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Music entrepreneurship courses are beginning to pop up in more colleges and universities. But with that also comes some important questions, such as what is music entrepreneurship and why does it matter?
In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, Assistant Professor of Arts Management and Entrepreneurship at Baldwin Wallace University and owner of Murphy Music Press Publishing Sean brings some much-needed insight to these important questions.
- 00:14 – Introduction
- 00:28 – What is the definition of music entrepreneurship?
- 02:13 – What sort of qualities would you be looking for in a music entrepreneur?
- 03:21 – People skills
- 05:26 – Why is music entrepreneurship important?
- 08:21 – Choosing yourself
- 09:46 – Why are you passionate about music entrepreneurship?
- 12:46 – Why hasn’t music publishing adapted to the needs of composers?
- 16:07 – How did you end up at Baldwin Wallace University?
- 17:59 – What is it like to live in Ohio?
- 19:27 – Employment and music entrepreneurship?
- 24:24 – What kinds of freelancing opportunities are available today?
- 29:06 – How do musicians make money today?
- 35:29 – What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
- 38:57 – What are some of the biggest victories you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
- 42:08 – Are there any books that have inspired and helped you on your journey?
- 43:52 – Is there anything else I should have asked?
David Andrew Wiebe: Today I’m chatting with Assistant Professor of Arts Management and Entrepreneurship at Baldwin Wallace University, and owner of Murphy Music Press Publishing, Sean Murphy. How are you today Sean?
Sean Murphy: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for having me on.
David Andrew: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. So, it seems like people can’t agree entirely on this. I’m going to start off by asking what your definition of music entrepreneurship is.
Sean: That’s a great question. I think a lot of musicians are maybe averse to the term entrepreneurship in general because the idea of mixing business concepts with the idea of musical performance, I think to some people it’s kind of like an unholy marriage.
So, I would define entrepreneurship as kind of the intersection of creativity and innovation. For musicians, I feel like that’s just what we do every single day in our product and what we do.Entrepreneurship is the intersection of creativity and innovation. Click To Tweet
So, my definition of music entrepreneurship is really just the skillset that is necessary for one to survive in the music industry itself because without any entrepreneurial abilities I think we see a lot of unfortunate cases where some musicians have to change careers or change music into more of a hobby than an income generating device.
David Andrew: I can get behind everything you just said for sure, because there are so many musicians out there that go “Oh, but I just want to focus on the creative side of things.” which I totally understand but if you don’t market your music, if nobody knows who you are, if you don’t build your email list, or know anything about social media or building websites, pretty much you don’t have a career, right?
Sean: Yeah. It’s difficult to be a musician but a lot of people already possess these entrepreneurial qualities they just don’t think of them in that way.
Part of what I do, I think it’s also educating people on the fact that they already possess a lot of these qualities and then just manipulating them in such a way that would be beneficial for their long-term success in music, is really what I should go about doing.
David Andrew: I think that’s true too. What sort of qualities would you be looking for?
Sean: Well, I think creativity is definitely at the forefront but as I kind of referenced before, all the musicians I feel like are inherently creative or they wouldn’t be in this field to begin with.
David Andrew: Yes.
Sean: Beyond creativity, I think the next quality that a lot of musicians sometimes have to overcome is the ability to speak to other musicians and other non-musicians in kind of like the general topic of public speaking and general communication.
A lot of musicians… we’re insular people. We go in the practice room for eight hours a day. We don’t talk to anyone but ourselves. Sometimes we’re going crazy. And then oftentimes we can use our instrument as kind of like a veil to hide behind instead of articulating our thoughts with our words.
So, another quality I like to look for or encourage is someone who’s like well-articulate and able to speak clearly and not feel intimidated by the idea of communicating their entrepreneurial thoughts and their musical thoughts with their voice and not just their performance medium.
David Andrew: Wow! That’s huge. And I do talk about the fact that people skills are extremely important in my latest mini-book The Essential Guide to Music Entrepreneurship. 2018 Edition. So, if you can’t see yourself developing your people skills or getting good at communication, you at least need to work with somebody who is because that can make a tremendous difference.
Sean: Certainly. I mean even–. Sometimes I’ll tell my students like just talk to someone in line at Starbucks or just kind of strike up a conversation with a stranger. Eventually, you won’t think of it as such an anxiety inducing exercise.
David Andrew: It’s so true. Part of my background is in network marketing so I spent about four or five years trying to build that business, but you can’t build that business without interacting with people.
