Breaking Into The Music Business Today


By Mika Salmi, CEO of creativeLIVE.

Whether you love making music, or love listening to it, there are now more ways than ever to break into the music business.

It's been 14 years since Napster emerged, marking the start of an industry-wide revolution. Today, more music is being made and listened to than ever before, and the flow of both money and opportunity has changed radically.

Once upon a time, six major record labels controlled the music business. Now there are only major three labels — and they don't control the industry like they used to. With the traditional gatekeeper model all but destroyed, what opportunities are available to the aspiring musician or manager?

Musicians As Entrepreneurs

In the past, if you were a musician, getting signed to one of these labels was your only goal (okay, besides sex and drugs). That's not because it was easy to do; it was straightforward. The only way to make it big was to land a major deal with a major label.

Today, as an artist, you have a multitude of options — all starting and ending with your own bare-bones initiative. You can create music in your bedroom and distribute it directly via online platforms like Beatport or Soundcloud. You can play it like Macklemore did and spend years on the road, playing hundreds of live shows, building a fan base that will eventually fill arenas and land you on Billboard charts. You can try the old (and hardest) way and sign to a label. Or you can do all three.

Your path depends, first, on your talent and, second, on how much control you want over your career. Today, musicians have choices that hardly existed pre-Napster. You can now decide.

Music Fanaticism Is Now a Career Path

If you are not a musician but a music junkie like me, your only option in the past was to get a job working for a record label. These jobs were in short supply so they were hard to get, but you once your were "in", you were set. And then sometimes you'd have career-defining moments like I did, when I discovered the Nine Inch Nails back in 1988.

Today, after a few decades running music and entertainment companies, I'm the CEO of creativeLIVE, an online education company. And guess what channel we just launched, because we see such a huge opportunity? Music.

If you are a music fanatic, you have as many choices as the artists themselves. You can go work for a technology-based music company like Spotify or Pandora (there are hundreds of these companies popping up every day) as a product manager, engineer, or in business development. Or, you could choose to work at an ad agency or media company sourcing music for commercials and TV and movie soundtracks (many, many companies here too). Or, you can go work for a label and help them figure out how to stay relevant in this ever-changing industry.

Anyone Can Try to Make a Career in Music

Alternatively, whether you see yourself as a music artist or a music fanatic, you can now learn how to make music on your computer. creativeLIVE is bringing a world-renowned DJ, Big Chocolate, in to show you how to make Electronic Dance Music (EDM) tracks in Ableton Live. EDM is the hot thing right now, permeating all genres.

Due to the democratization of the industry over the last two decades, music is alive and well and the opportunities are numerous. The days of being a "cigar-smoking fat cat music exec" are pretty much gone, but the music lives on. Music "careers" are now more creative and exciting, taking a number of shapes, both on the artist side and the business side.

Whether you are an aspiring musician, a marketer, a deal maker, or a coder, there are more, and, in my opinion, better opportunities today to follow your passion for music and make a good living doing so.

Former label exec, current Incubus manager, and all-around man-in-the-know, Steve Rennie will be on creativeLIVE on September 12 teaching a workshop about networking. While the landscape of the music business is constantly changing, one thing remains the same: it's all about who you know. Steve is a candid and insightful expert who has seen it all and managed to stay both relevant and honest.


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  1. I enjoyed reading your article. Well put.
    The only thing I disagree with is that everyone can make music on his/her computer. Well, the vast majority of people can only create noise (annoying noise) on their computers.
    There is a huge difference between music and noise. There are few composers that can actually compose beautiful electronic music.

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