We Create Music Blog
January 31, 2012

Diversifying Your Music Career


We all know that the record industry isn’t what it used to be. As it continues to contract, so will any one songwriter’s chance of superstardom. Of course, hitting the top of the charts isn’t the only way to live comfortably off of the music you write. If you’ve ever pitched a song to a music supervisor, produced a beat on spec for an upcoming rapper, scored a friend’s indie film or played a session gig, you know that there are many ways to monetize your music. For those of us that wish to make a career out of our art, all those different income streams represent more than just increased opportunity – these days, the multi-faceted approach is becoming a necessity. 

To find out more, I spoke with ASCAP members Guy Erez, Judith Owen and Lance Hayes. You might say that these three exist in a “middle class” of music makers, in that they’re working professionals who may not be household names, but are making their music work for them all the same. Their preferred styles differ greatly, as do the paths they’ve taken to get where they are today. But they do have one important thing in common. All three have found success, and creative satisfaction, through diverse careers. 



Guy Erez, in his element. Photo by Jessica Shokrian.

Guy Erez came to America from his native Israel as a precocious bassist looking to perfect his craft, but after he graduated from L.A.’s Musicians Institue, Erez’s music career quickly took off in multiple directions. A writing session with the artist Goldo led to the unexpected hit “Boom Da Boom,” which was featured on Disney’s House of Mouse and picked up by Fox as a theme song; he would go on to compose music for The Tom Green Show and The Andy Dick Show, and most recently, the theme for the Marvel/Disney animated show Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which enters its second season this spring. Erez is also an in-demand songwriter and producer: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Meredith Brooks, Ryan Cabrera and Randy Coleman have all benefited from his deft touch. Erez recently launched Momentone with composer Inon Zur and music supervisor David Ari Leon, a music collective that caters to film, TV and advertising clients. And Erez still has plenty of opportunities to utilize that bottom-end expertise on live stages ‘round the world, as the new bassist for the Alan Parsons Project.

Do you consider yourself primarily a bassist, an artist, a producer or a songwriter/composer? 

I consider myself a musician. At this stage of my career, they are all equally important and feed off each other. My songwriting skills definitely help my producing and arranging, and I feel that through the years of producing, my bass playing became more defined. I'm aware of the whole spectrum of music, tone, parts, range...so I can serve the song better.

You've had some amazing live opportunities over the years. Do you think you could be content being just a live musician, if it paid well enough?

My first love is playing bass and the live show experience has been amazing, but with how my personality and career have evolved, I fell in love with the process of songwriting, composing and producing. The studio has become my second home. I see myself combining all of them to be content.

Are there parts of your career that aren't as financially rewarding as they used to be? 

Yes, the producing side. Budgets keep going down, and the perceived value of producing is not what it used to be (since) a lot of people produce their own stuff in their home studios.

You learned to play so many different styles of music pretty early on. How important has that genre versatility been in building a career?

Genre versatility is very important in building a career. Like a painter with unlimited colors, it opens a range of possibilities. I find those influences appearing in my writing/composing and it gives me the confidence to take gigs of differing styles. 

Has learning to produce and engineer helped you in other parts of your music career?

Yes. Learning to produce and engineer gave me the freedom to capture what I'd been hearing in my head as a songwriter, and as a player without having to depend on other people. It helped me to land composing gigs because I can deliver music from the beginning to a finished product. 

Do you seek new outlets for your creativity more now than you used to?

The need to be creative has been always a big part of my life, and with that comes a constant search for new ways of expression. I don't feel like I’m doing it more then I used to...the search has been consistently there.

Do you think that having a diverse career is a financial necessity for music creators today? What about an artistic necessity?

In most cases yes, but there is always an exception, and I know of people that stayed loyal to their own voices as artists and were lucky enough to brand themselves to a point that is financially rewarding. Again, I have to say that most of the people I know that are busy working in the business are wearing different hats at times. 

Find out more about Guy Erez at his website: www.guyerez.com



Judith Owen

British singer/songwriter Judith Owen has released nine albums of sophisticated, introspective originals that showcase her wit and wisdom – the most recent, the classical-inflected Some Kind of Comfort, was released digitally just this week on her own Courgette Records. And while Owen’s records have earned her garlands of critical acclaim and dozens of film and TV placements, writing and recording is just one part of the equation. An ongoing partnership with Richard Thompson found her singing songs from across the centuries in his 1000 Years of Popular Music project; this fall, she’ll play multiple roles in Thompson’s wide-ranging Cabaret of Souls live show. Owen got the theater bug early on from her opera-singing father, and her passion for the theatricality informs much of what she does – especially her acclaimed Losing It show with comedienne Ruby Wax, an evening of music and monologues that exposes the inner workings of the depression that has racked both performers for years. For Owen, diversity is at the heart of her artistry.

What kind of impact has the Losing It show had on your solo career? 

I think the most important thing for me is that it's put me in touch with and in front of the kind of people I'm always looking to reach...people like me, who are isolated, lonely in their illness, highly emotional…the list goes on. Music has been such medication for me, such an immediate form of self-expression, and I've always wanted others to be helped by it in the same way. It's been remarkable really, turning my depression, something that's been such a curse, into a gift.

Could you make a living solely by selling records? Was that always the case?

I certainly can and do on the performance end of things. I love being able to tour and sell, tour and sell. For someone like me, there's no better way of gaining lifetime fans and selling your music than to be seen live…it's always made sense because live performance is my thing...my true joy in life. Of course, I remember not so long ago having just enough money in my purse to get the bus home from a gig, but guess what? I was doing what I loved and I didn't think twice about waitressing, or manning phones to support the music. If you can make a living doing the thing you love most in life, you're the luckiest person in the world.

