I touched on this in my last post, but after a crazy string of events I’ve decided to talk about it a little more. WARNING: might be a little rambly…

 

The core of the ‘say yes’ policy is, well, to say yes to pretty much any reasonable request. The whole point of this is that it pushes us towards opportunity and establishes a reputation for being dependable. In the music industry you really don’t want to develop a reputation for being unreliable, I have several friends that I’ll never suggest for a gig if asked simply because I don’t want to look bad when they don’t show up.

 

Wednesday last week I got a text from a former boss of mine asking if I could fill in last minute for a gig. I immediately said yes, we’ve established a solid working relationship so I’m at a point where I’m comfortable agreeing without asking any details first. About an hour later he got back to me with details, it was a gig at a fairly well attended exhibition and when it was all done and finished I’d definitely have to say it went really, really well. For me, this was a huge opportunity, one that I never would have gotten if not for my say yes policy. I developed this policy because I know I’m a shy person, I much prefer the idea of sitting at home by myself to pretty much anything else, but I know that once I’m out doing things I usually end up having a pretty good time.  Even when it’s something I don’t want to do and don’t enjoy, it’s always good for people to see you as being someone they can count on.  

 

Once you get started with it you’ll really surprise yourself by the cool things you get to do.

I’m quite late on this one, I know.

 

The topic for today, is how to network within your local music scene, and why what you’re probably doing isn’t working.

 

So, what you’re probably doing (or at least, what most people I know are doing) is playing a few shows put on at places that you are either a regular, or being put on by someone you know. This is 100% totally fine as part of your overall strategy, it’s a great way to get in front of some familiar faces and let people are will support you see what you can do. BUT, this isn’t enough to get you started on a career path.  Networking isn’t as easy as playing the places you’re comfortable at, you need to get out into new places where a more diverse range of people will see you play. For many of you, this will sound terribly obvious, but it’s fairly shocking how many people don’t realize that they need to do this.

 

First, adopt a ‘say yes’ policy to any reasonable requests. I did this 5 years ago, and I’ve slowly gotten a reputation for being able to show up anywhere for a gig without any notice, regardless of pay level. Am I saying to always play for free? NO! Never ever play for free if the person asking you is simply too cheap to pay. But, there are perfectly reasonable times to play for free, benefits, busking opportunities, trial gigs for a venue, etc. All of these are fantastic opportunities to play in places where people will come talk to you. Benefits are great, because it establishes good will in the minds of the audience, they tend to be very appreciative of you donating your time and talent to help support their friend/family. Busking puts you right down in the middle of the crowd, you earn every penny you make, and you can make a pretty nice amount if you can engage the audience and play for a decent chunk of time. And finally trial gigs are very important, any of these that I have ever had have paid, but I’ve known of ones that haven’t. These gigs get you in playing at a venue, sometimes just background music at a reception, or maybe playing in the lobby before a show. If they like you, you’ll get called again (don’t do this one for free).

 

If you are a student, do what I did. I got a job my first summer off from university working as a festival assistant for a local event, the executive director for that festival also runs on of the main venues in the area. I can trace most of the gigs I’ve gotten since then back to the networking I did the summer I worked there. I still get calls if they need music for something, or if someone calls them looking for a performer. The next summer I did the same thing, but for a different venue, with a similar outcome. One other thing I did at both of these places that made me more useful was learning the basics of how to work sound. I’ve always had an interest in home recording and that was enough to get my foot in the door, but if you can run sound, you become immensely more employable at a venue. I still get calls for soundgigs, and these are an excellent opportunity to network with other musicians. Most importantly is to do the work they ask you to do, and don’t disappear once the summer grant runs out. I still go back to both of these venues regularly and help out, these people are all friends of mine now, and they all help me out as much as they can.

 

Don’t wait for industry people to come find you, go to them, make yourself useful, then if you’re any good you’ll find a chance to show them.

 

I do live in a small town, so maybe this was a lot easier for me than it will be for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few weeks about a few major decisions I need to make with regards to my career. While I recognize that no decision needs to be final, there is usually a cost associated with changing your mind part way through anything, and often times its easier to make the right choice to begin with right? The quite nicely outlines what I want to write about this week, how to identify our options, measure them, and ultimately decide which one is best for us.

 

How do we know what choices we have?

 

This is probably the hardest part as far as I’m concerned. But fear not! A few simple steps can set you on the right path to generating alternatives. First off, it’s important to identify either issues or objectives. If you’re trying to solve a problem, identify what that problem is, then try and go deeper and find out why that problem is a problem. With objectives you need to identify what it is you want to achieve, what issues are in the way of reaching that objective, and what underlying issues will you need to confront for this objective to be sustainable. 

