You’ve climbed to Level 2, a place where your money, time, gatekeeper access, and team capacity increase to expand your operations - amplifying your world and fulfilling its market potential. That’s a business language way to say that you’ve pretty much “made it” within your niche market. You’re a player in the game. A contender. Your name has enough clout behind it, or provides enough upon further inspection, that your reputation can be wielded as a (healthy) weapon.
“Making it” or “Big Breaks” are pretty flippant comments, reflecting a non-Dialectic, and therefore relatively unhealthy, attitude about what a music career looks like. The truth is, few artists experience one specific black/white moment of “Making it,” it’s usually a perfect storm of events that raises the entire ship gradually. Within that perfect storm, you’ll find that Level 2 really changes the game in two arenas. You have the opportunity to:
1) Expand your team to include valuable Team Partners with extra capabilities and gatekeeper access (indie labels, agencies, or bigger publishers), and
2) Monetize your music in new ways, especially deciding where you want to play within the arenas of Lifestyle Branding.
Labels, Agencies, Publishers
This is where your personal big picture perspective really pays off: you are the only one who can judge whether adding new Team Partners is right for you. Maybe you’ll decide that you don’t need these partners to achieve your Definition of Success - maybe you’ll decide it’s critical. Here are some things to consider:
Adding these extra valuable Team Partners can help with sharing work loads, or accessing Distribution, Press and Sync areas you didn’t have the capacity to hit on your own. Expanding your team might appeal to you because you’ve experienced burnout in the past, or because you have a project in mind you cannot execute with your current team size. You also only have so much money, so much energy, and so many hours in a day to work, and allocating duties out of your hands into others opens you up to do other things (like the art of music).
What really changes the game though, is that these new Partners also help your music get to gatekeepers (within Press, Sync, and more), opening worlds of opportunities you might not be able to reach on your own. Gatekeepers like writers for major magazines or playlist curators have such demand that they depend on trusting colleagues to help cut through the noise - so getting those specific colleagues associated with you, on your team, gives you the chance to play in those Home Run arenas.
NOTE: for the purpose of conceptualizing this Level, the other common Team Partners of Managers, Lawyers, and Publicists are not mentioned because they fall more under the decision-making of Level 1. For example, if you decided hiring a Publicist at a PR Firm fell into your own personal Process Manual for Press, then that role might be absorbed by work with a Label in Level 2. Same goes for Managers and Lawyers.
Labels are all different. Majors are usually financial institutions that create agreements with musicians to fund their music and promotions in exchange for ownership of music, brand, and royalties. Independents (sometimes owned/operated under majors, sometimes completely independent) cover a wide range of functions. Since so many musicians make music on their own nowadays, Indies less-often fund the music creation process but instead step in to help with promotion and distribution.
All labels are especially helpful for three specific arenas that are often difficult for independent musicians to cover themselves, due to gatekeeper access, and lack of time and money: Physical Distribution (especially vinyl), Press Outreach, & Sync Licensing.
To work with any Label, you will most likely offer an exchange of percentages of revenue or income - which makes sense, because your new Partner will have their skin in the game, too. For a relative reference point: Major Labels (the big 3 are Sony, Warner, and Universal) often ask for 85% of ownership in music (and all “360” brand adjacencies), leaving 15% of ownership to you before producer points (the percentage you parcel out to all producers who work on your music). Indie Labels often ask more in the range around 50%. This obviously changes depending on the label - some labels even value 100% ownership retention for the musician (like Cooking Vinyl).
Your decision to stay independent/”indie” (owning 100%) hinges on your ability to see the big picture: is working with a label the right thing for you? There are advantages to being indie, in both ownership and freedom: the potential competitive advantage of owning 200% in Sync, complete scheduling and creative/collaboration freedom, no risk of being shelved (prevented from creating and releasing music in the future - a big risk within the Major Label world specifically), control of your expectation management - and more. On the flip-side, there are advantages to expanding your team, too, like we mentioned above with capacity and gatekeeper access.
