The business of music

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, on the need for musicians to have professional training in business skills

Despite the ongoing challenges in the music industry, there is a real appetite amongst professional musicians to grasp new opportunities, continue to operate at the highest standards and create work of exemplary quality. Our industry is extremely fortunate to have resourceful, creative and resilient professionals with high levels of determination – much needed qualities for those juggling many different elements in their working lives.

As the professional association for musicians, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has been listening carefully to our members and we have seen a surge in musician members with portfolio careers. In fact the ISM’s recent annual membership survey revealed a six per cent increase in the number of members deriving income from two or more activities.

These creative professionals are ostensibly running a micro-business, and whilst the benefits of operating across a number of different areas allows for an impressive variety of experience,without proper advice there can be insecurity, a lack of business know-how and confusion on how best to proceed. A musician should be able to rely on their artist manager to negotiate performance deals and give advice on the myriad of other demanding issues, but it’s also undeniably empowering for musicians to have the knowledge to understand the landscape in which they operate, and to be able to get the best out of it for themselves – when a musician isn’t performing they can only rely on their own skills to generate additional income.

Musicians need to future-proof their careers by learning how to promote themselves,manage their finances and negotiate contracts. Engaging in professional development activities is a strategic investment for all arts professionals. It helps to facilitate networking opportunities and collaborative relationships. It can also cultivate fresh ideas and more efficient ways of working.

A significant number of musicians work on a self-employed basis and it is paramount that all musicians have a thorough understanding of the legal, tax and insurance issues relating to their work. Some musicians often find themselves operating as employers and therefore need a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities.

The more proficient musicians can be at running their micro-businesses and understanding the fundamental principles of the music industry, the more efficient they will be and the better use they will make of the wider team that may surround them. While the ISM’s legal and tax helplines and other inhouse services are invaluable benefits for our members, we encourage all musicians to understand their tax and legal requirements.

Since 2009, the ISM has seen a 300 per cent increase in legal cases; this is why basic legal training for musicians is a must. A portfolio career is a valuable survival tool in this current economic climate. It is a necessity for many musicians as it creates a sustainable music career. Managing a portfolio career successfully is a balancing act and it can be stressful at times but developing core business skills can help alleviate that stress. If today’s musicians can adapt to the challenges of the current climate, they will prove themselves stronger and even better equipped to succeed in the future.