How to build a sustainable music career and collect all revenue streams — with author Emily White

Sounds good, right? [Interview by Clare Everson]

Emily White has achieved a lot in her career, to say the least. She is the founder of Collective Entertainment, a talent management and consulting firm based in New York and Los Angeles, after her years as a tour manager (including runs with Imogen Heap and festivals ranging from Glastonbury to Fuji Rock), artist manager and consultant. Somehow Emily also finds the time to share her knowledge as a speaker, writer, and now podcast host.

We spoke to Emily to dive in to her most recent book “How to build a sustainable music career and collect all revenue streams” in which she deciphers the modern music industry from creation to execution, including the biggest pitfalls of missing out on royalty income, who to bring in to your team and when, and what sustainable means to each individual.

Emily White (photo credit: Adrian Buckmaster) Tell us a bit about yourself and your own career that led you to writing this book.

EW: I’m a longtime entrepreneur and talent manager in the industry. I caught myself explaining the information that is now in the book to musicians and colleagues repeatedly. Similarly, for years artists have been regularly reaching out wanting to “pick my brain.” I figured it would be easier for everyone, and I could help even more musicians, if I just wrote down all of my thoughts on the modern music industry into a simple step by step book. Additionally, we took on a few national acts a few years ago that I kept finding money for. On one hand, that’s no doubt part of a manager’s job. But I realized that if we’re finding money for artists people have heard of then what about everyone else? From there this book was born. What are your main aims for how this book can help readers and in which areas of their career?

It’s really a step by step guide to the modern music industry from recording to release or creation to distribution. A lot of this information is out there and available. But I’ve never seen it put in order. As the music industry was set up decades ago (e.g. in the 1950’s) to confuse artists, imagine how challenging that is for artists to understand the information when it’s presented randomly. I’ve been in the weeds on this stuff for years and am happy to share how I truly feel artists can build a sustainable music career for the rest of their lives. While also not missing a single revenue stream along the way. I truly feel the book covers all aspects of an artist’s career in the modern music industry who write and/or record and release music. Aside from musicians, who else can the book benefit?

We see a lot of orders from music industry professionals, managers and educators. A lot of folks might know about one part of the industry, say if they work in music publishing, but might not have experience touring or know best practices for a live show. Or when shows shut down for the pandemic, I heard from managers of acts that were usually on the road who said they were now taking time to really understand all of the non-live / touring revenue streams for their artists. I wrote it with all levels of experience in mind. So whether you’re 11 and just getting going or are 75 and have a catalog of work that you want optimized and collected on in all ways, the book is a roadmap to do just that. What have you seen as the main barriers to musicians achieving a sustainable long-term career?

Musicians’ fans’ data being owned by tech companies like Spotify, Apple Music, etc is arguably the number one barrier to musicians achieving a sustainable long-term career. Artists need to be collecting as many email addresses, mobile phone numbers from their fans as well as post codes if they can. This way artists can communicate with their audience directly forever about music, shows and more. Instead of relying on social media platforms and algorithms that are constantly changing. But beyond that, artists and industry folks are understandably just plain overwhelmed. New platforms in music arise constantly. I’ve navigated them all to-date for our company and share the findings and best practices in the book. And again, some of these revenue streams were either set up to confuse artists or more often than not can be confusing as they were created in the pre-digital world when we now live in a post-digital universe. And the main pitfalls where artists miss out on revenue?

Music publishing!!! If you are *just* signed up for your PRO (e.g. ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS, etc) and not collecting on your publishing in any other way, you are missing out on revenue! I have seen this happen to artists and songwriters at all levels, including folks you have heard of. This is actually understandable as when you register for your PRO there is a “writer’s share” and “publisher’s share” for each song you write. So of course artists think they’re collecting on their publishing in full when they complete this step. But they’re not! I’ve been a huge advocate of Songtrust for years, as they have completely democratized music publishing collection for songwriters and anyone can sign up. So if what I’m describing is the case for you, please sign up for Songtrust asap. The digital era has added more revenue streams to navigate, but it has also made independent distribution and data more accessible. How would you advise artists who want to harness this power?

