3 tips on treating music like a business

South African jazz musician Concord Nkabinde is not only a respected bass guitarist, he has also learnt how to successfully navigate the often complex business side of the music industry. Here he shares some wisdom on how musicians can take their career to the next level.

South African bassist Concord Nkabinde. Photo: Marriet Geldenhuys
South African bassist Concord Nkabinde. Photo: Marriet Geldenhuys

I got into music very early on – when I was about 10. My parents weren’t terribly happy when I told them in my late teens that I wanted to make music my career. The social perception of the arts – at least, as a career – can create a barrier.

People believe that there’s no money in it, and, unfortunately, they can often be right. Making money as a musician can be hard. You need to be clever in your approach…

1. Staying focused

During workshops, I always tell musicians to be patient when trying to convince family members that being a musician is a viable career path. Resistance is a test of how dedicated you truly are. If you work hard and show that you take things seriously, parents will accept your choice eventually. Although my dad was the one who introduced me to music, he wasn’t ecstatic about the fact that I wanted to become a musician. In the end, though, he became my biggest supporter.

These days, it isn’t as simple as signing with a record label and selling albums. If you want to be successful as a musician, you need to have a good eye for opportunities.

The music industry is a very different beast from what it was a few decades ago. Say for example you’re at a large party or event, and both the CEO of a big company and the owner of a record label are in attendance. As a musician, you’ll probably gravitate towards the record exec, but that would be a mistake. He’s being pitched by musicians all the time. Instead, focus on networking with the CEO. His company probably hosts events all the time, which means it can make use of a musician. Steady work from a corporate client can provide a nice income.

2. Managing PR and marketing

Thanks to social media, an understanding of PR and marketing is more important than ever. You need to know how to market yourself. I started out writing press releases for my own work. Before long, I was helping other musicians to craft press releases. You need to tell your story and let people know what you’re doing.

As mentioned, networking is incredibly important. You need to try to find ways of partnering with corporate institutions. Not only can this ensure steady work, but it will also allow you to expose a lot of people to your music.

3. Being professional

I’ve made it my mission to overturn the stereotype of musicians not being professionals. If you want to be successful, you need to be professional and reliable. You can’t keep clients waiting. You need to arrive on time for gigs and respond quickly to emails.

I try to go beyond that: I do everything I can to help my clients make their events a success. That means I often recommend suppliers – in fact, I’ve even become something of a booking agent!

Originally published  on 14 March 2016 in Entrepreneur magazine.


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