Martin Atkins’ Punk Rock Rules For Music Business Success

Martin AtkinsMartin Atkins has drummed for Public Image Limited, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. But in recent years, he has become an author and educator. Now at Millikin University,  Atkins shares why more artists need to radically rethink their approach to building a career in the new music economy.


Guest post by Melissa Love from Grammy.com

British drummer, entrepreneur and author of the book "BandSmart" Martin Atkins held a packed house in rapt attention at Atlanta's Smiths Olde Bar for a special Craft Session presented by the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter on Aug. 23. He peppered attendees with thoughtful ways to engage differently with "changing opportunities in these creative industries that we're in." 

Atkins' punk rock roots serve him well. He shows the same irreverent disregard for the mainstream that he manifested in the seminal bands he's known for including Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, Ministry, Pigface, Public Image Ltd., and many more. But out from behind the kit and on the mic in front of a room full of music industry professionals, Atkins inspired the audience to cast off convention and find new ways of operating in the marketplace.

The "traditional economy and efficacies of time no longer apply," he said. That makes it imperative for music people to find new creative opportunities and change their mindset toward "finding money."


Although he believes, "Streaming services exist and they're awesome," the backdrop according to Atkins is that streaming music services only pay paltry revenues, even against a ubiquitous hit record. "Exploring creating avenues while you're streaming is a really great combination," he said.

Atkins outlined other possibilities to find money in your music, such as vinyl, saying, "If you do something creative, you differentiate yourself." He laid out a brief economics lesson, demonstrating how more revenue could be garnered merely by selling a unique vinyl recording than from a streaming hit. He gave this as an example of his rule D.T.O., a mantra for action meaning "Do The Opposite." You just have to "Be smart with it," he advised.

Photo: Kara Hammond

Moving on to other acronyms, Atkins' message was replete with quirky examples from real stories of musicians, demonstrating other rules of his for breaking the rules. These can be considered "Atkins-isms."

For example, the formula A.H.S.E.T.S. stands for "Always Have Something Else To Sell." His perspective is that, "If you've got one great thing, you're screwed." Therefore when fans really do own all the merch, think differently. Ask them, "Do you have the recipe book?" is his approach.

Another maxim of Atkins' is "Be Interesting." An example is heightening fan engagement through social media takeovers, leveraging message intensity to reach a broader market. The Atkins adage of "Always Saying Yes" could mean an unconventionally prosperous partnership steps into your life, because the practice opens the mind to new people and proposals.

Atkins concluded with encouragement to defy convention and change the conversation. "You can't sell music," he said. "Well, you can, but there's no money to be made."


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  1. I’ve been hearing essentially this same message for years from various people, often from people who are no longer having hit records and do this motivational stuff as a new source of income. Good for them, I guess.
    For those of us who make very minority-niche-genre music that by definition will always be only of interest to a small number of people, what do they suggest we do? I don’t hear anything very concrete. It’s all very inspirational but practical is what is needed.

  2. Someone who hasn’t made money from music in 30 years now giving stupid magic bullets and swearing because nothing else he says is remotely interesting.
    We need rid of these people but the people who actually work in music don’t have time or the need to write “how to make it” books

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