The difference between a hobby and a career is that a hobby costs you money while a career allows you to earn a living. Nowhere is this statement more true than in the music business.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of individuals that produce, perform or deal with music in some way. Yet only a small percentage know how to earn a living by turning their passion into a career.
My experience in the music industry spans 25 years which has allowed me to see and experienced first hand what it takes to turn your passion into a career. By way of introduction, I have a background in marketing, business development and corporate affairs in and out of the music industry. Currently, however, both directly and indirectly I work with artists all over the world from those just starting their career, to established artists such as Diplo, Gareth Emery and Lil Jon. I also work with a variety of different companies from independent record labels in the UK to major labels such as Sony and Universal Records. I've learned that the only certainty in the music business is that it is very convoluted, detailed and entwined with not just rules, but laws.
Those that want to make music a serious option as a career, at whatever level, need to keep an eye on the business side of the situation or have someone they trust advise them. I don't necessarily suggest that artists get heavily involved in business. Quite frankly that takes away from their ability to create and ties up the mind with a lot of rules and laws. I do, however, think that artists should have a basic idea of what they are getting involved in. They should also work with someone that they trust to oversee the business side of their career whenever possible. Many artists just starting out will have problems finding a business manager or even a personal assistant with knowledge in the industry. Although finding someone to manage your business may be difficult, it is essential. Someone has to be taking care of business for it to be a business.
Below I have provided a few basic tips you should be familiar with in order to reduce liability and increase the possibility of actually generating money in the business of music.
Website designers, graphic artists, and photographers who are creating content for you to use on social media, in marketing, or on your various assets, in most instances, will be the owners of the content they created. This ownership should be transferred to you or the work should be contracted as a "work made for hire" which will make the commissioned work yours in the first place. You also want to have some type of indemnification if they use someone else's work without the proper authorization. In short, there should always be an agreement in place giving you ownership or a clear license for use of this type of content. SoundBetter's terms dictate that all work done through the platform is work for hire.
Artists and Producers
when creating with other artists, you should also come with a clear intent of that collaboration memorialized in writing. Keep in mind that things change and the person you were prepared to share your vision with, may end up falling short of your expectations. Ask the guys from Guns n Roses. Any type of agreement with artists, songwriters, producers or session performers should clearly outline ownership of not just the master recording but also the publishing. If you are working with other individuals as a band or group, you want to make sure there is a clear agreement on paper that indicates who has the right to obligate the group, who owns the name and how splits will be created for work done and performances.
Speaking of the group's name, do some research and make sure the name you want to use is available. Understand that getting a dba in your city does not provide you with trademark protection. Check with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to see if your name is available in the categories in which you plan to exploit.
Managers and Agents
If you're dealing with managers, agents or other professionals make sure the relationship is clearly outlined in writing. Things always start out great, but can quickly turn to being less than amicable. If it requires a judge to review your situation at a later time, you want to make sure that the intent of the relationship was as clear as possible.
On a financial side you want to keep your income and expenses for your career separate from your personal income especially if you are in a group or working with another individual. Open a business account and try to secure a business credit card to use when working on your artistic development. Keep good records and properly categorize your expenses. Speak to someone that can help you understand what type of expenses can be deducted from your income and try to reduce your tax liabilities as much as possible. If you have any type of positive cash flow I would suggest incorporating. There are simply too many disadvantages to being a sole proprietor in this day and age. This is even more important if you own assets or have another sources of income. Being creative and inspiring others through art is fascinating and anyone that is good at it should be able to make it their way of life by handling their business properly. I hope this provides you with a starting point.
Notes on the author
Ronnie F. Lee is currently the Chief Executive Officer and founder of European Music Market, Inc. located in Las Vegas Nevada, home to Studio DMI directed by Luca Pretolesi, and Weebang Music.