We are fortunate to live in a time where we have an incalculable amount of information at our fingertips. “How do I distribute my music?” “How do royalties work?” “Why won’t Logic save my volume levels?” Just about any problem can be solved when a musician knows what questions to ask. However, when it comes to bigger questions about artistic and business growth and direction, it can become hard to find the next step. There are many resources for artists that cover the topic of entrepreneurship, but they are often near-sighted or just blatantly covering a topic other than entrepreneurship altogether—such as how to gain Facebook followers, or how to make a killer set list. My aim with this series of three brief articles is to clarify what entrepreneurship actually means, and hopefully empower artists towards harnessing their natural—or unnatural—entrepreneurial spirit to make change in their world(s).
Entrepreneurship is about recognizing and treating problems as opportunities. Entrepreneurs are ultimately just problem-solvers. People on social media who claim to be building an empire, or otherwise advancing purely for some monetary or political (power—referring to one’s career or social standing, not relating to social justice per se) gain may indeed be solving problems, but they are not relevant to anyone other than themself. Joe Schmoe’s empire will not pay my rent, or fill the empty bassoon seat in the nearest professional symphony. Joe Schmoe’s empire will not contribute to their community in a meaningful way. These people are often thought of as entrepreneurs because they are viciously pursuing something, and are very passionate about their pursuit. This should not be the case.
Do good. When people do good things for us, we notice, and we like them for doing so. They gain social capital in doing so. We have more reason to speak to them, listen to them, and care about what they are saying (or playing) when they do good things for us. Honestly good people are, according to the definition provided above, more entrepreneurial than those seeking to build an empire, because their actions translate to solving problems that matter to other people. One can find this entrepreneurial spirit thriving in DIY music communities, in which there is often a code of ethics followed by community members (trading sofas, finding hometown leads for out-of-town artists, etc.) to sustain and grow a scene.
What problems exist in your musical communities? How and why should you solve them? These are the kinds of questions that spark entrepreneurial musicianship. As artists—and more importantly, as people—we all bring with us a background that is unique to us, and uniquely suits us to solve the problems that matter to us. We tend to say “they should make a…” or “they should change how…,” but we sometimes forget we indeed have the agency to “make a” or “change how.” If you feel that change should be made, other people probably feel the same way, and realizing your potential as a problem solver is the true act of entrepreneurship.
Once more: entrepreneurship is about recognizing and treating problems as opportunities. Thus, recognizing (“they should…”), makes up one part of the equation, while treating (actually granting oneself the agency to solve problems, then solving problems) makes the definition whole, and truly separates entrepreneurs from complainers. Entrepreneurial musicians create solutions, rather than problems.
In the next two parts of the series, I will begin to discuss solutions themselves, the future of your music making, and how musicians can incorporate new economy thinking into their practices, to make real, important change in their communities.
Nicholas Patrick Quigley is a music educator, composer, and cultural entrepreneur based in Boston, MA. He seeks to connect artists with the business practices and laws that allow them to live off of their art, and serves as a creative consultant to artists of various backgrounds through Q Music & Arts Management. More online at qmusicandarts.com (management website) and nicholaspquigley.com (artistic website).