Biz for Independent Musicians – Working Relationships: A Strategy for Success

Finding the right balance for an artist is difficult, because obviously we need to spend time developing our art, whether practicing, composing, producing recordings, etc... But you only need to be "good enough" to start asking for opportunities. Too often artists suffer from the belief that they "aren't ready"- chances are, you are ready. It's virtually never too early to develop your career, to develop "real world" working experiences as an artist.

Question: Could you summarize the advantages of having sponsorships? In terms of advancing your career, what is the most useful aspect? How have sponsorships aided you?

Answer: One advantage of having sponsorship is that by developing a relationship with a company, you can expand your network exponentially by gaining access to the company’s network. Any major company in the music industry (whether a manufacturer, publisher, label, etc…) will normally have established relationships with other artists and other non-competitive companies. This allows you to connect with these contacts who in turn can help you with your goals as an artist/professional.

Other promotional benefits from sponsorships include PR through advertisements (whether in print ads or flyers, emails blasts, etc..), subsidies for your appearances as a clinician, performer, teacher, or speaker, and support for attendance at trade shows and other VIP industry events.

Another important advantage is that your name, i.e., your brand, gains greater credibility through your association with an established company.

Most importantly, in terms of advancing your career, an established company provides insight and feedback into your work, products, and career development.

Through my relationships with Yamaha, D’Addario, and the Berklee College of Music, I’ve been forced to mature in my professionalism and artistry. These companies all represent excellence, and they demand a high standard from me, not just as an artist, but as a professional who must communicate and produce in a businesslike way. Like any relationship, these present a virtual mirror through which I see myself and my limitations. They push me to reach a higher standard of professionalism as exemplified by the work of these companies.

Biz for Independent Musicians Working Relationships A Strategy for Success2

Fortunately, the companies that I work with have their own unique perspectives on the music industry. This helps me broaden my perspective of what I do as an artist; it also helps me broaden my perspective of my market and the opportunities that are open to me.

Q: Would you recommend that other professional players pursue sponsorships? Is so, why?

A: Artists should always be pursuing relationships of all kinds to broaden their network and their opportunities. Developing a
relationship with a company will normally not result in an immediate panacea of opportunities, free money, etc…, but it could lead to many things over time. It’s worth taking time to see what kind of common ground you have with a company, because you never know the kinds of creative ways you might work together.

One thing to note is that not all sponsorship has to come from a corporation. You can look at “sponsorship” relationships in a broader way: For example, your hometown violin shop might make a great advocate for your new CD, your new teaching studio, promoting gigs around town, etc… The Loft Violin Shop, with whom my family has done business for over 30 years, is a very close partner with me in promoting my clinics, camps, new projects, gigs, etc… It’s only natural that we would support each other. It doesn’t mean they need to give me free products or money. It’s enough that they are willing to post my flyers at their shop and spread the word about what I’m doing. By starting small with them, over time we’ve come to rely on each other for all kinds of mutual support and helpful feedback.

Another advantage is that having a sponsorship gives you an alternate source for feedback and ideas. Many times I would go to Yamaha with an idea about what I thought I wanted from them, and they would make other suggestions that I never thought of, which ended up helping me even more. Different companies have their own way of going about these types of collaborations, and it’s important to listen, to be open to their ideas. Don’t just come in runnin’ at the mouth and expect to have all the right answers. Again, it’s like any good relationship- you need to be a good listener and find out what your partners are looking for and how you can help. It’s not what they can do for you that you should be focused on, but instead it’s what you can do for them.

Mostly, I recommend that you develop a habit of creating conversations with companies, colleagues, venues, press, fans, etc…, because this is what being a free-lancer, an entrepreneur, a small-business, or whatever you call it, is all about. It’s about reaching out to find common ground and creating opportunities day in and day out, whether through the back door, front door, or side door, so to speak. Over time your network grows and you have the ability to sustain yourself through more opportunities which are flowing out of that network. If nothing else, making calls and pursuing these sponsorships will hone your ability to pitch yourself in a variety of contexts.

Q: How much effort have you put into acquiring those sponsorships?

A: I’ve put tremendous time and effort into selling myself, i.e., my products, my services, just as most anyone who is successful in any field must. I’ve told many people who asked, “Music is the fun part. My real work is sales and business administration, including contact management, promotion, pr, strategy, etc…”

Acquiring sponsorships is very much like acquiring other opportunities to work, i.e., getting gigs, getting press, acquiring students, selling cd’s, winning clients for production jobs, and selling publishing opportunities. A salesperson only succeeds by asking clients to engage in a transaction of some kind. This is the same whether you audition for a symphony job, ask a restaurant owner to give you a gig, or pursue a recording contract or sponsorship agreement. The more you ask, the more chance you’ll end up with a check in your hand to go to the bank with.

Finding the right balance for an artist is difficult, because obviously we need to spend time developing our art, whether practicing, composing, producing recordings, etc… But you only need to be “good enough” to start asking for opportunities. Too often artists suffer from the belief that they “aren’t ready”- chances are, you are ready. It’s virtually never too early to develop your career, to develop “real world” working experiences as an artist. This is why I place an emphasis in my Creative Strings Workshop on real life learning experiences, i.e., learning “on the gig”. During my annual week-long camp, participants perform in a variety of public venues to get a sense of what the music is all about in the real world. In the conservatories we tend to practice music in a vacuum, without the pressures and parameters of the working world. In real life, music is generally attached to business concerns of one form or another.

I’ve always seen the need to pursue business as a given-Counter to a familiar “starving artist” mindset, it’s from the flow of business that opportunities and resources come in order to
generate the music.

Biz for Independent Musicians Working Relationships A Strategy for Success

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