The Future of The Professional Musician

As the music business continues to shift, the future vision for professional musicians remains a work in progress. By professional, I mean a person who has devoted themselves to the mastery of one or several of the musical arts. This would include instrumentalists, composers, orchestrators, songwriters, recording engineers, educators and producers. Music is a deep and profound human language and I think Malcolm Gladwell is fairly accurate when he sets the bar for mastery at 10,000 hours. For most people pursuing music on this level, a professional career is essential to that process.

To the general public, ‘The Music Industry’ is about pop music entertainers who may or may not be truly accomplished musicians. The topical conversations about freemium and direct-to-fan marketing have been focused on self-contained bands or singer-songwriters. The fact is, there are many complex business models contained within the music industry and all are been shaken up by the rapid changes in technology and the global economy. How do you plan your career if you are not primarily a singer-songwriter or performer?

Professional musicians have always relied on multiple income streams to make money. Today, the business is changing so quickly that musicians will need not only a thorough understanding of the traditional elements of the business, but will also need to master the Internet to brand and market themselves. As you start your career, think about what you do best. What strengths do you have that can be applied to marketing, networking and business? Frank Zappa used to ask people he was auditioning, “What do you do that’s amazing?” That’s a great place to start.

Who is your target audience? Whether they are music fans, film producers, music supervisors, educators, technology managers, or other musicians, be clear about your unique brand and use every tool at your disposal to get the word out and build your network. Educate yourself about the intricacies of music publishing and licensing. Get involved in the conversations about the future of copyright. See how you can apply direct-to-fan marketing strategies like Mike Masnick’s CwF + RtB = $$ to your career goals.

There are many excellent blogs and resources on the web. There’s a good article in the latest issue of Berklee Today on Gerd Leonhard and his ideas for collective licensing and web marketing for musicians. Don’t get stuck on old paradigms. Even traditional aspects of the music business such as publishing, are in flux. The process of change will only accelerate and the successful business models of the future will be entirely new.

The challenge is finding a balance between the need for self-promotion and the passionate pursuit of music. It’s not easy to spend twelve hours a day immersed in music and then put on your marketing hat. Planning is key. First figure out what you do best, then set specific goals for your career. The tools for self-promotion can be overwhelming. Having strong mission and vision statements and clear milestones and benchmarks will help you identify the tools and strategies that will work best for you.

Above all, stay connected to the music inside you.

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