Hi there, parents of a music major. You are, by now, quaking in your shoes, wondering what good this major is, and how will they ever find a real job. As an ardent follower of all the newest trends and buzzwords that the current crop of MBA’s throw around, I can assure you that if done right, they’ll be so far ahead of those graduating with an MBA, it’ll be no contest. I mean, can anyone actually define the latest buzzword “design?” If “SEO” keeps changing as rapidly as the consultants like to tell you, how come they don’t know where it’s going two generations down the road, when it matters? Do MBA’s really have any useful experience or knowledge fresh out of school? I think anyone who is in business knows the real answer.
How do music majors stack up? If they take advantage of their college years, quite well. There is a requirement that a music majors has to live up to before they can say they’re ready for the business world. It can be done while they’re still in school, if they’re smart. They simply have to form a band, try to tour it, and create a physical cd. After explaining my theory to a couple of CEO’s I know, they were intrigued enough to seek a young musician or two out, interview, and actually hire them. They assume anyone they hire needs training, so why not go with someone with some comprehensive business experience. I know this sounds strange, but read on. The only baffling thing is why conservatories and music schools don’t push this, and incorporate it into their curriculum.
First, there are really only four basic aspects too any business.
1: Product development: No product to sell, no business. that simple. Whether it’s a physical product, a service, or knowledge, you need a product, and it needs to be good. It needs to be really good, actually, as there’s so much junk out there it’s hard for customers to pick through the trash for the gems. It needs to be instantly recognizable as valuable. You’re lucky if you get one shot to shine.
2: Production: Getting the product to market in a consumable form, on time, on budget.
3: Marketing and sales: Getting people to want your product enough to give you money. This is getting harder all the time. Print advertising is both expensive and losing ground to the web, and that’s cluttered and a mess. Social media is rapidly becoming overhyped and overused.
4: Accounting/finance: Raising capital to get the business going, managing expenses, making sure revenues are actually higher than expenses (which seems to elude a lot of tech companies). Investing profits for future growth.
Anyone who has tried to tour a band has all four of these skills down, plus a huge amount of dedication and street smarts that are really what’s needed in business. Simply getting to the point where a musician is good enough to try to tour, successfully or not, takes huge amounts of practice, hard work, and dedication. They know what it means to deliver a quality product, because they know if it’s only adequate, they won’t sell anything.
Product development, then, takes two forms: the rehearsals and stage performance, which involves the perfection of presentation skills, and the physical production of cd’s. Performance enhances not just public speaking skills and the confidence to stand in front of people in a slightly risky situation (will any musicians make mistakes, or equipment fail?) but the ability to engage an audience in a meaningful way that makes and audience want to connect. Think this is unimportant? How many dull meetings have you been stuck in with lifeless leaders? They may have important information, but it’s all lost in a sea of tediousness. Compare that to the big-buck motivational speakers, who even though people pay big bucks to listen to, have surprisingly little to say. Musicians learn the importance of confidence and presentation early on. The ability to improvise and think their feet is pretty important, too, and musicians have this nailed.
The second form of product development is in the production of the physical recorded product, in whatever hard form it takes. There’s the studio time, requiring some technical knowledge, which puts most musicians at the cutting edge of computer use and technology. There’s the actual factory production of the product, packaging layout and design, and distribution. As most music is now distributed over various web platforms, musicians are up on the very latest modes of internet commerce. It’s instinctive for them, they’ve grown up living with it, and are completely comfortable with the latest technology, and the fact that it changes constantly. Nothing phases them. They totally get the fact that their cd won’t sell much in it’s hard copy form, that sales are all e-commerce.
Marketing? That’s what musical performance is. To get to that point, however, they have to get some gigs. They must develop excellent marketing materials in the form of electronic press kits. These contain photos for publication (so they have to be good), well-produced videos (more experience in communication and production) and well-written copy that news editors can cut and paste. So add copy writing to the skill set. Now they need to do some market research, tracking competitors (other artists), finding where they have played, and cold-calling those venues, selling themselves. The dedication required here to get even one gig is tremendous. Once they get a gig, it’s service mode, making sure they have done everything the venue needs to make the performance a success. After the performance, it’s follow-up time, getting feedback from the venue and the audience. The selling never ends, as any well-run business knows.
Finance? It’s a crash course in the realization you need some capital to get it going. It’s equally apparent that cash flow is kind of crucial. No gas in the van, no gig. No instrument maintenance, no practice. No practice, no gig. When expenses outrun the income, it’s obvious what the consequences are. You want this kind of financial experience. It may be basic and elemental, but it’s real. Sure, they may not know the tricky stuff, all the derivatives or forms of options or bond floating, and so on, but that’s what there are accountants for. Having someone with all the various experiences that musicians have that also get why there are budgets and expense caps is gold. Face the fact: most college grads right out of the box don’t get the fact that they’re an expense, not an asset. Becoming an asset takes training and time, and a view of the bigger picture that comes with maturity. Musicians have already lived it. Been there, done that.
So there you go. Your budding musician has real value. If they make it in the music business, great. If they give it a shot and fail, no problem: they have more valuable experience than any intern or MBA. It’s all in their personality and how they sell themselves. The key word is personality. Those that chase success with creativity and enthusiasm will shine. It’s the dogged pursuit of perfection that matters. So parents, encourage them to “chase their dreams”, as overused as this phrase is at graduation and motivational speeches. But the word “chase” is an active verb, not relaxed one. The dreaming part is easy, the chasing harder. Remember that the word “failure” is ill-defined. It doesn’t mean disaster, it’s simply an educational experiment, and as any good scientist knows, a “failed” experiment is as good as a “successful” one. The result of both is that they point you in the right direction.