Legos & You.Inc. from “Lessons from a Streetwise Professor”

These are paraphrases of two articles from a great book on Music Entrepreneurship from one of my former professors  Ramon Ricker.  They are equally applicable to entrepreneurship in any artistic field. To help communicate this I have changed out all the words music or musical for “art” or “artistic”

Legos.

You know what they are, little interlocking pieces of plastic that can be combined in an infinite number of ways.  With Legos you can make things like buildings or vehicles.  If you don’t like what you make, you can continually try to improve it by rearranging the pieces; or you can take your creation apart and construct something else.  In [art] and in life, the knowledge and skills, both [artistic] and [non-artistic], which you have acquired thus far are like Legos.  You put them together to create and build a career.  You build “you.”

Of course there are many [artists] whose Lego kit is almost a duplicate of yours.  Your job is to find some pieces that are unique and special.  And just as your first attempt at constructing something with Legos may be insipid. oddly shaped and not very creative, your first attempt with your music career may be similar.  You may find that you are missing some blocks, but through self-study or with a mentor or a teacher you will be able to find what you need.

The point is that if you have [artistic]  talent, and if you have worked hard to develop it, you have the building blocks necessary to create a career.  The first step is to be [artistically] and technically solid [at your craft].  Add to that some entrepreneurial savvy and you’re on you’re your way.

You, Inc.

Professional are, in effect , a small business, offering goods and services just as any small business would.  Imaging a newly minted clarinetist from a top music school.  She may be a fine player, but what does that clarinetist really offer the marketplace?  Who will pay for what she can do?  Importantly, for the clarinetist, will it provide enough money on which to live?

Our clarinetist’s product is playing music on the clarinet, but what style of music––orchestra, chamber, klezmer, Dixieland, jazz?  If the only product she can offer is soprano clarinet (B-flat and A) and she only plays the classical and orchestral repertoire, she better be the best in the world, or at least on the way to becoming the best in the world. This type of musician is equivalent to a boutique store––offering very high quality goods but with limited selections and sharply focused on one thing.  Over time, to remain relevant, our clarinetist must expand by continually adding to her repertoire––putting more clarinet product on the shelves.  This keeps her challenged and familiar with recently composed music.  And just as a Chevrolet comes out with a new model of the same vehicle each year, our clarinetist needs to keep her core product in top shape and continually improving as she revisits previously performed pieces, making them better and better. If she wants to diversify and offer more products, she might add the smaller E-flat clarinet or the larger bass clarinet.  This creates more possible income channels for her. But as she adds these product lines the quality must be kept at an undisputedly high level.  She has to really command these instruments and not just dabble in them.

Let’s say our clarinetist has added these other instruments to her product line and things are going well.  She’s getting some work playing chamber music and is getting some calls to sub in the local orchestra.  How does she expand her store?  That depends on her background and interests.  Maybe she plays in a woodwind trio or quintet.  If she has the talent for and interest in composing and arranging she could write for her ensemble. If the music is well received, there may be a publishing avenue for her to follow.  If she is handy and dexterous she may do some minor instrument repair work.  But whatever additional products she pursues to make herself more attractive to the buying public, it is crucial for her to maintain the high quality of project that she is becoming known for.

So you see, building a career as a professional is like stocking a store with products.  None of us wants a dingy, musty store that just sells beer and cigarettes.  We want our store to sparkle, to exude quality and to be a place where the customer can get the finest there is.  As our clarinetist stocks her store, she begins to establish a reputation.  Marketing peopled say she is creating a brand.

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