Secrets to making money in the music business

This Article Originally Published 1994

by Bob Baker

Why is it that some people in the music business make tens of thousands of dollars a year, while others wallow in poverty most of their lives? Is it because the rich ones are just plain lucky? Or because they were born into a musical family with clout? While these easy-road explanations might be true for a few people, most of the real music business success stories involve everyday people who discovered what it takes to make money and get ahead by doing something they love.

It's unfortunate that so many people who pursue artistic endeavors never make much money at it. A lot of people I know are content simply to toy with their musical whims, never reaping a real financial gain while doing it. Actually, I'm convinced that many of these people would feel guilty if they made much money from music. I'm serious. Think about it.

Tradition tells them that the only way to realistically make good money is through the tried-and-true, nine-to-five grind—doing something they're not particularly thrilled with. Well, here's some personal advice for you:


It doesn't have to be that way for you. Why not make good money at something that excites you, at something that holds your interest? If your desire is strong enough, if you educate yourself and come up with a game plan—and implement that plan!—you can do anything you want.

Whether your passion is being an onstage performer, an offstage support player or both, you will find literally dozens and dozens of honest, down-to-earth, cash-producing possibilities by putting to use your most valuable instrument—the one that lies between your ears: your own brain.

Remember, playing paid gigs and getting a hefty record contract advance are only two ways to make money in this business (although they certainly are great ways to make it). But most musical success wannabes make the mistake of ending their search there. And that's exactly why they'll lose and you'll gain, because there are so many more ways to tap the lucrative music business money machine. The smart music business entrepreneurs are already profiting from this fact. Now it's your job to find out where you fit into the picture... and then go get your share.

The '90s is a decade of specialization. Progress and advancing technology may make things more complicated, but they also open a lot of doors for enterprising people like you to find a niche and fill it—and take home a few bucks in exchange for your expertise.

But I can hear the pessimist in you saying, "But aren't there countless numbers of people every year who strive to make a living with music and say they want to make good money at it—but they never seem to get above the poverty level?"

Well, as a matter of fact, there are. But I'm here to tell you: Don't let that sad fact get you down, because there are also tens of thousands of people who make excellent money working in their chosen area of the music business>. And the majority of these successful people weren't born into it. They didn't make it because of luck or fate or mystical circumstances. They became financially independent and successful because they made a conscious decision to do so and then took the action necessary to make it happen. That's what sets the winners apart: acting on good ideas!

Some people never take action because they think "it takes money to make money"—how many times have you heard that myth?—or because they "don't have connections." Here's another good excuse: "It's not what you know, it's who you know that counts." Don't be so quick to make these limiting beliefs part of your philosophy.

Whenever someone confronts me with one of these shallow scapegoats for not making money, I think back to January of 1987. That was the month I came up with the idea to publish a music newspaper in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. At the time there was no all-music-and-entertainment publication in the city, and I was very excited by the prospect of filling that void and creating a nice little business for myself.

The only problem was I had no idea how to run a newspaper. I'd never worked on my high school or college papers. I'd never even taken a journalism class. And I certainly didn't have a reserve of cash to help finance my new business, nor did I have any connections with banks or investors. So what did I do?

I used my own drive and determination and made use of what I did have, which was a command of the English language and a typewriter—that's it! So when I had typed up the four pages of the first issue, I went to a local print shop owner and offered to run an ad for his business in the issue in exchange for a discount on printing. He agreed. That first issue of my magazine cost me about $25 to put out. I had it distributed to about 20 locations in St. Louis about three weeks after I came up with the concept.

Was it a primitive start? Yes. Did I make mistakes in the first few months or couple of years? Yes, and I still do. You may also wonder if many people expressed their lack of faith in the magazine succeeding? Most definitely. And, you may ask, has it become a success over the years? Without a doubt.

Today, the paper, called Spotlight, runs about 36 pages a month with four-color covers, with 25,000 copies being distributed to hundreds of locations all over town. It's recognized as the voice of the St. Louis music scene. And it didn't get that way because of money or connections or lucky breaks. It got that way because I took the raw resources I had and acted on my intense desire to make this exciting idea a reality. Over the years that same desire led to the newspaper growing and evolving into the success it is today.

Can you do the same thing with one of your own music business ideas?

