So, How Do You Make A Living with This Ax?

March 1, 2012

Entrepreneurship

Most musicians start with dreams of grandeur when it comes to making a living playing the guitar. We all believe we will be accepting a Grammy Award for our album or song of the year. The truth is most of us will never reach that goal. You should not stop striving for it, though. I also believe most of us fall into the trap of believing that this type of success will come if we meet the right person, play in the right venue, upload the right song to Soundcloud. Bad news, the percentage of musicians that make it this way is a small fraction of a percent.

Now that I have introduced the doom and gloom, what’s the upside? You can make a great living playing the guitar. There are more opportunities now for musicians to make a great living and having a great impact in music. What is needed, now more than ever, is an entrepreneurial mindset. No one, other than your parents, really cares if you succeed or not. There are thousands of people that are fighting for the same market share as you. So, you have to beat them.

Playing the entrepreneurial game means you have to either fight for a limited market share or go create a new market. In their book, Blue Ocean Strategy, authors Kim and Mauborgne talk about carving out space in a crowded market, the red ocean. Instead of fighting the ever-growing competition in a crowded market seek to create in an open market, the blue ocean. As this relates to music, why try to reinvent the musical wheel by playing exactly like another guitarist? We can definitely learn from copying other instrumentalists but we should never stop there. Once we have learned how guitarists do what they do we should use this information to forge our own sound and style. This applies to classical playing as well. Why try to “tour” a Segovia type program? Find a repertoire that resonates with you as a human, musician, player and “tour” that.

Here are a few thoughts I have on how to create market share in the blue ocean.

1) Develop You Sound; Niche Markets
Set yourself apart by creating a unique sound or program. This is the best way to move from the red ocean to the blue. There are too many great musicians fighting for the red ocean market. Don’t play their game. Play a new game, a game you create. When I wrote my capo book there were relatively few capo resources on the market. I decided to write a book that would be in an area with little competition. The result, my Capo Chord Book is a Mel Bay best seller. Look for the open opportunities, the open markets.

2) Learn How to Use Social Media to Promote Yourself
The megaphone we have with social media is enormous. You can easily put your name and music in front of thousands of people with relatively little work. Once you have the eyeballs and ears you must do something to capture their attention. The trick in using social media effectively is to get the curious onlooker to become a serious supporter. If you can make this transition you are on your way to making a living playing your music. Make sure you are ready with great content when the curious come looking. Have your best “stuff” front and center. And make sure you stay connected with them.

3) Hustle
There is no substitute for diligence when it comes to developing musical expertise, including music technology expertise. You must put in the time on your instrument. With that, make sure you are putting in the time promoting yourself, commenting on other blogs in the genre you are moving in (don’t spam anyone, say something meaningful), connecting with people you meet via Facebook or Twitter, and helping others get to there goals.

4) Help Others Reach Their Goals
The music business can be summed up in one work, networking. Genuinely helping others is a the best way to establish trust and report. When you help others reach their best and achieve their goals they will help you with your goals. Do not be fake on this one. Be a genuine person who desires to help people reach their potential. This could be taking time to show someone a new chord shape or playing a solo on their home recording. Helping one person could mean a retweet that is seen by thousands of people, driving traffic to your blog or website.

What are some things that have helped you make a living playing guitar?

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