Successful business models in music

How do you make money in music? To understand how musicians make money, I turn to successful business models. My paternal grandfather made a living teaching English. Teaching music is one of several ways to earn a living in music.

A business model can be considered a plan for making money. It is the conceptual structure supporting a business, comprising of the means and method of earning revenue.

chef_musicIn describing a business model, we ask the following questions:

  • which problem are you solving
  • who is your target customer
  • how do you reach and acquire your customers
  • what value do you deliver
  • how do you define and differentiate your offering
  • how do you generate revenue?

For many musicians, teaching is the bread and butter, the revenue stream that provides a steady and stable income. Their students are their customers. They receive private, individual lessons and develop a long term relationship. Their tuition fees are the revenue.

For musicians who perform, often they have to rearrange their teaching schedule to accommodate their ad hoc performances.

There are gigging musicians who rarely teach and who consider teaching a charity, a give away. They earn money from their bookings, CD sales, the odd master class, workshop or individual lesson.

In short, there are many ways a musician can make money. Composers receive commissions for new works and royalties from old works. Some musicians operate a vertical value chain, doing everything themselves, from composing to publishing, from arranging to recording, etc. All these activities are synergistic, revolving around the kind of music the musician specialises in.

When I was a teenager on Okinawa, I got paid playing keyboards in bands, accompanying choirs, giving piano lessons, and playing the organ for church services. I inherited a dozen piano students when my neighbour and classmate, who was a year ahead of me, graduated from high school and left the island. I didn’t have to look for students or gigs. They came to me. It seemed easy to earn money in music when I didn’t depend on it or need the money.

During and after my conservatory training in the Netherlands, I tried to earn a living performing as a pianist and chamber musician and giving private piano lessons. Whenever I wasn’t performing or teaching, I was practising, researching, publicising (promoting), or looking for the next gig. There was no slack. No vacation.

It got easier after I landed a job at a university in Hawaii. My salary was directly correlated to the number of classes I taught. In addition, I applied for innovation grants to fund my projects, including paying myself to arrange music and purchasing sheet music, books, and instruments. It became more difficult when the economy on Maui improved and student enrolment declined.

Let’s think outside the box for a moment. Am I a music teacher or a music coach who transforms non-musicians to music makers? Am I a performer or a facilitator of group appreciation of music? Am I a teacher or a conductor of an ensemble of amateur musicians?

For a chef, every person is a potential customer. Everyone has to eat. The way I see it: every person has the capacity to participate in music making. Music feeds the soul.


Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

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