The Golden Rule Of The Music Business

Find out the Golden Rule of the music business that helps you create success with just about any endeavor.

Ultimate Guitar

The music business, much like any other industry, operates on certain rules and principles, and our success in this business depends partly on how well we learn, follow, and leverage those rules. But how do we figure out our way around those rules? Where can we learn them and utilize them for our benefit?

I remember, when I was a kid, watching the Disney movie Aladdin. I was always fascinated with the story and the adventure. For years after seeing it, my parents grew tired of being bothered to get me a pet monkey (which never happened), but little did I know the golden rule to everything in the music business was nicely tucked away in that film. Remember the part when Aladdin is captured and has a conversation with an old man in prison (Jafar in disguise, really)? There was one small phrase that the old man told Aladdin as they escaped. He called it the golden rule and it goes something like thisHe who has the gold, makes the rules. Simple huh? But what does that mean for you?

Well, simply put, those entities, gatekeepers, etc. who hold the gold' in the music industry make the rules. In turn, anybody who wishes to attain gold' or favor in the eyes of said gatekeepers needs to meet them on their terms in order to win.

Now the gold' you seek could be any number of thingsmoney, access, opportunity, etc. Whatever the gold is, is up to you and will likely vary from person to person. The important part is that you identify the gatekeeper, follow their rules, and then establish a relationship with them. In this instance, the Golden Rule is a means to establishing meaningful relationships with key people that can help your career.

For example, in my small hometown we only have one live radio station, which is (thankfully) supportive of the local music scene. The station owner has only two requirements for locals to get airplayhigh quality recordings and high quality songs. Two local bands have received airplay from meeting these two requirements. However, some other local bands (who shall remain unnamed) haven't completely met these requirements and instead have chosen to try to get on the radio by constantly requesting their own music and, in some cases, complaining about how other bands have been on air but their songs don't make it. Consequently, they don't get their songs on the air. I can only imagine how big of a hole these bands dig themselves into by taking this approach. If I were the station owner, I know I would be royally annoyed. If only they saw that the radio station is not there to serve them and doesn't need to be charitable to them merely because they're a local band, and instead looked at things from the perspective of the station and tried to help them meet their needs and goals. How different would the reaction by the station be if these bands came to the gatekeeper with high quality songs and recordings and a much different attitude?

Even in today's DIY musician friendly business this rule still applies! Don't think that because your goal isn't to be signed to a major label this doesn't apply to you! As we just saw, this rule applied to local bands seeking radio airplay, so how can this apply to you and your goals? What if the gatekeepers you need to reach are your fans? What if it's other bands? It could be anything, so this rule does apply to anyone across the whole business anywhere where somebody has needs you can help meet.

Now go and think about how you can use this to your advantage. Here are a couple tips to help you down this road (Thanks to my friend Draven at Rockstar Mindset):

1. Remember that it's not connections' that will get you anywhere it's relationships. Focus on starting, building, and maintaining relationships with people that can potentially help move your career forward.

2. Try to see things from your fans' point of view, from all the gatekeepers' points of view, and anyone else that you need as part of your growing career. Most bands focus on a mindset of What can you do for me?, when the ones making it far in the industry are the ones asking, What can I do for you? This will help you identify and execute any of the 'rules', and help you make the necessary adjustments to your phone conversations, press kit, expectations, and even the way you say "thank you."

The goal is to make friends, not just conduct business, and certainly not to look for handouts like many of the other bands so many industry pros are already overwhelmed with. Not only will it set you apart, it will make it easier for them to like you and lead to even more opportunities. Keeping the Golden Rule in mind will help you create real relationships with everyone from venues, to bloggers, reporters, fans, managers, booking agents, and even your sound guy. Approach them from the standpoint of wanting to know how you can help make their life easier and a little better. Meet them on their turf, with their 'rules.' And then reap the benefits for a long time to come.

Brad Litton is a professional guitarist and guitar instructor. He currently plays with the band New Tragedy based in Utah. Sign up for his mailing lists at and for more information and the latest updates.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The golden rule of the music business is 'That artist is always pays'.
    [Arran] wrote: The golden rule of the music business is 'That artist is always pays'.
    I learned long ago that if you want to be a Pokemon Master, you don't just make your Pokemon battle and make them strong, but you have to become friends with them and form a personal bond with each of them. Hahahaha. Sorry, just feeding off your Aladdin reference. All jokes aside, good article, man. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about these bands that think that Record Labels are going to love their music so much that they're going to seek them out and beg them to sign a record contract. As we know, it doesn't work that way and it sure doesn't work if you're annoying radio stations to play your crappy music.
    guitarguy_tom wrote: [Arran] wrote: The golden rule of the music business is 'That artist is always pays'. this.
    you makes a good point. thank you. i know too many bands who think theyre the shit and that they deserve for everything to be handed to them. they need to stop being so concieted and say hey, we arent rich yet, maybe being an axl rose wont get me anywhere.
    Alright, i'm an idiot. Someone explain the sentence above about the "artist" a little better because, while I see where I think it's going, i'm an idiot. Thanks.
    Record signings are just high interest loans. It's all about being independant now.
    SHACKR wrote: Record signings are just high interest loans. It's all about being independant now.
    exactly. If someone has the cash, there's no need for a record label.
    I think that the golden rule is always leaving the audience wanting more. Like phish. It makes the music a drug
    Brad Litton
    @SHACKR & P.B. - The traditional 'record deal' is not a loan that you are personally liable for, the company only makes money when you make sales, therefore, if your stuff doesn't sell, the company doesn't make any money and you don't have to pay them back (unless you didn't read the deal with an entertainment lawyer and got totally screwed). Yes it is much, much easier to be independent these days, but there is always going to be somebody who having a relationship, even on their terms, with will help you move your career forward. This isn't about getting signed, it's about how to work with ANY person who can help you, be it a label or fans or a radio station or a promoter, etc. @RipleyMKH - I agree completely with always leaving the audience wanting more. That's one thing that helps you become an unforgettable live band. However, this is dealing with the business side of your art, not the performance side. Think about it, if 'leaving them wanting more' is the golden rule when you're trying to get a promoter to help you with shows you've got booked, how can you convey that in your communication? This is more about establishing a relationship with people who can help you move your career forward on the business end of things, not the music end of things. But definitely do leave them wanting more at your live shows @mystical_1 - I don't get it either...don't worry, lol! Thanks for all the positive comments and support! It's very, very much appreciated!