via OUPblog: Time and again I’ve heard musicians express some variation of the following sentiment: “I guess entrepreneurship is fine for some folks, but that’s not me. I’m a musician, not an entrepreneur.” The thing is, most folks who say this don’t really understand what it means to “be an entrepreneur.” Most likely they see it as something that is, at best, incompatible with being an artist; at worst, an opposition to our artistry.
But that’s simply not the case—and here are five attributes for your consideration.
There are few things more central to the life of a musician than collaboration. We do it constantly, whether it’s in rehearsal, during a performance, working with a composer, team-teaching a class, or dividing up the administrative tasks of our chamber group amongst its members. To be a musician is to be a natural collaborator.
Collaboration is also a central piece to being an entrepreneur; the multi-faceted nature of entrepreneurial action requires a team. For the musician who feels ill-equipped to wear the “entrepreneur” label, perhaps you can start getting over your unease by simply identifying as a “collaborator.”
Musicians are constantly solving problems. That troublesome passage needs to be mastered. You’re performing in an unfamiliar space with an unflattering acoustic. There is virtually no end to the range of problems that musicians are faced with, which means that we get very good at troubleshooting and coming up with solutions on the fly. Sometimes those solutions may require a new or novel approach to the problem, such that over time we accumulate a rich repertoire of tricks to get us over the obstacles we encounter.
Entrepreneurs are also constantly in problem-solving mode. Part of that is because entrepreneurial ventures, in whatever form they take, have so many moving parts. There’s always something. Rather than being simply reactive, entrepreneurial problem-solving is proactive: observing the world around them with an eye for unmet needs or existing products or services that could be done better or more effectively. Being natural problem-solvers within their musical practice makes proactive problem-solving an easy step for musicians.
Hard on the heels of problem-solving comes another important entrepreneurial attribute shared by musicians: that of repeated iterations of something before success is unlocked. This one is a natural for musicians: we’re iterating all the time. It’s how we master our own technique and develop our interpretations. It’s what we do when one plan to promote a concert doesn’t work – we try something else. Iteration is absolutely central to what it means to be a professional musician.
Entrepreneurial iteration is no different. Very few entrepreneurial ventures end up looking exactly like what was envisioned at the beginning of the process. As a product or service is developed, shared with potential customers, improved upon, introduced into the marketplace, reviewed by customers, and so forth, things usually change—sometimes a lot! But entrepreneurs understand that to get something right, repeated iterations are required; they neither throw something out after one try nor stubbornly stick to the same thing in the face of failure. They keep working on it until it’s where it needs to be. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what we do as musicians?
Entrepreneurship is a process by which value is unlocked for something by meeting needs in the marketplace. In order to do this well, one must first identify what unmet needs might exist; then one must identify the best way to meet those needs. Neither of these things can be done effectively without looking at the situation through the eyes of the customer. And that’s what entrepreneurs and design thinkers mean by the term “empathy.” In order to understand what someone needs and how that need can be satisfied, one must have empathy for the needs and sensibilities of the person you’re trying to reach. Without empathy, you’re just guessing blindly.
The same thing goes for musicians. Talk to any performer who is known for their “stage presence” or the compelling way they seem to connect to their audience, and they will all tell you the same thing: they have a deep and abiding desire to reach their audience on an intimate, personal level. They recognize that technique and artistry, even the music itself, are but tools for creating a bond with the audience, to give them an experience that will live on within them long after the performance is over. This is the empathy inherent in all great performers.
For musician-entrepreneurs, the trick is to take that empathy and employ it not just in our artistic practice but in all other aspects of how we conceive and implement our music.
There’s one universal truth about being an entrepreneur, and that’s that it takes hard work and perseverance in the face of setbacks and failure. Sound familiar? Who of us musicians can’t relate to hours spent in the practice room or the composing desk? Who of us can’t relate to the failed audition or the grant rejection or a particularly rough coaching session? Musicians know how to persevere; we literally could not advance to a high level of professionalism if we didn’t.
The real challenge for musicians is that being tenacious with one’s music-making can be draining enough; now I have to become a tenacious entrepreneur, too?
Well, yes. I can’t sugar-coat this one. It’s hard and it’s not for everyone. But that’s true regardless of whether or not one applies the label of “entrepreneur” to themselves. That’s just the nature of being a musician these days, even for those of us who are lucky enough to have full-time jobs in academia or in an orchestra. But that’s precisely why this is an attribute that can help us as entrepreneurs: we understand how to be tenacious, how to be resilient.
And so there we have it! “I’m a musician, not an entrepreneur.” Perhaps now you can see it’s possible to be both?