Making Your Way In The New Music Business

The new music business post on the Music 3.0 blog

It doesn’t matter which generation you represent, there are general truisms about the music business that can be misunderstood, underestimated, or just overlooked. Some have changed or the years and some have stayed the same, but the fact of the matter is that unless an artist is aware of the big picture, it’s likely that their career will be in a permanent tire-spin. Here are a few of the big-picture new music business principles that are true today.

  • It’s all about scale. In the physical product days selling a million units was a big deal and could make you real money, today a million streams or views barely gets you noticed (50 million is considered a minor hit). Back in the the days of physical product, a vinyl sales number of 10,000 would’ve been deemed a failure, today, it’s a big success. Views don’t equal sales, and vice-versa.
  • There will be fewer digital distributors in the future. It’s an expensive business to get into and maintain, and it has big players who don’t need their music business to make money (Apple, Google, Amazon). In the near future there will be a shakeout that will leave far fewer digital competitors. Don’t be shocked when you wake up one day to find a few gone.
  • It’s all about what you can do for other people. Promoters, agents, and club owners are dying to book you if they know you’ll make them money. Record labels (especially the majors) are dying to sign you if you have have an audience they can sell to. Managers will want to sign you if you have a line around the block waiting to see you. If you can’t do any of the above, your chances of success decrease substantially, regardless of how successful you are on TikTok.
  • Money often comes late. It may not seem like it, but real long-term success is slow. You grow your audience one fan at a time. The longer it takes, the more likely that you’ll have a longer career. An overnight sensation usually means you’ll also be forgotten overnight. This is one thing that hasn’t changed much through the years.
  • Record labels are a necessary evil. Yes, there’s plenty that you can do yourself to make yourself successful. All the tools and knowledge are readily available. But if you want to grow to a superstar level, only a major label has the infrastructure to make that happen.
  • Major labels want hits. They want an easy sell, so unless you create music that can get on a major playlist quickly, a major label won’t be interested. This is what they do and they do it well, so if that’s your goal, you must give them what they want.
  • You must create on a regular basis. Fans have a very short attention span that’s getting shorter all the time and need to be fed with new material constantly in order to stay at the forefront of their minds. What should you create? Anything and everything, from new original tunes to cover tunes, to electric versions to acoustic versions, to remixes to outtakes, to behind the scenes videos to lyric videos, and more. You may create it all at once, but release it on a consistent basis so you always have some fresh content available.
  • TikTok is the new radio (for now). Vine and now TikTok has shown us that short videos are what the audience wants thanks to an ever-decreasing attention span. Production values are not important as long as you stay true to yourself and are authentic. Learn how to get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Growing your audience organically is best. Don’t expect your friends and family to spread the word, as they don’t count. If you can’t find an audience on your own merits, there’s something wrong with your music or your presentation. Find the problem, fix it, and try it again. The trick is finding that audience.
  • First and foremost, it all starts with the song. If you can’t write a great song that appeals to even a small audience, none of the other things matter much. 

The new music business has not fundamentally changed from the way it’s always been. An artist creates a song and a middleman promotes and distributes it, then collects and distributes the money. How all of that is done may be way different, but at its heart it’s all the same.


You can read more from my Music 4.0 Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

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