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Over the past few weeks I’ve asked 30 extraordinary people in the music industry for their most valuable words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Without further ado, here are 30 pieces of advice from 30 music industry entrepreneurs.

Focus on what works now

“We are no longer subject to what was, only to what works. We can honor what came before us, but at the same time we have to be constantly aware of how fast this new generation moves. The new does not have to be scary and it’s allot less risky than it ever was. It just looks radically different than it ever did and we have to embrace that. Yesterdays fans are not coming back and so we should simply stop trying to find them.”
– Benji Rogers, CEO, Pledge Music

Nothing speaks louder than an amazing product

“Nothing speaks louder than an amazing product. Focus on that, and “buzz” usually takes care of itself. Also try and get one marquee client on board per vertical that you’re going after. For example, after Madonna came on board in 2009, we had a much easier time selling in the music business. This was the same for sports after we began working with the Miami Dolphins.”
Michael Schneider, CEO, Mobile Roadie

It’s about unshakeable will and unusual vision

“Less than 1% of ideas last more than a few years, so don’t take a single failure as a sign that you aren’t a capable entrepreneur. Numbers don’t mean much to an entrepreneur. It’s about your unshakeable will and your unusual vision. You have to out-hustle and out-think everyone else. You have to predict where your market is going based on a multitude of factors that others simply aren’t seeing because they are blinded by some other false truth. You are the new truth. Believe that, and your chances of succeeding are 50/50!”
– Robb McDaniels, CEO, INgrooves

Pay attention to detail

“Treat everyone that comes into contact with you with as much interest and interact with them as much as you can manage. You will be amazed at how your one extra minute of attention will compound and contribute to your future.”
– Ariel Hyatt, President, Cyber PR

You don’t need investment

“If you launch a startup and think the only way to grow is by getting outside investment from venture capitalist or angel investors, you’re like a band that thinks they need to get signed by a major to have a chance at success. Focus on on building a product or service that has real value for the users and they will pay for it.”
– David Dufresne, CEO, Bandzoogle

Get in front of your customers at industry conferences.

“Get your idea out there in front of your prospective customers as early as possible through industry conferences like Midem or SXSW. We entered FanDistro in MidemLab’s 2013 Start-up Competition and when we were named a finalist in the marketing and social engagement category, the resulting industry attention opened doors that would otherwise have taken months or years to crack open.”
– Michael Penfield, CEO, Fandistro

Business is not about money

“Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself. Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.”
– Derek Sivers, Founder, CD Baby

Put your focus on engagement and revenue

“Put your focus on two things – engagement and revenues. Engagement is driven by a great product built by an outstanding team; revenues by a solid business model which is tough especially in the music space. Be persistent and don’t forget to enjoy music as a source of energy for yourself.”
– Hansjoerg Posch, CEO, Moosify

This is the most exciting time to be an entrepreneur

The early 2000’s radically changed the way music is promoted, enjoyed, shared, and consumed; and the next decades will continue to improve the way music is experienced. The fact that music is now mostly digital means that entrepreneurs of all kinds are the new ‘gatekeepers’ and can freely re-invent the way music is experienced. There are very little rules or status quo: as long as it reaches an audience and entertains, it works.
– Jules Terrien, CEO, Audience.fm

Understand the new channels of marketing and adapt as needed

“From a label perspective the state of the music industry has gotten as intriguing as the A&R process. Every part of a release has become a truly creative force. Just as music styles change, the same has been happening with all facets of the business. Learn and understand the new channels of marketing, promotion and distribution and adapt as needed. In other words, follow the same guidelines as the artists by continuing to evolve, explore and experiment.”
– Andreas Katsambas, CEO, The End Records

Be ruthless in hiring and keep fit

“Stay as focused as possible and keep simplifying down your ideas till you have something small you can launch quickly and iterate on. Be ruthless in hiring only the best people. Keep fit and try to exercise even in the longest times.”
– Ian Hogarth, CEO, Songkick

You have to give to get

Dick Huey“You have to give to get. Establish a networking group, and help others advance their careers, and yours will advance.”
– Dick Huey, Founder, Toolshed

Have co-founders you can trust blindly

Sylvain Zimmer“Creating a successful business in the music industry is incredibly difficult. To have a chance to succeed, you need to get two things right. The first is having great co-founders: your ideas need instant and insightful feedback from people you trust blindly. The second one may sound obvious but it is actually trying as hard as you can… to survive. If you just outlive your competitors and continue improving your product, there is only so much that can get in your way.”
– Sylvain Zimmer, CEO, Jamendo

Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

Steve RennieYou don’t ask, you don’t get, and you don’t learn.
– Steve Rennie, Manager of Incubus, Founder of Renman Music & Business

You must fulfill an inherent need

Evan Lowenstein“One should not start a company on the merits of a great idea alone. There must be an inherent need. Because resilience can only be found in one who feels their vision is the only option. A bit of unrealistic thinking will go a long way too.”

