The Business of Music PARt 1: Setting your Foundation as an Independent Artist in the Modern Music Era

The music industry was one of the businesses most affected by the global pandemic and for many different reasons. Live music, the venues that hosted them, and all the teams that worked to create a show were put on an unforeseen hold when Covid-19 entered stage right—with most live music being canceled for over a year now. According to a report by UK Music, this resulted in music creators losing two-thirds of their income. 

This shift transferred the majority of music intake to streaming—with popular music applications such as Spotify and Pandora showcasing music’s timeless ability to bring people together despite circumstances. Total streaming, including both paid subscription and advertising-supported, rose by 20% since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing the streaming industry to $13.4 billion.

This resulted in streaming taking over the majority of music revenue, accounting for 62.1% of total global recorded music sales. However, this reality has thrown many smaller artists by the wayside. For many independent artists and those just starting their journey, the inability to connect in person and promote themselves robbed them of the exposure needed to advance in a very competitive industry. 

Now that there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, what can musicians and artists do to jumpstart their careers again? 

Musicians with boots on the ground

The most basic definition of an independent artist is someone that hasn’t been signed to a major record label. This, however, is a somewhat oversimplified determination as there are many varying degrees of an independent artist in today’s modern age of music. What it comes down to is that there are the ones that want to be independent, and then there are those that have to be. Artists who haven’t yet established themselves in a cutthroat industry don’t tend to have much of a choice in the matter.

There are both pros and cons to being an independent artist. The number one benefit is that you have 100% creative control, which means absolute ownership of your music: a principle that is priceless to many musicians. This transcends to the more pragmatic advantage that independent artists can also keep 100% of their profits. Additionally, many online music services are offered exclusively to independent musicians. On the other hand, there are some challenges to being independent in the music industry—such as limited resources, budget, and network—which equates to a limited music business experience.

The good news is that there are some tacit business lessons for independent creatives to gain from mainstream artists who dealt with the pandemic all the same. It is vital to note that many bigger-name artists haven’t dropped anything in a while. Major artists have held off from releasing music during the pandemic because they understand that the music industry is a machine. To truly get momentum on music that has just been passed onto the public, one must promote, tour, make appearances on shows, and more.

The same concept applies to indie artists, but it is much more ground-level. Independent artists are their own agents, promoters, and managers—amongst other things. They coordinate proper social media advertising for themselves, check on their own merch, and book their own shows, among other things. If you are an artist, take insight from bigger fish in the water and get creative, engaging outside of the traditional ways—such as through podcasts, literature pieces, or online webinars. Or, spread your content out, releasing only one piece at a time to ensure you can make your content last this undetermined span of lag time. 

The freedom to choose your creativity 

It’s better to have 10 followers that engage with and support you than to have 100 that don’t. A solid, established, and engaged fanbase that follows you and your career—no matter what iterations it takes—can make or break you. Success in the music industry can mean a plethora of things depending on the individual. It is safe to say that for any artist, however, the first level of success is obtaining the freedom that you want as a creative. 

What comes next is the trickier and more tactful part, which is getting more people looking at your work and, more importantly, engaging with it.  So, how can you keep your capacity for creativity while still driving engagement as an artist? Read our blog next week for the actionable ways to build your success in the modern music industry.