For the first time ever, I was accused by a friend, artist and client of thinking too much about the 'business' side of the music business. While I admittedly took slight offense, I find in retrospect that I'm really quite proud of his observation. Endemic to the music business is the idea that creators should focus on what they do - making art - leaving someone (anyone) else to deal with the business side of things. Trust me - I get it. I'd much rather spend my time writing great songs, making amazing recordings than participating in countless conference calls, returning emails and action planning around next steps for my business.
I've run a few million dollar businesses. I say this only because when comparing my experience in different industries, I notice a sizable chasm between the way in which musicians and other more traditional business people deal with moving a brand forward. Most significantly missing in artists is an over arching sense of urgency with regards to brand survival. This is to say I'm always shocked at what musicians are not willing to do to survive making a living doing what they love. It's a culture full of people doing what they do - instead of doing what needs to be done. I don't want to get too in depth about the minutia of a day in the life of a musician. This blog isn't about playing gigs, collecting emails or social networking but rather about a much larger, all encompassing cultural shift that really needs to take place should musicians really want to make art their business.
First and most overlooked is thinking of yourself (or your band) as an upstart business. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on around starting a business and building a brand. While a great deal of time should be spent shedding, practicing and arriving at your vibe; your sound - an equivalent amount of time should be spent locating your market, finding out what the market commands and ultimately delivering product to the marketplace.
Just do it. Being a perfectionist, this has been a hard one for me to learn. I do lots of stuff - but almost always cling to ideas, products and blogs too long before pushing them out into the world. Don't wait for approval from anyone (even yourself); at every turn, someone will be there to knock you down. You'll probably never get the approval you're looking for so you might as well not even try.
As anyone who's worked with me on a record will tell you, the iterative process applies to both art and business. Build, release, iterate. The iterative process applies to every single aspect of your business in a significant way. For example, I like to think of every process as a build and release phenomena. The way you book shows, the way you promote shows, the way you perform shows and the way you sell merch during and after the show are all separate (yet connected) processes. Analyze each process, break processes down into behaviors, measure outcomes, root cause, set new goals/new behaviors and repeat.
Always be the weakest person in the room. The people surrounding you should be people that you'd want to work for; people that are faster, smarter and generally better than you. While creativity is not a democracy, having strong, thoughtful personalities in an organization is key to getting the best results.
Create an environment of learning; don't relish in what you know but instead be concerned about your knowledge gap. When talking to artists I'm frequently confused by the disconnect between what they want to accomplish in the music business and how little they know about the music business. Find an artist you admire whose career reflects a realistic next step for you and see what you can learn by researching their career path. Heck, you might even try contacting them (respectfully) and asking a few key questions. I also find immense value in scanning other industries for valuable practices or ideas. The internet is full of great information should you take the time to filter and look. And from time to time when stuck, hire a consultant or adviser to help you un-stick you.
Have short, medium and long term goals for your business. Few of us travel long distance without a map yet I'm shocked how many artists go day in and day out without a career road map. Once a year, sit down with pen and paper, break your business down in to manageable categories, set goals around those categories and develop action steps around each goal. Your road map should be a living document consulted and adjusted on a day to day basis!
I've been apart of many conversations comparing the music business culture to a battle between left and right brain governance. I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle; great art doesn't sell itself and business doesn't create great art. All the more reason artists that straddle both the creative and commerce sides of the business will be the new industry trail blazers.