“I will cast this spell: I know I can open this door and show you something unforgettable and transforming.”
-Jeffrey Kahane, pianist & conductor
The Musician’s Way, p. 177
People attend concerts hoping for transformative experiences. And musicians who can supply such experiences are primed for professional success.
But in tandem with developing our artistic abilities, there’s a seldom-mentioned thing that we musicians must do if we’re to build sustainable careers as independent artists.
The Secret to Sustainable Music Careers
For us to forge sustainable careers we must create value in society.
That means that along with making music that’s true to our visions, we have to offer musical products and services that attract ample cross sections of the public or that fill needs. Services such as performances, lessons, classes, and audio production offerings; products along the lines of compositions, arrangements, instructional materials, and recordings.
We don’t “sell out” because lasting value in the arts arises from authentic creativity, not artificiality.
What we do is connect to diverse people through our creativity and offer them high-quality artistic and educational resources that they won’t want to live without.
“We don’t ‘sell out’ because lasting value in the arts arises from authentic creativity, not artificiality.”
Creating Value – An Exercise
If you’re unsure how you might multiply the value of your work, here’s an exercise I use to help musicians gain clarity:
a. List 3 or more ways you might build new audiences for your current work.
(e.g., perform or teach in unconventional venues; contact concert presenters outside of your comfort zone)
b. List 3 or more ways you might adapt your current work to appeal to new audiences.
(devise concert programs geared to niche audiences; explore new sorts of collaborations)
c. List 3 or more new skills you might develop that would enable you to expand your audience.
(investigate new styles; acquire the ability to teach and perform for different age groups; learn to do online marketing or audio and video editing)
d. List 3 or more people you might consult for advice on how you could create greater value.
(former teachers; current colleagues; established pros)
Once you have your lists prepared, take action. Choose your first steps, draft a schedule, and dive in.
It won’t be easy, but the adventures you pursue will lead to novel creative ground and real possibilities for a life in the arts.
8 Ways to Build Sustainable Music Careers
Differentiate or Disappear
Partnering with Non-Profits
The Sustainability Triangle
© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Thanks, Mike. Your point about becoming indispensable is well taken.
Artists who bring distinctive skill sets and musical points of view to the scene can grow large followings because they offer listeners and students something unavailable elsewhere.
In contrast, musicians who gain lots of skills but don’t differentiate themselves by cultivating unique artistic visions become indistinguishable from other musicians in their genre – in a sense, they become interchangeable.
Powerful Gerald. In addition to adding value, I think it’s important to become indispensable to the people you serve in your unique career path.