I’ve learned plenty of valuable lessons inside the classroom, but some of the most useful skills I learned came from my experience in the music scene in the DMV. For those of you unfamiliar with the abbreviation it stands for D.C. Maryland, and Virginia. I was involved in a hip-hop group called the Undergrounduates at the University of Maryland and was president of the group for a year. I met artists in all stages of their career across all genres, and I learned a lot about resiliency and passion—as you might expect. What I didn’t expect to learn was how to run a business.
When’s the last time you studied a musician, and I mean really studied them. I’m still friends with a lot of musicians who are trying to make it in one of the most competitive industries, and I’m blown away by how hard they have to work. Yes, they’re artists, but they’re also the ideal businessmen. These guys are putting in 18 hours a day into their craft.
They’re either perfecting a song, meeting with producers, recording music videos, booking shows, speaking with promoters, designing logos for merchandise, and organizing their own events. They are always looking for that next opportunity. One of my friends drives down to Austin every year for SXSW with no guarantee he’ll be able to perform and ends up stealing a couple stages because performers inevitably drop out last minute. He’s also gone on to build a bit of a following as a street performer in DC and NYC; he never stops working or looking for that edge.
Every musician I know who lives and breathes their craft is the same way. All they need is a microphone or an audience (even if it’s just an audience of one) because they genuinely believe in themselves, their music, and their message.
All of their projects are self-funded. They’re flying all over the country on their own dime because they understand the importance of people to people connections. They know finding that one group of diehard fans can completely change their life.
They’re also experts at branding. Continually putting their face and message out there and designing their own merchandise with their logos, all to develop a critical mass of support.
They’re doing all this for a product we don’t need to live. You can make the argument without music and art we aren’t living a life, and I’ll probably agree with you, but what I mean is it’s not like they’re pushing a product that sells itself. A song won’t build you a house or design a new app. It won’t cure disease or reduce carbon emissions. It’s music. It’s a shortcut to pure emotion in a market that’s flooded with new creators every day.
They’re selling five minutes that can change your life if you let it–where you fall into your own mind and feel emotions that weren’t there a second ago.
Musicians are another breed of entrepreneurs, and I think that we in the traditional realm of business can learn a lot from their hustle, their drive, and their willingness to bet on themselves.