Musicians, including myself, have long tried to crack the code and sustain a living in the digital era. A quick survey with the fellow musicians I speak with daily: DIY marketing, concerts, streaming, advertising and royalties seem to be in their head when it comes to making profit.
An increasing number of musicians have started realising their music should also be treated as a commercially viable business. Despite our being a long way from this concept becoming the dominating culture and without ignoring the aforementioned income sources, musicians should develop the mindset of a startup and start transforming themselves into Musicpreneurs.
Tech startups have shown the way. So much to be said, but we’ll stick with 5 fundamental concepts that can transform our music culture.
1. MVP (Minimum Viable Product), Prototyping
It’s ingrained in the musicians’ culture to first release the impeccable recorded version of their music, then start marketing. The same is true of their creative concepts, those designed to give depth and context to their art.
That notion needs to be challenged.
Musicpreneurs don’t get disillusioned that they should release the perfect product, in our case the perfect recording or concept. They release early and involve their community in the process, refining it along the way. Practically speaking, demos become valuable tools, helping to test whether you got a hit, before you get in the (expensive!) studio.
Why is that essential? Because the audience’s perception of value shifts, from the end product itself towards the experience of the creative process. The audience wants your story, besides your (good) music.
2. Limited Resources
A startup often have limited resources to go to the next step — the same is true for musicians.
How does one tackle this disadvantage? By testing, making smarter decisions and keeping costs low. Restrictions help a startup be flexible with their problem-solving (and often more creative).
Musicians, there’s nothing to worry about—startups are not smaller versions of larger companies. Startups are looking for what works, before calling for attention. Learning to live with your restrictions helps you grow as an artist and as a personality, giving a complete shape to your vision.
3. Far From Perfect
“No business plan survives the first contact with the customer” — Steve Blank
I’ll be cynical: no matter what you’ve planned, once you’re out in the real world, all odds are off. You’re dealing with human beings, not computers that receive input and give output!
You’re not perfect. Write down 10 reasons you’ll fail. Then discuss them with your band, partners or audience and try to find ways to tackle them. You will only learn by discussing, experimenting and executing.
Musicpreneurs are strategic thinkers, not spammers. They listen more instead of demanding more attention. This impels them to ask more instead of answering more. They don’t assume they know everything.
4. Business Model
“A startup is an organisation formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” — Steve Blank
Without streams of income, new musicians will never become great musicians. Unfortunately, the majority creates tirelessly, hoping that money will come. This is where business models come in: they streamline the value you create and untap new revenue models.
My favorite definition: “A business model describes how your company creates, delivers and captures value.”
Take the canvas, jot down your assumptions and find your own business model by validating these hypotheses one by one. Don’t just contemplate — turn assumptions into facts by doing. You’ll be surprised how wrong you were about who your audience is, what they would pay for, what the value of your music really is.
Here is the big opportunity for the Musicpreneurs.
Startups can humanise — people know they talk with real people on the other side. Talk like one. You are a brand, don’t pretend to be a fake corporate profile. People don’t listen to faceless corporations, they listen to other people.
There is not much to hide in the Twitter and Google era. I don’t imply you’ll have to fully disclose everything, though; you’re still an artist. The only difference is now artists stand out because they’re authentically interesting, not with marketing gimmicks.
To tie that up with business models, your value lies on the left side of the canvas. That’s your process of creation, your exciting story, your unique conversations with your audience, your human side.
Tommy Darker is an independent musician, thinker about the future of music, and founder of Darker Music Talks, a series of discussions between experts and musicians. Ie will speak about the Musicpreneur February 4, 11.00, as part of Midem 2014’s series of “OpenMic” crowdsourced talks.