Thursday, August 21, 2008

Failure to Plan = Plan to Fail

Whether you realize it or not, opting for a career in music almost always constitutes a choice to operate as a sole business proprietor. For U.S. tax purposes, you will be treated as an independent contractor, and will usually reap none of the benefits of employee status. You should also check with local government jurisdictions to find out about business licensing requirements (yes, I'm serious). But most importantly, you need to understand that every new business needs a plan to succeed, and yours is no exception.

How much money do you have to start with? How long will that money last while your business is getting established? What market (i.e. what kind of gigs) are you targeting? What skills/contacts/equipment will you need to compete in that market? What are your overhead costs? You should think through as many of these details as possible in advance. Ideally, you should even write out a formal plan of action with specific objectives and deadlines for yourself. If you're not sure what will be necessary, then seek out advice from others who have already successfully established themselves in the field.

Let's face it; most musicians are not very business-oriented people. I'm guilty, too. Frankly, the thought of going out to clubs to network and schmooze makes me groan. But that's how gigs are gotten, so I do what has to be done for the sake of staying in music. When you are a sole proprietor, you have to look out for yourself, because nobody else will be looking out for you. It's not that they don't love you! But, trust me, everybody else in this business is simply too busy hustling their own gigs to worry much about you. Truthfully, there are many generous and kind folks in music, but it's always best to operate on the assumption that you are fending for yourself.

Getting established and keeping the gigs flowing on a monthly basis usually keeps us all sufficiently preoccupied, but don't forget about long-term plans. Breaking your act into higher paying gigs, budgeting for a future album project, and saving for your eventual retirement are the types of goals which often fall by the wayside for lack of planning. Remember: if you don't do it yourself (or hire someone to do it), it won't get done.

The good news is that you are your own boss! You can set whatever kind of schedule you wish. You don't have to take any gigs or work with anybody you don't want to work with (but don't be too picky). You can take a vacation whenever it suits you. You can be however ambitious you want to be, and you don't really have to answer to anybody else.

Your business will grow and change and move in unexpected directions. Be open to different opportunities, and be flexible enough to remain viable for the long run. To the extent that you have a plan and keep revising and implementing it, you will have better odds of achieving the kind of results you want.

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