Want to be a Great Musician? Study Business


As a relatively successful musician, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed entrepreneurial nerd, I am very concerned at what I see in the traditional education of musicians and its manifestations in “Real World” musician life. I have toured around the world for the last 19 years and the one thing that continues to boggle my mind is the lack of professionalism of musicians, the lack of respect that musicians receive from people with “real jobs,” and the traditional educational institution’s unwillingness to create a formal curriculum that includes music business as a part of its core.


It is pretty common place for musicians/artists to have a total disregard for most of the foundational components to simple professionalism - or let’s use a more entrepreneurial term - business development. As I look at the components key for a business to develop a steady revenue stream the following come to mind:

  • The need to Identify relationships with primary and secondary consumers (who they are, what they like, and where they rock)

  • Primary: Fans, supporters, those that might be fans and supporters

  • Secondary: Blogs, writers, radio, traditional and non-traditional retail, venues, partners and sponsors.

  • The need for the artist to present themselves in a professional manner.

  • punctuality (being on time)

  • rehearsed

  • appropriately dressed

  • Open minded and considerate (as a leader, band member, contractor (to the venue), and a presenter to the audience

  • The need for the artist to engage relationships with primary and secondary consumers

  • Social Media Presence and promotion

  • web-site promotion

  • EPK

  • Physical Press Kits

  • Calendar (Yes imagine that!.. a calendar is needed to allow for your fans to know when you are performing

  • Newsletters/blogs

  • Responses to posts to social media

  • Email lists at shows

  • Signing cd’s and show

  • On-stage promotion that merchandise will be available after the show.

  • Consistent frequent promotion of "all the above."

  • The need to understand the business economics surrounding the artist’s business model.

  • Goals (Where are we going)

  • Objectives (How are we getting there)

  • Projections, how much will all of the above cost)

  • How are we going to pay for it? or what relationships and/or technology, or Organizations exist so that we either can pay less, nothing at all, or barter.

  • Review (how are we doing? how did we do? what went right what went wrong and why?)

  • The need to understand that then we must start the cycle all over again at the Top. Which means that we then have to recognize that there really is a cycle.

I know that many artists hate in their heart to think that life is cyclical, but the truth of the matter is that it is! Which should make this easier. This is not rocket science. It’s structure. It just means that artists must apply a similar type of discipline used to master their instrument to their business life as well. Note, THIS IS NOT AN OPTION!


I often hear the argument that artists are right brained and that business people are left brained. That is a crock as well. I would argue that the executives of all of the new app and design companies, not to mention those who run firms like IDEO, etc. are just as creative as a composer, producer or writer. This type of creativity or skill is acquired and the same 10k hour mastery rule works (See Malcolm Gladwell). To dismiss this thinking is like saying I don’t have big muscles, and I’m not fit, so therefore, I shouldn’t go to the gym. This is where I fault a lot of traditional Fine Arts education. It is completely devoid of an arts management and business development - the key to an artist’s success.


The question then becomes why is such information not included in a core curriculum: I don’t know but I would think that it’s similar to the reasons that it is just now being included in the education of MD’s and Lawyers; because we have been trained to work for other people and institutions and not to think as the entrepreneurs that we all are. We are the CEO’s and Presidents of US/Me/I. We are always told to “Do this!…Do that!….so you can get a job for this or that.." applies very well to this industry. Many musicians are taught to receive validations through others strictly through their performance acumen. I remember almost getting into fights due to the fact that I was so focused on the business of music. I had professors who laughed in my face at the thought of going to law school…”Ha what law school are you going to? Captain Crunch University!” I had to admit that was funny and I laughed as well. However, I laughed even more when I returned the following fall with cards that read “Georgetown University Student of the Laws.” And Yes, Lawyers, I know that there is no such thing, however, it WAS on my card and people got the point!


Additionally, I laughed even harder when I was able to put together a business plan and present it to Bob Johnson (founder of BET, no relation) and secure financing for my first record label which brought to you releases from the likes of Nick Colionne, Bobby Lyle, Michael Lington, Jaared, Phillip Martin, and myself.


However, the business education that I speak of is not designed to get you to these “Big” events! Life is a journey and so is a musical career. It’s full of ups and downs just like any other industry. The most important aspect of my business and legal education was how I applied it when I almost lost EVERYTHING!! Adherence to budgets and forecasts can help the artist to see just how much money they do make. And honestly, most artists make a lot more then recent grad who have studied in areas in order to secure “REAL JOBs.” For instance, lets say I have 5 gigs a week that are paying me $200/performance. What is that? um… it’s Approximately $52,000 dollars a year. Well what about benefits? Well at $52K a year, if I set up my performances under a loan out corporation that allows for me to deduct the expenses for insurance under the ACA, then I’m still somewhere in the mid $40’s. This excludes all other types of revenue say like:

  • CD Sales

  • Tee Shirts

  • Sound Exchange Royalties

  • Public Performance Rights organizations.

  • Teaching

  • Mentoring speaking, etc.

And I still have the days and weekends to have time with the family, friends, or the golf course. Hm.. Sounds much like a “REAL” job to me. But when you run your career on "Hopeenstance,” you have no empirical information or numbers that help you demonstrate just how much of a real Job you have.


This is why it is imperative that we teach musicians and all other fine artists about their industry and best entrepreneurial practices instead of having them run around being led by baseless fears. Do you, Follow your heart, use your brains and talent, and success will follow.

#Music #business #success #MusicEducation #BusinessDevelopment

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