Musicians Are Natural Entrepreneurs

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

The Accidental Business

You simply cannot solve a problem if you do not deeply understand the problem you’re solving, and you cannot design a solution if you do not deeply understand those that will use it.

The Lean Entrepreneur, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits

In 1997, many years before PayPal and the online commerce platforms emerged, Derek Sivers ’91—who at the time was a successful songwriter and bandleader—wanted to sell his CDs online. Since no off-the-shelf solutions existed, he set up a merchant bank account, taught himself computer programming, and built his own shopping cart to process credit cards. When other musicians saw his work, they asked if he could put their CDs online as well. “I realized I had accidentally started a business.” Sivers says in his 2011 book Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur. “But I didn’t want to start a business. I was already living my dream as a full-time musician. I didn’t want anything to distract me from that. So, I thought that by taking an unrealistically utopian approach I could keep the business from growing too much.”

Sivers built CD Baby on a simple set of principles based on his preferences:

  • Musicians would be paid every week.
  • The system would collect the full name and address of everyone who purchased music (unless customers opted out).
  • No artist would be removed from the system for not selling enough.
  • CD Baby would not accept money for preferential placement on the site.

CD Baby quickly became a trusted partner for musicians. By putting them first, Sivers built a loyal, passionate customer base. Soon the company was home to the largest online community of independent recording artists.