6 Keys to Get Ahead in Today’s Music Business.

In the last decade, the music business has seen more startup failures than most money-making endeavors. This is mainly because it involves a lot of money, ideas, and an enormously gifted artist to stand out and get noticed among the fierce competition. I am privileged to have been an artist myself, under the stage name ReDkAd, and I have seen first hand many successful and unsuccessful startups, the biggest of whom is Burnaboy who has recently been nominated for a Grammy award. Sugarboy,  Ms. chief, Onosz, and most recently Blaqbonez are other acts I have studied closely. I do not claim to have made any major contributions to their successes but I was close to these acts enough to see what worked and what failed.

After Introducing Onosz to Preye, Onosz got the chance to record a track with Burna.

Social media is a great way to get ahead.

In this article, I am looking to point out ways to become a more successful brand in today’s constantly evolving world of music business. Let us get a bit more specific or in-depth on how to get ahead in the music business as an artist.

1. Nurture the Talent

Every artist who wants to make it in the entertainment industry has to have some level of talent to showcase. An artist has to be convinced and confident about the talent they possess and ready to showcase it when called upon. It is also very important to continuously get better and to keep improving. It is not enough to stay consistent, artists have to re-invent themselves constantly, because the skill-sets required to survive in 2019  may be different from what is required to stay afloat in the near future. When I use the word “Talent”, I mean every aspect of creativity. The uniqueness of the songs, the concept of the photo-shoots, and the direction of the videos are all an indication of how talented an artist is.  It even goes as far as how you handle interviews and how you carry yourself. Having a different perspective is what makes a brand compelling and attractive to its fans. Talent is the raw material but uniqueness is the packaging that attracts buyers to the product.

2. Understand Business principles

This is, in my opinion, the most important key to running a successful music business. A lot of artists with enormous prospects and potential, wither and die because of having no business aptitude. As a matter of fact, an artist with minimal talent but great business acumen is more likely to survive than if it was vice versa. Many artists do not understand the basics of Business or the ones that do, find it hard to apply these basic business principles to their music. In my opinion, there are two parallel sides in entertainment as a whole, One is the artistic point of view, and the other is the business or commercial side of things. Having knowledge of only one or the other will limit the chances of success. Most successful brands take both sides into consideration when making decisions or they have partners that do. One side handles business while the other party concentrates on the creative side of things. It is recommended that even with a partner, it is important to understand how both sides work at least to a certain extent. A good example is Roc-A-Fella Records; an American hip hop record label founded by rapper/entrepreneur Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Damon “Dame” Dash, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke in 1995. Jay Z and  Dame Dash were partners and complemented each other. One thing I have learned is that what is good for creativity may not be necessarily good for business and vice versa. It may be creative to do an entire album about gangsterism and violence, but if the goal is to be in as many shows as possible like weddings and parties you may want to consider making songs with a different focus to meet the business goals for the brand. A creative song about doing drugs or rape may be creatively cool but if you want to become a brand ambassador for many reputable companies such songs may disqualify the artist. Many people say that women who pose nude have no creativity and need nudity to push their brand but from a business standpoint, it may be the reason she is making millions of dollars in revenue. Understanding how an idea impacts creativity or business will position an artist for greatness. It differs for everyone.

Therefore every artist has to educate themselves on a few basic Business and economic principles such as buying and selling, marketing, the scale of preference, Budgets, Production, distribution, credit, debit, profit and loss accounting, business name registration, Patent, copyright, contracts laws, branding etc. because decisions that are made every day without understanding these underlying principles will hurt the process in the long run. Most importantly, research to find out about topics specific to the music industry. An upcoming artist discarded a great deal with a record label because he had reasoned that since he has the talent( raw material) and the label was just coming through with the finances, he should get 70% while the label gets 40%. These great opportunities do not come all the time so being novice about issues like this can keep a promising lad grounded for years. A simple search on Google can provide answers on what a standard offer looks like and what the standard rate for an artist or a manager is.

Acts want to concern themselves with the creative process alone leaving behind critical knowledge required to establish and run a business. More often than not, this causes the death of many promising music brands.  I have met artists that have no idea what a good business plan or model is, so they seldomly make good business decisions.

3. Have a Source of Income

Music is expensive, most businesses require a one-time start-up capital to take off, but the reality is that being an artist requires a source of capital – a constant flow of money, because It may take years of financial commitments and time to finally break out an artist. It typically takes millions of dollars to completely establish a major artist. This huge investment makes it impossible for a lot of aspiring musicians to go far in the industry without a sponsor. This is the reason several musicians and entertainers turn to record labels for help. Record labels have the resources to provide financial backing to talented acts. They typically pay the cost required to produce, distribute, manage, and promote the artist’s contents.

Getting signed on to a record label comes with its own problems. one of the major problems especially in Nigeria is that everyone with a sizeable amount of money claims to be a record label, even without the necessary know-how, networking, and connections. Another issue stems from the fact that many artists have no idea what a good contract looks like. The news of being signed on to a label is heralded with so much happiness, expectations, and buzz that it is almost as if the artist has made it in life, but little do they know that whatever penny is spent on the artist as either an advance, cash, or cost of production must be retrieved. Therefore the artist must be committed to working harder than ever rather than showing off. Whatever is written in the contract agreement handed by record label must carefully be reviewed and understood by the artist, his associates, or his lawyer (recommended). There is so much Jargon written in contracts that it is advisable to get a lawyer in order to understand it from a legal perspective. This will help the artist make informed decisions that will get you ahead. Artists have to understand what is expected of them and what the label has to offer. The main issue is that many acts disregard the documents, and then sign on to labels to later realize they do not really like the offer. Just like many of us also enter into agreements with online apps or websites without looking through the document – We simply just hit the I agree button.

