todays music industry

Five truths about today’s music industry

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To achieve your music career goals, you had better focus on the realities of the business of music. Here are five truths that all musicians should understand if you want to get ahead.

Even in this age of information overload in which we live, falsehoods, myths, and misunderstandings about today’s music business are prevalent. Let’s make one thing clear: if you want to achieve your music career goals, you had better focus on the realities of the business of music. What follows are five truths that all musicians should understand if you want to get ahead.

  1. If you don’t DIY, you die

    Music Industry professionals (managers, agents, labels, publishers, and more) are attracted to musicians who take the initiative and accomplish a great deal on their own first. Given the numerous tools available today for artists to promote their music, there is simply no excuse for bands, solo artists, and songwriters not to build a story about their careers and generate a small buzz. Remember that no one is going to come save you and whisk you from garage to super stardom, no matter how special you are. If you want to get to that next level of your music career, you have to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Attract the attention of those who can help you by first helping yourself.

  2. There’s a quicker path to wealth than a career in music

    Don’t be blinded by the media hype or glamour you see and hear in music videos, magazines, and news shows. The expensive houses and yachts and the carefree attitudes and overnight success stories are often spun to make it look like the music business is an easy path to the good times. The truth is that these “riches” that artists flaunt are often leased, loaned, advanced, or purchased via other businesses and investments just to “look the part.” Make no mistake, if you’re in it for only the money, you may have a quicker path to success by being a money manager or stock broker. As a musician, it could a very long time before you start making a comfortable living in the music business. Thus, be sure that you’re focused on the right things: making quality music that you’re proud of, and that can potentially help you cover your bills. The rest, as they say, is gravy!

  3. What you learn is as important as what you earn

    It blows me away how so many musicians are interested in what they are going to get paid before they even have any experience. They grumble about pre-selling tickets to their own shows, recording a song without getting paid, or playing another student’s recital for free. But as I see it, experience is a form of payment. Remember that the more “stripes you have on your belt,” the more respect you’ll get from more seasoned musicians and industry pros, and the greater chance you’ll have to get paid fairly. So, in the beginning of your career, it is not about what you earn, it’s about what you learn.

  4. Music is never free

    You spend several years writing your songs, thousands of dollars recording your music, and several hundred dollars packaging your album for the marketplace. When all is said and done, you’ve spent thousands of dollars and hours of your precious time. So stop devaluing your music by giving it away for free! Rather, from now on, give your music away “at no cost to the customer” and build value in it! Tell people about the high quality producers and musicians with whom you worked, the high tech studio you recorded in, and the time and love that you put into making your record. This way, that CD or USB flash drive you hand out in front of your local club might actually get heard. Pursuing a career in music requires blood, sweat, and money. Nothing is free and you should make sure that people know it!

  5. Contracts are meant to be negotiated

    After years of hard work, the day may come when contractual offers are presented to you. Congratulations! But don’t be so quick at jumping at every deal like it’s a “take it or leave it” situation. First, you should never sign anything that you don’t understand or that you feel rushed or pressured to sign. Second, remember that most contracts are form agreements that are always drafted to favor the other party and are used as starting points for negotiations. That’s right! Most companies (labels, production companies, etc.) expect that you’re going to read, analyze, and ask for contract revisions. In fact, based on their desire to do business with you, and based on your strengths and accomplishments, many companies are prepared to make reasonable concessions. So slow down and remember that in business, you never get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate for.

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Borg on music career goalsA renowned drummer, teacher, consultant, and Disc Makers contributor, Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack On A Limited Budget (September 2014, Hal Leonard). The book is available on the Hal Leonard website,, or at

The contents of this post are © 2014 by Bobby Borg All rights reserved. Not to be posted, printed, or used in any other way without proper attribution to Bobby Borg and Disc Makers.

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45 thoughts on “Five truths about today’s music industry

  1. THIS ARTICLE ROCKED; GONNA STAND BY IT. It’s so funnies that this article aint even bout Free, yet all the comments are about free. Shows how ignorant people ares on the webbb. The article #5 says: “So stop devaluing your music by giving it away for free!” You people r f**kin crazy. I’m no genius, buts people need to take times to read and comprehend what the pout of article is. Christ people.

