The music industry has rapidly changed over the past few years, reducing the barriers-to-entry and eliminating the so called “rules” that existed as part of the game. Both new artists and established veteran’s want a piece of the pie and to get there, they are becoming more involved with how their identity and brand is built. With that, comes the birth of the so called ‘Artistpreneur’ which Matt Fullbrook – band member of KC Roberts & the Live Revolution – defined as an artist who “creates a model that helps them sustain their art”. This model which he speaks of is a business model, one that every emerging business professional requires to define their brand and their product. In the case of artists, the “artist is the brand and the art is the service”, as neatly said by Alex Metcalfe, who hosted the NXNEi workshop.
As the name would imply, ‘Artistpreneur’ is essentially an artist who is an entrepreneur and, as is the business definition, an entrepreneur is an individual who manages and organizes a business, usually a new business, with considerable risk involved. However, as all business people will know, entrepreneurship is not only about the “me”. Its also about the “we”. Collaboration is an important step that helps one build upon an idea, to make it a reality. Its no different for an artist. Jayson Gaignard, a serial entrepreneur in his own rank, said its very easy to “reverse engineer the success of artists today”. He added that “too many people try to reinvent the wheel” when becoming a part of something. “Focus on the strengths and then fill the gaps with collaborators”, he concluded. Of course, an ‘important’ collaboration is different for everybody. Derek Christoff, a prolific Canadian rapper who often goes by his stage name D-Sisive, defined artistpreneur as “doing things on your own terms”. His important collaborators are those who helped him be the decision maker but helped him create his brand. Fullbrook was on the same page. His important collaborators are those who ensure the artists in his bands don’t move off to other bands. He said they are “the biggest assets” of his group and thats why its important to “spend money on building ourselves”.
The tools that were considered state of the art and were only available in a studio are now available on laptops. The digital world has changed the way the music industry behaves and nothing has made more of an impact than online content sharing platforms. Justin Bieber is the best example of this. From sharing content on YouTube, to being discovered by Scooter Braun and then being catapulted to serious fame, Bieber is an artist who went from nothing to riches by taking advantage of the tools that exist today. However, are free content mechanisms a strategy or something that artists now just have to cope with? Fullbrook definitely sees it as a strategy. “Understanding the consumer side is a strategy”, he says. “You try to figure out whats attractive to people by testing the market and observing what else is out there. Its free for both parties so its a win-win for both”. Christoff was on the same page, reflecting on how online content mechanisms played a role in his career. “Free content made stuff look up. It was not a strategy from the beginning. Not until I put my free record did I get some buzz”. This form of consumer behavior is something we see a lot today. “Attention is the new currency”, said Gaignard, adding that “subconcisouly, we do everything today. The concept of free is getting that real estate in the consumers head. Traditional informertials offer products if you buy. The free model here provides the products first and then the commitment.” Gaignard went to say that the key is switching from a “transactional mindset” to a “value creation mindset”, which would help an artist reach his art to his intended audience and be able to turn that around to something positive and lucrative.
However, churning out free content is not as simple. To make content requires time and money, two very important factors an artist needs to consider before committing to anything, especially if your new to the game. How do you draw the line? Where do you draw it? Fullbrook said that he would definitely want a strategy. “We would generate free content with the confidence that the free content will lead to paid-content being purchased”, he said. Christoff on the other hand put forth a very different perspective about free content. “Putting out free music is no problem because its been my friend”, he said. “My shows are not free, my t-shirts are not free. This is where I make my money. I find that free music draws people to buy my shows and stuff. I go with what works”. Gaignard took the subject from a business angle. “You can try the mass approach or the harpoon approach” he said, outling that from a business perspective, you can either target a large audience in hopes of creating value or target specific people from your subscriber pool who will buy what you have to offer. Referencing Tony Robbins, Gaignard talked about the tier approach, giving different levels of value for different kinds of audiences, where each level is a stepping stone for the consumer to connect with your brand.
No matter how much effort is put into becoming a successful artist and business person, failure is always a concern. “Your gonna fail and you gotta learn from those mistakes”, said Christoff. “You gotta put in the effort”. Gaignard reflected on people’s fear of failure stating that “starting something and progressing let’s you overcome that fear”. Failure is a part of anything and with failure comes the opportunity to learn. Fullbrook gave a more humorous but rather interesting assessment of failure: “In the process of learning, you get all the bad ideas out”. Becoming an artist or becoming an entrepreneur is not easy, and being able to juggle both is even more difficult. However, it all comes down to how much drive you have to succeed, how willing you to keep yourself informed about the industry and how well you are going to leverage the very accessible tools that exist today. Only then, can you take a step forward and rise to become an ‘Artistpreneur’.