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You Are a Business: Brand and Identity

In the music world, we are often faced with what seems like a distinct choice: are you an artist, or a business person. As our careers progress, most of us know that the answer is emphatically both. The sooner we can train our minds to consider the business side of our careers as inextricably linked to, and an enabler of our artistic goals the better off we will be.

Defining Ourselves

Here is a great exercise to get us thinking in the right terms. Pull out a piece of paper and:

  1. Write three adjectives that describe you as a musician — for example: energetic, innovative, collaborative.

  2. Write a one-sentence mission statement for yourself, imagining that your performance career is a business venture — for example: “My mission is to create innovative concert-going experiences that attract new audiences to classical music.” Or: “My mission is to perform major concerti with professional orchestras as a touring harpsichord soloist.”

  3. Now, using your adjectives and guided by your mission statement, craft a one-sentence promotion statement for a concert you are organizing — for example: “Energetic conductor John Doe leads an innovative concert featuring a collaboration between the Radical Rock and Roll Group and the Tail-wearing Philharmonic.”

Now, let’s see if we branded ourselves and our concert in a way that will attract some attention. Does the performance offer something unique? Is it, for example, paired with artwork and will it take place at a museum? Will you bring some sort of special context to the piece, like “classically-trained violinist Midori presents an evening of Metallica covers”? Are you the “dueling divas” or the “green violinist”? Both exist! If not — are there other adjectives or nouns that capture something essential about what you do? Are you a singular interpreter of Mendelssohn and Schumann? If not, and you want to sell lots of tickets to your concert, your promotional materials must somehow embed yourself in the memory of your potential audience.

Elevator Speeches

Now, let’s combine your answers from the exercise above to create a brand. This process can be quite difficult, especially for musicians in the early stages of their careers. Angela Myles Beeching has an exercise that she calls “the elevator speech,” as it is a great way for us clarify our own stories. [1]

Imagine that you have stepped into an elevator with an important decision-maker, be it an executive, a producer, a teacher, an agent. The elevator starts going up and you see the lights start to flash. You have the next 30 seconds in which to make a first impression. What do you say about yourself that identifies who you are, what you do and why it is important? Ms. Beeching suggests that you include:

  1. your name and what you do;

  2. your most impressive credential;

  3. a current topic area or project that would be of interest to the other person and a way to make a possible lasting connection;

  4. a specific request (a meeting, a card exchange, access to a rehearsal, etc.).[2]

Here is an example of Ms. Beeching’s own elevator speech:

“Hi, I’m Angela Beeching. I run the Career Services Center at New England Conservatory of Music. I just wanted to introduce myself because I heard your performance at the X Club last month and I’m a big admirer of your work. I write on musicians’ career issues and am working on an article about music entrepreneurs for ABC publication. I’d love to do a short phone interview with you about your XYZ project. Do you think I could email and set up a time to talk?” [3]

As you can see, Ms. Beeching is able to introduce herself, state her professional credentials, establish a connection to the other person, and ask for a follow-up action — all in a few short sentences! If you can craft a good elevator speech, you have already found your brand. In the case of Ms. Beeching, she is a leader in Music Entrepreneurship (as demonstrated by her place of employment), and she is a published author. What would you say about yourself? Now is a good time to make sure that you have this “elevator speech” crafted for yourself.

Let’s Create that Brand

Let’s dig a little further into this topic of branding. First, let us establish what a brand means. Raymond Ricker defines a musician’s brand as “a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer. It stands apart from other brands and the consumer feels good about using it.”[4] Angela Myles Beeching uses an active definition: “Branding is about identifying your core mission and values, then working outward to tell others your story.”[5] Most importantly, Ricker, Beeching and Cutler all agree that branding is about more than having a cool name and some fancy promotional materials.[6] Your brand is everything about you. Are you on time for gigs? Do you have a car; can you drive to jobs? Can you conduct all types of repertoire and ensembles well? Do you own your own well-marked and bowed parts? Do you dress appropriately? These types of questions impact how others view you and your employability. It is very important to present your best self at all times. A good brand can take years to develop, but one sloppy day can tarnish your reputation.[7]

Your Business Plan

Next, we are going to expand on the thinking about our unique characteristics by considering ourselves as a business. Businesses need an identity, and they need a plan for the future. David Cutler has an eight-step process by which this business plan can be formed.[8] Here are the questions he recommends that we all consider.

