Most musicians are reluctant to deal with the business side of music, myself included. We prefer to spend time and energy practicing, rehearsing, and writing. Unfortunately, we also have to find our own playing opportunities unless we have agents to find them for us. Personally, I'm weak in the business of music. Coming up in the classical tradition, I don't remember a single conversation about how to build a music career, and when I was an undergrad, the University of Illinois didn't offer a business of music class. The standard career for a classical trombone player was to win an orchestral audition or find a college teaching job (or possibly both). Once you had a job, you wouldn't have to hustle for gigs. Someone else would book concerts for the orchestra, and you would show up to prescheduled rehearsals and concerts. For a college teaching job, even if you were complacent, you were pretty much set once you had tenure. (For the record, not all college trombone teachers are complacent. Elliot Chasanov inherited an already strong trombone studio when he became Professor of Trombone at the University of Illinois, but then he took it to another level through tireless recruiting, PR, performing, and excellent teaching.)
One thing the music schools never considered is what would happen if you didn't win (or want) an orchestral job, or what if you didn't want to teach? What if you wanted to form a small group, such as a brass quintet? Where would you find jobs? What venues or events could you play? Who would you contact to find such jobs? How would you advertise? Where would you advertise? I just looked up my alma mater's curriculum, and unless I missed it, there is still no business of music class. The University of Illinois has one of the best music schools in the country, but it's disappointing that since I graduated in 1988, there is still no class that offers practical advice on building a music career outside of teaching or orchestral performing. I sincerely hope that someone responds to this blog and proves me wrong.
As a freelancer starting a new career in non-classical music, I'm learning the music business the old fashioned way – by being thrown into the deep end! Fortunately, there are others around me to offer support, advice, and encouragement.
I just had a new business experience that has been long overdue. Tonight, Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey had a band meeting to draw up a business plan. We've had meetings to talk about our general vision for the band, but this is the first time we've begun to draw up a formal business plan. Fortunately, this wasn't a dry meeting. I love all the members of the group, and it's a treat to spend time with them.
To help focus our eyes on the prize, we first talked about the broader aspects of our band. We talked about our overall vision for AVG, looking into the future, then worked backward to figure out the steps that would lead us there. For example, we talked about who our audience will be, then we worked backwards, thinking of several ways to reach our audience. Each different way of reaching our audience branched into several other important steps.
I won't go into the details of our meeting. We still have to formalize our business plan, and even then, it'll be an internal document. I can talk about our meeting in general, though. We talked about where we would like to eventually perform…coffee shops today, but then playing at the next level of venue in Atlanta (Eddie's Attic, The Five Spot, and so on), and then expanding to regional, then national, etc. We talked about where we could place our music (TV, commercials, film, games, etc.). We talked about a division of labor within the band…who's going to research venues, who will take care of web stuff, and so forth. We talked about how many albums we would like to record in the next few years, and much more.
What I especially liked about our meeting was that we didn't sit around and try to figure out how we were going to make tons of money. Of course money was part of the discussion, but it took a minor role. I was happy (and not surprised) to find that our top priorities were writing and performing high quality music to touch others and create memorable experiences. I love performing with AVG, but I find equal satisfaction in the process of writing songs with the band. Sometimes one of us will bring in a finished song, but most of our new songs are group efforts. It's magical when you're hammering out a new song, then something clicks and everyone's looking around saying, "Yes! That's it!" Sure, we'll have to take care of the business end of things, but as long as we stay focused on the music that we love, we'll be in good shape.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.