10 Serious Music Industry Misconceptions

© 2011 Vinny Ribas

Many indie artists set their goals and their carer path based on common music industry misconceptions. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on some of these common falacies so that you don’t spend countless time and money chasing a dream that may not come close to meeting your expectations.

  • Once I have one hit, I will be set for life. There are thousands of very talented artists who have had one, two or even 3 hits, who are starving today. Hit or no hit, if you’re no longer signed to a large label, all of the booking, marketing, recording, and business responsibilities fall on you. Knowing how to capitalize on a small window of fame is a skill all its own. Yes, you can command a little more money for gigs, but you still eventually fall victim to the ‘out of sight, of out of mind’ syndrome. Unless the hit is a mega-crossover success, and/or other artists record it, which in turn generates a steady stream of substantial royalties, one hit is most often not enough to bank on.[private_member]
  • I need a label deal so all I will have to do all day is write songs and play gigs. Major label artists are often the hardest working artists. That is one reason they got the deal in the first place. Their days are filled with writing, practicing, rehearsing, press interviews, social networking, sound checks, dealing with band members and crew, signing autographs, sleeping on the bus, dealing with venue issues, dealing with legal issues and much more.
  • All I need is one major label artist to record one of my songs. Having a major label artist record one of your songs is definitely a great credit and a shot in the arm. It will enable you to write with other hit writers. But from a financial standpoint, it may not be the windfall you expect. This is especially true if the song isn’t released as a single. Think about a song on a CD that sells 1,000,000 copies. The statutory rate is 9.1 cents per copy. That means the song generates $91,000 in royalties. Your publisher gets half, leaving you with $45,500 (actually less because the publisher will take administration fees as well). If you have a co-writer, he or she gets half of the songwriter’s portion. That only leaves you with $22,500 on your million selling song. The only way you really make money from a cut is if it gets substantial airplay. And even then, unless the song receives major ongoing airplay year after year, that one cut will hardly ever generate enough to live on forever.
  • I need a record deal because being indie limits my income. There are indie artists who have never had a major label deal but who are making 6 and 7 figure incomes. It’s all about the niche you pick and your ability to tap into it. Yes, it takes talent and tireless but very well thought out promotion. It takes a strong work ethic. It requires generating multiple streams of income (licensing, performing, selling music, writing for others, selling merch etc. just like the label acts do. You have to learn to wisely manage the business side of your career as well as the artistic side. But in the end, the honest truth is that you can generate enough money to live very comfortably without the encumbrances that a label puts on you.
  • The more Facebook friends or ‘likes’ I have, the more money I will make. Most Facebook connections are not really ‘true fans,’ they are passers-by. They see a page they like and it costs them nothing to like it, so they do. Unless you know how to build relationships with them and covert them into music buying, show-going fans, your connections are nothing more than a pat on the back. Start by getting them to physically sign up for your mailing list. Those are people who honestly want to know more about you and your music.
  • All I need is a manager or a booking agent. Most artists who tell me this do not really know what a manager and a booking agent do, and thus the either/or scenario. The truth is that very few managers or booking agents will work with an act that is not already making money. The reason for this is that they work on commission. Booking agents gets 10% or more of each gig they book for you. If you’re making $100/night, that agent will spend a lot of time and effort to earn $10 per gig. Common sense says that if they have an act that gets $1000 per gig, and they can make $100 for the same amount of time and effort, that is who they want to work with. The same holds true for a manager, since they take a percentage of your total earnings. What most artists need is to learn how to book themselves, and learn enough about the business to manage themselves, preferably with the help of a mentor.
  • I don’t need to know the business side of my career. I will hire someone else to do that. Having a business manager or team is great. However, the world is full of artists who have had all of their money stolen by managers or business managers. Two that come to mind are Barry Maniliow and Billy Joel. You need to know enough about your business affairs, and be involved enough in them such that you can tell when something isn’t right. You need to have a system of checks and balances. You need to be able to understand the contracts you are signing. If you don’t know these things, you are leaving the door wide open for someone to step in and take advantage of you.
  • Playing covers is ‘selling out.’ Tell that to Whitney Houston, who covered Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, or to Celine Dion, who covered Eric Carmen’s ‘All By Myself’ (which Carmen borrowed from Sergei Rachmaninoff). Covers pay tribute to great songs and great songwriters. Covers allow you to play many more gigs. Covers can get you known on YouTube, Spotify and other searchable music websites. Remember, ‘people don’t know what they love, they love what they know!’
  • All I need is a ‘bus gig’. Many musicians think that working with a major label act is the epitome of success. The truth is that most musicians who tour with a ‘star’ make very little, unless they are with them a long time, or they land a job with the few artists who have their bands on salary. Otherwise, you get paid a small amount per gig ($200-$300), get a small per diem for the off days (approx. $35), don’t get health insurance, and only work as much as the act does. So if the star works 100 dates in a year, and you’re being paid $300 per gig, you’ll make $30,000 that year. Most musicians who are good enough to tour with a top act also supplement their incomes by producing, being a studio musician and/or giving lessons!
  • I’m great. All I need now is to be discovered. Nashville, New York, LA and every other major music city worldwide is packed with amazingly talented people. So is every small city around the world. Far less than 1% will ever rise to the top and become a superstar. There are a lot of reasons for this, and so the filters kick in. Getting discovered is ultimately the end product of:
    • Who you know. Friends and relatives of music industry decision-makers will always get the first and best shots. Start building relationships now!
    • How hard you work. No label wants to sign a lazy artist.
    • How much mass appeal you have. They need to know that a large enough audience will buy your music and come see your concerts. This is evidenced by the following and CD sales you have personally developed without their help.
    • How distinguishable you are. They want to know that you will fit in with and simultaneously stand out from the other major artists on the airwaves. No one needs a copycat.
    • What else you bring to the table. Many labels are looking for artists with their own financial backing (bare minimum $500,000). Or, an artist who has created a following outside of music (Disney star, YouTube etc.). Record labels no longer finance 10 careers in the hopes that one takes off. They are not in the risk business. They want artists who share the risk, and who will work extra hard because they have a lot to lose.
    • Extraordinary talents. This includes your unbelievable vocals combined with your captivating stage presence. Add in your skilled songwriting ability to rise above the crowd.

This is just the beginning of the filters. And all of this doesn’t even take into consideration that thousands upon thousands of artists have been discovered but for some reason, never became mass sensations. Many times the label that ‘discovered them’ never even released their albums.

Here is the bottom line: If you don’t do it yourself, chances are it will never get done. Make your own success by forging your own path. In the end you will have much more satisfaction, much more stability, and the peace of mind of knowing that you are living on your own terms.[/private_member]

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.