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TEM Blog

The Entrepreneurial Musician Blog by Andrew Hitz featuring articles on being an entrepreneur in the music business. Show notes for The Entrepreneurial Musician Podcast.

Filtering by Category: Inspiration

The Problem With School

Andrew Hitz

In a couple of hours I am going to talk entrepreneurship with students at my alma mater, Northwestern University (which has me in one hell of a great mood!)

I'm going to start with some bad news for them:

The skills required to excel at school bear very little resemblance to the skills needed to "make it" in today's music business.

At the beginning of every college class, each student is handed a syllabus which contains everything they will possibly be asked to know for a grade. In fact, if a professor ends up lowering a student's grade for something not on the syllabus there is an appeals process that students can undertake to get their grade restored. It involves committees and panels and lots of paperwork.

A syllabus is basically a checklist. Everything you will be tested on. Everything you will need to read. Every deadline. When the class will be completed. They are all neatly contained in one place.

How nice.

But the Real World (which we capitalize to scare you) looks absolutely nothing like this. There isn't a checklist. There isn't a reading list. There aren't deadlines established for you that can't be moved under any circumstances. None of it.

Here's the good news: Just because you aren't required to use these skills (to not only complete a college degree but to actually excel) doesn't mean you aren't allowed to use them. As with playing the drums or composing music, when you first start to utilize some of them you won't be very good at them. At all.

Which is exactly why you need to start before the world requires you to start. As in today.

Anyone who is any good at charting their own path wasn't good at it before they got good at it. (Deep, right?)

So what are you waiting for?

Say Yes

Andrew Hitz

"I'm no longer sure what the question is. But I do know the answer is yes."
—Leonard Bernstein

I love this quote.

The more I pay attention to the people already doing what I want to be doing more of in the music business, the more variations of "saying yes" I hear.

Whether it is this guy or this guy, there are examples everywhere of people who have said yes only then to have figured out how the hell to pull off what they just agreed to do.

I know I need reminding of this from time to time.

Why Self-Awareness Is Everything

Andrew Hitz

"Ideas are worthless without execution. Execution is pointless without the ideas."
—Gary Vaynerchuck from "#AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur's Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness"

There aren't too many people in the world who are really great at both ideas and execution. There are some, but there aren't many.

If you are reading this right now, there is a very good chance you are great at one of these and only good at the other. Or great at one and average at the other.

This is why partnering with the right person (or people) is so imperative for anyone looking to be an entrepreneur. Find someone who compliments your strengths and weaknesses well and move forward with them. (That's why I partnered with this knucklehead to form Pedal Note Media.)

If you don't want to partner with anyone, outsource whatever it is you aren't great at. Even if you had the time to get great at everything (and if you're a human, you don't), I argue you shouldn't be wasting your time learning how to do these other things at the expense of spending more time doing the work you think will change the world.

And the key to all of this is self-awareness. If you are brutally honest with yourself about what you can and can't do, it informs who you partner with and even what you attempt to bring to the world in the first place.

Self-awareness informs the ideas and the execution. So the question is what can you do today to get a little more honest with yourself?

Are You Waiting?

Andrew Hitz

"The shift that the internet has brought us is that you don't have to wait to be picked anymore."
—Seth Godin from Poke the Box

Don't wait to be picked. You'll be waiting for an awfully long time.

Choose yourself and then go kick some ass.

It's pretty much that simple.

RIP To Prince, A Brilliant Artist And Entrepreneur

Andrew Hitz

I posted this on Facebook earlier today but thought it was appropriate to post it here as well:

Sad day as the world lost a true pioneer on so many fronts. Performer, composer, entrepreneur, artist and brilliant marketer, Prince was the real deal.

He wrote, sang, produced, arranged, composed & played all 27 instruments on his first album, "For You". AT THE AGE OF 19!

Before "Sign of the Times" came out, he ran a full page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune with just the lyrics to the title track. Nothing else. Brilliant.

I could easily do an entire TEM episode on Prince. He was a true genius as a musical entrepreneur.

And that's to say nothing of his writing (even songs made famous by other artists like "Nothing Compares To You"). His songs transcended genre and touched everyone. When Phish opened their 12/31/98 show at Madison Square Garden with "1999" the roar of the crowd after the "Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999" line momentarily drowned out the band. The screams were deafening. I get goosebumps on command when thinking about it close to 20 years ago.

And oh by the way his voice was phenomenal and he was one of greatest guitar players to ever live. Can you imagine doing all of those things that well? I can't.

Today is a very sad day for the world but I'm pretty sure he'd rather we all crank "Let's Go Crazy" than spend too long mourning his death so that's exactly what I'm doing. RIP, Prince. There will never be another.

When In Doubt Aim Higher

Andrew Hitz

"Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss but because they aim too low and hit."

—Les Brown

Is your big entrepreneurial idea really big enough? Would the rest of the world agree that it is a big idea or is that just your perspective?

When in doubt, dream bigger. The ideas that catch fire in the world of business are the ones who have lots of impact. They can impact many. Or they have a huge impact on a smaller number of people.

I don't know about you but that Les Brown quote above scares the crap out of me in a good way. It is making me challenge my beliefs that some of my ideas are big ideas and that is healthy.

When in doubt, aim higher.

The Will To Execute

Andrew Hitz

"I don't think there is a shortage of remarkable ideas. I think your business has plenty of opportunities to do great things.  Nope, what's missing isn't the ideas. It's the will to execute them."
—Seth Godin from The Purple Cow

This is especially true in the music business and in the arts in general. Artists are by definition creative people. We produce creative ideas for a living.

You have plenty of great ideas, many of them quite creative. The problem is so does your competition.

Execution is the name of the game.

