In part four of our DIY music business series, we cover the tasks required to get your music written, recorded, produced, and made ready for distribution.
You may be an independent musician, but you don’t need to do everything on your own. When it comes to creating merchandise, getting exposure, booking gigs, and running your music career, there are services and sites within reach that can help or provide expertise. You can leverage them to offload work you normally would have to do yourself — sometimes for a fee, often for free.
This series outlines the major music business roles, the work each performs, why what they do is helpful for your music career, and how you might outsource the work or empower yourself to take on the task – AKA, DIY. Thinking about your music career in this way may also give you ideas on new areas you can explore to earn you more income and broaden your reach in the industry.
Music creation, recording and production
The following music roles represent the tasks of what is required to get your music written, recorded, produced, and made ready for distribution. Whether you handle all these roles for your music, or just a few, there are resources that can help with each.
|Who:||The person who writes the music.|
|Why:||To create the original music the artist/band is associated with. Often, this is the artist themselves, but songwriters or lyricists can be separate from the musicians performing the music.|
|When:||Any time you need music to record, distribute, perform, promote, stream, and sell.|
|Hire or Service:||You can hire or contract songwriters or lyricists to write for you, improve and polish your song, or turn your raw ideas and lyrics into a finished song.*|
|How to DIY:||Naturally, you can always write your own songs and lyrics. The benefit of this is you’ll own all the rights to the composition and can generate royalties when a sound recording of it is published and when the song is payed live.|
*To find people to take on these roles, you can always network, including asking or advertising at local music stores and studios as well as local and online music schools and universities. If you want to start online, you can head to the community sites where the people with the skills you’re looking for congregate, including Reddit forums or dedicated websites such as TalkBass.com, DrummerCafe, and others.
Songwriters and lyricists usually charge by the project. If you do hire/contract someone, make sure it’s a work-for-hire agreement so you own all the rights to the song (and can receive the associated royalties). Or, if you are looking for a songwriting or lyricist partner/collaborator, be sure to use a split sheet so you can document who owns what on a song or sound recording. We created free split sheets you can download and use.
|Who:||The people who perform live or in recording sessions.|
|Why:||To record your original songs and to perform them live for audiences to hear. This can include finding session musicians who play a particular instrument for a recording, finding a lead vocalist if you create electronic music but don’t sing, or finding musicians to perform your music in a live setting if you don’t have a full band.|
|When:||Any time you need to record a track or perform live.|
|Hire or Service:||Common networking services and forums include Airgigs, BandMix, Soundbetter, Tunedly, Musician’s Wanted, Musolist, and Craigslist.*|
|How to DIY:||You can, of course, perform live and on all of your recordings. The benefit of this is you’ll own all the rights in the composition and can generate royalties when a sound recording of it is published and if you play the song live.|
*Engaging on community sites where musicians often connect with one another can be especially productive. Musicians usually charge by the hour or the project (especially if it’s an online collaboration). Again, make sure to use a work-for-hire agreement so you own all the rights to the sound recording or, if you’re looking for partners/collaborators, use a split sheet so you can document who owns what on a song or sound recording.