– Evan Lowenstein, CEO, StageIt.com

Challenge your assumptions

Joe ConyersCuriosity is the most important skill an entrepreneur can have. No matter where you are in a business you have to constantly challenge your assumptions and ask questions of your customers, your team, your partners, and most importantly yourself. Question your wins, losses, and everything in between.
– Joe Conyers, Product Manager, Songtrust

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Reality is different to the perception of early adopters

Matt Younkle“The reality of the global music industry is different from perception of us early adopters. 36% of US teens have purchased at least one CD in the past year. In Japan, the world’s 2nd largest music market, over 75% of music sales are physical.”
– Matt Younkle, CEO, Murfie

Your biggest challenges aren’t those in the industry

Brian Thompson “Don’t let your perception of who you think you are limit who you can become. Your biggest challenges aren’t those within the industry, they’re the walls you build in front of yourself with limiting beliefs, lack of confidence, fear of the unknown, and having the wrong priorities. Fill your days with an endless pursuit of chasing your passion, taking tiny steps each day to push you progress further, and your persistence will pay its rewards. Exceed expectations, be remarkable… and people will notice.”
– Brian Thompson, Founder, Thorny Bleeder & The DIY Daily

Create opportunities for others

“Think strategically and lead by providing value. Being an entrepreneur is an honor that carries with it a major responsibility to create opportunities for others. Trust your instincts, go with what feels right, and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”
– Ben Maitland-Lewis, CEO, Presskit.to

Do the next best thing – every day

“Every day, ask yourself what is the next best thing the team can do to drive your business forward. The answer tells you where you should be concentrating your efforts and where your focus should be. That question can be applied to the organization overall but also to each team member, and especially yourself. Do the next best thing, and don’t do anything else until it’s done. Then ask yourself the question again. Repeat until you reach your goal.”
– Mike McCready, CEO, Music Xray

Listen to your customers, not your critics

“Listen to your customers, not your critics. Only invest your efforts into something you enjoy, and don’t outsource anything until you fully understand the principles of that task yourself.”
– Lee Parsons, CEO, Ditto Music

Continually re-prioritize

“Keep a running check list and continually re-prioritize. You need to define your goals, and the steps involved in reaching them include writing them out, completing each, and moving on to the next. It’s an organic process, and some items will drop off your list and others will get added.”
– Andre Calilhanna, Editorial/Content Manager, Disc Makers

Have a strong value proposition

“Build a product that focuses on one main idea with a strong value-proposition and differentiation from similar competitors. When we started Stereomood we took the risk of creating a hybrid service full of features, half way between Last.fm and Hypemachine. Then we decided to cut to the chase and concentrate on the core of our project: to classify music through states of mind in order to give our users the background sound for their emotions.”
– Daniele Novaga, Co-founder, Stereomood

Know how to pivot and readjust your business

Allen Bargrede“Don’t overplan. Things don’t always come together exactly as anticipated, and the most successful entrepreneurs are those who know how to pivot and readjust their business as things develop.”
– Allen Bargrede, Executive Director Rethink Music at Berklee College of Music

Know more about your business then anyone else

“As Mark Twain said, there’s no such thing as a new idea, chances are whatever you’ve thought of has bee already been done in some way shape or form. However, you can make sure that you do it better, by understanding more about your business then anyone else and making it simple and easy for people to understand and pass on.”.
– Lee Cannon, Founder, FairShareMusic.com

Follow your own path, not others

“Know your competition but focus on your own product and how it can be best delivered to achieve market fit. Follow your own path and not others, everyone achieves success in different ways. “.
– Stan Mcleod, Co-founder, Bandwagon

Watch what people do

“Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do”.
– Jed Carlson, Co-founder, ReverbNation

Make things happen

Simon Tam“There are three kinds of people in this world: Those who make things happen, those who wait for things to happen, and those who wonder “what the hell just happened?” Be the kind that makes things happen.”
– Simon Tam, Founder, Last Stop Booking

Focus on the bottom line & network constantly.

Mark Frieser
“Maintain a focus on the bottom line, follow up on execution, follow the money, build your brand and network constantly. The music business is a challenging place to make a career, but a fun and potentially profitable one if you have a clear vision of what you want to do and gather the resources and connections to make it happen.”
– Mark Frieser, CEO, Sync Exchange

Learn as if you had to teach

Marcus Taylor “Knowledge is the most freely attainable, valuable asset available to entrepreneurs curious enough to invest in it. Learn something today, tomorrow, and the day after that will develop your knowledge in your area of expertise – and learn it as if you had to teach it.”

