Musicians Are Natural Entrepreneurs

By applying skills they acquired as musicians, Berklee alumni are founding successful companies that have empowered thousands of independent artists.

When discussing the music industry, most people think of performers, songwriters, and composers. But today, the range of music careers is quite broad. Many have come to Berklee with the hopes of producing value by creating music or using the skills derived from the study and practice of music. And an increasing number of alumni are discovering that their musical training and experiences gained working as musicians have wider applications than they might have imagined.

Making music and running an entrepreneurial career are dual roles now required of today’s artists. Wearing both hats successfully is a challenge. But, as CD Baby founder Derek Sivers notes, “The skills needed to make a living as a musician are the exact same skills required to be a successful entrepreneur.” According to Sivers, “Musicians don’t realize that they are already entrepreneurs!”

Entrepreneurs like Sivers have created services that address the massive changes in the industry and help fellow artists balance the creative and business sides of their careers. These entrepreneurs are uniquely qualified. They understand their customers because they are their customers. They are motivated by generosity and a desire to empower other musicians. Their experience as musicians gives them a natural entrepreneurial skill set.

Only Three Chords (Plus a Few More)

In its essence, business is the process of creating and sharing value. To do so successfully, whether creating an album; building a software platform; performing, teaching, composing, or opening a restaurant, one must answer some basic questions:

  • Who are your customers? Where do they hang out? How do they want to engage with you?
  • How does your business create value? What need does your product or service meet? What problem are you solving?
  • How will you take in more money than you spend?
  • How will you address competition and future disruption? What makes you unique and how will you continue to innovate?
  • How will you build and manage a team to realize your vision?
  • How will people find out about you, become your fans, and stay connected?

This article looks at four companies founded by Berklee alumni, including CD Baby, the gold standard of online music sales and distribution for independent musicians; PledgeMusic, a direct-to-fan platform using fan funding to deepen the artist-fan relationship; Nimbit, a one-stop, fan engagement platform acquired by PreSonus Audio Electronics in 2012; and Sonicbids, a live promotion and booking platform that has grown to include brand marketing and music placement services, which Backstage recently purchased. In each case, the founders answered the questions above by creating tools that help musicians find those same answers in their careers.