David Andrew: So, it was like yeah, I talked to one person today and that was a victory. Then gradually increase that, right, increase the comfort zone to three people or five people and you continually get yourself out there. That was part of my goal is really just to get out of my shell and begin talking to more people.
Sean: Yeah. I think it’s even harder when you spend so much of your time as part of the necessary skills not communicating in a verbal way. This is kind of the great paradox of music. What can we communicate with our words? Well, we spend so much time focusing on how to convey that meaning that sometimes we lose track of more basic functions like communicating with words.
David Andrew: Yeah. I think music is a language and that is perhaps the most advantageous way of viewing it. I say to people I speak English, Japanese, music, and computer. So, really four languages there. I grew up in Japan, that’s why I speak Japanese. That might be something people don’t know but.
Sean: Interesting. Yeah. And computer, I mean that’s another growing language that more people probably need to speak.
David Andrew: It is so important. And you know what? That’s something I should cover in upcoming episodes or possibly in the future book is technology.
But it changes. It moves so fast that by the time you’ve written about it or published about it that thought or concept or idea can be outdated.
Sean: Certainly, yeah.
David Andrew: Yeah.
Why is music entrepreneurship important? Why should people care?
Sean: Well, it’s interesting. For the non-musician, I think people are like mystified by musicians to an extent. I think they just kind of assume that if you’re really good at playing the French Horn then there should be no reason why you wouldn’t just be playing French Horn in work or something.
Because another career path that’s like you go to school, you get a degree, and there are so many employment opportunities in fields that are directly related and sometimes unrelated. You go to school and you learn about marketing. It doesn’t mean you have to be marketing for this type of company. That translates across all different industries. But in music it’s like a niche market. It’s a specialized market.
So, why should people care about music entrepreneurship? I think because it’s a survival mechanism in 2018 for artists. It’s taken a while for, I think higher education, to come around and embrace this as an academic field or an area of necessary study.
So, if you’re a musician I would urge you to care about it just because when you go to school it’s probably not the best time to start thinking about how you’re going to run your career.
But rather if you thought about it like a process the same way you go through the sequences of your courses through applied study or music theory or what have you, by the time you come out on the other side you’re going to be much more prepared to succeed rather than starting at square one the day after your graduate.
David Andrew: Yeah. I mean there’s no obvious stepping stones, right? The moment you leave school or the moment you decide to be a musician you pretty much have to figure out what your career path is going to be.
That’s exactly what happened to me. I spent a year in college. That’s all the post-secondary education I have but I was asked if I wanted to go and teach guitar at that point and I said “Sure.”. But I didn’t know I was going to be doing that so it was just like I kind of arrived at that point and I was the right person at the right time with the right skills and I got hired as a music instructor.
Pretty soon I found out that was not something I wanted to do long term but I ended up teaching for the next 10 years or so.
Sean: Yeah, it’s interesting. Being in school there’s a certain safety to it. You don’t have to deal with where your career is going. Also, I think creatives are kind of like almost like this version of Stockholm Syndrome where you start to not feel confident to have your own thoughts because you’re essentially not ready.
The whole time that you’re in school, in your mind you’re a student. You can’t be ready to be a professional.
But with the idea of music entrepreneurship, I’m trying to get my students to embrace the idea that you’re essentially a professional when you believe that you are and now when some kind of degree granting institution tells you so.
David Andrew: It’s really affirming to hear you say that because that’s another thing I said in my book is like music entrepreneurs are those who choose themselves.
Now, that’s sort of a trendy catchy thing in that entrepreneurship world. I think James Altucher maybe sort of coined it by saying you got to choose yourself. I think he has a book called Choose Yourself or something like that but it’s so true.
I mean nobody can point to you and say “You are now a music entrepreneur.” Although it’s sort of what I try to empower my audience with, right? They say “Oh, you’re the music entrepreneur. You should know this. You’re the one that’s leading the way and blazing a trail.”
And I go, “No. You’re the music entrepreneur and I’m trying to empower you to be that.”
Sean: Yeah. It’s a great point. And for me as a saxophonist, there’s no full time orchestral career path that’s available, so I just feel like it’s kind of baked in to some areas more than other too.
David Andrew: No, it’s so true. I know I played a lot of solo gigs with other singer-songwriters for years. There’s no path for that. You pretty much just have to figure out what you want to do with it and hopefully build your fan base, release more music, and progressively play bigger venues but you have to plan for it and you have to be very action oriented about building your fan base.
David Andrew: Yeah. What brought you to this point? Why are you passionate about music entrepreneurship?