– Me! (Marcus Taylor), Founder, Venture Harbour

I want to finally say a huge thank you to all of the great people who helped create this post by contributing their insightful words of wisdom. For me, and i’m sure many others this post has been a huge source of inspiration and motivation.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I’d really appreciate it if you could pass this on to anyone you think might also enjoy it, and if you have any thoughts or experiences you’d like to add, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor is the founder of Venture Harbour. He’s also an early-stage investor, advisor & the youngest Patron of The Prince's Trust.

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  • Daniel M. Novick, Esq. says:

    This article provides some great perspective and insight into success in today’s rapidly changing music business. Working primarily with emerging and established businesses in the music industry, I find that the issues discussed in this piece reiterate much of the advice and guidance I give my clients as they navigate their ways through this industry. Where some look at the shifts in the music business pessimistically, I see nothing but untapped opportunity. I believe the music business “pie” will one day be bigger than it has ever been, though we may be sharing that pie with a larger number of people, given the combination of home recording technology, digital distribution, and social media (and Youtube… of course).

    Be excited. This is a great time to get started in the music business.

    Daniel M. Novick,

  • Lenise Bent says:

    I’m a woman producer/engineer who’s been in the music and post audio business for over 30 years. I’m just one of many successful women out there in our industry and I’m sorry that more did not respond to this. I’m responding now because this is the first I’ve seen of this post. Regardless of gender, here are my thoughts: Be authentic, be honest. Always treat everyone like you want to be treated, you never know who you’re sitting next to on the bus. Be true to yourself, make sure you are doing what you want to do and for the right reasons. Love what you do. Passion trumps perfect. Your enthusiasm will be infectious and inspiring to those around you. Do your homework and be visible and approachable. These things apply to anything you do in life.

  • disqus_HyVLoMIUKP says:

    1) Why are we not hearing more from female artists/producers???? Are you out there (I know you are!) and why are you not solicited for comments?! (I am not a female….)
    2) It amazes me how so many entrepreneurs cannot spell or use proper grammar.

  • Awesome! All solid advice I wish someone told me 20 years ago.

  • Karyn says:

    This is a fine list for those interested in starting up a music-related business. Perhaps as a corollary – and of interest to artists themselves – it would be helpful / inspiring to hear advice from working musicians who are navigating their own careers successfully. What are the pluses and pitfalls of an entrepreneurial approach to managing one’s music career.

    • Karyn says:

      Thought I’d throw that in the pot alongside Ariel’s “30 Pieces of Advice From Female Music Industry Entrepreneurs”. :)

  • This is awesome Marcus well done mate.

  • lynn crisci says:

    only one women, out of the 30 industry leaders you hand picked! women seem purposefully omitted…along with almost all other minorities. I definitely feel Madeline Sklar should have been quoted here.

  • AirGigs says:

    Here’s one for the list: Trust Your Own Authenticity

    It’s from your own authentic perspective that ideas and passion flow. It’s about coming to understand the value of your own personal perspective and how it connects with your vision. It easy to get burnt out just trying to “get there” with an idea or project. It’s valuable to put some real focus on what you most resonate with so that it can infuse all your efforts. There’s no way to get around doing the work, but if the work is a reflection of your values and core beliefs then you’ve got the gas to make it happen.

  • Where are the women in this list? Ariel, you are a voice in the wilderness. And mostly young white men. Really — and you boys think I’m supposed to be impressed with this line-up? Be more curious — yes — aren’t you curious about what a female point of view might be? Or what your female readers would find symbiotic?
    Don’t look in the mirror — look out the window.

    Nancy Scimone

    • marcusataylor says:

      Nancy – please see my comment above. I was also concerned before posting this that there was a lack of women involved, but it’s purely coincidence rather than choice. I did reach out to many women entrepreneurs in the industry to get involved, but Ariel was the only one who responded within the deadline. I think this post has done a great job of capturing opinions from a real mixture of people around the World in different roles and of different ages, but you’re right – it’d certainly add a lot to get some more women entrepreneurs to get involved.

      • 2dOpinion says:

        Marcus – I might have typically pounced as well (from a lack of diversity perspective) but the vibe I get from you is a good one. Plus – in all honesty – that didn’t even occur to me until the women here chimed in… Not really sure if the lack of political correctness takes anything away but it may very well “add to”. It’s a good piece so thanks.

    • Ariel says:

      Hi Nancy! I’m gonna work with Marcus to do a second post – It will be 30 Female entrepreneurs! :)

  • One woman on your entire list!
    Nearly everyone youngish white men!
    Oh dear :)
    May I add how useful it is to have a dogged ‘get on with it’ attitude even if it might seem like you’re not in the club? And that there are actually tons of women entrepreneurs out there. And that running a business is fantastic.
    Caroline, 52, successful music entrepreneur