  2. Having worked in sales for over a decade, anytime a product (be it music, an electrical switch, a photograph, or guitar strings) is given away for free, the message to the consumer is that the product is “worthless”…because no one had to pay for it. Consumers care more about something when they invest money into a product, aka they pay for it. Bundling products together at a discounted cost (like the person who mentioned bundling concert tickets with music) is a great idea because the consumer still has to pay for it there by intrinsically ascribing value to it

  3. AWESOME Man!! FREE Joe Bonamassa Record iz being given outs for FREE in celebration of his fans! BILLBOADs Number one Blues artist asks his fans to goes twos http://www.joe Bonamassa (cants spell…) and pass it’s around and thanksss den for the support throughout the yearzzz. I listen to all musical and say……,That’s badass!!!! I l

  4. MR BORG. THANK YOU! FOR YOUR TIME! I got a lot out of your article.

    1. Bees proactive:
    2. Do music, be causes you love music’s, not because yo loves Ferrais
    2. Learn your craft so peeps want to hire you
    3. Don’t be afraids 2 negotiate and het what you deserve.
    5. don’t evr think of music as frees, nor let others sees it that ways, cause it costs money to learn it and makes it

    Gonna go write now. Bless you!

  5. This whole article is wrong! wrong! wrong!
    Here is the way it should be done…

    To compensate fro “FREE” things, you need to learn about The Art of Balance.”
    in this business, you need to realize two things…
    How To Earn Money and How To Conduct Business.
    You don’t get into business to lose money, you get into business to earn money and…
    the way to earn it is to find a way to get it into your hands without anyone taking it away from you.

    Do not give your music away unless you have something to sell like “Tickets ” to an event.
    This will serve as a balanced act of judgement that far out weighs the conventional form of selling.
    In other words, You’re getting someone to attend this event and while you’re selling tickets, now you can safely give away some music to go with the package.

    The other way of balancing business transactions is getting things in writing.
    While you’re doing this, you can also throw in something as a freebie in order to capture the attention of your business target. All in all, this translates into a positive sale.

    Ultimately, when you give away any music for free, it is considered “foolish” and in this business, you’re here to earn money, not throw or give it away. It’s ludicrous and unheard of.
    No one has made it big in this business by giving things away.


      In the article I say, “Music is never free.” In other words: “Music Should Always Be Valued and seen by the fans, and everyone else, as anything other than free.

      Now go right some songs everyone.

  6. Even crack dealers give free samples… Does everyone come back for more? Not necessarily, but the ones who do…. :-b (ok maybe not the best analogy, but you get the idea)

  7. LOVE It Vanessa! You go grrrlllllllllllllllll. My cousins played football for USC fro FREE and just gots drafted to the NFL for Millions$$$$$$

  8. Blessing Everyone! I just got offered a paying job after working an internship for FREE for three months. Yeah!!!!!!!!!!


    1) LEARN BEFORE YOU EARN: Sit in on a gig, record a session, play a high school dance) to sharpen your skills.

    2) OFFER A SAMPLE: handout a sampler of your unknown band’s recording, score one or two pieces on that very first student documentary film you take-on, give that first lesson for free so that the customer will buy a package of 4 more.

    3) KNOW WHEN TO ASK FOR THE SALE: Know the difference between paying your dues, and being used, and know when to ask for what you deserve without any reserve.

    In no time, with skills sharpened, stripes on your belt, and a good rep, you will be PAID FOR ALL of your work and you will be GREATLY RESPECTED for your genius—-You will expect nothing else. You are a PRO in the KNOW!

    Bobby Borg (Author of the above article)

  10. FREE kills ANY market… It doesn’t matter WHAT the product is…. NEVER, EVER give your music away for free except in small samples… Like the little Asian girl at the mall “Shicken, you try”?

    Ask any economics professor…. The more you saturate any given more with free products, the more you destroy that market, and anybody else in that market from selling that particular product…
    Now times that by 50 million people world wide…….
    If you’re givig your music away for free for ANY reason, than you are contributing to the demise of that market which you someday seek to have gain in… It’s the ole shooting yourself in the foot proverb.

    It doesn’t work… it’s been proven that it doesn’t work… so STOP giving your music away for free!!!!

    1. Yo A Hippo Crit Mr Zappa! Damn I can’t spell, but truth be told….you an old man wit free shit all over the Internet!

      1. Again… All covers… samples… non of my own stuff…. on either soundcloud or Youtube… Look at the very small number of views and listens… I use those sights for audition purposes only…. And thank you for the compliments…. however, age has nothing to do with the business model… Ask any economics professor and they’ll tell you the same thing… Doesn’t matter what age you are…. If you’re in it to make money, and you’re giving it away for free…. You’re not going to make any money…. Before the internet came along, lots of artists made millions… the internet has not changed that business model… Terrestial FM radio is still king of the hill when creating a hit song… All internet did was make it more accessable to everyone, and more easier for anyone to do it, which perpetuated the “look at me” free give away frenzy… Either way you slice it… free kills the market.

