How To Break Into The Music Industry – A Musicians Guide

Todd McCartyMusic1 Comment

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How To Get In The Music Industry – A Musicians Guide

Whether you are a musician looking to get your band signed or job hunting in the music industry, it’s important to understand the full spectrum of the business. When asked how to get in the music industry I tell people to get involved and do “something” yourself that provides value to fans, artists, and music companies. So no matter where you are in your music career this article offers valuable advice for those looking to get in the music industry. Furthermore, you will succeed if you understand the various promotional channels, focus on the right things, and know how to make money in the music business.

Is your band focusing on the right things?

While working with hundreds of artists as the GM and Head of Sales at Fearless Records for 13 years, and at Sony and Century Media it became clear to me. I observed first hand what successful artists like (I Prevail, Motionless In White, Mayday Parade, Plain White T’s) did differently. Many artists only go halfway, and wait for the industry to do the rest.

In this article I’ll separate activities into three areas to give you focus. After you truly know the various parts of the music industry, you can put energy into developing the right things. It’s quite simple if you break it down to the basic activity and focus.

  • Writing Great Music
  • Getting More Fans
  • Making Money


Some Of The Best Advice I’ve Heard

Before diving into an overview of the music business, I’d like to pass along some helpful advice. This is something I like to do in all of my blog posts.

If you piss everybody off on the way up, they’ll kick you on your way down.

Don’t make enemies. One bad relationship can multiply. If you piss everybody off on the way up, they’ll kick you on your way down. So just be cool.

We’re In A Search Based Economy

I heard this first from Grant Cardone author of the 10x Rule. He discussed a new search based economy. Search traffic has replaced television, radio, and newspapers as the biggest driver of revenue. Eyeballs and ears equals traffic. And if you don’t have any traffic, you need to work on that immediately. Create traffic by getting people to write about your band and talk about it online. When you sit down to plan promotion of your music, keep this in mind. Everything you do will usually result in some sort of search. A search on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Spotify, Apple, a smartphone, an app. So make sure that you show up in the results and that you look great when new fans run into your content on a search result.

Implement the 80 / 20 Rule (Pareto Principle).

It’s a mathematical principle and proven natural law of the universe. Pareto was an Italian scholar and economist in the late 18th Century, and after observing business and nature, revealed that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (Source: M. E. J. Newman Department of Physics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI)

Applied to the music industry or your band, it means that 80% of your income come from 20% of your songs. It works in reverse too. 20% of your fans will generate 80% of your income (sometimes called “super fans”). Most of your merchandise sales will come from 20% of your designs.

Like what you’re reading? I teach my full Spotify and fanbuilding strategy inside Band Builder Academy. I’ve also developed free software that taps into the Spotify API and it will be for members only. CLICK HERE to Learn More.

Work Hard

More specifically, work harder than everybody else at the right things. Here is a quote from Caleb Shomo of Beartooth.

“I know so many people that I think could’ve been some of the biggest acts or some of the best people in this music business and they just didn’t really go for it. They kind of waited for it to either fall in their lap or they just let it pass them by and I think it’s really important to take opportunities and push for it.” – Caleb Shomo of Beartooth – Metal Insider

Get a mentor.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a top industry exec, or even in this industry at all. It doesn’t even have to be a face to face relationship. You can get get the same type of advice from books, blogs, video, or interviews with artists or people that you respect. Finally, mentors will keep you honest with yourself, help you stay focused, and contribute to success in business, family life, and health as well.

Writing Great Music

Songwriting and making great music is arguably the most important of the three areas to focus your energy on. Actually I won’t go into great detail in this post about songwriting because it’s one of the areas that most of you spend an appropriate amount of energy on.

Great songs in particular will make your journey much easier. It is true that if you have timeless songs with wide appeal, you will have a much easier path to success. For this reason, I always put writing great music at the top of my list. A big myth in the music industry is that if you just write great songs or make great music, that everything will fall in place. But If that were true, then why do we all have so many examples of great bands that never had commercial success? Because these artists didn’t balance songwriting with the other two major elements below.

Getting More Fans

Next we’ll take a dive into music promotion and define the various elements used in the music industry to get more fans. Read up on each of these fan building activities and make sure you understand them all. If you haven’t read my post about music marketing and branding, please bookmark this page. Because success starts with your brand and mission. If you don’t have your brand and mission, it’s too early to start promotional activity.

