Essay on the Musician As Entrepreneur

Published: 2021/11/23
Number of words: 2444

This essay will attempt to give an answer to the question do musicians need to be entrepreneurial? In fact, it will attempt to demonstrate that musicians have always been entrepreneurs and that this fact has not changed over time. In order to do so, we will examine how musicians used to do business before the eighteenth century and draw similarities with current practices drawing from case studies covered in lectures.

As Weber stated, ‘Obtaining publicity was essential for reputation and thereby for professional success.’[1] Constantly looking for opportunities was key for the survival and blooming of the musician, opportunism being one of their main attributes. In order to find opportunities, musicians would need to use marketing strategies as means of exposure and to manipulate the market to their advantage. They would use the press to reach these goals and to create a reputation that would be beneficial for their careers.

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By just taking a look at the ways in which musicians were using marketing and self-promotion, one can start to understand how the current marketing and promotion strategies were put into place. The grounds of our existing advertising and exposure models are based on strategies that were put up for the first time as early as the 17th century (the use of the press and other ways of marketing, self-managing one’s career, proactively looking for opportunities, constantly searching ways of exposure and promotion, deferring responsibilities to a manager, etc.)

It is necessary to stand out that according to Weber, not only were musicians perceived as opportunistic, but also as managers and charlatans. These two traits reflect a clear entrepreneurial image of the working musicians of their time (and somewhat of these times).

As managers, they needed to be in control of the management of their own concert events, tours and meetings with patrons and other possible investors. Being a manager was an intrinsic characteristic of the musician since it was essential for finding ways of getting work opportunities and also for preparing, directing and executing all activities related to their craft.

‘On a certain plane, an aspiring musician had to make claims for him or herself in ways that went beyond conventional music-making.’[2] This reference gives good insight of what being a charlatan means. Finding opportunities sometimes meant having to convince people to hire the musician’s services. Musicians had to find ways of expressing themselves that could be useful to persuade the potential investor to make the step and spill the pennies.

Weber comments on how being an entrepreneur and a charlatan were in many cases linked to each other. Charlatans used Story-telling as a tool to further their reputations and obtain followers because it was crucial for giving sense to and making sense out of their performances by creating an ideology that could serve as a hook.

Over time, stories that are told and retold contribute to a dominant discourse.[3]

Stories allow musicians to make and give sense about the nature of jazz […] Furthermore, our analysis reveals the potential power and contested nature of stories as sensegiving efforts to shape the present and future direction of the music.[4]

Even though the statements above have been taken from an article about orchestration and education of jazz musicians, the power of story-telling can be applied to the way in which musicians have always exercised influence over investors and audiences. Charlatanism can help shape the market towards one’s benefit. It draws people’s attention and interest regardless of the legitimacy of the stories and also contributes to the creation of a reputation.

After studying how musicians used to do business through their entrepreneurial activities in the past, one can only be surprised at how remarkably similar their way of doing business was to the ones we use in our contemporary societies.

Clear examples of how these entrepreneurial attributes translate into contemporary practices can be seen in stories told by many guest speakers, Anna Reay being one of them.

As she wanted to become a singer, she created her business in 2004 and has been active ever since. She started by making a business plan that included the formation of a band, a cashflow forecast and a marketing strategy. After obtaining some funding from the Princess Trust, she confidently invested it on her start-up and became both a micropreneur and a solo-preneur.

As Paul Rutter explains in the core reading, micropreneurs exercise their activities on a low profile, usually from home, and do not require of a big financial investment. This model is very convenient for those who start in the industry as many of the needed things for development can be done from a computer and the internet, and also implies very low financial risk. ‘Micropreneurs will still encounter business risk and uncertainty, but as they can remain small and economical over longer time periods, they can stay in control of business affairs and finance.’ [5]

Once she was set with an idea (music for cruises), she started to think about what her unique selling point would be and how it would make her stand out from the crowd. She arrived to the conclusion that her USP was the wide range of genres that she could sing in. She then started to conceptualise and create a brand, an image of her business that she could show to potential clients. She thought of doing a photoshoot for marketing purposes and eventually got herself a three-month contract to sing in a cruise.

Examining her career from the beginning one can spot clear entrepreneurial competences and behaviours that she adopted in order to create and develop her musical career.

There is an ambition present – to become a professional singer. The wish of achieving this ambition is what keeps her motivated during the journey.

She takes the initiative whenever there is something that needs to be done and accomplish it by autonomously managing it.

She keeps her network alive thanks to her social skills – keeping in touch with people that she can collaborate with, help out or getting help from is essential for success.

She has a clear idea of how to promote herself by using 5 of the 7Ps of marketing:
Product – She provides with a service – a band/voice for events.

Price – Not only did she set a price for her services considering expenses and how much people can and want to pay, but also adjusts it depending on the type of entity or venue hiring her services and/or type of agreement (for instance, it varies from one off performance to discounted residencies, as she herself specified in the lecture).

Promotion – She reaches her clients by doing marketing in several ways like adverts, posters, photographs, business cards and social media.

Place – She started marketing her business locally but eventually extended it to all of the UK and other countries.

People – ‘targeting different people for different aspects of the business,’ as she stated in the lecture. According to Rutter, this is called market segmentation.

Apart from this, she also commented on the importance of understanding of accounts since an entrepreneur also needs to be responsible for the revenue, expenses, and other financial issues that may arise. She also listed her main skills as being self-motivated, having organisation skills, interpersonal skills, etc., which basically summarises Gibb’s list of entrepreneurial competences. In other words, she gave a speech on how she manages a business taking full financial and personal responsibility – this is for many the very definition of being an entrepreneur.