 

That is often the hardest part of this, it all comes back to identifying issues, but if we aren’t in the right mindset it can be difficult to think about what the issues are. As musicians, a non-existent fan base is a primary issue. But many people are reluctant to look at it that way for some reason. But once we’ve identified these issues we can begin to brainstorm how we can solve them. Sometimes the answers will be clear, sometimes you’ll need to consult other people who might have more experience, and when all else fails google is an excellent resource as long as you know what you’re looking for.

 

Measuring your options

 

In the previous stage, its important to note ideas without thinking about them too much, even what sounds like a bad idea at first could turn out to be a good idea and vice versa. For this reason its important to be as objective as possible in this phase. If you have the information and skills to do so, the best way to do this is with cold hard numbers. Figure out where you are at right now, and where you want to be. You may have to research, and you’ll definitely have to make some guesses and assumptions, but you should be able to ballpark how each alternative will affect your career. This could be not only through financial growth, but also through other various types of career capital. As musicians, we could measure how a marketing campaign would affect the number of fans on various social media platforms, or how many downloads we get per month. Really anything that can be measured with numbers can be measured and assessed in this fashion. 

 

It’s also important to weigh in a certain risk factor when evaluating your options. Sure, option B might be 50% more lucrative than option A, but if the level of risk is through the roof on option B you might not want to even consider it. 

 

Evaluating sustainability

 

This is something you want to think about at every stage. Can I replicate this? Can this be done again, and again? Or will you need to start from the beginning and find new opportunities each time. You don’t want to ever choose an option that turns you a quick profit, but alienates the end user. Sustainability is extremely important, and it’s far more expensive to attract new customers than it is to maintain a relationship with an existing one. As musicians this is easy for us, hang out after gigs, try and answer a few Facebook messages from fans each day if you can. If you’re accessible to the fans, they’ll feel even more attached to you.

 

 

One of my career goals is to get my PMP and work as a project manager. It is difficult to appreciate the value in being able to manage a project without having experience with projects that go wrong or are poorly managed. I find myself taking a lot of the skills involved in project management and applying them to my work as a musician, so that’s what I’m going to talk about this week.

What is a project?

Quite simply, everything you do as a musician is a project. I like to divide my projects into categories, recording projects, collaboration projects, and promo projects. They’re pretty self explanatory, except for the last one which covers almost everything. For me, promo projects are anything where the goal is essentially publicity, this includes gigs, interviews, media spots, etc. 

Within those project categories I’ll usually have several projects going at any time, right now I’m working on material for an album I’m doing over the summer, material for an EP I want to release at the start of the summer, pulling parts together for some collaborations, booking/playing gigs, and my online presence. For each of these projects I have deadlines, goals, and budgets, and sometimes it gets a little tricky to keep track of everything.

How do we manage our projects?

Most of us aren’t going to hire a project manager to keep us on schedule, for one it wouldn’t make any sense, and secondly, it’s really not hard to manage your own projects as a musician. The absolute best way I’ve found to keep track of everything is to write it down. I know, it sounds obvious and extremely simple, but most people just try to keep everything in their heads. Unfortunately, we are all human, and we do forget things from time to time. I’m old fashioned, I like to physically write things in a notebook. But, I know a lot of people who keep things in excel documents and get pretty good results. It’s all about what works for you, I find if I digitize it I never actually use it, whereas I can always have a notebook open next to my computer. 

The most important thing with these types of projects is that you need to identify your constraints and understand how you will work within them. You probably have a budget, and if you need to spend beyond your budget to reach your goals you’re left with a few options. 1) more money, 2) less scope, 3) both, 4) do nothing. These are critical decisions you make every day when you’re managing your projects. Sometimes you absolutely can’t afford to put any more money into something, so you have to decrease the scope  of the project. Personally I’m a fan of the last two, #3 allows you to compromise within reasonable limits to try and reach the best outcome with the resources available. #4 is an option that’s often overlooked, sometimes you can’t fill the whole scope of the project, but you also can’t raise more capital to cover what it would take to reach the goal. If it’s something that isn’t worth doing if you can’t do it 100%, then its worth considering not doing it at all. Allocate those resources to a different project and put this one on the shelf until its more feasible.

 

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The (wordy) title says it all really. Today I’m going to write a bit about planning, why we plan, how we plan, and when we plan. This is something that really sets the serious aside from the dreamers. For most people, the planning stage is when reality sets in and you have to come to grips with exactly what you want to do. I’m reasonably sure that a lot of small businesses would never have opened in the first place if they took the time to make a plan ahead of time…

Why do we plan?

Any time I talk to some of my friends about planning, or about a plan I’m putting together for a particular project I always get the response ‘why waste your time planning? You can’t plan everything so you’re just wasting your time.’ and to be honest I find it quite frustrating, this type of person (we all know one, or two…. or three…) is quite honestly missing the entire point of planning.  If we were taking the time to plan for absolutely everything we’d never actually execute any plans. Plans are great, but unfortunately as soon as you hit ‘print’ it’s already out of date.

So the reason we plan, isn’t to account for everything and perfectly pave our path to success, it’s to force ourselves to actually think our way through what we want to do and how we’re going to do it. I’m sure that when you’re thinking about target market ‘My product appeals to everybody and nobody wouldn’t want it’ seems like a reasonable thought, however when you start writing these things down (assuming you’re a reasonable person) you’ll start to see the issues involved when you aren’t being specific. One of the biggest reasons for this is that it is significantly harder to make a plan that involves marketing to everyone compared to a very specific plan targeted at a specific market.

At the end of the day a plan is a guide, you try to follow it as much as you can, but sometimes you’ll have to branch out and try other things, or sometimes the plan will be out of date and will need an overhaul. This is all perfectly fine, you want to revisit the plan regularly anyway.

How do we plan?

This is actually the easy part (in my opinion). There are many different types of plans we can make and use, napkin plans are a common type used by people who don’t want to take the time to do a full fledged business plan. With a napkin plan we simply outline the business. What do we want to do? How are we going to do it? What problems do we expect, and how will we deal with them? You’d probably make quick notes about target market, and if you were feeling particularly motivated you might outline a budget too.

I’ve done napkin plans, but I always feel like I get more benefit from doing a more detailed plan. Napkin plans work great for a very specific type of person, but I’m not one who likes to figure everything out as I go along. If you google ‘business plan template’ you’ll find plenty of perfectly useable templates, I have one I’ve made that works well for me but honestly they’re all essentially the same. This is why the ‘How’ is so easy, you just need to set some time aside and follow the template. I’ve known several people who spend months on a plan, and while it’s great to put time and effort into it, for what most of us are doing it shouldn’t take more than a week or two at the most to get a workable plan. If you’re spending more than a month actually working on it (not just talking about working on it) then you probably need to reevaluate wether you’re ready to go forward with the project.

One other important thing about the planning phase, is that you probably aren’t as smart as you think you are. Don’t make unsubstantiated claims about demographics or industry trends. I’ve been absolutely shocked by how wrong a lot of my preconceptions have been in the planning phase, StatsCan has proven me wrong many a time, and I’ve always been glad (and had a better plan) for collecting some relevant information in the planning phase. Check out information on industry trends, income level, age, family size, media distribution, etc. before you commit to anything. Find recent industry publications and do your research there too, the more informed you are, the better your plan will be.

When do we plan?

This is the part most people don’t want to hear. We always plan. You cannot view the plan as set in stone, I like to revisit it at least once a month and check on my progress and see if anything needs adjusting. If you just leave the plan sitting on a shelf or hidden in a folder on your desktop you gain nothing farther from it, but if you update it and make adjustments as required you will be far better prepared and work far more efficiently. It’s also good to let the plan sit for a week after finishing the first draft before you finalize it, this gives you a chance to go over it with a fresh set of eyes and a clear mind. If you have someone you can trust go over it as well the plan will be far better for it.

Thats it for this week.

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I’ve been planning on making posts once a week, however I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic the last few days so I’ve decided to not follow my plan perfectly for this week (big hint, next week I’ll be talking about planning, and why I’m a terrible person for not following one). But the topic for this post will be music producers and modern music production.

Ok, I’m going to say this as a disclaimer, I have nothing but the utmost respect for what it takes to be a successful producer. However, my beef, my gripe, my irritant for the last week has been the use of the term ‘producer’, and the implications of the term on the state of the industry.

So what’s my problem?

To me, being a producer has always been one of those jobs that you slowly work your way up through the ranks to achieve, let’s compare it to being a CEO of a company or some other high ranking employee.  You start at the bottom, and through years of hard work and excelling at your job you hit the top. You’ve put your all into this company and now you’re reaping the benefits, you’ve earned the title and most likely your colleagues hold you in high regard as a result.

Now lets look at Bob, who just started a small business in the same industry. Bob has one employee, himself. Bob needs a title, so he decides to be the CEO. Fine, great, whatever. You probably see where I’m going with this right?

You and Bob have the same title, but there’s a huge difference between what you do and what Bob does. There’s a huge difference between your qualifications and Bob’s. At the end of the day, this really doesn’t matter, they’re just titles after all. This is admittedly the lesser of my irritations with the term however. The real irritant is the state of music production.

In a lot of ways, I think we’re seeing a shift in the approach to music production away from quality, and towards quantity. Any one with a laptop can produce today without even the slightest background in making music. You don’t need to know or understand anything more than what you like to hear. Which is great! The problem with this? It’s severely over saturating the market. Industrialization of the music industry is a good thing and a bad thing in my opinion. Overall, I think it devalue’s the entire industry, because no matter where you play or what you do, someone will ‘have a 14 year old nephew that does just what you do!’ Maybe you’re a really great DJ, and you really know how to work the crowd, but no one will pay you because ‘some kid with an iPod does the exact same thing right?’ I think most of us have experienced the effects of this at one point or another.

Another issue I have with it is how it affects the way people consume music. When there’s so much content available for free online, people are less motivated to come to small live shows. This doesn’t really affect the big guys a whole lot, it probably helps them if anything, but for those of us just starting it makes it very, very difficult.

I probably sound like a grumpy old man, but I’m ok with it.

/rant

One of the very first things my business 101 professor talked about was the importance of goal setting in a business. I was in my second year, having just switched into business from music, so while the rest of the class was chatting away ignoring the professor, I was a little more focused on making sure that this program was right for me. I think it turned out alright, since 3 years later here I am, with 8 days of class left before I’m done with the degree. It’s worth noting that things in business that I think most about are the things covered in that first class, those opening concepts are the ones that have really stuck with me.

 

Setting the right Goals.

 

It’s easy to set goals, we do it every day without really even thinking about it. But when you are starting a business (which is what you are doing if you’re starting a career as a musician) it’s important to set the right goals. You have to be really honest with yourself about what you can do, and wether or not you will put in the effort to do it. It’s important that your goals be clearly defined, achievable, and have growth potential. Goals are an integral part of moving forward and if we aren’t accountable to ourselves for failure in meeting our goals, then there’s really no point in even trying to start setting them. Without goals, you might get lucky and through a series of unforeseen circumstances blunder your way into success, but if you set realistic goals and actively work towards them you will slowly work your way up as each goal gets progressively farther from your starting point. 

 

So, how do we clearly define our goals? 

 

We do this by being very specific. Write your goals down, mark them on a calendar. I usually have several goals going on at once, things like ‘by (insert date) I want to increase my (number of followers, plays, views, etc) by (insert reasonable number)’ and if I don’t hit that goal I give myself more work to do. The first time I tried something like this it failed miserably, so as my punishment I had to record a cover a week every week for 3 months. The punishment was directly tied to the goal, by doing all of those covers I dramatically increased my play count beyond what my initial goal was, and as a result each goal that I set now is significantly higher than the one before it. The biggest thing for me was making the punishment something that I’d still enjoy doing, and by broadcasting on all my social media platforms ‘Hey, I’m doing this covers project for the next 3 months’ I was suddenly accountable to someone for actually following through.

 

How do we know our goals are achievable?

 

I talk about this subject a lot with friends, other musicians, other business students, etc. And something that almost always comes up is the question of ‘How do we know our goals are achievable?’, and it’s really a question that only you can answer. For me, setting a goal of getting  a million views on a youtube video is completely unachievable right now, but for you, that might be average. When I’m working with goals that are measurable by numbers, I’ll take the average of what I get and add 15% or 20% as my goal. It pushes me to work towards something, and even if I don’t reach the goal I’ll have tried harder for having the goal there. Sometimes things just completely flop, we don’t even get close to our goals, and that’s fine, it does happen and it will continue to happen. But if every project you work on falls significantly short of the goal, you might want to reevaluate the goals you set and think about wether they’re realistic or not.

 

How do we know wether we have more growth potential or not?

 

This is easy! We always have more growth potential. This ties back in with keeping it realistic, ‘I want to be the most famous musician in the world’ doesn’t really leave you any growth potential, nor is it an overly realistic goal. The big thing with this, is to make sure that the goals we set leave us in a better position than we started in to work towards farther goals. I’ve found (for me anyway) that I need to always have a few goals that I’m working towards. Right now I’m working on plans for my first album, plans for an EP, and planning gigs and other recording projects to fill the rest of my free time. Each of these goals will help me reach (hopefully) a bigger audience than what I currently have access to, and they will all put me in a place to work on newer, bigger projects.

 

 

Thanks for reading, see you next week.

 

 

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