By Widney Bonfils
Ever since I started working at SOCAN, I’ve had the opportunity to meet countless emerging songwriters. What all of them have in common is a deep desire to “make it” in the music industry. I’m fascinated by their desire to share their art, and the courage that requires, just as I’m fascinated by their contagious passion.
Throughout all of the captivating conversations I’ve had with them, I’ve noticed that many of them had no idea of what they were getting into. I realize that many of them totally ignored the amount of work, and the knowledge, required in order to navigate this industry. Merely saying “All I want to do is make music” is, I believe, totally obsolete and – dare I say it – ludicrous. How can one hope to succeed in an industry one doesn’t understand? Can you imagine a budding banker who doesn’t have a basic understanding of economics or finance? The same goes for music. Making good music is the start, of course, but that alone doesn’t guarantee success.
The first question one should ask when they consider entering this business should be, “Is this just a hobby, or do I want to profit from my art?” The answer to this question is critical, as it will determine the future of people who wish to earn a living in this industry. Believe me, a career in music does indeed require you to have the profile of an entrepreneur. And just as with any start-up, you need to proceed step by step, and not try to go too fast. Here are a few points that I hope will help some of you better understand the basics of the music industry.
The Importance of Being Well Informed
Ignorance never was, is, and never will be sexy. The notion of saying one makes music and doesn’t need to grasp the business side of it is utterly crazy, and borders on irresponsibility. One doesn’t climb a mountain without climbing equipment. Just as, one doesn’t enter the music business without knowing the basics. Here are a few essential pieces of information to have in order to understand this environment:
- Copyright (mechanical royalties, performance royalties…)
- Rights management organizations and their responsibilities (SOCAN, Re: Sound…)
- Financing methods, and the institutions that support the music industry (Musicaction, FACTOR, CALQ, The Canada Council for The Arts…)
- The various players and their responsibilities (music labels, music publishers, venue bookers…)
- Broadcast platforms and how they operate
It’s a music entrepreneur’s responsibility to familiarize themselves with these sides of the industry, because once that’s done, they can determine their needs, are and start assembling the right team for themselves.
Picking the Right Crew Mates, While Remaining the Captain of Your Ship
One thing I’ve noticed while interacting with songwriters and composers is their desire to find a manager, a publisher, or a record label – without understanding those roles, and the differences between all of those players, and without having taken the time to properly evaluate what their needs actually are. It’s no surprise that some of them end up in difficult situations down the line. However, if you understand those fields, and your own needs, I believe it’s fundamental to build the right team to support you. No one can do it all by themselves. Being able to count on the right team allows creators to focus on what they prefer – creating music – while knowing the business side of things is in good hands. Obviously, that requires a good understanding of the areas outlined above. The artist is at the heart of their project, but they should also be the CEO of the team supporting it.
Managing Rejection and Chasing Your Dream
Many give up when they realize how harsh this the process can be. Many are called, few are chosen. These people weren’t ready for it, or at the very least, thought their hobby was a profession. The music industry can be just as gratifying as it can be frustrating. One has to be prepared to be rejected often before finding success, and that’s not easy. And once you have reached that success, you need to know how to manage it, and again, this is where a good team is crucial. The mental stress of being constantly solicited can quickly devolve into a problem if it’s not handled properly.
I believe that once you’ve become aware of your talent, and have decided to earn a living with it, you also have the responsibility to share it. I believe in the incredible power of music. It unites us, motivates us, heals us… This integral part of culture is critical for humanity, because it’s an integral part of our lives. I also believe in the importance of artists, and I’m saddened when I see some abandon their career prematurely. It is not an easy trade. As I said, knowing how to deal with the rejection, deception, and financial hardships that are typical when you begin a career is challenging. But hang in there, it’s worth it!
As in any other industry, the music industry operates in tiers. Sure, the big names of this industry like Drake, The Weeknd, and others are successful artists making millions, year after year. But there are tons of artists who earn a very decent living from their art. That, to me, is what being successful means.