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The Sustainable Artist – From My Perspectiveby Nathan Davis on April 6, 2021
The world changed for us all in March 2020. COVID-19, and all that came with it, altered daily life almost overnight. For many, even the roles we play(ed) in the workplace and our communities were given a reevaluation, as our contributions and compensation were measured and evaluated. Suddenly, whole industries had dried up, and those who worked in them were out of work and left to scramble for survival.
It is interesting to me that one of the most significantly impacted industries is the music world. The lives and livelihoods of musicians and artists of all levels were put on indefinite hold. The reality is that many of us artists have had to fervently work on a Plan B for some time.
Waiting for things to magically revert to what we knew before was quickly of no interest to me. I instead focused on myself, my writing and catalog of original music, my guitar skills, reading and personal development, projects around the house, the list is long. I focused on relationships, friendships and connecting with people in all ways that I could during such an isolated time.
I reassessed and challenged myself and my music and decided to answer the question: “What does it mean to be a sustainable artist in the Charlotte music scene?”
I invested time in developing ways to create a high-quality sound and broadcast via all the streaming platforms. I performed Zoom concerts for people during lockdown (often complete strangers). I even played virtual birthday parties and happy hours (for hire). In many ways, I explored, reached out and pursued growth.
Again, I made my days count, rather than counting the days.
I’d like to share some principles here that I’ve found relevant and rewarding regardless of the economic or cultural climate we find the world in.
As a working musician, much of our success lies with our abilities to handle the many necessary tasks that take place away from the stage. As comfortable as we may be behind a mic, our comfort levels and abilities associated with booking, business development, marketing, etc. play a vital role in our successes. Frankly, these other skills are what separate us from being a starving artist and being a “rarely hungry” artist.
Practice Your Business Skills Like You’d Practice Music
As an independent, full-time, gigging singer-songwriter and musician, your on-stage prowess is vital. We spend countless hours crafting and channeling our creative gifts into a potent deliverable via performance. But, it’s only one aspect of where we can be our best and add to what services we are offering to the venues and businesses that hire us and thus help make us sustainable.
You Are a Small Business
Each gigging musician and artist is in fact a small business. We should operate like it.
We should all consider using spreadsheets, synced calendars, call lists, business development plans, marketing plans and partnerships with venues that hire us to drive our small businesses forward to greater goals and levels of service.
I have long used office tools, invoicing software and even daytime office hours to physically meet businesses that hire me where they are, speaking their language of business and meeting their needs as a means of meeting mine.
This approach has resulted in a successful 10+ year career that keeps me gigging full-time and keeps me delivering a professional, on-time, focused deliverable during my shows.
Learn to Communicate with Businesses
These skills don’t just solely benefit us artists either. Learning to connect and communicate with businesses that hire us for our musical services using a language and level of precise professionalism creates a more sustainable functioning relationship.
How you treat people matters. Relationships matter. Setting an expectation of reliability and professionalism as part of our artist services is a focus we all should be honing and perfecting.
Develop Your Business Routine
Your business brand and service model is how you represent yourself in all aspects of your business and how you present yourself.
- Create a business development plan and routine.
- Give time to it every week.
- Meet with and develop personal relationships with venue owners and managers and business owners.
- Show them that your brand and your business is focused on their success as well as yours.
- Ask about and understand their needs. Ask for feedback on what’s working and what’s not. And then be prepared to act on that feedback.
- Partner with them as part of your services.
Give ROI to Get ROI
You’ll find that working together toward a shared goal will create a bond that benefits us all. It sets an expectation that we are focused on the growth of our own business and are invested in their success, as well.
If we deliver quality and professionalism in all aspects of being independent, gigging musicians, our small businesses will grow and even thrive. The return on investments (ROI) made by businesses that hire us will be apparent, and perhaps we’ll be viewed as being valuable to their bottom line.
It has to start somewhere. If we’re offering more, partnering more and demonstrating value, conversations about higher compensation are much easier to have.
This past year, doing more with less has also been a constant for artists. But as unsettling as some of the change has been, change offers opportunity. We can all benefit from evolving our services and creating a new standard for how we do business.
Let’s all see where that can take us as a music community.