In the last decade, the world has changed in a multitude of ways. Two seemingly unrelated examples of this fact are:
1. The tech landscape has spread and grown exponentially, and,
2. The formal music business has consolidated and shrunk dramatically.
What do these trends have to do with each other? Well, a whole lot more than you may think.
The rise of the independent musician has been well documented, but the success stories (for the most part) have not. On the flip side, every day a new startup is making a splash while another is changing the technological landscape as we know it.
While we think of music as art and technology as science and mathematics, when it comes to unsigned artists and startups, they are both fundamentally the same: businesses.
Accepting this premise, here are five things every musician should learn when it comes to being their own startup.
It All Begins With An Idea:
That's all it takes to start. Whether it's an app or a sound, the very first thing a musician needs to figure out is what they bring to the market. What music do you love? What's missing? What does your beat, your lyrics or your rhythm say that isn't already being said -- and are there people out there who want to hear it? Music can be something secret, something special, something just for you, right up until the second you decide you want to make a career out of it. In that moment, you need to start thinking beyond yourself and focus on what your idea brings to others.
There's No "I" in Team:
Not even a solo artist or lone wolf hacker can launch an entire career on his or her own. Figuring out the right people to surround yourself with is an important step in the process of turning music from a hobby into a job. What can't you do on your own? Who do you know (or can you find) to fill those gaps? Are there people out there willing to invest their time and effort in helping you achieve your dreams?
Start Small and Build:
No overnight success actually happens overnight. You need to hone your craft, the same way a programmer might spend hours and hours perfecting a code. It is not always fun, but it's necessary. From late nights practicing to performing at empty open-mic nights to reworking a song for the thousandth time, understanding that there will always be room for improvement is an important step on the road to becoming the artist you hope to one day be.
Know Your Goals:
What do you want from music? Every musician has his or her own idea of what "making it" means. For some, it is simply sharing their music with as many people as possible. Others would seek out an acquisition of sorts -- maybe a major label buys your songs and sets you down a song-writing path (to put this in pop culture terms, you could be Gunnar from TV's Nashville), or perhaps one signs you to a contract that makes you a star, but takes away your control of your music and your image. It could be finding a smaller label that helps you get the word out about your music while allowing you a greater say in crafting that message. Or maybe it's just touring the country in a van one summer with your best friends and a guitar. Whatever your goals are, or whatever they become (because let's face it, change is inevitable with time), keep them in mind and let them guide you through every decision you make in your musical career.
Believe In What You're Saying, Singing -- and Selling:
Launching any kind of business is hard, but when you're in the music industry and the product you're peddling is so personal -- in many ways, it's a part of you -- it can be even more difficult to deal with the many obstacles that come your way. The solution is two-fold. First, an artist must separate any criticism of their music or their performance from themselves personally. Second, like any person putting his or herself out there on a public stage, a musician must believe in themselves and their work completely. If the work isn't worth fighting for to the person who created it, then who else will? Who else will believe in you if you yourself don't?
Music moves us in profound ways that only art in its truest form can, but for any musician aiming to turn their passion into a full-time position, the business world has to be taken into account. So independent musicians, be your own startup, and take over the world one song at a time.