File Under: Building Your Music Business

As we continue to research and interview successful musicians making money with music for our forthcoming book, we analyzed the commonalities and discovered four general music business skillsets they use. Most focus on only a couple and then are smart as to how they compensate for the rest. Have you been thinking of your music business in light of these four skillsets? In this article we explore them so you can see which ones you should be focusing on.

In past DIY Advisor articles, we discuss the importance of building a team, the danger of taking on too many things at once, and even having the right mindset. But, through our research and analysis, we've found four general areas that drive successful music businesses. You should be aware of these four and determine which ones you're innately good at and enjoy and then, like other successful musicians making a living off music, find ways to compensate for the rest.

Each of these requires a lot of focus to get right, and are worth building separately. Once you've mastered one of them and you've built a system or routine to handle it (which takes less effort and energy), you can then focus on strengthening the others.

The first skillset you need competence in is:

1. Making music.

In our business, this is a must. You need to hone these if you're going to make a living off music and build your business. But the skills in "making music" quickly becomes more complex when you dive more deeply into it. Do you just play or spin music? Do you write and create new songs? Are you the one who records and produce the music? Or are you the one who thinks through and crafts a great live show? There's a lot to "making music" and some of the successful musicians we've interviewed focus on specific parts of this skillset and get a team to help with the rest.

Then you need at least some competence in one of these two categories:

2. Building a fanbase.

Hopefully the myth which says if you're talented and make awesome music, everyone will take notice and a following will effortlessly grow around you is dead. Many of the musicians we've interviewed have an innate instinct on attracting, building, and growing an audience for their music or shows. Those who do choose to focus on this area of their business. This is a completely different set of skills than making music and not something every musician is great at. Today, growing a fanbase has more to do with social media, creating memorable and engaging live shows, packing the house and promoting your shows, keeping fans engaged, PR techniques, marketing techniques, and more. Note there is a way to have a successful music business with no fanbase at all, which leads to the next point...

3. Building business relationships.

There's a segment of the musician population that makes money off music without a single fan. These musicians build a set of skills that's entirely differently than building a fanbase: they focus on cultivating the right business relationships behind-the-scenes to get their music used or make money in ways most musicians don't consider. In doing so, they tap entirely different income streams many musicians don't know exist or ignore. Probably the best example are musicians who focus on creating a diverse music catalog and the publishing side of the business. This allows them to license their music or create original music-for-hire for businesses, media companies, and more who lack these skills, but have music needs (and are ready to pay top dollar for it). They seek out and get to know music supervisors in the industry. But another example are musicians who discover they have an innate skill for booking, have the critical relationships in place with the venues, festivals, and other bookers in their area, and make money this way. Another are those musicians who focus solely on session work and connect with studios, managers, and other industry professionals to get constant work-for-hire gigs. And note there's some people in the music business who just know people and don't even make music, meaning they make their money from their connections alone.

The last skillset is similar to #1 above -- you need some competence in:

4. Managing your music business.

Even if a musician excelled at all skillsets listed above, it does no good if they can't manage the money. They need entirely different skillsets on how best to manage their income, track their expenses, and more. This also involves getting the most income out of the music they make, being smart about the products and merchandise they create so they don't overspend, coming up with clever and entrepreneurial ways to make money, or being savvy about which ideas to try out and recognizing (and quickly discarding) the ones that don't work. This is yet another skillset that requires focus when managing a music business, and it should come to no surprise this is where many musicians turn to a trusted team member to help -- one who has the business skills who can act as their manager.

Although the four sets of skills listed above are wide, you don't have to do it all. That said, you can't simply just do one. Those musicians we've met who've struggled to get their music business off the ground, usually only focused on #1 and ignored the rest, either not realizing the importance of learning and focusing on these skills or lacking the knowledge as to what to do. Successful musicians making a living off music, on the other hand, were good at some or most aspects of #1 and #4, and then had some knowledge and competency in some aspect of #2 or #3. More importantly, many delegated aspects of these to team members to help (trusted family members, business partners, or close friends or band members).

As Derek Sivers told us, be sure to leverage your team since you should "do what excites you, for everything you hate to do, someone else out there loves doing it."


#musicbusiness #getateam #focusonthemusic

Photo credit: Prashanth dotcompals