Posted on | December 10, 2008 | No CommentsThis is a critical call to make, especially early on when you’re likely to be spending your own money. Unfortunately, most people never think very consciously about it. To a certain extent, this is understandable, because art and commerce are always intertwined in the music business. Nevertheless, it still helps to be clear about these issues.
I define a business as follows: an undertaking that hopes to pay for itself some day, make a profit, and support the people who run it. In a business, it’s not enough to make a good product. You need to make money too. One invests in a business.
I define an art project as follows: an undertaking where cost calculations do not figure into one’s assessment of whether the undertaking is a success or a failure. In an art project, only the finished product matters. It is the end in itself. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t break even or make a profit. And the people involved in it don’t expect to support themselves with it. One subsidizes an art project.
Especially if you are spending your own money on your music, it’s worth being honest with yourself about what you’re doing at any given time. Sometimes, the distinction may be kind of blurry: Many a would-be art project has turned into a music-related business. Many a would-be music business has turned out to be more of an art project. And this is okay.
But asking the question still encourages you to think about what you are doing. If you hope to make money from your music at some point, it helps to start thinking about it as a business. Will this shift in mindset change the nature of your undertaking? Yes. Will this change be for the worse? Possibly. But it could also be a change for the better.
Could you not think about any business stuff and one day make money from your art project? Maybe. But in my experience, there is usually someone with a little business sense lurking behind most of the projects that one-day make money. Someone finally has to say, “if we spend more than this much, we won’t be able to cover our costs. And if we don’t at least cover our costs, we can’t keep doing this, because we can’t afford to keep subsidizing it.”
Given that this is the case, ask yourself the following: If someone is going to have this knowledge and apply it, why shouldn’t it be you? The person with this knowledge will ultimately wield important power. The person with knowledge will also have a much clearer view of where the project stands. And the person with this knowledge will probably also be in a better position to avoid many heartbreaking situations along the way.