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  • Judy Coder

Catch the Moon

I know music.

I do not know a lot about the music business.

All I ever wanted to do was stand on a stage and sing.

My college training set me up as a music teacher. In total, I taught music in the public schools for 13 years. My story so far demonstrates the many ways a person can bring joy to others through music, without making much money at all.

I directed church choirs. I taught private lessons. I served as an event coordinator for a chamber music series. I was a founder of a prestigious regional children’s choir. I became a community leader, and served as a national officer with an international music organization.

I wrote music for my students, for church and school choirs, and for special events. I wrote a lot of music, actually, but I was never hired to write music for more than $10/hour.

I sang locally. I sang oratorio and opera in a concert setting. For 25 years, I sang under a gifted mentor in a choral paradise. I sang and played mandolin in a bluegrass band. I played guitar and learned to sing and yodel, western style.

As an indie artist, I became a big fish in a small pond. I launched a solo performance career, and won some awards. I led a successful cowboy band, and won some awards; we even performed with the local symphony, using my orchestrations. I went solo again, and won some more awards. I formed a cowgirl band, went solo, joined another cowgirl band, and we won some more awards. I became part of a fabulous acoustic duo, and we’ve won awards. Unfortunately, awards don’t translate into income. I toured the US and Europe. I recorded 15 albums and produced 3 more. I worked with an excellent engineer, with an outstanding ear. It was great fun, but I always spent more than I made.

Through the years, I’d enroll in live seminars and online workshops to learn about various aspects of the music business. I always started with 10 questions and finished with 50 more. It was frequently suggested that successful musicians show a profit through multiple income streams. I studied a host of those potential income streams hoping for a good fit, and I wound up feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.

Somewhere in there, a cushy teaching job fell in my lap, and I took it. No, not all teaching jobs are cushy, but this one was, and I knew it. This was a part-time position, so I had time to write and record. The principal was okay with me traveling to sing, as long as my students learned the curriculum, the parents were happy, and the program grew. I enjoyed this teaching job more than any other because I was learning to write for a specific ability level, but I could not manage to make money apart from the school setting.

Life happened, a new love, and a relocation. I was extremely happy, but as a musician, I was a regional nobody. Self-examination was inevitable. I realized that though I was an excellent teacher, I really wanted to devote myself to writing music. I ramped up my songwriting for our duo. I kept notes on a piece for concert band. I wrote a flute duet. I started writing an opera. Still, I didn’t have a good plan for making an actual living.

It feels like a lifetime since I walked away from a teacher’s steady income, health insurance and retirement plan to hit the road and make music. I was asked by a friend how I might measure my success. I decided that I’d give it 10 years. If I could say I'd made a profit that was equal to my teaching salary, I would call that success. I have been an indie artist for 20 years. I operated in the black (just barely) one year. That was 12 years ago.

My musical success so far has not been measured in dollars. I have made a million memories, and a million friends, one at a time ~ good friends, lifelong friends. I think it’s important for me to say “so far”. I have earned some valuable experience, with many years of music making ahead of me. I’m just tired of feeling stuck.

For a long time, I listened to the voice in my head that said I was not good enough to be one of the people making a musical paycheck. I’m not sure where that “not good enough” message came from. It may have been the accumulation of all of those disappointing free workshops. Perhaps they weren’t so free after all; self-worth is a mighty high price to pay. In any case, I have decided to walk away from that message. It’s not a question of being good enough. I merely lack the proper training, and I will require more than a one-hour course.

Contrary to popular notion, there are people out there who are not megastars, who are making good money with music. A lot of that money is being made through sync licenses: agreements between songwriters and music supervisors to use a particular piece for a specific purpose, for a specific amount of time, for a specific price. Music is in every ad, every TV show, every film. Each placement has a paycheck. The need is great. The process is pretty simple, and it is possible to retain ownership and control of the work you create, if you know what you’re doing. There you have it.

Some, of course, do become megastars, and they have ad work to thank for it. The best example that keeps coming to my mind is that of Barry Manilow. He made his career before the digital age, so they might not have used the same term, but it was really sync licensing. The King of Jingles was the voice behind “I am stuck on Band-Aid Brand, ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me,” and “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” among others. In many cases he was vocalist and not composer, but he was part of a group of people who worked collaboratively on the recordings, and the placement of those recordings in ads made him quite comfortable. "Even if you’re not a Fanilow", you can’t argue with that kind of success.

Those were national ad campaigns, but regional ad campaigns need music, too. The work is there, and thanks to a worldwide pandemic, a fair amount of it can be done from home. It would seem that now is a good time to make my next move.

I will spend the next few months immersed in the world of sync licensing. As an online student through Catch the Moon Music, I will have a mentor, I will have homework deadlines, and I will collaborate with other students on projects. Student projects will be presented to music supervisors in online sessions, for feedback and for placement consideration. I will have time to ask every question, and will develop long-term relationships with people who can answer more questions when they come up. I will learn about legal matters, and will develop a personal network of industry connections and collaborative partnerships. Along the way, I’ll have the opportunity to discover my best fit: as a producer, a music supervisor, a songwriter/composer, a collaborative musician. I will finish the program with a blueprint for financial success in the music business.

I went to school to learn how to be a teacher. That training has served me well.

I’m going back to school to learn how to make a living as a professional musician.

Cheerleaders welcome.

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