How to Start Your Career in the Music Industry

There are a lot of terrific musicians in the world, playing in bars, at music festivals, fairs, and on street corners. Many play simply because they love it. Others love it but would also like to have a career in music. The reality is that it takes more than musical skill to earn good money in the music business.

If you’re aiming to work in the music industry, then don’t miss our interview with Neil Tortorella. His book, Starting Your Career as a Musician, is a must read!

Your book is awesome. Before talking about that maybe you can share a bit about yourself.

I currently live in the greater Fort Lauderdale area where I volunteer with SCORE, an organization that mentors new and existing businesses, as well as those interested in starting their own business. Music Careers Bookcover imageI’m the author of three books, Starting Your Career As A Musician, Starting Your Career As A Freelance Web Designer, and The Freelance Writer’s Business Book. I started playing guitar when I was roughly 13. Although I don’t play as much anymore after some medical issues, music is a major love in my life and a wonderful source of creative expression.

What is your “day job” if you have one?

By profession, I’m a graphic/web designer, writer and marketing consultant. I work with independent professionals in the service sector, small businesses and other authors helping them communicate better with their audiences.

What motivated you to write Starting Your Career as a Musician?

I wrote Starting Your Career As A Musician primarily for my son. I started teaching him to play guitar when he was 13. He took off in a major way. He’s one of the most talented musicians I know. His band, The Living, is currently recording their first CD.

The fact of the matter is that there are loads of bands and solo acts with significant talent. However, their business skills are often lacking.  Starting Your Career As a Musician is an effort to share some insights, thoughts and tactics to get an act’s music heard, build their fan base and, ultimately, profit from their efforts.

Can you summarize the book in a nutshell? What are a few of the key takeaways?

Starting Your Career As A Musician picks up where a musician’s musical education leaves off. It shows how tapping into proven tools and tactics can help a musician not only be heard and build a fan base, but also profit from their music in terms of getting booked, recording and selling their tunes, leveraging merchandise promotion and sales and more.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but embarking on a career in music can be trying. What qualities does a person need to truly make a go of it? An entrepreneurial spirit? Business sense?

Success in the music industry, no matter how one defines it, isn’t usually an overnight sensation or a get-famous-and-rich-quick thing. It takes time, effort, work, and a decent dose of patience. Musicians have got to be willing to continually improve their musical abilities, develop their business skills, and hone their showmanship to grow their fan base. When a musician is starting out, without a manager, an agent, or an A&R person watching their back (and hopefully not putting a knife into it), they’re the one who wears all the hats.

It’s important they be clear and honest with themselves about what they’re good at and, perhaps more important, what they stink at doing. Musicians can find people to handle the tasks they don’t excel at doing. Sure, it will probably cost them some bucks, but it can be money well spent that significantly helps them project a much more polished, professional image.

Some questions musicians should ask themselves include:

  • Do people who know you believe you are well suited to being a professional musician?
  • Do you consider yourself a self-starter?
  • Do you consider yourself naturally talented?
  • Do you have support from family and friends?
    Are you willing to put in the time and effort to continually improve your playing, songwriting, and/or voice?
  • Do you have enough confidence in yourself and your abilities to sustain yourself as a professional musician when things get tough?
  • Are you prepared, if needed, to lower your standard of living until your musical career is firmly established?
  • Do others consider you a team player?
  • Do you have the ability to get along with difficult people?
  • Are you willing to learn basic business skills?
  • Do you manage money well?

Let’s say I’m 18 or 19 years old and reading this…what advice do you give young people who desire to make music their career?

Naturally, become as a good a musician as your talent allows. Then go a bit further. Learn all you can about the industry, business skills, marketing and promotion. There is little reward, other than personal, if your music doesn’t get out there and heard. Learn about and use the array of tools available today such as social media, ReverbNation BandCamp, SoundCloud and such.

Beyond that, be sure to obtain copyrights for all original music. It’s pretty simple to do online at and is relatively cheap at, I believe, $35. Gain an understanding of usage and intellectual property rights With copyrights comes the ability to license work across a variety of channel.

In addition, it’s important to have a plan. Developing a clear, well-thought-out, and sensible plan can, almost automatically, put you ahead of the pack. That’s because the pack didn’t take the time and effort to draft one. They simply let their musical career happen to them, rather than taking control of their destiny. Sure, they have hopes, dreams, and hazy ideas, but they have nothing in writing that will hold them accountable and responsible for realizing those high-minded hopes.

Is it easier to make money as an artist now thanks to the Internet? How can musicians use the Internet to help themselves achieve success?

The age of the Internet is a double-edged sword for musicians. While it has opened new avenues for marketing music, collaboration and leveled the playing field, it has also significantly upped the competition to be heard and gain fans.

Many musicians and musical acts are bypassing the middleman and going directly to the fans. Websites, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets have made it easier for bands and solo acts to connect and communicate with their audience. It’s much easier, via the Net, for musicians to build authentic, meaningful relationships with their fans. With that comes fan loyalty and word-of-mouth, two huge points for musical acts.

I know a musician or two who also have other jobs (I’m sure you do too!). How can you be working, i.e., waiting tables, and also stand a chance of being successful in music?

Many, if not most, musicians juggle a full or part time job along with their musical efforts. It can be tough. There’s the 9 to 5 plus making time for rehearsals, writing, marketing and playing gigs. It’s the same in many creative disciplines. I know a graphic designer – a single mom – who works a 9 to 5 job, carts her kid all over town and works on design projects into the wee hours. It’s a matter of developing solid time management skills and having a hefty dose of dedication while keeping the ultimate goal in mind.

I have another close friend, a bass player, who also works a 9 to 5, well outside of the music biz. Yet, he manages his time well and finds not only time for rehearsals and playing out, but also works with the kids’ music group at his church. He schedules rehearsals in the evening during the week after his day job. Most of his gigs are on the weekend. Plus, they record and studio time is scheduled both during weekday evenings and on the off weekends.

My son’s works a part-time job, goes to college and still finds time to play out, write, rehearse, record and produce.

It’s a matter of time management and dedication to what you love. A musician can make the time needed or sit around and play video games and the like.

When I think of a career in music I think of a musician or a singer. Beyond that, though, there’s songwriting, producing, … Aside from being a vocalist or playing instruments, what might you focus on – get good at – to increase the likelihood of making money / having longevity in the industry?

There are many opportunities in the music industry beyond becoming a rock star or the next American Idol. Sure, that’s what people think of first, but there are also the “behind the scenes” jobs such as producer, studio tech, manager, booking agent, promoter, songwriter, music journalist, etc. An Internet search for “jobs in the music industry” will yield several options.

The trick is to think beyond the obvious. As you learn about the industry, you’ll see there are many people and careers that make all this stuff happen. There are many career opportunities that can be very rewarding outside of performing. Plus, they often tend to provide one with regular, predicable income to pay the rent and eat on occasion.

Can you recommend a few resources for people who are interested in a career in art?

Here are some from the books:


  • Music Business Handbook and Career Guide, by David Baskerville
  • Music, Money and Success, by Jeffrey and Todd Brabec
  • The Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Industry, by William Krasilovsky and Sidney Shemel
  • All You Need to Know About the Music Business, by Donald Passman
  • A Music Business Primer, by Diane Rapaport
  • What They’ll Never Tell You About the Music Business: The Myths, the Secrets, the Lies (& a Few Truths), by Peter Thall

Websites and Blogs for Promotion and Community 

Online Services for Musicians

CD Duplication and Related Services

Merchandise Suppliers

Equipment and Instruments

Legal Services for Musicians


Book: Starting Your Career as a Musician
Website: and
Twitter: @ntortorella


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