Common Music Industry Problems Artists Face

A Look at the Biggest Music Industry Disappointments and Problems

As a music artist, you'll have to deal with personal disappointments while as well as issues with the music industry as a whole. Here are the most common challenges artists face at the start of their careers as well as the larger issues that plague the industry.

Music Industry Problems All Music Artists Face

Working in a creative field requires a tough skin, and the music industry is no exception. Band, label, manager, agent or promoter -- they're all bound to face more than a few bumps in the road. The trick is learning how to deal with disappointment and continuing to move toward your goals without getting sidetracked. Find out how to manage these common music business problems so you don't lose sight of where you want to go.

There's No Response to the Demo

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The first thing you should know about dealing with demo disappointment is that almost every single one of your favorite bands have faced this letdown. In most cases, you won't get a response to your demo. It doesn't have to mean you are doing anything wrong; sometimes it just takes awhile for the right demo to reach the right person. You can improve your chances of getting a response by making sure you stick to some basic demo ground rules. Check out these articles for help:

Even with the right approach, there's no guaranteed success. However, keep doing these things to increase your chances:

  • Keep building your profile by playing shows
  • Pursue press coverage of your shows
  • Keep your promo package updated and labels informed about what you're up to
  • Stay on top of your social media presence, including Facebook, Twitter, and your own blog

You might also consider releasing your own record. You can learn the pros and cons of this course of action here:

The Big Review Wasn't Published

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Being told that the review of your album or band that was supposed to appear in a newspaper/magazine or on a certain website has been dropped is frustrating. How should you handle it?

First, understand that this, too, happens often, and it isn't personal. Sometimes writers say that a review will appear just to appease you, but often they are just as surprised as you when a review is dropped by an editor. 

Getting bumped for bigger stories is part of the game, but you can make things better by following up. Put a call into your contact at the publication to find out what happened. See if you can get them to run it in the next issue instead. If you made a big deal about the review beforehand on your website or if your distributor has been using news of the review to promote your album, touch base with everyone to let them know what happened and when the review will resurface.

In most instances, there isn't much you can do to guarantee a review will be published, but you can perfect your press game and build a personal relationship with the writers who are into your music. These articles can help:

No One Comes to the Show

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Few things are as disheartening as playing to an empty room on the night of a gig. There may be finger pointing, but the bottom line is you can't force people to come to your show.

Do your best to turn a negative into a positive. Be gracious to everyone involved with the show so you will be welcomed back to the venue in the future. There's no guarantee that the crowds will pound down the door next time, but you can take steps to build buzz for that next show. Check out this advice:

The Gig Gets Canceled

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Nothing says "indie music" like the last minute canceled gig. When starting out, bands are often working with promoters who put on shows for fun. Some are as good as—if not better than—promoters working in the big leagues. And some, well...aren't.

When you're dealing with people who don't put on shows professionally, there is always a chance that they will have to cancel a gig. You may deal with people who want to put on a show for you, start planning, but then realize they can't—and don't really tell you that until the last minute.

I once had a friend spend months going through the motions of booking a show for a band I was working with, only to have them vanish as the show date drew closer. The band and I discovered on the night of the show that the supposed venue was closed down. True story.

Steel yourself for the inevitable canceled show. If it happens, file it under "things that will be a lot funnier when we make it" and move on. Even if things don't go as planned, remember to be polite and gracious with everyone you deal with; you never know whose help you're going to need some day.

Of course, there are things you can do to mitigate these kinds of surprises:

Running Out of Money

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If nothing says indie music like disorganized gigs, then going broke is a close second. You can sell what seems like a lot of records and still be lucky to break even. You can play to great crowds every night and end up in debt at the end of a tour. Forget swimming pools and movie stars; simply getting to the point where you can support yourself through your music requires a lot of hard work and patience. As long as the sacrifice is worth it to you, the best thing you can do is make peace with your bank balance and manage your money wisely (yes, the gatefold sleeve clear vinyl 10" is cool, but it's awfully expensive). These articles will help:

Problems with the Royalty Collection Company

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As an artist, of course, you want to get paid for your work, but royalty collection companies are causing friction with fans—and this can reflect badly on you, the artist. From trying to collect additional royalties on music you've already been compensated for (such as with ringtones) to demanding music fans pay for a public performance license when listening to the radio, the actions of these companies seem to have more to do with making up for their own financial problems than making sure you get your due.

The problem—aside from the fact that you pay a fee for a royalty collection company's service—is that your fans don't realize that how little control you have over what your royalty collection company does in your name. To them, you're the greedy one, and that's not an impression you want to foster with your fans.

Internet Copyright and Royalty Issues

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The internet opens up a lot of new opportunities for music promotion, but what licensing regulations should be in place? Who gets to decide what is fair usage? Should labels be able to pull their artists' music off of sites like YouTube against the artists' wishes? Speaking of YouTube, what is a fair royalty for video plays on such a site? How do you balance the need for musicians to be paid for their work with the realistic earning potential (and ability to pay) of sites that host music?

Focusing on fan file sharing turns attention away from the real problem: the inability for music rights holders to hammer out a realistic game plan for licensing and compensation with websites that host and promote music.

RIAA File Sharing Lawsuits

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The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) file sharing lawsuits are not universally supported by musicians and labels, and many have spoken out against them, claiming that they damage the relationship between musicians and fans.

Unfortunately, the average person doesn't know that their favorite musician may not actually be the one suing fans for hundreds of thousands of dollars for sharing music. The RIAA's actions do little to curtail downloading but create a bad impression of the music industry with fans.

And how are awards from judgments that are paid to the RIAA to be paid out to the musicians in whose name they are suing? We don't have a clear answer on this—and that's a real problem.

Not Being Paid Radio Royalties

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The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that does not require terrestrial radio stations to pay royalties to performers. The "Fair Play Fair Pay Act" (H.R. 1733) that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April of 2015 would have changed this.

Unfortunately, the debate over the issue has been controlled by Clear Channel—the Wal-Mart of radio stations—and those who make a lot of money hosting shows and making radio appearances. They are opposed to these royalties because they would lose a lot of money. These interests have framed themselves in the debate as the champion of the little guys. More