Steve Rennie: Dream it, Do it (Part 2)

by Martha Rowsell


Last week we posted some tips from Steve Rennie’s inspirational talk ‘Dream it, Do It’, designed to show musicians and music business professionals how to muster up the courage to fulfil their dreams. There was so much valuable information in his talk that we couldn’t even cover it all in one post! Read on for more tips on what you can do to increase your chances of making it in the music business:


Pick your partners carefully

Steve Rennie
Image from Steve Rennie’s instagram

If you have high ambitions for your band, label or music business, you probably can’t do it alone. This is where the people in your band and the people you work with in the business (like managers) become so important. For an example of how things can go very wrong, Rennie suggests that you check out this video by ex Turtles members Flo & Eddie on artist management. Pick your partners carefully, and don’t be afraid to plan an escape route if you need to.


Be a manager before you have one

Artists often do many of the tasks associated with management before they get offered assistance in these areas. Rennie argues that managers look for signs that an artist is capable of making their own good decisions, booking tours, making videos, and being creative before they want to give up time working with them.


Never hire a manager on a salary. Rennie reiterates this several times. If you are doing the right things and working on your music, your performances, your publicity and your fans, a manager should approach you. Use Google if they do, and check out their credentials. They will earn money from making you successful. It’s better to continue demonstrating your own ability in this area than to hire someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.


Make it personal

Social media and connected conversations are more important for the artist/fan relationship than ever before. Rennie shows that bands writing songs that fans can connect to can tour incessantly and have a very long career, even after they stop releasing new hits. If you commit time and energy to responding with politeness and interest to as many fans and business connections in the music business as possible, you will reap the rewards. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud and YouTube can extend artist possibilities for creativeness and increased connection with fans in the digital age, giving you more opportunity than ever to tell your story how you want to.



Rennie has no inhibitions in arguing the case for music professionals – your job is to “get the money”. He says that many artists are awkward talking about money, but if you see it as a career, and not a hobby, then this should not be the case. You need money to buy a laptop, a DAW, an instrument – you can’t do anything without some investment, even if it really is minimal. Rennie insists that money is key, and if you are lucky or determined enough to make some in the music business, you need to understand it, and use it wisely.


Where is the money in the record business?

Rennie shows that the profits used to be mainly in record sales – he gives the example of Alanis Morissette, who sold 30 million copies of a single song, vs. Justin Bieber’s top selling album in the USA last year, which sold only 2.3 copies, a comparatively small amount. The money isn’t in records anymore. Nobody can say whether streaming will ever make up for this, but Rennie emphasises that a fundamental shift has taken place. Where the industry used to be dealing with big “dough”, they are now dealing in pennies.

According to Rennie, publishing income has also sunk alongside record sales. The way in which artists and labels are now making up the difference is via licencing. This has become a crucial form of income, and it does not even require you to have a label. Artists can make lots of money from TV adverts, video games, etc. by making sync deals. Licencing deals used to occur with professionals who had ‘skin in the game’, but can now take place via companies online that work with independent artists. It is usually good to aim for an exclusive deal with a publisher, says Rennie, as this still has the infrastructure and money behind it. However, as we all know, the music business is becoming less defined by these traditional models. They still hold a lot of weight, but it is uncertain whether this will always be the case.

Touring still makes money for larger bands, but Rennie argues that it’s not profitable for smaller breakthrough acts. It can, however, be very good exposure, as he demonstrates when revealing that Incubus decided to invest in touring over any radio plugging for their first album.

Money “has no brains, it has no conscience, it has no direction, it’s just money” – it’s what you do with it, or what your label, manager or partners do with it that matters. Rennie argues that money wants an opinion, and it’s important to respect it.


“Timing and Lighting”

Rennie argues that timing and lighting can change everything. The idea of “building to a moment” and making it “bigger than life” is crucial. Things that seem accidental are not. Rennie argues that, like the Black Keys, you should never give up just because it seems like you are not making it. You do, however, need to be ready for your moment if it comes.

If you think about the bigger picture in advance, work on your songs, your performances, your recordings, and your understanding of the music business, you’ll be ready to jump on to any opportunities that do come your way, without getting lost, overwhelmed or screwed over.


Focusing on the wins

Rennie asks: “is commercial failure the norm in the music business?” Many would argue that it is. In face of the constant risk of disaster, which is shared by both successful and tiny bands alike, the strategy that Rennie offers is to focus on your wins, on the things that you have achieved or got right. He argues that you have to “stay in the scoring zone”, and that success is not about one moment of perfection. It is about a connected process, avoiding “career killers”, and “stringing together a bunch of planned moments”. If you dwell upon negative experiences, failures, or mistakes, you will not be able to move forward – the same is true of any business or sport!



Steve Rennie is inspiration in that he is a music industry veteran who understands the old world, and simultaneously accepts the new one. He does not want your demo CDs; he encourages new artists to use videos, websites, and innovation to get their music heard. The characteristics of determination, talent, continuous creation, timing and inspiration remain crucial to any musician or music professional. The gatekeepers have changed, and you are not inhibited to making music in a studio and pressing a vinyl record like you used to be. However, the possibilities of modern digital distribution, publishing, and self-recording bring new challenges. The most important point is not to lose the old fashioned sense of pure quality and drive that possesses every serious musician. Combine this with some business research, and you will find your way.


If you’re interested in more music business insider knowledge, check out what Steve has to say in this video: