Okay. Let’s start with what should be a very simple question:
What do you do?
“We’re a record label” or “I’m a distributor” or “I’m a singer/songwriter” or any similar kind of variation on that theme is The Wrong Answer. I didn’t ask what you are, or how you describe your job. I asked what you do.
Let’s not even think about the question “how do you make money?” yet. That’s not step one. Step one is just, very simply, “what is it that you do?”
Get out a piece of paper or open a new text document and just see what you come up with.
How do you spend your time? In that part of the day when you’re being a record label exec, a producer, manager, luthier, sound engineer, concert promoter, arranger, drummer, publisher or whatever… what physical and mental activities are you engaged in?
Let’s take stock. Do you rehearse? Do you compose? Are you on the phone? Do you hold discussions? Are you typing? Listening to records? Putting up posters? Plugging in cables? Meeting with the accountant? Networking? What have you spent the majority of your day doing so far? What are you likely to spend the majority of the rest of your day doing?
Is there some sort of structure to that? Do you have a start time? Do you have a place to be? Is it pre-determined, or does it just sort of happen? Do you know what you will be doing this time tomorrow? On the same day next week? Is it always in the same place or do you move around? What time is your next meal break? When do you go on holiday? Is there even such a thing for you?
It’s not necessary that you have answers to any of these questions just yet. It’s likely that the answers that you do have start with the phrase “Well, actually, it’s complicated…” — but it’s really important to ask the question and start to get a feel for the answer.
My guess is that there are about 20 and 50 things that you do with any real regularity. Get them all down. They can include taking the bus to the record shop, signing Ã‚Â£1m licensing deals and just noodling on the guitar. Try for as many as you can.
Don’t just jot down all the things you feel someone like you should be doing — make sure you capture everything you actually do. You can leave out breakfast, phoning your mum (unless, say, she’s your manager) and having a shower. We’re looking for activities that are directly related to your professional creative enterprise. Try and remember everything you’ve done over the past week, and skip through your diary, if you have one, looking for clues about other things that you’ve been engaged in.
Write them down.
This is, of course, only the very start of a process that will lead us to the ways in which you improve your independent music business — but I’ve found that this simple exercise quite often reveals immediate opportunities for improvement. Responses range from ‘Wow – I’m quite busy with unimportant stuff…’ to ‘Oh my God – I’m such a slacker…’ to ‘Hey, we don’t actually ever practice!’.
I’d be keen to hear about any surprises you turn up in the comments… and we’ll continue this exercise once you’re done.