        Read more: Five truths about today’s music industry – Disc Makers

  11. If You Don’t Ask For The Sale, You May Never Get It. Regarding what I said about paying your dues in #3 above, you must also know when to put your foot down. If at some point you don’t ask to get paid for your talents (i.e., your songwriting skills, your live performance sets, your beat-making, etc.), you may never get paid. I once heard someone say, “If you act free, smell free, and look free, people will always perceive you as free. Even worse, some people may begin to perceive you as someone who is totally unworthy of renumeration. That’s right! Look, we all know that money makes the world go round, so when you feel you’ve paid enough dues, don’t be afraid to ask for that “paper” loudly and proudly. Tell that promoter you’ve already packed his club twice, and on the next show he’s got to pay. Tell that film maker you’ve already licensed your music for free on the last two movies, and on the next film it’s time to pay. And tell that producer that you’ve already sung on his last two records for free, and on the next one it’s payday. You get the point!—If You Don’t Ask For The Sale, You May Never Get It?

  12. Sounds like Marilyn had some success already and is ready to lay down the law and demand some paper. Good for her, but the rest of us folks gots lots of competition yo, and im gonna bees promoten my shit by giving peeps a taste of my art “at no cost to the customer.” Gonna do what it takes and get mines in 2015. Believe that!

    1. Hey Karl – who says I don’t have competition? There is more competition than ever and that’s not going to change. If you’re a brand new music-maker, then by all means play your music for people. But don’t let that be ALL you do. It’s interesting to me how musicians are defending the practice of giving everything away for free all the time. My theory is that they are AFRAID not to. I’m posting here to let you all know that THIS is why we don’t make money, why we work shitty day jobs, because we accept the falsehood that the only way to build a career is to always give our music away. Hey, if you want to treat your music as a “loss-leader” and use it to sell merch or live show tickets, then great, do that. But many, many musicians I know not only give their music away – (and lots of times REFUSE money when someone offers!) but always play for free (or pay-to-play) and are shit-scared to ask anyone to pony up the dollars for anything they do. This is equal to living as a beggar. There are plenty of reasons to play your music for people for free: to attract a promoter or manager, get gigs, whatever. That’s is in no way what I’m against. Its AFTER you get the gig, to still accept no money time and time and time again is a joke. If you think that giving music away to the whole world is going to make someone magically come along and make it rain Benjamins on you you’re dead wrong. A real career is built from being a savvy businessperson, who treats their “product” as a hard-fought, well-crafted commodity, never losing sight of that. Good luck to you Karl!

  13. Of course musicians need to have people listen to their music, to (ugh) EXPOSE it. I wasn’t saying “don’t let anyone hear your music without paying for it”.

    Interning for no or low pay is very different from musicians working for free. Interns gain experience and connections, for a limited time, and with the very definite goal of getting hired, for pay. Not many people intern without that expectation. And I don’t know anyone who is a “serial intern”, who spends their life doing unpaid internships, like musicians who NEVER get paid their whole careers and never expect to.

    I spent months pushing the iTunes pre-release of my latest album (out in two weeks!) and have had a nice amount of orders. I always send people to hear my music somewhere where they can buy something and in every eblast and Facebook post, whatever, there are links to BUY. That’s actual money in my pocket. To be transparent, I also have a great distributor (not Tunecore, who does ZERO for you, except the equivalent of putting you on a shelf of 10,000 cans at a Costco) and a manager/publicist who is very savvy about social media, so I get a lot of bang for my buck. Everything I think about in terms of “exposure” is geared towards making money – and guess what? I make money. I also NEVER play for free unless no one involved makes money or if it is a benefit. If the venue makes money, I demand to get my piece of that pie. Exposure shmexposure, I’m no beggar.

    Letting people know you “sweat blood and money” to make your music is nice, its a good thing to do, no doubt. But if you want to make money from your music (I do!) you have to directly ask for money and get creative about how to not LOSE money (i.e., always playing for free and giving your shit away). If you don’t, you will shoot your wad and never even make back your investment. Its up to you. All I’m saying is, we don’t have to accept the status quo. Wake up people, change is possible!

