Why Your Rock Band is a Start-Up and Why Your Start-up is a Rock Band

Matthew Santos shared how to feel miserable as an artista picture today on Facebook that made me think. It appears that being and artist and being a start-up business are two different things, at least in the minds of an artist. Yet there are so many artists I see that don’t want to see themselves as a business entity and want to be seen as an artist in its purest form. Mind you, I am not talking about the big guns that have incorporated and branded themselves such as Madonna and even Jessica Simpson. I am talking about the long tail of the music industry…all the indie acts fighting their way to the top.

Having done the startup process in California and ending up owning a music site –I really dislike the word “blog.” I truly see the similarities of what appears to be two very different worlds.


Of course, these are all the artists that decide to release an album or go on tour. Whether it’s the garage band that cuts demos on their computer, or the semi-funded indie artist that struggles to keep their heads afloat, or to the big guns that cut deals with Live Nation and the record labels and don’t need to worry about making it day to day, all these artists are entrepreneurs.

Venture Capitalists:

A VC is a venture capitalist.  It’s a person that is normally associated with a firm that has money to invest in various companies. Each VC firm may decide to invest in different types of companies based on the expertise of the partners the firm has and/or brings on.  In the music world, the VCs here are the labels and even the likes of Live Nation.

Bootstrapped Companies:

Being bootstrapped means the company is self funded and making working off revenue from the company.  The company doesn’t have any venture capital to help keep its doors open or stopping the tour bus from going cross country. Most bands start off this way and some have done it very successfully such as Ingrid Michaelson.

The Team:

When a company pitches a VC they come in with a deck, a team, and know their product.  Even when the product is still in infancy and needs work a (good) VC will look past that and take a second look at the team. The team means everything in both a start-up and for a band.  It’s really about the talents each team member brings to the table.  Take a look at your band members.  Is there too much ego versus value being delivered?  Is someone not delivering 100%?

The team needs to know how to communicate with each other and know their roles and not necessarily just their titles.  The team must be able to execute the goals that are set to get to the big prize.  The team must set a definition of what your prize is.  Is it a deal with a label? Is it getting on as support for a larger musical act?  Set that prize and smaller goals for the band so even when the larger goal can’t be accomplished overnight the smaller goals can.


The Network:

The network is the people you keep around and in your contact list in your phone.   Remember it’s all about who you know and who they know. Need to get access to a VC get in their network!  Need to get a record deal or get on tour with a larger act? Get into their networks of people!  Who do they eat with? What conferences do they attend?

Failure is a good thing:

I am going to sound like a lunatic to the artists and bands that are reading this, but the biggest thing I’ve learned from having a failed start-up is I really needed to fail.  It was my first time around and I read all the articles on “how to” and listened to all the great CEO’s and VC’s talk about what makes great entrepreneurs, but actually doing it is another thing.  I’ve learned to do things differently now.  Yet back then I wanted to be cut from the same cloth as the greats, but alas I am not. My name is Jessica Emmerich and there is no one else like me and I can’t be anyone else but myself.  I bring a select set of skills to the table and I also know all my faults. It’s a good thing to know your faults and weakness because that’s when you have to find other team members to fill the gaps. The biggest mistake is to let your ego fill in your gaps.  So if you utterly stink at networking. Find yourself someone who is great at it! Maybe that’s all you’ll need them to do for you.

I also realized after I lost everything and I do mean everything (some friends, the money I saved, and all the stocks and bonds that were supposed to be for buying a house) I really beat myself up.  I had good friends that made me look back and realize what I really took away from the loss.   I gained a larger network of talented and powerful people, I also experienced so many things that a normal 28 year old -at the time-would never have experienced in their lifetime such as the Playboy parties, the rockstars, and the powerful people in Washington I worked for. I also know how to approach problems differently the second time around.

When I think that I’ve really fallen out of touch with Silicon Valley and other “entrepreneurs” and start-ups I inevitably ended up with a different set of entrepreneurs that don’t necessarily see themselves as that.  They call themselves by a different name… artists.  But the fact is it’s all fundamentally the same.  We have an idea to start something, we gather the people we know to help, we look for people to help fund our dreams, we build our fan base from the ground up and most fail, some will succeed and ultimately we all want to be rockstars.


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