The democratization of global distribution is one of two aspects that completely revolutionized the industry when music evolved from physical to digital. The other is significantly cheaper access to recording.

These two seismic shifts in particular have always been incredibly exciting to me as it gives the artist complete control and power over their careers both creatively and financially. It’s exciting. A lot of artists are asking themselves the question: do I need a team or can I do it all myself? Can you tell us a bit about the book’s approach to this question?

The last chapter of the book is “When do I need an Attorney, Business Manager, Manager, etc? Defining an Artist’s Traditional “Team.” It’s last because there is so much you can do on your own to build your career and put yourself in the best position if you want to work with team members. Additionally, it’s important to understand the roles of team members. There’s no better way to do so than by doing the work yourself. This will also help you to figure out the tasks you are putting off to identify where you need help. Regardless, if you are signing any sort of major rights agreement (e.g. label or publishing deal) or a management agreement, you absolutely need legal music counsel. But you have to do everything I lay out whether you want or have a team or not. If you don’t have a team, you have to do all of this stuff. If you want a team, the best way is to do everything I lay out to grow your career and attract team members. And if your team goes away or changes in any way, that’s why you have to be following all of these best practices for the long term.

All you ever have is yourself and your fans. Your relationship with them should be your priority and one that you nurture to both grow and sustain your fanbase for the longterm.

Everything else in your career can come and go. The point of the information I’ve laid out is to give you the power to be a musician for as long as you want. You also host a podcast based on the book! Can you tell us about one particular guest whose episode we should check out right now?

Yes! It has been such a joy to bring the book to life in podcast form. I’m blown away that it has become the #1 Music Business podcast in America with listeners in 115+ countries! It’s hard to point to a single episode as the podcast is a step by step journey where I interview hand-picked guests who I feel can really communicate each chapter effectively to the audience. I know people really connected with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for our “Chapter 1: Get Your Art Together” episode. Zoë Keating is a guest as well and I know listeners and readers have walked away feeling fully informed after hearing from her. At the same time, I know artists who have connected with everything from the business affairs episode with Donald S. Passman to setting a pre-recording marketing foundation with Ariel Hyatt. It was a joy to interview Imogen Heap through the lens of the book. But we also dig in on why you need a PRO with ASCAP’s Loretta Muñoz, simplify music publishing with Songtrust President Molly Neuman, explain how to land a sync placement with Lauren Ross, while also getting into the weeds of music distribution with Bandcamp Founder Ethan Diamond. We’re about to hit the touring and live section of the podcast and I’m thrilled to have Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman, CAA’s Akin Aliu, Mandolin CEO Mary Kay Huse, as well as some amazing artists coming up who are all interviewed via the lens of the book. Writing a book feels like a huge mountain to climb. What would be your advice for anyone who might have an idea for a book but doesn’t know where to start?

Like so many things, the most challenging element of writing a book is finding the time. I’ve been fortunate to go to warm places and block off a few weeks to fully focus on writing. I definitely had to put up an out of office reply and not look at email all day while doing so. But it’s amazing how the distractions can still arise, be it a butt dial from my parents while writing, construction noises while on a remote island, etc. But you just find your routine, figure it out and get it done. If a music industry book club were to read your book, what question might you suggest to kickstart the conversation that you’d like this book to inspire?

What does building a sustainable music career mean to you? I ask this question to both podcast guests as well as students that I teach. To me it’s making great art that comes from your soul while connecting with your audience and collecting fan data for your own longterm use. Yet I was equally moved by a student who presented on this topic sharing that building a sustainable music career to him meant prioritizing mental health for artists and the industry. I couldn’t agree with that more!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

🌎 A global independent community of women, gender minorities & allies in music. 🙏 Join us as a member or ally today: