Music entrepreneurs and export readiness

As discussed in Chapter 1, the artist manager is a collaborative partner in the music export process. In this chapter, we examine the music export activities from the artist-manager’s perspectives, and their roles in moving towards export readiness. All managers are music entrepreneurs and do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to negotiations, deals and seeking out opportunities. Here we discuss how export readiness can involve a multitude of factors, the combination of which does not guarantee success. If the artist’s creative content is the fabric underpinning and continually regenerating the music industry, the manager performs a range of crucial duties that hopefully ensure export readiness.

Entrepreneurial activities operate at various stages of a musician’s career. We partially draw upon and have adapted the Next Big Sound’s ‘'Artist social stages” in defining our own different stages that also account for assessments of popularity and success (Next Big Sound, 2016). The managers interviewed for this research represent each of the stages. Each stage is defined by the size of audience demographic, sales and digital footprints evident through social media analytics. They are: Emerging, where artists are at the begiiming or in the early career stages of developing audiences/sales/profile; Breakthrough, where artists are at a tipping point, developing threshold opportunities in audiences/sales/profile; Established, where artists have an evident and sustainable record in developing audiences/sales/profile; and Epic, where artists have an evident and substantial audience/sales/profile.

These stages are not fixed sequentially. For example, a transition from Emerging to Established status is very possible. They also may reflect older place-based hierarchies (local, national, regional or global profiles), where (fox- example) “Established” or “Epic” artists possess considerable national or global success. However, as Chapter 2 discusses, digital landscapes require consideration of benchmarks (especially social media) that indicate other criteria of success and related revenues that make older staged developmental structures redundant.

Music entrepreneurship

Before focussing on music artist managers as entrepreneurs, the general notion of music entrepreneurship is discussed as it is applicable to both music artist managers, self-managed music artists and other music industry workers operating as exporters. In our Exports Strategies survey, when 75 participant music exporters were asked to identify their role, 56% identified as an artist manager, and 19% identified as a self-managed artist, with the remaining 25% identifying as publishers, agents, bookers and labels.

The notion of the entrepreneur in general has many interpretations. In defining entrepreneurship, Cunningham and Lischeron identify a number of schools of thought (Cunningham and Lischeron, 1991, p. 46) based on assessing personal qualities, recognising opportunities, acting and managing, and reassessing and adapting. These also apply to the music entrepreneur. Zuilenburg and Loeb (2013, pp. 111-112) further identify the following six personality traits of a music entrepreneur: Having people skills and the ability to network and promote oneself, being persistent and thick-skinned and not taking “no” for an answer, strong self- discipline and endurance to continue when the odds are stacked against the entrepreneur, a strong belief in both one’s own abilities (self-efficacy) as well as in the venture that is being developed, consistency in everything one does in relation to both the customers and the company, and they must be opportunity obsessed.

Only 2 of the 12 managers interviewed had a music performance background.1 Irrespective of whether a music entrepreneur has a musical background or not, there has been much discussion on musicians and entrepreneurship in today’s fluemating musical landscape (for example: Scott, 2012; Haynes and Marshall, 2018; Albinsson, 2018; Patten, 2019). Patten writes that the relationships between practitioners working in the creative industries and entrepreneurship "are themselves ardently debated, and definitional and theoretical consensus on both has not been reached” (Patten, 2019, p. 23). In their analysis of musicians operating in the south west of England, Haynes and Marshall argue that they are natural entrepreneurs in having to manage gigs, create content, take risks regarding audience attendance and negotiate their value (Haynes and Marshall, 2018, p. 464). Musicians have always had to forge an existence; for example, this entrepreneurial spirit was evident in Mozart who in 1777 decided to base himself in Vienna and earn a living from commissions, touring, teaching and producing. Haynes and Marshall write of an implicit identity conflict when being labelled "entrepreneurial”. While artists associate their work with artistic value in which success is informed by such components as peer esteem, reputation, quality and specialised knowledge, they also are confronted with business activities performed on a daily basis in order to eke out a living. Many contemporary artists see their creative activities as being a continuation of this tradition while musicians begrudgingly acknowledge that they are being "entrepreneurial”. In doing so they equate the word with profit only and not artistic value (ibid., p. 468). It is ironic that the term "gig” economy uses the word gig as it is used by musicians in referring to being employed or performing for a job which could involve content creation, is dependent upon context and is a moment in time.

