Treat it Like a Business? / Belief


If you want to be in the business of talking about business, treat your business like a business that talks about business.


This’ll be my last entry for a while and it’s a double entry on treating your band like a business and belief.

Today I’m thinking hard about the people I admire and realizing that most of them share something in common that I don’t have – an artist’s approach.

I used to have it but somewhere, I got all caught up in the business side of things and I lost it.  These days, I spend more time booking shows and organizing things than I do creating anything.  I spend more time practicing the same too-difficult things I created 10 years ago for myself than I do trying new things.

I guess I thought I had the artistic thing down and it was just a matter of handling the business side… but there’s nothing like the business side to make you feel like your artistry isn’t jack shit – or even worse, simply isn’t artistry.  I’ve wrestled with that for years now.  Sometimes I’m on top for a while.  But mostly, I’ve spent a lot of time pinned to the floor.

You know what’s funny about most (not all!) of the musicians I really aspire to be like?  They don’t read my blog or any blogs like it.  They aren’t seeking obvious solutions to unpleasant but common problems —- they know that if someone’s acting like they don’t want to be in the band, THEY DON’T WANT TO BE IN THE BAND.  They know that their music isn’t a commodity and they feel no need to discuss or read about it or talk philosophy.  They make art.  Not blogs.

For years, I’ve spent time learning about the music business.  While at AMF, I heard over and over “treat it like a business,” from industry pros and people who’ve “made it.”

But something is missing.  Something you can only grasp if you attend a SxSW type panel – when it comes to art, treating it like a business won’t get you very far if you don’t make or do something people want or have faith in.  You can treat your chocolate covered dog turd food truck like a business but you’re not going to sell many turds… I hope.

And no one can write about that missing step because no one knows what it is and in our current times, even if they could, nothing lasts long.

The people I admire most, don’t strive for that thing.  They simply strive to be the best they can be and inspire others in the process – like Forrest Gump, they amass followers by simply being good.

In spite of that, treating it like a business can get you somewhere.   You can learn a lot and you’re not much different than the people in the business world who do the same thing:

When people in the business world take a chance, it’s often a funded chance.  There’s a safety net.  They somehow convince venture capitalists to give them money that may never be able to repay and then they go run their business like it’s already a success – taking out loans, hiring the best employees, buying equipment, renting work space, etc.  Even the unsuccessful start-ups seem like a big boom at first.  Everyone’s getting paid, everyone’s optimistic… but then reality sets in.  According to this Wall Street Journal article, 95% of startups fail to generate a return on investment and of those, a high percentage are total failures that result in all those fancy assets being liquidated.

The problem is that THEY have faith in the thing they’re doing, but not enough others share that faith to keep the thing afloat.  The thing might even be a superior product.  That doesn’t matter if others don’t have faith in it and, at some point, no amount of marketing or missionary work is going to sell more of what people perceive to be chocolate covered dog turds.  Why should a business develop to hasten to distribution of what people think are dog turds?

Same with bands.

Same with me.  I’ve treated my art like a business but in truth, I’m just another guy in Austin selling chocolate covered dog turds and for that reason, this will be my last blog entry for a long while.

I started this blog because I always wished that the people I admired would share their thoughts with me when I was younger.   As I’ve aged, I guess I fancied myself one of them – but I am not.

When I’ve thought about this blog, I’ve realized I’ve written more for myself than anyone.  I simply made my own explorations public in hopes of getting some feedback and maybe helping others.  I’ve made some people mad.  I’ve helped a few.  I’ve managed to express what many musicians already feel and know.  There is NOTHING on my blog that you can’t find expressed more succinctly, better, positively or accurately somewhere else.

There are topics I’d like to tackle and have written whole entries on – many of them but they’re just more ramblings that could be summed up in a single sentence or two:

  • Criticism – learn to shut up, take it and use it
  • Booking agents – you’ll probably never get one unless you start making $50K/year in gigs.  Keep doing it yourself.
  • Day Jobs – don’t quit them unless you want to start playing weddings/cover band gigs every week – or you break big.
  • The Price of Control – you want to get paid or be in control?  Pick one.
  • Good, Cheap, Fast – pick two (thanks, Gary!)
  • The Past – can’t do a damn thing about it.  Move on.
  • The Buddy Deal – often a bad deal
  • Anvil – they’re even more desperate than me
  • Dave Grohl – he’s inspiring
  • Power – use it, don’t abuse it.  The greatest power comes from your network/relationships
  • Be Grateful – everyone likes to be thanked, including you.
  • One Thing at a Time – finish what you start, then move on (I can’t even live this one myself!)
  • Negativity – don’t let it do to you what I let it do to me

One topic in particular eluded me – belief.  After months and months of re-re-re-editing my entry on it, I’ve realized I am NOT a good candidate to write about belief because I allow my own faith to be shaken out of the tree.  Often, I’m the one shaking it down with negative self-talk and thoughts.  I’ve struggled to end most of these posts on a positive note.  I no longer (or never did) inspire those I reluctantly lead because I myself, have questioned my belief too loudly, too often.

One thing I realized from writing it, though, is that belief is critical.  Perception is everything and in the last few years, my perception has devolved to point that my perceived value of my own work (past, present and future) is depressingly low.

So it’s time for me to shut up and learn from others.  I started this blog with the hope that it would provide me that opportunity, but it’s hard to listen when you won’t stop typing or talking.

For now, it’s time for me to go back to treating it like an art… or my greatest asset (belief) will be liquidated like so many start-ups’.