learn about the music business

Want a career in music? Work hard, stay positive, and learn about the music business.

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If you’re serious about carving out a career in music, you need to learn about the music business. The “Mentoring for the Modern Musician” team can help.

If making music is more than just a quiet hobby, you owe it to yourself to learn some fundamentals about the business. How to get the most out of your gigs, how to assemble the right support team, how to write when you’re uninspired, how to cultivate your image, how to budget for a recording project… all this and more can be found at the Scharff brothers’ music mentoring website, m3artist.com (M3 stands for “Mentoring for the Modern Musician”).

I had never heard of Michael or Adam Scharff, or their website, until they contacted me to be interviewed for their podcast. I did a little digging, and I was swept away, not just by the sheer wealth of actionable advice they offer to independent musicians — both on their site and via their free podcast — but also by their genuine, positive attitude.

Knowing their services would be of interest to the Disc Makers community, I turned the tables and interviewed Michael Scharff.

I’ve found a ton of great advice in your videos, which feature tips on things artists probably don’t even know they’re doing wrong. Can you give me a top ten list?

We can!

  1. If you’re waiting to be “discovered,” stop!
  2. If you’re waiting until you’re making tons of money until you’re all in on your career, stop!
  3. Don’t go into an audition, showcase, gig, or recording session unprepared.
  4. Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides! Each story, song, career, and life is unique.
  5. Don’t get hung up on what you think you see. There’s never any way to know what it’s like on the inside of an experience for another. You do you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to spend money on a good instrument, a great recording, lessons, merch, mentoring sessions, photo shoots, website, etc… BUT don’t just throw money at your music career. Work within your actual needs (e.g. don’t buy a van if you’re not touring yet).
  7. Don’t release a record without a thought for a marketing plan.
  8. Don’t wait for a perfect gig — play out ALL THE TIME.
  9. You must do social media.
  10. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Smile! Remember why you’re doing this.

When I was a judge for a nationwide battle-of-the-bands contest, I listened to hundreds of demos. I was amazed at how much talent there was in the world. Good singers, tight bands, catchy songs… we’re not lacking for good songwriting or great chops. The thing that was hard to find, however, was originality. The few artists who had a unique sound were the ones who stood out. How do you encourage your clients to find their own voice?

We agree that there’s no shortage of talent, the trick is knowing what to do with it. When you start from a place of understanding that authenticity is the key, you have no choice but to become more unique as an artist. So, we encourage everyone we work with to really dig deep, looking for their authentic, artistic core. Knowing what’s unique and special about you is how you break through that industry insiders’ question of, “Why does it matter to me? Why should I care?”

You guys are so positive, and it’s a nice change of pace considering all the doom and gloom that pervades the industry. What are some positive trends you’re seeing in the music business these days?

We revel in the statistics that show actual music consumption is at an all-time high. Whether it’s streaming, YouTube, gaming, or syncs, there’s absolutely no denying the impact of music on our daily lives. Now more than ever, if you are making good music, there is an audience out there who wants to reward you with their passion for it — and that passion can definitely be monetized.

This leads me to your MAPP formula (Music Art Positivity Process). Can you go into this a bit and why indie musicians need to focus on these four ingredients?

We can all agree that music is where it all begins. Once that’s established, we can move to the idea that music is an incredibly powerful art form, the creation of which demands time, thought, emotion, reflection, passion, determination, and hopefully, some joy.

We have found that an attitude of positivity — regarding outcome, overcoming obstacles, staying on track, remaining motivated — is a key ingredient for long-term success. Kanye never questions his career choices, and you won’t hear Taylor Swift doubting her decision to make a strictly pop album. In addition to staying positive for your personal well-being, being a positive force in whatever environment you’re inhabiting will help eliminate the barriers that negativity throws in your path. Karma is a thing. Put out there what you want back.

Process is defined as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. So, if you want your musical creation/career to have a positive outcome, be positive. It’s been true for millennia, Rome wasn’t built in a day… the same is true for your career. Don’t wait to enjoy it until you’re done. The process is what takes up most of your life! Live it well!

What’s one aspect of the music business musicians should know more about?

The answer is actually in the question: Music is a business. That can be a disturbing thing to learn for some artists. But it’s a crucial fact to acknowledge. If music is your vocation, not simply an avocation, it is by definition a business. Income = job = business. Given that unalterable truth, we encourage all working musicians and those who aspire to be, to strike a more conscious entrepreneurial approach to their career. We know you want to create art. We want that for you too. But if you ever want to achieve that dream of giving up the day gig, you gotta treat the art with the respect it deserves and takes to have it generate that cash flow for you.

So where were you guys 20 years ago when I was in a band?

You know, most of the music industry stuff you need to know at age 20 you don’t learn until you’re 35. But we can help with that. We use our 30-plus years of experience and industry insider contacts — as well as our vigilant pursuit of current trending knowledge — to keep us, and by extension our M3 Artist community, up-to-date with the most important information about this ever-changing business of music.

Which one of your services has been the most popular, and which one is the most rewarding?

We find the coaching/mentoring sessions to be the most rewarding. Whether it’s with a single artist, band, manager, or any member of a musical team, those direct, in-depth sessions are always as invigorating for us as they are for those we’re mentoring.

The M3 Artist video vault has been an incredibly successful outcome of those mentoring sessions. Each video topic is a reflection of conversations we’ve had with artists and their team members over the years. To be able to offer such practical mentoring advice in the form of these video mentoring sessions is so cool. Our M3 Artist community has been stoked to be able to virtually pick our brain whenever they have a question about the industry, gigs, audition prep, career path, or just a few inspirational words to lift them up.

In addition to their M3 podcast, the Scharff brothers offer several music management/development services. You can purchase the “Video Vault” from their site for $97 with hours of topic specific virtual mentoring. They also offer one-on-one mentoring sessions with artists, offering a variety of services including a career assessment, social presence audit, career crisis counseling, and more. And if you are located in the Northeast, they even offer recording services. Learn more on the m3artist website.

Scott McCormick is a musician and the author of the Mr. Pants series of graphic novels for kids. He also runs Storybook Editing, offering developmental editing for authors.

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