How to Make Money in Music in Hard Times

Rick Miller/MRES Photography

Big names at ASCAP’s sixth annual I Create Music Expo encourage musicians and songwriters to be entrepeneurs, not introverts.

Music and song- writing typically attract idealists who love melody, harmony and the creative process. Navigating the business, however, requires pragmatism and discipline, and in these unstable times, striking the right balance can be a challenge.

“The main thing,” says film composer Marco Beltrami, “is to take the same creativity you put into a work and to apply it to your career, so you’ll be heard and appreciated.”

Beltrami, a two-time Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker (co-written with Buck Sanders) and 3:10 to Yuma, has learned this lesson the hard way. “It’s something I struggle with,” he says, “because my strong suit is not my social skills. If you take a meeting with someone, music is very abstract. Being able to communicate your ideas is vital; it takes a political and social savvy.”

That’s the impulse motivating ASCAP’s sixth annual I Create Music Expo, a conference running April 28 to 30 at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel that involves more than 100 panels, master classes, networking parties and performances designed to help move aspiring musicians out of their bedrooms.

“You can sit in your office or your living room and write songs, maybe great songs,” says Paul Williams, the veteran songwriter who is president and chair of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. “But you’ve gotta get out of the house if you’re gonna be an activist in your own career. It’s no time to sit home and mope.”

Williams, probably best known for soft-rock songs he wrote for such groups as Three Dog Night and the Carpenters, says the conference is designed for what he calls “hopefuls and ‘hell no, I ain’t giving ups,’ Nashville writers who are two-session-a-day craftsmen and craftswomen and writers who want to keep learning, keep connecting. We have writers and publishers of all levels of success come from all over the world. I’d say, for the most part, the attendees are young up-and-coming talent. Some are looking for their first cut, some wanting to expand on their first successes.”

Overall, he says, it’s for people with “a heart full of music and a head full of questions.”

Williams’ career shows the way the business has changed over the decades. He emerged in the early ’70s, decades before the advent of the MP3 era. It was a time when record stores were opening to take advantage of the rock-music boom, not shutting down because of pressure from online merchants.

“When I began my career, almost all of the elements of support were provided by my publisher and the label,” he says. “Press, tours, all of my songwriting needs as far as placing my tunes, letting me know who was recording and when, what kind of material they were looking for. So many of the young writers and artists are going it alone, isolated and struggling to do it all.”

The expo, he says, offers the chance to make connections that are difficult in a fragmented music world. “We’re bringing together writers and creators from all around the country to form one family.”

I Create Music panels include looks at music publishing, how to write a hit, music libraries and breaking into music theater. Other events will consider music supervising for films, recording at home studios and threats to copyright along with performances, industry figures speaking about the business and established musicians will teach classes on song craft.

One of those classes will be taught by Desmond Child, the Nashville-based songwriter who’s written hits for Kiss, Ricky Martin and Aerosmith. He’s found the conference in years past “very caffeinated” and says the changing state of the music business is equally energizing.

“I predict that artists of the future won’t be selling individual albums but selling a whole network of their music,” Child says. “You buy into the whole thing. And artists will be combining music and a lot of other things.”

He holds out Lady Gaga and actor Jared Leto, who also directs music videos and leads the band 30 Seconds to Mars, as models for aspiring artists.

“I try to encourage people to not be specialists and to know it all,” he says. “Educate yourself on everything. See movies. Read books. See every episode of Glee. That’s our tool kit -- information.”

Williams points out that whatever the turmoil facing the music industry, the conference has expanded significantly since its 2006 launch. “It’s grown every year, and that doesn’t happen when you disappoint people. It’s growing because it works.”           



  • Thursday, April 28, 10:30 am
    A conversation between Van Dyke Parks and Rufus Wainwright
    ASCAP’s Jim Steinblatt moderates a discussion between two of pop music’s most distinctive stylists. Working largely outside the mainstream but with rabid cult followings, Parks and Wainwright represent two generations of musical success without compromise.
  • Friday, April 29, 4:30 pm
    Go Your Own Way
    Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles sits down with Lindsey Buckingham for a discussion of his hit making years with Fleetwood Mac, the current state of the music industry and his upcoming solo release Seeds We Sow. 
  • Saturday, April 30, 11:45 am
    Masters Session with Bernie Worrell and Will Calhoun
    In Living Colour drummer and producer Will Calhoun talks to legendary composer Bernie Worrell about a storied career that began as a founding member of Parliament/Funkadelic. Worrell’s keyboard can be heard accompanying  everyone from the Talking Heads to Keith Richards and, thanks to hip hop artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog, he is one of the most sampled musicians of all time.