Corporate Corner – Thinking About Starting a Business in the Music Industry? – 15 Essential Tips to Help You Succeed

by Sari Delmar

*Photo above: Myself and the Audio Blood team goofing around
Do you find yourself banking your best ideas? Dreaming of calling the shots? Then it’s probably inevitable, you were meant to be an entrepreneur.

So what’s stopping you? Well, the list is long: fears, concerns, questions, doubts… there is tons of BS that could get in your way. Not to mention, you’ve chosen the music industry. And it’s probably the most waffling of them all! Here’s some tips for overcoming the obstacles and preparing for the best thing you might ever do in your lifetime.

People will tell you it’s silly, that the music industry is dying, and that you can’t expect to beat leading industry experts… but don’t listen to them. The music industry tough but thriving. It takes a special type of person to rise above and push through in to uncharted territory.

1. Stop Over-Thinking and Just Do.

If you think some magical wizard is going to sweep down from their castle to tell you it’s time to start that indie label you’ve been dreaming of, you’re wrong. Conjure that magic from within and start writing notes, plans, and ideas. Just start to get them out. Arrange them in a way that makes sense to you: string some words together that represent your business vision and before you know it you’ll have a strategy in front of you. Ask your friends, and anyone who will listen, for their feedback. Break down large sweeping goals into tangible milestones, and start by putting one foot in front of the other.

2. Know That Home is Not an Option. 

Go big or go home, and once you do decide to go big; know that going home is not an option. Don’t pussyfoot your way into the future; it’s a sure way to fail. Take bold strides, believe you truly have what it takes, and forget the idea of a back-up plan. Throw yourself into the thick of it. Don’t hold back. Now is your time because you just decided so.

3. Envision Your Success. 

Having a hard time really understanding your strategy and direction? Work backwards. Think about what success looks like, feels like, and smells like for you. Who are you surrounded by? Where are you? Draw a picture if you need to! Walk backwards, outlining the steps that will lead you there. Stay positive when envisioning, and truly believe you can achieve what you’re seeing. A positive mental attitude can save your business in the hard times. Trust me, there’s a lot of negativity and “jaded-ness” looming in the music biz.

4. Know Your Shit. 

But actually. Study for hours, intern, volunteer, go where no one has gone before. Get your hands dirty and understand the music industry. Don’t obsess over knowing EVERYTHING, but get the fundamentals and framework down. Understand your role and study your competition. Don’t get obsessed, again, but understand how they function and log it somewhere deep in your brain.

5. Read Between the Lines. 

Think outside of the box, and if that’s not your strength find someone who’s strength it is. Service needs that people don’t even know they have yet. Foresee possible issues or roadblocks before they become a fire you have to put out. This will come easily with #4. Watch for signs. Do you often overhear people saying, “oh, I wish this my band had access to this?” or do you have friends and colleagues suggesting, “you’re really great at this marketing strategy. You should advise X band”? These are all clues that will help you understand if there is a demand for what you’re selling or hoping to sell.

6. Have Balls. 

Stand behind what you’re offering. Confront difficult situations head-on or they will become bigger, uglier issues. Get comfortable with conflict and confrontation. Understand how to handle yourself professionally when faced with these situations. Keep your emotions in check and stand up for what you believe in. Get to know yourself and how you handle tough situations. Any tendencies or soft spots? Address those head-on and find systems to keep yourself in check.

7. Never Stop Learning. 

At any moment an unexpected change could drastically impact your business and cash flow. Be ready to overcome whatever is tossed your way, by always learning from those around you, reading, asking questions, and sinking your teeth into wisdom of all shapes and sizes. Be ready to reinvent the wheel, when called for, and to set new goals when external factors mess with your current ones. Don’t forget to create new goals when old ones are close to being reached, and never recycle old ones.

