3 Ways to Learn About the Music Business From Someone Else

This post is taken from a chapter of my newest release, Music Business Hacks. Please enjoy!

When I was in business school, I often learned more about the subject from business owners (and running one myself) than the instructor. Usually, the people out in the field have a different perspective. With the music industry, you have experts who come at it from many different angles: managers, lawyers, record labels, promoters, booking agents, publicists, journalists, solo artists, bands, studio musicians/session players, academics, consultants, and more. One of my favorite ways of learning is to study how other people are approaching their music careers. Another is to look completely outside of the music industry itself.

When I want to improve something specific, I often see what other successful artists are doing. This can be anything from website layout, social media posts, biographies, and press kits to music videos, color palettes, song formats, and live performances. I often keep a portfolio of these artists’ work to monitor trends, keywords, and imagery. It’s like having a list of reference songs in the studio when recording and mixing: the collection becomes a good point of reference to compare against.

When I want a different perspective on the music industry, I’ll look for articles written by people who are involved in completely different jobs. Then, I’ll meet up with someone in the industry, take them out to lunch, and bounce ideas off of them. It’s a great way to help keep each other informed and to build those relationships.

When I want to get more creative, I look outside of the music industry itself to either get ideas or find new ways of approaching problems. For example, when I begin designing merchandise for an upcoming tour, I’ll often look at Pantone (www.pantone.com) and see what the hot new colors are for the upcoming season. Then I’ll incorporate those colors in if possible. Or, when I want to get creative about promoting, I’ll look and see what other independent creators are doing: authors, chefs, designers, and so on. In many ways, the book publishing industry has followed the same path of the music industry, so authors and musicians can definitely learn from each other.

Activity 1: Nerdfighters, Assemble!

Brothers John and Hank Green have come up with some of the most brilliant ways to connect with their audience I’ve ever seen. Between the two of them, they’ve built up a loyal army of multi called Nerdfighters who have helped launch an independent record label with several Billboard charting songs, multiple New York Times bestselling books, several extremely successful webseries on YouTube, a massive annual conventions called Vidcon, and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charities. If you want to learn how they did this, take some time out and learn everything that you can about the “vlogbrothers.” Or take a crash course here: http://youtu.be/Yk05_6Mf1GU

The Vlogbrothers are a great example of how developing a very fine niche and appealing to a core community of followers can explode into a worldwide phenomenon. Every independent artist who is serious about their career should be studying the careers of these two brothers.

Activity 2: Comparison Charts

Create a list of ten artists (any genre, but preferably successful ones in your own) that you can follow in almost every way: look at their biographies, their social media feeds, their “brand” or image that they project to the world and look for common language, imagery, or behaviors. See what kinds of posts they make that get the most feedback (likes, comments, shares, retweets, and so on). Keep a list or chart and find ways to gain some ideas so that you can create your own set of best practices.

Activity 3: Follow the Leader

Check out articles and posts from business leaders who are outside of the business industry. Need some ideas of who you should be paying attention to? Try these lists:


Entrepreneurs, digital and social media marketers, business owners, etc. can all help you refine the business side of your music career by helping you make better managerial decisions, create better goals, learn how to use social media, and offer other tips that you might not get from following the usual suspects in the music industry world (ASCAP Daily, Music Think Tank, and so on).

So begin following/subscribing to several business leaders. If you Tweet, follow their accounts. If you use blogs, use RSS. Many also have YouTube accounts, LinkedIn Influence accounts, etc. It’s an endless source of ideas.

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