In the first installment of this brief series on entrepreneurial musicianship, I defined what entrepreneurship really means, with the goal of re-orienting many of the ongoing conversations about entrepreneurship in music today. With the focus now on problem-solving and doing good for our musical communities, we now must consider how and why we are best-suited to realize the changes we believe should be made. In this short article, I will begin to highlight ways in which musicians can stand out, and be effective in their missions to make music and do good. I will also highlight the need for critical reflection upon our music making in social context, so that we may continue to evolve and become more effective over time.
Entrepreneurship is about people. As artists, we are constantly thinking and doing in the contexts of ourselves, our environments, and ourselves in relation to our environments. Music is never made in a bubble. Thus, we should acknowledge this fact when we consider how we go about making music and making our music available to the world. If you are reading this, you are probably a musician who is interested in making your music more public, so the assumption is that you want to play out more or foster the growth of your online communities. But, the first question is usually “how?”
How you foster the growth of your musical influence is related to your value proposition. Essentially, there are three different value propositions, and they are listed alphabetically here: “I am better,” “I am cheaper,” or “I am different.” These are the distinct ways in which any entrepreneur sets themselves, their service, or their product apart from competition in a given market. For example, while Apple products may not be cheaper than many competing alternatives, they are often thought to be of higher quality than those alternatives. Or, while many companies make reasonably affordable and fashionable shoes, Toms is different, because every purchase made also supplies shoes to a person in need. These same principles apply to musicians and music, and will partially determine how you grow your musical influence. However, because music is never made in a bubble, the more critical questions to consider are actually “why” and “for whom?”
Entrepreneurship is a critical process. If entrepreneurship is about solving problems for people, then the practice of entrepreneurship requires critical reflection. A critical lens must be used to view our intentions and actions—and those of others—so that we may provide relevant solutions to relevant problems. The questions of how—as described above—may be addressed only once we have interrogated our motivations, and asked why we make music, and for whom we make music. This interrogation will help us discover exactly who is included and excluded from our audience, then we can begin to grow our audience by aiming to include more people. This audience engagement will also inform how you go about including more people, as you will begin to learn more about how your audience members prefer to consume music, and what roles music plays in the lives of your audience members.
We should view entrepreneurial musicianship as a cycle. The politics of music making and entrepreneurship are too often disregarded, while they should actually make up core of our artistic planning, to create a cycle of reflection and planning around our music making.
This cycle of critical entrepreneurial musicianship will not only foster the growth of audiences and communities, but will also lead to self-actualization, which is required for one to understand their placement and the placement of their music within larger structures such as the local community, and the music industry at large. “Who am I,” “where am I from,” and “where am I going” are examples of questions that kickstart this process for the first time, but should be revisited as the process of reflection and planning evolves over time. On the other hand, while focusing on the audience in critical reflection stage, some questions to ask include: “who was in the audience just then? How diverse was the crowd in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, etc.?” “What role did my music play in influencing the makeup of this audience?” “Did the venue and location have an influence?” “Did the promotion only target specific people?” Answering these kinds of questions and incorporating the answers into your planning will lead to audience development.
Thus, the pursuit of relevancy will require evolution. What does all of this this mean for your music making? How do you see yourself making music twenty years from now? In the final installment of this series, I will begin to examine these questions in greater detail, and discuss how economic forces and models may shape our music making practices in the future, and how an entrepreneurial mindset will empower musicians to capitalize on change, rather than become left behind. So, that discussion will end with a focus on the artistic side of all of this—the core of what we actually do as musicians.
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).