The Truth About The Music Industry

By Cliff Dumas
CMA, ACM & CCMA Winning Broadcaster

One of the most asked questions we receive here at Claim2Fame and during my 30+ here in broadcasting is, how can I have a successful career in the music industry? The hard truth is, there is no guaranteed road map to success. The music industry has changed so much and continues to evolve and so has the way consumers access and discover music.

Here is a great article written by Paul Resnikoff, the founder and publisher of Digital Music News based on a panel held during Musexpo 2017 in Hollywood. This article tackles many of the challenges faced by emerging artists along with brutally honest insight. (The original article can be viewed here). Digital Music News is an excellent resource to bookmark and follow on social media to keep up to date on the every changing industry landscape.

Reason #1: You’re ‘difficult’ and/or don’t work hard.

This isn’t the old music industry anymore.  There’s less money to invest, no more $16.99 CDs to sell, and way more pressure to show results.  So artists not only have to carry their weight, they have to work well with others and work hard.

But not even music managers are willing to be babysitters anymore.  At Musexpo on Monday, some of the biggest managers in the business flat-out refused to deal with divas.  In fact, the manager of 21 Pilots, Chris Woltman of Element 1 Music, said the biggest reason he wanted to work with 21 was because of their work ethic.

Reason #2: You don’t know the right people.

I bumped into a major label A&R guy at a Musexpo party on Sunday night.  He said half the time he can’t even listen to stuff that people hand him, even though he knows there’s great stuff in the pile.

Why?  Part of the reason is that A&R guys don’t just find artists, they also develop them.  So listening to new stuff means he’s developing less stuff he’s already signed.  And if stuff he’s already signed fails, he’s fired.

There just aren’t enough hours in a day.  And that goes for every A&R person that’s getting inundated.  So don’t take it personally.

Reason #3: You’re not playing the game right.

I wish this world was perfect and everyone got a fair shot (join my club).  But it’s absolutely, positively not a fair game.  That said, there are ways to game the system in your favor.

So how can you play the game a little better?

For starters, don’t always go directly to the front door of a major label.  An alternative approach is pairing up with a major manager.  That manager will then try to get serious consideration from one of the big three.  Because guys like Chris Woltman have every interest in not only developing you, but getting you signed so that you blow up.

Also, the guy who runs A&R Worldwide — Sat Bisla — is another example of an influencer that big label A&Rs will pay attention to.  Every night at A&R’s Musexpo (going on this week in Hollywood), Bisla has been showcasing a string of promising artists that he’s vetted.

Sometimes those artists are signed to smaller labels, other times not.  But the point is this: there are a lot of side doors that people don’t use.

Reason #4: There’s no ‘data’ on you.

This probably should be #1 with a bullet.  Because it’s 100 times more important than meeting the right people or playing the game right.

It’s data.  As in, are there people listening to you online, going to your shows, following you, remixing your music, etc.?  Do the numbers show that?

Sure, people game their social media accounts all the time.  But it’s really hard to game 40 million Spotify plays.  And it’s almost impossible to regularly ‘game’ a packed club with people screaming outside.

The ‘data’ can be local.  Chris Woltman said that 21 Pilots had already developed fanbase in Columbus, OH when he found them.  He said he could see a major connection with local fans, and realized he could grow it.

The ‘data’ he saw was a loyal, local following that really cared about this group.   The next step was managing them and signing them to a label that could scale that worldwide.

But this goes even further.  Because unless you’re a pre-teen boy band that the label puts together, you MUST have a data story for a major label to care.  “Most major labels don’t sign an artist now until they’re sure they’re on that path,” said Peter Leak of Red Light Management.  “They are definitely studying everything.  They’re looking at all the data and making sure something’s working before they sign them.”

“If they sign an artist without anything going on, that’s a real gamble.”

At a certain point, the numbers don’t lie.  BUT…

Reason #5: Your data is bulls—t

Everyone juices their numbers a little bit.  Because even if you’re exchanging a ticket for a Facebook Like you’re technically playing the social media game.  The real problem comes when you’re outright paying for massive amounts of followers, adding tons of fake engagement, and generally trying to create a social media presence that has zero connection to reality.

