The Modern Music Business



You don’t know everything. And if you pretend to know everything, those who know something will dismiss you. Used to be a pro knew every record on the chart, now pros have never even heard of an act that goes #1.

Ignore the charts. They’re momentary. Today it’s about longevity, streaming pays out for the life of the copyright. Look at the cume, that’s important, but how many streams this week, slicing and dicing, that, i.e. the chart, has never meant less.

Are you a recording artist or a touring artist? Sure, they can be the same thing, especially after you’ve had success with your recorded music, but when you’re starting out… Making hip-hop and pop is a game, roadwork is irrelevant. How do you get enough streams to make an impact? Whereas if you don’t make hip-hop or pop, you’ll never make it on the chart, you’ll never have enough streams, focus on the live game. The live game is harder to play, you can’t go from zero to hero overnight, but the dues you’ve paid, the struggle, will build a career that pays dividends down the road. A momentary recording success might get a bunch of people, not all the people, to know you now, but will they pay to see you tomorrow, never mind today? Doubtful.

The money is in live. Promoters keep artists in business. Record companies do not. They want you to prove it first online, and they don’t want to put forth enough in advances to pay your bills so you can give up your day job. Furthermore, the lion’s share of tour revenue goes to the act, it’s just the opposite if you’re signed with a major recording company.

If someone is bitching about streaming payouts, if they say Spotify is the devil, ignore them, know they don’t know what they are talking about. It tends to be the rap of old artists that used to be supported by labels who complain most, and then there are the never-was and the wannabes who complain who aren’t even in the game. It’s a matter of perspective, even a million streams is nothing these days. Compare yourself to better known artists, you’ll be stunned how many streams they have. And if you have a lot of streams, you can make a ton of dough on streaming. Most of the money goes to rightsholders, and there are not the financial shenanigans of the past, the new digital, transparent world, is far superior to the old.

If someone complains about the internet, how much time young people spend on it, if they say they like to own music, know they are marginal and ignore them. Everything happens online. That is where music lives, where you find out about it, where you listen to it. The audience is online, the active audience, be there.

Don’t complain about social media, either be there or accept your diminished fate if you are not. Not every act has to be universal, hyped, you can make a ton of dough not posting at all, but if you don’t post, don’t complain.

Watch TikTok every day. An hour a day at the start, at least fifteen minutes a day thereafter. TikTok is the heartbeat of America, if you want to know what is going on, watch TikTok, more than TV news or the newspaper. TikTok videos are honest and visceral. Ignore all the hype about influencers, in most cases I skip right past their videos, watch those of creators who are doing it for the fun of it, to express themselves. They are tapped into what the audience wants. The audience wants to believe you’re just like them, at the core anyway. A human being with foibles. Make music from this perspective and you have a chance of winning.

Moon/June… The deeper the lyrics, the greater chance you have of connecting with the audience.

Songs have greater longevity than beats. If your song is singable, it will give you a better chance of success, of your song impacting people and lasting. Melody, changes…they never go out of style.

Beware of hucksters and shysters. If someone tells you to pay them to get ahead, don’t. Don’t pay for the website, don’t pay for potential leads for gigs, that’s your job. There are a ton of people out there just looking to make bank on you, and they don’t care about your career.

Live works when the audience is engaged, nearly stunned, when people believe they are seeing something that they cannot get anywhere else. There are many ways to do this, not only dancing and production. A great performer can hold an audience just at the mic. The way their body moves, the way they articulate. This is why you must work live a lot to get good. It’s all about experience, you get more comfortable in your body, you figure out what works and you deliver.

Keeping a band together is hard. Some big managers today don’t even want to manage bands. Think about this on your journey.

Don’t sign anything until you absolutely have to.

Don’t sign anything without a music business lawyer involved. Scrape together the cash, it is worth it in the long run.

You can’t make it if you treat music as a hobby, it must be everything.

Whatever you do first is not as good as what you do later. Everybody thinks their first song is great, until they write their hundredth song and look back.

Rules are made to be broken, that’s what art is all about. If someone tells you something can’t be done, ignore them.

Don’t complain if nobody is listening, if nobody is paying attention. This just means your music doesn’t resonate with others or you’re a crappy marketer. That’s right, everybody starting out is a marketer, no different from the way it’s always been. In the pre-internet era, you put up posters. Now you post online. Same deal.

Don’t repeat yourself. If you’re busy satisfying your audience you’re decreasing the length of your career. Test limits, push the envelope, change, if it’s interesting to you it might be interesting to others.

It’s never too expensive to go on the road. Just slim down the production, the trucks, the travel… Don’t let the costs prevent you from playing.

Anybody who says they need money to start is delusional. Everybody’s got a computer, everybody has access to the internet.

Be involved with people who are passionate about you and your work. The biggest person won’t be as good as the lesser person if they’re not into you.

Leave money on the table. If you want everything, chances are you’ll end up with nothing.

Give to get. Everybody needs a piece in order to be incentivized to do the work.

You know better than the label, better than anybody when it comes to the music itself. Don’t be cowered, do it your way.

The label is interested in making money, you’re interesting in making art and having a career. Sometimes the interests align, sometimes they don’t.

Everything is negotiable, there are no standards.

Capture the zeitgeist as opposed to getting it right. Which is why newbies with little cash oftentimes trump the experienced artists. It’s about capturing lightning in a bottle, not polishing it until it is perfect.

Be a fan.

Don’t work all the time, otherwise you’ll be absent input that will feed your creativity.

Don’t let others bring you down. Your compatriots might try to make you feel bad so they can gain the opportunity.


Visit the archive:


If you would like to subscribe to the LefsetzLetter


Originally published by Bob Lefsetz in the 09/21/2023 at the Leftsetz Letter

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted Under