Why You’re Never Going to “Make It” in the Music Industry
Everyone will tell you that working in the music industry is hard, and that you’re never going to “make it.” What exactly is “making it” though? To me, living solely off of music-related income, not having to work a day job that I hate, and being able to cover all of my monthly expenses is “making it.”
I think you can agree that this is a pretty reasonable and seemingly achievable goal, so why is it that you’re still trying to “make it” in the music industry after years of struggle? Let’s take a look at six reasons why you’re never going to “make it” in the music industry, and the steps you can take to overcome these roadblocks.
1. You Lack the Correct Skill Set
A lack of skills, or a lack of the right type of skills, is one of the greatest barriers of entry into the music industry.
You aren’t going to get hired at a commercial recording studio if you don’t know the first thing about recording music. Whether you decide to go to school, or teach yourself the skills you need, it’s imperative that you develop the appropriate music-related skill set for the job you’re in pursuit of.
Perhaps you haven’t discovered the music industry job that will suit you quite yet; there are plenty of cool jobs out there. This is the perfect time to develop a skill set based on your interests. When a job opportunity roles around that is appealing to you, you’ll have the skills to fill the position.
Maybe you like playing video games and creating weird sounds using Serum and guitar pedals. If that’s the case, learn how to make video games using Unity and how to integrate custom sounds using Wwise. If an opportunity to work on an indie video game as a sound designer presents itself to you, you’ll be prepared.
A colleague of mine, Kris Zarcone, was commissioned to work on an indie VR horror game called Reiko’s Fragments because his friend, who was the head of audio for the game, found out that he had music production and sound design experience. Chance opportunities like this occur every so often, and if you can step up to the plate, the job is yours.
The random coagulation of skills that you currently possess is probably much more useful than you think. For example, do your social media posts go viral? You could work as a social media manager for a guitar company like Fender. Do you have a background in computer science? You could create audio plugins for a plugin company like Waves.
2. You Waste Your Time
How much of your time do you spend playing video games or watching TV? Is it more than you spend creating music? The music industry is extremely competitive and cutthroat, meaning that while you’re catching up on How I Met Your Mother, someone else is finishing an album.
Wasting time can also refer to spending your time on music-related activities that you shouldn’t; these are often tasks that provide no opportunity for growth. Is it wise to spend every Thursday night playing country songs at your local dive bar for $50, or should you be use that time to organize a nation-wide tour? Consider weighing short term and long term gains against one another.
You don’t have to be the best in the world at what you do, but you do need to be good. If you want to work full-time in the music industry, you should be investing full-time hours, or at least the free time available to you, to hone your skills. Nobody else is going to put in the time for you.
3. You Don’t Want to Work
Turning your passion for music into a career has a number of implications that many people may not realize. Music becomes the way in which you’re going to pay rent at the end of the month instead of a way to relax at the end of the week.
Don’t want to write a song that day? Got writer’s block? Too bad, you’ve got bills piling up, so you better get that project back to your client before the end of their billing cycle.
While there’s nothing more fun than producing music on your own terms, there’s nothing worse than having to force yourself to be creative and work on a project that you hate. You’re not going to like all the projects your clients send you, and that’s a fact.
You often need to take on work that you don’t love in order to make ends meet, especially when starting out. Projects like this may not be what you signed up for, but as long as you’re working in the correct field, better opportunities are likely to present themselves to you.
4. You Aren’t Assertive Enough
More frustrating than being under skilled and unemployed, is being over-skilled end unemployed. Often times, the company you apply to may not be hiring; your lack of employment could have nothing to do with how skilled you are. For this reason, applying for three different positions and then giving up doesn’t make any sense; it’s a numbers game.
I applied to write for over 200 different music production blogs before one of them gave me a shot a few years ago; this opportunity turned into my first paid writing gig. A 0.5% success rate is awful, but it’s all you need. Only one person has to go out on a limb for you and give you a chance.
“The place you apply to work should either end up hiring you or placing a restraining order on you.” This is the advice a mentor of mine gave me once, and it stuck with me ever since. Basically, his point was that you should see a job application through to the end of its viability.
If a studio doesn’t return your calls, go knock on their door; it’s really hard to blow someone off face-to-face. Worst case scenario, they reject your application, and best case scenario, you get hired because they admire your assertiveness. You won’t get what you want unless you ask for it… and make sure you get a definitive “yes” or “no” answer.
5. You Have Tunnel Vision
Working full-time as a producer doesn’t necessarily mean that the only thing you do is produce music. Many artists I know that make a living in the music industry have diverse income sources. They make money from playing shows, selling merchandise, collecting streaming royalties, teaching, and creating educational content.
For example, Graham Cochrane of The Recording Revolution made over $1,000,000 in 12 months selling educational content. It would take roughly 250,000,000 Spotify streams to make that kind of money in streaming royalties. For reference, “South of the Border (feat. Camila Cabello & Cardi B)” by Ed Sheeran has just over 230,000,000 streams and the marketing power of Atlantic Records behind it.
Let’s take a second to re-assess what it means to “make it” in the music industry. All you need to do is make a livable income, which we can safely assume is probably in the ballpark of around $30,000-50,000/year depending where you live. 7,500,000-12,500,000 streams isn’t quite as scary as 250,000,00, but that’s still asking a lot.
The real problem with putting all your eggs in one basket is that you may develop tunnel vision and close yourself off to potentially profitable opportunities. Until you’ve dropped your day job, you aren’t in a position to be picky about the music-related work you accept.
If you want to work as a session vocalist, but someone offers you a job as a songwriter, take them up on it. You may get asked to record demo vocals, which could impress someone and lead to new recording opportunities.
Get involved in the music industry however you can and quit your day job. You’re more likely to get hired for your ideal position with industry-related work experience under your belt.
6. Music Is Just a Hobby to You
Making music is fun, which is why most people start making music in the first place. There seems to be this unspoken expectation that if you create music, you need to aim for the Billboard top 10 charts, like creating music is some kind of competition. What happened to creating music just for the sake of creating music?
Some people are more than happy working a stable 9-5 day job that pays well and creating music on the weekends. Financial stability is something that almost everyone wishes for, and not every day job outside of the music industry sucks.
If music is just a hobby to you, that’s great. You don’t need to profit off all of your pastimes. While you likely won’t make a full-time living off a part-time hobby, keeping finances away from your music can lead to ultimate creative freedom.
I hope that by now it’s apparent that the purpose of this article isn’t to crush your hopes and dreams and throw them out the window; far from it. If you’re trying to “make it” in the music industry, and have been struggling to do so, ask yourself what’s been holding you back. Identify the roadblocks you’ve been running into and knock them down them one at a time.
I want to invite you to join me in the Black Ghost Audio group on Facebook; it's full of producers currently working in the music industry who are more than happy to help you improve your productions. Leave a comment below if you have any questions regarding this article. Your feedback is always appreciated, and we'll take it into account when we publish future articles.