Here’s the thing: labels can sniff that out pretty fast.  Oftentimes there are dead giveaways.  And even if they do get interested based on fake data, they’re going to realize there’s a problem the minute the check out your show or see you in person.

It’s way, way more effective to work on your music and develop real engagement.

Reason #6: It’s not a good match.

Step back: do you really need a major label in the first place?

In many cases, a major label will actually set you back.  They typically sign radio-friendly, pop-oriented stuff, even if that’s pop-driven EDM, rap, or singer-songwriter variations.  Once a major is involved, they care about blowing you up and making a ton of cash off of the results.

We can go back-and-forth on whether that’s good or whether that sucks.  But it’s the way it is.

Do you want that?  Because even if you do get signed, there’s not guarantee of success.  “There are still going to be a lot of artists who do get signed but who don’t have success on a major,” Leak said.

There’s also a catch 22 here.  Because once you have enough traction and data to get noticed, you also have the beginnings of a completely DIY career.  And there are tons of reasons to stay DIY (including keeping 100% of the profits).  But that’s another topic entirely.

Reason #7: You didn’t get lucky.

Jaddan Comerford of Unified said he found Vance Joy because his brother sent him the music.  And his brother is in property management!  It was just dumb luck.

BUT, once you do get your lucky break, be ready.  If you have one good song and a bad work ethic, no ‘break’ is going to matter.

One last thing…

There was a really great takeaway that came out of this panel.  Back in the day, if you signed with a major label and failed, your career was basically over.  That’s because no other label wanted to take a risk on something that had already failed (artists like Lady Gaga were the extreme exception here).

Now, that’s totally reversed.  Peter Leak told the story of an artist that had an amicable split with a major label, simply because they weren’t growing as large as the major wanted.  But majors have tons of capital and reach, and can give you very valuable marketing for essentially very little cost.

I Got a Major Label Meeting and Nothing Happened

You won’t own the stuff you made with them, but you will own the stuff you create afterwards.  And you get to keep the fanbase for life.

And for those just joining: here’s a really quick primer on major labels.

The major labels — Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Entertainment — are sometimes referred to as the ‘big three’.  They own a bunch of other sub-labels and have major publishing interests as well.  They are big-time global entities.

Generally, major labels have more money and stronger relationships with platforms like Spotify.  In fact, they own a major portion of Spotify, and can push a priority artist into coveted playlists.

There are also independent labels, often called ‘indie labels’.  Those labels have far less marketing power, but can be a better fit for many artists.

Also, a music manager is basically someone that manages your career, makes deals, and shepherds every aspect of your growth.  There’s actually a lot of debate over whether bands truly need a manager any more, as well.  A great music manager can make you a massive success (and a crappy one can make you a failure).

Chelsea Crites’ New Video!

Congratulations to Claim2Fame winner Chelsea Crites! Chelsea used the prize money she one in the Original Song Contest to produce a brand new video (below). Cheslea shared her experience…

Chelsea Crites’ new video

Learn To Brand Like Taylor Swift

By Cliff Dumas
CMA, ACM & CCMA Winning Broadcaster

How do you become a brand?

The Rock Star, Memorable Actress, Great Dad, The Nutrition Guru, The Honest and Wise Friend- memorable and easily identifiable personalities like these have achieved a key piece of success; they’ve transformed their personalities into a brand. As an artist, you need to know what your unique brand is and be able to express it confidently, authentically and consistently to connect through your music, engage meaningfully with fans and have a successful, long-lasting career. Your music is only the first step. Your audience wants to get to know you. What you reveal and how you represent yourself across all of your social platforms and media opportunities will help you craft your story and create your brand.

Identify your key character building blocks and strategically use them them throughout your performance, social media and other media opportunities (interviews).

How do you identify your “character building blocks”?