  1. Vision: What are your hopes for the future?[9] How does the business function? What are its sources of revenue, and what costs will it incur?

  2. Mission: What is the purpose of this business?[10] Consider the one-sentence mission statement that you created above. What is unique about you as a performer? What is unique about a group to which you belong?

  3. Objectives: What achievements do you hope to accomplish in the near future?[11] What are your goals for the upcoming year? Be specific about the amount of revenue you hope for, the amount of time you will spend on this project, and the areas in which you hope to experience growth.

  4. Strategy: What specific steps must be taken to accomplish these objectives?[12] In what areas are you already successful, and is there room for improvement? What is your competition, and how might you differentiate yourself from it?

  5. Product Description: What products are offered, and what makes them unique?[13] Again, use your mission statement from above to describe specifically the form that your products or concerts will take. Think carefully about how these fit into your vision and mission.

  6. Audience: Who are the primary and secondary demographics to be targeted?[14] This is an essential step. Your product must align with a specific audience. How do you know that an audience will pay for your product or attend your concert? Do you have an established audience? If so, have you surveyed them to find out if they would be attracted to other sorts of products besides those you already offer?

  7. Marketing: What kind of marketing campaign will you run?[15] Many musicians ignore or downplay the importance of this step. Just like any business, we need brand recognition. How will you spread your message?

  8. Money Matters: What are your financial goals, and how will you accomplish them?[16]

Here are some guiding questions to consider when evaluating your business plan:

  • Are the vision, mission and objectives spelled out in a clear way? Do the objectives promote the vision and mission?

  • Is there a thoughtful strategy that will lead to the objectives being achieved? Are competition factors acknowledged and addressed?

  • Is there a detailed product description?

  • Is the intended audience identified?

  • Is a strong marketing plan in place? Does that plan establish the brand of the musician?

  • Are financial goals identified and a plan designed to achieve them? Is there a clear and actionable budget?


Dr. Cutler also recommends performing a “SWOT analysis.”[17] SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is a common activity for businesses and non-profit organizations and is performed on a yearly basis. An outline of these areas is an effective tool for accurately assessing one’s current position and areas where growth might be possible. For this exercise, strengths and weaknesses are considered internal factors: what does the individual or the organization do well; where does it need to improve? Opportunities and threats are external. What are those factors outside of the organization’s control?

Here are some guiding questions to consider when evaluating your SWOT analysis:

  • Are the strengths and weaknesses of the business identified accurately? Is the list thorough, and does it include only internal factors?

  • Are the opportunities and threats of the business identified accurately? Is the list thorough, and does it include only external factors?

  • Are there ways in which the lessons learned here may affect your overall business plan?

Final Thoughts

This was a long article on things that have very little to do with actual music-making. As conductors however—often more than our players—the opportunities we receive on the podium have much to do with our abilities off of it. This his type of business-minded thinking can create for us a mindset and a brand that will be attractive to orchestras. There are so many conductors vying for each position that you must find a way to differentiate your own work.

We believe that many younger conductors have not yet carefully examined what abilities and passions truly set them apart. And, before this happens, it will be very difficult to move ahead of the pack when it comes to applications and auditions. So, define yourself in a way that is authentic, work hard to advance on that path—but be open to change when your guiding force tells you it is time to do so. Good luck!


[1] Beeching, Angela Myles. Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 34. [2] Beeching, 34. [3] Ibid. [4] Ricker, Ramon. Lessons from a Street-wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools. Fairport, N.Y.: Soundown Inc., 2011, 27. [5] Beeching, 46 [6] Ricker, 27; Beeching, 46 and Cutler, David. The Savvy Musician. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Helius Press, 2010, 39. [7] Ricker, 2

[8] Cutler, 44 [9] Ibid. [10] Cutler, 44 [11] Ibid. [12] Ibid.

[13] Cutler, 45

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cutler, 45 [16] Ibid. [17] Cutler, 45


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