Why Musicians Make the Best Entrepreneurs

Take a moment to moment to reflect on some of your favorite bands. Chances are, at least one person in at least one of those bands is involved in a successful business venture aside from the band. Tom Delonge founded both Macbeth and Modlife while balancing two bands and a family (in addition to a few past ventures). Travis Barker started successful clothing company Famous Stars & Straps. Kanye West is yelling on rooftops about his creative agency. We all know Jay-Z’s Story. There are thousands of examples of these. 50 Cent, P. Diddy, Eminem. There’s also this list. There certainly seems to be a trend.

So, why do musicians consistently make successful entrepreneurs?

Musicians make good entrepreneurs because musicians are entrepreneurs. At a a very base level, the best musicians engage in idea conception, strategic planning, product design, internet marketing, sales, negotiation, self-education, investment, fundraising, and so many more activities strikingly similar to those we consider entrepreneurs.

When I was in a band, I was forced to learn a myriad of skills that helped me get where I’m at today. I learned basic graphic design and Photoshop skills. I learned how to negotiate pricing with venues. I learned leadership; it’s hard to find a good drummer, let alone run regular band practices and mediate problems between oh so sensitive musicians. I learned how to “create compelling spectacles” as Robert Greene says. Like P.T. Barnum says, “without promotion, something terrible happens…nothing!” My public relations jobs were easy after my time as a musician.

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So, I’ve done a bit of research, and here’s what I find musicians have in common with entrepreneurs:

1. Self-Motivation

“Fortune always favors the brave, and never helps a man who does not help himself.”–P.T. Barnum

One thing the two have in common: a lack of a safety net. You don’t clock in and out of work until you hit 40 hours. You don’t stop working on the weekend. You’re a fucking hustler. I just talked to a friend of mine, a jazz musician, that says every other jazz musician he knows plays in at least 4 bands. How would you balance 4 different jobs? They don’t have to do it, either. It’s arguably easier to wake up every morning for a secure job that you know you have to be at, than it is to force yourself to wake up early enough to not only accomplish all of your tasks, but to conceptualize what those tasks are. Nobody gives you an instruction manual when you’re a musician or an entrepreneur. Business books can help inspire you or give you ideas, but they can’t put willpower in your life. Musicians and entrepreneurs both require innate motivation and independence in their pursuits.

2. They’re Disruptors

“The fishing is best where the fewest go and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone is aiming for base hits.”-Tim Ferriss

There’s no need for a new start-up if there’s nothing to fix, right? True, but there’s always something to fix, right down to daily annoyances. Nest is a company that is reinventing things that annoy the shit out of me, like smoke detectors and thermostats. Similarly, music has a history of disruption. What’s cool about music, though, is the product itself isn’t what is to be fixed. It’s culture. The history is much deeper than this example, but Woodstock was a great example of this. Punk rock, both at its worst and at its best, seeks to reconstruct (or destroy) culture. Hip hop gave a voice to the voiceless. Entrepreneurs seek to simplify, they seek to make things better than they currently are. Musicians seek honesty, they seek a fundamental truth that will resonate with people. Both seek to do what has never been done or said before.

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3. Public Relations and Branding

“There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”-Oscar Wilde

Say what you will, but Miley Cyrus is smarter than you. Or, whoever is marketing for her is. They know that, especially in today’s media landscape, if you’re not doing something interesting, you won’t be talked about. And if you’re not being talked about, you lose. Most musicians don’t have the massive platform that Miley Cyrus does. That’s okay. They still understand the power of branding. Take Travis Barker: Dude looks cool as fuck all the time. The mohawk, the tattoos, the sleeveless tees? They’re all assets that help build the brand of FS&S. Did you know Terry Richardson used to play bass in a band. His work, certainly controversial, is unique and well branded, and he carries himself with brand-consciousness as well. There’s a lot to the marketing mix that musicians, as well as entrepreneurs, don’t understand. But they tend to be damn good at crafting a brand.

4. Leadership and Group Cohesion

“The one quality that can be developed by studious reflection and practice is the leadership of men.”-Dwight D. Eisenhower

Not all who join bands are or will be great leaders, just as not everybody that works for a start-up will be. But the kid who, after practicing his instrument for hours a day, leaves the basement to phone his band members to organize weekly band practices will learn a lot about leadership. For starters, this musical CEO will learn the value of good co-workers. Everyone who’s played in a band has had the delightful experience of playing with a lazy bassist, an egotistical guitar player, or a drummer that skips practice. Leadership is when someone decides to cut the poison from the product. Good leaders in business and music surround themselves with amazing people, because that makes them do amazing things. As Tim Ferriss says, “you are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.” A good band leader learns how to pick ‘em right and how to organize ‘em once they’re there. They develop a talent for delegation and for presenting clear and effective goals. They learn how to act on stage, to speak to a crowd, and how to carry the band through a performance. An early stage start-up founder that picks poisonous co-founders and employees is asking for a disaster. That same CEO needs to know how to lead her team using clear cut communication and effective goal setting. I cannot emphasize enough much a musician can learn about business leadership.

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