“It’s called the music business. We’ve all gone into it ’cause we love the music, and a lot of people end up with nothing at the end of the day, after they’ve done all of this great music, ’cause they never learned any of the business side.”
So said Vincent Paul Abbott, aka Vinnie Paul, arguably the best heavy-metal drummer of all time. A lifetime spent in the music industry meant that Vinnie knew what he was talking about. Growing up with musician parents, Vinnie went on to be lead performer in no less than three bands, and generated musical income from live shows, multiple albums, a DVD, numerous endorsements and even a record label.
Unlike Vinnie, though, many musicians fall into the clichéd category of ‘dreamy artist’. Making matters worse, formal musical training almost never includes managerial or entrepreneurial skills. Consider this: Only 5% of arts and music college programs in the UK, and less than 2% in Germany even teach business-related skills.. (If you think that’s bad, numbers for the US aren’t even available!)
Adding to musicians’ problems, there are a large number of misconceptions floating around about how the music business works. Compounding this is the bad advice often given to musicians by self-professed ‘experts’. Fortunately, musicians today can turn to more reliable resources, as social media platforms like Instagram allow real industry insiders to share experiences, insights and sound advice.
One “must follow” Insta account for up-and-coming musicians is run by musician-turned-music promoter, Elliot Tousley. His pull-no-punches posts and reels help musicians cut through the fog of myths and misconceptions, and understand how the business of music production and promotion really works in the present day.
Here’s a sample of just some of the widespread but wrong beliefs among musicians about what it takes to make it in the music business, along with Elliot’s non-obvious, even counterintuitive advice (that’s been proven to work!) on Instagram:
1. Spotify identifies your music based on its similarity to others of a similar genre/ style.
Elliot: Nope. Instead of using up huge amounts of computing power or manpower analyzing similarities in music, Spotify uses a clever hack: it just analyzes what songs are being listened to by the same listeners to generate streaming suggestions and auto playlists.
2. Anyone can get hooked on to new music if they like it.
Elliot: Umm, that’s not what the research shows. Scientists have found that exploring and listening to new kinds of music caps out by the time people hit 28 to 30. So if you’re looking to reach out to new audiences, targeting younger listeners and viewers is a really good idea. (This also explains why TikTok is hugely popular among teens.)
3. Earnings should be the major consideration for an artist booking a live show.
Elliot: Wrong again. If you think about it, a live show, even a low paid one, is a great opportunity (the best?) for attracting new listeners and building a fan base. So signing up for a live performance, especially one where a large-ish audience is likely, is a really good way of building visibility for yourself and your music.
4. Venue managers prioritize great music when booking an artist for a live show.
Elliot: Wishful thinking. Show earnings are usually the bottom-line for most venue managers. So when trying to book a venue, musicians would do well to share statistics about their local fan base and ticket sales prospects, rather than simply sending the venue manager links to their music.
5. More music videos = Greater visibility
Elliot: Not really. An average (or even good!) music video, combined with a sub-par promotional campaign will do zilch to improve your visibility. Instead, making one great music video and doing a really good promotional campaign can help your musical career really soar.
6. ‘Pre-save’ campaigns on Spotify are a great way to build streams.
Elliot: Don’t bother. Without knowing your audience on Spotify and running a targeted ad campaign, a ‘pre-save’ campaign is just going to hit random listeners on Spotify with ads about your upcoming track, which they will simply ignore. Result = Waste of your precious $$$. Unless you’ve already built up a loyal fan base, pre-save campaigns are useless.
Pretty much like his Insta account, Elliot has been using the De Novo Agency (DNA) that he co-founded with James Landry, to provide straight-from-the-shoulder advice to musicians. Since 2018, Elliot and James have built hundreds of promotional campaigns to help musicians and their music get the recognition and reward they really deserve. Their pro-musician distribution platform, Songflwr, has also been inspired by the same ‘musicians should come first’ philosophy.
- Thom, M. (2015a). The suffering of arts entrepreneurs: Will fine art students be educated on how to become successfully self-employed? Journal of Education and Training Studies, 3, 64-77. http://dx.doi.org/10.11114/jets.v3il.587