Sean: Well, I kind of fell into it in a way being a saxophonist. As I said, you don’t go to school with the ultimate goal of being a full time orchestral employee. You’re utilized very infrequently and kind of like an on-call capacity. I always knew that I was looking for something beyond that traditional career path for performers.
Again, as a saxophonist, we are performing new music a lot more than maybe the violins just because of the nature of the instrument, so I kind of became frustrated with the fact that I could just never keep up with what the new compositions were, what were the new composers in my field, what were the new trends that performers were doing because these new pieces are popping up all the time and they were always being just self published by the composer.
Essentially, you had to be constantly on top of 10 to 15 new pieces. As a result, new composers. And as a result, new places to get this music. It’s kind of like a mandate. So, I just thought to myself, “Well, wouldn’t it be great if there is a place where everyone could go and find all these compositions under just one roof?”
And that’s what led me to start my publishing company which is Murphy Music Press. I kind of lucked into that in a way. After a few months of doing that, it dawned on me that if a composer is really skilled at writing a piece of music for a saxophone they’re probably also equally if not more skilled in composing for other mediums and also larger mediums.
From there it kind of developed largely into a catalog of music for when in ensemble you know concert band because concert bands are playing new music a lot more frequently than symphony orchestras.
As a result of building this publishing catalog, I’ve got the great opportunity to interact and befriend many young and up and coming composers in this field and be exposed to a ton of music and be involved in the music industry in a way that I never really envisioned starting out as a saxophone performance major.
David Andrew: Well, yeah. No kidding. I mean following the trajectory of my story being a self-promoting musician for 12 years and then ending up in network marketing, and I learned some valuable lessons through that whole process of being in network marketing.
I feel like a lot of the gaps in my knowledge got filled in about being a business owner and an entrepreneur and things like that but it wasn’t exactly the expected route.
Sean: Certainly, there is an element of experiential learning as you go through this because the career path is so individualized, especially music has so many twists and turns and different niche markets and areas and specialization that there’s always to some extent I think going to be this discovery kind of as you go along.
David Andrew: So true. Now, you kind of hinted at this already, but you mentioned that music publishing hasn’t adapted to the need of composers, why is that, and how are you looking to change it?
Sean: Yeah. Music publishing has been around for a long time. It’s certainly been around before the internet.
In the early days, the publisher had a lot of leverage in terms of marketing and promotion of music because without the internet it is very difficult to reach a large audience, prospective performers or buyers of your music.
So, in exchange for this, composers were willing to give up a lot. They were willing to give up the copyright to their music and they were willing to take a pretty low royalty. Once that industry standard was set it just kind of continued because there’s really no reason to change the model in terms of financial results to the publisher.
So, what I have kind of observed is in 2018, a lot of composers are choosing not to become affiliated with a publisher because they don’t want to give up the copyright and they don’t want to take a royalty of 10-20 percent on music that they put their blood, sweat, and tears into.
So, I’ve created a model that I think is pretty modern in that I let the composers retain the copyright and then they can license that in any capacity that comes along whether that’s for a mechanical license for an owner’s band or to record it or if the university wants to record it or if there is an opportunity to license it for some kind of marching band show or whatever.
Secondarily, I’m splitting the profits with the composer essentially 50/50 because they are the ones who have put their time and energy into creating the art of this and I’m just kind of working on the day to day distribution, production and marketing of the music.
So, I feel that’s more of a fair relationship relative to where publishing is and has been.
David Andrew: I think that’s great. We always give up something. As authors, you know I’ve published a couple books, I have published them through CreateSpace and so they’ve been self-published.
That means I give up a little bit of money to Amazon for the privilege of distribution and not having to deal with fulfillment and shipping and customer service, which is actually pretty incredible at the end of the day for me. So, I find that’s like a great deal.
Sean: Yeah. It’s a trade off. I mean I’m not a composer. People always ask me that at trade shows. “Did you write these pieces?” “No.” What I hope to provide is essentially like a non-musical service so that the composers can focus on what they do best, which is composing, not that they’re not skilled in marketing their music, but it’s just kind of a burden that can be alleviated through that kind of a great agreement that we’ve set up.
David Andrew: Yeah. I’m sure musicians can relate to this as well because I mean iTunes is kind of going the way of the dinosaur now. It’s turning into Apple Music, but used to be that you’d earn, what? 60-70% of the total cut on your album sales or track sales. So, similar idea.
Sean: And now, Bandcamp does the same thing, right, with a higher rate.
