5 Tips For Navigating The Music Business In 2016

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The music business is easier to enter now than at any point in the history of the recording industry. The barriers preventing you from recording a song, promoting a song, writing about a song, or performing that song for people live, be it in person or in real time through the power of the internet, are lower than ever. There are good and bad ways to look at this, but pretty much everyone you ask would agree now is an exciting time to be part of the entertainment business, and that as long as you’re willing to work hard there could be a place in it for you as well.

Depending on what it is you want to do in the music business, the paths to establishing a lasting and profitable position for yourself in that field will vary greatly in comparison to your fellow aspiring industry professionals. Still, there are several universal rules that will help anyone on their search for a career in music:

Be a reliable self-starter

There was a time when the music industry was still relatively new that saw people with zero experience in the entertainment business hired for employment at companies big and small, but that era came to an end before the start of the new millennium. Today’s music business it’s all about incremental progression, and it begins with you taking it upon yourself to enter the music industry. You can do anything you desire, from starting a music blog, to starting a band, promoting for a local venue, recording podcasts with your friends about music, or even by simply reaching out to an artist you admire and asking how you can help them in whatever it is they need to further their career. Find something in the industry you feel is missing or that you could improve upon and make it your mission to do that thing. In time, people will notice, and if they like whatever it is you’re doing they will have something else for you to do. The music industry supports people who support the music industry, but you have to take the first step.


Learn to commit

They say it takes roughly 30 days of repetitive action for a new behavior to become a habit. Even the most driven industry professionals wake some days with no desire to get out of bed and answer the dozens of emails and calls they have waiting, but the ones who make a career out of music find a way to power through each and every morning. You don’t have to put in forty-hours weeks right out of the gate, but you should make a commitment to work on your career and your skills every single day, especially when you don’t feel like it.

As a writer, my goal every day is to write at least five-hundred words. This can be an editorial on something, or a story, a screenplay, or anything else I develop, but I have to sit down and write at least one thing that is a minimum of five-hundred words each day. A lot of the time what I come up with is rather mediocre, but I’m not trying to write award-worthy material as much as I am simply trying to write and continue to push my creative thinking. Many of the best songwriters do something similar with songs, stringing together new melodies and lyrics every day without necessarily trying to create something that will ultimately be shared with the public. Commitment to the public comes after you’ve mastered commitment to your own talent, and that begins with daily exercise.


Networking is everything

With competition for industry positions at an all-time high, possessing strong networking skills is perhaps more vital now to landing employment, or even internships, than ever before. Everyone wants the best person for the job, but everyone already knows a few people who have more than likely been vocal about needing employment in recent months. The first people considered for any position are almost always those who have demonstrated strong skills on their own and established a connection with the label, publicity firm, studio, or brand where they wish to work. This is why finding a way to showcase your skill set and then sharing that skill with peers is so important. Show people what you can do so that they can come to you when they are in need of the skills you possess.


Self care is key to longterm success

When you’re first starting your career in music, often before you even consider yourself active enough to be legitimate part of the music business, you recognize that a lot of people work a lot of ridiculous hours to keep this industry moving. The amount of hard work and determination it takes to make it in music is hard to overstate, but if you do not make time to care for yourself, your relationships, and your mental health you will hit a wall that is probably best referred to as being burned out. The music business never sleeps, but you need to, even when it seems like you don’t have that kind of time. There will be instances and periods in your career where early morning and late nights come with the territory, but it is absolutely crucial that you not work yourself to the point of exhaustion.


The music industry is small

The old adage that everyone know everyone is more or less true in the music business. If you don’t know someone, chances are you know someone who does and they can digitally introduce the two of you in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee. If you’re rude or otherwise unprofessional with someone chance are that it will become known throughout the industry. Black lists are very much real, from journalism to bands labels are willing to consider signing, and you do not want to be given that designation. Follow the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated and you will be just fine. Regardless of someone’s job title or what that job entails, everyone you encounter in this business started their career because of the same exact passion that drives your every move. We are all working toward the same goal of seeing the art we love succeed, and now more than ever we have to work together to see our industry and the artists we believe in continue to thrive.


James Shotwell is the Digital Marketing Manager for Haulix. He is also the Film Editor for Substream Magazine and the host of the Inside Music podcast. He currently resides in Minneapolis with his two fat cats, Paws Von Trier and Chub E. Chubs. You should follow him on Twitter.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.