Along with learning a lot about life and money from running my own business, I've also had the good fortune to meet and interview dozens and dozens of music business success stories—from artists and managers to record company executives and business owners. Whenever I meet these people I can't help but ask them how they got started, what steps they took to get where they are now, and what qualities they believe it takes to make money and be successful in this complicated business of music.

Through this research I've come to realize there are three key qualities—or rules—to creating musical wealth. These three keys could mean the difference between your success and failure when pursuing your career.

First off, money-making success has as much to do with your frame of mind as it does your luck or family tree. Remember this first important rule of prosperity:

Musical Wealth Rule #1: You Are What You Think.

How many times have you heard the phrase "starving musician"? Or how often have you heard friends say, "I'm never going to make any money with music. Why bother?" It should be no surprise that the people who say (and therefore think) these things the most are among the poorest individuals you know. Remember, if you tell yourself something often enough, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The key, then, is to program yourself for success. Stop thinking and uttering thoughts of limitation and deficiency. Start getting your mind attuned to thoughts of boundless possibilities and abundance — and watch what sort of rewards come your way!

Many of us are so used to thinking in these negative terms, it's difficult to shift into positive gear and stay there. A great mental technique to reprogram your thoughts is the use of daily affirmations, which remind you of your goals and keep you focused on achieving them. Affirmations are basically specific statements that spell out what you want to obtain and when you want to obtain it. They should also be read aloud every day and worded in the present tense.

Therefore, "I will be a successful music publicity specialist someday" is not an effective affirmation. It's too bland and vague. On the other hand, "I make $25,000 a year by December of this year doing music publicity for touring bands and independent record labels" is a much more solid, results-oriented affirmation.

Musical Wealth Rule #2: You Get What You Want When You Help Other People Get What They Want.

(This phrase also makes a great affirmation, just replace the You's with I's and you're set.)

I truly believe that a lot of people don't become successful or make much money because they consider themselves to be in the taking business. Their only concern is what they have to do to take someone's money away from them. The thing that drives these poor creatures is the prospect of jumping on what's going to make the fastest buck, regardless of what it is. But I pity them, and so should you, because they'll never know the joys of being in the full-time giving business.

Being a success in the field of musical giving means that the product or service you specialize in adds real value to the lives of the people who become your customers. Of course, the thing that makes you happiest is being directly involved in an area of the music business for which you have a burning desire and passion. But the aspect that will make you rich (and even happier) is making sure your customers feel that what they get from you is worth more than the money they have to give up.

For instance, a successful club band gives its fans a good time and the bar owner a packed house. A photographer gives his client a hot, new image. A music teacher gives her students the ability to make music and impress friends. Are you getting the picture?

In other words, make sure you have a firm grasp on what it is that the people who pay you get out of dealing with you. Once you know what that is, you'll know how to promote your special area of the music business and how to make sure your customers keep coming back for more—while referring you to others.

The bottom line is this: Concentrate on what you're giving to the people who send money your way. If you continue to give what they want and need, you won't have to worry about taking anyone's money. It will take care of itself.

Let's move now to another rule I'd like to encourage you to adapt for yourself. It's a philosophy I've always lived by when pursuing my music ventures—whether it was publishing my own music magazine or writing this book.

Musical Wealth Rule #3: Develop an Attitude That Allows You to Make Money and Have Fun While Doing It.

It's an outlook on life that's always worked for me. Can it work for you, too? What would happen if your goal was to make money and have fun while doing it? Wouldn't that put the whole subject of money in a more positive light? Of course.

The problem is that many of us are so used to dealing with money in stressful situations. The rent is due, it's time for the equipment payment, how are you ever going to scrape together the cash to get the van fixed?! For many of us, making money is associated more with scrambling under painful circumstances—not fun! No wonder people become so cynical about it. I can hear you now: "What are you talking about, Baker? Making money isn't supposed to be fun, it's something you do because you have to!"

Well, I say that's nonsense! Making money should be fun, creating music should be fun, just as life itself should be fun. And don't let anyone—including yourself—tell you different.

Right now is the best time to get started on your money-making career in music! Keep your mind open and your aim high. There's no reason why you can't turn that million dollar musical idea into reality... starting today!

Bob Baker is the author of "Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook," "Unleash the Artist Within" and "Branding Yourself Online." He also publishes, a web site and e-zine that deliver marketing tips, self-promotion ideas and other empowering messages to music people of all kinds. Get your FREE subscription to Bob's e-zine by visiting today.