The Singer’s Library : Taking a Business-Minded Approach to Music

The Singer’s Library : Taking a Business-Minded Approach to Music

Musicians are often uncomfortable with the question, “What do you do with a music degree?” Plenty of people are skeptical about careers in the arts, assuming a music degree is a financial dead end. But there is a reality behind that skepticism. Job prospects are simply not as certain for musicians as they are for those in other fields.

Thankfully, today’s musicians have an increasing number of resources available that are designed to help them find paths to success. Books like the one highlighted in this column—such as Susan Mohini Kane’s The 21st Century Singer: Making the Leap from the University into the World and David Cutler’s The $avvy Music Teacher: Blueprint for Maximizing Income & Impact—aim to help musicians put their unique skills to work in a modern climate.

One of the newest releases on the subject is the book Awakening Your Business Brain: An iCadenza Guide to Launching Your Music Career, a collaborative project by Jennifer Rosenfeld and Julia Torgovitskaya. The authors initially trained as musicians before earning graduate degrees in business, law, and executive leadership. They now use their talents and training in two companies they co-founded: iCadenza, which provides career coaching to musicians looking to build opportunities, and Cadenza Artists, a talent agency and artist management company.

We recently discussed their book via e-mail with Rosenfeld and Torgovitskaya collaborating in their joint reply.

You say in the introduction that for many artists, building their business chops feels like selling out or doing the opposite of what it takes to become a professional musician. Why do you suppose that mentality is so prevalent?
First, there is the historical notion of the “starving artist,” coupled with an idea that art and business are separate worlds that cannot coexist. On top of that, this mentality has often been reinforced by authority figures. Frequently, aspiring musicians are warned by teachers, peers, and family about the challenges of pursuing a music career. This creates thoughts like, “This career is hard.” Or “It is hard to make money, and I will need to suffer and starve to be a true artist.” Studies about the brain have shown that we tend to seek out evidence in support of what we believe about the world, so if we’re committed to money being hard to come by, we will consistently make choices that reinforce that belief.

What if these were the messages that musicians were getting instead: “You can be a musician on your own terms.” “You can create your own opportunities.” Or “You can be artistically fulfilled and have a financially viable career.” We believe that musicians can (and do!) succeed. It requires hard work and a LOT of ingenuity and creativity. You need to think intentionally and deliberately about what fulfillment means to you and what you want your financial situation to look like. But it is within your power to create the experience you want.

That’s why we wrote this book. We wanted to show musicians and performers that having a fulfilling and viable career is possible—and that potential comes from within.

Musicians are already used to doing so much (lessons, rehearsals, ensembles, score study, etc.). Do you find that, in this regard, musical training actually prepares them well for what is needed to manage the business side of their careers?
Absolutely! Musicians often lose perspective on how skilled and adaptive they are, because their musical training has become second-nature to them. In our view, the business side of art requires the same skills. You must know how to be a good learner, be willing to learn new things, create time for business/career activities, and be resilient.

Just like on the artistic side, consistency is key and you must take action knowing you are playing the long game. Just like with music, you’ll see results in your career when you show up for yourself again and again. When musicians can apply these skills to their careers, they open up vast new opportunities for themselves.

In Chapter 1, you refute some common assumptions musicians make about business and marketing. One assumption is that business is not creative. What are some examples of experiences you have had where you needed to draw on your creativity as musicians to solve a business problem?
In the practice room, if a phrase trips you up or you’re having a technical issue, you break it apart and create exercises to isolate and address the issue, almost disassociating it from the greater context of the piece. The same goes in business. If we have a campaign and no one is biting, we think about all the steps in the process. What are the key points where we should change something? How can we see the big picture of what we are doing and isolate it into smaller bits that can be refined? Each refinement requires creativity, brainstorming, collaboration, and experimentation.

You write that many musicians are convinced that they will need to hire an agent or a manager, assuming these professionals would be better equipped to handle the business aspect of their music careers. Why is that perhaps not always the best choice?
In this current landscape, agent/managers will not take on artists who do not yet have demonstrable market potential. As a result, musicians need to feel empowered to build career momentum on their own. Doing so gives them options, either to remain unmanaged or to pursue management from a position of accomplishment. We believe in this so much, we created an entire online course around it called “Be Your Own Agent.”

Additionally, successful artists need to know how to manage their manager and be a partner in the relationship. This works best when the artist has experience doing that work and knows what it takes. Any manager will be extra appreciative!

Finally, even managed singers continue to succeed as a result of their network. The stronger your network is, the more you’ll be working—period. This is true regardless of whether or not you are managed.

It seems some of the need for this book came from the changing marketplace and the different ways music is accessed today compared to previous generations. What do you believe have been the most significant changes in this regard? What further challenges do you feel musicians may need to prepare for in the future?
There is no question that the musical marketplace has changed vastly from how it used to be. The upside is that it is more democratized. Anyone with access to a computer and the Internet is empowered to launch their careers in a way that was not available to musicians in previous decades. The challenge that comes with this amazing opportunity is that the marketplace is much more crowded than it ever was. That means that for a musician to succeed in today’s landscape, they have to stand out and make a case for why they are worth their audience’s time, money, and attention.

As we discuss in the book, the process of identifying your uniqueness factor and creating a strategy to break through the noise can be daunting and difficult. We frequently help clients overcome common challenges, such as developing a more productive mindset, creating a personalized definition of success, getting past resistance patterns, finding a way to do self-promotion from a place of authenticity, and much more. If you don’t know what you’re about and what you are promoting, how can you possibly get excited about any form of self promotion, whether it’s social media or networking? Lacking a clear goal and message also makes it more difficult to be authentic in your communications, and that makes them less effective.