|Who:||The person who creates beats, music, loops, or audio backgrounds for you to use in your music or perform on top of.|
|Why:||To have beats and music backgrounds for whatever your recording project needs.|
|When:||Any time you need beats and backgrounds to compose music.|
|Hire or Service:||There are a large number of sites that specialize in beats, backgrounds, loops, and other audio samples for you to use in your own tracks. These include sites like Splice, Beatport, Beatstars, and Airbit. Plus, if you want to work with someone rather than buy canned beats and loops, you can always connect with beatmakers on sites like Musician’s Wanted, Musolist, and Craigslist.|
|How to DIY:||Create your own beats and music! There are a bunch of online classes on Skillshare where you can learn about becoming a producer, such as “Making Beats!” and “Blueprint To Beatmaking.” We recommend the classes not just based on your genre, but on the tools you might use, such as “Making Beats In Ableton” or “FL Studio, An Understandable Approach.”|
|Who:||The person who produces the studio sessions and helps create the sound, feel, and arrangements of your recorded music.|
|Why:||To help manage the recording sessions, coach musicians, propose changes to songs and track listings, supervise the audio mixing, and more.|
|When:||Any time you record, though usually for albums or EPs.|
|Hire or Service:||Many of the networking, services, and links already mentioned apply to hiring/contracting a producer. Airgigs, Soundbetter, and Tunedly list producers for hire, though you can also use sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and TaskRabbit. Additionally, you can post an on Musician’s Wanted, Musolist, and Craigslist.*|
|How to DIY:||Produce your own music. Note that producers can get sound recording performance royalties from SoundExchange if the artist (which may be you) designates a “letter of direction” specifying who the producer is. SoundExchange pays royalties to the producer (which are separate from royalties to the artist) any time the sound recording is streamed on a non-interactive streaming service (but only if the letter of direction is submitted).|
*Since anyone can claim to be a producer, be sure to do your research and find a person with a proven track record. Check credits databases such as AllMusic or Discogs to verify credentials. Producers today usually charge by the project, but may get writing credit on songs or a percentage of music sales or streaming revenue. If you do hire/contract a producer, negotiate payment up-front (and if it’s a significant amount, get an attorney who can help with the agreement). Ideally, it would be a work-for-hire agreement so you retain all the rights to the songs produced (and can receive all the royalties).
Recording and Mixing Engineer
|Who:||The person or people who handle the recording and mixing process in the studio.|
|Why:||To facilitate the recording, mixing, and activities in the studio.|
|When:||Any time you record in a studio.|
|Hire or Service:||Typically the recording studio you rent will provide the recording engineer(s) to ensure the recording session goes smoothly and you’re getting the best sound. As such, it’s usually a part of the studio rental fee. But you may want to hire a mixing engineer. Many recording studios add mixing into the recording package and fee. However, if you want to hire/contract a professional and send them the master tracks to mix, sites like Airgigs, Soundbetter, or Tunedly list mixing engineers for hire or have mixing production packages to choose from. You can also use sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and TaskRabbit or post an ad at the above sites as well as Musician’s Wanted, Musolist, and Craigslist. Normally a mixing engineer or service will charge a flat fee or hourly rate.|
|How to DIY:||If you record in your own home studio, you’re likely your own recording and mixing engineer.|
|Who:||The person who masters the final mixes for distribution and release.|
|Why:||To make your final track sound great whether it’s played on a high-quality sound system, headphones, a phone, TV, or wireless speakers. Mastering also plays a signiﬁcant role in making a disparate collection of songs you recorded at different times sound like a cohesive whole.|
|When:||Any time you have a new track, EP, or album you want to distribute and promote.|
|Hire or Service:||Many recording studios add mastering in with the overall recording package and fee. However, its often recommended to use a separate mastering facility, like Disc Makers’ SoundLAB mastering service. Normally, a mastering house will charge a flat fee per track, though some may do an hourly rate for longer projects.|
|How to DIY:||Mastering is both a skill and art, but you can master your own music using DAWs and preset algorithms. To learn more, check out classes on mastering like these.|
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Understanding these roles and thinking through the tasks and activities that need to get done is an effective way to determine your best options for delegating this important work to grow your music career. This includes the roles we musicians most often do on our own: making and recording the music. Because you might already be good at this, don’t forget the work associated with these roles are all marketable. You might have skills that can earn you money since skills you acquire to promote your music and build your business is good for your non-music resume as well.
Read the entire series
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
Want to work in music? Consider these offstage music careers.
Work For Hire agreements: The producer’s perspective
Remote music collaboration: How I got a live cello on my recording
What’s the difference between an engineer and a music producer?
When should a producer get a publishing split?
How to get better results mixing in your home studio