Music as a Business
To make something clear from the start—music is not a business. Music is an art form. A business has formed around music, but music can (and does) happen whether or not anyone ever makes money at it. However, if you are a musician in our culture, and you desire to do music as a full-time career, you need to learn to approach music as a business—to see yourself and your music through a particular lens so that you can succeed in the business community that surrounds music.
As intimidating as the business world might be to some artists, in effect all business revolves around three very simple concepts:
- Identifying a need or desire among people;
- Developing a product that meets that need or desire; and
- Marketing the product to the people who need or desire it.
To see music as a business, one simply needs to re-think the elements of his/her art in the light of these concepts—to translate musical elements in business terms. In the context of doing business, then, here’s what the translation looks like:
- Music is both a need and a desire in people. The needs for inspiration and entertainment are part of our makeup, and music is a key part of both. A culture with no music would likely destroy itself.
- Your music is a product that can potentially meet that need. If you are a performer, as cold as it might seem, you are also a product. If you perform music (not just create it), the public will be interested in you, not just your songs. The business of music, then, seeks to tailor the product(s) to be something people will spend money on.
- Once you’ve created a musical product, you market that musical product for sale to the public through promotion, concerts and record sales.
Understandably, there are a lot of musicians who chafe at this translation. As we said before, music is not a business. Music is a very right-brained function, and business is a left-brained function—quite the opposite. It’s important to remember the difference between them, because—to be frank—the reason much of today’s music lacks inspiration and memorability is that people have blurred the lines and turned music into too much of a product. This actually devalues the product, because it no longer meets the original need for inspiration. So in a sense, the negative response of many musical artists is quite correct.
That said, business is still the way our culture meets the needs of people—and music is still a need. The answer, then, is probably not to do away with the business aspect of music entirely, but rather to learn to keep the balance between them. If you want to make a living in music, you still need to treat music as a business; but by remembering that music is art first, your product will keep its value in the long run.