Social Media

This isn’t an article about social media marketing. But I listed it first because music is the most powerful vertical on social media. It’s the most obvious marketing channel for any new brand, and the most frequent marketing activity you will do. Social media is especially relevant, therefore I will go into detail on this in a separate blog post.


Press, PR, and public relations, are interchangeable terms. Publicists or (PR’s) connect your music and brand with all media. Examples: magazines, newspapers, TV, radio interviews (not spinning your track), blogs, podcasts, public appearances (not concerts), sessions, influencers, celebrities, connect with brand partnerships.

The goal of publicity is to spread the artist’s vision, accentuate the brand, and draw out the human interest story. They are also responsible for protecting the artist’s brand and doing damage control when negative incidents occur. Conversely, they know how to fan the flames when positive events arise. Consequently publicists are experts at “spin”, meaning that they can tell your story in different ways depending on the circumstance.

Which publicist is best for my band?

Music publicists come in different varieties (Print, Online, Tour Publicity, or all of the above). While many publicists work independently, some work with larger firms that have publicists in all trades. Others work directly for the record label. I’ve worked with all three types, and in my experience they are all equal in ability. The best publicist for your band is one that is qualified, but also a genuine superfan of your music and brand. Publicists typically work on a monthly retainer (3 month minimum). Hire them as independent contractors and pay one fixed rate per month. Prices on the low end are $750 USD p/month, averaging $2,500 p/month, and the top firms and well known publicists are as much as $5,000 p/month. These costs also come with additional expenses to cover phone bills, clippings, press kit mail outs, etc. Furthermore, I will discuss D.I.Y. options in other blog posts.

>>>>  5 Ways To Get Press Features On Your Own  <<<<


Influencers or social influencers are people who have massive active audiences and with a keyboard or camera can expose their audience to something they like in an instant. Examples of influencers are YouTube vloggers, athletes, celebrities, bloggers, podcasters, or comedians. Most of these influencers have managers, and command high fees. Hiring social influencers is one of the most expensive advertising opportunities I’ve come across. Influencer costs are 8 to 15 times higher than social media advertising, 5 to 7 times more than banner ad campaigns, and 2 to 4 times higher than magazine print ads. Traffic and impressions sometimes determine the price. But most often it’s based on what that particular influencer can command at the moment.


While I do recommend artists or bands investing in this type of advertising on some level, I want you to find ways to work with influencers with barter or in mutually beneficial ways. For instance, when working the Portugal The Man record on Fearless Records back in 2006, we sent YouTube newbies Smosh a care package of swag and t-shirts. As a result they ended up wearing a Portugal The Man T-shirt in one of their videos. Smosh were just getting started but they had enough traffic at the time that we saw an opportunity. We had common interests, and built our relationship. This is networking. Constantly build your community of friends and fans. Let those relationships be your social currency and budgets won’t be as much of a factor down the road.


Advertising is a reality of doing business. According to the IFPI, the recording industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on advertising. There are endless types of “ad units”. Social media posts, banners, billboards, park benches, movie screens, window clings, magazine advertisements, snipe poster campaigns, etc. Somebody at the record label handles advertising and usually gets their budget from the product manager. A product manager is sort of like the artist manager inside of a record label. Music companies increased digital advertising over the past five years, and decreased traditional forms of advertising (TV, print, and outdoor). For new bands, I absolutely recommend creating a budget for social media advertising. It’s affordable and easy to purchase and manage. I’ll write more about this in future blog posts.

Radio Airplay & Promotion

The promotion team at a record label or an independent promotion company (called an indie) works to get your song spun on radio stations. Don’t confuse this type of promotion with a venue promoter. Promoting concerts, publicizing your band, social media promotion, are all forms of promotion, but in the music industry, promotion or “promo” refers to radio play. Radio is still the number one way for how to get into the music industry.

Different types of radio play

  • terrestrial airplay (commercial or public FM and AM radio stations with a tower and signal)
  • satellite radio play (SiriusXM)
  • programmed cable TV (Music Choice)
  • streaming radio (iHeart Radio)

Typically promo departments focus on the terrestrial radio stations in each city and region, and also big national platforms like SiriusXM, and Music Choice. Radio promo staff spend advertising with radio trade websites, and sometimes facilitate advertising on radio stations. Most major terrestrial radio stations have annual festivals. The promo team also facilitates these radio festival appearances. Promo staff even bring on radio stations to sponsor the artists live shows in each market. There are national syndicated programs for rock music like HardDrive, Sixx Sense, Rock Nation, The Alternative Project, Loudwire. Syndicated shows are centrally programmed but played on select radio stations around the country. Specialty Radio and college radio are open minded outlets for new music and often not driven by revenue goals. “Promo” staff do not pitch Pandora and internet radio. Depending on the company, internet radio falls under either digital sales, publicity, or digital marketing.