Start by create a list of things you are passionate about, your quirks, your important life stories then you can integrate them into your show and interviews. Love to cook? Let your fans know. Like sports? Share it with your audience. Have a great story about your first date or most memorable Christmas? Share it. Being vulnerable and revealing personal things about yourself will help you connect with your audience. The more your audience gets to know you the more they will like you, the more they like you the more they’ll become loyal to your brand. That translates into more downloads and concert ticket purchases. No one does this better than Taylor Swift. Taylor consistently communicates and connects with her fans on social media. This creates a more engaged fan based which leads to more revenue.

Taylor Swift’s social media savvy paved the way for album “1989” to sell more copies in its opening week than any album in the previous 12 years making Taylor the first and only performer to have three albums sell more than 1 million copies in a week.

How did social media help Taylor Swift break album sales records?

Taylor SwiftBetween Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, Taylor Swift has more than 140 million followers or subscribers.

What’s the secret to “Branding” yourself?

Two things, a delicate balance of you and them. Too many brands and celebrities do nothing but talk about themselves on social (Kardashians), but Taylor Swift understands that her millennial audience grew up in the “sharing” culture.  Her Twitter feed is full of retweets of undiscovered artists covering her songs, of wedding videos using her songs and lots of fan collages sharing their love of her music and personal connection to who she is and what she stands for. On Instagram, she comments constantly on her fans’ posts, and during Christmas a few years ago  she chose a number of lucky fans and randomly sent gifts, which, of course, was documented on video and shared to the delight of fans which in turn create millions of extra views. The result is Taylor Swift’s effort and commitment to engaging her fans continues to deepening her connection to them further expanding her impressive fan base and strengthening her brand.

More recently Taylor showed up at the wedding of Max Singer (a longtime fan) and Kenya Smith. Taylor received a letter from Max’s sister Ali telling her how Max and Kenya got married in a hospital prior to their June 4 celebration — so their mother would’nt miss her son’s wedding before she passed away. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” was mom and son’s first dance song.


Congratulations Max and Kenya!!

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Winning branding begins with a clear message of who you are and what you stand for. The more concise your message, the more memorable it will be. Renowned companies utilize this formula. For example: Campbell’s Soup. Campbell’s is the brand and “Soup” is the category. Once a brand becomes a household name, the category designation can be dropped. There is no doubt about these brands: Taylor Swift, Disney, Google, Starbucks and Ryan Seacrest.

Just like everyday brands we’ve come to know and trust like Nike and Apple, your “personality brand” can represent you and earn audience loyalty. The more famous someone or something is, the fewer words are needed to identify them. Consider one-name celebrities like Oprah, Beyonce, Shaq, Sting and Madonna. They require no further introduction.

Brands deliver consistent experiences. This consistency earns the audience’s trust.

In order to set yourself apart from the rest, you must personalize your audience’s experience. Apple builds excitement every year in anticipation of its technological advances and every year its competitors rush to duplicate them. What’s distinctive about Apple? A consistent, quality user experience earns Apple supreme consumer loyalty.

Creating a great brand takes dedication:

The formula for success is quite simple: double your rate of failure.
–Thomas J. Watson, Sr. (founder of IBM)

Building brand recognition, trust and loyalty requires effort and once you’ve achieved it, the trick is to create momentum and consistency.
The average person will tell three people about a positive experience with a brand, but will share a negative experience with thirty three people!
Personality brands are powerful because your audience identifies with you on a personal level. Your fans have an emotional connection with you AND your music. Once you’ve earn that gift, you have to maintain integrity with the values that earned you their trust in the first place.

The three rules to becoming a personality brand:

ImportanceOfBranding_Banner from Music Clout1. Make sure your message is focused and easy to remember. Work on being engaging, don’t ramble. Craft interesting and relatable stories to describe your music, your life, your experiences, please don’t say, “Here’s a song I think you’ll like, it goes something like this”. Put some thought into what your are going to say regardless of whether it’s a 140 character tweet or song introduction during your performance.
2. Put in the time and commitment. Rehearse in front of friends, the mirror or record yourself on our iPhone/smart phone or iPad/tablet and critique yourself. How important is it to have compelling stories to tell about yourself and your music? It can be the difference between being memorable and forgettable. I recently worked with an artist for weeks to craft the moments between the songs to create a better overall performance experience for his fans and give him more confidence on stage. That artist was just signed by Sony Music!
3. Be authentic, honest and real and deliver a consistent quality experience to your fans.

