Bitchin' Entertainment


Peter Spellman Interview

By: Tim Genck for Bitchin' Entertainment
Nov.7, 2003

When a new band has a break out year, has a big time tour, sells a modest 250,000 albums and is generating quite a buzz it is very easy to over shoot the immense hard work that has gone into the business aspects of the band. Other than writing, recording, and playing, the band has put countless of hours into working on behind the scenes things like: booking gigs, merchandising, creating a web site, making promotional items, etc. Only when one forms a band does the reality set in that this is a lot of work. Where do you start?

For the past five years there has been virtually a one and only stop for finding out this information and that has been Peter Spellman's Music Business Solutions. Author of several widely read music business books, he has virtually condensed everything there is to know in one excellent book called The Self Promoting Musician.

I consider myself very priviledged and honored that he took the time to answer some questions here for us. ~ Tim Genck

Peter Spellman Profile

Peter Spellman is director of career developmenmt at Berklee College of Music and director of Music Business Solutions, a training ground for 21st-century music entrepreneurs. He is author of "The Self-Promoting Musician", "The Musician's Internet," and "Indie Power: A Business-Building Guide for Record Labels, Music Production Houses and Merchant Musicians".

A musician since he was ten, Peter is percussionist with world music ensemble Friend Planet and sings folk songs to his kids before bed each night.

The Interview

Tim: Please begin by giving us a brief history of your life in the industry and any triumphs you're particularly proud of and any failures you'd like people to look out for.

Spellman: I’ve been a player, singer, arranger, instructor, artist manager, booking agent, concert promoter, producer, online music editor, music journalist and record label manager. I performed my first concert when I was ten and never looked back.

I was always the kid in the band who bought the office supplies, designed the flyers, negotiated deals, booked the gigs and maintained the mailing lists. So I learned the business side of music right along side the performing/recording side.

Triumphs? Nothing enormous stands out. One of my greatest discoveries was NACA (National Association of Campus Activities), essentially a trade group for college and university talent buyers. I was in a reggae/rock band called Mighty Charge in the eighties/early nineties and connecting with NACA allowed us to do small college tours which, in turn, helped us finance our recordings and put a few bucks in our pockets too.

Another triumph was discerning (and living) the DIY movement among indie musicians back in 1992 and starting my company, Music Business Solutions, to provide entrepreneurial training and resources for this growing population. I was able to position my company early on the Internet and this led to many wanting to link to my site ( As a result of “link popularity” my site now comes up first in Google when you search on the phrase “music business”. I consider this a bit of a triumph since all these link requests were unsolicited.

Most of my own “failures” in music center around a lack of communication. Being a bit of an introvert (especially back when), I didn’t always express (or know how to express) my feelings and thoughts about certain stressful matters within the music arena -- whether it was a conflict over a song arrangement or a discussion about how monies should be split. A lot of this, I’ve learned, stems from my dysfunctional family experience where an alcoholic parent didn’t provide a ‘safe’ place to express strong feelings.

It took a lot of painful soul-searching (and counseling!) to finally get a handle on this so that I controlled it rather than vice-versa. I encourage all musicians to go through this soul-searching in order to become more whole individuals.

The real triumph for me is a successive realization of my vision which began to form when I was nineteen. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that all the various strands of my life braided into a roaring river. I see myself today as a “dream architect” - helping musical entrepreneurs design thriving enterprises through creative activity. Artist and business development are my passions and I try to inform this passion through books, articles, workshops, one-on-one coaching and, of course, interviews!

Tim: As record companies announce an incredible drop in the price of CD's, what does this mean for the independent musician?

Spellman: Not much. Indie musicians will continue to build their own business models outside the orbit of the musical-industrial-complex. Indie artists sell most of their recordings through performances and street teams anyway. They are not saddled with the constraints of traditional record retail nor with the overhead costs of big labels, which result in enormous ‘recoupments’.

As people’s perception of physical recordings changes, more and more indie recording artists are viewing their CDs as ‘promotional expenses’ - a way of getting their music out there, creating value and then building a successful performing network through which they can then sell their merchandise, including every format of CD possible (i.e., studio recordings, live recordings, remixes, etc.), as well as other promotional items.

Unlike the big record companies, indie musicians first create value -- which leads to demand -- which leads to sales. The big guys try to do it back-asswards. This rarely works.

It used to be 1 in 10 new major label releases made a profit. Insiders tell me that today, the ratio is 1 in 20. That would be pathetic if it weren’t so tragic. Who would want to invest in that? Apparently no one.

Indie musicians should learn as much as possible about this new way of distribution and about e-commerce in all its manifestations, because the Net presents an avenue open to all (at least right now) and puts tremendous power in your corner.

