Everything You Need to Know About Band Management Part 2: Value
When you start your music career… how do I put this nicely? You’re not that good.
If you’re dedicated to becoming a musician, your compositions, performances and recordings are probably better than most amateurs. Pretty much all successful musicians have an early period of work that can be best described as semi-pro. But it takes a while for your songs and gigs to get to a professional level, and money earned from music is the way score is kept in the music business.
You don’t start at the top of your game with a high score. Most successful people never feel like they’ve reached the top of their game because they’re always setting the bar higher. That’s what you have to do with your songs, performances and recordings… but also your business. By the end of this post you’ll see why the best way to raise the bar on your music is to raise the bar on your business.
The business of music revolves around musicians. Even if you have a manager, you’re still the one in control of your career. You set the bar for success. Your goal is to have more time for music, not business. Nonetheless, if you want to sustain a music career, at the very least you have to put in the time to set goals for your business the same way you set goals to write better songs, play bigger shows, record bigger hits.
This is what we mean when we say music careers don’t start with great music. Don’t be one of the oblivious musicians who thinks everything they write is gold and then wonders why they have no fans. Becoming good at anything — especially in running your own small business — is about incremental gains. If you played a coffee house for ten people last Friday, try playing for 20 next month instead of harboring some fantasy about being “discovered”, getting a record deal, or being the next American Idol.
If all you did was set some business goals and work toward them, you’d have the edge on 90% of musicians who are destined for obscurity with their “write it / play it / record it and they will come” attitude. Success will not just come to you. Even if you’re born into money and connections like Julian Casablancas or inherited a legendary music name like Sean Lennon, you’ve still gotta work your ass off to reach your goals.
More on the super-important topic of setting goals later on… for now, let’s get back to why you’d want to think about your music like an entrepreneur.
Why Better Business = Better Art
In part 1 we established a few things:
- If you want to pursue music seriously for the rest of your life, learn how the music business works or you probably won’t have that opportunity.
- Copyright law makes all your songs assets automatically, so you’re pretty much already the manager of a small business whether you like it or not.
- Musicians who don’t understand the music business and are lucky enough to succeed without that knowledge, will still pay a price in being horrendously exploited.
If you’re still not convinced it’s worth thinking like an entrepreneur, let me give you one more reason, maybe the best reason of all:
Your composing, performing and recording will improve at a much faster rate if you think about your music like an entrepreneur.
Want to write a hit? Think like an entrepreneur. Seriously — hitmakers aren’t only thinking about writing great music. They’re thinking about what hook will appeal to their target demographic of 18-25 year old males. They’re figuring out how to repeat the title of the song as much as possible for advertising purposes. They’re rewriting the vocal line and lyrics 20 times until their focus groups react positively.
You don’t have to turn your music into marketing to sustain it. In fact, the opposite is true. The market for mainstream hits is being slowly but steadily displaced by a market of independent niches. There are more opportunities than ever to make uncompromising music and find an audience that can sustain it economically.
The whole point of learning to manage yourself for now is to connect with an audience — to get exposure for your music. You can’t connect with the audience if you don’t know what the target is.
Here’s the lie musicians tell themselves: they make music for themselves. I mean, yeah, of course we do, but isn’t the point of composing, performing and recording songs to share them with other people? It seems rather silly and selfish to pretend that your songs are precious things made for only yourself, and if other people just happen to like it, well, that’s just a coincidence and not your intent. It’s a great way to ensure music will be your hobby and not your life focus.
The reality is that musicians make music for other people. Your capacity to generate value around your music is largely based on mow many other people want to hear it. You can make better music, play better shows, record better songs, but in the end those things don’t grow an audience beyond word of mouth.
Even if you manage to attract a bigger audience through sheer musical talent and luck, that won’t translate to the kind of money you need to sustain a music career until you have the entrepreneurial infrastructure in place. Without it, your career will fizzle or you’ll be ripped off.
Music is as valuable as the audience for it. Most musicians make the mistake of thinking that the value of music is what generates a large audience. This is true only to the extent that word of mouth will spread as songs are shared. Monetizing that growth and sustaining it are business-related tasks that you will have to handle yourself until you attract management.
If you’re serious about management, you’re going to constantly be thinking about value around your music. What is the value of an existing fan? What is the value of a new fan? What is the value of a single? What is the value of an album? What is the value of playing this show or that show? What is the value in networking with this person? These things are easy to calculate and we’ll go over how to do so in future parts of this series.
The flipside to that coin is just as important. Just as much as you think about the value of your music to you personally, you should think about the value of your music to your fans and to potential business partners. This takes the most precedence in networking, where success hinges on providing value to people who are above you in the music business food chain before you can extract value from knowing them.
Most musicians’ music has negative value: either they don’t have any income from music, or their expenses dwarf their revenues). You’re probably one of the 91% of musicians who are undiscovered and underexposed. Sure, there is a lot of sucky music in that 91%. But there’s a lot of good music too. It’s insane to think 91% of music is worthless, especially in a music business that is getting better and better at creating markets around smaller and smaller niches.
A lot of this undiscovered music is just unrealized value, because musicians failed to imbue their musicianship with any sort of entrepreneurial spirit.
Walking the Walk
I want to shout it from the rooftops: You will become a better composer, performer and recording artist by managing your music career like a small business and thinking like an entrepreneur.
These are things that most musicians avoid doing or do reluctantly, but what successful musicians do all the time because they think entrepreneurially:
- You’ll start soliciting feedback from your fans on what they like and don’t like about your composing, performing and recording. As a business owner, you always want to increase the value of your product or service. As a musician, that means better songs, gigs and tracks.
- You’ll start demanding excellence from every aspect of your songs, gigs and tracks, no matter how small. You’ll constantly seek out people that can help you increase the quality of music. You’ll organize, delegate tasks, micromanage and do whatever it takes to get it right, putting on your bossy pants if you have to. It’s not hard to see how this improves your art and your opportunities for wider exposure.
- You’ll think of the value of each fan, and go out of your way to engage with them and keep them interested in what you’re doing musically. You’ll obsess over the demographics of your existing audience and what adjacent demographics you’re going to expand to next. Understanding your audience means you can write songs, play shows and make recordings with much more resonance.
- You’ll push yourself to meet new people and network with superfans and music businesspeople alike to generate value around your music.
Getting entrepreneurial with your music turns out to be the quickest path toward writing better songs, playing better shows and making great records! Sure, you still need plenty of practice and training, but it adds up to gifted obscurity without the idea of building value around your music. This is what a manager does: builds value around music. This is what you need to do as the de facto manager of your music business, and this is what you have to do to attract a manager.
In part 3, we’ll get into the details of where the value is in music by taking a look at how managers use exploitation, patronage and branding to get ahead.