Three ways to expand your game in the music business

Music business - how to expand your game and diversify

There are many opportunities to explore in the music business if you’re willing to invest time and energy, writes songwriter, instrumentalist and producer Malcolm “Bubba” McCarthy.

Sometimes as an artist/vocalist the pressure of sticking to your “one” thing can be overwhelming, with questions of stability and sustainability becoming a never-ending nag in the mind. But there are other avenues within the music industry that you can pursue.

I know this from personal experience. When I was at music college, we were predominantly steered towards becoming session musicians because that’s what people see on screens and in live settings. But I now know that I have a broad skillset and I can do other things too, meaning I’m less creatively and financially dependent on one thing. Here are three ways you can broaden your horizons and expand your game.

1 Invest

Investing time and money into your craft is essential to moving forward in your career. When I decided I wanted to spend more time writing for artists, I made a list of things that I needed to do. I cleared out my studio – which had become a storage room for my instruments – and bought some new monitors, microphones and plugins so that I could focus on my writing. I also decided I was going to be in the studio from 10 to 6 every day when I wasn’t gigging.

Inevitably when you put money and time towards something, you are more emotionally invested, meaning your efforts have more intensity. By the end of that year, I signed my first publishing deal. For me, there was a direct correlation between time and money invested, and the outcome. 

If you’re a vocalist/artist, invest in new gear if you need to and learn how to work Logic (or any other digital audio workstation), so you can record your own vocals. Invest in singing lessons from reputable singing teachers. It might be expensive, but it’ll be worth it in the long run – you need to protect your instrument by using the right technique. 

If you’re an artist, be intentional about your songwriting. Put aside time every day and stick to it. Be a student of your art by listening to music you wouldn’t typically listen to as well as the stuff you already love.

2 Top-lining

As a songwriter and producer, I spend a lot of time with top-liners. These are people – many of whom are artists in their own right – who focus specifically on lyrics and melody. It’s a great way to keep fresh creatively and to hone your writing skills. It’s also a perfect avenue for meeting new collaborators such as artists and producers. People that you meet in these sessions could be the ones who help take your career to the next level later on.

Let the voice note become your best friend. Always save melodic and lyrical ideas on your phone, even if 90% might sound like complete garbage when you listen back. 

Top-lining for K-pop/J-pop is a growing part of the music business. There are many bands in Korea and Japan that need songs, so try top-lining with them in mind. The style of this genre used to be quite set in stone but now it’s open to anything and everything from a Drake-style track to a song with a John Legend vibe.

3 Writing for adverts/syncs

Writing for adverts is a part of the industry where, if you get it right, the rewards are high. It is competitive though and there may be several tracks pitched at once for one advert. If you are interested in music sync, reach out to music supervisors. It’ll help if you have demos of songs you have already written, so they have a feel for where to pitch your music. If you don’t produce, it might be an idea to find a producer and go 50/50. For artists who have tunes already written and produced, a selected track could create great promotion and momentum for you. 

Read more about the world of sync HERE.

Malcolm "Bubba" McCarthy is an accomplished keyboardist and drummer with performance and production credits which set him amongst the most sought-after UK session musicians. Having graduated with the Best Drums prize from the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in 2012, Bubba has gone on to work with many critically-acclaimed acts, in studio and live settings, for festival crowds, television, radio and online including Jennifer Hudson, Cody Chestnutt and John Newman. Bubba is also a producer/writer and has a publishing deal with Prego/Kobalt. In addition to this, Bubba is also one of the music producers for The X Factor having programmed for the last series (UK).