Tim: Is there anything an aspiring musician should try to get out of the way before even thinking about making a career in music?

Spellman: Everyone in this business realizes that relationships make music careers move forward (or backward!). More than talent, more than good looks, more than money, it’s the quantity and quality of your relationships that make a career cook. This is true in all businesses really, but especially in music and entertainment. These industries are probably the most relationship-driven on the planet.

From a business perspective, relationships are so beneficial because they can lead to synergy - a very real multiplication of energy simply by combining two or more people. In the best relationships, 1+1=10.

So building an inclusive web of relationships is your number one task.

Relationships are a bit like mirrors - they circle back and show us ourselves. Our relationships are probably the most accurate barometer of our emotional health. It’s not a bad idea to pause and take a good, long look at your relational landscape. Is it littered with shipwrecks or is it a thriving network? Do you feel comfortable meeting new people or is something short-circuiting your attempts at making friends, sparking alliances, or building community?

You may need to turn yourself inside-out in order to get a good look at what keeps short-circuiting your relationships. I call this deeper look “emotional bushwhacking” and most of us need to put ourselves through it, not only to build successful relationships but to rediscover our own hidden potential too. Generally speaking, until you do, you will have limited career success.

The poet Robert Frost once observed: “Something we were withholding made us weak, until we found out that it was ourselves.” Let that sink in.

Tim: Most of us realize the importance of networking, but where would you look for the contacts that give a person an extra edge over the average networker?

Spellman: I’ve written in may places about how every business today is becoming a ‘music business.’ This is happening because music is a universally loved value and companies across the spectrum are seeking ways to add music and entertainment to their mix.

As a result, you are no longer beholden to traditional “music industry companies” to achieve music success.

The lesson: These trends require a new way of thinking about the “music business” and “industry careers.” It’s time to stretch our minds and get outside the box of traditional music business models. The digital common brings all kinds of non-music businesses into a space where creative partnerships can develop. Non-music partners are fresh and unjaded, and excited about associating with musical and entertainment arts as a way of adding value to what they’re offering.

We should reflect on where musical skills are used rather than on where music has traditionally been sold. Think of companies you personally resonate with and then focus on those that may have an affinity with the kind of music you produce. Make an alliance and use that alliance to market your music.

Remember, the economic structures of the last century are being torn apart. The rules are being rewritten. Anything goes in the business world today.

Therein lies your opportunity.

Tim: How has the internet helped unsigned bands?

Spellman: The Internet is the fastest-growing communications network on the planet and the most effective at delivering multimedia content globally. In essence a network collapses distance. From my desktop in Boston I can connect with a guitarist in Zaire, a promoter in Australia and a fan in Poland simultaneously.

For independent musicians, these developments bring tools to their cause that allow an extended reach on a playing field growing increasingly more level and accessible. On the Internet you can appear side-by-side with multi-million dollar companies twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, accessible by tens of millions of people around the globe.

Without a doubt, the Net is having an enormous impact on everything musical, from revitalizing dormant music careers to galvanizing global fan bases; from providing new DIY avenues for major-level artists to sparking unlikely yet rich musical collaborations.

Here’s just one example of how the Net can enhance a music career. Hanna Yaffe is a composer based in Jerusalem who recorded a compilation of lullabies from around the world. She put the disc up for sale on her web site and included several audio samples as well. After a month or so, she began receiving hundreds of emails from all over the world requesting her CD. After asking one inquirer how he had heard of the disc, she found out that her CD had received a nice review in Martha Stewart Living magazine. Apparently the reviewer had searched the Web for “lullaby music”, came upon Hanna’s web site via the search results, and sampled some of her audio from her CD. Hers was included in the reviewer’s ”Top Four Lullaby CDs” list. Without the Net this would never had happened for Yaffe.

Tim: With the RIAA getting it's act together and suing over 200 people recently, how do you see this affecting the music world?

Spellman: Suing your own customers is never good policy but, because of the way the RIAA is set up (as a lobbying trade group with extensive legal resources and deep pockets), it’s the only alternative. The whole organization is structured to sue.

I do wish the RIAA had put more time and money into creatively educating parents and kids about copyright instead of smacking them around with lawsuits.

And there’s certainly room for more discussion about user rights as well as owner rights. Unfortunately, most of this discussion is being eclipsed by threats and subpoenas.

I personally believe that stealing is stealing, and the victims are not only the ‘big, bad record companies’, but artists, writers, publishers, session players and their support teams too.

Suing people is having an effect. It is designed to act as a deterrent and seems to be working, albeit on a small scale. It’s also pissing a lot of people off and further alienating their industry-leading market segment -- youth.