This raises concerns about whether musicians who want to be entrepreneurial can easily transfer their skill set from their daily operations, which in most cases take place in a highly networked environment, to a boundaryless open environment where entrepreneurialism underpins the new creative economy. In his study of Swedish musicians in the non-profit sector, Albinsson (2018, p. 355) notes that entrepreneurial identity is readily embraced by younger musicians whereas older pre-millennial musicians see a separation between freelancing money-making activities and their practice. Much of this boils down to the musician's training. Before the turn of this century, for example in Australia, it was not common fox- musicians to consider or study business practices. Twenty years on from the turn of the century, an Internet search will show that most contemporary music institutions have some type of music industry content or commitment.

There are many parallels between music industry actors and entrepreneurs with their focus on the need to survive and risk management activities. These include networking, creating contexts, seizing opportunities and deal-making. An important factor to consider is the use of the term "creativity”. Chapter 1 refers to Bilton (2007) who writes that the term creativity within the creative economy context is more about process and management; it is economic, rather than about individualism:

Where once we might have described creativity in terms of idea origination, and imiovation as a process of idea implementation, today that distinction looks increasingly untenable. What does “creativity” mean in today’s creative economy, and where do we find it? My argument is that creativity is no longer the sole preserve of the traditionally defined creative industry, occupation or department. Creative work and creative workers are having to take on managerial functions. At the same time, managers are beginning to seek recognition for their "creative” contribution. Creativity is accordingly being relocated and redefined, first as something integral to the process of management, second as a brand value which managers and non-managers actively seek to promote to their clients.

(Bilton. 2007, p. 24)

The early 20th-century economic theorist Joseph A. Schumpeter places creativity and innovation at the centre of the entrepreneur’s ethos. The entrepreneur forges new pathways, and is a risk-taker who creates new opportunities: “The typical entrepreneur is more self-centred than other types ... relies less than they do on tradition ... and ... consists precisely in breaking up old, and creating new, tradition” (Schumpeter, 1934, p. 70). Haynes and Marshall (2017, p. 477) compare this to the Romantic notion of the artist as hero. If creativity is essential to being an entrepreneur, does that mean musicians are adept or readily able to be entrepreneurs? Excellence in a particular creative endeavour in one field does not necessarily mean that excellence can be achieved in a totally different field, although this can happen. Runco and Jaeger (2012, p. 92) define creativity as being bipartite: It must be "original” and “effective”. “Original” can mean novel, unique or divergent, while “effective” refers to appropriateness, usefulness or value (ibid, p. 92). This is similar to the abovementioned relationship to practice; creativity is not necessarily universal, where one can transfer one’s creativity to other fields.

It depends on appropriateness and context. This constructivist approach is apposite as “everyone’s social reality is intimately interwoven as each [social reality] shapes and is shaped by the other in everyday interactions” (Cunliffe, 2008, p. 124). If a musician happens to be a successful entrepreneur it means, from a Bourdieusian (Bourdieu, 1990) perspective, that the musician has mastered the vocabularies and attributes defined by that field and context. For this reason, this chapter focuses on those music managers who consciously see themselves as having to be entrepreneurial in an ever-changing export industry that is informed by technological change, audience demographics and taste, and new modes of business communication. They construct a reality based on the changing contexts around them. This includes, to paraphrase Bilton (2007), the right mix of people in the team or partnership who work collectively and creatively in situating their product or brand.

While the above discussion includes artists and managers as music entrepreneurs, the remaining discussion deals specifically with managers as music entrepreneurs. In an environment defined by change and uncertainty, music entrepreneurs thrive on networking, flexibility and problem-solving (Schulte-Holthaus, 2019). Ulrich Beck’s seminal text, Risk Society (1992), provides important background concepts applicable to the music entrepreneur’s survival in a world of uncertainty. Beck argues that the breakdown of modern institutions has produced a shift in trust from established institutions and social structures to the individual, who needs to make more choices and be self-reliant:

Decisions on education, profession, job, place of residence, spouse, number of children and so forth, with all the secondaiy decisions implied, no longer can be, they must be made.

