What does it take to create a sustainable career in music? MajoringInMusic.com talked with Dr. Connie Frigo, saxophone professor at the University of Georgia and founder of Road of Creativity Music Entrepreneurship Retreat, to explore this vital subject that every music major needs to address.
MM: These days, virtually every career in music requires some aspect of entrepreneurial ability. Why?
CF: The landscape of a career in music has definitely broadened in recent years to include many self-made opportunities driven by individual musicians or groups.
Musicians have begun to realize that their dreams are possible through the discipline of entrepreneurship — a discipline that allows for individuality and creativity. The disciplines of entrepreneurship and music have a lot in common in that each takes a huge commitment, a relentless work ethic, passion, and new ideas. Musicians will stand to benefit tremendously by entrepreneurship because it involves monetizing an idea. We all want to earn money from what we love to do, right?
MM: More and more colleges and universities, including music schools and departments, are either incorporating entrepreneurship classes, tracks, clubs, seminars, etc. into the curriculum or at least making them available on a voluntary basis. But there’s another aspect to all of this: the entrepreneurial mindset. Can you talk about this and talk about how this mindset is learned?
CF: Let’s start first by defining entrepreneurship in three simple steps:
1. Creating a new product
2. Assuming all risks and rewards for the product (willingness to be accountable for the final outcome of the product)
3. Making a profit for your new product or idea. When a profit is made, it means there is a demand for the product in a particular market. This means the product has value.
How does this apply to musicians?
Imagine that an individual musician is the entrepreneurial product. The product, so to speak, is the talent and unique interests of the individual. This forces the individual to think more carefully about the specific attributes they bring forward into the music world. The individual then assumes all risks and rewards for these interests, meaning they take full responsibility for launching the product.
Let’s say you are a guitarist and your favorite music is alternative rock. Thinking like an entrepreneur means that you begin to recognize that you have unique performing traits and interests — you’ve got a new product for the market. We are, after all, different from one another. When an entrepreneur assumes all risks and rewards for a product, this means they are willing to see the product through failure and success, whichever the case may be. It’s worth noting that all entrepreneurs experience failure; it’s where they learn the most.
So, back to your being a guitarist who wants to pursue performing alternative rock music. What does it mean to fail? Failure could take on many poses. Here’s an example: you book a date at a venue and in order to break even, you must sell 150 tickets. You sell only 103, so you owe the venue the difference. This means you lost money on this venture.
If you broke even or walked away with a few hundred dollars, this means you sold 150 tickets or more. There was a demand for your product and a profit was made, even if it was small. You have to start somewhere, right? Your product — meaning you and your music — had a value.
Many musicians are comfortable with the first two steps, but stop short of step three. Musicians can learn to think like entrepreneurs by defining their unique product and zeroing in on the right audience for their product. It takes time to build an audience, too. Don’t underestimate the importance of building an audience! Entrepreneurial projects succeed because they have an audience.
MM: What can someone who is still in high school or early into their music school education do to open their thinking and start honing their entrepreneurial chops?
CF: Ask yourself these questions:
1. Identify your purpose: Why am I in music?
2. Identify who you are: What unique gifts do I bring forward as a young musician?
3. Identify what keeps you in music: What is the most memorable performing experience I’ve had and why?
4. Identify whether you want to earn money doing something you love: For example — Do I want to be paid to perform or teach music? (If the answer is “no”, then an entrepreneurial track may not be the best route for you.)
Entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do, they lose sleep over their ideas and dream about creating new opportunities all the time. Imagine what could happen if you thought this way regularly about your own talents? Answering these questions will jumpstart your thinking towards entrepreneurship.