A "New Breed" Of Indie Musicians

Posted by Aaron Davison on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 Under: July 2012
I recently spent a few weeks in the Dominican Republic playing gigs and networking with musicians down there.  During my stay, I met a really interesting and talented singer/songwriter named Justin James that I thought would make a perfect topic for my newsletter/blog.  Justin and I made several attempts to do an official interview, but unfortunately our schedules never quite meshed and that didn't happen. However, we did play a couple shows together and had some really interesting conversations about how to build a career as an independent musician in today's music business that inspired this post.

Justin to me is a great example of what I think of as a "new breed" of indie musicians.  While a lot of musicians sit around and bitch about how hard it is to make money in today's economy and how things are so hard and they can't afford insurance and on and on, there are musicians that are actually good enough and determined enough (and smart enough) to build sustainable careers.  

Now chances are most of you reading this have never heard of Justin James, I hadn't prior to meeting him a few weeks ago.  But he's been gradually building a sustainable business as a performing and recording musician over the last eight years or so that has been growing each year.  I'm not at liberty to tell you exactly how much money he makes, but he does well for himself.  He's able to earn a substantial income by taking advantage of basically all the avenues of making money available to musicians in the new music business.  

These are the channels through which Justin told me he makes his income:

1) Performing Shows 
2) Licensing His Music
3) Digital Downloads And CD Sales
4) Internet Radio Performance Royalties
5) Merchandise Sales

Justin has done a lot of licensing and has multiple tv placements as well as licensing deals with Abercrombie and Fitch and a few other companies.  I don't know the exact percentage of Justin's income that comes from licensing, but he said it's a substantial part of it.  I would guess, based on our conversation, it's probably around 25% of his overall income.

Justin undeniably works hard. I don't want to give you the impression what he's doing is easy. He's on the road constantly.  He's playing a ton of shows.  He has two assistants that help him run his operation.  He's constantly making new videos, writing blog posts, writing new music and so on.  Justin may or may not break through and "make it big".  Time will tell.  But what I'm sure of is that either way, Justin will have a long and sustainable career ahead of him as a musician and songwriter.

Justin is a great example of a musician who is taking his career into his own hands.  I have no doubt that there are many more musicians out there doing exactly the same thing.  They're not quite "big enough" to be on most people's radar, but they're successful enough that they're able to carve out successful careers doing what they love, playing music!

I know it's tempting to get cynical about the music business, but it's so much more empowering to focus on what works and there are many examples of musicians out there like Justin that are leading the way, quietly building a name and career for themselves, while others sit on the sidelines waiting for some sort of "magic formula" to make it in the music business.  

To learn more about Justin James, visit http://justinjamesmusic.com/

Check out a video of Justin and I playing together in the Dominican Republic (you know you want to!) and see my guitar chops in action below:

(On a side note, the gig I played with Justin was so much fun.  I sat in almost the entire show.  It was completely unrehearsed and I was learning his songs in the moment!)

In : July 2012 

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