*Photos from &

Using Social Media As An Extension Of Your Stage

By Cliff Dumas
CMA, ACM & CCMA Winning Broadcaster

Think of social media as an extension of your stage. It’s another way to reach and engage your audience and build your fan base.

The power of social media is undeniable, Twitter boasts 500 million users. Over three hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Sixty-seven percent of adults worldwide now use social media. 1 of 8 couples married in the U.S. met on social media.

It took radio 38 years to hit 50 million users. It took television 13 years. The internet did it in 3, the iPod did it in 3, and Facebook hit over 200 million in less than a year! Because your fans, customers and clients are using social media daily, communicating and marketing on social platforms is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.

So, based on research here is a snapshot of how to give some horsepower to your social media posts:


twitter-logoThe research says that shorter tweets 100-120 characters long with a clear call to action and up to two hashtags tend to perform better. Don’t forget an image or video! Tweet something other than you Starbucks order…Please! Ask yourself; How will my audience benefit from this? or What will my audience learn about me?



Facebook_icon.svgOk, be honest, who hasn’t clicked on the video featuring “Puppies that can’t stay awake”? Video has proven to be the key to unlocking a larger reach on Facebook ever since it changed its algorithm. (Algorithm means nothing to me, I just know it works)




Pinterest-square-logoPinterest is the platform with the highest number of active users and a major driver of traffic for brands.

Vertical images with little background and lots of red, perform better on Pinterest according to social media science. More than that, the description of the pin needs to be compelling, optimized for SEO with a clear call to action.


InstagramInstagram is a very visual platform which means that compelling images are necessary. According to Rockhouse Partners, captions that include hashtags, emojis and a location tag tend to have a higher engagement compared to others. Share some backstage photos, give your audience V.I.P. access.



Google-plus-icon-300x300I know, I know, another social site to master. Some brands have chosen not to invest in Google+, however, those that have, for example H&M, have experienced some amazing results in terms of engagement and reach.
Most of the time, Google+ posts are treated like a shorter version of a blog post. So longer posts with a compelling headline a link and of course and image perform better. Don’t forget the hashtags! (More on Hashtags in my next blog).

Content Is King

Your social media content is no different than the content you perform on stage. Your content needs to be relevant, have value and be consistency. Reveal something interesting about yourself, your music, your writing or performing experience. For the love of God, please post something other than your Starbucks coffee order! Pull the curtain back on OZ and give your audience some backstage access to your life.

A recent study from Cornell University, concluded that the perfect tweet mimics a news headline, adds information and ‘speaks’ the community’s language.

What is the perfect tweet length? Social Media scientist Dan Zarrella says it is 100-115 characters long.

Add Media

AddMediaVisual content has proven to be an extremely powerful social media marketing technique regardless of the platform. In a recent white paper, Twitter revealed a 313% increase in engagement for rich media posts and a 52% increase in retweets. What does this mean? More reach for your music if you use this technique.

The same research shows that more images are better than one, and short videos outperform tweets with images. More specifically, the researchers saw a 173% increase in engagement for posts with photo series over single photos and a 256% increase in engagement for posts with Vine videos over simple photos.

The bottom line? With Twitter’s introduction of native video and the rise of apps like Meerkat and Periscope, video is new communication currency unlocking a larger reach on Twitter.

Don’t have new music to share, do a great cover. Don’t have a great cover ready? Have fun, share something personal about your life your fans will enjoy. The more fans get to know you the more the will like you and the more they like the more loyal they become to you and your music.

5 Not-So-Obvious Revenue Streams for Musicians

By Cliff Dumas
CMA, ACM & CCMA Winning Broadcaster

Making a career out of your music ability is the dream of virtually every musician. But how do you do that? Who do you trust? How do you create sustainable revenue? Here are some excellent not so obvious revenue stream suggestions from Michael St. James founder and creative director of St. James Media.


