Let’s talk small. In my last post on the musician’s micro economy, I described how we should consider resources available to us as different forms of currency that can be used to improve our careers and more generally, our lives as artists. I also introduced the concept of the portfolio career, which is essentially a vibrant career that is the sum of many small projects, talents and skills—including performance—that all contribute to financial stability for the 21st century musician.
Now let’s explore what makes up a micro economy. Follow my logic; if businesses make up the economy (in the traditional sense) then micro businesses make up the micro economy. So now, let’s talk small. I mean, really small. Marcel-the-Shell-with-Shoes-On small. Let’s talk about how you can make your claim in the music micro economy by being excellent, by being focused and by starting out very, very small.
For many musicians, the word business makes us anxious, second only to the word taxes. It makes us want to run back to our practice room and play scales until we are calm again. Don’t laugh; you know I’m talking to you. Yet income, finances, taxes, and dare I say it—money—are essential to our everyday lives. So whether we want to think about it or not, money rears its green, ugly head in all parts of our career. The concept of the micro economy is applicable to all kinds of artists, but for musicians of the 21st century, it’s actually a way of life. Have you ever given thought to all the ways money influences your career? Whether it’s trying to purchase that new instrument, cashing a paycheck from a gig, travel costs for a gig, paying other colleagues fairly to perform with or for us, the list goes on and on forever. We need to make money and we need to spend it. That earning and spending is the most basic essence of what an economy is. Therefore, it’s not too far of a stretch to then think of individual artists as little businesses—micro businesses who specialize in creativity and art. We are micro-businesses in a creative economy.
I realize that I may have just lost some of you. I compared you to a business and you were like #bye. Just hang in there for a moment. The good news is that there has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a micro business in a creative economy. As you might have read on this blog, I’m fascinated with the millennial culture. After all, I am one myself. I’m constantly marveling out our rebellious nature, our determination to see ideas come to life, and the effect our sheer will has on society. Artists have always been a rebellious lot but millennial artists, those young people of the millennial generation from all artistic disciplines who identify as professionals in their respective art forms, are undeniably impacting the global society and economy in ways we never before thought possible. In the coming Tuxedo Revolt blog posts, we’ll explore how you can embrace the idea of being a micro business and also explore new platforms and marketplaces allowing the modern performing artist to grow their micro business. We’ll look at how small and excellent is the new model for the emerging artist professional.
Marcel-the-Shell said, “Some people say my head is too big for my body—I say, COMPARED TO WHAT?!” Marcel had the right idea. Another way of saying it might be though our size as a micro business is small (obviously), we can still have (and do have) an enormous impact on the world’s creative economy.
In order for musicians to thrive in today’s economy, we have to first understand it. Even a basic understanding is essential if today’s musicians are to cultivate a viable career from their craft. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in economics to comprehend how the new economic landscape is shaping the careers of new generations of musicians.
A dictionary defines micro economy as “The study of how businesses, households, and individuals within an economy allocate limited resources.” I think musicians of all stripes can relate all too well to the bit about limited resources. But in order to make this more real to you—try to consider all the possible meanings of the word resources outside of just money. Practice time, planning time, energy, equipment, favors from friends and colleagues are all forms of resources that musicians commonly use as currency that is either spent or earned. For musicians, it is important to look at the term micro economy in a very broad sense and consider all the different activities we do that contribute to our overall career.
Do you remember those long lists of “music professions” that your well-meaning high school guidance counselor may have shared with you back when you first considered “going into music” (to your parents’ horror) as a profession? It listed jobs like: arranger, sound designer, composer, performer, copyist, music teacher, song writer, recording technician, etc. You remember those, right? You probably remember the sinking feeling you had of “Oh my God, how will I ever pick one of these?!” The good news is that you don’t have to specialize in just one area. Today’s musicians are expected to have basic skills in all these areas and many more. It’s the new Micro Economy that has placed diverse demands on musicians’ careers. The economy is reshaping our profession in ways we never thought possible even four to five years ago.
In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore numerous micro opportunities that musicians can pursue to build a portfolio career. You might already be doing some of them and there will be a few more you haven’t yet heard of. We’ll also discuss the many new markets that have emerged for musicians to either generate income from their music or help connect them to a greater number of potential audience members. It’s a whole new world out there for professional musicians.
Lastly, I’d like to put a disclaimer out there near the conclusion of the first post in this series—No one is telling you to let go of that dream of winning your big orchestra job, launching that solo career, or rocketing to stardom in classical music. In fact, it is my wish that you do make that happen for yourself. This series is for everyone else, for the thousands of other excellent musicians out there (some fresh out of school) who are trying to gain a foothold in “the business” at the onset of their professional career. This series is to help us all better understand our individual Micro Economy and how to best make decisions that will allow us to support the passion for music that we all share.
I love to feature artists on this blog who are passionately sharing their art and/or craft with others by means of their own entrepreneurship. Several months ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Nicole Newman, founder of Yoga for the Arts. After five minutes of conversation, I knew that I had to share Nicole’s work with all of my readers.
So what is Yoga for the Arts exactly? It’s stated mission reads:
“Yoga for the Arts combats performance-related injuries and anxieties, which undermine confidence and performance potential. Yoga for the Arts is about preventing the preventable and early intervention through changes in habit. Artists are empowered to take ownership of their health by fully inhabiting their bodies through breath-centered yoga sequences, tailored to meet the individual’s specific needs and goals.”
When speaking with Nicole, I was captivated by her passion and commitment for the fusion of entrepreneurship with artistic training. While interviewing Nicole for this profile, I came to understand that for her, creativity and imagination drive both her artistry and business. I asked her to describe the moment when she came to realize that she needed to pursue an entrepreneurial path in order for her to find career fulfillment.
“I became an entrepreneur out of a deeply rooted conviction to help the countless musicians who unnecessarily endure debilitating performance-related pain and injury. A coherent health and wellness curricula for musicians does not currently exist, in spite of the very real need. I am responding to this unmet need – especially for young musicians, where early intervention is paramount.”
Filling the gaps that result in the absence of a well-rounded approach to a musician/performer’s training was an area of common ground between Nicole and myself. On this blog and in many public forums I have both spoken and written about the importance of building a complete ‘toolbox’ of strategies, skills, and resources that musicians can draw upon when they leave school and enter the world as professional artists. I asked Nicole how Yoga for the Arts fits in the larger structure for the need of “life skills” in a musician’s training.
“In addition to being an accomplished performer, the modern musician must excel in marketing, sales, networking, opportunity evaluation, mental fortitude and time management skills, just to have a chance of earning a living. Unfortunately, health and wellness falls to the wayside, to the detriment of all their other responsibilities. A simple approach to preventative wellness, however, can easily fit into a daily routine, but it needs to be made a priority and taught in concert with the other mandatory skills to create a sustainable career.”
As I usually close my profiles on The Tuxedo Revolt Blog, I like to ask my guests if there is any advice they’d like to share with readers about their entrepreneurial/artistic experience. Nicole has 5 tips to share with you:
1. Answer the 10 Questions inspired by Guy Kawasaki:
- What is the problem?
- What is the solution?
- How big is the market?
- What makes it so special? (Find the underlying magic of your solution and package it in your 30-second pitch.)
- What is the competition?
- What exactly is your business model?
- How exactly will you make sales?
- Have you assembled a qualified team?
- How will you secure required resources?
- What are you proposing for an investment?
2. Network relentlessly. Tell everyone – even people who you think have no connection to your market.
3. Take reasonable risks and embrace failing forward.
4. Know how to pivot and innovate to readjust your business by listening to your clients, not your critics. (Tip: Read the subtleties of your clients’ micro-expressions)
5. Give back. What goes around comes around. You will find that paying it forward not only spreads the word – it contributes to your growth as an entrepreneur.
“And, as my teacher in India avows, “Be strong. Don’t fear. Lift higher.”
Thanks for stopping by to read today’s Tuxedo Revolt Blog post. I have more profiles planned in the coming months.
In recent years, there’s been a paradigm shift in what the career of the modern performing artist looks like. It is a difficult reality for many, as it was for me, that technical skills + talent are no longer enough to build a career in the performing arts. Make no mistake, these are still the perquisites if you want to (pardon the pun) play in the big leagues. But now we are asked to do much more than would have ever been dreamed of just a few years ago.
Sure– teaching, being a good orchestral musician as well as being knowledgeable of the standard solo repertoire, knowing how to lead a master class or give a pre-concert lecture– these have always been multi-faceted and reasonable expectations for a performing musician. But could you start an El Sistema nucleo or teach a room full of 9 year olds if asked to do so? What do you know about attracting and engaging audiences, marketing, and networking through social media? I mean more than just Facebook and Twitter; what about other popular platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Digg, Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit? How’s your
ability to run a rehearsal, or apply for grants, or make a budget, or itemize a strategic plan for any ensemble or group with which you might be performing?
