It helps to have talent if you want to make it big in music—though, as we now know, it's certainly not a requirement—but just as important, if not more important, as possessing God-given skill is having a firm understanding of how the business side of the recording industry works.
If you believe you're the greatest in your field, you might become more successful, but actually taking charge of your career by hiring a professional lawyer, reviewing all the contracts handed to you, and staying on top of your taxes will help to ensure long-term stability and success—the kind of success that allows an artist to have more than a moment on the internet.
To help young artists more easily navigate this insane industry, DJBooth reached out to a few dozen experienced artists, some newer to the inner workings of the business and others 10-plus-year veterans, asking each to share their best business advice.
"Trust your gut and build up your career on your own so that you have the leverage to dictate whatever terms you want. You’re what they want and need, not the other way around. Remember your value. Having the upper hand and leverage in business negotiations is how you get the deals you want. Make sure the other side has skin in the game, though, so they have an incentive to work hard for you and with you. Also, be hands-on. I personally know everyone and have met everyone involved with my career on the business side. I email people. I don’t just leave shit up to my manager. I see everything, have input on everything. Nothing gets done without my approval. Nothing. Take control of your career and don’t put it in the hands of someone else."
Mistah F.A.B. (@MistahFAB)
"Don’t wait until something goes terribly wrong legally before you begin to take interest in the business side of things. Ask questions and know what playing field and what rules apply in this field before the game starts, so there’s no confusion down the road."
Ye Ali (@Ye_Ali)
"Keep your publishing and assemble a team of people you can trust and empower. For example, a lot of people thought I was going to sign [a deal] years ago when I dropped 'Ring4x,' but I knew I didn’t have a team in place so signing wasn’t ideal. The offers were available but I was smart enough to wait it out and bet on myself. I knew that over the next few years I would produce AND write for bigger artists, so to sign when I was unprepared—just because the money was there—would have been detrimental to my development. Now I’m able to control the narrative of my career because I haven’t jeopardized it legally or musically. I thought I could take the journey by myself but I learned that I needed a DJ, producer, manager, and close business associates with whom I could build a fresh foundation."
"Be hands-on with every little thing, whether its co-directing a music video, learning about booking, or even finances. For example, most successful restaurants are run by owners who are experienced and have worn all hats from working in the kitchen to waiting on tables. Eventually, you’ll be too busy to be involved in everything, but being fully involved to start helps you better set and manage expectations."
Hoodie Allen (@HoodieAllen)
"Absolutely, 100% educate yourself. Knowledge is power and if you don’t understand how your business works you will be taken advantage of at some point. It can certainly be overwhelming to navigate some of the inner workings, from understanding publishing and royalties to putting together contract work with artists and producers, to budgeting for a tour and so on. But these are the things that every artist should commit themselves to learning. Both through online research, reaching out to other artists and trial and error."
Jace (of Two-9) (@retroJACE)
"Stay on top of your taxes, man. The IRS don't play. Also, make sure you have a good entertainment lawyer so all your contracts are straight. This will make a huge difference come offer time."
Ducko McFli (@DUCKOMCFLI)
"Actually learn the business. Don’t expect or live off of other people having to handle your business for you. Learn contracts, learn how things are supposed to go so you will know when they aren’t going right. Don’t expect people to do "good business." Somebody trying to get the most for their business isn’t bad business, it’s just not business with your best interest in mind, and that’s only something you can avoid or make sure doesn’t become the overwhelming norm by never being the third wheel to your own business meetings and by being the only one at the table that doesn’t speak the language."
Mir Fontane (@MirFontane)
"Make sure you have a lawyer. Without one, labels and others will attempt to fuck you over. Make sure maintaining creative control is a top priority. Your brand is your power, don’t let anyone diminish or extort what you created."
Teddy Walton (@teddywalton)
"Be open to new ideas and be open to creating a signature sound. Also, make sure you have a team who understands you as a person. Not just as an artist."
Ras Kass (@RasKass)
"What large print giveth, the fine print taketh away. Have a good lawyer who has your best interest at heart and always read agreements BEFORE you sign them."