One more thing about Anna is the fact that even though she sees herself as a business now, she did not see herself as such when she started her career. She was not initially motivated by ruling a business as such, but rather, the idea of being a musician. However, by doing everything she had to do to make it work, she had to recur to entrepreneurial behaviour and practices. She basically became an entrepreneur without realising about it – This is what Coulson described as being an accidental entrepreneur, a quality that most musicians have in common.

Jon Burton, funder of the Laundry Rooms Recording Studios, started making a living out of music-related activities by assisting concerts and waiting to the end of the event to help lift and carry equipment. This could be perceived as a good example of networking and opportunism. By being ambitious about having a music career, he constantly sought opportunities in which he could help people out. With determination and perseverance, he took part on unpaid activities. By networking he kept on looking for and finding such opportunities. His efforts paid off in the form of a job and a future as a record producer.

However, the most important thing that one believes students learnt from Jon (and Rutter agrees with it) is an inherent feature of the entrepreneur that hugely supports all of the entrepreneurial competences we know about – passion. Music is a passion-led career.

The greatest thing about the industry you’re going into is that everyone here does it because you love music […] I still do things for nothing because I enjoy it. […] We do it because we love music – getting paid is just a bonus.[6]

The music industry lends itself to entrepreneurship, as it is passion led […] Passion for the music project motivates business objectives.[7]

Another good example of musicians being passion-driven and how this quality affects their careers can be found in Coulson’s article:

Many of the participants could be regarded as just getting by financially, but the value of having music at the centre of their working lives mitigated some of the more negative aspects and strengthened their sense of community and identity. [8]

James Smith from Evolution Artist told us about the importance of networking and keeping in touch with contacts you make along the way. He made students understand that being an entrepreneur has little to do with the image that we are shown on TV through programmes like The Apprentice. Genuine Collaboration is embedded in the modus operandi of the musician. He also talked about the importance of knowing your audience and the people you are targeting to create marketing strategies. ‘It’s sort of important that you keep contacts that you’ve made. […] The importance of the market and who you are trying to sell your product to.’ [9]

He also mentioned important tips about managing finances. Putting up an event is a financial risk and as an entrepreneur, one needs to take care of budgets and revenue forecasts by properly assessing these risks.

Thinking about the advice given by the guest speakers makes one understand how musicians go through certain pitfalls during their careers. Personally, I had to organize a concert in which myself and some other band members had to perform (it was part of a YAMAHA music school course that I attended when I was living in Spain). After three weeks of work, we thought that everything was ready to get the venue filled to its full capacity. However, it turned out that simply setting up a Facebook event and getting lots of people clicking on ‘’going’’ and ‘’interested’’ was not enough to bring the desired number of people (we were so glad that the concert had been funded by the school…).

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A failure to do a proper market research and properly promoting the event (mixed with organizing it in a short period of time) were the key reasons for not having had a successful event. If only had we had the chance to listen to the guest speakers’ advice, things would have probably gone in a different direction.

If one were to find common grounds between these practitioners, regardless of the type of profession they exercise in the field (performers, managers, record producers or other), not only would we find out that all of them have gone through a similar process to get where they are now but most importantly, that all of them have used the same entrepreneurial mindset, skill-set and attributes to grow and develop their careers as businesses. Even the musicians who have a jobs as teachers do networking and look for clients – teaching is not all they do. As this essay has demonstrated, being an entrepreneur has indeed been an intrinsic and extremely important feature of the working musician for a very long time – and there is no prospect of anything forecasting a change of this situation in the foreseeable future.


Burton, Jon, MUS3095 Lecture 5, Musician and Entrepreneur, (Newcastle University 3rd of November 2017).

Coulson, Susan, ‘Collaborating in a competitive world: musicians’ working lives and understandings of entrepreneurship’, Work, employment and society, 26(2) (2012), 246-261.

Hall, Valerie, ‘Management teams in education: an unequal music’, School Leadership & Management: Formerly School Organisation, 21:3 (2010), 327-341.

Humphreys, Michael, Ucbasaran, Deniz and Lockett, Andy, ‘Sensemaking and sensegiving stories of Jazz leadership’, Human Relations, 65/41 (2012), 44-62.

Rutter, Paul, The Music Industry Handbook (Oxon: Routledge, 2011).

Smith, James, MUS3095 Lecture 7, PR and Press Releases, (Newcastle University 17th of November 2017).

Weber, William, The Musician as Entrepreneur 1700-1914 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004).

[1] William Weber, The Musician as Entrepreneur 1700-1914 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004) 11.

[2] William Weber, The Musician as Entrepreneur 1700-1914 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004) 5.

[3] Michael Humphreys, Deniz Ucbasaran and Andy Lockett, ‘Sensemaking and sensegiving stories of Jazz leadership’, Human Relations, 65/41 (2012), 44-62 (53).

[4] Ibid, 56.

[5] Paul Rutter, The Music Industry Handbook (Oxon: Routledge, 2011) 225.

[6] Jon Burton, MUS3095 Lecture 5, Musician and Entrepreneur, (Newcastle University 3rd of November 2017).

[7] Paul Rutter, The Music Industry Handbook (Oxon: Routledge, 2011) 224.

[8] Susan Coulson, ‘Collaborating in a competitive world: musicians’ working lives and understandings of entrepreneurship’, Work, employment and society, 26(2) (2012), 246-261 (257).

[9] James Smith, MUS3095 Lecture 7, PR and Press Releases, (Newcastle University 17th of November 2017).

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