School of The Rock


Learning the Music Business             

Written by Paul D. Race for SchoolOfTheRock.comô


Whether you plan to make your living in music, or just plan to “make your mark,” knowing how the music business works will help you make informed choices and avoid ripoffs. 

We don’t have a lot in this section yet, but there are many resources.  Whatever you do, don’t sign a binding contract with ANYBODY until you have some sense of what is appropriate, or at least someone in the industry you trust who can give you some guidance.

The following part is an excerpt from a article “Musician or Wannabee,” but it’s a good summary of a few things you need to know.

    For most of my adult life, a lengthy tome called This Business of Music has been available, updated every few years, in every library in the  country, often in the reference section. Sadly, the spine of the book  seldom shows any wear. Yet I've witnessed several "seminars" that  purported to explain the basics of the music business to dozens of  attendees who spent two or three hundred dollars for the privilege of  seeing a Powerpoint equivalent of the first few chapters. There are other books that are easier to read, or at least to carry around, and if that's the way you have to go, fine. But try to get something written  or updated after the rise of the Internet, because the dynamics of the  mp3 marketplace, etc., have changed the industry in some unforeseen  ways.

    At the very least, you should know how musicians make money (besides  being paid for a bar or bar mitzvah gig, that is). When is it a good  idea to self-publish? Why do publishers feel like they deserve as much  as you make on each song? Who makes money when songs get played on the  radio? Who makes money when mp3s get downloaded legally? Who owns the  recordings when a label has paid for the studio time? What do  A.S.C.A.P. or B.M.I. or S.E.S.A.C. really do for the artist, and how can the Harry Fox Agency help you avoid getting sued for putting someone  else's song on your album? The best resources (such as the one I just  mentioned) explain all of this and more.

    Years ago, a friend's band had a big, national radio hit with a Joni Mitchell song, yet they saw no income from that to speak of.  But a couple of other friends wrote a song that was never an "A side" by  itself, but happened to appear on another artist's album that went gold, and they got a nice, unexpected chunk of change.  In fact, they still  get small checks in the mail every so often, over twenty years later.  If you ever imagine that you'll be making a living off of your music,  you owe it to yourself to know why things work this way.

    And it's altogether possible that knowing at least the basics may help you make wiser decisions under pressure. And believe me, there  will be pressure.

That article doesn’t mention understanding how copyright works, which another crucial piece of information, whether you write your own songs or play covers. 

We don’t have many of our own resources in this section yet, but our “Learn the Music Business” discussion forum has links to several very useful articles. 

Stay in touch - there will be more here presently. 

As always, please contact me with corrections, complaints, clarifications, etc.  If your response is responsible, I'll try to include it in the "reader response" section below.

God bless,



Paul Race playing a banjo. Click to go to Paul's music home page.A Note from Paul: Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you enjoy your music and figure out how to make enjoyable music for those around you as well.

And please stay in touch!

    - Paul Race Click to see Paul's music home page Click to contact Paul through this page. Click to jump to the Discussion Forum Page Click to see Paul's music blog page Click to learn about our Momma Don't Low Newsletter. Click to see Paul's music page on Facebook Click to see Paul's YouTube Channel.

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