The Music Industry Has Changed a Lot Since 2000 – Here’s How

By Helen Yu

Do you remember what you were doing back in 2000?

Are you old enough to remember?

Some of us do. And it almost seems like a foreign country. In the nearly 20 years since the heyday of Napster and *NSYNC and Britney Spears, the global music industry has gone through a period of unprecedented tumult that made (and unmade) fortunes, felled once-untouchable talents, and challenged the principle that talent alone controls destiny and now.. Just this past year, the music business is on the upswing again.

It has been a wild ride — not that it’s over by any stretch. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and examine some of the ways in which the music industry has evolved over the past two decades. As they say, those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it.

Streaming Actually Earns Musicians and Artists Money – Downloads and Physical Product are all about gone to the way side

Back at the turn of the 21st century, the rise of mp3 and illegal downloading blindsided the music establishment and laid bare the weaknesses of major labels’ business models in the digital age.

Today, there is no illegal downloading, because basically everything is now available for streaming and often times for free, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and the like…  Musicians can are starting to earn some real dollars from streaming and we on the upswing and there’s a clear, scalable path for those who wish to pursue this revenue stream.

Artists Can Promote on Their Own Terms — And That’s a Good Thing

In the early 2000s, major record labels had all the power… you had to march to the beat of their drummers, not yours.

Today, it’s far easier for aspiring artists to build big, passionate fan bases without catering to outside stakeholders (not to the same extent, at least) and directly tap into their own audiences with digital and social media.   If you’re Instagram-savvy, the sky’s the limit.

The Era Of Major Label Dominance Is Not As Big As It Once Was

Major labels themselves.. Now look for ground swell to what’s really happening out there on socials, streaming, videos, etc…. That’s how they find talent these days.


“Now that it’s easier than ever for an artist to build buzz on their own terms, independent artists are going farther and doing more before getting major-label backing. — Helen Yu


That’s not to say there’s no utility in pursuing a major-label deal; there surely is, and likely will be, but they will come if you build it.   

Going Global Is Easier — And Harder — Than Ever

The global music industry has never been more interconnected. Don’t misunderstand — tastemaking hasn’t completely transcended national borders and cultural barriers, and probably never will. But, no matter your niche, there’s a market for your music on every continent. Thanks to global streaming services, tapping those markets is easier than ever.

Claiming your share of global revenue is quite another matter. Even if you’re just starting out, you can’t afford not to work with a seasoned IP and music expert — ideally, an attorney with experience in international music licensing and distribution.

Audiences Listen More Than Ever Before

It’s always nice to end on a positive note, and this one is unambiguous. Thanks to the widespread availability and low cost of streaming, download, and playing devices, audiences listen to more music today than they did in 2000 — or at any time before. For artists simply trying to be heard, nothing matters more.

Some Things Never Change

Let’s be clear: not everything about the music industry has changed since the turn of the 21st century. Were an aspiring artist or producer from 2000 to find herself suddenly transported to the year 2019, she’d recognize the contours of the business — if not necessarily all the listening media, promotional avenues, or potential revenue streams.

She’d still do well to protect her intellectual property — her most cherished creative assets — and ensure that she’s fairly compensated for licensing and distribution deals, for instance. No matter how much changes in this business, one thing is likely to remain constant — quality performance rules the day.

What most surprises you about the changes the music industry has seen since 2000?


Helen Yu is the principal attorney of the professional law corporation Yu Leseberg. She is an accomplished entertainment lawyer with more than 25 years of experience in the music business.

Don’t Let the Life Get to You – 6 Things Aspiring Musicians Should Avoid

By Helen Yu

Making it in the music business is hard work. After all, talent and determination only get you so far. In this line of work, lots of people have both in spades.  

It’s enough to make you want to throw up your hands in frustration.

Here’s the thing. Like all professionals, artists have good days and bad days. Some days, you’re going to feel like giving up entirely; on others, you’ll feel like nothing can stop you.

For starters, you’ll need to get used to the prospect of these ups and downs, because they’re going to happen. More importantly, though, you’ll need to adopt a proactive approach to your workaday life as you work toward your music goals. Reactive simply doesn’t cut it, not in this business.

Setting some ground rules for yourself is a good first step — like taking pains to avoid these six things that can really get aspiring musicians down.

1. Trying to Keep Up With the Joneses

You’re making your own way in this business. Yes, you need to get “out there” (see number two, below), but that’s no excuse for not keeping your head down and focusing on doing things your way. Slow and steady wins the race.

2. Getting Your Name Out in the “Right” Circles

There’s a difference between doing what’s necessary to gain exposure and shamelessly ingratiating yourself with the “in” crowd. You absolutely should focus on cultivating a serious social media following, building your YouTube followership, and booking shows at on-brand venues.

You shouldn’t obsess about hobnobbing with tastemakers, at least not to start. This is a tough business; you’ll need thick skin to handle the inevitable snubs.

