Music Business – Is It Music Or Business (Or Both)?

TThe internet has certainly changed many things, and the largest impact has been on the music business. If we listen to the record labels then apparently the music business is facing Armageddon, but is it possible for an artist to make it? Or has the Internet killed it all off?

Now that record labels have changed their role in the music business, are today’s artists geared up for the business side of things or do they focus too much on the music to make it?



The change in music began in the early days of the internet when Napster allowed music lovers to get all the music they wanted without having to spend a penny. The legality of doing so was very much in question, with the site eventually shut down by lawsuits from the likes of Metallica and the major record labels. The damage was done, though, and everyone involved in the music business understood that the digital era was going to change everything. Some, however, refused to accept this – generally the larger labels who looked to protect their cash cow and refused to accept that their old model just doesn’t work anymore.

This was especially true for lesser known bands that had relied on help from the record labels in taking care of the business side of things. The labels have taken a back seat of sorts as they see their profit margin heavily affected by legal digital downloads. This has led to many bands having to take control of their own promotion and financials, which is something that not all of them are necessarily properly equipped to do.

The good news however, is that the internet can help in this regard, with many great tools available to help them get their business dealings under control.

Bands may be delighted to be free from the rule of the major labels, enabling them to take back creative control, deciding what songs should go out on the album, the arrangements of those songs and the running order. The benefit of steering clear of the labels is that artists now have the freedom to be as creative as they wish, which can also translate to how they build their brand and image.

However, they also face issues that never really existed for independent bands before. One of the biggest issues is the quality of the music that they deliver, both in content and sound. The rise of the digital era means that the sound produced has to be almost pristine, which is far removed from the days when lesser known bands could put together a tape in their garage that fans would willingly gobble up. On the plus side software and hardware are at such a level, that most DIY recording studios costing a few hundred £ and are more powerful than studios ten years ago costing millions – as always it comes down to the ear of the producer (whether that be a hired producer or the bands’ own ears).

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have allowed bands to get their music to the masses in an incredibly efficient way. Music is now shared and passed along in a manner that is reminiscent to the days when streets teams would go out and post flyers for upcoming shows and music releases. Those street teams are still alive and well, but now much of the leg work is done in front of a computer via social media.

Image credit: thomashawk on Flickr

Image credit: thomashawk on Flickr

But all of this requires some organising. I know from personal experience of sitting in front of the computer on my MySpace page, adding friends every day, inviting people to listen to the music, and doing the same on Reverbnation – it all takes a lot of time. Street teams don’t just turn up on your doorstep and request to help out – you have to actively engage them. Getting gigs to build your fan base – as an original music artist – is not that easy. Most of the places you can play original music are speciality venues that cater for original music run by promoters who generally don’t care too much about the bands or the quality of music but more about how many people you can bring through the door.

And therein lies the problem. Most bands are happy to spend their waking hours working on the music, perfecting their craft, but won’t spend the same amount of time (if not more) to put their music out there. They are still looking for that elusive record deal (of which there is more chance of winning the lottery).

It appears that labels now will only take on a band once they have proven they have the business acumen to make it by themselves, to build their own fan base, create their own store ready CD’s and to fill the gigs they play (in which case, one has to ask – what exactly do the labels do for the artist?)

So the bands/musicians have to be creative not only in the creation of their music, but also in the creation of their business – i.e. selling their wares. It is a conundrum.

It can be argued that bands are now closer to their fans than ever before. They are able to interact directly with their fans, engage them with specials and freebies via the internet that the labels would probably have never allowed. Yes, music is still a business, but the control of the reins has not so much been handed over by the labels, but rather yanked from their grasp by bands that recognised how the music scene was changing.

The labels will always be there, with the relative comfort of a recording contract still a major lure, but bands are now better able to control their own destiny by making the Internet, and their fans, work for and with them.

In answer to the original question – is it music or is it business? It is my humble opinion that it is more business than music and always has been. The difference now is the business side of things needs to be taken care of by the artists themselves.

Written by Vince Barnes from a UK-based “Kick ass chilled out Rock” band Free From Gravity. Originally published at this location.


  • This is full of great points. The distinction between business and art has become blurred over recent years and I would say this is positive. The model that has the relationship between artist and label (art and business) is not there when the artist chooses to go it alone, and likewise the business decision making process can also be different when the artist is doing it themselves.

    It is exciting and scary being able to control your own career in this sense (I’d say it’s a lot easier for solo artists). This kind of business is art. It’s fun. Working out ways to engage and build your audience, using online tools to get your work out there, and feeling that step by step sense of accomplishment as you climb your own ladder of goals (watching which efforts result in sales and which don’t). It may require a change in expectations and a different work flow – but if you’re serious about being a self-sufficient independent artist then the business side should be just as fun and creative as the making music side.

  • Great point. Thanks for your comment Andy.