Careers in music: 4 tips on making it

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Every year, thousands of people come to the City of Angels, aka Los Angeles, to fulfill their lifelong dream of working in the movies, TV or music industry. We all know the stereotypes that revolve around pursuing work in the entertainment field, including careers in music. They are, well, pretty much accurate.

Take the day job, for example. You know, where aspiring rock stars become waiters or bartenders while running back and forth to sound studios and auditions. That’s a real part of pursuing the dream. Not to mention recording demos at home and fielding last-minute requests from managers and agents.

The life of a musical artist is ROUGH!

Careers in music: a snapshot

According to Statista online, from 2011-2014, there were approximately 27.98 million musicians in the U.S. That doesn’t count all who’ve followed them over the last few years. As we’ve seen in movies such as La, La, Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the population is filled with dreamers. However, there is a difference when it comes to dreamers — some are “doers” while others are “talkers.”

Many musical artists start out as songwriters. This list includes some big names:

Before they stepped on stage, they wrote hit songs for other well-known singers and artists in the field. However, making it as an artist is never easy. Kesha, Bruno and Lady Gaga have all admitted to sacrificing both their personal life and downtime to get that next hit song written and distributed.

At 20, Lady Gaga was writing songs for Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block and The Pussycat Dolls.

Other stars started out in bands — Fergie with Wild Orchid, Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland with Destiny’s Child, Harry Style and Zayn Malik with One Direction. These are only a few examples of musicians who paid their own personal dues for where they are today.

Careers in Music Lady Gaga at Roseland Ballroom
Lady Gaga at Roseland Ballroom.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What are you willing to do?

Like with actors and filmmakers, there are multiple routes for aspiring musicians to making their dreams come true. Whether that means taking a waitressing job and performing at nightclubs every night and on weekends, it all comes down to one question:

Are you willing to hit the pavement running and not look back?


It truly does come down to dedication and acceptance of the path being long, hard and a lot of work. No one gets it easy; it’s said to be one in a million who make it in the music industry. Yet that should never discourage anyone, including YOU reading this piece.

4 tips for those pursuing careers in music

There are a lot of risks when it comes to show business — from paying for fees upfront (before you’ve made any money) to people stealing your years of hard work. Here are a few tips to guide you as you make your way.

  1. Copyright your songs.

  2. Don’t be afraid to sign NDAs.

  3. Be careful who you trust.

  4. Be true to you.

Yes, it takes years of dedication and work. No, it’s not impossible. Let’s move through these tips so you can make your dream a reality.

1. Copyright your songs

Part of pursuing the dream is to protect the work. In addition to registering their screenplays with the Writers Guild of America, for example, screenwriters are also advised to copyright their work. The same holds true for songwriters. The U.S. Copyright Office offers a great way of protecting your work. Whether or not someone ever tries to steal your work, as long as you have the U.S. Copyright certificate you’re safe. The cost is is nominal, and you can do it online.

According to this post from LegalZoom, copyrighting your song gives you the exclusive right to:

  • Make and distribute the first sound recording of the song.
  • Perform the song and authorize others to perform it.
  • Distribute sheet music, records, tapes, CDs and certain digital media of the song.
  • Collect royalties by granting public performance licenses to others who want to perform it.

Learn more about the business of making music — from which gigs to accept in the beginning to what to do with the money you make — from a musician who’s been there.

2. Don’t be afraid to sign NDAs

Labels and studios often ask artists to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) prior to starting a relationship. As long as you both sign, the other party is obligated to not speak of the product without your consent and vice versa. You can find a sample agreement here.

Signing an NDA doesn’t mean you’re obligated to work with a company in any way. It just means you’ll keep any confidential information they give you to yourself.

Pro tip: NDAs are standard business documents, and you could end up signing lots of them. It’s a good idea to keep a running list of companies, projects and dates on the NDAs you’ve signed. Make a note of the specific information you’re asked to keep private, along with dates when/if the information can be shared.

3. Be careful who you trust

Let’s be honest: anyone pursuing careers in music will get feedback regardless if they ask for it or not. Be wise about which advice you take. People get jealous and might purposely give bad feedback in order to push you away from your dreams.

The entertainment business can be ugly, as most of the world has come to know. There are many stories of mistreatment and abuse, both physical and verbal. Think twice before acting upon anything.

4. Be true to you

It is shocking how many musicians will switch up their routine and look to match what will “sell.” This is from personal experience with colleagues and friends who are pursuing or are working in the music industry. One thing that all of them have expressed is the importance of always staying true to themselves.

When you sit down to write out that next song or perform on stage, focus on one thing in that moment — do this for yourself!

To make a change that feels wrong is never a good thing. If you change your look or sound to please an agent, you are ditching what is in your heart. NEVER DO THAT. Staying true to yourself is simple but never an easy task, as an acting teacher in high school once advised me. But in the end, it will be worth it.

Some tips for staying true to yourself:

Get comfortable saying no

Turning down an opportunity is not always a bad thing; be okay with saying NO. We are human and often need to do what is best for both the product and the sake of our own health.

Learn to walk away

Our instincts are never wrong, so if something feels remotely off or weird, do not be afraid to take a step back, think it over, and cut ties with anything or anyone who is just a roadblock to your dream.

Careers in Music Harassment
The recent avalanche of sexual harassment stories are a word to the wise.

Put your brand out there

Whether that means getting your music on blogs or performing shows at the local bars and clubs, putting a face to the name will help build your reputation.

Editor’s note: In this industry, branding yourself is key — and one of the first things you can do is establish yourself (and your name) online. Whether it’s a stage name or the real deal, make sure to secure your domain name ahead of time, even if you aren’t ready to build a site yet. The last thing you want is to brand yourself with a name someone else already owns.

See if your personal domain name is available now:

Practice self-care

For those who pursue careers in music, life can become an endless rollercoaster of ups and downs. Make sure you get your rest, proper nutrition and some exercise to help cope with stress.

Don’t look back

Like all artists, musicians have to work long hours to get that first song out there via social media or into the “right hands.” No matter what, keep pushing forward. You WILL make it, as long as your heart is in it and your intentions are good.

Image by: Edward Cisneros on Unsplash