It is infinitely harder to get your great idea for a chamber group booked for concerts than it is to come up with the group in the first place.

It is a lot harder to write a book than it is to come up with a good idea for one.

It is much easier to think of a great idea for a website than it is to actually build it.

If you are wondering why you are not having the same amount of success as your competition the answer is almost certainly execution. The X's and O's but also the will to execute.

Different Is Better Than Better

Andrew Hitz

"Different is better than better." 

—Brian Clark (CEO of Rainmaker Digital)


There is a very popular etude book for tuba by Phil Snedecor titled "Low Etudes for Tuba". Phil wrote this book years ago and it continues to sell very well for him in spite of having been released a long time ago. This is not by accident.

It turns out that back in the day John Cradler, Phil's friend who plays tuba in the Presidents' Own Marine Band, told Phil that he should not just write a tuba etude book but one that contains melodies in the extreme low register.

John pointed out to Phil that in spite of the existence of many tuba etude books there wasn't one that specifically addressed this skill head on. Phil asked him if it really would sell. John assured him that it was a glaring hole in the tuba etude book market and that it would.

Sure enough it did and continues to!

The point is that Phil didn't write a better version of a low etude book for tuba. He wrote the first book to do so.

Phil is an incredible writer (both arranger and composer) and very likely could have written a better book than what was already out there if he had been beaten to market by others.

But by writing the first book in that specific niche he was able to sell a whole bunch of them right away. It was a need that people didn't even realize they had and he solved it for them.

The path of least resistance to both impact and financial success is being different. This is much more important than being better.

Everything Matters

Andrew Hitz

"Everything matters if you want to be great. If you want to be average, let it go." 

—Lee Cockerell (former Executive Vice President of Operations for Walt Disney World Resorts) 

This goes for performing. This goes for websites. This goes for using social media. This goes for photo shoots. This goes for your bio.

Warren Deck once said "The difference between good players and great players is not a few big things but a whole bunch of small things." I believe this to be true for every aspect of business as well.

Everything matters.

The Danger of Great Marketing

Andrew Hitz

"If you're great at marketing and your product is $#&@ it actually exposes you quicker because they have more awareness of how sucky you are."
—Gary Vaynerchuck from The Ask Gary Vee Show: Startup Grind LA

I harp over and over again in speeches, on the podcast and on this blog that getting noticed is the number one obstacle in 2016 for any artist "making it" in the music business. This point can't be made too many times.

But Gary Vaynerchuck makes a really great point in that quote above.

If you spend a lot of time mastering your marketing and engaging your potential customers where they are hanging out you need to make sure that one thing is true: that your product isn't sucky (as Gary colorfully puts it.)

You need to be sure that what you are doing is worth getting noticed by a large number of people before you attempt to get their attention. Because with all of the options available to human beings in 2016, none of us are going to give you attention again if our first taste was terrible.

(Note: If you want to get fired up and don't mind some profanity, click the link above to hear Gary Vaynerchuck address Startup Grind LA. It is a two hour talk that flies by. It's crazy how much information and passion that guy can pack into one speech.)

Two Ingredients to Success

Andrew Hitz

So this seems pretty obvious at first glance but I think it is worth sharing.

This quote comes from one of the many podcasts I consume on a regular basis, Hack the Entrepreneur with Jon Nastor.

In episode 159, Bryan Cohen of the Sell More Books Podcast gave his advice for starting a business:

"Combine what you're strong at with what you're passionate about."

He goes into detail about this in the interview but the important part of that quote is the second half of it.

Not a single reader needs this blog post to tell them that they should pursue something they are good at. This is pretty obvious.

The reason that the passion is the important part of the above equation is that being an entrepreneur is really hard work. There have been times when hosting two regularly produced podcasts has not been at all convenient. If I wasn't passionate not only about making podcasts but also the subject matter that's being discussed there is no way I would still be doing them a year later.

If you need proof, check out how the iTunes store is riddled with podcasts that have anywhere from 5 to 20 episodes with the latest episode being over a year old.

That's because producing content like a podcast regularly is a pain in the backside. But so is anything else in life that provides value to people. If it's not a lot of effort, a whole bunch of people would already be doing it and it wouldn't be worth it for you to even start in the first place.

So for just about any endeavor, you don't need passion in the beginning but there always comes a point when that is the only thing that will keep you going.

So make sure you have both parts of that quote covered before you embark on anything.

Ignore the Path and Leave a Trail

Andrew Hitz

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm not sure you could get better advice in less than 20 words for someone making a go of it in the music business today than this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson (who obviously wasn't speaking about the music industry in 2015!)

If your plan is to play in a string quartet that is very similar to the Kronos Quartet that simply does it better than them, good luck to you.

If your plan is to write a book that basically mirrors the message of The Savvy Musician by David Cutler and simply write it better, good luck to you.

If your plan is to play in a brass quintet that mirrors the repertoire and persona of the Canadian Brass and simply do it a little better than they do, good luck to you.

To be clear, I'm not sarcastically wishing you luck because any of those three things are impossible. To the contrary.

You can absolutely do what Kronos does a little better. You can absolutely write a better book than Dr. Cutler did. You can absolutely be a better version of Canadian Brass. (Although all of these will be incredibly difficult to accomplish!)

The point is that the market place is not looking for a book that is 2% better than The Savvy Musician. Why was it such a wild success? Because there were no books like it. People talked about it. People shared it. People spread the word.

No one will get excited about a slightly improved version of anything that already exists and that's if they even notice in the first place.

But if you leave a brand new trail that is interesting, people will do your marketing for you. Just ask Time for Three, Gustavo Dudamel, Alarm Will Sound, and countless other artists and ensembles.

It's been done many times before and the beautiful thing is there's always room for more trails. Always.