Like what you’re reading? I teach my full Spotify and fanbuilding strategy inside Band Builder Academy. I’ve also developed free software that taps into the Spotify API and it will be for members only. CLICK HERE to Learn More.

Video Promotion

The fastest growing form of promotion for any business in 2021 is video. Everybody knows they are not doing enough of it and plan to do more this year. I’m not talking about simply making a music video and getting it up on YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and Vevo. You’re in the entertainment industry and music fans want to see more video from their favorite artists. Chances are you have a personality in your band that has the same skills of a YouTube vlogger or social influencer. Hence, use what your have. If it’s not a face, use graphics, or photography in video format.

Aside from the above internet video services, there are other video outlets to promote through. Some examples are cable TV outlets like MTV and Fuse, retail video pools that get videos in restaurants, bars, and bowling alleys. There are 3rd party companies that you can hire on a monthly retainer (much like publicists) that can service your music video to these outlets.

Don’t get lazy on your Email list.

As tired a form of communication email is, it’s still an extremely effective tool. I was shocked by how many signed artists didn’t have email address when I first started to work with them. What if one day Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram made a policy to charge you for outgoing posts? Most of all, what if one day these sites become MySpace? They once dominated social media, only to disappear in a very short time.

Constantly collect email addresses. It’s a simple and easy rule. Cue the newsletter subscription… Click here to join the email list and get tips for success in the music industry!

C.R.M. (Customer Relationship Management)

You’ll hear about C.R.M. from record labels and artist managers. It’s a fancy term for your email database of fans and contact information. There are companies that charge a monthly subscription to manage large email lists. You might not have known this but gmail won’t let you email more than 500 people in one day. If you have a list of more than 500 people, I recommend a subscription to AWebber or ConvertKit. But more than the software to manage email, I want to underscore the importance of email.

An email is worth 5 or even 10 social media followers. Email has the highest engagement and the highest conversion rate. Engagement is getting fans to interact with the message, whereas conversion rate is getting the fan to take action or purchase something. So when you think of launching a new merchandise item, a t-shirt for example, you will reach more actual fans and get more purchases from your email list of 1,500 than from your social media following of 15,000. The algorithms on social media won’t let you access 100% of your followers. You have to pay if you want to reach most of your followers.

Making Money

Finally we discuss what eludes most musicians, and the myth that only the biggest major label artists make money in the music business. I started this blog because I believe musicians should have more resources, more happiness, and the financial rewards to sustain a long career. Furthermore, musicians should be able to support a family and live a lifestyle that defies the “poor artist” image. Here is an overview, and some insight on how money is made in the music business. And all of these avenues are available unsigned self managed bands.

>>>>  35 Ways To Make Money With Your Music  <<<<

Sales and Sales Drivers

Record labels create a press kit, marketing and sales onesheet, and “pitch” using all of the activity that arise from the marketing channels above. Salespeople and distribution reps are on the front lines, making sure your music is on the best music sales or streaming outlets and also getting positioning in and on these stores. Positioning space is limited and all labels and distributors are in competition for it.

Many developing artists stop at the search bar because they don’t believe the feature pages are within their reach. There are tools that allow you to get sales activity going on your own. A Distrokid or CDBaby account, is a good start. Spotify has a dashboard called Spotify For Artists. Apple has a similar tool which allows you to enhance your artist page on Apple Music with news, photos, tour dates, etc. In addition to using traditional sales channels you should also sell direct to fans. There are artist friendly eCommerce services like Bandcamp to sell your physical music and merchandise online, as well as your digital music.

What are sales drivers?

Sales, PR, and promo staff use talking points and sales drivers to land airplay, in-store play, features on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, physical stores, brand partnerships, etc. Sales Drivers refer to high traffic opportunities that are known to drive streams, track sales, album sales, or ticket sales. Without some commercial activity or national promotion activity it is very difficult to land placement, positioning, or airplay opportunities, but not impossible. Most noteworthy are features reserved for developing artists. These outlets want to be known for discovering new artists as well. This is an opportunity for your band.

