Entrepreneurship is much more than just starting and running a company. Apart from the obvious risks involved, it’s a process through which individuals identify opportunities in the marketplace and generate and utilise resources in order to create value in a product or concept that perhaps didn’t previously exist. Entrepreneurs tend to be the more creative thinkers who become owners of their own destiny, either through their own choice or through necessity. The ones who I speak to tell me that they feel they have more freedom to think and to experiment than if they were employees or confined to a department in a company. Perhaps for this reason, it is not uncommon that economic, social, cultural, and scientific change is quite likely to begin from the work of an entrepreneur.
But what does it take to be successful at this? There are, of course, many obvious attributes required: passion, energy, a positive disposition, perseverance, dedication, knowledge, flexibility, motivation, leadership......the list goes on. But it’s not enough only to have a huge love for what you do - in this case, music - as after all, the definition of an amateur is someone who does something purely for the love of doing it and that does not always lead to successful business. To be successful you should bring a balance of professionalism and amateurism to your approach to work - that is; be good at making business decisions while maintaining a genuine love for what you do.
You need to be able to mix expertise in your chosen field with a passion for what it is you are an expert in, and be able to apply careful planning AND blind faith all at the same time. In summary; a succesful Entrepeneur is someone who is somehow able to blend science with religion.
So, why do we need Entrepreneuers in the music business? Producer, Musician and Author, George Howard, writes this:“There has never been a better time to be a music entrepreneur. Fundamentally, entrepreneurs see problems and fix them. Given the state of today's music business, the opportunities for an entrepreneur to succeed are as high as they've ever been. In few other businesses can someone with little - or no - capital or connections go from a bedroom operation to affecting culture on such a large scale in such short order“.
To know the answer to the question of why we need more entrepreneurs in the music business, we should look at the alternatives. For me, the music industry has changed beyond belief in recent years. The big companies have disintegrated. Individuals have broken off or been cast away and have gone in their own direction, packaging and selling their expertise as a service back to the remaining large companies, as well as to other smaller, entrepreneurial operations. The music business is less of an industry and more of a community of experts, a network of advisers, gathering together and helping one another to survive. Not too long ago the music business was a big, glamerous industry.
Huge corporations held the keys to the few doors that offered a way in to the higher levels of the business. As we move away from that recent history we realise what an enormous, distasteful, and quite depressing con it all was. A scam that Tony Soprano would be proud of.
Talking of which, I used to recommend a book called “Hit Men“ by Fredric Dannen, as a fine example of how the music business operated, particularly the all-powerful major label recording industry, especially the US labels. If you haven’t read the book, it’s a behind-the-scenes documentary-style description about how the major label system grew and cornered the market in ways that are most interesting to read about. The book describes itself as “the highly controversial portrait of he pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America’s largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley days to the present day, Fredric Dannen examines in depth the often venal, sometimes illegal dealings among the assorted hustlers and kingpins who rule over this multi-billion-dollar business.“
I’ve had this book for about 12 years and read and re-read it several times. I’m just finishing it again now. The time I read it previously was about 6 years ago – at a time when social media as we know it was in its infancy or didnt even exist yet. When I read it back then it still felt like an accurate portrayal of what someone could expect if starting to deal with major labels and major companies. So, I’m actually slightly shocked to read it now and realise that in just a few years that this book suddenly feels of very little use as a reference to today’s record industry.
It describes in full, lurid colour a time of big, big sales, huge deals, untouchable global superstars, and massive egos - especially of those running the companies, such as Walter Yetnikoff, David Geffen, Morris Levy, for example.
This is also a story of corruption, deceit, extortion, abuse of power, and, for want of a better term, artistic slavery. More pertinently, it shows just how few people have been in control of so much of the business for so long. I read this book now and I don’t recognise this closed version of the business any more and I’m really rather pleased about that.
For those of us who are suddenly the older guys in the business we remember this era very clearly. This is the business we grew up in and tried to work in. It’s all we knew.
We’ve lived through a revolution and it felt enormous and terrifying but in the end left us energised and excited. But some didnt make it. They couldn’t adapt as the hurricane of change swept through and destroyed everything we knew in what felt like the blink of an eye. It has been a heavy time for everyone and it’s not quite over. But I feel the ground leveling off. There seems to be a calmness and a sense of hope that the worst is over and we are well under way with rebuilding and modernising the world we live and work in. The people in this room here today are some of the ones that managed to survive. Just about. For now it feels good to be here and to be able to pass on our knowledge and our experiences, to others who might need this advice. In return we are being kept alive in this new era thanks to the motivation we get from the new generation, the younger, more energetic people who arrive with new ideas, innovative methods of working, amazing new inventions, and, of course, new music. Personally, I find all this vital to my own view of where I am in the business these days. I’ve discovered that the more I try to give to others the more I seem to receive in return. It’s recipricol, it’s altruistic, it’s creative, and, above all, it’s enjoyable. This is, I think, the essence of the new music business.
While everyone sat around talking about what the next music business model would look like, these new people came in who didn’t need, or intend, to wait – and, anyway, they didn’t even know what the old music business model had been. They just got on with creating their presence in the industry. There was never really a well-thought-out music business model in the first place, it just grew randomly and wildly for several decades, so there is no point in trying to harness or comparmentalise the vast amount of newness in the industry, it seems.
Finally, to all of you here who are just starting out and want to be a manager, a musician, an entrepreneur, a someone, but feel that you are struggling to make your mark, I recommend that you listen to all the very smart people we have on the panels today.
I suggest you ask questions about anything you feel you need to know – however embarrassing or stupid you might feel. Just ask. I promise you, it could make all the difference.
To prove this point: Our special guest today is Mr Ed Bicknell, one of the most successful artist managers of all time. The very first seminar I attended many years ago, Mr Bicknell was the guest speaker there too. He was an amazing speaker, I was absorbed and mesmerised by his stories of success and achievement. To this day I don’t know how I got the courage, in a room full of strangers, to put my hand up to ask him what I thought, even then, was a very naive question. I asked him “How did you know what to do?“. He laughed and I felt awful, like I’d asked the most stupid question ever. But he wasn’t laughing at me. It was because his answer to my question was “How did I know what to do? I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing!“. To hear this from a man who, even at the time he claims he didn’t know what he was doing, was actually managing an artist that was heading to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic was exactly the reaction I needed to hear. The idea that there was some secret exam I must pass or a certain Gateway to Knowledge I should discover was instantly erased. It showed that even the most successful people need to start somewhere, and it’s usually at the beginning, with no idea of how to do what it is you want to do. “Just go out and do it and see what happens“ he concluded and I heard angels singing in my head. The next day I “began“ working in the music business. I’d like you all to remember that.
I’ve passed this little story on to everyone I’ve ever met who I’ve tried to help to get started in the business. I’m sure Ed won’t remember the conversation but I definitely do and it certainly made all the difference to me.
I hope that the panel we are about to present will be able to answer enough questions for you, show the diversity that exists when it comes to the kind of entrepreneur that operates in the music business, and leaves you all with the spark of inspiration that might be the thing you need to go and get started on your own career as an Entrpreneur in the music business. Thank you.
This speech was delivered as part of the Estonian Music Managers Master Class Programme in Tallinn, Estonia on 31st March 2012.