The Problems Musicians Face and How To Solve Them, Pt. 6a

Part6aWritten by Tommy Darker, originally published in The Musicpreneur.

Travelling the world and chatting with fellow aspiring artists reveals astounding insights about the future of music. Here’s the deal: we think we all face different problems, but the reality reveals the opposite. I will share one of these insights, explaining what it means for the way we work as musicians and how to move in the future.

This is the part 6a. Each part is linked at the end of the post.

The new music world: innovative Messages demand innovative Mediums.

How ready are we to welcome the new music world, where musicians will be entrepreneurs and thrive? Once again, let’s not jump straight to the answer, but let’s go around it. Shall we?

Patrick Vlaskovits created a presentation worth reading about growth hacking [5]. He mentioned something that grabbed my attention and triggered thoughts:

“Innovative products demand innovative channels, context and mediums.”

That is to say, for the new generation of Musicpreneurs to flourish and create innovative art, business models and solutions to their problems (Message), along with the proper innovative context (Medium) need to be in place. And vice versa; as an important and inevitable by-product, each innovative context needs innovative products (cultural and entrepreneurial) to keep making sense.

Alright, enough with the theory. I think I’ve stressed enough that existing Mediums provide wrong context for the era of the Musicpreneur to fully blossom.

Fundamentally, Musicpreneurship is not mastery of the existing system of infrastructure, it’s true innovation set to build a music business and preparing the ground for a new ecosystem.

In my presentation in Midem [6], I mentioned that, despite being in a transitional era, the current D2F is not strong enough to replace the old system set up and maintained by labels. Hence, all the problems and insecurity for musicians that keep letting people down.

What should we focus on, in order to build this innovative environment and musical products? I’ve discovered seven areas imperative to the new music world.

Let’s discuss them.

• Business understanding (business models, revenue streams)

Where do you turn to when the old music biz system is not helping you anymore and there’s no-one to run your business activities effectively? I see only one solution: it’s high time musicians understand the fundamental business mindset themselves.

Where to start? The bullet-point method never fails:

• First and foremost, learn about Lean Thinking [7] and how to build a startup [8]. I’d suggest that you start with Steve Blank and his free courses/blog. This will unlock the perspectives of what an enterprise is and how it drives value to your audience and you. Hint: when musicians demystify what business is, they see clearly that it’s all about creating value for their audience, while enjoying making a profit doing so.
• To get started, there’s no single more representative way to approach the music business methodically than the Business Model Generation system [9]. Buy the book and read/watch the numerous free resources about the topic.
• Find out what other industries are doing. They’ve experimented far more than musicians have, so there are valuable lessons to take away and rework. See examples and how modern business models work for other companies. They will provide inspiration on how you could operate and think as a music business.
• Business is learned better in practice. Studying can help but, from my experience, nothing compares with actually trying to sell something and then trying to understand why you’ve failed to do so.
• Finally, if you’re a musician that loves stating ‘I’m a musician, I only want to make music’, then here’s a personal confession for you: I’m not a natural-born businessman either. Neither did I enjoy it in the beginning. It came out of necessity and desire for innovation and independence. The idea of demystifying the notion of business came from getting immersed and facing the real problems of my music ventures. And, guess what? I find myself more complete and creative now. Somehow, creating new dots, connecting and disconnecting them, as Steve Keller says [10], brings astounding and unpredictable results. The endless possibilities keep me going.

I tend to document everything along the way and put it online publicly. You can read it here.

• Obtaining knowledge (Darker Music Talks)

As I mentioned in Part 4, our current music education system progressively becomes more irrelevant and more unable to illustrate the dynamic, modern environment. Our education needs to be smarter and more practical. Knowledge has broken free from the certificate, which is not as useful as it once was.

How will we build a better educational environment that reflects today’s needs and mindset?

