What is a Musician Entrepreneur?
By. T. Perry Bowers
When I first started attending shows at First Ave in the mid nineties, I saw a band called Fugazi. They were an awesome punk, art-core band from D.C who took down the house with their music. Fugazi were as raw and real as it gets. Even though they packed the place, they only charged five dollars entrance fee because they had some kind of socialistic philosophy. I sure appreciated it at the time because mowing lawns wasn’t getting me into many big shows like Van Halen or Journey. After the show, I was standing by the door of the little back stage area when I saw Ian Mackaye, Fugazi’s lead singer and front man on a desk phone talking. (This was in the 80s so it was before cell phones). I didn’t know what he was doing at the time, but he was very business-like on the phone, talking about their next show. I now understand he was advancing their next gig in the next town, arranging hotels, transportation, load-in, etc. For some reason this blew me away. How could a guy put so much energy and angst out on stage and the next minute be discussing very smart and prudent business on the phone, sweat still dripping from his brow?
This is why I love independent music. It’s about balance. When you are an independent artist you really have to understand business and art. There is a misconception that they are separate things, art and business, but really they are very similar and both require the right “creative” side of the brain. There are minutia and logistics that go along with music making and business and the root of it all is creative spark.
Everyone who has started a band knows what it’s like to start a business. Once you have an idea, you have to make the idea into reality. It requires adjusting your product to the market place. You have to be true to yourself, but also willing to listen to your audience (your customers). It takes brainpower to easily flex from a creative to a logical state of mind.
Entrepreneurs usually have a good idea that comes from creative space (maybe in a dream or just a creative flash). After the product is created the rest of the work is left brain, running the business, fulfilling orders, accounting, taxes, etc. Musicians have to constantly flow back and forth from the creative to the logical side. We go from writing and performing to booking shows and tours and releasing albums. We need to be able to flex. I think being a musician is the most challenging and fulfilling role on the planet.
Of course, many upper echelon musicians have the left-brain stuff handled by someone else. They have managers, business managers, tour managers, agents, booking agents etc. Their business infrastructure is there to shield them from the difficulties of flexing. The powers that be want these cash cow artists to remain in their right brain at all times. It keeps their artists in the creative flow, which is where all the money comes from. It also means their artists are naive to what is really going on with their business.
I’m sorry to say it, but if you are reading this, it’s likely you may never get to the place where you are shielded from the business side of your career. But honestly, you don’t want that anyway. The very best artists are all involved in their own businesses. Ian Mackaye, Jon Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar, Trent Reznor, and Jay-Z never farmed their left-brain out to some suit. They are always watching the numbers. That’s why they are rich and their wealth is sustainable. They can’t be taken advantage of. It’s why they are the music moguls of the industry.
You don’t have to aspire to be a mogul or take charge of the entire business side of your career. But if you understand the concept of flexing between the left and right side of your brain you can build a solid foundation. After all, this is the way the human brain is meant to function. We are supposed to be balanced — it is a natural state of being. The separation has come from a pathological need to compartmentalize our mind states. It takes a little getting used to, but once you flow back and forth a few times, the grooves in your brain take root and it’s a walk in the park. It’s possible to be your most wild rock and roll self and run a strong and profitable business at the same time. In fact it may be the only way you can truly make it.