Do not put pen to paper unless the entire document is understood.

Most issues arise from the artists expecting to get more than what was spelled out in the contract, or the record label not being able to meet up with their financial responsibilities they accepted in the contract. Both situations cause a lot of friction and both parties more often than not, find themselves in court, or go their separate ways. Today, social media has helped a little in the area of scouting talents, promotions, and distributions that a record label does not have as much power as it once had. Many acts who have the money and network to push their music locally have taken up the burden of being their own label. Platforms such as Youtube, iTunes, SoundCloud provide options for acts to make some money. Instagram, Facebook a huge pool of people to aid promotions and distributions companies like Distrokid, Cdbaby, Tunecore have simplified the process and now provide placements on streaming platforms like Spotify, Google Play, Amazon Music, Pandora e.tc. In the past decade, we have seen a lot of artists go from the comfort of their bedrooms to performing in great venues across the world. Although social media has thrived in this respect, it is also the goal of an artist to keep expanding and meeting new opportunities.

Yes, record labels still offer the artist much more exposure and opportunities than what the artist can do for himself.

Let me use this opportunity to state that, although over the years, artists have made record labels look like the devil, record Labels are still a fantastic way to get ahead of the competition, so long as every party understands their role. Labels take a lot of risk in investing millions of dollars on artists and artists should see this as a favor, at least until the investor starts getting a return on investment. They have the connections and network to turn a life around overnight.

Tubaba exploded internationally when he got signed on to Kennis music in 2004.

4. Budget

Even when there is a source of income, we do not just embark on a spending spree. An artist and his management will have to figure out the most effective way to spend his capital. Let us use a very basic example. A shoe cobbler plans to buy a hammer, threads, Polish, machines, gloves etc. He also pays for space at the corner and considers costs like electricity to run his machines. He calculates all of his expected expenses and comes up with a start-up budget/cost. The start-up cost and expenses associated with running the business will determine the price he will charge for his services. The same principles apply to music. An artist will have to answer questions like should I make more videos, or focus on making audios for now? Should I spend this amount of money on radio promotions or use that amount and pour it into buying outfits for my events? Are photoshoots the best way to engage my fans and increase brand awareness? These answers will differ for everyone and will guide the ways the budget will be spent. Whatever the choice, the artist should be sure to make decisions that will make the most sense at every point in time.

It is not unusual to come across artists who never want to pay for anything. The excuse is that they make no amount so they do not have to spend money on making or pushing content. Good Photos, studio time, videos, Management, promotions or distribution cost money and you are going nowhere if you cannot spend money to put your product together i.e a demo, a single, an E.P, Album, video, or a documentary. On the other hand, Some acts will spend most of their money on making the content, without realizing that promotions and distribution are equally as important as making the content. For any reasonable type of success to occur, the product must reach the intended consumer, there must be a budget for publicity, promotions, and distributions.  It is not ok to depend solely on free services.  You may take advantage of free services in the offering but from experience, it is better to pay top industry associates to get the best quality of content and service. It saves time and eliminates waste.

5. Management

Would it surprise you to learn that many fledgling artists do not have a manager? The advantages of having a management far supersedes the disadvantage (cost). A manager’s role can never be overemphasized. He holds the key to unlocking the artists’ potentials on the field of play, let us just say he is “the Pep Guardiola of the team”. Well for Liverpool fans, he is your “Jurgen Klop”

A manager aims to turn the artist into a money-spinning brand. He is constantly looking out for businesses and deals they can benefit from. He has the artist’s best interest at heart and will do whatever is in his power to drive the brand towards making an impact. Mostly behind the scenes, a manager plans the schedule, negotiates pay, represents the artist in meetings, Plans events, tours or travels with the artist, and most importantly searches for new opportunities where the brand can thrive. Most Managers get paid a monthly salary but some of them agree to be a part of the brand’s growth process and may agree to collect a percentage of the money the artist makes. This implies that, if the artist is not making money, he is also not. Whatever the case may be make sure to have a management contract reviewed by a lawyer and signed to avoid any major disputes in the future. Some of the top managers in the Nigerian industry are Bankuli, Asa Asika, Osagie Omoregbe, Sunday Are, Kamal Ajiboye just to mention a few. It is also a smart idea to start off with a promising manager, one who just got into the business and is willing to take a pay cut for a start, that way the artist can save some money.

Not having a manager is a disaster, just like a soccer team with no manager at the touchline, there will be no form of organization, direction, neither will there be a clear game plan. A good manager knows the most effective areas to spend time and resources to make the most impact. They provide brand-specific strategies and also provide a pair of eyes from the sideline to know what changes to make for progress to be made. They are also effective in getting the artist paid gigs and endorsements to drive revenue.

6. Collaborations

If there is anything that can put an artist in the front foot, it is collaborating with different emerging or established artists. It is a great way to expose both acts to a different fanbase. The first time most Nigerians ever heard of Wizkid was on a collaboration with MI Abaga who was at the time emerging as one of Nigeria’s finest rappers. Wizkid has undeniable talents, but collaborating on this song with M.I set the tone for what was to come. It increased people’s awareness of his brand and made people eager to find out more about him. It is understood that collaborations with big brands do not come cheap but collaborating with emerging managers, Models, artists, designers, media outlets, event venues, comedians, small businesses can save the artist a bit of money and also get them ahead.

Please leave us a message if you have any tips to add to this or if this article helped you understand the music process even more. If you do have questions or are looking for brand-specific tips, please contact me and we can work with you to get your business going and your streams and revenue up.

—Written by Mazifeanyi


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