A&R, publishing, publicity, booking, and more – Industry insiders from BMI, Warner Chappell, LVRN, and Nvak Collective share important business insights in our Song Start series.
Many artists, producers, and songwriters get into the music business because of their passion for creating, but are often caught off-guard by the complex realities of the music industry. While many aspects of this business can be confusing, there are clear steps creatives can take to understand how they and the people around them work together.
As part of our educational Song Start series, Spotify sat down with industry insiders, including BMI’s Samantha Cox, Warner Chappell’s Sam Sklar, LVRN’s Justice Baiden, Nvak Collective’s Alex Salibian, and the Song Start organization’s own Tamar Kaprelian. All five experts weighed in on different aspects of the industry, offering some eye-opening insights about what musicians need to know as they navigate the professional side of their artistic careers.
Kaprelian offered a concrete series of steps any artist or songwriter should take when it comes to building a team and a career, using Rosa Linn, a songwriter and producer, as an example. She walked through Rosa Linn’s budding career, from the early days writing songs for other artists to inking a publishing deal, launching herself as an artist, signing a record deal, recording and releasing an album, promoting her music, and going on tour. And along the way, she touched on more than a dozen different people and teams that have played a role in Rosa’s success as an artist:
- Entertainment Lawyer
- Business Manager
- Publishing Company
- Distribution Company / Record Label
- Marketing Department and Product Manager
- Press, PR, and Publicity Teams
- Social Media Manager
- Radio and Research Departments
- Booking Agent
- Tour Manager
- Music Director
- Audio Engineer
“Finding the right crew of people – people who really support you mentally, emotionally, physically – allows for creativity over an extended amount of time. This is not a one-size-fits all approach,” Kaprelian said. “With so many moving parts, it’s important to remember that the artist is at the center of this network of people. While Rosa needs her team to succeed, there is no music industry without the music, and there’s no music without the creatives making it: the producers, the songwriters, and the artists.”
Alex Salibian, who runs Nvak Collective alongside Kaprelian, underscored this point, telling artists to think of themselves as the “CEO” of their own company. “You have a whole team around you, and you need to operate like a company, have a strong mission statement (a ‘why’), and then execute based on that,” he said. “Consistently, clearly communicate [your] goals and [your] vision, and make sure that [your] team is aligned with it.”
Salibian admitted that even he was “very naive about the process that happened after I finished the record and delivered it to the label,” saying it took him “a while to educate myself on all the hard work that happened afterwards.”
LVRN’s Justice Baiden agreed, but noted that vision can take time to fully emerge. Along the way, artist development is key. “Developing artists is not fun,” he said. “Sitting there for years going through every single decision, every color, how the music sounds, and how they're gonna smile in their interviews? But it's essential, right? I feel like once you know your goals in life, everything becomes simpler.”
While easier access to creative tools, social media, and distribution platforms has made it possible for artists to do more for themselves and find success without the traditional trappings of a record deal, Baiden said artists still need to know what they’re getting into and be prepared to work hard.
“Not everybody's meant to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “Some people are meant to be role players. So you have to understand as an artist, or as an executive, the independent route means that you need to have a well-oiled machine. You need to have a huge grasp on what the business is like and also a huge grasp on how to build a company.”
Once your songs exist, knowing how publishing is handled is key. Sam Sklar, A&R at Warner Chappell Music Publishing, helpfully outlined the main role of PROs (Performance Rights Organizations) and Publishers. “Publishing is pretty much the business of monetization and promotion of the composition side of the song,” she said. “[PROs] collect royalties on behalf of writers, producers, artists, and just ensure everybody receives those royalties for their compositions.”
While a publishing deal will help artists and songwriters maximize the value of their compositions over time, they should start putting revenue streams in order right away. “If you're on your own and you're acting as your own publisher, and you don't have a publishing deal yet, you can research some of these different types of royalties and these different organizations,” she said.
Samantha Cox from BMI, a US-based PRO, suggested artists quickly learn about their IPI numbers, the internationally recognized identification numbers given to each person’s legal name, stage name, and more. These allow PROs to identify who to collect on behalf of – particularly if they’re embedded in the metadata of a song – and will help artists connect with revenue streams being amassed on their behalf. She also underscored how important it is that artists familiarize themselves with the many different types of PROs and the different revenue streams they collect if they want to get paid.
Cox wrapped things up by encouraging artists not to get discouraged, but rather to arm themselves with knowledge about the workings of the industry to maximize the returns they can make on their time and creative investment.
“If you can just sort of last in this business, you're going to be successful,” she said. “It may not be the way you dreamed it. You may not be Beyoncé or Drake, right? But you're making money in the music business and you're doing it successfully. It just comes with time and patience and hard work and drive and passion.”
Hear more from Alex Salibian and Justice Baiden on their “New Ways of Working in the Music Industry” podcast episode, or listen to Samantha Cox and Sam Sklar’s episode to learn the “Ins and Outs of PROs and Publishers.”