by Dr. Paul Guise (originally published in 2005)

is an arts consultant, conductor and music educator living in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.
Check out his website at

The holiday season is upon us! Time to shop, eat, and perform endless Christmas gigs (to pay for all the shopping and eating). Because you have other things to digest at this time of year, we’ll wrap up our series on The Biz with a quick summary of our first eleven episodes…

Way back in January we began by looking at the basic reasons why professional skills are important to your musical success. Indeed, it appears that most people who leave the profession do so because of a lack of business, not musical, skills. Of course, most people without suitable musical skills don’t enter the field in the first place…

So, where do you turn to gain these business skills? Well, the main approaches are 1) the school of hard knocks, 2) working with a mentor, or 3) studying formally, usually at a college or university. There are plusses and minuses to each of these approaches, so go back and read February through May’s articles and then choose appropriately. Better yet, mix and match approaches and gorge on the information you find (that’s the holiday spirit!).

Having studied a bit about the business of music, you can then move on to planning your own business. This begins with choosing the career(s) for you, which is assisted by looking carefully at your strengths and weaknesses, as well as any opportunities or threats the market may offer. This SWOT analysis sounds impressive when inserted into conversation at parties, and also gives you a much better handle on where your particular skills and interests may lie. Remember that musicians with just one career are exceedingly rare – most work in several different areas simultaneously. This can be good in several ways, as it helps pay the bills, gives you options should one of those career paths not work out, and keeps your brain engaged as you move from one task to another. Pity the poor engineer who only has engineering to keep him/her going…

Paying attention to the details can make a big difference to your success as a musician. As much as no one wants to hear it, doing your homework is essential to business success. Learn as much as you can about your market, meaning the place where you work and the people who are your potential customers and/or competitors (yes, competitors can be excellent customers). Spending spare time in the library will not only help you find this information, it will ease the ringing in your ears from one too many gigs (out, Jingle Bells, out!). You can also sit quietly at a computer, visit your chamber of commerce, or chat with a cultural research professional. Feeling more sociable? Join a society, union, or association and get connected with other people in your field.

Take your time with all of this; it’s not unusual for a new business (in any field) to take 2-3 years before becoming profitable. Your success will be less likely if you rush through these steps, so be patient and do a thorough job. Finally, stay humble and listen to the words of others (even those with whom you do not agree). Musicians will always do well to seek out different opinions and perspectives, such as what you might find at , in a book, at a workshop, or in a formal course. Investments in knowledge, especially near the beginning of your career, pay the best dividends. Invest wisely!

Thanks for reading – happy holidays & best wishes for 2006!