Agony Lance: Digital dosh

I have musician friends who struggle to turn their talents into something they can sell in these digital times. What should I advise them to do?– Fame Monster, Auckland

In the music industry, the main source of income is live shows, which are struck on a deal-by-deal basis. So before anything else, your friends need someone who will dedicate themselves to finding and negotiating those deals – the manager.

They also need to have a strategy to publish songs, either independently at higher margins and lower sales, or through a label at no margins and variable sales.

Above all, never sign anything from a record label without engaging a high-quality entertainment lawyer, and even then be extraordinarily careful about signing away longer-term rights.

Music is a passion industry where people are willing to invest high amounts of time and energy for little or negative cash return. It has parallels with other similar activities, such as surfing, making movies, sport and writing. A few people make a lot of money, but the vast majority make very little.

So your friends need to make a decision: are they musicians to make money, or musicians for fun and passion?

The few money-winners are exceptionally good at their craft and they become so through years and years of hard work, as there’s no substitute for hours spent practising. They also connect with their audience, and
live gigs is the core way along with engaging with fans on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and whatever other social media.

Finally, they had a reason to become big, with a defined sound, angle and story.

The exemplar is Lady Gaga, who dominated the industry by reinventing, well, everything, creating her own rules.

She works incredibly hard even today, owns her space and certainly connects with fans. So are your friends Gaga?