Innovative Mediums require innovative Messages, remember? Instead of courses made to stay static for the years to come (music colleges) or courses with no credibility and touch with reality (music blogs), we could focus on the power of crowdsourcing; learning from experts in our field of interest, and from musicians that have already had success in building their audience and business. All we need is a platform connecting these musicians (demand) with the experts/successful musicians (supply) — which can facilitate this curated knowledge in a platform.

This way, we ensure the relevance and practicality of the knowledge we receive. We won’t have static lessons anymore, but proven knowledge, delivered by the most relevant local resources in the most personalized way.

These resources will not have to come from the music industry itself. The gaming, diamond, casino, porn, and book industries (and so many others) have so many valuable lessons to teach us. I know, because this is how I discover fresh approaches to all of my projects — I see what ideas the other industries have to share.

In practice, how could that work? Don’t worry, I’ve started.

My main venture, Darker Music Talks [11], whose mission is to spread entrepreneurial knowledge wherever musicians around the world are, is a series of discussions that connect local knowledge keepers with musicians, in a chance for a constructive dialogue. Each discussion is free of charge. These conversations are educating more than 700 Musicpreneurs in 6 countries at the moment (as of June 2014), with a goal to reach 13 by September 2014.

For those who want to go a bit deeper, there are limited slots for full-day workshops, where musicians have to pay a small fee (in order to cover expenses and create some budget for the venture’s expansion) to get practical knowledge and actionable plans by accredited educators on subjects such as business models, social media, crowdfunding, project management and lean startup thinking.

Picture for a moment what AirBnB does. This is the mindset Darker Music Talks follows too; AirBnB discovers available local resources, instead of building new hotels, turning local accommodations into rooms-to-rent. Darker Music Talks discovers local knowledge keepers and practitioners, instead of building new music colleges/courses — and turns them into credible knowledge resources.

In a world where Coursera-type online courses help thousands of students obtain information, Darker Music Talks could be the platform to disrupt music education as we know it.

It’s time to provide musicians with practical knowledge on what to do next to build a sustainable business around their music. If you want to organize one in your city, get in touch.

• Productivity

As we saw in Part 4, management is the Achilles heel for musicians. There seems to be some kind of problem that prevents musicians from getting much productive work done.

I think the explanation is simple: too much information. Musicians today are overwhelmed with a vast amount of information and tasks to undertake, making their artistic life less enjoyable.

It makes sense. And, to be bloody honest, a new ecosystem without musicians doing ‘the right work’ won’t really go anywhere. Nobody just wants to be ‘busy’. That’s a myth we artistic types need to get over.

The problem with information clutter could be easily tackled with the aforementioned knowledge system. A filter that shows (and teaches) musicians what information is worth consuming could be a great time saver.

However, it’s not enough to make an artistic person more productive. I’ve been there, trust me. A problematic area seems to be the completion of admin tasks. We’re pretty good at being creative, but not in completing the work that ‘has to be done’. I can already picture in my head the last musician to complain about having to update his social media profiles.

What I did, in order to put my life together and minimize the time spent on workload, is pretty straightforward. Practically speaking, it is not a method I read somewhere, but it’s helped me loads and I’d like to share it with you. Since it’s my own creation, let’s call it ‘The Darker Method’. Again, this list is to be followed by order, otherwise it won’t be of much help.

1. First of all, I focus on getting some pre-work done. Before I undertake any kind of project, I make sure I understand what the heck I’m putting myself through!

In German: I clarify my goals and set priorities. This is the absolute number one step, which creates a structure of thinking throughout the whole project.

I won’t go in depth about goal-setting and prioritizing; there are many resources out there. It’s worth mentioning that I wrote this article, which mentions goal-setting (Why Do Musicians Always Feel Disappointed About Their Careers? [12], and this book about decision-making and action taking [13], which includes practical tips about prioritizing.

2. Once I’ve done the pre-work, I shift my mindset to high-value productivity. Woody Allen wrote, directed and produced 44 movies in 44 years, half of which got awards! THIS is high-value productivity. [14]

Work for the sake of work won’t take you any further than the perfect average.

