Entrepreneur, What? Three Strategies for Developing Music Business Acumen

I recently read this article from The Atlantic and it gave me a lot to think about. Written by William Deresiewicz, his article discusses the history of the artist and how, over time, artists have become entrepreneurs. "The institutions that have undergirded the existing system are contracting or disintegrating...Now we're all supposed to be our own boss, our own business: our own agent, our own label; our own marketing, production, and accounting departments. Entrepreneurialism is being sold to us as an opportunity." In the short time I have spent in the business, I have definitely seen changes. Companies whom I applied to only a few years ago no longer exist. Singers commonly discuss the shrinking amount of work available and as a result, auditions have become highly competitive. Many singers have begun to create their own opportunities outside of the traditional opera and oratorio routes, or have even started their own opera companies. All of this is a result of a changing market, and we as artists must change with it. But, how do we do that? We are armed with any number of degrees, many of which are in music performance. Unfortunately, practically no performance degree programs require coursework in business, public relations, marketing, creative writing, accounting, web design, etc.. Being ill-equipped right out of college, how does one pursue success in their field? 

This question has been on my mind an absurd amount in recent years. I am reaching a point where I will start to age out of young artist opportunities, and not being managed, will have to be my own representative. I had to ask myself honest questions to find where my weaknesses were and what knowledge I need to reach my career goals. I began realizing that I had absolutely no idea how to be a professional singer. I had wonderful training in diction, languages, vocal technique, and vocal pedagogy, which was great! But, it in no way taught me how to write an engaging bio, market myself to opera companies, negotiate a fee, or do any number of business "things" that are required of singers today. I was an artist lacking all entrepreneurial knowledge and was reaping the consequences. So, what to do to fill the gap? 

1. Take classes

I know that after going to college for a Bachelors and potentially a Masters degree, we feel completely done with taking classes. Unfortunately, since so few programs have any business support for singers, we have to fill this gap for ourselves. Find classes to take through your local community college in areas such as marketing, advertising, creative writing, web design, or public relations. Online resources to take advantage of are the Berklee music business degree program, iCadenza, Artists U, and Portfolio Composer. Think back on your past year as an artist; what did you not know how to do? What area of business were you unsure about? Take a class to get the knowledge you need to feel confident moving your career forward. 

2. Create a reading list

If taking a class doesn't fit with your schedule or budget, reading lists are going to be your go-to. It doesn't need to be said that you can find a book on almost any topic, and many books happen to be written with the artist/musician in mind! Browse on Amazon or the Julliard Bookstore and ask friends for recommendations. 

3. Get thee to the Business of Singing and Sybaritic Singer

Cindy Sadler is not only an accomplished mezzo soprano, but she's making it her mission to give singers the business training they need through the Business of Singing. She offers online classes, in person workshops, and consultations to tailor the work to your needs. Do yourself a favor; sign up for her newsletter, like her page on Facebook, and take advantage of what a resource she is. 

Megan Ihnen is a new music maven and publishes fantastic content through her Sybaritic Singer blog. Check out her Diva Audit or her "29 Days to Diva" series. And don't forget to sign up for her mailing list as well! 

What knowledge are you missing that may be holding you back in your career? How are you planning to become business savvy? Let me know in the comments!