As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 18 Winter 2021 – Women in the Music Industry
When we think of the music industry, we may automatically think about a popular musician or performer living a lavish life of performing and traveling. Although this is true for a few, this is not the life of the greater percentage of musicians in the world. Music, like all other multi-million dollar industries, is all about the business. I strongly think that every musician should learn as much as possible about the business behind the music so that you do not have to be dependent on the advice of others. There are a lot of terrible tales that happen in the music industry when the trusting musicians leave the business in someone else’s hands. Today, with knowledge at our fingertips–thanks to the internet–the information is easily accessible.
Where to begin? I think all musicians should know about copyright. The music you create should be protected if you plan to share it these days. Back in the day, there was the “mail a copy of your song to yourself” method that put a date on the package that you must never open to prove that you wrote the song. Although I’m not sure how well that would hold up in the eyes of the law, learning how to do it the proper way isn’t hard these days.
You should learn about performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. You should also learn about publishing and writing to feel confident in the music partnerships you build with others. There are so many tales of “They stole my song” that could have been prevented with a little knowledge. Visit http://www.copyright.gov for more information on how to register your work.
Another business aspect that I see many musicians getting very good at is marketing. Everyone these days has social media accounts that they use to promote their shows, music, etc. However, there is a method to the promotion game. Each social media site has hot and cold times, so learning when the right time to post for each of those outlets is crucial. There are also studies about how often you should post and what type of posts you should have to generate the most online attention possible. These research studies can be found online, through any search engine.
If we want to go even further down the music business wormhole, there is a book that many consider the “Holy Grail” of music business books, “All you need to know about the Music Business,” by Donald Passman. It was the required reading for many of my music business classes in college. This book gives you insight on many topics, and there are different versions throughout the years that have updated over time to reflect the changes in the industry. So, make sure you read the most recent.
Last but definitely not least, I think it is important to learn about finances/taxes. As most musicians are independent contractors and get paid as such, it would be in your best interest to either educate yourself on taxes or find an accountant that knows about the industry. Learning how to write off certain expenses, take advantage of certain tax breaks, and make a financial plan for the future is something many musicians learn the value of way down the road when they should have been doing these things all along. For example, not claiming any of your “cash” gigs during the year can mean a smaller retirement check for you down the road.
As musicians, many of us do not have the luxury of having an accounting staff and a lawyer on retainer to guide us through the business minefield. We have to depend on ourselves and our knowledge of how to handle things. We are our own CEO, CFO, marketing department, and much more. Knowledge is truly power, so make yourself as powerful as you can! Use the resources at your fingertips and available in print to help guide you through the industry.
Vanessa Izabella is a professional guitarist that started playing music at a young age. Progressing through high school, Vanessa was playing and performing on multiple instruments, including guitar, piano, and trumpet. She was awarded a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. During her time there, she studied the guitar playing of such influences as Pat Martino, Slash, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Eric Johnson, and many others. After graduating with a degree in Music Business, she went on to work with such artists as Pat Metheny and Christian McBride. Vanessa has traveled the world playing guitar, visiting countries such as France, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Japan, South America, and the Caribbean. She has performed on the bill with such renowned artists as Darius Rucker, L.A. Sno, KISS, Skid Row, Paramore, and Joan Jett. She is currently performing with the legendary R&B all-girl funk band, Klymaxx.