When I was in college and grad school I took a total of 2 music entrepreneurship courses. One was actually a music business course the other was an entrepreneurship course, but both promised to teach the ins and outs of creating a successful music career. Whether or not that was achieved in the course is another story, but I distinctly remember not a single mention about how musicians are small business owners. In fact, I had never even considered musicians as small business owners until I started my own small business.
In 2020 I started a private flute studio to teach middle and high school flutists in my area. Not uncommon for musicians to do, however, I quickly realized that starting your own private teaching studio is much more than just “teaching music lessons.” There were skills I needed to learn in order to make my studio successful. Skills that went far beyond how to make a sound on the flute. It wasn’t until a few months into starting my studio that a friend’s husband said, “Ana, how are you? I heard you’re doing some amazing things and that you’ve started your own business.” This is the first time I had ever been recognized as a business owner and truthfully, the first time I had ever considered myself a business owner.
The next big shift that happened was when I started booking more gigs in my area. Throughout school, I was able to gig fairly often since gigs were plentiful in the area I went to school in. But moving to a different state and trying to establish myself (especially in the middle of a pandemic) was challenging. When I started booking more gigs I realized how this is an entire small business all on its own. Suddenly, I had gone from being a musician who teaches and gigs, to being the owner of 2 small businesses.
By making a small shift in terminology and thus becoming a business owner, suddenly the way I looked at my music career and the way I looked at myself, changed.
5 Reasons Why Musicians Should Consider Themselves Small Business Owners
The moment I realized I was a small business owner, I started holding myself to a higher standard. This wasn't necessarily an overnight change, but a progression of small changes that I implemented over many months. I created ways to make it easier for customers to work with me, I created more opportunities for my customers, and I created systems to continue to get customers. After all, I wasn't just a music teacher and freelance musician, I was a business owner.
Throughout our industry, a hierarchy is sometimes created in terms of jobs classical musicians should have. In my own experience, I’ve noticed that private teaching and freelancing are often put at the bottom of the hierarchy. But the truth is, starting a small business is no simple task and certainly is not an afterthought to be put at the bottom. By reframing our thinking and thus becoming small business owners, we redefine what a classical musician looks like.
2. Transparency in Your Finances
So often we can feel unstable with our month to month income. Some months we may have more gigs than others or students come and go. However, once we start thinking of ourselves as small business owners, we can implement different systems to ease the instability. Business owners often have strategies to track income, predict revenue for the year, and understand what costs their business money. There is no reason why we cannot do the same for our small businesses. Establishing these systems and strategies is one of the best ways we can combat the feeling of instability.
We are, by nature, creative people. It’s time that we take ownership of the things that we have created. Part of that means thinking of ourselves as small business owners…because we are. It is so much more than “just a music lesson” or “just a gig.” In fact, having that mindset devalues what we do. The skills required to create a teaching studio and create regular gigs go far beyond proficiency on our instrument. When we take ownership of the things we have created and call ourselves what we are, small business owners, we can start holding our customers to higher standards. This ownership gives you a stronger voice and more power.
4. Creates Opportunity for Yourself and Others
In starting your own business you probably had to develop skills that you didn’t have or didn’t realize you had. Many of the skills I learned during this process have allowed me to be successful in other areas of my career. I remember when I was starting my business, I was often flooded with ideas of how to make it more successful. Many of these ideas have not only allowed me to grow my business but collaborate with other musicians as well. While music is often a collaborative experience many times musicians can feel very isolated. Starting your own business gives you the opportunity to create new things and create opportunities for others.
5. Elevates the Craft
A few months ago I was at a holiday party with my fiancé and one of the owners of the restaurant that my fiancé works at was speaking with us. The owner turned to me and asked what I did. Proudly, I said I was a private music teacher to which he replied “oh” and turned back to my fiancé. It was a strange experience because I got the overwhelming feeling that he thought that I was nothing more than a struggling musician. However, that is far from the truth.
It is time that we give ourselves more credit than just being a freelance musician or just being a private music teacher. Elevating how we think of ourselves will in turn elevate our entire craft. We strive to get non-musicians to understand the value that we provide, but that means we also have to understand the value we provide. Calling yourself a small business owner gives you authority, recognizes the years of work you’ve done, and uplifts the classical music field.
Are you ready to start building your small business but are unsure how to financially set it up? Schedule a free 30 minute call with me!