Taking control of the business side of your music career

October 30, 2016, 7:13 PM · For those of us who feel we "don't have a choice" but to do music, a fulfilling musical career is worth fighting for. The question remains how we can ensure a stable income and what can we do to make sure our calendars fill with work.

Many musicians assume that there's a direct line between musical ability and income. I strongly disagree, except in the increasingly rare cases in which one lands an audition for a long term gig.

Consider how many musicians who play beneath your level are making more money than you. Now consider how many amazing musicians are not working. This should be enough to convince you that musical skill does not always correlate with getting gigs. The most successful free lance musicians got lucky, have an incredible network, or built a successful business through hard work and skillful promotion. The only thing you can control, besides your playing, is the quality of your business execution.

The restaurant business is a great analogy. Eight out of ten restaurants supposedly fail, and I'd bet that most of these restaurants are launched by chefs who make really tasty food! The reason they fail is presumably because there's a difference between cooking well and running a restaurant. Being good at your craft is different than being good at the business of selling your craft. If you want to grow your career quickly, I recommend that instead of spending time in the practice room, you start developing some business chops.

Most musicians dislike business. We just want to play music, and asking for money feels pushy and dirty. If you believe in the value of your music, you must be comfortable with the monetary value of your work. It takes income to make time to practice, take lessons, prepare new works, let alone providing for our families.

Sales and marketing make up the engine of business, while having clear goals, organizational skills and a strong mindset help keep that engine running.

Assuming you can provide a service which fills a need and has a value, you need to offer that product persistently and effectively to as many of the right people as you possibly can. The more offers you make, the more gigs you will land and the more money you will be able to earn.

It's really that simple.

The mountain is there in front of you. Are you going to climb it or not?


Here’s a process you can use to create a burst of income or develop a new project. It's the same process that I'll guide people through in my next My 2.0 month-long online interactive course Nov. 15-Dec15

  1. Decide how many hours per week you will devote to proactively working on your business.This is not practice time. It's time devoted to doing your business.
  2. Choose a very specific goal or goals (not more than 3).

    -Is it a long term or short term goal? If you are strapped for cash, you should include at least one “short term” goal, If money isn’t an issue, you can focus on long term projects.

    Write down 1-3 specific goals. If you aren’t sure, then post several options and explain the pros and cons as you see them. I recommend a maximum of three (one or two is totally fine).

    Examples of what are NOT typically good goals (because these are usually a means to an end):

    Build a website
    Make a Facebook page
    Produce an album

    Here are better examples of short term and long term goals:

    • Get more work playing sideperson gigs. (where/how much/what type)
    • Create an additional $200 per week in income from private teaching
    • Get more gigs with your own ensemble playing at bigger festivals/venues
    • Establish a 501(c)(3) organization to spearhead several grant-funded projects.
    • Create a booking agency
    • Start a remote recording or production service

  3. Create a marketing/sales/action plan related to each goal. The plan should include:

    -Who are the related contacts or prospects (the buyers or the decision makers who can provide you with a gig)

    -What are the best ways to reach these contacts with your offer (contact info and preferred mode of contact)

    The Pitch: sales letters, videos, voice mails, or scripts. You may need multiple letters. For example, a letter for the first touch, a letter for when people say they are interested, a letter asking for referrals, etc.

  4. Develop marketing collateral, e.g., presentations, audio, video, website, images, flyers, social media pages, testimonials, social posts, email signatures or templates. Describe your service or product in three ways: a) in a sentence, b) in a paragraph, c) in a page. (A five-word description is great too.) Your sales materials must be about the benefits your service provides to your clients. List the features of your service, but more importantly, list the benefits it provides.


    My new music business course will provide these benefits to working musicians: more income, more time, more desirable gigs, and more impact.

    My new music business course has the following components: Personalized support, group calls, peer-support, curriculum resources, etc.

  5. Go into action. Start making offers. Promote, market, and sell! Make your offer over and over again until people tell you "no". Tweak your offers based on feedback you get from potential clients. Do it everyday, like your life depends on it.

    Effective sales requires persistence/patience, organization, and confidence. there are various tactics and strategies, but for most of us, the psychology behind selling is even more important.

    Frame your offers in terms of asking for advice, referrals, or gigs.
    Present them via email, social media messages, texts, phone calls, or face to face.

    Identify your “go to” tools such as CRM, auto responders, email marketing applications, Facebook or YouTube ads, email signatures, templates, LinkedIn messages, social media campaigns, time saving apps. Delegate wherever possible to lighten the load.

    Be very clear about “why" you are building your business, what your purpose is, and what you want. For example, I work hard because I want to support my family. I work hard because I want to have a vacation once a year. I work hard because I want to make a difference in the world with my music. I work to build my business because I really love to make music, and I really don't want to do another job.

    Not every salesperson needs to be gregarious and outgoing. Craft an approach in keeping with who you authentically are.

  6. Mindset: Business is practical, but mindset is crucial. Beyond answering the question “WHY” you want to do music for a living, it will help you tremendously to be Responsible, Kind, Grateful, Confident, and In Service. Too many musicians seem to have an attitude that the world owes them something just because they're good at playing their instrument. Instead, be in service to others through the music you make (or teach!). Allow the impact of the beauty you bring to the world to be a cause that lifts you up such that you are willing to unabashedly fight for it.


October 31, 2016 at 04:31 PM · Wow -- some useful advice there.

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