My first post on startup lessons from the world of music, showed the way bands work to become successful is similar to the manner in which technology startups do the same.

I am not addressing the “hit driven” nature of the two industries, where only a small percentage of the participants make it “big.”  While it is certainly true that for every 10 bands and startups alike only 1 or 2 of them will end up surviving long-term, what I am specifically referring to here is the repeatable processes by which both teams of musicians and teams of entrepreneurs can come together to create something tangible in their respective fields.  This is more true today than any time in recent history, as the tools of producing, distributing, selling, and refining music/startups are cheaper and more accessible than ever.

And as we see, this paradigm is creating serious structural changes to the suppliers of capital in these industries- the big record labels and venture capital firms alike- that are being forced to similarly operate differently.  Emerging bands and startups alike do not need much money at all to begin working on their dream.

  • Forming the Idea, And Iterate:  I get asked all the time: How do you come up with an idea to work on?  I always quote the famous chemist, Linus Pauling “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”  “What kind of music do I want to make?” is the same as “What kind of product do I want to build?”  Just start working on something you are passionate about or interested in and the rest will take care of itself.  It is interesting to note that there are many musicians who initially fail with their first project and then ultimately succeed on repeated attempts.  In fact, most of the bands we now know and love went thru several iterations before becoming successful.  Or you could be a serial musician/entrepreneur, like Dave Grohl, who works on tons of projects.
  • Forming a Band or Founding Team: People in the same vicinities with shared interests naturally gravitate toward one another.  You can be siblings (Van Halen, Kings of Leon), high school classmates (Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Who, U2), husband/wife (White Stripes), best friends (Bon Jovi), or business acquaintances (Rolling Stones, Audioslave).   In both worlds, mutual introductions and connections are key (Pearl Jam was formed because Eddie Vedder knew the drummer for the Chili Peppers, who knew a group of guys in Seattle was looking for a singer), so make sure you talk to everybody in your space.  Today, aspiring band-mates use online sites such as Variety or MySpace to connect.
  • Creating: It is a core part of the music industry’s allure that artists can record an inexpensive demo on home equipment and get signed to a major label deal.  Those artists that are proficient with technology can use a Mac and home recording and mixing software, such as Garageband and Cakewalk, to create professional sounding recordings.  The startup analogies are obvious with tools like AWS, Ruby on Rails, development outsourcing, Survey Monkey, KISSMetrics, to name just a few…
  • Product/Market Fit: If you are good, the Internet is tailor-made for connecting with potential fans of music, performing live, and refining the music.  If you have access to a computer, check out some of your favorite bands early shows.  For the most part, they are not great and do not necessarily hint at future success.  Good bands get better with time and practice and go on to become great bands.  U2, Radiohead, Green Day all found their groove after years of hard work and iteration.  Some bands, such as the members of Pearl Jam, struck out a few times before making it big.
  • Customer Acquisition: The Internet and social networking tools are tailor made to get the word out about your project.  Distribution is the #1 challenge for Internet startups and bands alike.  It is difficult to cut thru the clutter and have the few seconds opportunity to get someone out there to care about your project.  Clever bands like OK Go cleverly used the power of the virality of digital video to infiltrate popular culture, with the treadmill video.  College bands like OAR, Disptach, and Guster all created healthy followings leveraging blogs, fan clubs, identifying and rewarding mavens to connect with fans, to book gigs, and to sell wares.  Sometimes this can be viral but mostly it will be done by brute force and having a strategy.  The key is to find those that love what you do, refine it, and get the word out cheaply.
  • Make A Living: If you are an entrepreneur or aspiring musician, you have made the decision, whether overtly or not, to live outside of the traditional system.  You are someone that wants to make a stamp on the world you live in, live by your own rules (as much as possible), and create your own structure.  You have to understand that while this might seem normal in the circles you run in, it is not.  It takes a special effort, talent and committment to create the means of supporting yourself and your family in this way.  It also means you need to be clear with your team and band-mates what kind of lifestyle you want: are you going to be happy making your music and touring to a small adoring fan base or do you want to be a mega-band?  Same questions arise for a startup: do you want to be a lifestyle business that pays you a nice wage and operates at break even or do you want to be something that is used and enjoyed by millions of people?  Most times its not really your choice, as organic events dictate your decision-tree.  But this is a conscious decision that you need to make as you embark on this path.


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