Defining Success – The Entrepreneurial Musician

When informing people of my career path I am occasionally asked “Are you successful?” or, “Are you making a living?”  I appreciate the sentiment behind both of these questions.  People like to know what life is like for a professional musician and I am glad that a lot of folks care about how my family and I are doing, even when asking about my income.  However, this is a question that is hard to answer.  This is something I will wrestle with this week via the blog.

What is success in the life of a classically-trained operatically capable musical theater tenor?  I have not sung at Carnegie Hall.  I’ve had some successes, but does that make me a successful musician?  I have a couple of CDs  which you should purchase here.  The answer is…in terms of life on planet earth…no.  When people ask about success, what they really mean is…well, that other question, “Are you actually making enough money to pay for life?”

For a classically trained musician your income will probably be a concoction of many things.   Perform. Direct. Teach. Record. Compose. Produce.  Being able and willing to diversify your income is necessary.  How you do this determines whether you can be called an entrepreneur.

While my education at NWC and DU was exceptional and inspiring, as I learn about making life work as a musician I have frequently thought since then, “It would’ve been nice to learn about this in school.”  Being gifted in music, and having the knack and drive to complete a couple of degrees does not automatically make you an entrepreneur.  The qualities that make business-minded people excel are often the opposite qualities of an artist.

Willfulness. Perseverance.  Luck.  These words are some of what Fred Rosen used to describe an entrepreneur.  Rosen, the former owner and CEO of Ticketmaster, offered these words to Artists House Music.  He said that the two most important elements of an entrepreneur is that, in the second grade you failed the “plays well with others” and that you have a “monumental fear of failing” as this would be your “driving force….” when you are truly alone.  I have always been a nice guy and often prided myself at my willingness to fail for the sake of remaining positive.  According to Rosen I don’t have it.

I found a blog posting on about the most successful entrepreneurial musicians of our day.  I was surprised that so many of their business ventures were outside of music.  I was also surprised that there were no classical musicians on the list.  I know they are not as popular, but some have become quite weathly via their entrepreneurship.

I don’t want to be the owner of conglomeration that may include restaurants, production companies, record labels, fashion designs, clothing lines, and at least one fragrance.  I don’t need the press, or media coverage.  I have no desire to become a sensation in and of itself.  I need a different definition of success.  It is not possible to sing very well when you’re consumed by a “monumental fear of failing.”  Nor would I believe it possible to live well and be a husband and father of any considerable good under such duress.  In singing, fear of failure produces tension which inhibits the sound.

In an article by Jon Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot, he calls for “re-eappropriating the phrase “making a living.”  Perhaps instead we can think of a life in art, and following our passions as making life worth living.

I don’t have any plans for a fragrance, or even a label.  However, I have many thoughts about how to make music more accessible, enhance music appreciation, encourage funding for the arts, bridge across art forms, and create interesting and beautiful concert experiences.

I think I will start there.