David Andrew: Yeah. I think you can charge whatever you want on Bandcamp for your music and you can have people stream it or not stream it. I found you can even sell podcast episodes through it so there’s a lot of cool things going on with Bandcamp.
Sean: Yeah, for sure.
David Andrew: How did you end up at Baldwin Wallace? Talk about your new position there.
Sean: Oh, yeah. It was really just a lot of stroke of luck. I’m originally from this area. Baldwin Wallace is located near Cleveland, Ohio in a town called Berea.
I’m originally from Pittsburgh, which is about two hours away from there but I was living in Dallas, so I saw this job posting come up and I was intrigued not only because of the location but because Baldwin Wallace was one of the first schools to implement an actual degree program in arts management entrepreneurship in 2015. I think they’re actually the nation’s first to do so.
The idea of coming on board to a place that one already kind of valued this as a necessary component of education, that was really appealing to me because you see a lot of schools are just kind of now getting around teaching this idea or have not yet adopted it.
The other thing is knowing that this is already a really well-established program told me that I already instantly have a lot of colleagues, like they work within this area that would be equally if not more knowledgeable than I on any subjects.
Also, that tells me that the university as a whole supports this initiative, so far that there is an actual degree granting program for such studies and not just a minor.
So, I ended up there. I’m starting very shortly here. I’m very thrilled for the opportunity to work with all the faculty and staff at Baldwin Wallace.
David Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think my new mini nook is currently being considered for curriculum at another university. I don’t remember where but that kind of opportunity is always exciting.
Sean: Yeah, I’m hoping that we can create some kind of platform where I can provide some experiential learning for the students through the publishing company. Although I’m not sure where we’re at with that but I’m hoping that’s something that could be offered.
David Andrew: Very cool. I’m going off the rails a bit here but the pictures make it look quite beautiful. So, what is it like to be in Ohio?
Sean: Well, it’s definitely a beautiful pastural kind of scene. In Dallas here, it’s very hot. We don’t have seasons. We just have hot, more hot, and less hot.
David Andrew: Gotcha.
Sean: It’s just generally hot. Berea is a beautiful place. There is actually seasons. There’s hills and valleys, so the roads are not all flat like here in Dallas.
I’m not looking forward to shoveling snow, but it’s a small trade-off I think to be in an area that has a really great culture as far as like Cleveland.
We have the Cleveland Symphony like 15 minutes away. We have Playhouse Square, which I think is the second largest musical theater space outside of New York, but it’s not super urban in that way like New York. I mean there’s still lots of greenery and such that’s available in national parks in addition to a very fine cultural atmosphere.
David Andrew: Yeah. I mean I’m fortunate that I live in a townhouse and the landscaping people take care of the snow ,so I don’t have to be involved in that but I hear you. I’ve lived here long enough to have shoveled my fair share of snow.
Sean: I haven’t shoveled in like a decade so I’m going to have to get back into it.
David Andrew: Gotcha. It’s good exercise.
Now, one of the things I talk about in my latest mini book is the fact that there seems to be a focus on employment in music entrepreneurship programs. It is fantastic that graduates find themselves employed at record labels, concert venues, broadcast and cable television stations and so on, but what am I missing here? That doesn’t sound like entrepreneurship.
Sean: That’s a good point. I think that sometimes people will gravitate toward such a career path because it’s definitely safer, right. There’s a lot of unknowns with entrepreneurship you have to deal with essentially working for yourself and that can be very unpredictable.
So, I think a lot of these programs may enjoy the fact that there are such entities that exist in record labels and the such where graduates can go and immediately get experience and full-time employment. It’s my hope that students at BW and other entrepreneurship programs as well would have three avenues available as far as generating income. Their own personal musical or artistic endeavors that could be leveraged as far as teaching or performing either regularly or semi-regularly.
Then my second goal is for them to have some kind of entrepreneurial idea or vision that they would grow and facilitate over the years both in school and out of school. And then my third hope is that they also have the ability to work in an area that you just described, because it does provide stability. It also provides connections and experience that could be helpful.
But as you know, I mean growing a business takes a long time. I started my publishing company in 2012 and it took at least three to four years before it was really profitable enough that the revenue could be reinvested back in the business and not just held onto in a mass.
I wanted it to be entrepreneurial like you described, but I also want them to have enough time that their entrepreneurial venture would definitely be successful, so I think that’s kind of a balancing act in that way.
David Andrew: Yeah. I see what you mean. It’s sort of like being a guitar teacher, which I did for many years or some kind of music instructor. You can spend basically your evenings after school hours teaching students and spend the rest of your day practicing, preparing materials, maybe even recording, or working on your own stuff. You could leave your weekends open for gigs.