Moreover, instead of working for the whole day, I found it super helpful to focus on exactly 3 hours of work per day. 3 high-value-productivity hours, forcing myself to get everything done within this timely limit.

This helped me break my constraints and cut the fluff out of the game. In 3 hours, I don’t have much time to contemplate on unnecessary stuff. Instead, I follow what Woody Allen inspired:

“Be bold in conception, but pragmatic in execution.”

No brainstorming, creative stuff or day-dreaming. Just workload that HAS TO be done.

To break this even further, I use 30-min volumes of high-value work, following the Pomodoro Technique [15] (it works great for me) and track my progress with the following principle.

3. “Just don’t break the chain!”, said Jerry Seinfeld about the way he becomes productive. He just gets his work done every day, no matter what. He focuses on not breaking the chain of work he’s created. [16]

A great way to put that in perspective is the ‘Numberless Calendars’ idea that Andrew Dubber suggested [17]. I’ve been following this method for a while now and, I got to confess, it is the perfect drug to keep me doing.

4. Ok, let’s say we’ve managed to organize our shit and become productive, with only 3 hours of work per day (it needs work, trust me).

How more awesome does our day look like now? If you wake up at 6am, like me, you’ll be done by 10am. The whole day for you to devour and do creative things.

To take this one step further, once you’ve got hold of the amount of work it takes to get specific tasks done, you can start outsourcing them. You now know exactly what it takes to get them done. Create a checklist and let other people get them done on your behalf.

Some ideas that could be handy:

• Allocate tasks to your band members. You’re a team, right?
• Ask your fans/interns to get some work done for you. The former want to be part of the experience and the latter want a better CV.
• If you have budget, find a virtual assistant and let them do specific tasks per day. There are many services out there. Just Google ‘outsourcing’.

5. Last thing to keep in mind: once you’ve understood how to manage your time and tasks effectively, it’s high time you get a manager to take you to the next level.

‘A manager will not fund your career, but will help you leverage what you’ve already built,’ says Ian Titchener, a manager and supervisor from London with more than 35 years of experience in the industry, in his interview for my book [18].

I’ve never had a manager, but I have a feeling that they will play a vital role in the era of the Musicpreneur.

Further investigation and resources are necessary to explore the present and future of music, so I reckoned it would be useful to provide some links below. They are either already mentioned in the essay or provide additional context to the issues discussed.

[5] Patrick Vlaskovits on growth hacking
[6] Midem 2014 — A Musician As A Startup
[7] Steve Blank on Lean Startups
[8] How To Build A Startup
[9] Business Model Generation Canvas
[10] Steve Keller, founder of IV Audio Branding, featured in ‘The Indecisive Musicpreneur
[11] Learn how to be a Musicpreneur at Darker Music Talks
[12] Why Do Musicians Always Feel Disappointed About Their Career?
[13] Tommy Darker — The Indecisive Musicpreneur
[14] Woody Allen and the Art of Value Productivity
[15] The Pomodoro Technique
[16] Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret
[17] Andrew Dubber — Numberless Calendar
[18] Ian Titchener, experienced music manager, featured in ‘The Indecisive Musicpreneur

The Problems Musicians Face and How To Solve Them:
Part 1 ~ Part 2 ~ Part 3 ~ Part 4 ~ Part 5 ~ Part 6a ~ Part 6b ~ Part 7

[Photo credit: Studio68.]

Tommy Darker is the writing alter ego of an imaginative independent musician and thinker about the future of the music industry. His vision is to simplify scalable concepts and make them work for independent musicians.

He is a writer about the movement of the #Musicpreneur and founder of Darker Music Talks, a global series of discussions between experts and musicians. He and his work have been featured in Berklee, TEDx, Berlin Music Week, Midem, SAE Institute, Hypebot and Topspin Media. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

This research and essay is proudly patronized by its readers.


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