Examples of Sales Drivers

Some examples of sales drivers (starting with major):

  • national radio airplay
  • song in a major movie, TV, or video game
  • Major performance (Super Bowl / Grammy Awards)
  • late night or daytime TV performance
  • top selling soundtrack
  • celebrity or influencer recommendation
  • a support spot with a major national artist
  • brand partnership (tie-up)

The most likely sales drivers for developing artists:

  • a support spot on a national tour
  • TV synch
  • social influencer recommendation
  • national press story
  • partnership with a national brand
  • developing artist spotlight feature on a high traffic website.
Like what you’re reading? I teach my full Spotify and fanbuilding strategy inside Band Builder Academy. I’ve also developed free software that taps into the Spotify API and it will be for members only. CLICK HERE to Learn More.

Live Shows

No definition needed here, but as live performance and touring pertain to making money, you need to tie everything above and below into your live show. The products you sell are your music, merchandise, and tickets (live shows). There are others, but those three are your primary revenue streams. It just so happens that all three can also be sold at a live shows. But remember in the big scheme of things, your real product is you, your brand, and what you stand for.

Never lose sight of the reason you are at a venue performing. Make sure that at every performance, you make that reason clear to the audience. Convey your brand through marketing, artwork, and advertising leading up to the show. Do it through your stage setup, or the things you say on stage. Express your brand or art on the front of an amplifier or a backdrop. Another option are Scrims. Scrims are a large canvas signs on stage in front of amps advertising the band logo, album name, or album art elements. But I think most of all, this is a chance for you to connect on a deep level with your fans through performance, or the things you say to your fans on or off the stage.

>>>>  How To Plan A Concert – Gig Checklist PDF  <<<<


There’s nothing like the open road and waking up in a new city every morning. When I was looking for how to get into the music industry, touring was very attractive. Before I started at Fearless Records, I tour managed for a couple years. I worked on amazing tours with At The Drive-in, Jimmy Eat World, Cursive, Stereolab, Eastern Youth, and others. Before that I booked national and regional tours for my own unsigned band. After you have worked out your live show in your local market, and built up a following on social media, go for it. It’s never been easier to book and promote your own tour. There are lots of good resources on how to do it, and it will take your band to the next level.

Before booking a national tour, start with booking weekend tours regionally. Dial in your performance, and use each event as an exercise in marketing and promotion. You can apply nearly everything in this article to each event. The goal is to increase your turnout each time you return to these markets. Keep building that fan base through personal interaction on stage and at the merch table, email signup list, and social media. If you don’t get any journalists out the first time, make it a goal to get them to show up the second time. Then once you get a feel for regional touring, go deeper even 500 miles away from your hometown and rinse and repeat. When you do all of this yourself, you’ll appreciate it even more when you bring a booking agent and tour manager onto the team.

>>>>  7 Helpful Touring Tips From 50 Bands  <<<<


Merchandise and VIP fan experiences are a great way for artists to make money in the early part of their career. With this in mind, make sure your merchandise looks amazing. You don’t need to start with too many items, just the best items. For starters, sell your CD, a t-shirt design, and give away free stickers with purchase. As demand grows, add on additional items. Better to have one great design, than to have 3 or 4 average ones. If only one of the four designs sells well, all of the money you made from that best seller will go right back into paying the bill for the other three that didn’t sell. You’ve only broken even or lost money.


If a particular design is selling really well, then it’s time to merchandise it on other items. Sweatshirt, hoodie, keychain, hat, wristband, necklace, etc. Save these items for your top design(s).

Your online store is another great source of income for your band. Sales will increase with hard work collecting email addresses and social media followers. I’ll go into eCommerce in future posts and show you how to sell online using the same strategies big retailers use.


I have a more in depth blog post specifically about publishing, but for now I want you to understand this is a powerful revenue stream that you need to keep in mind from the beginning. To start, I will expose you to the various revenue streams from publishing. When thinking about publishing, think about the words and the notes (if written on paper). Don’t think about the sound and audio (that is the master recording). Furthermore, I urge songwriters to get active in the publishing process so you are aware of how it works. I don’t recommend interacting with every paying entity as a collections agent, but work directly with the handful of large organizations that do that on your behalf.