To put this in context, the biggest culprit in falling music sales is not illegal downloading but large-scale CD piracy by organized crime. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), every third CD sold in the world is a pirate copy.

The pirate CD market is now so big ($4.6 billion) it is of greater value than the legitimate music market of every county in the world, except the USA and Japan. Ninety percent of CDs in China, for example, are pirate copies.

Counterfeiters have forced the price of a fake CD down to about $4, which only makes CDs in the music stores look even pricier. Embarrassingly, major record companies and distributors have been fined twice by the US Federal Trade Commission for price fixing their products. Go figure.

Also, as my friend Scooter Scudieri likes to say, file-sharing isn’t the real problem, greed is. File-sharing merely acts as a global listening station, allowing people to hear the 80% crap on most CDs. Who, in their right mind, would buy a CD with 10 throw-aways and 2 keepers? And since the industry took away singles, the consumer is left with the choice of wasting their money or getting the music they really enjoy any way they can.

Tim: What are a few big pit falls that every artist and band should be aware of?

Spellman: If I had to catalog the main things I’ve seen destroy or short-circuit music careers, they would be:

  • substance abuse
  • lack of self-management
  • unwillingness to compromise
  • lawsuits over any variety of issues
  • general dysfunctional behavior
  • Most of the items in the above list have to do with attitude and personality. Without a doubt most artist careers are self-sabotaged. The first thing to do is to look yourself squarely in the eye. Fix what’s broken if you want to make progress. Otherwise, get out of the way.

    If you’ve dealt with your baggage, then you’re ready to move on.

    In general, artists who understand the territory of their business life will have the insight to avoid most pitfalls. The more you understand the dynamics of business (and the ‘entertainment biz’ specifically), the closer you get to that “bird’s-eye-view” you’ll need in order to see the mountains, valleys, rivers and deserts you’ll encounter on your journey.

    Having this overview helps you draw a map that gets you to your various destinations in the smartest and most creative ways possible. A business plan is a form of map. One of its greatest benefits is helping you anticipate obstacles and ‘rehearsing’ them before they happen.

    One pet peeve: Just because you can record and release a CD doesn’t mean you should. The media pipeline is clogged with thousands of half-baked CDs that should never have been released.

    Come out when you’re ready and only when you’re ready. Artists too need to think ‘long-term artist development’.

    Tim: What makes up a great press kit?


    Just for clarity, a “press kit” is a “promo kit” until you’ve received some press (media ink), but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it a press kit.

    You should view your press kit as your graphic ambassador, the one that goes before you, representing your music and act to the world. A contemporary press kit should be nothing less than a visual feast leading the recipient step-by-step to the audio feast – your music.

    The press kit should be a tightly constructed sales pitch. There should be no confusion about what kind of band or artist you are. Image must be crystal clear - it needs to shine through all the separate parts of the package, unifying printed, photographic, and audio materials. In fact, it is advisable that when constructing your kit you begin with the photo, your #1 graphic. Use it as the tone-setter for the entire project.

    As for ingredients, this’ll depend on your target. Booking agents will want to know about the rooms you’ve played. Publishers won’t care about a photo at all, but the songs should be killer. What to include? A 3-song demo, bio sheet and photo should do it. If you have press, don’t load the kit with full length articles. Instead, pull the juiciest quotes out and display them creatively on a one-sheet titled, “What They’re Saying About...” A well-crafted cover letter and performance schedule (if available) will complete it.

    Remember, those receiving your kit will usually be very busy people, so anything you can do to help them get the story as quickly as possible is always appreciated.

    Truly creative press kits are rare. One of the best ones I received was an 11 x 17” hot pink piece of postcard stock paper folded creatively at bizarre angles. Another was a beer can with a slit cut in the side for the demo tape and a pull-out bio sheet. I still have both of these and parade them out to clients and students every chance I get.

    Of course, today you’ll also want an EPK (electronic press kit) that people can access online at anytime. This will be the cyber expression of your physical press kit and can include A LOT more information than the print version can.

    The presentation of your image and essence is a tremendous opportunity to express your uniqueness and pique the imagination of your audience. Use this opportunity. Remember the saying: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Come out only when you’re ready. Come out strong.

    Peter Spellman, Director
    Turning Music Business Data into Useful Knowledge. Career-building books, articles, consulting, seminars, and more. Author of "Indie Power: A Business-Building Guide for Record Labels, Music Production Houses, and Merchant Musicians" =-=-=-=-=-=- Website: P.O. Box 230266, Boston, MA 02123-266. Phone: 888-655-8335; Intl: 978-887-8041 Email: Peter Spellman

    Tim Genck is a young musician and student at Berklee. You can contact Tim at: