Balancing Creativity Against Business in the Music Industry

The single biggest challenge for an artist regarding the music business is the eye-opening truth they discover as they pursue their dream. The business side of music always reveals gut-wrenching realities.
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Mark Twain once said, "... The more enjoyment you get out of your work, the more money you will make."

I believe this. However, this doesn't necessarily hold true in the music industry. While the creative process can help keep an artist motivated, earning a living at it is quite another story.

All too often in my journey of helping Spencer launch a career in the music business, I've distilled many conversations with experienced industry veterans to the conclusion of business versus creative passion. An artist is filled with passion about their masterpiece while the bean-counters in the ivory tower use the latest charts and graphs from radio or soundscan to project and calculate ROI (return on investment). Creating a financially lucrative hit song is as likely as hitting a state lotto jackpot. The annoying business side of music is where the creative person often becomes an ostrich with his head in the sand.

This delicate balancing act of creative versus business finds it's roots at the starter's gate of a career in the music industry. It's something every wannabe artist needs to quickly understand before getting their heart and emotions wrapped up in the what-ifs the music industry sells every naively aspiring star.

I've mentioned in previous blog entries that an artist must look at their potential career through the eyes of an entrepreneur starting a business. To look at it any other way is foolish. Being savvy in business is the only way an artist can truly survive in the music industry. This is a fact.

To quickly illustrate this, I've briefly outlined a way to prevent mistakes about the business side of the music industry.


Like any business plan, you must identify your goals (make a blueprint) so you know where you're headed. Generic goals like "make it big" or "make a living being a music artist" aren't business plan specific. What is BIG or how much is enough to make a living? Defining detailed expectations are required for a roadmap to the goal. The creative side of an artist wants to be organic and just flow with things as they happen. Ninety-nine percent of artists end up walking away or never earning a living because they haven't worked out their vision and path to their goals through traditional business practices.

A carefully thought through business plan should at least include the following areas:

Product Development

  • Creating a product (music) that consumers will want.
  • Knowing the financial investment needed to make the best quality product. Consumers are picky and smart enough to know when they are hearing a cheap product, just like a cheap widget from a discount store. Quality costs money.
  • Being willing to adjust or upgrade the product to meet consumer demand or market changes.
  • Working with the best product engineers and personnel to ensure your product is the best it can be.
  • Ensuring the product can be delivered digitally as well as in live settings to consumers.

Brand Development

  • Understand the marketplace well enough to develop a unique brand that consumers will desire. This is not product specific, but having the clarity to know what image you want to represent.
  • This doesn't always mean your wardrobe or makeup. It can mean your interviews with media, where you stand on social matters, etc. Quotes and social media posts develop your brand.
  • Having high quality visual tools to market your brand. This means a strong photographer, graphic designer, videographer or even social media pics and vids which support the brand you want to develop.
  • Defining your personal convictions about many social matters so that at any time if they come up with media or even in conversation, you are already locked into your views. These could evolve, of course, but there should always be awareness.
  • Co-branding is the concept of aligning your brand with another established one. This happens in the music industry with collabs, hiring known producers, sponsorships with known products, etc. This elevates your brand in the eyes of your target consumer.
  • Having professional-quality online and offline marketing materials. Your website, social media sites, press kit or EPK, or even business cards should all have consistent imaging and logos, etc. This is critical for brand development.

Administrative Team

  • Legal counsel, accounting, booking agent, tax attorney, radio promoter, tour manager, etc. All these positions are essential to handling the business of being an artist.

Personal Development

  • Having awareness of what routines should be happening daily to build and grow as an artist is essential.
  • Things like exercise, diet, rehearsals, industry networking, similar artist awareness, etc. are all important.

Industry Networking/Knowledge

  • A huge ingredient in a business plan is to not always presume every opportunity to perform or make new music is solely intended for the creative side. Networking and building relationships with fellow artists, executives, etc. is enormously important. So the valuation of the how time is spent as an artist should always look at this aspect.

  • Take the time to understand HOW major labels, radio promotion, touring, licensing, publishing, royalties, revenue flow, and any other day to day business aspects work in the music industry. Ignorance in these areas can kill a career.
  • A real-world business plan has many more facets of detail than this brief outline. Working with many business consultants, former business owners, and even bankers has shown me how elaborate a business plan can be when you've done the homework about your target market.
  • Passion and drive are the ingredients to fuel a business plan like the above. Identifying where you are weak in the above plan helps you find the right relationships to assist you. However, just because you're trusting another person to oversee any aspect of your plan doesn't mean you shouldn't be the expert first in that area. Like any business owner, you will likely become your own expert before delegating it to a specialist. This gives you the ability to evaluate if their role is getting you closer to your overall goal.

    The single biggest challenge for an artist regarding the music business is the eye-opening truth they discover as they pursue their dream. The business side of music always reveals gut-wrenching realities that seem impossible to endure at times, but the more prepared and educated you are while working your business plan, the more successful you will be. Interview veteran artists and executives in the business to learn their insights. It's essential.

    Like an adventure in the wild West, having your holster and ammo ready for the potential attack is smart. Having knowledge of the land in which you travel sometimes requires a local native familiar with the territory as your guide. But most important is the need to use the map you created at the start of your journey to make sure you don't lose sight of your goals.

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