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Are You Asking the Right Questions in Your Music Career? (Post Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Town Hall Panel)
Written by:
Emily Plazek

Last week at the Pittsburgh Music Town Hall Panel, the discussion derailed into micro-topics over and over again. Shouting matches begged the questions "What is Pittsburgh and this consultant going to do to help us with our music careers?" and "What should we be doing to market ourselves to get Pittsburghers to come to shows?", along with a myriad of other unfortunate negativity.

Panel, left to right: Emily Plazek (CEO/Founder of MIC, pianist singer/songwriter Millaze), Poogie Bell (Grammy winning jazz musician, producer and composer), Liz Berlin (Musician, Rusted Root; Co-Owner, Mr. Smalls Theatre; Director, Creative.Life.Support; Adjunct Professor, CMU/Heinz Masters of Entertainment Industry Management Program), Thomas Agnew (EIC, JENESIS Magazine: Co-Founder, BOOM Concepts), and Dave Wheeler (Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist, Outsideinside and Carousel)

I sat onstage and thought about how not only the point of the panel was getting missed (identifying what can be improved in our city to help music), but people were often asking the wrong questions, in terms of how to make music their living.

We here in Pittsburgh lucked out that our Downtown Partnership is spending money with a plan to support its music scene. The plan includes some infrastructure improvements (via entertainment taxes and other barriers to entry), building alliances of the leaders to lessen some miscommunication problems, leveraging assets like relationships to support the scene (think Uber and Google being in town), and shaping public perception to value local music the way we value other local products (think craft beer or sports). That last one is super tricky, by the way.

The point of the panel was to get more ideas from the citizens to add to that list -- instead though, it became a microcosmic example showcasing the actual problem at hand: musicians don't know what to do to make a healthy, sustainable wage from their music careers. The rabble-rousing was a projection of the shared collective's disappointment and anger at not knowing what to do to "make it" in music.

That answer won't come from Pittsburgh, the city.

I, myself, was admittedly saddened to hear all the frustrated people for whom I created MIC, years ago, but weren't especially receptive in that moment towards my suggestions to read the IMBM: Indie Music Business Model at the MIC website -- because it was the answer to some of their demands, in ways that Pittsburgh couldn't ever help.

I also called attention to the fact that while debate is healthy, and improvements needed, the excess of negativity and sweeping judgmental overgeneralizations was in itself one of the problems. It turns into a waste of time and productivity; and it's a red flag that you yourself are simply unhappy and projecting (hurt people hurt people).

Afterwards, some indie musicians sought me out, and some great talks were had. I also got not one but two people who, instead of shaking my hand, pulled it close to their chest and looked me deeply in the eye and thanked me for what I said. My sentiments to stay positive were heard, and that made me glad -- I created MIC to help (and I even figured out other ways to make money so I could give the IMBM away for free on the MIC website.)

When I conduct IMBM research, I talk to a lot of independent musicians, in all genres. I hear the same questions echoed, which signals the topics I need to analyze more deeply.

One of the biggest questions is: "How do I get more fans?"

This is essentially what the dissenters at the Town Hall wanted: fans to come to their shows and make their music "big." Hey, the entire right side of the IMBM Pyramid is dedicated to building fans, so I know it's a legitimate question -- but it's not the only question, and it's not always the most important, or first question.

Your music career is like a massive jigsaw puzzle, and you can't just micro-focus on one piece.
Poogie sharing his thoughts.

Let's explore this with a quick case study:

Saunders (guitarist, Pittsburgh band Chase and the Barons) was one of the musicians I met after the Town Hall, and we got on a consulting phone call a couple days later. He asked about how to add more value to their shows, to get more people to come.

We acknowledged that was the main question -- but I took us a step back. I asked him to pull up the IMBM on his computer to follow it as I asked questions; we started with "what's the band's definition of success?" Some bands want to tour the world, others just want to make a little money to pay bills, etc.

We talked about how this definition of success, although fluid and sometimes changeable as you move forward, should be the winning spot on the gameboard that is your music career. There are so many ways to get there, but you only have so much time, energy, and money to spend (especially because virtually all of indie musicians starting out have to hold down dayjob[s] because careers need money to start, and we humans need money to live.) We also touched on handfuls of other topics like the benefits of legally incorporating your band, homerun strategies for making money, diminishing marginal returns on your efforts (aka "the sweet spot"), and more.

Chase and the Barons

It was a long and exciting talk, and near the end I asked him if he still felt that the question "how do we add more value to our shows?" was the question to be investing the majority of their time, energy, and money towards. I pointed out that they may already be hitting "the sweet spot" with the show they're throwing in April: their massively cool and unique ideas incorporated already (like specially brewed beer for the event), may already be maxing out the possible value of the event. Also, I pointed out some logic flaws in the ideas that (1) getting people to their shows equates to more true fans and (2) they can influence the amount of people coming to their show when there are so many external factors out of their control (the weather, peoples' health, other events going on that night, the general grudge of people to travel across rivers in our town, fear of parking -- the list goes on).

