Are you an artist or a business?
“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” Jay-Z
Are you an artist or a business? Does data analysis have a place among lyrical genius? And more topically, are you a band or a brand?
The answers to these questions are not found in simplistic soundbites of an industry that used to exist. Yes, creativity is important and being an artist is key to the construction of inventive musical gambits. However, in 2019 it’s quite possible that the merit of your artistic genius is not enough to cut through.
Digital technology moves on with great strides every year. Constant adaptation leads to platforms and devices that five years ago were a dream. Not only that, technology has been a massive disruptor in the creative industries. It has fundamentally changed the landscape of the music business by bringing power back to the musician.
We can upload our tracks to thousands of retailers with the push of a button and control our reach via social networks. This however, is old news, and was pioneered by bands such as “Enter Shikari” during the myspace era. It’s commonly accepted knowledge and, every band, solo artist, producer, and DJ is playing the same game. Making connection with an audience a competitive affair. You need to stand out to get heard through the noise. You need a strategy and you need to take your originality and apply it into novel ideas of audience engagement.
But I’m an artist, man
I know, the point of this article is not to convince you to change your creative ways. However, the goal is to illustrate what competencies will allow you to create art sustainably. In turn, giving you more freedom to create for a longer period.
Let me tell you a story, when I started at music college my head was filled with notions of what it meant to be a musician. I felt that the business talk and truisms were at odds with the great art I was listening to. Arrogant I know, the comical reality is that I was originally a nu-metal fan, any notion of a musical renaissance was perhaps, misplaced.
Being a cash-poor original artist was not a sustainable path. I had good creative intentions but the need to pay rent or move back in with the folks meant I had to take any job to survive. I ended up working in a nonmusical job after another, and gradually working more hours for the money. Within three years of leaving university I had sold out, I was working in recruitment and was truly money focused.
Where had it gone wrong? I wanted to be “true to the art” but ended up working 9-5. With reflection, it’s clear that the issue was in the belief of a 70’s Hollywood vision of how the music industry worked. Perhaps I had learned this notion from one too many VH1 & MTV documentaries. Although inspiring, the stories told were not based on the modern music industry. A story of how Jaco Pastorius rose to be the biggest bass player, is not the same story that VulfPeck embarked on to give Joe Dart a spotlight.
Don’t be fooled by the romance
You need to understand how the music business works in 2019. Don’t be fooled by notions of how your favourite historic artist made it. You are operating in a completely different landscape. That being said there is one universal – you still need to make excellent music!
Gone are the days where you can play at your local and hope that A&R will offer you the deal that will set you up. It is now commonly accepted that you need to grow your brand to the point where it has large grassroots following to attract industry attention. This means you need a business mind to break through and survive.
Managing the team
If you are a solo artist, you will be responsible for the entirety of your career. And, as time is a finite resource you will be making decisions on what needs to be delegated to freelancers. However, if you are a band – team management can be a bit more complicated.
You will need to work out who the key players are and then who is responsible for what role. You will then need to steer the ship and manage any projects that you choose to work on. That can be anywhere from a music release, a video shoot or your marketing plan.
By describing these areas, it’s all starting to feel a bit business-like. If this is turning your stomach and you are more concerned with the actualisation of your art – then remember the reason you are doing this. You need to make sure the art you have worked so hard on, gets heard by the maximum number of relevant fans that share in your genre’s vision. In essence, the business is a necessary tool to facilitate the wider appreciation of your creations.
By now you will be starting to see that on hand truly feeds the other. Business acumen is the necessary driver that makes significant changes to the reach of your projects. We are not talking about floating on the FTSE here, but making watertight plans that help you reach your goals.
You need to be comfortable wearing two hats, one for the creative which is intangible and focused on producing great music at all costs. And another, that’s is strategising ways of sustainable success within the systems of commerce set up by your ancestors and peers. In my opinion, it’s only with the symbiosis of both these areas that you will achieve success and meet your goals as an artist.