3. Landing a Major LabelRecord Deal Before You Have An Audience and Real Demand

Don’t put the cart before the horse.



“Focus on building a committed following through organic digital channels and live performance. Work with a seasoned IP music attorney to explore licensing strategies that protect your work product.” — Helen Yu


And try to build buzz on your own terms, not anyone else’s.

4. Trusting the Wrong People

One could write an entire book on the pitfalls of “trusting the wrong people,” whatever that means. Indeed, “trust but verify” is sensible life advice that’s served both artistss and heads of states alike.

In the music business, it’s particularly important for aspiring artists to remain skeptical of anyone who promises the moon. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Placing your trust in someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart is a sure route to disappointment, heartache, and potential financial loss.  Young artists have been manipulated many times by those whom jus to control the artists money and career.

5. Focus on One or Two Revenue Streams to the Detriment of Others

Banging your head against the wall to make one particular revenue stream work — say, live performance — is a recipe for disappointment.

A couple of generations ago, working artists could support themselves with revenue from performances and record sales, although it’s important to remember that many of the acts that transcended rock n’ roll’s heyday — The Beatles, The Monkees — earned serious money through licensing, film production, and merchandising as well.

These days, every serious artist must pursue a multifaceted revenue strategy. No, you don’t have to produce your own feature-length film, but you’re selling yourself short if you’re not rocking a dedicated YouTube channel.


Helen Yu is the principal attorney of the professional law corporation Yu Leseberg. She is an accomplished entertainment lawyer with more than 25 years of experience in the music business.

Can You Still Make It in the Music Business? Yes – If You Keep These 5 Things in Mind

By Helen Yu

You don’t have to look far for advice about how to make it in the music industry. But how do you know you what bits of acquired wisdom are actually worth taking to heart?

It’s a good question — yes, my belief for certain.  Modern digital media has changed the cultural cultural landscape, old rules and old skool thinking (which the old timer want to hang on to)  fall by the wayside every day.

What is true is that it’s “very possible” for ambitious, talented artists to make it in the music industry. You don’t have to look far for inspiration, in fact.

You will want to keep some ground rules in mind, though. Start here.

1. Study Up on As Many Revenue Opportunities As You Can

These days, the name of the game is variety. Before you think seriously about landing a major label record deal (more on that to follow) or even getting booked at serious venues, learn the business and wrap your head around the various revenue streams including lesser-known opportunities such as:

  • YouTube channel monetization
  • Music licensing for film, TV, trailers, internet shows, online productions, soundtracks, among other vectors
  • Master Performance Right Royalties and neighboring rights (or related rights)
  • Merchandising — the sky’s the limit here

2. Skip the Music Mags and Blogs, For Now

Don’t worry so much about pitching to name-brand publications like Pitchfork or other highly influential music blogs serving your niche. If you can get the love, that’s great, but its not the end all be all.

Yes, it’s nice to build buzz with credible placements right out of the gate, but may not have the time or ability to be your own PR person or may not be able to afford a publicist to do that on your behalf. For now, focus on the fundamentals — honing your craft, cutting tracks, playing shows, and promoting everything through your own organic channels. Hopefully, eyes and ears will follow.

3. Don’t Obsess About Getting a Major Label Record Deal (Yet)

A major label record deal is not a sure route to riches. Indeed, most signed artists don’t break out right away, even if they are the best “new” artist, they toil for a while, certainly have their challenges and ups and downs…. You just need real fans and use your socials to get that audience.


It’s also important to remember that record labels do their own research… they want artists who are self-starters and care about their career, as much as an artist would expect their record label to.   Record deals are complicated, encompassing terms which last many years, with varying sources of revenue and at least 3 different types or more of intellectual property rights – make sure you’re working with an experienced entertainment industry attorney who can help you protect and guide you.” — Helen Yu


4. Set Up Your Own Music Production Entity

You have it in you to grow your own business — really. Set up your own indie label and production company to house your music activities and get out there. Producing and distributing music in a company you form yourself, gives you a lot of control.  The best part, you keep all the earnings too; consult an entertainment attorney for specifics on that.

5. Protect Your Intellectual Property

It can’t be said enough: if you’re serious about making it in the music industry today, you must protect your intellectual property. There are simply too many opportunities for listeners to access your works without paying what you deserve for them — and, worse, for unaffiliated distributors and publishers to make money off your toil.

Follow Your Passion and Heart

At the end of the day, you’re the only person who can say for sure whether any given piece of career advice is right for you. If any of these tips ring hollow, don’t hesitate to set them aside. It may be that they’re not appropriate for your career, or perhaps it’s just not the right time. Maybe you’ll have better luck picking them up later in your career.

Or maybe not. As you do your darndest to make it in the music business, the most important thing you can do is, well, you and being authentic… everyone can tell a poser.


Helen Yu is the principal attorney of the professional law corporation Yu Leseberg. She is an accomplished entertainment lawyer with more than 25 years of experience in the music business.