There is a love/hate concept in the singing world: we should think of ourselves as a business and our voices as our product. While anathema to those that romanticize the role of the singer and separate Business from Art, there is a lot to be said for those that are able to structure their career in this way. Chris Guillebeau’s recent book, The $100 Startup, is a resource for those “operapreneurs” out there that are ready to find the intersection between expertise and what a potential audience will pay for. Full of specific examples, The $100 Startup provides insight into making a career out of doing what you absolutely love to do. Here are the top ten reasons that singers should read Guillebeau’s book.
10. You Already Have the Skills You Need
This is especially true for operapreneurs. Most musicians have been practicing their craft for years and many have broken that 10,000 hour ceiling. Those skills are valuable. However, your position in the field determines how valuable those skills are. Microbusiness is not new and singers in the States have been operating on a freelance model since the beginning. “But scale, reach, and connection have changed dramatically.” Therefore, we must find the convergence of where our passion and skills meet their usefulness in today’s cultural landscape.
9. Connect Your Passion to Other People
“Good businesses provide solutions to problems.” Too many musicians feel that once they develop their skills a market will spring up around them demanding their product. We are not concerned enough with the demand or business model. This truth may sting a bit, but you very rarely get paid for your passion alone; you get paid for helping other people pursue the passion or something indirectly related to it. This is why you must never forget your audience. They are rarely attending just to hear the singers. They are there to pursue their own involvement with the art form.
8. Get Hip to the New Demographics
In fact, this may be one of the most important lessons for new operapreneurs. Those of us in the industry realize that our audience is not made up solely of octogenarians but we have to spread the word. Our demographic is not restricted by age, race, or gender. We are bound by shared beliefs and values above all.
7. “Advertising is Like Sex: Only Losers Pay for it.”
Guillebeau recommends that when starting a business one should “spend 50% of your development time on creating and 50% on connecting.” In an industry as tightly knit as ours there are many benefits to who you know. Try saying yes to every reasonable request in the beginning so that you build your network. Then, spend time re-connecting with those people.
6. Tips on Unconventional Fundraising
“Whether it’s money, access to help, or anything else, you probably have more than you think. How can you get creative about finding what you need?” Earning money in opera is not just about pulling off a colossal Kickstarter campaign. If nothing else, The $100 Startup reminds us that our businesses, even though passion-centered, should and can make money.
5. How to Create a Successful Launch
Telling a good story off-stage may be just as important as telling a good story on-stage. You must remind potential audience members and donors why they should care about your company/performance/campaign right now. Opera may have been around for hundreds of years; but the audience is always new. Using Guillebeau’s Thirty-Nine-Step Product Launch Checklist can add structure to your promotional strategies.
4. How Small Actions Can be a Catalyst for Big Payoffs
Small changes to your business can have a big impact. “If you grow your traffic a little and increase your conversion rate a little while also increasing the average sales price a little… your business grows a lot.” Sometimes you only need to tweak one or two of those areas to have a big impact on the future of your startup.
3. How to Franchise Yourself
Singers are natural franchisees. Most of us are out there managing multiple income streams: teaching, chorister work, solo gigs, etc. However, we could also look at singers like Cindy Sadler use a hub-and-spoke model. While she is out on the road singing away she maintains her online home base, The Business of Singing.
2. Writing Your One-Page Business Plan
Guillebeau’s first two questions on The One-Page Business Plan are “What will you sell?” and “Who will buy it?” Your career is a microbusiness built on low costs and the ability to quickly take action. You need to have a service, an audience or group of customers, and a way to get paid for what you do.
1. How to Sell Happiness
“Most people want more of some things (money, love, attention) and less of other things (stress, anxiety, debt). Always focus on what you can add of take away to improve someone’s life.” Your customers are looking to you to provide them with a wonderful experience and a form of happiness. They are looking to you to provide them with a level of culture and access to art. You are uniquely positioned to provide for their emotional needs. Quit worrying so much and start helping people.
When reading the examples in this book from people who have startup businesses in every imaginable field (even delivering mattresses by bicycle!) it boggles my mind to listen to singers that don’t believe their passion will provide an income. Granted, musicians have a lot of stereotypes to fight along the way but it is not impossible. If you have been needing a little kick-in-the-pants recently you should definitely pick up this quick read.