Berklee Today, the journal for alumni of Berklee College of Music, recently gave me the opportunity to explore the relationship between musical training and the skills of entrepreneurs. I interviewed several Berklee alumni who have gone on to create groundbreaking music technology companies serving independent artists.
Each of these companies provides tools that help musicians distribute music, raise funds and market themselves, but what struck me was the similarity between direct-to-fan and lean startup practices. Direct-to-fan platforms give artists a strong connection with their super-fans, providing valuable feedback and ongoing engagement. In particular, early-stage pre-release platforms like PledgeMusic show artists what their fans value and how they want to be engaged. By the time the funding cycle is complete the artist knows their customer and has had the opportunity to tweak their offerings. Each person I interviewed described their musical training as fundamental preparation for working in a startup environment.
You can read the full issue of Berklee Today here or download a pdf of the article. Please check out each of these inspiring entrepreneurs and their companies. You will be amazed!
I recently had the opportunity to create a presentation for Daniel Indart’s Music Entrepreneurship students at the Cornel School of Contemporary Music at Shepherd University in Los Angeles. My presentation: Thinking Different(ly)…The Rare and Valuable Skills of Musicians discussed the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset in today’s music industry. While business and music are diametrically opposed activities, they are complimentary. The life of professional musicians is remarkably like a startup company. We may not think of ourselves in that light, but the similarities are striking. Musicians can learn a great deal by thinking metaphorically and studying lean startup practices. We are uniquely equipped to learn new skills because we understand the process of deep, deliberate practice. This also makes musicians valuable in a continually disrupted economy where innovation, flexibility, and intrinsic motivation trump past work experience and training.
The students were inspiring and I had a great time. You can check out my slides, a list of related resources, and a survey of revenue streams for musicians from the awesome folks at the Future of Music Coalition.
Please be sure to find out more about Daniel Indart and Latin Music Specialists. Daniel is one of the premier authorities on all genres of Latin music, a prolific composer/producer and a wonderful educator. Thanks for inviting me!
The story of CD Baby’s partnership with Snocap struck a real chord with me.
Technology has played a powerful role in the transformation of the music industry, starting with wire and tape recorders, the phonograph, and the electric guitar. In the 1980s other musicians and I would joke about “phoning in our parts.” It’s not a joke these days. When I worked for Liquid Audio in the early days of Internet music we had intoxicating conversations about the future of music discovery and distribution. CDs would go away; would people pay for individual downloads, subscribe to huge online music libraries or swap music in P2P networks? Would recorded music lose its revenue generating power all together and become a promotional tool for other income streams? How would all of this impact independent artists and the traditional record industry?
As these early predictions come to fruition, technology is still seen as a key lynchpin in this change process, and I think rightly so. The power of the Internet cannot be underestimated and if the software tools used in today’s music production are any indication, we will continue to see technology drive huge shifts in the way people discover, consume, and monetize media. One of the pitfalls of this phenomenon is the large footprint that any significant technology displays.
Reading Derek Sivers blog describing CD Baby’s partnership with Snocap ( “What happened with CD Baby and Snocap” ) I was reminded of similar experiences during my time with Liquid Audio. Developing, implementing and managing any large-scale technology is a daunting proposition. The technology quickly takes on a life of its own, with needs that have nothing to do with its original vision. This is not unlike what happens in publicly funded social service organizations. The federal agencies designed to help the neediest kids and families in our country are bureaucratic silos, designed for upward accountability. At times it is literally impossible to deliver the simplest help to real people because the needs of the system are so complex.
Derek Sivers is smart and brave. He saw the potential Snocap offered from the perspective of his original vision and embraced the technology despite his doubts. As the snowball got bigger and bigger he was not afraid to pull the plug. The lesson here is not that technology is good or bad but that it can entrance us and at times distract us from the truth that set us on our path in the first place. Is the music in the world today any better because of the technical miracles that surround us? Beethoven’s String Quartets, The Rite of Spring, and Robert Johnson managed to appear before anyone could imagine Pro Tools or the Internet in their most delusional fantasies. As we plow ahead in this brave new world, let’s not forget that music is the best.