Bottom line: "how do we get more fans?" is a great question, but not the only one, so you can't devote 100% of your time, energy, and money on it. You also need to know how to create more product (the art side of a music career) and balance that with taking care of the business side (the business side of a music career).

Speaking of that business side: The IMBM shows you the bare minimum you need to manage, and how it's not as painful as the bias against business makes you think, we promise.

Maybe sometimes the question needs to pivot to be: "Are we doing the activities that line up with our definition of success? Should we pull back and spend more time on landing licensing deals or practicing or finding someone to manage PR for us?" Oh, the list is endless, but that's why MIC is here.

The IMBM was created to pull musicians back from micro-focusing on any one piece, and see the big picture made up of those little details. A viable, profit-generating music career doesn't magically happen -- no one's living a fulfilling career off of one song that "blew up" and suddenly the world started following your band. That's a myth that we do have in our psyches, I'm unsure why.

Think about it, if one song blows up, but you/and your band don't have the structure set up to capitalize on it, or something unfortunate happens at the same time like a health crises in your drummer's family so he can't tour with you immediately -- then you lose that chance.

You need to have everything that constitutes a "music career" set up and managed -- because you don't have a record label doing all that for you. You also don't have a record label giving you the extrinsic emotional support of believing in you -- so that's why MIC also helps you create that vital support intrinsically for yourself.

The IMBM helps you learn how to replace the roles that a record label would play (or may play if you one day sign to one). You'll pinpoint the daily activities you need to conduct to actually be living a music career, and the priorities for how to make money and fans (a music career is a function of those 2 things, hence the left and right sides of the IMBM Pyramid).

Saunders is in the middle, I need to ask him about his shark fear. Maybe it's the dinos.

Like we said in the last article, Millaze is the continuous case study for the actual "how" of "how to make a music career", and we'll be sharing more about what that actually looks like in future articles. For now, read the IMBM at the Sanctuary and ask yourself if you're asking the right questions.

More soon.

- Emily

*Also, a quick thanks to everyone who showed up at the panel -- not just the panelists, WYEP, PDP, and Sound Music Cities, but everyone in the audience. MIC wants to see your music careers, it's why we exist.

Panel Photo credits: Joe Pileggi, former MIC intern

Are You Asking the Right Questions in Your Music Career? (Post Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Town Hall Panel)
Are You Asking the Right Questions in Your Music Career? (Post Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Town Hall Panel)
MIC is my baby.

Last week at the Pittsburgh Music Town Hall Panel, the discussion derailed into micro-topics over and over again. Shouting matches begged the questions "What is Pittsburgh and this consultant going to do to help us with our music careers?" and "What should we be doing to market ourselves to get Pittsburghers to come to shows?", along with a myriad of other unfortunate negativity.

Panel, left to right: Emily Plazek (CEO/Founder of MIC, pianist singer/songwriter Millaze), Poogie Bell (Grammy winning jazz musician, producer and composer), Liz Berlin (Musician, Rusted Root; Co-Owner, Mr. Smalls Theatre; Director, Creative.Life.Support; Adjunct Professor, CMU/Heinz Masters of Entertainment Industry Management Program), Thomas Agnew (EIC, JENESIS Magazine: Co-Founder, BOOM Concepts), and Dave Wheeler (Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist, Outsideinside and Carousel)

I sat onstage and thought about how not only the point of the panel was getting missed (identifying what can be improved in our city to help music), but people were often asking the wrong questions, in terms of how to make music their living.

We here in Pittsburgh lucked out that our Downtown Partnership is spending money with a plan to support its music scene. The plan includes some infrastructure improvements (via entertainment taxes and other barriers to entry), building alliances of the leaders to lessen some miscommunication problems, leveraging assets like relationships to support the scene (think Uber and Google being in town), and shaping public perception to value local music the way we value other local products (think craft beer or sports). That last one is super tricky, by the way.

The point of the panel was to get more ideas from the citizens to add to that list -- instead though, it became a microcosmic example showcasing the actual problem at hand: musicians don't know what to do to make a healthy, sustainable wage from their music careers. The rabble-rousing was a projection of the shared collective's disappointment and anger at not knowing what to do to "make it" in music.

That answer won't come from Pittsburgh, the city.

I, myself, was admittedly saddened to hear all the frustrated people for whom I created MIC, years ago, but weren't especially receptive in that moment towards my suggestions to read the IMBM: Indie Music Business Model at the MIC website -- because it was the answer to some of their demands, in ways that Pittsburgh couldn't ever help.

I also called attention to the fact that while debate is healthy, and improvements needed, the excess of negativity and sweeping judgmental overgeneralizations was in itself one of the problems. It turns into a waste of time and productivity; and it's a red flag that you yourself are simply unhappy and projecting (hurt people hurt people).

