When I switched majors from Business Administration to a Jazz Vocalist, I sincerely believed that I was never going to have to learn about business again.
Today I know that for one to be a successful musician, good songs and a great performance aren’t enough. That is... unless you have 3 million dollars hanging out in your bank account. Otherwise, honey, you will have to hustle.
I was fortunate to be raised by a business-savvy family who instilled in me an appreciation for entrepreneurship. As bright as they are in regards to business, like many of us, they don’t know much about how the music business works.
As eager as I was to finally start playing gigs, I was equally as terrified to jump into a new career path of music. In order for me to prepare for the long road ahead, as well as demystify all of the unknowns surrounding the music industry, I actively sought out to read books written by professionals in the field. The insights these books provided were foundational in helping avoid the bad choices that can leave musicians badly burned. But equally as important was the knowledge I had gained during my time in business school.
I had taken classes in finance, microeconomics, and marketing before concluding that being a professional musician isn’t very different from founding a modern startup. When a decision is made to forge a new path, we usually don’t have much more than our passion, a few abilities, and a creative vision. So to reach the next step, it’s essential that you attract like-minded people who believe your philosophy. You also must learn a bit about business law in regards to entertainment because it is crucial to protect yourself and whoever you’re collaborating with. Which leads me to my first point:
1- Discover YOU
Aside from your friends and family, no one cares about you or your music. That will be the case until people are being truly entertained. If you’re hoping to be “discovered” on Youtube like Justin Bieber, I would argue that it is easier to win the lottery, except the prize is not as great. No one believes in you more than yourself, that’s why you’ll have to make a few investments to build an image and get that music project going. The best part is that you can collaborate with so many other people who are in the same boat. In that form, you will empower and learn with one another.
2- Do the homework
It can be a bit overwhelming to deal with the many aspects of a music career. You’re a musician and it isn’t realistic to expect you to do everything involved with your project. At times like these we run to a professional in that area of business we need and more often than not, they aren’t cheap. You can’t afford to pay 10K to anyone when you’re trying to get by eating ramen noodles. I’m not saying that you should be a part-time graphic designer or lawyer. But lots of people are charging lots of money for a service that’s totally DIY doable. A copyright application, for instance, may seem scary at first, but it’s actually a piece of cake. However, there are things we should be careful with and it’s really worth to pay someone else to do. Informing yourself is important either way since you will be able to tell if someone is doing the job well and charging an honest fee, or not.
For more details, I recommend an amazing book called: “The Artist's Guide to Success in the Music Business” by Loren Wiseman
3- It’s not always about you
As billionaire Sir Richard Branson said: “Business is about people”. At the end of the day, you’re offering a service and hoping that someone is going to buy it. Not just your music, but your merchandise, the image you display, your show, etc. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re serving people. They expect something from you as they are putting their time and money on your hands. So be responsible.
4- Connect with other artists
Art inspires art. Many of us musicians are also interested in other forms of expression such as painting or photography. When I hit a creative block, I always visit my favorite spots around the city like the Whitney and The Metropolitan museums. It’s interesting to see how different artists approach their vision and try to apply it to your own musical ideas. I learn a lot from studying the works of photographers, painters, fashion designers, hair and make-up artists, and even tattoo artists.
A couple of years ago I met photographer Stefano Bosso for a collaboration in NYC. His vision was something that had a tremendous impact on my brand and my music. He managed to capture the essence of my music in a visual way like I’ve never seen before. I still spend quite some time admiring his work every week. Stefano not only gave me permission to use his pictures in my campaign for the EP: “The Crescent Calling” but also turned out to be a great friend. We always meet up whenever he’s in town.
5- Trust your gut
This is possibly the most important lesson of all. You will learn by doing it. Don’t wait around too much to start your music career. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because everyone is learning every day; just do the best you can. Start and the next step become clear as you progress through the first and so on. Be humble enough to reach out to people who are trying to do the same as you will learn with them. Take the time each morning to ask yourself: “What’s the ONE thing I can do today to get closer to my dream?”.
I realize that there's still so much I myself need to learn. Everyone has a different journey, but I do hope these 5 Business lessons will both help and inspire you today.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with them. What’s your experience been like? What would you add to this list?