8. Don’t Just Think of Yourself as an Expert at Your Craft; Learn How to Manage and Lead 

Likely if you’ve decided to start your own company you must be pretty damn good at your craft whether it’s marketing, artist development, graphic design, sales, booking, etc., and that’s great. However, take a second to also look at yourself as a leader and manager; two very different roles. Are you comfortable in them? Which one is your weakest, and why? Learn more about that role, study it, and force yourself into being comfortable with it. When your company is young you will often have to wear the expert, manager, and leader hats at the same time. It’s important each gets an equal amount of attention. Build a plan to fill the roles you’re not fond of with talented people, but never think you can get away with not learning it. Personally, being a manager was the greatest struggle for me. It took me about 3 years to really take management seriously and understand that in order to achieve success I would need to learn how to do it well. When the time comes, use your manager hat to hire the best and right people for you team. Use your leader hat to develop strong partnerships. Understand your weaknesses and do your best,  but don’t let them hold you back or define you.

9. Apologize When You F*** up, and Forgive Yourself. 

You’re gonna make mistakes. Lots of them. Don’t carry around your failures in a big knapsack that weighs you down in every meeting. You don’t have time to get hung up and make a scene. Apologize to whoever was affected professionally, whether it be a client or employee and don’t forget to forgive yourself. If you don’t learn from the mistake and move on, it can affect your business down the road, and trust me, you can’t do your best work under those types of circumstances. Start seeing failure and mess-ups as constructive. Not only will you never make the same mistake twice, you might just stumble upon a great mistake that could lead to a big breakthrough! Don’t get pissed at failure, it’s just part of the process.

10. Appreciate the Grunt Work. 

It’s just part of it. If you try to bypass the crucial grunt work needed to get your business off the ground you’ll have a hard time respecting and managing the people you hire to handle it down the road, trust me, there’s no way around this. Tax returns!?!? Woohoo!

11. See Things Your Clients’ Way. 

Speak their language, listen to them carefully, and take their feedback… but don’t let it destroy you! Do whatever you need to do to make them happy; without, of course, compromising your companies’ values and ethics. Fight for your clients and understand their needs intrinsically.

12. Establish Core Values and Common Goals, Define the Ideal Outcomes 

Whether you have a team or not, it’s important that there be backbone to your company and that you are clear about exactly what that is. What is your purpose? What are you setting out to achieve? It seems obvious, but try writing that out on paper and you’ll see it’s no small feat. Find the words, communicate them when needed, and let them guide you through difficult decisions. When building your logo and brand, think about these founding principles.

13. Do Your Best Work Every Day. 

Even one off-day could loose you an important client or opportunity. Don’t let any BS get in your way. Always give your best advice to your clients/consumers and team, even when it might be inconvenient for you personally. Find realistic ways to manage negative distractions and stay focused. Know how much sleep you need, what you need to eat, and the environment you need to be in to do your best work, and live by those perimeters. Don’t even think about watching the clock, comparing yourself to someone else your age, or dwelling on your boyfriend’s social media updates. The only thing that matters is doing your very best work. Inspire those around you to be the best they can be. And again, don’t compare. Appreciate that everyone is different and has unique talents. Establish and maintain high standards, and get used to defending them every day. Sounds tiring, huh? Nope. Just another day on the job.

Usually doing your best work also means selflessly sacrificing every day. Nothing is more important than the companies’ needs. At the start, this is how you need to live. Every decision is not about what is best for you. It is about A.) what is best for the clients and B.) what is best for your company. Get used to this. Live and breathe it, and don’t waste your time resenting it.

14. Get Comfortable With Taking Risks.

Sure, there’s always a degree of calculation when taking a risk; but usually (as most entrepreneurs can attest) there’s also a whole lotta gut. Take educated risks, jump off cliffs, and stand behind the risks you take. Fight for them or they don’t have a chance of succeeding. Know the hard facts and realities of what you’re up against, but dont let them tear you down or scare you away from diving in head first.

15. Love What You’re Doing (Enough to Do it Right). 

I left this to the last for a reason. Though love for your job and music is obviously paramount and likely what brought you to this juncture in the first place, without prioritizing the lessons above it doesn’t really matter what you love. Lots of people love singing and can dream of being famous, but it takes a certain type of person to manage, lead, and perfect their craft on their way to the top. Don’t get so lost in the huffy puffy magic of doing what you love that you forget to take it seriously.

My company is turning 5 years old next year and I couldn’t be more excited for the future. I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. You probably will as well, but hopefully I’ve provided a solid heads-up to prepare you for them. Remember, it’s only the end of the world if you allow it to be. I’ll end off with a quote courtesy of T.S. Eliot, who wisely said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Let’s go far my friends. Thank you for reading,

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