How To Prepare For The Musicpreneur Era

An evolution unfolding — lessons from startups


Musicians, including myself, have long tried to crack the code and sustain a living in the digital era. After a quick survey with the fellow musicians I speak with daily: DIY marketing, concerts, streaming, advertising and royalties seem to be on top of mind when it comes to making profit.

An increasing number of musicians start realising that their music should also be treated as a commercially viable business. Despite our long way from this concept becoming the dominant culture, and without ignoring the aforementioned sources of income, musicians should develop the mindset of a startup and start transforming themselves into Musicpreneurs.

Tech startups have shown the way. Attempting to scratch the surface as a conversation starter, here are 5 fundamental startup concepts that can transform our music culture:

1. MVP (Minimum Viable Product), Prototyping

It’s ingrained in the musicians’ culture to first release the impeccable recorded version of their music, then start marketing it. The same is true for their creative concepts, those designed to give depth and context to their art.

The notion of ‘perfect’ needs to be challenged.

Musicpreneurs don’t get disillusioned that they should release the perfect product (in our case, the perfect record or concept). Instead, they release early and often, involving their community in the process and refining along the way.

Practically speaking, demos become valuable tools, helping Musicpreneurs test whether they have a hit, before they get in the (expensive!) studio to record it as a final product.

Why is this concept essential? Because the audience’s perception of value shifts from the end product (final record) towards the experience of the creative process (demo-ing a song or album). The audience wants your story, besides your (good) music.

2. Limited Resources

Startups often have limited resources available when building up — the same is true for musicians.

How does one tackle this seeming disadvantage?

By testing, making smarter decisions, and keeping costs low.

Restrictions help startups be flexible and creative with their problem-solving.

Fellow Musicpreneur, here’s your opportunity: startups are not smaller versions of larger companies — startups are actively looking for what works, before calling for attention. Learning to live with your restrictions helps you grow as an artist and as a personality, giving a complete shape to your vision. Embrace your restrictions.

3. Far From Perfect

“No business plan survives the first contact with the customer” — Steve Blank

I’ll be cynical: no matter what you’ve planned, once you’re out in the real world, all odds are off. You’re dealing with irrationally-behaving human beings, not computers that receive input and produce output!

You’re not perfect. Write down 10 reasons why you could fail.

Then discuss them with your band, partners or audience, and try to find ways to tackle these problems. Through discussions, experimentation and early execution, you can only learn and grow!

Musicpreneurs are strategic thinkers, not spammers. They listen more instead of demanding for more attention. This impels them to ask more instead of answering more. They don’t assume they know everything.

4. Business Models

“A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” — Steve Blank

Without streams of income, new musicians will never become great musicians. Unfortunately, the majority creates record after record, hoping that money will simply show up. This is where business models come in: they streamline the value you’ve created, and untap new revenue models. My favorite definition:

“A business model describes how your company creates, delivers and captures value.”

Take the Music Business Model canvas, jot down your assumptions, and find your own business model by validating these hypotheses one by one. Don’t just contemplate — turn assumptions into facts by doing. You’ll be surprised how wrong you were about who your audience is, what they would be willing to pay for, what the value of your music business really is.

5. Humanisation

Here is the big opportunity for the Musicpreneurs.

Startups can humanise — people know they talk with real people on the other side. Be one, talk like one. You are a public brand-in-progress, don’t pretend to be a fake corporate profile.

People don’t listen to faceless corporations, they listen to other people.

There is not much to hide in the era of Twitter and Google! I don’t imply you’ll have to fully disclose everything, though; you’re still an artist. Today artists stand out because they’re authentically interesting, not because of marketing gimmicks.

To tie that up with music business models, your true value lies on the left side of the canvas. That’s your creative process, your exciting story, your unique conversations with your audience, your human side, YOU.

Tommy Darker is the writing alter ego of an imaginative independent musician and thinker about the future of the music industry. His vision is to simplify scalable concepts and make them work for independent musicians.

He is the firestarter of the movement of the #Musicpreneur, an academic lecturer, and the founder of Darker Music Talks, a global series of discussions between experts and musicians. He and his work have been featured in Berklee Online, TEDx, Berlin Music Week, ReThink Music, Midem Academy, SAE Institute, Hypebot and Topspin Media.

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