With advances in recording technology and that great leveling factor known as the Internet, today’s music industry provides business-minded musicians with opportunities unheard of just a few years ago. But any opportunity comes with its fair share of risks. One very real, yet rarely discussed, risk is the threat of complacency. I won’t bore you with the now tired clichés like “thinking outside the box,” “disruptive innovation,” etc. However, I will encourage you to never stop thinking about the way you do business and asking yourself a simple question: “Why?” “Why am I doing it this way?” “Why did I start doing it this way?” “Why should I continue doing it this way?” You get the picture.
Does the music industry look different than it did in 1920? Without question. 1950? Absolutely. 1980? Of course. How about 2010? You bet it does. The music industry has survived to this day because of individuals who recognized they could not merely accept the status quo and had the foresight to develop and capitalize on the “next big thing.” Want proof? Just look at the opportunities that the recording industry’s initial failure to embrace digital distribution as a viable method of distribution created for independents. Had the established industry jumped on the digital bandwagon immediately, would there be as many different digital services today or would there be only a few mega-outlets? Would it be as easy, or even possible, for an independent to enter distribution deals with those outlets? Maybe so, maybe not. (And don’t even ask me to address the touchy issue of commercial viability in a digital market.) The point is that the industry’s initial reluctance to change the established model created opportunities for independents that continue to develop.
I challenge each of you to set aside ten minutes each day to think about your business and how it will operate in the future. This should be a workable exercise, so don’t allow yourself to get too bogged down in details. Think in terms of today, this year, next year, five years from now, and ten years from now. Don’t worry if your thoughts change over time – that’s precisely the point. There are no maps in life or business. However, a business that continues down a particular path simply for the sake of seeing it to the end rarely will survive. Keep your notes in a journal and review them periodically to see how well you were able to predict changing trends. This is one of the most critical abilities that you can develop in your music career, as well as life in general.
L. Kevin Levine is the founder of L. Kevin Levine, PLLC (go figure), a boutique entertainment, copyright, trademark, and business law firm in Nashville, Tennessee. A lifelong musician who grew up in his family's music store, it was inevitable that Kevin would build his legal career in entertainment and business.