by Michael Drapkin
The days in which the music offered in stores and on the radio was controlled by a handful of large corporations are rapidly receding. Increasingly, working musicians are following their own paths–and hearts–by becoming music entrepreneurs, and reaching out to audiences directly.
The Internet is the rock that has shattered traditional models of the music industry, and many acts are finding it tempting to bypass a traditional path to a musical career, working for someone else. Today’s working musicians are starting their own record labels and merchandising companies, and they are distributing CDs, booking gigs, and managing their own careers.
But before you tell your music director what he can do with his baton, you may want to think about the following issues:
10 Questions Music Entrepreneurs Should Be Able to Answer
1) What makes you different? You are competing with many other musicians with similar dreams about making it big on their own terms. What is different about what you want to do? How are you going to stand out? Think about what you are proposing to do and see if it fulfills one of the following: Do you entertain people? Do you save or make them money? Do you make their lives easier? If you cannot say “yes” to one of these three, then get a new plan.
2) Can you take initiative? Every journey starts with a first step, and that is especially true with new business ventures. Just taking the plunge is a huge challenge. Can you bring together everything that is needed for success?
3) Can you make decisions? Having the title “chief executive officer” does not guarantee success. In fact, I have seen many startup firms fail because of lack of decision-making ability. Sometimes even a wrong decision is better than no decision. Find mentors or friends who can give you good advice, and then execute! That’s what “executives” do.
4) Are you an innovator? Do you sense opportunities that perhaps few others see? Do you have a vision? Here are three reasons why people start businesses: a) to begin a professional practice, like a doctor or lawyer (freelance musicians often fall into this category); b) you see a market for something that doesn’t yet exist (but it may not exist because no one wants it!); c) you think you can build a better mouse trap.
5) How do you deal with risk? Are you afraid that if you fail you will become homeless? Unlikely, but if you only see a gray cloud of uncertainty instead of a fantastic opportunity about to come to your door, then don’t become an entrepreneur.
6) Are you organized? Unlike in a big company with lots of staff and resources, you are going to have to start out doing most things yourself, from making the coffee to bookkeeping. Are you a natural organizer who makes “to do” lists? Do you have follow through?
7) Can you sell? Now there’s a dirty word! The truth is that musicians advertise their wares every time they play. Now just apply that passion to your business venture. Marketing and advertising is just spreading the word about something you love.
8) Can you plan? The traditional way of starting a business is to write a business plan, and there are lots of tools and resources for doing that. In order to be successful, you need to understand what you want to do, how you plan to do it, and what it will cost.
9) Where will you get the capital? It takes money to make money. Now that you have made your business plan, where will you get the funds you need in order to be successful? The single biggest reason why businesses fail is lack of capital.
10) Are you an optimist? Yes, you can be a realist, but you still have to believe in what you are doing. Entrepreneurs, by their nature, are optimists. Are you?
The 10 questions above will be explored further at the Brevard Conference on Music Entrepreneurship, at Brevard Music Center, Brevard, North Carolina, July 27 to 29.
Michael Drapkin is executive director of the Brevard Conference on Music Entrepreneurship. Learn more at www.bcome.org.