Being successful in the music industry requires many skills. You need to be a good musician, have a working familiarity with music technology, be decent with money and financial planning, be able to look for red flags in contracts, be able to come up with at least basic marketing plans, have public speaking skills, and be able to negotiate. This certainly does not cover all of the skills needed, and if you have the money or connections you can hire people to take care of some of these subjects. But in order to truly be in charge of your own career you need to have at least a basic understanding of all of these skills. While there is no substitute for experience, you’re likely to make more than a few mistakes if you just throw yourself out there. Thankfully, there are many (some free) educational resources that can help prepare you for the challenges you’ll meet. Here are 7 of the best educational resources for musicians.
Music industry blogs are an invaluable resource. The best blogs are written by musicians or others who actually work in the industry, not just music journalists. These blogs give you the real accounts of what worked and didn’t work for them, which should help save you from making their mistakes. While there is no substitute for experience, these blogs should prepare you to hit the ground running.
My favorite music industry blog is Ari’s Take. Ari’s posts are short and straight to the point. He gives practical advice based on years of experience. Even when his posts aren’t presenting new information for me, I still thoroughly enjoy his writing.
You can find another 99 top rated music industry blogs HERE.
Professional organizations are groups that advocate for specific groups and/or provide educational resources for their members. My favorite organization is the National Association of Recording Industry Professionals (NARIP). They provide free webinars and panels that cover almost all areas of the music industry. They also host regular mixers and brunches. Their membership costs are fairly cheap and they have chapters in many major cities.
You can find more professional organizations HERE.
Roundtables can be another great resource if you’re willing to travel a bit. Hear from fellow musicians or industry professionals about any range of topics. Songwriting roundtables tend to be popular in my area. Just Google “Musician Roundtables [city]” to find a list of roundtables in the area.
University/Community College Extensions/Certificate Programs
Depending on how it is done this likely to be the second most expensive option on the list. Many universities and community colleges offer extension and/or certificate programs. These can range from music specific subjects such as performance and music technology, to more general subjects like finance. Think about what area you need the most improvement in. Is everyone in your band a great musician but none of you can handle money? Check out the finance classes. Want to improve your music skills? Find out if a university near you offers intensive summer programs for your instrument. You don’t have to go through an entire certificate program. You can just take individual classes that suit your needs. Completing certificate programs however can help you immensely should you want to look for another job to supplement your music income.
For example, it isn’t a music program, but I am currently working on a graduate level certificate in Healthcare Administration. I am hoping to open up a dental office with my boyfriend in a few years in order to provide a certain level of financial stability that music has just never provided me. Even though I have almost a decade of business experience (7 years in the music industry as of last month), this certificate is helping me fill in the healthcare specific gaps in my knowledge. Even though I never plan on leaving the music industry this certificate is an affordable way to help stabilize my future.
Open Source Classes
Open sources classes are a great way to learn about, well, just about anything, Their only drawback is that some subjects can be difficult to grasp through online classes. For subjects like accounting, unless you have a natural gift for the subject, there’s no substitute for a traditional classes. That said, however, you really can’t get any more bang for your buck than with open source classes. Open Culture has a list of 1100 open source classes from Universities. If you have a specific university in mind you can also go to their site directly. Here are MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Berklee’s open source classes.
Clubs are a great but often overlooked way to make connections and learn. They don’t even have to be music specific clubs to benefit you. I’ve come across many, many musicians who just had no stage presence unless they were in the middle of a song. As a performer you need to be able to engage your audience in a meaningful way. This is especially important if you’re working on building a fanbase and not just playing to a room full of super fans. For this, organizations like Toastmasters can help you step up your skills. Toastmasters helps you perfect your public skills.
Most cities also have clubs for entrepreneurs. Like it or not, if you want to be even remotely successful in the music industry you need to have at least some general business skills. Business clubs or clubs for entrepreneurs can be a cheap way to help you gain some of the skills you need. Look into your local community center or Google “Business Club [city]” to find your local clubs.
Depending on how you do it, this can be the most expensive option on the list. Conferences can be a great resource. They often have panels featuring some of the best in the business and have options for you to have one on one meetings. In my opinion, however, in order for them to be worth it they have to be planned out carefully. See my post on “How to go to a Conference When You’re Broke” to see how to get the most for your money at a conference. I had a great experience at ASCAP’s I Create Music Expo a few years ago, and hope to go to SXSW and Musexpo next year or the year after. Maybe I’ll see you there.