I’ve been running my own business since 2007. I decided to start working for myself because I was tired of working for other people. It was really that simple. I didn’t want to have a set schedule and a boss, so I figured out a way to work on my own terms. It wasn’t easy. I had a lot of ups and downs in the beginning, but I did it and now, eight years later, I have both a thriving business and a satisfying music career that together provide a very comfortable lifestyle.
In many ways, being a musician and being an entrepreneur are very similar endeavors. Being a musician, essentially, is a form of entrepreneurship. If you’re doing things like making music and selling it yourself, booking your own shows, managing your own youtube channel, running your own website and so on, you are an entrepreneur. Even something like giving music lessons as an independent contractor, is a form of entrepreneurship. This is what I did, for seven years, prior to launching my own internet business in 2007. I think my teaching experience is one of the reasons my transition to working completely for myself was fairly smooth. I already had the mindset of being my own boss and creating my own schedule. I just decided to take it a step further and cut out the middleman, like music store owners, store managers and so on.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against working for someone else. There is a time and place for most of us where this is absolutely necessary. You learn valuable business and social skills by working as a part of an organization. If anything, my experience working for myself has given me more respect for different bosses and people I’ve had to answer to over the years. Running a business and dealing with employees is stressful. It’s hard to understand the type of pressure business owners feel until you do it yourself.
I’ll never forget one interaction I had with the owner of one of the music schools I used to work at as the executive director. I felt like my boss was unfairly hard on myself and the other teachers that worked there. One day, my boss, Frank, was really pissed at one of the teachers that he caught watching youtube videos in between lessons. The thing is, we were all on a salary, as opposed to being paid only for lessons we gave. So we were technically employees, accountable to Frank, and had other duties beyond just giving music lessons. When Frank got angry and yelled at Spike, the teacher he caught “slacking off”, I told Frank to “relax and that he needed to chill out”. “Then you pay him goddammit”, Frank sternly replied.
I’ve often thought about this interaction over the years when dealing with the stress of dealing with my own employees and people that I’ve worked with. Managing people that you are paying to work for you is stressful. Being the person ultimately responsible for generating the money that you are providing to people to live their lives is stressful. It’s hard to comprehend just how stressful it is until you are the person in this position.
But despite all the stress of entrepreneurship and being self employed, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s stress and hard work regardless of what path you take in life. When you’re self employed, there’s still stress and challenges, but you can work when and where you choose, and on projects you choose. Any downside is more than offset by the degree of flexibility it provides in terms of how you live your life. At least that’s my take on it.
Why I think more musicians should consider going down this route
Here’s the thing. The music industry in 2016 is like the wild, wild west. No one quite has it all figured out and there really isn’t any formula or path that you can go down that will guarantee success with your music. You need to be extremely creative, passionate, flexible and hard working to succeed in the music business. You need to try different things, fail, try again and keep going until you figure out what works. In other words, you need to be an entrepreneur.
Although everything I’ve done over the last eight years to make money is in some way related to the music business, not everything I do is directly related to my own music. This used to bother me. I’m a musician I would say proudly when people asked me “what I do”. I still answer this way when I get asked this question. But the dichotomy of running a business and being a musician no longer feels incongruent to me. Everything I do business wise helps everything I do music wise and vice versa.
If I create a new course and interview a music industry expert like a supervisor or professional songwriter, that gives me valuable knowledge that I can take and directly apply to my own music career. Conversely, if I land a new licensing placement or publishing deal, that gives me more experience and credibility that I can bring back to the business side of things. It’s all connected and all related. The music-business connection is sort of like the mind-body connection. The mind follows the body and the body follows the mind. The same is true in music and business. Growth in either area positively affects the other.
For example, I have learned invaluable marketing and communication skills from running my business that I apply to marketing my own music and dealing with people on the business side of things. I'll be using a lot of the same principles that I use to market my products and courses when I release the digital version of my latest CD, Shooting Stars, coming out later this year.
Although the creative act of writing a song is very different from the business skills needed to successfully negotiate something like a licensing deal, you really need to know how to do both in order to succeed. Making music and writing music is really just one part of launching a music career. It’s an extremely important part, no doubt. But in 2016 it pays to understand the business part of the music business, since the days of labels developing artists from the ground up don’t really exist anymore.
The Freedom Of Entrepreneurship
In many ways, I was drawn to music for the same reason that I was drawn to entrepreneurship and the idea of being my own boss. I wanted to live a life of purpose, creativity and freedom. I wanted to be able to both express myself and live my life on my terms. Being a musician/entrepreneur has allowed me to do both. Although there are difficult challenges when it comes to running your own business and I’ve had some struggles along the way, for the most part, I truly enjoy everything I do. I love writing blog posts, doing podcasts, creating courses, doing webinars and working with other musicians. I enjoy these things almost as much as I do writing music.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
Learning new skills also forces you to grow. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last eight years, it’s that I can figure things out. I have an enormous amount of confidence in my own inner resourcefulness and stick-to-it-iveness that I simply didn’t have before I became a full blown entrepreneur. This sense of confidence has come as a direct result of learning to deal with the challenges of running my business. This inner sense of knowing I will figure things out, gives me a great degree of calm. It’s taken me a long time to get here, but it’s one of the very tangible rewards of entrepreneurship. I know that I’m not directly dependent on other people to provide for myself. Of course, I still interact with and work with a large group of people, but I don’t have to directly answer to or report to anyone like I did as an employee.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone. I realize that some people either don’t have the right temperament, or simply don’t have the desire to do their own thing. But if you’re a musician and you’re taking the DIY approach to your music career, you already are an entrepreneur, whether you intend to be or not. As Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby says, “The skills needed to make a living as a musician are the exact same skills required to be a successful entrepreneur. Musicians don’t realize that they are already entrepreneurs!”
In the next couple weeks, I’m going to be giving out a series of free lessons, including more in depth blogs, video and audio lessons and more, all related to what I’ve learned over the last eight years of running my own successful internet business. Although not specifically related to making money with your music, all of the information can be applied to anything you choose to sell online, including music.
If this topic is interesting to you and you want to learn more about internet marketing and internet business, sign up for my free training below. I will only send this to people who join this email list, since I realize this isn’t a topic all my readers will be interested in.
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The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.