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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Elliott

10 Essential Skills Not Taught in Music School: Part I

Financial Management, Marketing and Promotion, and Networking


Book opened up on a desk.

So you’ve just graduated from school as a musician and don’t know how to get into the music industry. Many of my peers and I have been in that same situation. While your education may have honed your musical skills and artistic expression, traditional music schools overlook crucial aspects that prepare you for the real world. While I have written a music business curriculum and currently teach courses in the music industry, the fact of the matter is that this generally can’t be a required course for music majors. 


It’s astounding to me that our schools can prepare you to be a world-class musician but leave you with zero business skills to monetize your craft. In this blog post, I’ll share with you ten essential skills that aren’t typically taught in music school and provide valuable insights to help you navigate your career more effectively. There’s a lot of information, so I am going to post a three-part blog series:


  • Part I: Financial Management, Marketing and Promotion, and Networking

  • Part II: Contract Negotiation, Entrepreneurship, Digital Distribution & Streaming, and Intellectual Property Rights

  • Part III: Music Publishing Royalties, Live Performance, Adaptability, and The Music Major Fallacy


Let’s dive into Part I:


 

1. Financial Management

Music schools primarily focus on artistic development, but understanding basic financial management is essential for sustaining a successful music career. Start by creating a detailed budget to track your income and expenses, such as studio costs, instrument maintenance, marketing materials, and travel expenses. To diversify your income sources, be sure to identify potential revenue streams such as performance fees, royalties, teaching, merchandise sales, and digital downloads.


Where to Start

  • Use accounting software or spreadsheets to keep detailed records of your expenses and income. Start simple with something like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. As your accounting becomes more detailed, you can upgrade to paid platforms. 

  • Set specific financial goals for your music career, such as saving for an upgraded instrument, traveling for auditions or interviews, or retirement (it’s never too early to think about this!). 

  • Stop buying stuff and start acquiring assets (things that make you money or help you make money). 

  • Explore resources and workshops on financial literacy for musicians offered by industry organizations or online platforms.


2. Marketing and Promotion

Effective marketing and promotion are key to building your brand and reaching your audience in today's competitive music industry. Develop a comprehensive marketing plan outlining your unique musician selling points. Consider target audience demographics and promotional strategies across various channels. Leverage social media, email newsletters, press releases, and live performances. I know that some musicians might find the whole concept of self-promotion uncomfortable or even cringey (read: me), but the fact of the matter is that self-promotion is quite vital in our current landscape. 


Where to Start

  • Create a professional website and various social media profiles to showcase your music, upcoming gigs, and behind-the-scenes content. You can create free or quite cheap websites these days.

  • Collaborate with local venues, music bloggers, and influencers to promote your music and expand your reach.

  • Utilize email newsletters and mailing lists to stay connected with your followers and promote new releases or merchandise.

  • Make yourself discoverable! If you want a private life on social media, consider creating a social media account that is more outward-facing and not set to private. People should be able to search for you online and find basic information about you and how to contact you. As you get more advanced, consider investing in some SEO expertise to be more discoverable in online searches. 


3. Networking and Relationship Building


As a certified introvert, this one took me a long time to figure out, and I’m still growing. Developing a strong network of industry contacts and nurturing professional relationships is essential for advancing your music career. Attend industry events, conferences, and networking mixers to meet other musicians, potential collaborators, and industry professionals. 


Where to Start

  • Join online communities and forums for musicians to connect with like-minded individuals and share experiences.

  • Attend local music events, open mic nights, or emerging talent events to meet potential collaborators and industry contacts.

  • Follow up with new contacts after networking events and maintain regular communication to build lasting relationships. 

  • If you feel some imposter phenomenon attending conferences or feel out of place, challenge yourself to make ONE connection then ask if you can stick with them for the day. You’ll find one of two things: they are new too and would love a connection, or they’re a conference veteran and would love to introduce you to others. 

  • Bonus: challenge yourself to attend one conference a year where you have no connections or are new to that particular space. One year, I flew to New York to attend a conference that I had no direct affiliation with, nor did I have any connections. Four years later, I’ve built an entire consulting business based on this singular event. 


Mastering financial management, effective marketing and promotion, and networking and relationship building are fundamental steps for any musician aiming to thrive in the competitive music industry. By understanding the importance of budgeting, diversifying income streams, and utilizing various marketing channels, musicians can establish a solid foundation for their careers. Building a strong network of industry contacts and nurturing professional relationships can also open doors to new opportunities and collaborations. These skills, combined with artistic talent, dedication, and perseverance, are essential for navigating the complexities of the music business and achieving long-term success.


Looking Ahead: Part II

Next week in Part II, we'll delve into three crucial aspects of the music business: contract negotiation, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property rights. Understanding how to navigate contracts, negotiate fair terms, and protect your rights is essential for any musician. We'll explore common contract terms and clauses and provide practical tips for effective negotiation. Additionally, we'll discuss the importance of embracing entrepreneurship and developing a strategic vision for your music career. From creating a business plan to exploring monetization opportunities, we'll cover key strategies for building a sustainable music career in today's competitive industry landscape. Lastly, we'll dive into intellectual property rights and the importance of protecting your creative works. Stay tuned for valuable insights and actionable advice to take your music career to the next level.

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