When it comes to music, it’s a business. Gone are the days in which you can hope to be swept up by a label who will handle all the nitty gritty aspects of the business while you strum away on your guitar, waiting to be inspired by your next stroke of creative genius.
Now, in order to be a successful musician, you also have to be a successful entrepreneur. Which, when you think of it, is kind of an amazing opportunity, because when you learn to think like an entrepreneur, you’re setting yourself apart from thousands of musicians who are dead-set on simply “playing their music” and nothing else. And that’s noble and all, but if you want to be a musician who actually makes a living from their music, then you have to approach it like a business.
Done right, this will land you more opportunities, impact, and money every time.
So, in celebration of your new found musicprenuer status, here are 5 of my favorite lessons musicians can learn from entrepreneurs.
Show up with intention
How many times have you popped on social media at the last minute, panic posting about something that doesn’t really have anything to do with your music or the message you want to put out into the world, simply because you realized it had been a week and you hadn’t posted anything?
This is something successful entrepreneurs don’t do. They show up always, and they do it with intention. Nothing is haphazard. They know that everything they do is leading back to one purpose—and that is to spread the word about their product or service, and get people to INVEST. Invest with their time, with their attention, and with their money.
So do they ever panic post, or throw something sloppy together last minute? No. They take the time to plan out a content calendar that makes sense and then they follow it. Because they’re serious about making their dreams a reality.
Don’t be afraid to sell
Here’s one major difference between entrepreneurs and musicians. Entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to sell. They don’t view money as a dirty word. And they definitely don’t shy away from talking about it.
I get it. As a creative you feel icky about asking for money for something so pure as your music. But you have two options here. You can continue feeling like you don’t want to bother anyone by asking them to support you financially, by keeping your music pure, by not “selling out” (which seems to be what we say to people when they’ve decided their time and energy is worth something) OR you can actually make money AND with that, create a bigger impact and change more lives.
Always be willing to pivot
Sometimes as creatives we get it in our heads that just because we chose one specific path, we must now stick to that path for the rest of our lives, even if we hate it and it’s no longer serving us. This might mean never switching genres, kicking out your terrible bass player, or re-branding, because you’re afraid the fans you have will revolt/it’s too hard/it’s too complicated/ you don’t have time/etc.
You can always think of a million excuses for the things you’re afraid to do.
Successful etrepreneurs know that success lies in being able to quickly assess what’s working and what isn’t, and pivot. As a musician, if something isn’t working for you, you have to be willing to let it go and try something else. No overthinking it, no questions asked, just try something new and move on.
Lead with Storytelling
This ties right into that first point about leading with intention. If you know where you’re going, it’s a whole lot easier to get there Likewise, if your fans know where you’re going, they’re a lot more likely to follow you. And this is where storytelling comes in.
Donald Miller says it best in his book, Building a Storybrand, when he says “’People are drawn to clarity and away from confusion. Having clear calls to action means customers aren’t confused about the actions they need to take to do business with you.’
If you’re always talking about 20 different things, posting photos of your cat followed by your music followed by a taco followed by a political post, people are going to have no idea what you’re all about and they’re going to lose interest.
On the other hand, if you’ve honed in on your brand and your message and you know how to bring that fan on a journey with you through telling stories, letting them into your world, and making them a piece of the process, you’re going to find that you not only attract more fans, but more engaged fans who are willing to invest their time, energy, and money into you.
Think about the numbers
Like sales, this is one that most musicians would rather not exist. But sorry, it’s the reality of being successful. If you want this to be a career and not a hobby, you’ve gotta know your numbers. Because hobbies don’t make money, businesses do.
Look at the numbers—what do you need to make on this next album and how will you make it? What can you budget to make sure it gets out there (recording, PR, marketing) and how will you make that money? How much merch did you sell last quarter? What were your top selling pieces? How can you start to sell more of it? (hint: hoping people notice and buy is not a selling technique)
Think about how you can get scrappy. Do you need to pick up an extra shift? Do some direct outreach? Ask friends and family for a loan? How are you going to stop the excuses and make this work for you?
Bonus: Don’t Be Afraid to Sell
Yeah, I’m saying it twice. Because you need to hear it again. You can not be a successful musician if you’re afraid to sell. It just won’t work. You need to believe SO much in yourself, your music, and your message that you believe it would be a CRIME for people not to hear it. That they are truly missing out if they don’t know who you are. That you can make their lives better with your music and your message.
And then you have to be comfortable doing what it takes to make sure the music actually gets out there. That means creative DIY marketing. It means showing up at least once a week to remind people how they can support you through your merch store or on tour. It means not being ashamed or making yourself small when you do all these things.
Being successful means stepping outside your comfort zone and really challenging yourself to grow.
Sure you can stay stuck, stay small, keep being afraid to really authentically show up—but you won’t be successful that way. You’ll be a musician but this will be your hobby not your business.
So you need to decide which you want—and then go all in on it.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more. Join her for her free Masterclass ‘How to gain your next 1,000 fans. 3 simple steps that lead to higher engagement, sold-out shows, and life-changing opportunities’.