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Musicians are the original start-ups

You may recall that we have mentioned on this very website (as well as the Section 101 social media accounts) that I am participating in the Columbia Business School Summer Startup Track as a mentor to groups competing for a ten-thousand-dollar grant. Thirty-six teams (made up of 1 to 3 people) vie for the prize, though earn no class credit; they’re hoping to benefit from the mentorship opportunity and peer advice they will receive during the ten-week period. On August 1, the teams will make their final presentations in the hopes of being one of the four teams to be awarded the funding to take their idea to market.

I am finding this notion so salient because, when you think about it, music artists are really one of the original "start-ups.” At the beginning of their career, they have something no one knows about, but they feel passionate about doing. If they’re smart, lucky, and work hard, someday everyone may know who and what they are.

Let’s be realistic - an idea is a dime a dozen. I’d say most people have at least one good one during their life time. But how do you go out and not just be good at what you do, but create something that people want to buy? How do you make something so cool that everyone you meet wants to be a part of it ? THIS is what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

It’s very much the same for new musical acts. Take Section 101 client Jamie Kent - he has always been an independent artist, yet he really wants people to hear, and enjoy, his music. In 2016 he applied for, and won, a contest sponsored by Durango Boots, which invited singer-songwriters to post a video of an original song. As a winner, he was part of a year-long promotion that featured him in a marketing campaign, gave him a new wardrobe, a new guitar, a $10,000 cash prize and more. Without winning, Jamie may have remained a very talented artist that no one had heard of. Instead he continues to put out new music and tour, opening for artists such as The Doobie Brothers, America, Foreigner, Huey Lewis & the News and more.

Another way to stay ahead of your competitors is to have a strong digital presence. Section 101 client Pentatonix were one of the first acts to capitalize on making their own YouTube videos, which captured the imagination of an entire fanbase. Another client, Kina Grannis, also won a contest early in her career (the 2008 Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest) but has continued to grow her fan base by writing new songs and performing covers which she records for YouTube. Her fans count on her to provide them with new content in the way of a music video, and she never disappoints. Jenn Bostic, another DIY artist, was this year’s Southwest Invasion artist ambassador, which put her front and center at a huge event. She lent a track off her new album as a download for the Whole Planet foundation and uses her strong social media presence to grow interest in what she’s doing via her constant interaction with fans.

Two other Section 101 clients worth pointing out are BUSH and Duran Duran. Both of these acts aren’t new, but they cater to their fanbase and know how to engage them, as well as be interesting enough to gain new followers. Both acts give special access to fans, wherein their long-time followers can get first crack at show tickets before they go on sale, and both have solid social media interaction with fans. They deliver on their ‘brand promise,’ another important part of entrepreneurship.

The most successful brand isn’t always the one that has the best product; success depends on many factors, some you can control and some you cannot. It’s important to remember that working smart and knowing what your customers want is critical for success. Every artist has music but what can you do to grab a steady stream of attention? Good music and a good product aren’t enough. Sit and think about what the ‘special pixie dust’ is for you and your brand, the one thing that can help you go a long, long way.

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