Your Checklist for Success in the Music Business

Contributed by Steve Rennie, former talent manager for Incubus,   music industry veteran,   entrepreneur, and the founder of  Renman Music and Business . 

Contributed by Steve Rennie, former talent manager for Incubus, music industry veteran, entrepreneur, and the founder of Renman Music and Business

So many times when I talk to folks who are contemplating a career in music, they want to know what exactly the things they need to do to be successful are.  It’s almost as if we trained a whole generation of young folks to believe that life is like taking the SAT and if you get a good score, your success will be guaranteed.  But we are talking about the music business here folks and nothing could be further from the truth. 

At the heart of the music business are great songs and great performers. Without that you don’t really have a music business at all. In my experience, lots of artists are uncomfortable even talking about business and would prefer to have somebody else ‘handle that stuff’. But if we assume that you have those great songs and are a great performer, the decisions you make after you’ve made the music will have as much or even more impact on your prospects of success as the music itself. 

More so today than ever, artists need to understand what goes on once they hand off that music. Why? Because in most cases you’ll need to be doing all the things that a great manager, agent, record label, or music publisher would do to get your music to stand out from the crowd. But you’ll have to do it on your own, for a while at least. 

If you are looking to build a live audience, but don’t yet have a manager or an agent, you can’t let that stop you. You’ll need to make it happen yourself. The good news is that there are now web resources like and Bandsintown that make that much more doable. 

In the old days, you’d hire a publicist to help tell your story. Today you can tell your own story with social media. Today it’s less about Rolling Stone than it is about music blogs and Twitter. You’ve still got to compete, but the playing field is more level today than in the past.

So how do you learn about the real music biz? 

There appears to be no shortage of people and institutions who teach the ‘music business’ on a campus or online. I recently offered my own 12-week course on how to succeed in the music business, called ‘Renman U’.  Most, if not all, these ‘teachers’ will talk about building your online presence, how to market and promote your music, how to build a touring business, who you need to have on your team, and how to turn your songs into money. 

But one of the things that I rarely see on those ‘checklists’ is the importance of having a great attitude, having your head in the right place to do something great. That lesson is not about details, its about big picture. Without that ability to see the music business from the 30,000-foot view, it’s very easy to get lost in the maze.

Getting your head in the right place means transitioning from music biz dreamer to doer. It’s about developing an attitude that allows you to embrace the idea of working around all the obstacles you will face as you try to build a career. It’s about knowing the difference between a hobby and a career. It’s understanding that to compete in today’s music biz you need money. And no matter whose money it is – yours, a label’s, or a kickstarter supporter – they will want something in return. Getting your head in the right place is acknowledging that success in the music biz is bigger than any single person’s talent and that you will need help. You will need to identify, recruit, and inspire others to join you on your mission. 

Success in the music biz is not easy, even on the best of days. You’ll need to do a million things right. But when you are going through that checklist of things you need to do to be successful, don’t forget to start with the only thing you can reasonably control and that’s your attitude. 

- Steve Rennie

Steve will livestream his next CreativeLive class “Dream It, Do It: Breaking Into The Music Industry” for free on Wednesday, July 2nd at 9:00AM Pacific / 12:00PM Eastern.