So, you can sort of have both careers happening at the same time. It’s hard but you can have both careers going at the same time.
Sean: It’s difficult, yeah, but I think it really helps grow your network even more broadly.
David Andrew: That’s true.
Sean: Because in my capacity as a saxophone performer, I know other saxophone players. And then, when I publish music for saxophone I feel like that’s beneficial having these kinds of cross relationships.
David Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I mean there’s a lot of people I met through teaching guitar for sure – other teachers, people who you know the front counter staff at music stores, and some gig opportunities came through that as well so being a part of that actually can be beneficial.
Sean: And then something else I think there is just the amount of time it takes to grow the business. I started the publishing company when I was a masters student, so if I would have had to rely on just that alone it would have been a rough time.
So, just allowing enough time for the business to grow. It takes time to really develop brand identity and develop a process and develop a system that’s going to be functional.
David Andrew: No, you’re actually 100% correct because 2014 was when I made the decision to really begin building this. I’ve been podcasting for many years prior to that. I think I started podcasting in 2009, so I’m basically up to nine years of podcasting at this point, which is crazy to think but I think 2014 is when I really got serious.
While I was building it I just said “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. This will actually segue nicely into another question but I started teaching guitar again. I kind of stopped for a little bit and then I started working as a theater tech at the university. And then by day I was like writing content and doing some freelance writing.
So, I did that pretty steadily for two years. And then summer 2016 I was able to start working completely from home where content writing was the only other thing I was doing because it was actually proving to be quite lucrative. I no longer have to work as a music teacher or a theater tech.
David Andrew: Yeah. So, I know what you mean. Like it definitely took a while to get to that point. It wasn’t instantaneous and I was working so many side gigs and essentially having three or four jobs at the same time while I’m still performing too.
Sean: Yeah. It’s all about having a good side hustle sometimes to help you out.
David Andrew: Exactly. So, let’s talk a little bit about freelancing. What kinds of freelancing opportunities are available today?
Sean: I think the more that this kind of work from home mentality has developed, I think freelancing has kind of blossomed in that way. Everyone has an internet business now, right? Everyone has a page on every type of hosting platform where you could find employment. “I need someone to teach guitar lessons.” for example. I’m sure there’s hundreds of website platforms where I could find a guitar teacher.
So, freelancing I think has developed in such a way where it can be both a side job for someone as you were just describing, or it could be a primary source for employment with kind of other freelancing and different categories along the way.
But I think the connotation of freelancing has a certain element of fear associated with it. Like “Ooh, you’re freelancing. How is that going?” Because it’s very unpredictable and it’s nothing to promise. So, I think this idea, the sphere of freelancing because of the development of all these different electronic platforms to facilitate freelance employment, I think it’s made it a lot more practical, but at the same time you have to keep in mind the success of freelancing if it’s location bound it’s always going to be correlated in some way to the location itself.
It’s easier to freelance in a town of one hundred thousand people than it is a thousand. But if you’re doing it all electronically, then you’re no longer bound by these kinds of things. So, it really depends on the work.
In my experience, living in Dallas for almost a decade maybe it’s like the fifth or sixth largest market in America. I can’t remember – Dallas Fort Worth combined. So, there’s a lot of people. There’s always new businesses relocating to the Dallas Fort Worth area because there’s no state tax.
As a result of that, more employees move every year, more businesses and there’s more opportunity for freelancing in terms of a musical one on one interaction like guitar lessons that you were just describing.
But in your case, you were telling me how you were in Alberta and because you’re not location bound in your work I think freelancing is equally beneficial in your situation because you don’t have to rely on face to face contact.
David Andrew: Yeah, exactly. I mean self-employment or freelancing is kind of a stepping stone onto entrepreneurship, right? I think Eben Pagan described it that way. The cash flow quadrant actually comes from Robert Kiyosaki.
So, you have ESBI employee or self-employed business owner/investor. And then, Eben Pagan was the one that described it as being stepping stones. So, you learn everything you can as an employer or employment, and then you can step on to the next step which is of course self-employment, and then you can upgrade to business owner and then finally to an investor.
Now, a lot of people don’t follow that trajectory. I have very limited experience in employment myself. I just wasn’t really cut out for that.
Sean: Yeah. I kind of skipped that stuff.
David Andrew: I didn’t really need it. I’m always kind of riding that line between self-employed and entrepreneur these days because I’m always starting things and looking for opportunities to invest, but simultaneously I still have my head down and I work a lot.