Afterwards, some indie musicians sought me out, and some great talks were had. I also got not one but two people who, instead of shaking my hand, pulled it close to their chest and looked me deeply in the eye and thanked me for what I said. My sentiments to stay positive were heard, and that made me glad -- I created MIC to help (and I even figured out other ways to make money so I could give the IMBM away for free on the MIC website.)

When I conduct IMBM research, I talk to a lot of independent musicians, in all genres. I hear the same questions echoed, which signals the topics I need to analyze more deeply.

One of the biggest questions is: "How do I get more fans?"

This is essentially what the dissenters at the Town Hall wanted: fans to come to their shows and make their music "big." Hey, the entire right side of the IMBM Pyramid is dedicated to building fans, so I know it's a legitimate question -- but it's not the only question, and it's not always the most important, or first question.

Your music career is like a massive jigsaw puzzle, and you can't just micro-focus on one piece.
Poogie sharing his thoughts.

Let's explore this with a quick case study:

Saunders (guitarist, Pittsburgh band Chase and the Barons) was one of the musicians I met after the Town Hall, and we got on a consulting phone call a couple days later. He asked about how to add more value to their shows, to get more people to come.

We acknowledged that was the main question -- but I took us a step back. I asked him to pull up the IMBM on his computer to follow it as I asked questions; we started with "what's the band's definition of success?" Some bands want to tour the world, others just want to make a little money to pay bills, etc.

We talked about how this definition of success, although fluid and sometimes changeable as you move forward, should be the winning spot on the gameboard that is your music career. There are so many ways to get there, but you only have so much time, energy, and money to spend (especially because virtually all of indie musicians starting out have to hold down dayjob[s] because careers need money to start, and we humans need money to live.) We also touched on handfuls of other topics like the benefits of legally incorporating your band, homerun strategies for making money, diminishing marginal returns on your efforts (aka "the sweet spot"), and more.

Chase and the Barons

It was a long and exciting talk, and near the end I asked him if he still felt that the question "how do we add more value to our shows?" was the question to be investing the majority of their time, energy, and money towards. I pointed out that they may already be hitting "the sweet spot" with the show they're throwing in April: their massively cool and unique ideas incorporated already (like specially brewed beer for the event), may already be maxing out the possible value of the event. Also, I pointed out some logic flaws in the ideas that (1) getting people to their shows equates to more true fans and (2) they can influence the amount of people coming to their show when there are so many external factors out of their control (the weather, peoples' health, other events going on that night, the general grudge of people to travel across rivers in our town, fear of parking -- the list goes on).

Bottom line: "how do we get more fans?" is a great question, but not the only one, so you can't devote 100% of your time, energy, and money on it. You also need to know how to create more product (the art side of a music career) and balance that with taking care of the business side (the business side of a music career).

Speaking of that business side: The IMBM shows you the bare minimum you need to manage, and how it's not as painful as the bias against business makes you think, we promise.

Maybe sometimes the question needs to pivot to be: "Are we doing the activities that line up with our definition of success? Should we pull back and spend more time on landing licensing deals or practicing or finding someone to manage PR for us?" Oh, the list is endless, but that's why MIC is here.

The IMBM was created to pull musicians back from micro-focusing on any one piece, and see the big picture made up of those little details. A viable, profit-generating music career doesn't magically happen -- no one's living a fulfilling career off of one song that "blew up" and suddenly the world started following your band. That's a myth that we do have in our psyches, I'm unsure why.

Think about it, if one song blows up, but you/and your band don't have the structure set up to capitalize on it, or something unfortunate happens at the same time like a health crises in your drummer's family so he can't tour with you immediately -- then you lose that chance.

You need to have everything that constitutes a "music career" set up and managed -- because you don't have a record label doing all that for you. You also don't have a record label giving you the extrinsic emotional support of believing in you -- so that's why MIC also helps you create that vital support intrinsically for yourself.

The IMBM helps you learn how to replace the roles that a record label would play (or may play if you one day sign to one). You'll pinpoint the daily activities you need to conduct to actually be living a music career, and the priorities for how to make money and fans (a music career is a function of those 2 things, hence the left and right sides of the IMBM Pyramid).

Saunders is in the middle, I need to ask him about his shark fear. Maybe it's the dinos.

Like we said in the last article, Millaze is the continuous case study for the actual "how" of "how to make a music career", and we'll be sharing more about what that actually looks like in future articles. For now, read the IMBM at the Sanctuary and ask yourself if you're asking the right questions.

More soon.

- Emily

*Also, a quick thanks to everyone who showed up at the panel -- not just the panelists, WYEP, PDP, and Sound Music Cities, but everyone in the audience. MIC wants to see your music careers, it's why we exist.

Panel Photo credits: Joe Pileggi, former MIC intern

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