rick Goetz Consulting LLC, and has handled major marketing campaigns for a range of artists – from the young and aspiring to multi-platinum international artists like Sarah Brightman.
This interview with Goetz, originally posted on MusicianCoaching.com, was conducted by David Amaya, a client of Goetz’ doing research for his dissertation on the topic of entrepreneurial careers in the music industry. This post is republished with permission
How has the music industry changed, especially for new acts coming to the market?
Technology has made recording much cheaper, and it has made digital distribution completely inexpensive. Not so long ago, there were only six major labels you could go to, there was a certain curating process those labels went through and invested in, and that was really the only way to have a career. What you find now is that people are able to put their music out for next to nothing, so a lot of people are doing just that and flooding the market. Therefore, the discovery process for your average consumer has become a real chore. We’re so inundated with music that it becomes hard to stand out.
15-20 years ago, if you had a record out, that really meant something. It meant you had found an investor (most likely a record label), passed through a taste-making process, gone on tour, etc. There used to be all these prerequisites you had to satisfy before you could put out music. Now, for relatively little money, people can just press up a demo or a full album and put it out to the world.
The ease of putting out music does give you a better shot at making a living. On the other hand, it makes what people classically thought of as “success” much more difficult. In my opinion, being a successful musician simply means making a living at playing music. I wrote an article called “Everything You Need to Forget About the Industry” about why a lot of people fail because they have a very dated and unrealistic viewpoint of what success is. Today, it’s easier to make a living, it’s harder to become an icon, and the challenges you face are much different. Building a viable career in music has become the artist’s, and sometimes management’s, responsibility.
Music supervisors and music placement provide a gateway, but really the best avenues artists have today are touring and merchandise. And if these artists become more widely known, what brings in the most revenue is endorsements. But the bread and butter of your average band or solo performer is going to be touring and merch, because a lot of people are just not the type of bands that get their music placed in commercials.
Now that musicians must be in charge of the different aspects of their career, how can they demonstrate greater entrepreneurship and take responsibility for their success?
The most important thing artists can do is take responsibility, which a lot of them don’t. I hear the words “I just want to be the artist” all the time, and that just doesn’t fly in today’s climate.
If I sat here, as the owner of a marketing service, and said, “I just want to market my existing clients. I don’t want to chase new clients, and I don’t want to prepare my documents with my bookkeeper to do my taxes,” my business would fail. The same rules apply to those running the business of being musicians. Being an artist no different from running any other type of business, and people forget that.
Part of the reason people forget that being a musician is a real business is because music is so sexy. I think the first thing that musicians should do – and many don’t – is take an honest self-assessment. I also think everyone should start as a one-person company. There are a lot of people that run out and say, “I need a manager. I need an agent. I need a …” What people don’t understand is, when you’re starting from zero with one album, there’s no business; there’s nothing to manage, and no reason for a nationwide tour. It seems that many artists think, “I recorded an album, I’ve spent all this money, and now I’m going to be big.” There is a lot involved between making an album and establishing a real career in music.
The people who I’ve seen who are successful as both musicians and entrepreneurs are people who start off keeping their overheads very low. They don’t spend major label budgets on recording. They really invest. They say, “You know what? I’m going to make sure I continue doing this over a long period of time.”
I’ve watched artists spend $30,000 on their first album and max out all their credit cards. They go deep into debt, because they believe that they will be big, and will be able to recoup what they spent. I’m not saying this isn’t possible, but the odds of recouping a $30,000 expenditure on a first album, especially without a touring base, are about the same as getting hit by lightning. I believe all musicians should start out trying to run everything themselves. I think it is best to start a career in music thinking, “I’m going to be the person that books my shows and handle all of the business aspects of my career so I at least know what this job is that I will eventually hire someone to do.” This might mean you have to learn how to do some of these things on the fly and by trial and error.