Sean: Yeah, me too.
David Andrew: But people react the same way with business, right? It’s not just freelancing. It’s like “Ooh, business. How’s that doing?”
Sean: That’s a good point, yeah.
David Andrew: For sure.
Sean: It’s a dubious term.
David Andrew: Exactly. I will be one of the first to raise my hand and say, “You know what? The gig economy is pretty cool.” There’s a lot of opportunities. I think the main way to mitigate risk is just to make sure you have a lot of connections and different opportunities on the go.
And, yes, at times it will be organized chaos guaranteed. It was for me. There’s definitely some days where I barely slept at all but it does work out. It definitely can if you have a good mix of opportunities in front of you.
Sean: Yeah. I think it really leads like a really kind of rich lifestyle that’s very diverse. You’re not going to kind of get in the rut of kind of like factory line employment in a metaphorical way.
David Andrew: Not at all. Even in the midst of that there were some really great high paying gigs that I played. Mostly with a tribute band but still I got to do something I enjoy and get paid good money for it while I’m working on a bunch of other projects at the same time. So, you can still fit your music career in there too.
Sean: Yeah, definitely.
David Andrew: So many musicians today ask, “How do you make any money?” I have a blog post called 21 ways I’ve made money in the music industry. I actually need to update it because it’s probably more like 23 ways now.
And, I try to point them to this and to some other resources out there and things showing different ways of making money. But with streaming being what it is now we all know that streaming royalties are really low.
So, what are your thoughts on this? Can musicians make money?
Sean: I would say definitely with the right mindset.
David Andrew: Same.
Sean: But with the right mindset. I think a lot of times–. Sometimes we just have a tendency to kind of be like martyrs of the art or art for art’s sake. It kind of goes back to this idea of like patronage from the 1600-1700s that there’s going to be someone who’s going to pay you for your art as just an aesthetic thing.
So, can musicians make money? Yes, but they have to make sure that the product that they’re trying to monetize is one that is monetizeable. There are very different sides audiences for different types of projects.
One thing that I kind of like to point out to some of my students sometimes is that if you’re giving a performance and it’s like a ticketed performance you can’t just say come to my concert because I’m really good.
David Andrew: Exactly.
Sean: There are a lot of people who are really good. And no matter how good you get, whatever your medium is, there’s always going to be someone better than you.No matter how good you get, whatever your medium is, there's always going to be someone better than you. Click To Tweet
So, you can’t really hang your hat on the idea of just being the best and that’s why you should check me out. What musicians I think they need to do to make money in the industry is change the framing of the project or the idea in such a way that it would be kind of compactly understood, appreciated, and empathized to the extent by the audience.
So, if you’re going to play a piece at a concert that’s all programmatic music that’s based on some kind of common denominator, it will be much more wise to come up with some kind of fanatic marketing technique rather than just being “Come to my recital, there’s a lot of notes.”
So, musicians can make money but they have to think about… they have to kind of reverse engineer it essentially is what I’m saying instead of starting with the art.
David Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s mostly just about thinking about it a little bit differently because musicians will just play gigs because they’re offered the opportunity, without really actually thinking about how much money they’re going to make or the fees that are going to be paid out or any guarantee.
Or if it’s a gig that they’ll earn money on the door of the ticket sales but then they do nothing to market it or they book it on short notice, so they end up not making any money because they couldn’t put any time into marketing or promotion.
Sean: That’s certainly. You always have to take into account in a playing situation the amount of time it’s allocated to whatever type of practice you’re going to put in to the gig. That’s another thing that people sometimes don’t put into the quotient.
David Andrew: Well, it’s very true. That sort of goes back to the conversation I had with my coach, James Schramko, right? EHR, your effective hourly rate. It’s not just the time that you’re on stage, it’s the time you spent preparing and practicing and rehearsing. It’s also the time you spent setting up and tearing down. All that counts towards the hours that you put into earning that money.
Sean: And certainly, you have to walk a fine line between saying “yes” to everything and saying “yes” to nothing. There’s a correlation, I think, of where you are in your career trajectory and where you are and you’re saying yes ratio.
When you’re younger, it’s sometimes easier to say “yes” to everything. Sometimes it’s necessary because you’re trying to build connections, you’re trying to diversify, but as you get a little more established you can kind of be more selective and hopefully have more employment in your area of specialization rather than trying to say “yes” to every single gig that comes along even if it’s totally out of your wheelhouse.