    1. ” like musicians who NEVER get paid their whole careers and never expect to.” Perhaps “The Secret” (pardon the pun) is to learn how to… Expect. Expect. Expect.

    2. ” I also NEVER play for free unless no one involved makes money or if it is a benefit” Unfortunately, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are not as generous as you are with such an exception. True struggling artists face an ethical catch-22 on whether to sign with them! (big film at eleven on this matter) There’s also a gray area: some types of venues (operating as a business in name only) that do something unusual for the community.

      1. Hey Glade, we have to stop meeting like this! 🙂 I’m not sure what you mean by the “ethical Catch-22”. I used to be a “struggling artist” until I decided to stop struggling. Our environment won’t change unless we change. That’s my point. We are seeing artists being taken advantage of over and over again and why? Because we allow it to be so. Cheers Glade!

  14. Excellent article man. I totally knew what you meant Bobby Borg. Young musicians starting out have no choice but to spread the love about their music till they start to create a buzz, and they might as well let people know that they sweat blood and money to create it. On that note, yo, hit me up on Twitter. I be posted shit all the time. @karlwindon

  15. Thank you for your comment. I agree that in a perfect world people should pay for all music. However, despite what you and I say back in fourth in these comments, Musicians will continue to give their music away for free for means of exposure. For some, sharing their music on something like SoundCloud is their only hope to get fans to click on the link and give it a try. It is also a way to get constructive criticism to improve their offerings and turn pro.

    Thus, to maximize giving their music away for free, I suggest musicians position the act more strategically in the minds of the customer. Something that is “free to the customer” implies one thing, and something that is “at no cost to him or her” implies another (value). By using the latter approach—and by collecting an email from the potential fan and following up, an artist may be able to garner greater respect and even make a sale down the line.

    Once again, I agree that in a perfect world people should pay for all music. However, despite what you and I say back in fourth in these comments, and despite Content Creators Coalition you plugged above, Musicians will continue to give their music away for free for means of exposure–perhaps just like people will “intern” at companies to get jobs and manufacturers give away samples of their new products to stimulate interest…..

    What I provided above doesn’t cure world hungry or create world peace, but it surely maximizes the inevitable.

    Thank you once again for your comments. PS: Rather than just comment on articles like mine, may I suggest that you write your own piece about what your company does and try to get Disc Makers to publish it? I would love to learn more about what you are doing and I certainly applaud your efforts my friend. Cheers and all the best.

    Bobby Borg

    1. “and even make a sale down the line”

      But you’ve already set the bar at “free”. It’s like scoring a film for no money, hoping the director will like what you did and pay you real money for his or her next project. Why would you expect to get paid, seeing you’ve already set the bar for your services/goods at “free”?

      PS- I saw your BT article. I got a mention in that issue on p. 32

      1. Hi Michael, Thank you for your comments. To be clear that folks know what you are saying, would you kindly answer these two questions:

        1) Have you every offered your music services at no cost (i.e., you sat in on a gig, recorded a session, gave a music lesson for free), especially during your beginning years, in the name of experience?

        2) Have you ever provided samples of your work for the purpose on promoting a larger body of work, especially during your beginning years?

        3) And, If you answered Yes” to question 2, were you wise enough to pitch the sample in a way that made it clear that you value your music (i.e., did you say something like, “this is a very important work to me, and should you like it, I’d appreciate you buying the track, or paying for the next three lessons, or hiring me full-time”)?

        If you answered, yes, yes, and yes to the above questions, then THAT is what I intended to share with the younger (people just starting out) folks reading this blog.

        Thank you kindly for your comments.
        All the best,
        Bobby Borg

        1. 1) Not in the name of experience. And not for the other dreaded “E” word, “exposure”. I was always against that, from the beginning of my career. Like another poster mentioned, I have donated my time for reputable charity events.

          2 )I’ve provided samples of my work to people interested in hiring me. As in – this is an example of my abilities, if you like what you hear it will cost $xxx for my services.

          I understand though, that I (and you?) came up at a different time. I’m sure the last thing the younger people just starting out want to hear is how much clubs used to pay, or how much a TV show used to pay for a sync license. Things are different now, and I don’t envy them. But isn’t change often initiated by the young? Let’s not tell them the best way to give away their products and services for free. Let’s tell them the best ways to earn what they can.

