In today’s day and age, a time in which making a living playing and performing original music seems like all but a fantasy, the perception of what it means to be in a band has changed greatly. If you want to make a career out of it, there’s a lot more you need to do than simply writing, recording and performing your songs.
As a member of a band, you’re working on a shoestring budget, with a small close-knit group of people, constantly multi-tasking in an effort to (hopefully) turn a profit in the not-so-distant future. That sounds a lot like running a small business or startup, doesn’t it?
The truth is that approaching a career in music as if it were a small business is truly the only option if you want to be successful in today’s landscape. Still not convinced? Here are four ways in which your strategy for running your band needs to mirror strategies for running a small business in order to have chance of surviving and prospering.
You Need a Day Job
Many people still romanticize the idea of being in a band. They read stories from the 1960s of young musicians who drop out of school in order to dedicate themselves to their craft and eventually find the gold at the end of their rainbow. But that’s just not how it works today, not in 99.9% of cases.
If you’re trying to build a career in music, that means that you’re still not making any money from your playing. Which means that you not only need something to fall back on, you need a source of income that’s going to be able to fuel your efforts to launch your music career. The same goes for starting a small business of your own.
Whether you like it or not, the best way to launch a small business is by working on it part-time while you’re still holding a job that’s going to support you while you try to make sense of your own business.
While wearing a suit and tie and “working for the Man” certainly isn’t very rock’n’roll, it would be foolish to think that you’re going to be able to live off your music while you’re still in the early stages of making a name for yourself.
If you simply hate nine to fives you could always teach music lessons or play in a wedding band. Regardless, you’re going to need another source of income to survive.
Time Management is Essential
If you’re playing in a band, that means that you’re not the only person needed to make it work. You have a number of other people that you depend on. Being able to properly coordinate with your bandmates is absolutely essential. The same goes for running a small business. If you have any partners helping, there’s a good chance that all of them have completely different schedules – making the ability to organize yourselves accordingly essential.
Not only do the other members of your band probably have day jobs of their own, there’s a good chance that they have school, a family, and a variety of other things that you are going to need to coordinate around.
Many small businesses today are turning to online employee scheduling software to help them coordinate and communicate better. This might not be a bad idea for your band either. No matter what you choose to do, whether you want to coordinate in an online calendar, a spreadsheet or using some type of more advanced scheduling tool, make sure you do something about it.
Nothing builds animosity in a band like members not respecting each other’s schedules. If band members are missing meetings, rehearsals and writing sessions frequently – whether on purpose or because your coordination is always off – things are going to get really ugly, really quickly.
You’ll Need to Invest
One of the first steps in becoming an independent small business owner is figuring out from where your start-up capital is going to come. The same goes for running a serious band. Musical equipment isn’t cheap. If you’re going to print and sell your own merchandise, that’s also going to cost money. Want to get on the bill with a bigger band to open the show for them or tour with an already well-known band for exposure? That can cost money as well.
One of the good things about being in a band is that you can pool your money together. Of course, the best practice is to make sure that everyone in the band is contributing evenly when it comes to financing the group.
Start-up money can come from bandmates, friends and family, bank loans or various business support and development services that tend to the needs of creatives. Deciding how you are going to fund your efforts should be seen as a very serious and integral part of the process.
You might even want to consider crowd-funding options like Kickstarter and the many similar services that are currently available for creatives seeking financial aid to bring their ideas to life.
No matter what route you decide to take, it has become clear in today’s music industry that no one can make it to the big leagues based solely on their talent. Most record labels won’t even look at you, regardless of how good your music may be, if they do not see that your band has had success funding itself and building a following on its own first.
Your Marketing Budget Will Be Small
In the formative stages of running a small business or band, you can pretty much forget about having any type of marketing budget. There are more pressing places your money needs to be allocated, which means that you are going to have to rely on inexpensive and free marketing methods to get your name out.
Thankfully, the Internet has really helped greatly when it comes to spreading your name around the globe. You used to have to get on tour right away and travel the country, play clubs, talk to locals, hand out flyers and demos, in order for fans to recognize you. Now you can build a following across the globe without even playing a single gig.
There is a big downside to this of course, and that is that the competition is greater than it has ever been. With access to the Internet and a musician’s ability today to record professional-grade music from their bedrooms, there are more quality acts out there than ever.
Despite the fact that you can promote yourself online, you are probably going to have to spend some money on things like Facebook ads to get your name out there anyway. You are probably going to have to hire a manager, a booking agent, PR people to help you promote your band as well.
Sure, you might be able to do a lot of these things yourself at the start – just as you would when running a small business – but sooner or later, you are going to have to add more people to the payroll if you want to see real results and growth.
As you can see, running a small business and a running a band is a lot more similar than you probably thought. And these similarities mentioned here only start to scratch the surface. Once your band, or business, ascend to a new level of success, the similarities become even more glaring. You’ll need accountants and lawyers, for starters.
The fact of the matter is that if you want to have a long and successful career in music, you are going to have to treat your career like a small business. Treat it like your baby and be very hands-on with every aspect of the process.
Whatever you do, be sure to keep your focus on remember why you are doing all this. Because you love music and you want to be able to live off your passion. Sounds a lot like the reason successful entrepreneurs give for striking out on their own, doesn’t it?