How to make it in the new music business

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Independent musician, actor, blogger, and author Ari Herstand gave a talk at the 2017 DIY Musician Conference about what artists need in order to succeed in the music industry of today and tomorrow.

Over the course of an hour, Ari distilled what he’s learned from his own career, as well as the advice of countless industry experts, into an encouraging session that addresses everything from attitude to the allocation of promotion dollars.

You can view the full session in the video above, or read some of my takeaway notes below.

Highlights from Ari Herstand’s session: “How to make it in the new music business”

Once upon a time you needed a label. Everything you did as a musician was a step towards that goal, or a step towards failing at it. Now the effort you put in can serve as a foundation for the rest of your career.

If you don’t promote shows, nobody shows up. Put the work in.

There are enough fans and money to go around for all of us. Music isn’t a competition. Share what you know.

The most important question you need to ask yourself “Why music?” A love of music is not enough. It’s not a profession where you clock out at 5pm. Music is who we are. It’s a lifestyle. Your loved ones need to be okay with that.

You need understanding support networks in your life to keep you motivated.  Otherwise it’s a long, lonely road.

“You don’t do music unless you have to do music,” said Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons. Hobbyists learn guitar to impress their friends; musicians master their instruments to feed the soul. What drives “normal” people is what makes sense for their lives, but what drives artists is a sense of a higher purpose.

You may see success in your local market if you’re pretty good, because… “most local bands suck.” You don’t want to be labeled “not sucky.” You want to be great. That’s what it takes if you want to compete at a national or international level.

No one can define success for you. Don’t let anybody throw their own metrics in your face. Surround yourself with people who encourage you on YOUR path.

Fame should not be a driving force. Fame will not keep you going through the months or years of struggle. “fame is an occupational hazard to a music career.”

Labels are intimidated by the changes in the industry where independent artists take control of their careers and make things happen their own way.

Your goal should NOT be to “get signed.” 98% of all artists who get signed to major labels get dropped.

“Don’t try to get signed; try to get popular first,” says Avery Lipman of Universal Republic Records.

In the new music business there are 100 different ways to make success happens. There’s no right or wrong.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you have to do if they don’t know what your goals are and where you find inspiration.

Follow the 50/50 rule for your time: Spend half your time on the creation of your art, and half your time on business. (That’s an average over the course of a month, a year, an album cycle, etc. — not a daily schedule).

Follow the 50/50 rule for your money: 50% of your money should be invested in your art and 50% should be invested in the promotion of that art.

Budget to promote! Some of the best records have only been heard by a few hundred people, because the artist didn’t save enough cash to share the music properly with the world.

Greatness isn’t enough. There’s too much good music out there.

The way bloggers and fans hear music is different from how we hear music. Bloggers and fans are, for the most part, NOT musicians. What do you musicians hear? Music stuff: notes, rhythms, chords, timbre, production, etc. Bloggers hear… whatever the music is FOR: parties, heartbreak, adventure, drama, etc.

Tell your story, otherwise someone else will. What is the story surrounding your music? You wear a crazy mouse head on stage? You’re part of a brother-sister (or ex-husband and wife) duo? You recorded an album by yourself in a cabin in the woods? If you don’t have a story, make one up!

Target your niche, not your haters. Find a small group of fans, and grow from there. Don’t waste time on those who don’t like your music.

Lots of people won’t like your music. Accept it.

What’s the point in making music that’s “pretty good?” Be divisive! If half the people hate you and half the people love you, great job!


To dive into more details with Ari, check out his book How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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