Prince may have said it best!
by Jilla Webb
So you want to be an artist. Well, first you may want to learn how to become a great leader. You’ll need to lead your band, and you’ll need to be the leader of your own booking agency. Eventually, you’ll need to lead the team of industry professionals you put around you, and you’ll even need to demonstrate effective leadership within your record company. If you are not a leader by the time you get a record deal, the label will tell you what to do, and you better hope you like it. The artist Prince once wrote, “You say you want a leader, but you can’t seem to make up your mind. I think you better close it and let me guide you to the Purple Rain” (Prince). As an artist, you must make up your mind and be very clear and concise about who you are and what you want, or someone else will guide you down their purple path. It is essential that every artist spend time very early in their developing and crafting who they are, what they stand for and the message that they want to be delivered to the external world. This first begins with internal communication with yourself and your team. As a new artist, your team will most likely be somewhat small. A trusted friend, producer or teacher, the members of your band, or members of your family. Sometimes family, although they probably know you best, has a more difficult time looking at you as a commodity than as their family member. Relationship building is everything in the music industry and why not begin with the people in your inner circle who have been loyal and trusted friends or family members.
Goal clarity is one thing you must establish early. You must effectively communicate internally to every member of your team your goals and objectives. You may find that traditional forms of hierarchal communication, or barking orders from the top down, don’t work well in many of today’s business climates. In most conventional communication styles, information is hoarded at the top and pushed down to employees on a “need-to-know” basis. Traditional methods distribute the power to only a few at the top of the organization, and all decisions are based on the health of the bottom line of that organization. However, with the advent of the internet, social media has made two-way communication a much more common communication practice between businesses, employees, and customers. Two-way communication occurs not only in external communications with customer or fans but also in internal communication within your organization. Not all decisions can be made by group or committee but giving fans and team members a voice in the shared meaning, mission or purpose will go a long way in today’s business climate to clear up miscommunications and resentful team members.
You would be wise to learn about the different styles of communication because you may find that communicating with your band is very different than communication in the business world. Many musicians do not respond without judgment to power structures within groups or organizations, where they are without any power. You must develop a two-way line of communication, where they feel comfortable, not threatened by voicing opinions or concerns. Communication channels within organizations have been compared to blood vessels throughout the body. Communication should be able to travel freely up and down the company, or the body, with as little obstruction as possible, for the company to remain flexible and the communication to remain reliable. Group culture is something that most musicians are familiar with; after all, a band or cast is a group. Group culture emphasized flexibility and cohesion. Human development is prized as a goal of the band or business. The better all the members of the band become, the better the group becomes. Bands function well because they become like family and communication on and off stage are almost intuitively understood. Trust and openness are qualities that become a necessary component of groups with great communication styles. Effective communication is what makes what musicians do look so easy. Do you ever wonder how musicians just seem to know what’s going to happen next on stage? They know their band mate’s communication intimately, and they become effective at reading non-verbal body language on stage. They just know each other so well that they can predict what someone else will do next. However, that level of openness and transparency doesn’t always translate into your off-stage life. Disagreements and miscommunication are usually spell the beginning of the end for bands. Look at groups like the Beatles or the Eagles, and you will see that once the power structure shifted to one or two members, internal struggles and resentments began to develop.
Once Don Henley and Glen Frey began making more and more of the decisions for the group with their management, the communication started to break down within the band. Power and communication was suddenly something that was being performed by one or two people and told to the rest of the band. The groups dynamic shifted from sharing interpretations and meaning to being told what to do, play and where and when to show up. Not all people respond well to this communication and power structure. Power no longer comes from ruling with an iron fist, but from becoming a good listener and leader. Today being a good leader means being willing to learn, even if that means from people much younger than you. It means being flexible and taking into account other viewpoints and opinions. As a bandleader and the leader of your business organization, you will need to learn and become adept at many different styles of communication if you want to keep all your plates in the air.
Many businesses still use old styles of communication, where communication revolves around hierarchal, rational or a culture of planning and control. You can, therefore, see how either you will need to learn to communicate in both worlds, or you’ll have to hire a manager who can live and do business with a foot in both worlds so-to-speak. These managers, agents, or PR people become sort of the middle managers of your company and act more like a liaison between you and the concert promotion teams or record labels. It is the job of these middle managers to become the facilitators of information. They control the speed and efficiency of communications. Even if you, the artist, don’t love operating in the business side of the music industry, you should get comfortable with the language and communication styles of other companies so you will understand and be able to effectively communicate your desires to within different business cultures.
I say this all the time to my students who live in small cities or towns. Be glad you live somewhere that making a mistake won’t end your career. Living in a small city means you can make mistakes surrounded by people who care about you and will help you recover before you’re somewhere that mistakes may cost you your career. I believe going to college is another great place to learn and make mistakes with a safety net in place. You can learn about communication and your craft and not fear making mistakes because your mistakes won’t be career ending. Your professors are there to help you learn from those mistakes and help you to not repeat them in the future. Take the time to grow in all areas of your career, not just one. In today’s world, you must be competent in more than one area and proficient in several more. It takes work and dedication, but you have conquered many difficult challenges in your life. It’s not really the mistake that matters, it’s the recovery, and what you do next that will determine your future. Everyone makes mistakes, that’s just life.
Li, Charlene. (September 2014). Efficient leadership in the digital ear. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/charlene_li_efficient_leadership_in_the_digital_era
Prince and the Revolution. (1984). Purple Rain. On the album Purple Rain. New York: Warner Bros Records,