[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Kayleigh Alexandra from MicroStartups.org.]
Life is full of odd little parallels. You’ll notice them out of nowhere, suspect that you’re conjuring connections out of thin air, then realize they’re useful regardless. It’s all due to how we learn and grow. We draw from the world around us, finding lessons wherever we can — and if you dig deep enough, you’ll find that music connects with everything.
I can personally attest to that. I come from an entrepreneurial background. Charitable, yes, but firmly in the corporate world regardless (albeit in the part reserved for the dreamers), so I often have business on the brain. And in thinking about the plight of today’s aspiring musical artist, I realized that they face a similar challenge to that of the budding entrepreneur.
But enough of my preamble. You might like to know why finding your musical genre is like establishing a business niche — and that’s a question I’m happy to answer. Allow me to oblige:
Beginning with a formless desire
How many people grow up wanting to be musicians? To spend their lives being creative, visiting different countries, having a great time collaborating with friends, and never have to suffer the indignity of the ‘9 to 5’. They get inspired by music as a whole, and all their influences blend together to form an impulse: “Make your own kind of music,” it says.
Entrepreneurs aren’t so different. Instead of music, they get hooked on deal-making: haggling, negotiation, profit margins. They aspire to be like their business heroes: bold, fearless, and able to motivate those around them with their ideas and enthusiasm. Some just want to make money, while others want to change the world around them in positive ways.
Either way, the desire usually starts out quite vague. You can know that you want to work in music, or build your own business, without knowing anything more detailed than that. There are exceptions, naturally — people who know very early that they want to be jazz musicians, or run their own fitness clubs — but those people can easily run into problems when they cling to their initial impulses, because it might be that they’re just not suited to them in practice.
The goal is an original mix of existing parts
Originality is somewhat overrated, not least because it’s essentially impossible in the purest sense. What you produce in adulthood is heavily determined by what you experienced in childhood, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether in music or in business, real originality is about taking existing things and forming them into a fresh mix.
Think about how an entrepreneur finds an untapped niche. They look at everything that’s currently successful, then they start looking at where they overlap. Here’s an easy example: at some point, someone noticed that there was plenty of money in the fitness and gadget niches, so they combined the two and started creating and selling fitness gadgets (Fitbits and similar devices). It’s a popular formula — take a popular activity, add a trending type of product, and you’ve got a new business.
Music is just the same. You can take two genres that you love and mash them together. Maybe you grew up with bluegrass and jazz, and think that jazzy bluegrass has a lot of potential. You can even make that mashup process your genre — developing your remixing skills and folding entire songs together to create new experiences.
You should take all the support you can get
Musical style isn’t something to be honed alone. Sure, you can sequester yourself in a cabin somewhere to finish a particular piece of work, but the early period of deciding what type of musician you are, well, that requires more than soundboards. It also requires sounding boards — excuse the gag.
This is because external feedback helps you process your thoughts, and because you need to keep being exposed to new music to give you more material to draw from when making your decision. Similarly, early business is all about finding mentorship and business communities to vet ideas and ensure that you’re not about to commit a significant portion of your resources to a plan that won’t pay off.
It’s also an excellent idea to take advantage of relevant tools and services, because we’re in the digital age now, and you don’t need to take the arduous route of a traditional musician. One of the reasons why an entrepreneur can take so long to choose their niche is that the implementation stage is faster than ever before. Using technological assistance, any startup can scale extremely quickly (even internationally — modern systems can offer global content delivery networks and integrations out of the box to rapidly enable cross-border selling).
Well, when you’ve finally decided what your musical genre is, you need only focus on producing the best work you can make, because the distribution shouldn’t be an issue. At the drop of a hat, you can start selling your music worldwide, keeping all the revenue and not having to deal with the awkward bureaucracy and wavering support of a traditional record label.
Concessions are often needed to succeed
Here’s a truth that everyone must accept sooner or later: doing exactly what you want almost never overlaps with maximizing your popularity and/or monetary reward. Aspiring business owners often have to confront this reality quite early on, when the ideas that they were so attached to get shot down by prospective investors.
They have two options: adapt to what the market wants, or give up entirely. Some of them take the latter approach, set their dreams aside, and move on — and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. But more of them realize that compromise doesn’t necessarily kill creative vision. It often ends up enhancing it to some extent by forcing them to find ways to thrive while contending with numerous requirements and limitations.
This is absolutely the case for musicians. Solely for business reasons, you might end up targeting a slightly different genre than the one you were initially drawn to, but you can’t know what’ll happen. You might fall in love with that genre as well. You might find ingenious ways to express yourself within the new structure.
And, of course, achieving enough success will grant you the freedom to make the music you always wanted to. Once you have a big name and enough money saved up, you can throw caution to the wind and go back to your roots. But if you never achieve any measure of success, you might not ever get the opportunity to pursue your dreams in that way.
The musical genre you choose to pursue will significantly affect the course of your career. You’ll always have the option of pivoting to something new, but if you can establish a strong foundation that’s workable when it comes to creativity and marketability, you can eventually move towards the dream: steadily making money from your main operation, and spending the rest of your time being freely creative.
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