          So, to be clear that folks know what I am saying – once something is provided to someone for free, how likely is it they will ever pay money for the same “something”? Play a birthday party for free, for “exposure”. Next year the birthday party comes around again and you ask for $xxx. Nine time out of ten the response is “but you played for free last year, I don’t have any money!” If you stick to your guns, they’ll just get the next person in line willing to play for free, because they didn’t have to pay last year, why should they pay this year?

        2. Hello Michael,

          Thank you so much for your passionate comments. I am very interested, but slightly confused by what you are saying.

          Don’t you think that most musicians in this world would find it very difficult to ask to be paid for the very first gig that they play? Most people would just be lucky enough not to get tossed out of a club.


        Ithink you guys are trip in to bees homiest and blown shit hop pout of proportion. if you read the article carefully, it is not even about free. I’m might be a d student in school, but even I know something about reading comprehension. I think the article just said that music is valuable and peeps should knows it. If you gonna let peeps sample it (like give them a three song CD at a show or something), be sure you let them know thayt this

    2. BRA! Just searched yo name!!!!!!! you gots FREE sound cloud clips, FREE YouTube clips.
      Are you trippin or what?
      You mights bee reading too far into shit too far. Plus bro, no offense, but yus look like an older cat bro, no wonder you wants to be paid soo bad.
      But all things said, you does sound good though holmes. This shit was tight!

  16. Mostly decent overall advice for beginners.

    Being a “veteran” myself (five albums, international touring, working with music legends) I take issue with this:

    “So stop devaluing your music by giving it away for free! Rather, from now on, give your music away “at no cost to the customer” and build value in it!”

    How is “don’t give your music away for free” different from giving it away “at no cost to the customer”, and how does whatever “value” you maintain this has translate into benefit for the musician? Why should there be “no cost to the customer”? Sounds like the old “it’s good EXPOSURE” trope. On the one hand, you seem to be encouraging musicians to see value in their product, a translation of time and money spent (recording studios and Avid/ProTools don’t accept “exposure” as payment, unfortunately). And if we “value” our music with this measuring stick, why shouldn’t we expect to see returns in kind? And then you describe the reward of this as, what, getting people to listen to it? If your music is good and you have a good publicist ($$$$$) people will listen to it, and you’ll be out $2,000 a month. Aggressiveness and pride in your work will go a long way towards getting heard, but just getting heard isn’t the ultimate reward and musicians are sick of hearing that.

    Especially because this mindset enables bands to act like beggars who accept without blinking clubs’ offering bands “pay for play” gigs which net clubs $$$ and bands nothing – (except the chupacabra of “exposure”, i.e., being “heard”, even when the clubs do zero promotion), and allows companies like Spotify, Pandora and Google/YouTube to earn BILLIONS while bands who’s songs stream millions of times earn less than the cost of their investment in making those songs. Is this fair? Is this the way things should be?

    More money is being made in the music business than ever before, and I’m not talking about labels, they are struggling, mostly because tech companies have them by the short hairs. Tech and advertising companies are the new music business and they are swimming in money. One reason is because they have indoctrinated everyone into believing that it is ridiculous for people who consume music to actually pay a fair, sustainable rate for it, unlike how people feel about other items like food, rent, hot dogs and airline tickets. What is that number? I don’t know. But its up to musicians to start understanding that they deserve more than exposure (or just the promise of it) or they will have to find a way to eat exposure and pay their landlords in “my music got listened to!” Or, they will have to relegate themselves to be hobbyists who work real jobs that pay actual money.

    For more info and actual solutions (making inroads for musicians rights in the legislative and corporate realms all the time now!) go to, the Content Creators Coalition – musicians working for musicians rights in the digital domain. Peace.

    1. ”’How is “give your music away for free” different from giving it away “at no cost to the customer””’
      The point is to resist an implied assumption. Or maybe it’s a free speech vs. free beer thing?

    2. “Avid/ProTools don’t accept “exposure” as payment, unfortunately” But you don’t need them! There’s lots of free software to replace them.

      1. Exactly, and that’s what is contributing to the demise of sales…. Your argument isn’t with me,
        it’s with those who chose to contribute to the demise of the music industry by offering free products,
        and those that accept this as the norm.

    3. DEAD. ON. THE. MONEY. Anyone who spends significant time and effort in their music knows this is correct.

      The way to combat this in the modern day is to engage in low-cost music like electronic music or rap/hip-hop. You can download a plethora of free software to make this kind of music so your album doesn’t sink you thousands. In this way, any profit actually becomes profit.

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