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.