There are even new unique combinations of Publishing & Distribution options for Level 2 musicians now that you don't need to be "signed" to access, but do operate at a higher level of industry connectedness, so do your research and remember your Definition of Success.
Whether you want to stay Independent or work with a label, if your Events increase your touring past your own booking ability, you will most likely need to acquire a booking agent on your own - a lot of Labels expect you to already have one. There are a lot of Booking Agencies (ATA, UTA, CAA, and William Morris are some of the bigger ones, but there are many more) and they take a percentage of the events they plan for you. Usually that figure is around 10%. They book Touring & Radio/TV/Film/Party Appearances with promoters.
Your EPK and the Events in your Touring PM (Process Manual) will help guide you towards an appropriate Booking Agency; remember, they are different than Promoters, Talent Buyers, and Tour Managers. Here's an important tip: it’s illegal in NY & California for Managers to also act as Agents.
(See next section on Lifestyle Branding.)
Like most everything, Talent Agencies can be fantastically helpful, or not at all. Finding one that matches your goals and work style can get you playing actively within the Lifestyle Branding arena and other adjacency opportunities. Talent Agents have access to databases of postings within the entertainment industry that you could not access yourself - not to mention connections and ideas that could change your game. Sometimes they will even give you access to those platforms to explore listings yourself, if you ask. However, your goal is probably to have them scanning those listings for you, shopping you out actively.
When you approach a Talent Agency, they will look at your EPK - it’s common right now for them to look for 10k followers/platform as a baseline (common, but not always the case). Some require membership to an actors union for payment if you explore any Acting adjacencies within Lifestyle Branding. Beware that if an agency asks for upfront payment to join, that’s usually a red flag - agencies typically take a percentage of opportunities they create for you.
It’s very, very likely that if you work with a Label you’ll be working with their own exclusive Publisher - but since most musicians can’t access big Publishers in Level 1, if that’s part of their plan, then we’ve included it here.
In Level 1 you already learned in your Events PM (Process Manual) how to publish your own music, which means you’re already using a publishing admin company (like Songtrust) to cover royalty collection, but not actively shop out your songs or offer you opportunities. Working with a bigger Publisher can be helpful if you want to use them for those things, especially their in-house Sync capabilities to access gatekeepers (production companies and music supervisors directly). These Publishers usually take a 25-50% cut of any opportunities they created for you, with no ownership percentage.
Publishers can be Non-Exclusive (allowing you to work with other Publishers, as well) or Exclusive (not allowing you to work with others). If you’re actively pursuing Sync Events in Level 1, your strategy will most likely be working with multiple Non-Exclusive Publishers. These look like large catalogues where your music sits waiting to be found on luck (from tagging your music properly) or from your own active pursuit of placements.
Later, moving to Level 2 gives you the opportunity to work with bigger, more renowned Publishers who spend their resources to shop your music out to possible placements. These Publishers will be Exclusive, which might sound restrictive, but is simply for decreasing confusion when your song is shopped out. Imagine the confusion if multiple publishers suggest your song as a contender for a TV show placement, and the production company wants to select your song can’t finalize the deal because they aren’t sure which Publisher is the correct one.
Once you have proof of a fan base through the Milestones in Step 4, you can pursue any of these new Lifestyle Branding opportunities on your own, or with a Talent Agency. It’s not just Rihanna and her Fenti makeup line, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and their perfumes, or Demi Lovato and Carrie Underwood with their workout clothes - the options for monetizing your Fanbase in influencer-types of ways are almost endless. Lifestyle Branding can be divided into categories like this:
Quick reminder to wrap up this section: Less is More - we listed many items not because you should do as many as possible, but so that you can see all the options out there for you. If you keep working towards building your personal self up, you’ll be so strongly self-aware that you’ll be able to skim these lists and know exactly in which arenas you want to play, and where you never want to go. There isn’t enough time or energy in a day or a life to do it all - so choose what fits you, and always balance both the Fan and Money side of the Mountain wisely.
Continue, finally, to Step 6.