Why 2012 will be year of the Artist-Entrepreneur

Posted on May 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm by
in Being a Professional, Being a Successful Entrepreneur

Here’s an interesting article I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. It was in GigaOM. The title really caught my eye because it is upbeat at a time when one sees so much negativity about making a living in the arts being talked about.  It’s easy for musicians to bemoan the current economic state and to long for yesterday where things always seemed better.  Ask any musician who is ten years older than you how business is, and he or she will probably say, “It’s okay, but it was much better ten years ago.” If that same person asks the identical question to another musician ten years older than he is, he will probably get the same answer. “It’s okay, but it was much better ten years ago.” Why was it always better ten years ago than it is today? A possible answer is that the music business constantly evolves, and the person who was busier a decade ago may not have moved ahead with it. Perhaps this person has skills that were well suited for yesterday’s business, but not for today’s. More than in the past it’s up to musicians to be pro-active and make things happen. Here’s Michael Wolf’s take.

Why 2012 will be year of the Artist-Entrepreneur

By Michael Wolf

While 2011 was a big year for political unrest, another uprising was afoot in the world of content creators and artists. Everywhere you look, artists are taking more control over their own economic well being, in large part because the Internet has enabled them to do so. You see it in all forms of content, from books, to video to music.

A few examples from this year: (more…)

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Think Big—or Go Home

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 6:59 am by
in Being a Successful Entrepreneur
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When I was younger I’m sure I didn’t think “Big Picture” as much as I do now, but today with countless projects under my belt, I’m always thinking big.  I suppose it’s also a function of my job at the Eastman School.  As a senior administrator and Director of the Institute for Music Leadership, it’s my job to be forward thinking.

I’ve found that a successful way to approach any project, or problem for that matter, is to dream about what it could be if there were no constraints on resources, i.e., money and staff to make it happen (read:  the “staff” is sometimes just me!).  When working with others I try to neutralize the naysayers right away.  It’s very easy to throw cold water on an idea at the outset.  I try to have everyone think of all the positive things about the project.  After we have considered those, I ask for challenges or barriers to the idea.  There are usually workarounds for the barriers.  As suggested elsewhere in these blogs, envision the Cadillac version.  Put some numbers to it, then start making compromises if you need to.  This is what orchestra artistic administrators do in planning a season.  They come up with interesting concerts, but then the reality of the budget sets in.  How many extra players are going to be needed?  Leos Janácek’s Sinfonietta might look great programmatically, but with its large instrumentation and many extra players—including twelve trumpets, two bass trumpets, four trombones, two tenor tubas and one tuba—it just might stretch the budget a little.

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Envision the Future

Posted on February 16, 2012 at 12:54 pm by
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When I was a doctoral student, I was in a class that had an assignment that asked us to think into the future twenty years and forecast what the music profession would look like.  I wish I still had that paper.  It would be fun to see how far off I was.  Anyway, one student was very frustrated with the assignment.  She just couldn’t get into it.  I remember one of her comments.   “What should we do?  Take LSD to help stimulate our imaginations?”  OK, it was the 60s.  But talk about inside-the-box thinking!   She was all about what was going on in the present and pretty short on imagination!

That student not withstanding, it’s kind of fun to think about future trends.  Here is a thought I had just today.  I have a student who is finishing his doctorate in jazz studies, and he is writing a dissertation.  I’m not his primary advisor, but I’m on his committee and so I have to read this document, make comments and edits and when it is in good shape I’ll sign off on it.  There are three of us on his committee.  As I read his dissertation today I thought,  “The content is great, but the delivery system is very antiquated.  It has a footnote about every other sentence, and because it is about music it has tons of musical examples.”  I’m thinking that this is the same format as forty years ago when I went through the identical process with my dissertation.  Why can’t this be done in an electronic format with links to the footnotes and embedded musical examples?  It would be so much more user-friendly.  The reader could hear the examples while looking at the music.  I know that the technology is there.  In our website, polyphonic.org, we embedded sound files in one of our articles two years ago.[i]  Maybe there is no need to do this for a dissertation (if you assume that it will never be read again except by a handful of scholars), but I will wager that ten years from now more books will be published in electronic format than hard copy, and that they will have all sorts of interactive add-ons available.  The publishing industry is already firmly headed in this direction.

In envisioning the future, I am reminded of this quote that is attributed to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.  It’s a good one.  When asked how he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and consequently scored more goals than others, he replied, “I don’t go where the puck is.  I go to where the puck will be.”  Try to be like Gretzky.

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— There Is No One Model for Entrepreneurs—Gain Experience First

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 6:48 am by
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If you have read my book, Lessons From a Street-Wise Professor, think back to Chapter 9: “Five Non-Linear Career Journeys.”  These are stories of very successful entrepreneurial musicians.  I chose to include them because they represent five different areas of the music business, but I had a secondary reason as well.  They all have reached their goals in different ways.  There really is no one single road to success in music.  If you gain experience, be observant, have good role models and develop an entrepreneurial mindset, your time will come.