To sum it up, we find that there tend to be skill barriers and internal barriers to succeeding in today’s marketplace. The skill barriers tend to be the easy ones to overcome—there is no shortage of information out there. But we find that internal barriers to self-promotion and advocating for one’s art can be more difficult to overcome without support and encouragement.

That’s why we initially started our company iCadenza, and the most exciting part of our job is watching clients find their way through those internal questions. We love witnessing that moment when an artist who previously lacked clarity suddenly can put a finger on their unique qualities and mission. Once those elusive questions are answered, we find that artists become unstoppable and opportunities align at an accelerated pace.

Have you seen one particular business model lead to the greatest success among musicians or are there various paths to reaching their business goals?
There are so many paths that lead to success, but there are several common threads among successful musicians. The most important one is that successful musicians work their network. This means that they know the importance of building relationships and do so effectively and genuinely. Nobody succeeds alone and nobody can have a career in a vacuum.

Many musicians feel very uncomfortable in the area of networking, but there are some tricks to making the experience more natural and, dare we say, fun! We explore this topic in depth in the book, sharing our own best practices when it comes to building and sustaining our network.

You write in the book that businesses often spend 50 percent of resources on product development and 50 percent on marketing. How does this formula apply to a music career?
Musicians have a tendency to want to spend all their time in the practice room. And several have told us “my art speaks for itself.” Not to diminish anyone’s talent or artistry, but this is simply not true anymore. And no one can speak better for your art than you!

Musicians need to promote their art, both with a “loudspeaker” (social media, website, e-mail newsletters, PR, etc.) and also on a personal level, through networking and cultivating relationships. A musician’s network should always be growing, ideally on a weekly basis! No one can do that work for you.

You also write that self-promoting might feel foreign to a musician’s DNA. What are some of the best ways to self-promote that don’t feel too pushy or arrogant (or is that just something musicians need to accept as necessary)?
We absolutely believe that it’s possible to self-promote in a way that doesn’t feel or come off as pushy or arrogant! Connect with your authentic interests and passions. What do you have a lot to say about? And what are the best ways for you to express it? If you’re being authentic and sharing from a place of passion—passion for the art, for the world, for whatever is meaningful to you; something beyond your passion for the sound of your own instrument—then that will shine through. If you’re speaking from a place of ego, that will read as arrogance to others.

Also, when networking and interacting with people one on one or in small groups, remember that everyone is busy and has various priorities. Be respectful of their time and of their possible needs and interests—and try to keep all communications a two-way street. Express curiosity about their work and passions too!

So many musicians complete degree programs without really knowing how to build their post-college music careers—other than by continuously auditioning. Do you think this is due to change in the future? What would be the first step for either an individual or institution that wanted to include basic business training as part of a music curriculum?
Our work is rooted in life coaching because that was a critical part of our experience as entrepreneurs. Our work in that arena led us to gain a really clear understanding of ourselves, our goals, and the limiting beliefs that were holding us back. We always start clients off with those sorts of questions.

The next step when it comes to business is the critically important question of who is your audience? A major mental shift that is happening in arts entrepreneurship programs around the country is this idea that musicians need to think about their target audience when they create music and put on concerts. This is quite a change from the notion that we should only create art for ourselves. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that—unless we want to ultimately find supporters and make money!

This doesn’t mean art should pander. It just means that to succeed in today’s world, a musician needs to be cognizant of who they’re making their music for and how to connect with that audience. Historically, this was never absent. Once upon a time, artists had to consider their benefactors or the royalty that supported their work as their audience. Today, that audience has broadened in scope.

We think that today’s landscape is exciting—there is a much broader pool of possible consumers of your art out there; you just have to learn to connect with them and consistently train that muscle. Once again, music and business intersect here. After all, nobody truly wants to be making their music in a vacuum!

Intrigued? Read a free chapter from Awakening Your Business Brain at

Book Review

With fewer than 130 pages, Awakening
Your Business Brain: An iCadenza Guide to Launching Your Music Career
is written in casual language from a first-person perspective, making it a quick and easy read. The advice provided, however, is substantial and prompts reflection or even reevaluation. It challenges many of the career philosophies that musicians may have subconsciously adopted and asks readers to consider alternative methods that, while not necessarily new to the business world, have been resisted by many in the musical community.

Combating the image of the poor musician, solely focused on the craft of high art while performing for pocket change, authors Jennifer Rosenfeld and Julia Torgovitskaya encourage soul-searching analysis to identify the musical strengths and driving mission that can become the backbone of career aspirations. The intentionality espoused by their approach lays out the logical next steps, making success systematic and tangible rather than haphazard or dependent on a “big break.”

As the landscape of professional music is constantly changing, musicians at every stage of their careers must be willing to look beyond traditional paths to forge new and sustainable opportunities, matching their skills and strengths to the audience that will support their work. Awakening Your Business Brain asks the pertinent questions and can help provide the necessary guidance that has been mostly lacking from standardized music training.

The experience that Rosenfeld and Torgovitskaya bring to the book—as musicians, talent agents, and successful business operators—gives them a unique voice that deserves thorough consideration.
—Brian Manternach 

Brian Manternach

Brian Manternach, DM (he/him), is an associate professor at the University of Utah Department of Theatre and a research associate at the Utah Center for Vocology, where he is on the faculty of the Summer Vocology Institute. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Singing, and his research, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous voice-related publications. /