Sunday, July 21, 2013

How I Started My Next Life (And Became a Music Business Zombie)

I am a music industry zombie. I am one of the teeming masses of independent music people who have invaded the music industry and began turning them into people like me.

How I Became a Zombie

When I dreamed of how I would find my Next Life, I was working a regular corporate job and doing music on the side. I had been a professional musician for several decades by this point, but the thought of trying to support my family in music was scary and seemed impossible. The only people I knew that lived doing music full-time were just barely making it. I had a wife and kids to feed and mortgage to pay. The time for fooling around was back when I went on the road with that Holiday Inn lounge pop band in the 80's...but that's another story.

I had managed over a decade to successfully make some money and have fun with my music on the side, working out of my home studio, and maybe going out to local studios. During this time I met a producer who worked with artists regularly and seemed to live somewhat comfortably. I saw it was possible, but it took leaving my comfy corporate job to kick start me into music full-time.

Note: I am not condoning a lifestyle or career decision here, it's just what happened to me. Those were lean years at first. Lots of Ramen noodle eating and fretting about where mortgage would come from. But I managed to take a part-time music business producing artists and doing music arrangements and turn it into a full-time successful and now thriving 13-year-old business that is what you see today at

I had started going to music industry conferences around that time, especially those geared towards "independent artists". These were offered by the GMA on the Christian side, and other conferences on the secular side. In those days (mid to late 1990s) indies were viewed as complete wannabes. All the classes were "How to meet a producer" or "How to get signed" or "How to find a publisher". The idea of being a working, successful music person (or business) was not taken that very seriously at that time, as the only ones doing it successfully were in the Southern Gospel or Urban Gospel genre, or were die-hard singer-songwriters or rock bands that toured every blessed night! It was all about being discovered.

But it all changed around the turn of the century when the CD re-buying frenzy began to wane. There are great books about this like "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age", or anything by Derek Sivers, whose company CDBaby helped change the entire industry (and spread the music industry zombie virus). Steve Jobs also helped with iTunes and the iPod, almost singlehandedly beginning the end of the CD, and with it the music industry's grip on sales.

By the mid-2000s it was obvious things were changing. Labels started downsizing, and everyone started looking for work.

I just kept doing the work I had always done, working with independent artists and helping them make great albums and find success. We were the tortoise that just kept on slow and steady (duh, zombies).

In 2004, I met a Grammy-winning engineer in Nashville who listened to what we were doing and said, "You need to bring your business to Nashville. It will change your world."

So I did. Up until then I had operated in Lexington, Kentucky, a nice sized town. But Nashville would present a new opportunity to work with the very best of the Christian genre. It would also be a great place to spread the virus.

Up until now, my particular virus had been constrained to the Bluegrass, but once we arrived in Nashville, the floodgates opened and artists started coming in droves to work with the very best in the Christian music world. Players, engineers, studios, and finally producers, who for years had been exclusively working with the major labels, were lining up to work for us. Every day someone new was (and still is) knocking on our door to offer their services. Why? They have been turned.

The music industry is like that fortified stronghold you see in zombie movies. A small contingent of folks stay inside, locked away from the growing hordes of the undead. But some zombies (like me) had found a way inside and were slowly turning those folks into people just like me – people looking to work and make a good living working for whoever needed our help.

So, here I am now in Nashville, one of the busier folks as others that had found success early in the old business model find that system no longer works in the real world.

I’m a music business zombie, but I’m a working music business zombie, in a world where there are more music zombies than music business people. And I think I’m okay with that.

Feel free to join me anytime you're ready to turn...

Eric Copeland is president of Creative Soul Companies, a thriving music consulting, production, and marketing business outside Nashville, TN. For more info on Eric check out

1 comment:

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