10 tips for Making it in the Music Industry – Nile Rodgers, Part 1

For anyone wanting to be a musician, these 3 programmes by the BBC are full of 40 years of experience and advice from Nile Rodgers, who has been at the forefront of popular musicianship for so long, he’s practically the figurehead on its prow.

His CV (the 2 minute version)

Basically, as I hear about the famous singers he worked with, over and again I find myself saying “Oh THAT song, I loved that song they did”….. and lo and behold, it was Nile behind the studio screen or in front, making it sound irresistible.

Here’s what his tips are:

1. Begin with soaking up musical/arts influences

He was born in the Bronx to young teenage parents, into an environment of beatniks, heroin and, more importantly music.  Everyone made music around him, his life was an uncertainty of living where he was considered unusual and bullied or living where there weren’t other kids.  Music was his constant.  He created his own world in it, soaking himself in film, art and music.  (Great combo).

2. The preparation: study music

He always wanted to be a musician; his father was a percussionist and got him interested in different rhythms, a national musical programme got him playing different instruments.

Whether you want to sing, write songs or play an instrument, you’re gonna spend most of your life practicing, practicing, practicing.

He took classes in classical guitar and studied music theory and harmony and learn to read music.  “A lot of rock musicians don’t but for me it really paid off.”

3. Play variety of styles – be professional

I took every opportunity to play different styles of music.

As he comments, the discipline is to give the person who’s paying you exactly the performance they want “and make it really good.”

4. The Apprenticeship – play with the best

He eventually got to play with the world-famous Apollo house band (R&B) – and as house band, they had to play with a wide variety of singers and songs.  This was his apprenticeship.

“I’ve probably learned the most by playing with musicians that were far above my level and me not really hanging in there – and making them like it.”


5. Develop a unique sound

To be a success in the music business, you shouldn’t follow the pack, but bring a uniqueness to the music projects.  Play things a little bit different.  Add your own spin.

Those who copy their heroes have short careers.


6. Form a band/get writing partner

Find your writing partner.  Nile immediately hit it off with bassist Bernard – they went on to found Chic.


7. Be willing to change to get Your Sound

Bernard persuaded Nile to swop his much-loved jazz guitar for a solid body Fender electric guitar – which he did and got a guitar described by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran as a “mongrel” – the neck of one guitar, the body of another and a bit of mirror stuck on.

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The guitar “is as much part of my sound as these are” (his hands)

Immediately, his sound changed and he was on the way to developing his unique playing style.

The beatup guitar is now called “The Hitmaker”.

These are my personal notes on a BBC documentary series, currently on air, called “Nile Rodgers: Making it in the Music Business”



8.  Write/record/release the first song with no budget

Bernard and Nile formed Chic the group, aimed to break into the new disco music world and wrote “Everybody dance”.  With no money to record, they managed to get a friend to let them pop into a music studio to record, between their performance sets.  Total cost $10 (to bribe the lift attendant not to tell the studio boss that they were in there).  Unknown to Nile, the studio engineer, a friend, made his own copy of the song and began playing it at the disco where he was dj.  Next time Nile was in, his friend put it on, and Nile was electrified to see the whole room respond with joy and recognition, singing his song.  “At this point, it no longer belongs to me, it’s theirs”.

And I realised I connected spiritually to an audience – a hit record speaks to the soul of a million strangers.

9.  Get a personal Look

Get a distinctive look that defines who you are.

See something you are blown away by, which will be attractive to your audience – Nile saw and loved the dressed up style of Roxie Music, so Chic developed their own take on this, with sharp suits.  Suited to their aspirational audience.

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10.  Always be aware of new audience/opportunities in social change

Chic identified their target audience as the new black upwardly mobile, urban professional young black people – a movement happening in America. (Called Buppies)

It was the right concept at the right time – the music fit, the look fit the music – it was us acting out this whole new way of portraying ourselves as artists.

This helped the band land a contract with record giants Atlantic.


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