David Andrew: It has to be. I had a recent podcast about the power of yes and the power of no. Nothing could be truer, right? You do need to say “yes” a lot earlier in your career. You need to do that sometimes for many years even while it’s getting to be organized chaos in your life and it’s uncomfortable, but eventually you will come to that point where you can say “no” or “hell yeah”.
Kind of like what Derek Siver says – if it’s something that you really want to do, it’s a “hell yeah“. If you’re sitting there going “Umm, yeah. I don’t know.” it’s a “no”.
Sean: Yeah, definitely.
David Andrew: And also, to your point, this is what I was thinking about earlier. There’s videos online of a world class violinist playing in the street and nobody pays any heed to them.
So, yes, selling yourself on the idea that you’re better or that you’re really good as a musician definitely does not work.
Sean: That’s just the worst. Yeah. Everyone’s really good now. That’s like step one not step 10.
David Andrew: Absolutely. I think so too – learning an instrument.
Again, Derek Sivers talked about the fact that he would just lock himself in a room and play guitar all day long when he was trying to get good at it. I mean you’d have to figure out your living expenses and things like that but that is sort of the approach you need to take. Like “Okay. First, I’m going to become a craftsperson. I’m going to be good at what I do, and then I’m going to go up and take it to the world.”
Performing can help that process because you can learn a lot from performance too.
Sean: Yeah, definitely. In a university environment, sometimes there’s too much emphasis placed on that craftsmanship and not enough on the other step. So, I think we’re seeing a nice revolution to extend that way of thinking to help facilitate musicians make money.
David Andrew: That’s why I exist.
Sean: Yeah, for sure.
David Andrew: I’m trying to pick up the pieces there where things left off for a lot of musicians. They got their performance figured out and they learned how to read music and how to compose music and now it’s time to market and share it with the world.
So, you know that’s why I do what I do because they need help with that.
Sean: Yeah. Hopefully there can be a world where musicians are adept at the skills in like the 50/50 capacity, but we’re not quite there yet I don’t think.
David Andrew: No. We’ve got a long way to go.
David Andrew: And so, here are a few business-related questions. What are some of the biggest struggles you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
Sean: That’s a good question. A lot of learning experiences–. Probably, something that really showed my naiveté in the beginning when I started this venture when I was like 23 and I was like “What are self-employment taxes? What is this thing?”
A lot of musicians you know, we are not trained in this even to the bare minimum. I was much younger. An early thing for me was figuring out what am I on the hook for in terms of United States self-employment taxes and the such and how is that going to factor into decisions I make with the business. So, that was definitely a learning point for me.
Now, there’s always something going on with taxes. Now that new thing is going to be these taxes on internet sales, and how that’s going to factor into taxes in the such because local businesses are being out leveraged by internet companies, because they don’t have to pay the subsequent State taxes.
So, there’s new things pending on that at least here. So that was definitely something.
David Andrew: Yeah. In the last few years, I reached that point in my income threshold where I had to start paying the government sales taxes. I had to set up a payment program to pay them back that money.
But yeah, it was unexpected. Right? I went from a certain income level and suddenly I crossed that line and now I’m owing more taxes which is how–.
Sean: Yeah. They said that’s good, right? That’s always what I tell myself.
David Andrew: Yeah, exactly. It’s good. It’s good that I reached that level. Hopefully, go well beyond that. Make a lot so that I can give away a little bit of that a lot to the government.
Sean: Something else I’ve kind of learned through experience in this kind of just like the power of a face to face connection versus an electronic connection. When you meet someone in real life even if you’re communicating the same material that you would be communicating in an email or a text message, it has this kind of staying power.
And when I started taking the company to conferences and meeting with the customers in real life who I’ve already seen come through on the electronic side of things when they made purchases or I had been in communication with, it was a lot easier to work with them as repeat customers or garner new customers just because we have met. It’s something as simple as that, which I really undervalued in the beginning of the business.
David Andrew: I get that too because a lot of my time right now goes towards content creation. That means most of the time, I’m hermit-ing in my laptop or just going to work on all these things. It doesn’t mean I don’t have any interaction with people. I obviously do but I think you’re absolutely right, like getting out in front of where your customers are going to be is like hugely important.
Sean: Especially in the current internet business that lacks a physical place. There’s no brick and mortar Murphy Music Press storefront. It’s an electronic internet business so that kind of makes it all the more insular.
And, a lot of businesses are like this too. So, I think just the power of a personal connection really taught me a lot.
David Andrew: Yeah. It’s not just what you know but also who you know. It’s huge.