How important is it to you to understand the business of being a music creator? 

I think it's hard for creative people to be business people as well, but the truth is that most of the biggest and most successful names in music are extremely savvy business heads. Now I'm NOT a business woman, but I am smart and do need to know exactly what's going on with my life, career, money, I'd be crazy not to, but nothing, NOTHING comes before the music.

Do you seek new outlets for your creativity more now than you used to? 

Well I'm constantly stretching and growing, not setting myself any boundaries. And regarding music, I Twitter, YouTube live versions of songs, blog, the usual stuff, but it's still the same basic idea, just worldwide thanks to this digital landscape. You hear something, you love something, and you tell someone else and so on and so on...it’s global word of mouth, pretty great when you think of it.

Do you think that having a diverse career is a financial necessity for music creators today? What about an artistic necessity?

I've always seen diversity as being a natural thing and never really understood why you had to be branded as one thing only and never move outside of that. People in the business are always looking for a pigeonhole to put you in, a label to pin to you, that's not what I've ever wanted. I'm not saying re-invent just to make money...I'm saying if you have the talent and ability for more than one thing then you should do it...you only have one life after all, and at least you won't get bored!

Judith Owen’s new album Some Kind of Comfort was released on January 30th, 2012. Find it on iTunes here

Visit Judith Owen on the web at www.judithowen.net.



Lance Hayes

“Versatility” doesn’t even begin to capture Lance Hayes’s 20-plus-year career in music. Long before Hayes’s ambient electronica score for the universally praised Forza Motorsport 3 raised his profile in the video game world, the Seattle-based composer/DJ had truly done it all - from indie film soundtracks to podcasts, from remixes to sound design for live theater, from commercial music to live band gigs and back again. As Hayes tells it, seeking out new opportunities was par for the course as he found his way. Now, he’s in a great position to pay it forward: Hayes teaches an intensive course on video game audio at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, and writes a blog on the subject for Keyboard Magazine.

Do you actively seek out composing gigs, or do they come to you these days? Was it always that way?

Like most composers, I started out knocking on a lot of doors and doing a lot of work on lower budget projects to get experience. These days I do get offers regularly. Of course, if I hear about something that I want to work on and they’re not sure about what they’re looking for, I’ll try to sit down for a meeting and/or create a demo to see if we can work together. 

Has your experience with licensing music for commercials and TV helped prepare you for the video game world? 

Absolutely! Game music is a unique and very challenging area of composition that aside from the technical aspects, like composing adaptively, often requires you to work in a wide range of styles. In just the last couple of years I’ve created game soundtracks that ranged from traditional orchestral soundtrack to electronic experimentation and from 70’s cop shows to gritty, homemade instrument-driven protest-pop songs. My licensing path, along with my career arc, has allowed me room to experiment with a wide range of musical styles which in turn has given me the production chops to create unique musical landscapes for a wide range of projects. Games, like films and other media, come in a lot of flavors and having the skills to create compelling music to match those palettes is a significant asset.

How did working on Forza Motorsport 3 change your career path? 

It’s safe to say that my career was more industry-focused at the time Forza 3 came out. While I had worked on games as a composer they were not quite as high profile as the Forza series, so it effectively made me a known quantity in the game industry as well as the gaming community. Basically, I went from being a behind-the-scenes composer with some amazing credits but little notoriety to a AAA game composer in one fell swoop. It’s opened a lot of doors to work on challenging projects that I enjoy doing with some of the most talented and passionate people I have ever met.

So much of your work has been for clients - networks, advertisers, game companies. Do you make any music as an artist?

I do. In fact I have a couple of projects. One is Rocket Ship Triceratops, which allows me to do some singing. Aside from my work on the “Stranded" Music for Gears of War 3 I’ve been so focused on composing that I haven’t done much vocal work since my band days back in the 90’s. Look for more from that project in 2012. The other is my DJ moniker DJDM. I do mostly instrumental electronic under that title, and that tends to be primarily for web release.

Do you license tracks to music libraries? 

I have music with libraries that range from boutique to massive and on occasion I’m asked to directly license music from my back catalog to projects. I’m a big proponent of licensing, as it can add a layer of income to your portfolio with little effort. And even if the income isn’t substantial every quarter, it can really add up. Besides, it’s hard to beat mailbox money from a source that generally takes such a small amount of effort to maintain. 

Could you make a living solely by composing for video games?

A handful of people have traditionally done this, but it has been a minority of composers that could say they made a living scoring games. The need for game music is increasing to the point where this is possible for more people now and I think the field will continue to grow. 

How important is it to you to understand the business of being a music creator? 

As an independent contractor that’s in the business of writing music, I realize that the “business” aspect of the equation is enormously important. All business ventures succeed or fail depending on how well implemented they are, and the music industry is no different. In fact the music industry compounds the road to success with additional subtle wrinkles like creativity, connectivity, content development and a constant state of performance review by your peers and the audience. Knowing how to manage your finances, contracts, representation, affiliations, instruments, tools, data and so on while keeping your head in a highly competitive field is all part of the process of being a professional composer. All of this has to be running smoothly so you can focus on what you were hired to do, which is write amazing music. 

Do you think that having a diverse career is a financial necessity for music creators today? What about an artistic necessity?

You can work in multiple media fields adroitly if you’re on your toes. The more areas you work in the more work there is. It’s that simple. And it may not be a necessity, but it is a fantastic workout for your creativity to have to wrap your head around a wide range of composing challenges that various media environments can offer. I would argue that being nimble and flexible as well as seasoned is one way to ensure that you are prepped to take on ever-bigger opportunities as they arise. 

Find out more about Lance Hayes at www.djdm.com


Head on over to the Career Development section of ASCAP.com for more advice and suggestions about making your music work for you.