The more artists take on and the more honest they are with themselves about what their strengths and weaknesses are, the more valuable lessons they can learn from the process. I think people should look at their first album as series of learning experiences and not much else. If I were an artist just starting out, I might say, “You know what? I’m going to buy some basic recording equipment, because I am really interested in developing a set of skills. I’m going to try to record some demos and to book my own shows.” And after I do these things to the best of my ability, I might realize I am failing miserably at certain aspects.
I can actually point to my own marketing business as an example, because I have run it a lot like a musician’s business. I found myself trying to do my own taxes and really messed them up. I had to say, “I don’t have the money, but I have to find it so I can hire a bookkeeper and an accountant,” because I just couldn’t do it myself. And I noticed that I kept putting off sending out my newsletter. I started out saying, “I’m going to put it out twelve times a year.” And six months would go by without me sending one out. I realized I was never going to be able to do it myself, so I had to hire someone else.
Musicians have to realize that somehow they have to find people to complement them, and sometimes this can be very simple and affordable. There are music business students all over who just need a reason to speak to people in the music industry, or what I call “conversation currency.” They want to develop their skills as music business executives, so they pick up projects just to meet people and get school credit. And if you are an artist, they would often be happy to help you out as part of their own development process. I tell people who want to work in the business side of the industry – whether they want to do A&R, be a publisher, or work in some other capacity – that they need to find the best band they can, manage them, and try to get them opportunities.
Going back to the topic of entrepreneurship – it is much easier to get an existing company additional funding than it is to run around with a blueprint of a business and say, “This is going to be great.” You can have the best idea in the world and still not get funded unless you prove your concept to a potential investor. If you look at guys who invest in companies – venture capitalists or bankers – they go to the balance sheets and say, “Okay, this company is making this much money and spending this much money to do so.” Nothing predicts future success like existing success. For years, record companies would hear of an indie artist being spun on radio, call retail and say, “There’s an independent artist spinning in Los Angeles, and we were wondering if anybody was requesting their album.” Everyone wants to be a part of project that seems to be gathering momentum on its own.
So, musicians need to become multi-skilled. Is only focusing on the music ever a good idea in today’s environment?
The music always has to come first, because without great music everything else will fail – but I’ve seen people spending a lot of time marketing inferior products. It is as if the thought process was, “I’m going to skimp on the artistic side so I can rush this out.” The artist will have only played five shows and suddenly feel a real need for a release as if there were legions of fans waiting for a new product. I don’t recommend that.
Once you have the music together, and the live show, then yes, you’ve got to give the business side a shot. I’m not suggesting that musicians have to do everything themselves forever, but I do recommend that they try everything so they at least know their strengths and weaknesses. This includes playing shows at a variety of venues, promoting their own shows, doing their own work on social media, working in the studio with different people etc. You have to act as if there is no help coming, because if you sit around waiting for help, you will likely be waiting for a very long time.
There is no shortcut for hard work. You can find a million people out there who will point to an overnight success story. But then you will look at the story more closely and see that it was not actually an overnight success. If somebody wrote songs for ten years and then one hit, that person did not just suddenly get lucky.
You’re saying you cannot avoid hard work and have to pay your dues.
Most artists do, yes. There are some musicians who don’t have to do as much as others. But when people hear that one success story that looks like it happened due to pure luck, they want to believe that it can happen to them, too. And maybe it can, but just think about the Boy Scout motto: “Luck favors the well prepared.” If you want to be lucky in the industry, you still need go out and make sure you are working hard and being seen. It’s the same thing if you want to be struck by lightning: Make sure you build a big metal wand and wave it around on a rainy day.
Read Part 2 of this interview.
Image of crowd via ShutterStock.com.
MusicianCoaching.com is a free educational resource for musicians and music industry people. Rick Goetz is a music consultant and entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry, with experience as a major label A&R representative, music supervisor, artist manager, reality show producer, bass player, and the head of a digital record label.
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