A version of this article originally appeared on Performer Magazine.

You’ve probably seen many lists outlining revenue opportunities. Here’s a little twist on not just learning what they are, but also how to utilize them. In fact, some of these may never have even occurred to you. Here are five ways you start making money from your music right now!

1. Master/sync licenses

Photo from

By far, this should be the most important part of your music business plan now. In other words, this is where the real money is. Without boring you with music publishing and rights laws, here’s a basic breakdown.
If you wrote and paid to record your own music, you are the songwriter, publisher, and label. This gives you an advantage over most majors, as they have separate labels and publishers to grant licenses for the master and sync rights respectfully. You can negotiate a deal granting the master (recording) and the sync (underlying song) rights all by yourself. This is called a “one-stop” or “pre-cleared” deal.

Every entertainment medium needs music: commercials, TV shows, movies, local news, web campaigns, and games. Try to start local first; find a local restaurant, car dealership, even a local filmmaker. Understand their messaging, then pair a track with it for your pitch.

2. YouTube monetization

youtubeSet up your YouTube channel to allow monetization, and choose ads that are less than 30 seconds (unless they’re trailers). Fifteen-second entertainment ads pay best but can’t be skipped. Every song you’ve ever recorded should have at least an album cover video and a lyric video. Uploading these gets your music into the YouTube content ID system, and you’ll earn a percentage of the revenue share with Google on the ads.

But the key here is to have your music available for other content creators (like your brother’s sister-in-law in her basement making fashion videos) to use simply and in a way it makes you money.

That’s right. If complete strangers need to use music for their videos on YouTube, and your music is available, it’s free for them to use, but you get paid. You must administer those rights on the platform and be a partner. This is a little-known secret: you cannot do this on your own, and you will not get paid if your music isn’t administered properly. So use a service like Audiam or Rumblefish, which charge a 25 percent admin rate off of the top.

Think outside the box here. You could use your own songs to do a tutorial lesson on bass, guitar, or vocals. You could break down one of your song’s structures and boom – another video. Add an audio track to one of your songs, explaining the life moment behind its writing.

3. Instrumentals

Photo from
Photo from

Probably the most important facet of lost musician revenue is the lack of a clean instrumental track. To effectively license music and make sure you have as many chances as possible for uses, make sure that you have an instrumental version (no vocals) and a “TV-up version” (just background vocals – “oohs” and “ahhs”), as well as a separate vocals-only track in addition to the final master mix of the song.
So, you have four “songs” now:
• full mix (regular song)
• instrumental (no vocals)
• TV-up (just background vocals)
• separated vocals (acappella)
There are countless times when a song cannot be used because of a lyric here or there, or the vocal just doesn’t hit the right emotion. Sometimes you can get the same money for 30 seconds of the bridge without vocals as you could for the whole song. This is imperative.

4. Shazam

shazam logoShazam might be one of the most important drivers of the future of music. Industry insiders are watching these charts very closely – trust me.
To get your music onto the platform, first make sure you have a distribution service (like CD Baby, The Orchard, TuneCore, etc.) in place, then ask them to submit your music to the Shazam database. Once you’re in Shazam’s ecosystem, tag your own song and save it. Then, plan a “Shazam Party” by asking all of your fans to download Shazam (free), then play that song on their computer or stereo at a time (like Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. EST), and all Shazam it at once.You’ll hit the top of local charts and possibly larger ones. It will get you noticed and might lead to a larger licensing deal.

5. SoundExchange

sound exchangeYou know of PROs that collect for performance royalties, but they only do that for songwriting, publishing, and composition. SoundExchange administers the statutory license for satellite radio and web-casters. They collect for the recording owner and featured artist. Think about this way: Aretha Franklin didn’t write “Respect,” nor did she own the publishing or the master recording. But she is that song, plain and simple. So why shouldn’t she be paid every time that song is played? Well, that’s what SoundExchange does – only for satellite and web radio (non-interactive, like Pandora). No terrestrial radio (yet).

Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specialising in music licensing, publishing, production, and artist development.