5 Things Musicians Need To Understand To “Succeed”

5. MANAGERS: Self-managing a band is a load of work. Arch Enemy does it, actually. But unless you have a few A-types who actually know how things work, it’s probably a good idea to get a manager. Again, someone you can trust. Someone with a sterling reputation. Someone who manages other bands in good standing. Someone who is willing to be transparent in all business dealings. If your manager isn’t willing to line item everything—e.g., costs, revenue streams, where your money is coming from and where it’s going—for you, explain things to you like you’re in second grade math class, chances are the person in control of your business (yes, music is a business where moneymaking is concerned) may not have the best intentions for you or your band. Remember, everyone is looking to get a cut of whatever money you earn. Know who handles your money, how it’s handled (spent, saved, etc.), and how this person plans to invest in your future. It’s probably not a good idea to let your manager blow $10,000 on limited edition edible underwear with your logo on the crotch. Also, if you end up not liking the person who’s fronting your business and decide later to terminate him/her based on performance, lack of clarity, drive, smelly feet, whatever, understand your network (and networking is EVERYTHING!) may’ve just gone out the door too. All that said, managers are good for one thing. Letting you make music without a lot of hassle. And, let’s face it, your music (and your publishing) is what matters.
4. 360, ALL-INCLUSIVE DEALS: What does this mean? The label you’re about to sign to has its hand in all of your revenue streams. Usually, this means the sum of upfront money you’re about to receive is larger than it would be without a 360 deal, but realize every dollar you make will be split with the label. Sell a t-shirt. Label gets a cut. Sell a pair of beer bong. Label gets a cut. Feeling heroic and want to buy a Mazda after a successful tour. Label gets a cut. Essentially, you do the work, label gets paid. That’s the price you pay for a larger sum up front. You pay for it in the back. Literally. Understand the percentages and how your moneypie is cut. A 360 deal only makes sense if you know exactly what you’re in for and need the upfront cash to propel your business (i.e., your band The Broken Hopes) forward without having to work nights at the Sunoco station.

3. PUBLISHING: Normally, I’d put publishing before contracts, but since contracts are a binding agreement between two or more entities (you and label, you, manager, and label, you and booking agency, you and Santa Claus, etc.) and can make/break you, publishing falls just shy of contracts in order of importance. But publishing = your gold. OK, think of publishing this way (hooray for chauvinism): You have a chance to go out with and potentially bed a super model. 92.3% Guaranteed. But you must give up your right to use your…uh, tackle before heading out with her. There’s no way you’d sacrifice your manhood for arm candy. Right? That’s publishing. Don’t sell it. Ever. Why? Let’s say you do sell your publishing, ’cause you’re unaware, in a financial rut, etc. You have ONE song that gets licensed and Coke (it’s possible!) runs it in a commercial. The commercial goes viral, 12 million views in 1 hour. Everyone’s talking about it. Awesome! Guess how much money you make off your song in that commercial? Zip! True, you may’ve sold a few more copies of your song on Amazon or album through a popular online distro, but the entity you sold your publishing to gets the lion’s share of the dinero. They get to buy a new vacation home in a really nice place, while you chow down on a Snickers bar entree. Own your publishing. After writing (great) music, it’s all you really have.

2. CONTRACTS: Read the fucking contracts! Don’t skim contracts. Don’t gloss over entire labyrinthine passages to get to the “You get this amount” clause. Yeah, you want to know if you’ll have enough dough for a new guitar rig, but understand contracts are drafted for a reason. And it’s not for your benefit. Look up Byzantine terms, in a legal dictionary; don’t assume you know what terms or words mean. Also, get a lawyer. One you can trust. This is your business and you don’t want Jack Impie—the personal injury/ambulance chaser/potluck lawyer you saw advertised on the interstate—taking your money, only to leave you hanging with a contract you can’t wrap your head around. Contracts are complicated. They’re protectionist, usually in favor of the entity providing cash or services to another entity (i.e., label –> band). For every band that says “We got fucked!”, “Red Light Productions screwed us majorly!”, “Fuck those bastards… They owe us money!”, or “Our booking agent lied to us!”, I wonder if they read the Terms of the Agreement correctly. Money and misunderstandings create planet-shattering havoc. Always know where you stand before inking your John Hanpenis to a contract. Always.

1. MUSIC: OK, if publishing = your gold, what is music then? Everything else. Without music—you know, the kind that stands on its own—you got nothing. You can’t tour on silence. T-shirts for a band without music won’t sell (though maybe there’s a business idea, but it’d only fly in Brooklyn where guys wear the tightest pants possible). A label won’t sign you without music. Really, focus (like a laser beam, like Daniel-san, like Ford) on music. Yeah, I know. You’re excited, you want to get out there, do things, get accolades, meet people, eat at Subway every night… the works! But if your music isn’t good (mom’s opinion doesn’t count), then forget it. I’m not talking about “feature creeping” your music. We all know the Chinese Democracy story. But without solid songwriting, confidence (not attitude!) in your abilities as a songwriter, and the chops to back it all up, well, what’s the point in going through with points 5, 4, 3, 2? Because you want to? Seriously, go get an MBA instead. There’s nothing wrong with being a garage band or a bunch of guys who jam together. 99.9% of music is made this way. But want it out in the public as a commodity then make sure the quality is better than second best.

** These are my opinions and observations. They may be right. They may be wrong. Music is a complicated, multi-faceted, many-layered thing. The business side of music even more so. There exists no single way to approach music or the music business. Go into music naturally, let it flow.  Go into the music business and question everything. Good luck!