The first installment of this occasional series spotlighting musicians who truly know what time it is, who recognize the necessity for a certain level of business expertise on the part of today’s striving musician, we heard from saxophonist-composer Rudresh Muhanthappa. When I posted our chat with Rudresh I heard from DC-area saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk, who has a very discriminating take on the need for business savvy on the part of today’s successful musician. And with that a few questions were in order for Jeff.
When a musician says to you that they don’t do business, they do music – implying that there just isn’t time or inclination on their part to thoroughly consider the business side of their pursuits with the same energy devoted to playing music, how would you respond?
I just wonder what it is that they do for a living, and sincerely hope that they are living a rich and comfortable life. The implication is that either their music already is paying for their great life, in which case there is no issue to be solved. Their music is creating all the money they need to live the life they want on planet earth. Or, perhaps they have another actual career, and music is their “passion on the side.” Charles Ives, the renowned classical composer and organist did this very successfully. He was a highly successful businessman, which allowed him to create fantastic music “after hours.” The music didn’t have to fund his life. Another great scenario.
The last scenario is that I am talking to a full time musician who doesn’t understand that they are in a business, and that they operate a business, with themselves as the product. I was definitely this person for many years myself, so I have great sympathy and an open heart for this person. I would love to help them understand that art and commerce are not opposites, that they can coexist. SHOULD coexist. I’d love to help them understand that the romantic notions of the constantly struggling jazz musician, or the starving, suffering artist are as ridiculous as having to shoot heroin to play like Charlie Parker. There’s nothing romantic about no heat, no food and no girlfriend.
What ultimately is the successful musician’s responsibility where the business of music is concerned?
I think that there are two categories to be considered and balanced. Number one is “YOU, the musician, are responsible for getting your music, your vision, out there.” It’s up to you, so take on this responsibility. It’s not on the club owner or the magazine publisher or the blogger or anyone else. It is your responsibility to step up or shut up. That said, stepping up is hard. Get help. There are so many resources and so much information and so much support. “Step Up” doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Learn to ask for help.
Number two is “what is your definition of success?” It’s your responsibility to figure that out, and sooner is better than later. Is success getting your recording some airplay in the Jazz Top 50? A review in Downbeat? Doing a four week tour? Earning $250,000 from music this year? It’s YOUR responsibility, the business owner/musician, to decide what your goals are. Think hard though. The airplay and the reviews and the tour have very little to do with paying your rent, and earning a ton of money may not fulfill you at the end of the day. You may need to define your success in a number of different ways.
What would you say are the most critical business elements that musicians must be concerned with?
When I help professional jazz musicians develop their own businesses through www.JazzTeacherTraining.com, we spend much of the first portion of the training discovering our personal WHY. Not “what” and “how” (which are certainly important), but WHY. WHY are we teaching or playing or creating art? WHY would an audience or student or listener commit to us? WHY do we play or teach the way we do, WHY this way but not that way? And WHY should I, as an audience member, care about your art?
When we understand more about our personal WHY’s, and then the WHY’s of our business, we begin to stand for something. We are different than everyone else (which is a good thing, by the way). We have a point of view, we draw a line in the sand, and tell the world “I am THIS, and here is WHY. If you see the world like I do, you are going to LOVE my art.”
When we know WHY, now we have the beginnings of a business. We can begin delivering art that stands for something, and might just stand out. Picasso and Miles Davis stood out. Jonathan Ive and E.E. Cummings stood out. David Byrne and I.M. Pei stand out. They understood their WHY, and for that, they were invited to do their art for the world.
What business of music recommendations would you make to aspiring young musicians?
Ask for help. Music and art is such an individual, isolated pursuit so much of the time. We spend thousands of hours in the practice room, with headphones on. Music is a team sport, but 95% of our time is truly spent alone. Plus, many of us are quite introverted, so the idea of asking for help is very vulnerable, and scary as hell.
Just begin by talking about music and business with people you know and run into, but most especially talk with non-musicians. If you want to know about the Coltrane harmonic matrix, probably don’t ask the Chief Marketing Officer of an IT company. And, if you want to know about marketing or developing a brand, probably don’t ask your musician friends! There is so much help out there if you just open your mind and ask.
What have been some of your more successful business-of-music pursuits, and subsequent recommendations for your fellow musicians?
www.JazzBandMasterclass.com was where “taking business seriously” started for me as a musician and teacher about 15 years ago. The JBM business is about coaching adult amateur and semi-pro musicians in the DC/MD/VA area, and giving them a place to play, learn, and be heard. It has become the core of my business, and JBM is very successful by any business metric one could apply. That said, I also love the work and am consistently fed by it, which is also a success. Lastly, I am in the business of changing lives and fulfilling dreams, so I go to bed with a big smile on my face most nights. Success.
www.MarylandSummerJazz.com grew out of Jazz Band Masterclass. It is a four-day summer camp for adult musicians, who travel from around North America and the world to attend. JBM is regional, and MSJ is national. It’s the same business, scaled differently. My WHY is the same.
Digging Deeper Jazz Videos (https://www.youtube.com/c/JeffAntoniukEducator) is a weekly series of jazz videos, again for adult musicians and semi-pros. The videos are now viewed over 1200 time a day and growing quickly from there. Again, it’s the same business, same WHY, scaled differently. JBM is regional, MSJ is national, Digging Deeper is global.
www.JazzTeacherTraining.com is the part of my business geared towards helping jazz professionals around the world develop their own version of what I do, but for themselves. Not a franchise, this is training to help jazz pros build THEIR OWN business, learn their WHY, and begin the fulfilling and lucrative work of helping adult amateurs achieve their dreams. I’ve worked with great pros in New York, Philly, Sarasota, Bethesda, Baltimore, Portland, Dallas and Spokane over the past year or two. New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta and LA are in the talking stages.
My Recommendations? Do the hard work of discovering what you stand for, and why. I am still a serious player, composer and bandleader, and I commit a lot of energy to it all every day. But that said, the WHY of my business is none of those things. I understand that I am truly put on earth to help adult musicians live their dreams, to understand that jazz is for them too. I help adult amateurs and semi-pros live the dream they had as a younger person, to play this music. I compose and record and gig a lot, but those are not the WHY of my business.
Your marching orders are to figure out what you stand for in your playing, writing, and/or teaching, and commit to it. Ask for help. Start somewhere, and don’t get knocked off your center. When it’s time to expand (Jazz Band Masterclass to Maryland Summer Jazz, or Digging Deeper Videos to Jazz Teacher Training), remember your core values. Remember who you are and what you stand for. Everything you do should support your WHY, and be strongly informed by it. From this point of departure, you’ll build a solid business that speaks to a true audience that opts in to what you offer. You won’t be begging for people to pay attention. You’ll have earned the right to have their attention.
Finally, you don’t need millions of people. You aren’t Katy Perry. She can’t exist without millions of fans – that is a nature of her business. But, if you speak strongly and consistently to tens of thousands, even to thousands, you have a strong business in the arts. Focus.