What musicians should learn from entrepreneurs

In this piece, David Andrew Wiebe explains why artists need to recognize that they themselves are running a small business, and how the rules of entrepreneurship can help guide them to success.

Guest post by David Andrew Wiebe of the Symphonic Blog

This guest post was written by David Andrew Wiebe, the founder and CEO of Music Entrepreneur HQ, host of The New Music Industry Podcast, and best-selling author of The Music Entrepreneur Code. 

Can Artists Really Learn Anything from Entrepreneurs?

The truth is, artists can’t learn anything from entrepreneurs… Why? They are entrepreneurs. A lot of them just haven’t recognized themselves as such. However, I’ve been exploring the connection between music and entrepreneurship for nine long years. Whether you call it “musicpreneurship”, “artist entrepreneurship”, “music entrepreneurship”, or otherwise, we’re fundamentally talking about the same thing.

For the better part of 21 years, in addition to writing, recording, and performing music, I’ve also been a graphic and web designer, ghostwriter, freelance writer, blogger, author, podcaster, YouTuber, course creator, marketer, and more. Whether it’s fusing my various passions (I call that “creative alchemy”) or building a coaching business within the music industry (Music Entrepreneur HQ), I’m not just a knowledgeable expert on this topic – I have spent many years living it.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re serious about creating the life you love through music…

Recognize That You Are Already a Small Business Owner

As a musician, your audience has already been built. You aren’t starting from scratch. All you’ve got to do is identify who already has access to your audience (other musicians, influencers, magazines, etc.), and work your way in by creating relationships with them. Then, you can work to buy your way in with great advertising, retargeting, sponsored posts, etc.

Shift Your Mindset

“Employees work for money and other people. — Entrepreneurs have money and people work for them.” 

Many artists will spend their productive life chasing what they see as being the holy grail – a record contract. Yet, getting a record contract means working your tush off to build a huge, engaged, profitable fan base, and then turning over all control to a label. Then, you hand over 80 to 90% of your revenue over. (Sometimes more.)

What’s the alternative? 

You can remain an independent artist. You can maintain control of your huge, engaged, profitable fan base. With independent distributors (Like Symphonic Distribution) you can still hire a team and still come out on top, but with most of the revenue going towards a personalized team you vetted, hired, and treat like a family.

Independently, you keep the rights to everything you deserve with a team that has your back 100% of the time.


How to Know if Signing a Recording Contract Is Right For You

How To Set Better Goals As A Musician

Where Does The Money from Master Recordings Come From?

How Traditional Physical Distribution and Retail Work


Create a Long-Term Vision

The most successful people I know are those who believe in themselves, and have a vivid, clearly defined long-term vision of what they’d like to create in this world. And they are ruthlessly committed to that vision.

What most people do is make decisions based on where they’re at today, based on the resources and connections available to them now. It’s a form of insanity when you look at it closely because you’re acting based on things you already have while expecting different results. Not based on things you can get or work towards getting.

Let’s make an honest assessment of the situation. — Whether it’s The Beatles, Metallica, Billy Talent, or just about anyone else you can name, success was 10 years in the making. If they’re so talented, so amazing, and so lucky, why should we expect the journey to be any different for us?

No long-term vision, no success. New entrepreneurs don’t look at the money their business can make for them today. They look at the money their business can make for them three, five, and even 10 years from now.

Take Charge of Your Growth

If you like burying your head in the sand, artist entrepreneurship clearly isn’t for you. You need to become relentless in your study of networking, marketing, leadership, entrepreneurship, and more.

I can just about guarantee any time you spend growing yourself is worth the investment, and it will return to you tenfold. It will be of more use to you than spending more time on social media, and when you come to the end of your life, you will not regret that you didn’t spend more time on Facebook. — “7 Things Musicians Should Be Investing Money In” breaks down multiple avenues you should be taking advantage of…

Be the Most Consistent Person You Can be

Leadership expert John Maxwell says the most successful people he knows are those who are consistent. Is consistency sexy? Does it feel good when other people tell you, “Wow, you’re such a consistent person?” — Probably not.

But I agree with Maxwell… Successful people aren’t those without emotion. But they do exhibit a level of stability and consistency often unseen in people who are far more naïve. There will be ups and downs in your music career, regardless of how well you execute. So, don’t wish for paradise. Pray for the right challenges to come your way. That way, you can grow and learn from them.

Legitimize – Fast Iteration

If you think you’ve “got something,” then you want to get to your first dollar as soon as possible. Get your first music sale. Your first T-shirt sale. Your first gig. Find validation. Then, and only then, can you proceed to grow the idea.

Before you call this selling out, recognize that you should be able to do this with any idea, assuming you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone. There are successful artists in every genre, so there’s no excuse.

However, some ideas do better than others.

  • Trent Reznor had multiple projects before he settled on Nine Inch Nails. He ran with Nine Inch Nails because it grew faster than any other project he had launched.
  • Jack Conte, CEO and co-founder of Patreon as well as one-half of Pomplamoose, is the master of iteration. He had to overcome publishing music before he thought it was perfect, and he kept trying and
    reworking the formula until his music connected with an audience at scale.

Front Row Mentality

You are not a victim. Your life is your responsibility. Your music career is yours.

Do not give into “the luck of the draw”. You are exactly where you are, and that’s not by accident. YOU are the one who got you to where you are. — Take ownership.

Teach your audience exactly how they should behave when you release music or put on a show. Be the first one there and the last to leave. Shake every hand. Listen to every word on bated breath. Demonstrate enthusiasm and passion from start to finish.

Don’t give into the post-album or post-show blues.

You’re just getting started. And if you let off the gas after a release or show, you will miss most of the low hanging fruit that comes from the simple act of following up.

Concluding Thoughts

The truth is, we don’t just learn from entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs learn from us, too. Because when it comes to early adoption, there’s no demographic faster to jump on new trends to experiment than musicians. Fuse the two and you’ve got someone who’s unstoppable in music, in business, and in life. They will encounter great challenges, but the person they become through that process will be rare indeed.

David Andrew Wiebe is the founder and CEO of Music Entrepreneur HQ, host of The New Music Industry Podcast, and the best-selling author of The Music Entrepreneur Code.

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