Once a friend of a friend asked me what her daughter could do to prepare for a career in music.  Her daughter was then a high school student and was considering a college major in music.  Half-jokingly I gave her a flip answer. I said, “Tell her she should 1) get a paper route, because then she will know how many papers she has to deliver just to purchase one CD; and 2) get a ukulele, because she will learn how to harmonize tunes with just three chords.”  In other words, know the value of a dollar and work on your ears.  But, something was lost in my profundity: I forgot that kids haven’t had paper routes in 30 years.  Got to change that one.

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“You’ve Cott Mail”

Posted on January 24, 2012 at 9:55 am by
in Being a Successful Entrepreneur, Staying informed

One of the listservs to which I belong is Thomas Cott’s, “You’ve Cott Mail.”  As Cott says, “It’s a free service for professionals in the arts,” and he sends it most weekdays. I’m interested in it because it doesn’t just cover music, and we musicians can learn from our brethren in other areas of the arts world. The other interesting thing to me is he doesn’t editorialize. He collects articles and blogs from all over the web and presents similar content under a theme or title.  There are usually 3-4 entries each day. Cott will sometimes summarize an article, but if they are short they are presented in full, and always with a link to the source. Today’s topic (Tues, Jan 24) was: Dealing with Negative Feedback, and the sources cited were:

Dealing with negative feedback on social media  Rebecca Coleman on her blog, 1/23/12

Tuning out negative comments online Michelle, Talenthouse blog, 11/29/11

Why a negative review may not be so bad after all  Matt Rhodes, eConsultancy.com, 6/8/11

Here is a sampling of other recent Cott posts.

Tues, Dec 13: When/How Will Arts Address Lack of Diversity?

Thurs, Aug 25: Double-Dip Recession & The Arts

Tues, Nov 29: Let’s Talk Tourism

Tues, Nov 22: Arts For Free?

Tues, Sep 27: Competing with Cirque du Soleil

We’re in an information age. There is a lot of information out there at our disposal, but the problem is often locating it. With “You’ve Cott Mail” you will know immediately if the day’s articles cover topics of interest to you. Check it out and see for yourself.

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Don’t Be Embarrassed about Making Money

Posted on January 19, 2012 at 6:44 am by
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My previous blog referenced Grammy-winning composer Maria Schneider. In talking with her further, she had an interesting take on the stereotypical starving artist.  She theorizes that part of the reason record companies are able to make huge profits while the artists often make so little is because many musicians have the idea that being a starving artist somehow raises the value of their art.  Some have the attitude that commercial success equates to selling out, and the minute something is popular it’s devalued.  This becomes a “badge of honor” that some artists like to wear.  That attitude has played right into the hands of the business world.  Think about other occupations or professions.  Can you imagine a baker saying, “I don’t really want to make money selling my cakes.  I do it because I just love to see people appreciate how good my food is.  I don’t care if I lose money.”?  Nobody would ever do that in any business other than the arts!  The business world says, “Wow, we’ve got this commodity here, and we don’t have to pay much for it.  And as a matter of fact, they are happier if we don’t pay them for it!”  This may be a little extreme, but you get the point.

Maria goes on to say that it’s important to instill in people the idea that it’s possible to do incredible high-value work and be paid for it.  Music shouldn’t be free.  Yes, as musicians we are smart and lucky.  We do what we love and get paid for it.  It shouldn’t mean that because we love doing what we do we should do it for free.  We work very hard and we should be paid well for it.




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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Don’t Dilute Your Product in Order To Make Money

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 6:41 am by
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Some musicians feel that they must dumb-down their music in order to be “successful.” I once had a conversation with Maria Schneider in which she made an interesting observation: many musicians who are focused solely on making money underestimate their audiences.  She commented that some musicians seem to think that if they write or present a particular kind of music, they will get a certain audience.  A dilemma can occur if they happen to get lucky and are successful in gaining an audience.  If they suddenly say “that’s not really who I am.”  “Let me show you what I really do,” they will lose that audience, because those fans were on board for what the artist was doing at the time.  They came to the concert just for that.

Of utmost importance is to be devoted to developing your own craft and your own voice.  If you follow your artistic calling with passion and belief, when your audience does find you, they will be getting the best of what you have to offer.   Be true to yourself.  Don’t pander.

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Don’t Make Money the Number One Objective—Learn To Wait

Posted on January 31, 2011 at 6:02 am by
in Being a Successful Entrepreneur

Presumably you’ve chosen music because you love it and can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. But, on the off chance that you are in music for the money, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Sure, there are certain celebrity artists who make big, big money, but there is no doubt that the rank and file musician makes less money than the rank and file investment banker. Right out of college you probably won’t be buying that BMW.

Money can be a bad motivator for us if it takes precedence over our artistic standards. It has the potential to cause us to shift our focus off of quality and to take gigs just for the money. Good motivators, like developing a more secure technique or gaining a deeper understanding of the music we play, raise our level of musicianship. If you build your house on solid ground and put it up brick by brick, financial rewards will come. You will be noticed and people will be willing to pay you well for what you do. Careers are built over time. Of course certain events can occur that will catapult you forward or raise you to another level. You might get a new, more prestigious job or some of your works published, but by and large, after you have reached a level of excellence on your instrument, success in music is achieved by slow and steady work as you acquire knowledge and experience

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