David Andrew: What are some of the biggest victories you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
Sean: Biggest victories. When I met someone, a famous conductor one time, and they told me that they heard of me I was like “yes”! When you run a business, you don’t have the kind of reflexive perception of what other people think about you or if they even know you.
Of course, you know of you. You are you. You are living it every single day. But the validation of other people knowing your brand and what that brand stands for and what it represents in like an exterior way is a huge, huge accomplishment in my opinion because it’s validation.
David Andrew: Absolutely. Some of the things I experience too are just that disconnect. It’s probably just like still figuring out what my branding and marketing is in a way. Like people will come to me wanting to get advice about their podcast or about their website on affiliate marketing and then I go “Oh, yeah. Of course, I’m talking to music entrepreneurs.”
I’m getting recognized in that community, so of course I should be ready to offer them some tips and advice and help because I know how to work that stuff.
I guess there’s some expectation early on that I would be talking more directly to musicians. Sometimes that’s the case but with musicians I find I’m just helping them with music distribution and websites and sort of the basics to get their online presence covered and things like that.
But I think it is in some ways more fun for me to think about how I can help them generate more income from their podcast.
Sean: Yeah, for sure. Another thing the more think about it, it wasn’t like a singular point where I would just like, “Yes, I’ve reached the mountaintop.”
I had a teacher that said sometimes it’s just good to stop and kind of look back to see how you’ve gotten from step one to whatever step you’re on, step one thousand.
Sometimes, thinking about the idea that an observation I had that saxophone music wasn’t readily available in a singular point, was able to lead to the creation of this business and the implementation of like a lot of really talented composers.
And then eventually that was able to help me get my exposure in the door of higher education. Eventually led me to this job at Baldwin Wallace.
That was kind of a nice realization for me as well was just to kind of see the trajectory laid out for you because when you’re living and you don’t see the twists and turns that are going to come along with that, and then when it’s finally reached a certain critical mass you can look back and be like “Wow! What a ride.”
David Andrew: So, a business that was borne out of your own challenges essentially.
Sean: Yeah, essentially.
David Andrew: That’s great. I mean that’s sometimes how things get started, right? You observe a problem, something that you feel should be solved, and you look online or you do a little bit of research and you go, “Why doesn’t this exist?”
Sean: Yeah. I’ve heard so many of those. Like non-musical ideas like I was saying to my wife. Why don’t people invent this yet? We should invent this. She’s just like “Calm down with that. Calm down.”
David Andrew: Well, that’s also an entrepreneurial tendency for sure. Right? It’s the shiny object syndrome. Something else I talk about in my mini book which I’ve mentioned far too many times in this episode.
Speaking of books though, are there any books that have inspired and helped you on your journey? If not, any blog post or podcasts that have.
Sean: Yeah. I think there’s been a lot of books that have helped. I mean in the music realm, I think kind of like our staples are like the Angela Beeching, Beyond Talent, and the David Cutler, The Savvy Musician. I think those are kind of like the basics.
But a lot of times I like to venture outside of the music realm and just read books about business in general. Sometimes I don’t like the books that are highly motivational like “10 Ways to Start Loving Yourself More Today”. That doesn’t really appeal to me as much. The greatest book I ever read is by Paul Down’s Boss Life. Do you know this book?
David Andrew: I don’t.
Sean: This is a book… I think it works perfectly for musician because it’s not by a musician, it’s by an entrepreneur who makes custom boardroom tables for large corporations but it’s like an art in itself.
You know the drafting of this table, they’re all custom tables. It’s that every chapter is a month. It’s a one-year retrospective of what’s going on with this business, the struggles, the challenges, the accomplishments, and the day to day kind of emergencies.
It’s just like really affirming to see all that stuff translates beyond music to just kind of entrepreneurship in general.
David Andrew: Yeah. I found it totally works the other way too. When I put out my first book, The New Music Industry, people would say like “Oh, this can totally be applied to just about any small business.” And I said, “You know, when I think about it that’s true.”
Sean: Yeah. So, you have Bass Life by Paul Down. I think it’s called Surviving My Own Business. It’s like the subtitle.
David Andrew: Sounds like a great book. I need to check that out. All right. Well, this has been a great conversation. I’ve enjoyed it very much. Thank you for your time and your generosity. Is there anything else I should have asked?
Sean: I think we’ve touched on everything. Thank you so much for having me on. I wish you the best and for the continued success of this podcast.
David Andrew: You too. Thank you so much.
Sean: All right. Bye.
David Andrew: Bye.
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