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Entertainment Career Coaching,  Music Business

The Artist As Entrepreneur




My career coaching business grew out of the realization as a teacher that what holds most performers back from finding a career as an artist is not a lack of talent, but a lack of business and emotional intelligence.

As well as fear: fear that they’re not good enough, fear of standing alone, fear of getting ripped off, even fear of success and what it will cost!

For the professional on a career plateau as well as the novice just starting out, here are some tenets for long-term success in the entertainment industry:



As a working artist and entertainment career coach, I am a major advocate of self-reliance for all artist/entrepreneurs. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, our futures, our health, our finances, and our stability in all areas. Only the naïve see entertainment as a glamorous business. Those who have been around for a while know it is incredibly hard work and only the dedicated survive and stick around.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is merely “dabbling” in their creative pursuits, rather than pursuing them with the same degree of professionalism required of any job or professional pursuit. Granted, there are blurry boundaries here: the work environment is social, not uptight or white collar, and we usually are friends with the people we work with. However, business is business and success in any field depends on certain constructs. Bands will break up and dream bubbles will burst. Who wrote what? Was it copyrighted? In whose name? Where are the master tracks? Are you really on top of the business aspects, or just having fun jamming in the basement? Do you have what it takes to take this to the next level, or are you secretly content to just look cool in front of your friends?



As a teacher, it used to amaze me how talent is never an indicator of who will succeed. Rather, intangible factors of mental discipline, professionalism, social skills and adaptability consistently prove to be far more valuable. Sadly, talent is often not even necessary to guarantee a commercial artistic career since all art is not entertainment, and all entertainment is not art. Nevertheless, there are many genuinely talented artists out there with something worthwhile to express, and it is my passion to help them overcome both the creative and non-creative obstacles that get in their way.

For many it is simply a lack of time management. Others spread themselves too thin trying to be an expert at everything, when it would be wiser to hire professionals for things like Finale and web design since time is money. Some are under-educated about the craft of music, while others are over-educated and just as ignorant, thinking a piece of fancy paper means they get to cut in line and avoid paying dues. The hardest yet are the paralyzed perfectionists who talk a good game, but never follow through. It is a known fact throughout all industries that passion is necessary to truly succeed at anything. Sadly, a lot of people are drawn to the arts and entertainment fields more because they like the idea of bohemian culture more than they actually have the desire to create anything. Don’t even get me started on that one!!



I always make my clients write out a Mission Statement and Artistic Identity paragraph to be honest about what they really hope to accomplish in their longterm careers. Why do you want to be an artist and why should the world let you? What do you have to give the world that it needs? What do you “know” in your core that you absolutely must express to the masses? Simply pining to make a childhood dream come true is not reason enough in my book.

Consider this exercise: Write your “ideal resume” and “dream bio” for yourself 20-40 years from now. When you think about how certain accomplishments will make you feel, it is easier to connect the dots and figure out what you must start doing now in order to reach those goals later.



When new clients come to me with a desire to quit their day-jobs and find ways to become gainfully employed as full-time artists, they are often surprised by the questions I ask them. Do you have independent health insurance? Do you have a Roth IRA or other retirement account? If you are freelance, are you earning SS credits and reporting fairly? Who does your taxes? Do you rent or own? Do you take care of your body with health, nutrition and some form of dedicated exercise? Do you smoke (especially if you’re a singer) or do drugs? Is the caffeine out of control? The overly romanticized stereotype of the flighty, disorganized, tortured, misunderstood artist self-destructing in a hotel room doesn’t behoove anyone other than Hollywood screenwriters.

A true performing artist uses their physical body every bit as much as a star athlete. Strength and endurance are the very keys to maintaining success and moving upward. Most people maintain their cars, computers and guitars better than themselves. Amps and guitar strings are replaceable – you are not! Take care of yourself.



For some, stability as a music professional may be found in fields outside the music business, yet still within the entertainment industry. For example, doing recording tech for a television show, composing for advertising jingles, improvising a Paul Schafer gig for a comedy theater, teaching at a college, choir directing for a church…..the list goes on as far as your ingenuity will take you. This is a very strong recipe for financial stability that can carry one through shifting circumstances and economic environments.

Consider some of the biggest and most successful entertainment companies of all time such as Disney and Sony. They never rely on putting all their eggs in only one basket, rather they divvy up the slices of their respective pies into multiple mediums that vary in size from year to year. Disney makes money from theme parks, movies, television, CD sales, DVD sales, merchandise, hotels, vacation packages, and more, each cross-promoting the others as a unified brand. Likewise, Sony also generates multiple sources of income from CDs, DVDs, Sony Playstation sales, home electronics, video games and much more. If one medium has a bad Quarter or year, chances are one or more of the others will be doing well enough to carry the slack and keep the company financially stable. An artist can also strategically manage a successful and balanced career in this same fashion.

The moral of the story is: If you want to be successful and innovative, study and emulate successful and innovative people as well as other business sectors beyond entertainment. Read the newspaper and make it a habit to constantly expand your awareness so you are capable of relating to diverse issues and people in all stations of life. Don’t just hang out with artists and musicians at coffee shops.



Ultimately, your destiny as an artist will rely on one thing above all else: YOU. Do not get so eloquent talking the talk that you forget to walk the walk. We all have the drive in us to get things done once we truly get busy and motivated. All the pre-planning, organizing and file-coding in the world achieves nothing without development and implementation. The seconds ticking by at this very moment are now the “future” you once may have talked about and even strategically mapped out at some point. Just come to simple terms with this reality: You will never realistically have “enough time” or the “ideal circumstances” you may wish for. Nor will anyone else, for that matter. The best and only option is to simply make – or steal – the time you need to work daily on your goals. Starting now. The world will not simply hand your dreams to you or anyone else. Your destiny is yours to work for, create and earn. Whether full-fledged fame or Mr. Holland’s Opus, there is a creative destiny in all of us that begs to be realized. Find yours and commit to it today. Good luck!


Laura Kessler is a career coach for artists and entertainers. She lives in Chicago and performs and directs a national client base. © 2007 Laura Kessler. All rights reserved.


(Originally published in Chicago Music Guide)


Laura Kessler is a Speech, Entertainment and Performance Coach specializing in Public Speaking, Creative Development, and Motivation. She works with corporate executives, professional entertainers and foreign nationals to transform their vocal and stage presence into their highest expression from within their true core identity. |

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