Is a Band a Business?

Two young musicians perform on a street for tips.

Is a Band a Business?

Well, is a band a business? The answer is, “If you allow it to be.”

Our most recent DMV Music Alliance focus group meeting conversations kind of fed into one another. In this week’s community partners meeting, Shardé Hoff of Share Your Soul pointed out the need for business development education for new and ongoing businesses serving the local creative community. Our genre ambassadors meeting also raised questions with regards to translating that information to artists.

Two young musicians perform on a street for tips.
Photo courtesy of Brett Sayles

One reason to start a creative pursuit is to achieve a certain level of personal gratification and self-satisfaction. Another reason is because the individual(s) spots a gap in the industry sector, or a need to be filled, and the desire to positively impact the community. Just about anyone I’ve ever met in the entertainment industry committed to their path because of a desire to attain one, or both, of these objectives.

Because of the innate personal nature of working within the creative community, there are a lot of emotions tied to the work. Sometimes, this work is an opportunity to exert some sense of ownership and control which other areas of life may not provide. Additionally, there can be a significant amount of fear surrounding the potential failure or success of bringing creative works to the public. Implementing a business mindset to these endeavors adds a level of difficulty to a project that some feel is insurmountable, and, as a result, many choose not to operate their artistic and creative talents as a business.

If, for any reason, you have made the decision that your creative outlet is just a hobby, there is no shame in that. If however, you have made the decision to enter the business sector with your art or art-related industry product or service, then here are a few things to keep in mind.

A business is a business.

A business needs an income in order to maintain itself as a business and to grow. If you treat your art like a business then you must find a way to monetize that art in a way that aligns with your innate sense of ownership.

Since your business is an extension of you and your vision, it is unique. However, before treating it like the precious snowflake that it is, educate yourself on the broader, bigger picture of how a business operates generally. The core principles of business are the same regardless of your product and service.

Whether your venture is new, or has been established for some time (it never hurts to get a refresher), consider the following resources:

The Small Business Development Center:
DC – https://dcsbdc.org/starting-a-business/
MD – https://www.marylandsbdc.org/
VA – https://www.virginiasbdc.org/

Each of these sites has information about a specific part of the region. Sign up for online educational programming or in-person workshops, and make an appointment with a small business counselor to gain insights on how your business can add value to the local ecosphere while you continue to grow your revenue.

Treating your business like a business means registering, filing, taxes, and a whole lot more than just engaging in your business practices. View these processes as the right and true way of engaging in business professionally. All the companies you have ever heard of (and all the ones you haven’t) engage in these practices.

The Chamber of Commerce:
DC – https://dcchamber.org/
MD – https://mdchamber.org/
VA – https://vachamber.com/

The chamber of commerce is intended to be a way for businesses to be able to connect with one another across various sectors and for business owners to have a voice in representing their industries within their state, city, and county.

You are not alone.

Aside from federal and state resources, The DMV Music Alliance and its members are evidence that there are others working in similar spaces, facing similar struggles, and developing distinctive solutions. Seek out a mentor in your chosen field because the deeper you dive into your industry sector the more niche it will become; you’ll need information that is more specific to your business rather than information that applies broadly to any or all businesses. Enroll yourself in paid educational and networking opportunities specific to your business. Join peer and support groups that specifically serve your niche.

Start with “why.”

Time is short, friends. So, determine the specific reason why you must engage in this business. This motivating force isn’t just the cause behind entering the market, but it’s also the reason you stay in the business, and determines what you truly desire the outcome to be. The journey is hard, so why begin moving toward a destination you don’t really want to reach? Or, why move toward an objective you don’t believe you can actually attain?

My mindset is to do work that I know wholeheartedly I will be interested in and excited to do long term, even for the rest of my life.

It is okay to fail.

Embrace the journey as the educational opportunity that it is. Find joy in exploring and learning about the industry. Take chances, make mistakes and get messy because no matter how good you or your intentions are, there will be moments when you do not hit the mark. Just because one or more of your initiatives are unsuccessful doesn’t mean your business is unviable. Should your business prove to be unsuccessful, it doesn’t doesn’t mean that you are not successful.

It is a fallacy to think that every business endeavor will be a successful one. Even the largest, most well funded business can still fail. Yet, there is still value in the experience; which one can verify by observing how CEO’s (often elevated in the public light) who are removed from one company due to a lackluster performance are still invited to join the ranks of other organizations.

Have patience.

Whether or not you work full-time or part-time in your endeavor, it takes time to build a business. Someone once told me that I should add 30% to any budget in order to accommodate the inevitable unexpected in terms of finances, and I’ve found this to be a good rule of thumb when I think about time as well. Do you think it will take 10 hours to complete a phase? Budget for 13 hours and give yourself some wiggle room.

Slow progress is still progress. This is true regardless if we’re discussing growing your revenue, your social media audiences, or any other metric.

Indeed.com states, “Good economic growth can vary, but typically falls within two to four percent [annually].” Now, your results may vary, and you may have a need for or desire higher levels of growth, but if you are hitting this benchmark then you should feel some level of satisfaction at achieving financial success in general terms.

Various sites suggest that your growth on social media might be 0.5% – 2.5% monthly, depending on the platform. Again, you might hope for more, but there certainly isn’t any reason to feel remorseful for falling within the average.

Perhaps this is one of the most meaningful reasons behind choosing work that you can visualize yourself doing for the rest of your life. We can only anticipate the data resulting from linear growth. Building your business on the notion that your business will go viral is guesswork, and unreliable. As author Malcom Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point, linear growth is the precursor to exponential growth, or, “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

Do great work consistently, and be satisfied with reaching small but attainable goals. Remember, that you are growing a business and that it does not emerge from your vision as a fully formed, mature entity.

With that, here are some other excellent resources from The Harvard Business Review regarding The Five Stages of Small Business Growth and How Fast Should Your Company Grow.

Regardless of whether you are an artist or industry service provider, this information should help you feel confident about developing and implementing your plan. The DMV Music Alliance and I hope to share more in-depth business development resources specifically geared towards the various niches that exist within the DMV creative community in future articles.

Daniel Warren Hill is an American Musician, Media Developer, and Entrepreneur. He is best known as the frontman for Washington DC area Alternative Rock band YellowTieGuy; owner of music news and entertainment outlet Alchemical Records; and co-founder of the diverse and inclusive musician empowerment organization, Capitol Groove Collective. Daniel’s life-long vision has been to set an example of how to achieve creative, financial, and spiritual success by tapping into the value of your own creative outlets and artistic endeavors.

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