Expert Q&A

Grammy-winning producer John Snyder on the business of music


Although musicians tend to struggle financially, they have many of the same traits as entrepreneurs, says Grammy-winning producer John Snyder.

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In this segment of our series on how to build a successful music career, producer and educator John Snyder talks about the business-savvy mindset musicians need if they want to go big.

Grammy-winning producer John Snyder on the business of music

John Snyder
Grammy-winning producer
Director, Music Industry Studies
Loyola University New Orleans Why do musicians struggle financially?

Snyder: Because they don’t realize that creation is what makes them a business. As soon as you write a song or make a sound recording in a “fixed form,” you get five exclusive copyrights to it. Even if you record a Beatles song, you have the exclusive right to copy it, distribute it, make public performances of it, make derivatives such as a Spanish translation and control the digital distribution of the work. That makes you a music publisher, the same as Universal or Sony. Do most musicians lack business skills?

Snyder: No, most musicians have the same traits as entrepreneurs: they’re stubborn, independent, they communicate well. And they have this methodology for improving every day — it’s called practice. That methodology is terribly fungible. Anybody who can focus on something for four hours straight is an unusual person.

Making money and music
The record industry’s traditional powers have suffered mightily in the digital age, but the rise of new platforms has given musicians many more opportunities to make a living off their art. spoke to three experts to find out how musicians can thrive in the new landscape. But if they’re not business minded …

Snyder: If they can’t run that business, they should partner with somebody who can. This business has plenty of creative partnerships. If you just want to keep your head in the clouds, you’re going to be working at Starbucks, dude. How do you prepare students for a music career?

Snyder: Artists need to be educated and well read. On top of that, I add music industry courses and a straight-up business minor. They don’t love it, but their parents do. They end up with a bachelor of science in music industry studies, which includes web technology, physics of sound, audio-visual recording. They use these skills initially to promote their own bands, but when they get out there they realize that these skills are fungible and can be used for other purposes. None of my students is doing just one thing. What’s their biggest obstacle?

Snyder: The top 5 percent of touring acts make 85 percent of the money and they’re all over 55: Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Metallica, the Rolling Stones. So you’re not going to get rich touring. You have to sell stuff, give lessons, do videos, get income from YouTube. What’s the secret to success?

Snyder: You need to care. If you can care and create, you can communicate and sell. All you need is 1,000 true fans and 5,000 buying fans. If you can arrange for that, then you can survive.

See related:Justin Bieber fan site fined $1 million for violation of kids’ privacy , Phil Collins talks money and his fascination with the AlamoQ&A with hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons

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