Musicians like to think of themselves as artists, as unbusinesslike, as above the concerns of world. Does this ever really work?
When you are a freelance musician, or a music teacher, or the leader of an ensemble, you ARE in business. The benefit of being in business is that you uncap your income, you can make choices about your artistic fulfillment and work-life balance, and you are free to develop the kind of portfolio career that diversifies and stabilizes your income.
The downside? Suddenly all of the responsibility is yours. You are the CEO of your business, the business of YOU.
It’s tricky to see, right? Day after day you wake up, you do the work that is on your plate. You go to rehearsal, you meet the students, you practice for your next thing. You do scheduling and invoicing and admin. You make the reeds. This is what you do to make the money, this is what you do as the LABOR in your business. Working IN your business can take all of your time!
The extra ingredient that the CEO brings is the element of working ON your business. At some point you have to be able to raise your head up above all of the busy work you are doing and think about where you want to GO.
This is really hard for musicians! We aren’t trained to think in this way. Our work tends to be project based. Often we’ll have multiple projects on our plates at once – prepping for solo and ensemble competition for our students, practicing for next week’s orchestra concert, creating arrangements for a wedding in April. That’s a nice combination of short term and long term projects. We manage them with ease. Notice, though, that most of these tasks were assigned by other people!
When we’re working IN our businesses, working AS musicians, we can forget that selecting these projects is something we have control over, and that each project can be moving us in the direction of where we want to go.
It’s not LABOR’s job to look at that, it’s LABOR’s job to do the work and be awesome.
The CEO’s job is to make a bigger vision. The CEO’s job is to seek out and select projects that move the business forward – the business of you.
How can you move more into the mindset of being the CEO? And if you were showing up as the CEO of your business, what would you change?
Would you look for greater efficiencies so that LABOR could be better rested and refreshed? Would you be willing to cut the fat – and start turning down projects that DON’T move your business in the right direction? Would you be considering another income stream, or the consolidation of too many income streams? Would you be able to zoom out and consider some of the low-hanging fruit in your business, ways to maximize your profits? Would you delegate some tasks, or at least assign some units of labor to researching more interesting projects?
As the CEO you are looking at WHERE you want the business to go and HOW your values show up regarding labor, too. You could be the kind of CEO that expects driven work from your labor, all day every day, or you could be the kind who knows that rest is restorative and designs the work to be spacious. You could be the kind of CEO who prioritizes profits above all else, or the kind who is seeking innovation and encourages experimentation.
As the CEO you definitely don’t want your labor pool stuck in stupid laborious tasks just because no one has bothered to look at the technological advances that could help. As the CEO you don’t want to be running a business based on outdated methodologies and on institutional memory. Or do you? You get to choose, but only if you’re able to pay attention.
I have to have some white space on my schedule to allow for this kind of thinking. Some unassigned hours so I can breathe and get my head clear, and then some hours assigned to CEO level work. Of course, this is something that I’ve learned through trial and error and iteration, over years. I know what works for me!
I host a CEO Date for myself every Sunday. It’s super valuable – I do a little reflection on the previous week, I track a few metrics, I track how I’m FEELING – and I spend a little time sitting and planning what I’m going to do with my NEXT week. I do a slightly more elaborate version at the beginning of each new month, and I set some formal time aside every quarter to check my plans and pivot as needed.
This is how I keep my business evolving! I do have a lot of balls in the air, but I only ever have to do one thing at a time, and the CEO version of me is the one in charge of maintaining my priorities and balance.
So – what does this look like for you? What are all the hats you wear as the labor in your business? I’m an oboist/reedmaker/entrepreneur/teacher/coach/podcaster/content creator/speaker/mother/partner/friend. But on Sundays I’m the CEO and I look at the whole enterprise and think about what is possible.
When are you the CEO? What kind of CEO are you? What do you want to do with the business of YOU?