(Beck, 1992, p. 135)

Beck discusses three dimensions of labour market navigation and its role in defining individualisation: Education, mobility and competition. Education provides upward mobility and contributes to regularity frameworks such as various industry sectors stipulating the requirement of a qualification; the educated aspirant has choices to make regarding their career path: “the educated person becomes the producer of his or her own labor [sic] situation, and in this way, of his or her social biography” (ibid., p. 93). Mobility removes people from their traditional work patterns: They have to go where the money is; “the labor market, by way of occupational mobility, place of residence or employment, type of employment as well as changes in social location it initiates, reveals itself as the driving force behind the individualisation of people’s lives” (ibid., p. 94). Competition thrives on individualisation and destroys any sense of community. In order to survive, the individual needs to separate from others, resulting in an “individualisation among equals” (ibid., p. 94). Beck sees these three dimensions as being interconnected. They reinforce each other.

While Beck’s discussion on mobility and competition is directly applicable to the music entrepreneur, formalised education is not so applicable. The pathway into the industry from a management perspective is not always clear cut, and is often obtained by chance. When asked what the managers saw as important first steps, many specifically mentioned the importance of getting directly involved, making contacts and developing good relationships: “I don’t think they're [qualifications] critical. Entrepreneurial people in business generally from my experience ... don’t need formal qualifications” (Interview 1, 2018).

From a formal education perspective, the music export industry is deregulated: Anyone can potentially be an exporter. Entry into the industry is informal via networks, reputation, artistic success, musical demand and marketing. The lack of education pathways in a highly unreliable sector is addressed with Beck’s discussion on biography. For Beck, in order to survive in a risk society of uncertainty, biography becomes important: One has to construct or make one’s narrative:

What is demanded is a vigorous model of action in everyday life, which puts the ego at its centre, allots and opens up opportunities for actions to it, and permits it in this manner to work through the emerging possibilities of decision and arrangement with respect to one’s own biography in a meaningful way ... this means that in order to survive, an ego-centred world view must be developed, which turns the relation of ego and world on its head, so to speak, conceiving of and making them useful for the purpose of shaping an individual biography.

(Beck, 1992, p. 136, emphasis added)

This construction of a personal narrative is fundamental to the music entrepreneur. Having a degree from a particular institution is not important; having the contacts and reputation is. The narrative can be based on tours, awards, streams, reviews, networks, etc. To quote Banks et al., “‘society’ is opened up to individual manipulation and interpretation: it becomes variable and open to the ‘articulation of alternatives’ [lifestyles, careers, work...]” (Banks et al., 2000, p. 456).

While uncertainty and risk underlie entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs at the same time must generate new activities (Gifford, 2003). Schumpeter, who saw the entrepreneur as an economic (visionary) leader, lists these activities as the following:

  • 1. The production and carrying out of new products or new qualities of products;
  • 2. The introduction of new production methods;
  • 3. The creation of new forms of industrial organisation (for example trustfication);
  • 4. The opening up of new markets; and
  • 5. The opening up of new sources of supply.
  • (referred to in Becker, Marcus et al., 2011, p. 245)

These align with the second school of thought, outlined above by Cunningham and Lischeron (1991, p. 46), which conforms to Schumpeter’s view: Recognising opportunities. Further to this and to varying degrees, all the interviewed managers displayed all of Cunningham and Lischeron’s schools of thought and Bilton’s value-adding approach. Bilton (2009) sees management skills as being integral to recognising these opportunities. Managers must continually insert themselves into the many value chains of the music industry in order to value add (enable or capitalise on a deal):

Creative work and creative workers are having to take on managerial functions. At the same time, managers are beginning to seek recognition for their “creative” contribution. Creativity is accordingly being relocated and redefined, first as something integral to the process of management, second as a brand value which managers and non-managers actively seek to promote to their clients.

(Bilton, 2009, p. 24)

The essential characteristics of entrepreneurship can be found with the entrepreneur’s approach to managing change, utilising resources, collaboration, accessing networks and relying on individualistic approaches. In the following quote, from Banks et al. (2000), the term cultural entrepreneurs is applicable to music entrepreneurs:

By resourcing and developing networks - simultaneously social and professional - cultural [music] entrepreneurs safeguard existing initiatives, clients and projects while opening up the possibility for the forging of new cultural and economic opportunities - social ties in many ways drive the productive potential of the culture.

(Banks et al., 2000, p. 460)

In a digitised environment that is heavily reliant on fan interaction through the use of social media, career success involves a mixture of various factors. Hughes et al. (2013, p. 77) write that within the Australian context, “contemporary markers of success are not only built on musical ability, but also more explicitly on business acumen and strategic planning”. Furthermore, success does not always mean financial success, but can include non-financial success such as achieving specific aesthetic criteria or reputation.

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