Setting Up YOUR Music Business

Hopefully you have read my previous blog, “Your Music is a Business”, which is helpful in understanding why you should treat your music as a business. Now you need to figure out how to set up your business and I’m sure you have some questions on how exactly you do this. To be honest, I had those same questions, and finding a step by step guide on how to do it was really difficult to come by. If you haven’t read the first blog yet, you can find it HERE.

We ended up asking people we knew who had formed their own businesses how they set up their FBN’s and their DBA’s and all the other various acronyms you need in order to be recognized as a business. Most people think the process of becoming a business is really complicated and something that might take them a lot of effort and money to make a reality, but the truth is, setting up a business has a couple of steps, and doesn’t take more than a couple hours to do, and isn’t as hard as you might think. Really quick, let’s just go over the types of businesses you should be setting up as a band or artist, just so we’re all on the same page from the last eBook.


This is pretty basic stuff. You can either just call yourself John Doe, or you can be John Doe “Doing Business As” John Doe Music (for the sake of clarity, just replace John Doe with your name to help it make more sense to you). Filing a DBA, “John Doe Music” is necessary when you want to be recognized by your county as someone who is operating a business in that county.

This is also necessary for someone that wants a business checking and savings account. Unlike every other type of filing, Sole Proprietors use their social security number for both personal and business needs since they are considered to be the same person/entity. This type of business is only recognized within your county, and yes, someone outside of your county can also be John Doe Music and the only way to change that is to file your business as an LLC or Corporation, which we’ll talk about in a second.


If you and your friend or friends are in this whole music thing together, you’ll want to form a General Partnership. This isn’t much different from a Sole Proprietor as far as name protection or benefits, but it does allow you to get a debit card with your bands name on it. I know…. that’s awesome.

So let’s just say Paul, George, John and Ringo are in a band called “The Beatles”, they can either go on contributing to the band as individuals and taking their cut when they make money, or they can form a General Partnership and be recognized in their county as “The Beatles”. Now they can get that debit card. Well, almost. In the case of a GP, you would need to file for an EIN number which is essentially a taxpayer identification number to identify your business, just as a social security number is used to identify an individual. Since you have multiple people, this number will be used to identity your business when you file taxes or any other types of governmental forms. Each country will have their own rules and forms for recognizing you as a business, so do your research and figure out what you need for where you live. Now you can open that bank account and get that debit card.


We’ve talked about LLC’s and Corporations in the last eBook as well, but those types of entities do require legal help, money and much more time to create, so I just want to focus on the ones that I know you can get done quickly and painlessly. LLC’s and Corporations come with some major benefits and protections that you won’t get as a sole proprietor or general partnership, but until you start making some real money you probably won’t really need to worry about it.


Step one is knowing what name you want your business to be, and what type of business you plan to operate. Think of it this way, if you’re one person that wants to be seen as a business, you will be a Sole Proprietor. If you are working with one or more partners, then you’ll be filing as a General Partnership. Each one will be set up in a similar way, with just a few extra steps for the General Partnership. Now that you know the type of entity you’ll be, make sure you have a name ready to go. I’d recommend that you have a couple back up names just in case the name you want is already taken. You can do an online search in the county you live in to see if the name you want is already taken. For me, in Orange County California, I’d go to and click the button that says “search”. This is only a county search. If you live in Los Angeles and want the name John Smith Music Group, and I’m in Orange County and wanted the same name, I would be be granted the ability to use it even if there was already a group by the same name In Los Angeles county. This can cause confusion if you use a generic name and multiple sole proprietors or partnerships are using the same name in multiple different counties. Try to be unique to help avoid being confused with these other people or entities. If you decided to file for a Corporation or an LLC, then you’d file with the state you live in. At that point, if the name is not being used, no one else in the state could use that name once you’ve filed. So, at this point you have your business entity type and your name ready to go. Let’s move on!


Step two involves taking your new business name over to the County Clerk’s office. The County Clerk is someone that is elected into office that handles local elections and doing all of the record keeping for the county. This involves things like marriage certificates, death certificates and you guessed it, fictitious business name filings! The requirements for business licenses may differ by state. To find out what licenses and permits are required in your state, visit the SBA. This resource can tell entrepreneurs what licenses they need to obtain and where they should go to register. In many cases, business owners can apply for their licenses online.

You can easily go to Google and type in the County Clerk’s office for the county you live in or are going to do business in. Whichever one shows up is going to be the one you want to visit. When you go to the County Clerk’s office you want to specifically find the department that handles the filing of business entities. Sometimes these are really small offices that are very self explanatory, and in the case of bigger cities, the Clerk could me embedded somewhere within a huge government building. You’ll have to figure out which floor and which office number is theirs. Since it is 2017, a lot of these offices have been upgraded with multiple computer systems that allow people to do the filings by themselves. Find one of these computers and go to the next step!


If you’re standing at that Clerk’s office computer and you’re confused, don’t be! This process will be super painless and you’re only about 15 minutes away from being done! You’ll want to create an account on the first screen you see, that way you’ll actually be able to log in from your phone or home computer later if there are any issues with your filing, or if you want to file another FBN later. At this point you should probably do one last name search on their computer just to be 100% sure your name is available. Trust me, if choose a name that’s taken, and then accidentally move onto step three where you pay for it, you won’t get your money back. Then you will have to go through this process again and pay a second time, so pay attention. This is why I keep driving home the point of the name search and how important it is.

After you’ve done the name search you can follow instructions on how to register your new Fictitious Business Name. You’ll just need the basic information like, the business name, your name, an address and phone number for the business, and your social security number in order to file. Check the last page of your filing and make sure everything is spelled correctly and that you have all of the information filled out correctly. If you did, write down the reference number they’ve provided for you and take it to the counter. Time to pay! Usually a FBN costs about $35 to file, so it’s really not that costly at all. The person at the counter will print out your official county filing form, and your receipt. They will also stamp it with the county seal, and now, you’re ready for step four!


You’ve done everything right so far, but this one crucial step is something a lot of people don’t follow through with, and it ends up biting in them in the behind later. This step does not happen in the same building as the Clerk’s Office, so it can be really easy to just say, “Oh, I can do this tomorrow”, or “The place I need to go is right by my dentist, I’ll go there next week”. Just leave the Clerk’s Office and head directly to the closest qualified FBN advertisement local that’s available. You would have been given a page of local print companies that advertise the filing of your FBN, when you paid for it. You are now required to run an advertisement in a local publication for 4 weeks to finalize your business filing. IF YOU SKIP THIS STEP, YOU WILL NOT BE RECOGNIZED AS A BUSINESS AND SOMEONE ELSE CAN TAKE YOUR NAME! Sorry for yelling, but it’s true. Don’t skip this step, it’s really important. A lot of people just go to whichever company they’ve heard of before, but that can be a costly mistake. Here in Orange County, we have the Orange County Register as our primary newspaper and advertising there might run you $200.00. The same ad in the “Mission Viejo Times” would have charged you only $45. This is where we work smart, not hard. Save yourself the time and expense of dealing with a large publication, and go with the smallest company on the reference sheet. No matter how you do it, as long as you do it, you’re covered.


Remember those pesky extra steps we said you’d have to take if you were a General Partnership instead of a Sole Proprietorship? Well, here we are. It’s not too much more complicated, but when things involve multiple people, everything get’s a little trickier. You need to follow steps one through four as they are above, just make sure each person involved has their information on every form. Unlike an LLC where there is a representative for that LLC, a General Partnership needs all names, addresses and social security numbers of each person that is involved in the business. Once you’ve filed your paperwork, and advertised your FBN as in step four, you will need to file for an EIN.

EIN stands for Employment Identification Number. You are now your own employee. Each member of your business is an employee, and this number you’re getting represents your business and those members as a whole. Same thing as a social security number represents you as an individual, the EIN is what you will use on all things business related, like loan and credit card applications, taxes and W9’s. You can visit to file your EIN right from your own home. There is a one time $197 filing fee. Now, you’re ready for step six!


What’s the point in starting a business if you don’t plan to make money? If and when you do make money, you’ll want somewhere to keep it. Being able to open a business checking and savings account makes things feel a little bit more real than they did before. Choose your bank, credit union or savings and loan wisely. I usually look to see which bank is offering an incentive, usually some additional cash to join them, and that’s the winner. Now that I know a little more, look at how banks help you with your finances, their online integrations of accounting software, all the way down to how much they charge you for checks all become deciding factors in choosing the best bank for your business. Go talk to three or four different banks and see which one earns your business and your money.

You will need your FBN statement, a copy of your advertisement receipt and if you are a partnership, your EIN number will be required. As a partnership, all members will need to be present at the time of opening an account. Also, if you are in a General Partnership, you should do a “two partners present” withdrawal requirement. This means at least two of you will have to go to the bank if any money is being pulled out of the account for expenses or draws. This can really help ensure that there won’t be any arguments over missing money. Now that you have this bank account, it should be easier for you to keep records of your spending and earning. Depending on the how complicated your tax situation is, you may need the assistance of a tax preparation firm.

That’s it! Now you’re officially a business. Act like one. You’ve come further than most people ever will in the world of entrepreneurship and you should be proud of yourself. You’ve followed the steps to not only setting up your business, but setting yourself up for success! Treat everything you do as a business transaction, and only have the best intentions for your business in mind at all times. Understanding the differences between how you did things as an independent artist, and how you’re going to do things as an aspiring entrepreneur is crucial to the success you want. We will be going over all of these things as the months go by. Your homework right now is to learn about how businesses work, and how you can make the most out of each dollar you spend starting today. In our next ebook “Your Business is Your Baby….Don’t Let it Die”, we will touch on the importance of nurturing your new business and growing it into everything you’ve ever wanted it to be.

Til next time!


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