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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Elliott

10 Essential Skills Not Taught in Music School: Part II

Contract Negotiation, Entrepreneurship, Digital Distribution & Streaming, and Intellectual Property Rights

In Part I: Financial Management, Marketing and Promotion, and Networking, we delved into the importance of financial management, highlighting the need to create detailed budgets and diversify income streams such as performance fees and royalties. We covered effective marketing and promotion strategies, emphasizing the use of platforms like social media and email newsletters to build a brand and reach audiences. Additionally, we discussed the significance of networking and relationship building in advancing a music career, underscoring the importance of attending events and mixers to connect with potential collaborators and mentors.

In Part II, we'll explore three more crucial aspects of the music business: contract negotiation, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property rights. These areas are essential for protecting your interests, building a sustainable career, and maximizing your earning potential as a musician. We'll provide practical advice and resources to help you navigate contracts, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and understand your rights as a creative professional.


4. Contract Negotiation

Everything is negotiable. Understanding basic contract terms and negotiation principles is crucial for protecting your rights and interests in the music industry. Familiarize yourself with common contract terms and clauses such as performance obligations, payment terms, ownership of intellectual property, termination clauses, and dispute resolution mechanisms.

Where to Start

  • Educate yourself on the key components of music contracts, including recording contracts, publishing agreements, and performance agreements.

  • Consider seeking guidance from an experienced music industry veteran. If it’s an especially lucrative or extensive contract, hire an attorney or legal advisor to review and negotiate contracts on your behalf.

  • Practice effective communication and negotiation skills to advocate for fair terms and to protect your rights in contractual agreements. Remember that negotiating is between two businesses, not two people. Don’t make it personal…because it isn’t. 

  • Not everything has to be a formal contract. Even keeping track of and storing email or text correspondence can meet the legal definition of a contract and is worth proper record-keeping practices. 

5. Entrepreneurship

Embracing entrepreneurship is essential for building a sustainable music career in today's ever-changing industry landscape. Develop a clear vision and mission for your music career, and identify your target audience and niche market to differentiate you from others. An entrepreneurial mindset is often the difference between a sustainable business and an inconsistent one, especially in the music industry. 

Where to Start

  • Create a business plan outlining your short-term and long-term goals, revenue streams, and marketing strategies. This doesn’t need to be formal, and remember that adjusting your goal(s) along the way is okay! 

  • Perhaps even more important than setting goals: establishing systems, routines, and habits that effectuate goal attainment. The SMART method is one way to help you build a system for goal attainment.

  • Explore opportunities for monetizing your music, such as live performances, merchandise sales, licensing, and digital downloads.

  • Invest in personal branding and marketing efforts to establish yourself as a unique and recognizable artist in the music industry.

6. Digital Distribution and Streaming Platforms

Navigating digital distribution and streaming platforms is essential if you want to reach a wider audience and monetize your music online. Research different digital distribution services–such as TuneCore, DistroKid, and CD Baby–to distribute your music to major streaming platforms and online stores. Every musician should consider distributing their performances on monetized platforms. This helps with your discoverability and develops a passive income stream. 

Where to Start

  • Choose a reputable digital distribution service to distribute your music to platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. Common distribution platforms are TuneCore, CD Baby, and DistroKid. 

  • Utilize social media and online marketing strategies to promote your music and funnel traffic to streaming platforms.

  • Monitor your streaming analytics and engage with your audience to build a loyal fan base and increase your visibility online.

7. Intellectual Property Rights

Understanding your intellectual property rights is crucial to protecting your creative works and maximizing your earning potential as a musician. If you don’t anticipate creating original musical works, it’s still important to learn how to be a responsible user of the intellectual property of others. Educate yourself on copyright laws and regulations, including the rights and protections afforded to musical compositions and recordings.

Where to Start

  • If creating original works, register your musical compositions with a performing rights organization (PRO) to collect performance royalties for public performances and broadcasts. Consider formal registration with the US Copyright Office, though this isn’t always necessary. 

  • Explore licensing opportunities for your music, including synchronization licenses for film and TV placements, mechanical licenses for digital reproductions, and print licenses for sheet music arrangements.

  • If primarily a performer of the works of other composers, learn about performance licensing, mechanical licensing, and synchronization licensing. 

In Part II of our exploration into the music business, we've delved into four critical components: contract negotiation, entrepreneurship, streaming, and intellectual property rights. These areas form the bedrock of a successful music career, offering invaluable insights into protecting your interests, fostering sustainability, and maximizing your earning potential as a musician. From understanding the nuances of contract terms and negotiation principles to embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and safeguarding your creative works through intellectual property rights, we've provided practical advice and resources to empower you on your music career journey. By equipping yourself with knowledge and strategies in these key areas, you'll be better prepared to navigate the complexities of the music industry and forge a path toward long-term success and fulfillment.

For our final Part III installment, we have several more crucial aspects of the music business to explore: music publishing and royalties, touring and live performance, adaptability and resilience, and the bonus topic of rejecting what I call the Music Major Fallacy. We'll delve into the intricacies of music publishing agreements, royalties, and alternative revenue streams, offering insights on maximizing your earning potential from your compositions and recordings. Additionally, we'll discuss the essentials of planning and executing successful live performances, from booking venues to promoting shows effectively. We'll also explore the importance of adaptability and resilience in navigating the ever-evolving music industry landscape, along with practical strategies for continuous personal and professional development. Lastly, we'll address the misconception surrounding music majors and offer guidance on exploring alternative or hybridized career paths beyond traditional music education and performance routes.

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