9 ideas for getting your music business organized

Regardless of whether you subscribe to the whole “new year, new you” thing or not, a new calendar year represents a fresh start and an opportunity to realign and center.

It’s also a great excuse to set aside some time to get organized. In addition to cleaning out your closet and making some literal space in your studio or wherever you do your best work, we encourage you to organize your business assets, goals, and plans for the year ahead.

Here are some ideas of things you can do to set a strong foundation and roadmap for your music business and career this year.

1. Reflect on your growth

I’m a huge fan of end-of-year reflection lists. Every December, I sit down and make a list of accomplishments, milestones, and/or notable events from the previous 11 months. If you haven’t already done that, I encourage you to do so now.

Creating art can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be difficult to the point of causing turmoil if you let it. Perspective is crucial. Take a step back and reflect on what you’ve accomplished, lessons you’ve learned, and how much you’ve grown in just a year. You may surprise yourself.

Not only is it fulfilling to take a moment to celebrate your hard work, but this can also provide clarity around what you do and don’t want to focus on in the new year. What brought you the greatest joy? What resulted in the highest return — financial or otherwise? What are you proud to have accomplished but don’t necessarily need to continue or do again? Let this list motivate and drive your intentions and goals for the next year.

2. Define your goals

You saw this coming. Use your reflection list to start brainstorming what you want to accomplish this year. Take some time to meditate on it. Where do you see yourself and your music career in one, five, ten years? What’s most important to you? What kind of life do you want to live in the long run, and what will help you get there?

Start with this vision, then work backward. We suggest identifying just one to three big, dreamy, immeasurable goals first. Things like “create an album that’ll make my audience feel seen” or “become more proficient at music production.” Or even something that’s inherently measurable like “get one of my songs placed in a film or commercial.”

Then, work backward to define what needs to happen for you to accomplish those goals. Using the above examples, that could mean writing for one hour each day, practicing once a week, taking a production course, or hiring a sync agent.

Continue breaking these down into stepping stones — increasingly actionable to-dos that can be accomplished in shorter periods of time. Eventually, you’ll be left with to-do lists for each month, week, day, etc. We cover how to measure these goals below.

Full disclosure: I personally have a hard time thinking far into the future, so I focus on key things I want to accomplish in the next six months and break them down from there.

3. Establish how you’ll measure progress

Accountability is crucial for reaching goals, whether you lean on yourself or check in with someone else. The first step to creating a foundation for accountability is to set benchmarks, goals, and milestones to measure progress against. Where are you now and where do you want to go? Document these in a spreadsheet, google doc, notebook, app, or whatever else suits you best.

Here are a few examples:

Songwriting

  • Benchmark: I have five songs written
  • Goal: Write five more songs by June 1st
  • Milestones: I made time in my daily routine to write; I wrote at least one song each month

Touring

  • Benchmark: I toured my local region last year
  • Goal: Tour the other coast this year
  • Milestones: I emailed five booking agents or venues each month; I mapped out my stops; I asked for time off from work

Following

  • Benchmark: I have 1,000 SoundCloud followers
  • Goal: Reach 2,000 SoundCloud followers by the end of year
  • Milestones: I tried two new follower growth experiments each month; I gained 150 followers/month

Your milestones are for tracking your progress. The first two examples would be measured by activity that gets you closer to your goal. In the last example, the milestone is both activity and metrics-based. Because streaming and social media platforms provide analytics, you can see how well a specific tactic works.

Once you know your milestones, put a time in your calendar every week, other week, and/or month to review your progress either by yourself or with a friend/mentor. Report on whether you’ve reached your milestones and what got you there or what held you back. You may learn that your goals were a bit too ambitious and you need to scale back, or if you’re exceeding your milestones, perhaps you can push yourself to aim higher.

4. Get organized and set up your ideal workflow

Do you know where your stems are saved? Do you have the instrumentals for all of your recordings? Are your samples organized by instrument, genre, or feeling, or is everything all over the place?

You’ll save your future self tons of time and frustration by organizing your samples and files in whatever way that makes it seamless to access them when working on a new project. The same goes for emails, lyrics, notes, whatever else you need. Here are more tips for making your ideas session-ready.

Once you’re organized and know what you’re focusing on this year, set up your workflow so you can get to work. Clear off your workspace or add whatever inspires you. Then, when inspiration strikes or an opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to create.

5. Create a learning plan

Is one of your goals this year to learn how to produce? Or to improve on an aspect of production, like mixing or mastering? It’ll be far less overwhelming to learn something new with a plan. Research programs, courses, or workshops that could fast-track your education, and identify the times in your schedule you can set aside for learning and put them in your calendar.

6. Get your finances in order

No matter what you do for work and in life, it’s important to know what income is coming in and what expenses are going out. This will help you budget for the future, save, and allocate funds to the things that will have the greatest impact. Create a spreadsheet (ilovecreatives offers a helpful template) or use a tool like Quickbooks’ Self-Employed program.

7. Determine your dream team

Do you already have a label, manager, publicist, sync agent, publisher, etc.? Have you been thinking about building your team? Now’s a great time to do some research and reflection about where you need the most help in growing your music career.

Make a list of the must-do activities you’re struggling to keep up with or tactics you know will help grow your career but don’t know how to approach. Use those lists to help guide you to envision what your team should look like. From there, think about what type of people you’d want to work with. What are their values, personality types, communication styles, etc.?

8. Get your contracts in order (even if you don’t need them yet)

If you collaborate with co-writers or bandmates, start thinking about how revenues will be split if you sign a record deal, secure syncs, etc. These numbers will likely be negotiated and agreed upon, but at the very least, start asking your peers and thinking about what seems fair so that you have a foundation for these conversations when the time comes. Otherwise, if you have to make a last-minute decision, stress and overwhelm could get in the way of thinking clearly.

9. Create a timeline

You know what you’re focusing on and how to measure progress. You have your accountability system in place and you’re the most organized you’ve ever been.

You have timelines for each of these projects, but they might feel a bit disjointed. Your final step is to take a step back and look at how everything fits together. When are you aiming to reach certain goals, and what are your top priorities?

Pick just one or two bigger goals to focus on each month and put them all in a timeline for the next twelve months. This will help you plan in advance for things like booking studio time, and your brain will thank you for creating a digestible action plan.

Even if you’re reading this in July instead of January, there’s never a bad time to get organized. Start where you are with one small step today. What are your music business goals for this year? Share them in the comments below!

January 3, 2020

Shannon Byrne Shannon Byrne is the founder and host of The Process podcast, an interview series exploring the process of survival as a creative. She's also the brand writer at Splice.