Survival Business Skills for the Entrepreneurial Flutist

By Viviana Guzman

One might think that once you have practiced a million hours you will be ready to be discovered”.  Unfortunately, it is not so easy.  Following are a few surprising (and not so surprising) additional skills for surviving in today’s musical arena.

Do you plan to form a teaching studio?  Or does the touring musician’s life sound appealing?  The first three points below would be suggested for both goals.  The final three items would be for the future touring musician to keep in mind.

Website design 

Do you have a website?  This is your electronic business card (side note, you should have a physical business card too). This is where you can put your videos, biography, promotional shots and upcoming concerts all in one place.  You should hire a website expert to provide a polished look, unless you happen to have the skills yourself. Even if you aren't all that comfortable with creating online, you might want to take a course in website design and maintenance as having professionals do everything can be very expensive, and many website designers are very busy and not always available if your site has issues.

But even if you can't afford a pro to start,  with a few simple tips picked up from YouTube, you can launch your own website fairly quickly and easily using sites like Wix, Weebly, Foursquare.  If you don’t already have a website, get or make one today! Being without a website means you are a step behind others who do, and you may miss opportunities if people have no way of finding out more about you. A practical tip and caution:  Do not pay a web person all up front, and make sure you know what kind of time frame they can guarantee. Once they have your money and whatever source material you've provided them, you are at their mercy to some degree, and pressuring them to finish or switching to another will not be that easy.  This is another reason why being able to perform the basics yourself is a good idea for everyone.

Graphic design

Having a good graphic design sense can become invaluable in the future.  Along with getting some web design tools under you belt, I would also suggest seeking a few graphic design tips, perhaps taking a course.  Using these skills may prove invaluable when trying to create a poster advertising an upcoming concert.  Having a good design sense also would help your website branding.  You're a creative person or you wouldn't be reading this, but you also need to keep in mind who your intended audience will be.  For example, if you intend to live mainly in the classical music world, that goth look you use for your weekend gig might not be ideal for a theme for your site.  That's not to say people can't live in both worlds, but as with Facebook or anywhere else, your future employers and colleagues will see what you post (whether you intend for them to or not) and even old versions of websites can live on in some form on the internet.  So have fun with it, but realize that there are limits set by who will see it--which you can't control.  Whatever approach you take, don't skimp (well, too much anyway) on paying for good photos (or finding friends or semi-professionals who want to give the "flutist discount"), whether you're dressed for Carnegie Hall or the Renaissance Fair.  Or both.

I suggest using Canva.com as a hub to design concert posters, social media posts, album covers, etc.  It is fairly intuitive and much easier animal to tackle than Photoshop.

Public Relations

Even though you may already have a firm grip through your social media channels, you will need to figure out a way to reach the press.  I suggest taking a few public relations courses, too.  Learn how to draft a press release.  The most essential points to cover in a press release would be to cover 1. who, 2. what, 3. where 4. when.  Be sure to include your promotional poster and catchy image in the press release.  Releases should be sent out 3 months in advance for magazines, 4 to 3 weeks in advance for print media, and 2-3 weeks in advance for radio and television.  And don't forget to always include your contact information.  As with branding, you want to choose a somewhat professional-sounding, or at least not potentially embarrassing, e-mail address.  Google phone numbers, which you can forward to your cell or other phone, are good ways to have an alternate number without investing money.

Manager

If you plan to do some touring, you will need to find an artist manager or be your own manager.  I was lucky to have landed management as soon as I graduated from Juilliard.  I have always worked closely with my various agents as I feel that no one cares as much about my career as I do.  Also, given that I am a workaholic by nature, because I love every aspect of what I do, I have enjoyed learning from each of my different agents and for this I am so grateful.

In today's world, being your own DIY manager is perfectly legit.  Start by seeking out venues where you can see yourself performing and contact the house manager or arts presenter.  Once you have your website in mint condition (see above), this is where everyone will go to listen to your music and learn more about you. The concert presenters are busy people and are used to being contacted by potential talent.  Do your homework.  Make sure they are already presenting artists like you.  For example, if the venue presents only jazz music and you are a strictly classical flutist, chances are you will not be a good fit for them.  And this seems a good place to point out that, as a business person, the costs you incur to set up your website and pay photographers and for travel may be tax deductions, so keep your receipts.   An I.R.S. agent auditing you may not be accepting of your hastily photographed picture of your receipt or the credit card bill with the vague description, he or she might want that crumpled slip of paper riding around in your flute case with a tahini sauce stain.

Newsletter and Email List

Start compiling your email list today!  After every time you perform, be sure to ask your audience to sign up to continue hearing from you.  Then, every month or so, send updated emails with your upcoming touring schedule.  You graphic design skills will come in handy when drafting your newsletter.  Your email list will become your most powerful tool for keeping your fans up to date with your activities and latest news. A modicum of restraint is required as we've all unsubscribed to otherwise welcome news sources when they spam us every day.  Save that for Twitter and Instagram, if you must.

Recording Engineer

Be sure to be able to have a CD to sell at your concerts and to give to people who can help your career. Yes, while everything is mostly digital downloads today, some people (especially those over a certain age who tend to be the classical audience) still buy and use CDs.  And be sure to announce the sale of your CDs from the stage.  Fans want to take you home” and support your career. The best way to sell CDs is by offering your CD sale after the concert.  Don't over-or-under price your CD, but in any case, make it for an amount that audience members might have on them and which might not require you to make change, like $10 - $20. If you go higher, of course, you may sell less. You can also, of course, upload and sell CDs and digital downloads through sites such as CD Baby or Amazon or even iTunes, but don't expect to pull big numbers from those right away.

If you have not recorded your first CD yet, then either f1) ind a label to partner with, 2) rent recording studio or 3) use your home recording studio.  For the latter, I suggest buying a professional microphone and use GarageBand or Logic to record your album.  You might want to take some basic courses in these programs as well (this is not like going back to school, and can be done on your schedule).  And again, there are plenty of YouTube videos to help you along the path.  Have a friend or friends with musical ears, have a listen before you have the physical CDs created.  Once you have your product in hand, be sure to send it to your media list, as you will need to promote it.  Upload sound links to your music to your website and to your social media channels.  Then promote, promote, promote!

All of this may sound daunting to the recent graduate.  All I can say is, IT IS MUCH EASIER NOW!!!  Everything used to be done via snail mail when I graduated from Juilliard.  I had to pay for relentless mailings, photocopies, press releases, and print 8x10 photographs.  These mailings were expensive!  Now with a quick email you can point your viewer or potential concert hall to your website, CD and biography in one click.  Take advantage of this amazing tool which is called the internet.  Back in the day, I had to purchase expensive books with media contacts, managers and concert hall contact info.  Today, all is in front of you and can be completed quickly with a little research and a short email.  My message to you is to take one step at a time, and if you have a dream, go for it and make it happen!

 

Viviana Guzman is an internationally touring multi-genre artist who has performed in 127 countries. Her album “Traveling Sonata” received a GRAMMY  Nomination.  She has presented a TEDxBerkeleyTalk speaking before Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple, Inc,  and her album "Song of the Whale" received a Global Music Award, Gold Medal.  A graduate of The Juilliard School, she has performed in 127 countries and currently teaches flute at the University of California Santa Cruz and is the director of Flutes by the Sea.   Follow her on FB, IG and Twitter.

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