Can you easily translate what you do when speaking to others? Or better yet, can you translate what you do when writing to others– and by others I mean potential funders? Can you make a clear
and simple argument about your passion for the art you practice? Do you want to play in an orchestra? That’s great– but how will you be able to contribute to the sustainability of your group? Are you familiar with good fiscal management? Do you have an arsenal of audience engagement ideas that you can offer to the Artistic Director?
And what about money? Do you have a plan in place to pay off those loans? Are you putting away money for a rainy day when work slows down? What are you doing to get more paid performance opportunities? Do you have a strategy to sustain your career over the long-term?
STOP. ENOUGH QUESTIONS ALREADY.
Okay— now breathe. I’ll agree that was a little rough. It’s okay if you don’t have answers to all of these questions (yet). I didn’t a few years ago. That’s when I confronted the reality that if I wanted to be a musician of the 21st century, I had to do more. The truth is, at first I didn’t like all the extra stuff. There once was a time when I thought that I would jump through the hoops of higher education, get my degree and win my orchestra job. Or at the very least, I would gig enough to make ends meet until I could win that big job. I wanted the simplicity of practice, perform, repeat.
But what I learned in my struggle to grapple with the enormity of all these new necessary qualifications was that I loved music more than I didn’t like all the other stuff.
I wanted a life filled with music, to perform, to champion music of others. I wanted to be on the scene, I wanted to be connected, I wanted to live the life of a performing musician. That’s when I realized that all the other stuff was present in the lives of nearly all the professional musicians I knew. This wasn’t knowledge I had to learn as a penalty for failing at a performance career as I had imagined and chided myself so many times. This was the real education. This stuff was what made the life I wanted possible.
I urge you to think big and embrace an optimistic attitude towards all that you do in music. When learning a new piece of music you might run across something that you can’t already perform. You know you will slowly learn how to bring it to life. It’s the same idea with these entrepreneurial-administrative-organizational-whatever-you-want-to-call-it skills (all the other stuff). If you don’t know how, just invest some time to learn. It’s an experience of growth, humility, and learning–ironically, it’slike learning to play a new instrument.
You are an individual with unique values, goals, passions, and interests. As an artist, you may have broad and often conflicting interests while simultaneously you are deliciously engrossed in the minutia of a singular niche. For the entrepreneur, there are no rules that say you must give up any of your interests or passions for a career. If someone says you can’t make a living pursuing multiple passions, then you need to run the other direction.
2. It’s a dumb idea to say that a music career can be defined by any one kind of job.
Yep, I said it. That’s dumb. The truth is there are as many kinds of music careers as there are genres of music—literally thousands. When you consider the how many possible combinations of music careers there could be, the options are seemingly endless.
3. Creative people need freedom to create—and it’s okay to honor that need.
Musicians can be wonderfully creative, frenetic, sporadic, and illustrious people. When we have our freedom to create and experiment, we can accomplish truly unbelievable feats. But what happens when you clip a bird’s wings? It can’t fly. The same is true for the musician. When our “jobs” take over we can forget or ignore or suppress our spontaneous creative urges. The creative flame grows dull. This feeling does not just express itself in the lives of many musicians who have taken on the thankless “day job”. It can also be expressed in the lives of performing musicians whose orchestra or ensemble has become more a prison than a blank canvas for their art. Music entrepreneurship is built on the idea that the job/income is built around accommodating your individual artist needs.
4. There is a difference between owning your life’s work, and wishing you did.
That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. When you pursue entrepreneurial projects, you undergo a dramatic mental shift. You realize that your success is now in your own hands. This knowledge will give you incredible energy to pursue the path(s) you love. No doubt, you will face struggles and obstacles between you and your goals. However, you will own that struggle and it will only serve to temper your resolve to see your goal to its realization. Entrepreneurs make their own decisions and for better or worse.
5. Entrepreneurs aren’t victims.
No longer are you the victim in a world where (shudder) “the arts are dying.” Rather, you view yourself as part of the solution the arts need. You will view yourself as a positive force that fixes problems or addresses conflict in the arts world. By setting your own course, you are free to be flexible and agile when making career choices. When you experience a setback, you can change directions in a second and minimize or avoid the setback altogether. You have complete control over your entrepreneurial enterprises and can be free to take the action you feel is best for you. In short, you don’t allow yourself to be the victim of someone else’s circumstances.
Though this list is far from comprehensive, I hope that it showcases some of the benefits that an entrepreneurial career has to offer. It takes bravery to be a music entrepreneur as you may find yourself breaking from your comfort zone. Just remember, there is no feeling like owning your own successes, taking charge of your life, and putting your creativity first. There’s nothing like it in the entire world.