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One of my main goals in the work I do is to enlighten musicians on the fact that we are all entrepreneurs. As musicians, we are the captains of our own ships, directing and guiding our music business through the stormy waters of the industry.
Entrepreneurs are a unique breed, and running your own musician business requires a special set of skills and characteristics. Here are what I consider to be the top seven qualities of a successful music entrepreneur. If you think you might need development in one or more areas, I’ve provided some suggestions as to how you can make changes and invest in your entrepreneurial future.
For a more holistic approach to taking charge of your music career, I strongly suggest looking into Soundfly’s goal-oriented mentorship program, the Headliners Club. Just fill out a quick form to tell us about your musical goals and we’ll set you up with an expert Soundfly Mentor in that field who will work with you over the course of a month to help you take a major step forward with your music career.
1. Passion and Creativity
An entrepreneur is an “idea person,” not someone who simply carries out orders and follows procedures. An entrepreneur is an “out-of-the-box” thinker and visionary. Luckily for you, you’re a musician! There’s no lack of passion and creativity flowing through you, and driving your musical dreams. The key to becoming a music entrepreneur is funneling some of that creative juice into ideas about marketing and business. If the relentless pursuit of creativity and expression exists in your art, you can find a way to redirect some of that creative energy towards growth and managerial pursuits.
2. Confidence and Belief
If you’ve spent any time with a true, dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur, you’ve seen this in action. When an entrepreneur gets a new business idea, creates a new product, or pitches to investors, her excitement and rock-solid belief in the value of what she’s doing is contagious! You need to do the same.
It is essential that as a musician, you feel and act this way toward your music. Your performances, recordings, written songs, etc. are the ideas and products you introduce to the world. They are the lifeblood of your business, and it’s your job to stand behind them with confidence. When you impart that excitement you have to others, you will have no trouble making money from music.
3. Motivation and Work Ethic
The idea most often associated with entrepreneurs is being a self-starter. What distinguishes entrepreneurs from employees is that there is no one above you telling you what to do and when to do it. If you don’t do anything… nothing gets done.
This is where artists often get caught in a waiting game. Their “employee mentality” has them convinced that they need a label or manager to call the shots. Instead, they should treat their career like a start-up: get scrappy, find solutions, and make things happen. You are a small business, and 30% of small businesses fail in the first two years (over 50% fail in the first five years). Whether it’s because of a lack of idea validation or poor management, it’s almost always coupled with giving up. How are you going to beat those odds?
Entrepreneurship is not an easy road. Without a solid work ethic, you won’t make it through the lean years. You’ll never reach that magical tipping point where everything starts to get a little easier, and grow a little faster, by itself because you have built up momentum. But a strong work ethic alone won’t pull you through. You must have a solid “why” for what you’re doing to motivate you to keep going. If you are honest with yourself about why you really want to build a music career, and you connect with that “why” on a deep, existential level, that is the fire that will sustain you through the grind.
4. Competitive Drive and Determination to Succeed
I happen to have a type A personality, and it has served me well as an entrepreneur, but you don’t have to have a type A personality to be driven. Creating a culture of healthy competition with others in your space can provide the motivation you need to make forward progress. You can achieve this through an accountability partner or group. Just that little check-in on a weekly or monthly basis can give you the push you need to move forward. But don’t get sucked into “the comparison trap.” Healthy competition can very quickly degenerate into unhealthy comparison which is counter-productive. There will always be someone ahead of you in every area, so stay in your own lane and keep your eyes on the road right in front of you.
5. Taking Calculated Risks
Entrepreneurs are expected to take some risks. In fact, if you are extremely risk-averse, your business will stagnate. You need to be able to research possibilities, weigh your options, and then step out into the dark, even if you are unsure of the right path. Being willing to take a leap, in the face of fear and uncertainty, is an invaluable trait of the successful entrepreneur. On the flip side, taking uneducated guesses and uncalculated risks without doing research and with no plan to back it up is just gambling. Commit to doing your due-diligence so you can take calculated risks that will pay off in dividends.
6. Productivity and Consistency
I used to have a quiz on my website which helped musicians discover their biggest “music career killer.” Thousands of musicians took the quiz in the two years it was available. Out of five possible quiz results, the most common music career killer by far was the tendency to be a “scattered creative.”
Not all musicians are disorganized and unfocused, but I’ve found it’s often the biggest obstacle to success. Many musicians have the talent and knowledge they need to have an amazing career, but they are simply overwhelmed by their to-do list. It stops them dead in their tracks. Because I found this to be such an issue for musicians, I created a few resources to help.
To combat being overwhelmed, I built a framework called the Musician’s Profit Path. It outlines what I call the “5 Stages of Music Career Growth” and helps you determine what stage you’re at right now. From there you can figure out what you should be focusing on in the next 90 days and what you should not be focusing on so you don’t waste time and money. When you know what you should be working on, you can set concrete goals. My SMART Goals Workbook helps you harness all of your ideas and to-dos into five goals for the next 90 days. Then you learn to break those goals down into action steps that you can prioritize and schedule. Say goodbye to your endless list of tasks that make you want to give up and go on a Netflix binge.
7. Communication and Networking Skills
For musicians, communication skills are a must because your whole business is built around people — your fans, your live audience, the other musicians you work with, venue owners, songwriting collaborators… The list goes on.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s imperative that you’re a confident champion of your ideas and product. But just as important is the ability to communicate your enthusiasm with your fans and those who partner with you. When working with venues, publishers, and other industry reps, you’re essentially “selling yourself.”
So what if you’re an introvert and this kind of interaction doesn’t come naturally? This is where exercises like performing at open mics and low-key performance spaces like coffee shops, or joining an organization like Toastmasters can give you the practice you need in a safer testing environment.
How do I improve in these areas?
Unless you’re already an enormous success, I’m guessing you might need to revisit one or two of these areas to focus on improving or growing that aspect of your music career. No one can expect to be strong in every entrepreneurial quality. Take stock of your strengths and own up to your weak points, so you can plan to make improvements.
In my opinion, the best way to upgrade your skills and entrepreneurial mindset is to work with a mentor or coach. The value of a mentor is that they can help you gain a new perspective, identify your blind spots, and give suggestions on how to become better in all the above areas based on experience. They can also supply you with accountability and a little tough love, pushing you to grow even when you’re unknowingly resisting. But if that all feels a little intimidating, you can start out by taking courses to bolster your abilities as well as your confidence, productivity, and communication skills.
Finally, there are tons of free communities for musicians on Facebook where you can work on these abilities as well. If you’re a female musician, you can join my community of over 3,000 members called The Female Indie Musician Community. Online communities welcome musicians in every stage of one’s career so you won’t feel intimidated or out-of-place.
The secret eighth quality of successful entrepreneurs
It just so happens that the eighth most important quality of successful entrepreneurs is the desire to continue learning and improving. This means that a commitment to becoming a success requires devotion to self-assessment and continual self-improvement. It’s not easy to be honest about your own shortcomings, but it’s the only way to make real progress.
Make a 90-day plan to focus on one area mentioned above. At the end of the 90 days, evaluate, celebrate your success, then rinse and repeat in a new area. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll start to feel like a capable, self-assured music entrepreneur. Our community of Soundfly Mentors can help!
All of our mentored online courses come with six weeks of 1-on-1 professional coaching and feedback on your work. It’s like having a personal trainer, but for music! Share your goals with us and we’ll find a course for you, or create a custom mentorship session with a pro musician, engineer, educator, or music industry veteran, to help you achieve them.