Mechanical Royalties

Typically mechanical royalties are the biggest share of an artist’s overall publishing royalties. Every time a track is sold physically, digitally, or exchanged for advertising or subscription fees (on Spotify or Youtube), the owner of the copyright (publisher) is owed a mechanical royalty. The biggest source of mechanical royalties come from digital track sales, streams, CD, and vinyl sales. In case you were wondering, the term “mechanical” comes from when music was first “mechanized” on piano rolls or music boxes.

“Synch” or Synchronization Fee

These are music placements in TV, Video, Film, Video Games, and Advertisements. For a company or individual to use your composition in “synch” with motion picture, they need a “synchronization” license and a negotiated fee to pay you for that use. They also need a master license, and a fee for the “master” use, but that does not have to do with publishing. If you own your master, then they need to obtain the master license from you. Or, if a label owns your master, they need to obtain the master license from the label.

Performance Royalties

Performance royalties are paid to the publisher for the performance of a composition as well as a master performance royalty paid to the owner of the master recording (the sounds). Anytime your song gets broadcast or performed in public, these rights owners are due a performance royalty.

Examples are radio play, broadcast and cable TV, music venues, malls, restaurants, sports venues, bowling alleys, and college campuses. These outlets register to pay performance royalties. Because there are millions of songs and artists around the world and tons of paperwork and accounting needed, PRO’s (Performance Rights Organizations) were set up to collect and pay rights holders. Each songwriter needs to setup an account with a PRO so they can register and collect on their compositions. In the USA there are several options (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). Canada has SOCAN, CMMRA, SPACQ, and Sound Music Licensing Company. The UK has PRS and PPL. Australia has APRA.


In the United States, SoundExchange collects digital performance royalties for the sound recording (not publishing). SoundExchange only collects from non-interactive streaming services on the internet like Pandora, Music Choice, Sirius XM, Napster, and other internet radio stations. Law requires these outlets to report and pay non-interactive digital performance royalties. Government regulators assigned the term Non-Interactive, which refers to digital music services that program the playlists or use an algorithm to serve you the tracks. You can’t choose a song on demand with non-interactive services, like you can on subscriptions services or ad supported services like YouTube and Spotify Premium.


As a songwriter, you are not limited to making money on just your music recordings. Consider co-writing songs for another artist or band and get paid publishing royalties (all the above) on their recordings. You only collect on the composition, and not the master recording part. Be sure to have an agreement in place, and you need to make sure that they properly credit you as a writer, and include your information in the metadata for the track (explained more in another post soon). Co-writing is another way for how to get in the music industry.


Each year commercial brands pay billions of dollars to musicians and music rights owners. According to, YouTube alone reported $1 Billion paid to the recording industry in 2016 from advertising revenue spent by the likes of Coca Cola, Honda, and State Farm. If you were paid for your views on YouTube, you are already getting a share from corporate advertisers. But they have other ways to spend their advertising budgets. Partnership marketing can take many forms. At record labels, somebody on the team that has relationships with brands (across all sectors of the economy), advertising agencies (who represent the brands), personal managers and agents of celebrities, and film and tv. They leverage these relationships to foster brand partnerships.

Like what you’re reading? I teach my full Spotify and fanbuilding strategy inside Band Builder Academy. I’ve also developed free software that taps into the Spotify API and it will be for members only. CLICK HERE to Learn More.


These partnerships are sometimes called “tie ups”, “co-branded partnerships”, or “branded content partnerships”. “Tie Ups” can take on many forms, and they are each unique and have different benefits, costs, and payouts for each side. In a good partnership, both sides feel they got valuable exposure or compensation. Sometimes it’s a band endorsing a product and sharing it with their fans, and vice versa the brand shares it with their customers.

Some high profile ones that you’ll most certainly recognize; GoPro & Redbull, Spotify & Starbucks. Also how Star Wars partnered with hundreds of brands across all sectors from restaurants, to cosmetics, airlines and beyond. Some recent examples in music were TWIX + Walmart + Mayday Parade, Citibank w/ Foo Fighters, Taco Bell Feed The Beat w/ various rock and alt artists. Of course many of the high dollar partnerships are with Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift. But increasingly brands want to partner with “cool” bands that very few people know of. They want to be seen as part of the story or success. So there is always of hope for young bands.


In conclusion, when asked how to get in the music industry, I would start with this overview, get involved and do things yourself first, and then build a team to help you maximize all of these avenues of promotion. If you’re looking to work in the music industry, which of the areas above interest you? Feel free to leave comments. I post frequent articles to help new artists learn how to succeed in the music industry. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.

Todd McCarty

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