In November of 2017, I was invited to Atlanta to advise a few recording artists on entrepreneurial thinking, brand building, and ways to significantly increase their income. In a nutshell, we discussed how to secure one’s financial future as an entertainer.

Unlike the wealth that’s often displayed on television and online, the truth is, most recording artists, like professional athletes, end up broke. Part of my mission as an entrepreneurial educator and business coach is to change this fact.

Anyway, several items were on our agenda. One of them was paths to prosperity.

Of course, there never is just one path. However, if you’re a recording artist or one who relies on your person to make a living, a personal brand, then one of the surest paths to prosperity is building a following of true fans.

A true fan is different from an ordinary fan. A true fan will consume all that they can afford of yours – your concert tickets, merchandise, books, records, etc. In many cases, they are willing to spend real money. Perhaps not a lot of money, but real money, nonetheless.

Okay, so, what is real money? Well, we’re only speaking of a hundred bucks.

“A hundred bucks,” I can hear the naysayers shouting. 

Ah, before you turn up your nose, just think of the revenue if customers were willing to spend one hundred bucks a year on your app or other product they now consume for free. Yup, is the picture becoming a little clearer now?

Let’s go a little deeper. See, if you can get 1,000 people to spend $100 dollars a year each (that’s just $8.33 a month), you become a six-figure musician, author, coach, developer, or what have you with only a small following. Yeah, the math is really beginning to make sense now, right?

So, you can see how building a following of millions can cause your financial opportunities to explode. Just think of how Oprah Winfrey built a billion-dollar empire by attracting a huge following. (Note the word, attract. More on that later).

However, a really good question was posed by one of the artists:

“How do you build a following of even a thousand when it’s so hard to get noticed these days?” he asked. “Everybody is doing the same damn thing on Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and YouTube. How do you stand out?” he continued.

Awesome questions. And he’s right. The market is flooded with “me-too” recording artists or products. From a competition standpoint, that’s a good thing, by the way. I’ll explain that in another post.

Anyway, my response was swift and to the point: the best way to stand out, is to stand for something.

Let me repeat that: the best way to stand out, is to stand for something.

Well, the way that Lady Gaga does.

Look, one of the biggest misconceptions about recording artists is that they are driven by money. Uh, nothing can be further from the truth. Yes, some managers are definitely driven by money. But, I can assure you that the musicians aren’t, rappers notwithstanding. 

I have the good fortune of calling a large number of Grammy Award-winning artists friends. These are people whose children I know and whose families vacation with ours. Being so close, I’ve seen the struggles and the passion. And, I can assure you that not a single one was driven by money. Sure, their success would make you think that they are. Nope. As Biggie once said, “Mo Money, Mo Problems”.

Now, let me be clear. They are not a bunch of bleeding hearts who hate capitalism. Oh, trust me, they want to be paid for their work. It’s funny how conservative people become when they began making money. So, like me, they want to be paid for their work. The point I’m making is, they are artists first. They don’t sit and write a song with the goal of making money. It doesn’t work like that. Few can write a hit on command. Besides, listeners determine whether a song is a hit or not. (Yes, labels spend a lot of money promoting certain records. You hear them enough and you began liking it. So, there’s that.)

Here’s a little-known secret: real artists want to change the world. They want to make meaning. Their music is simply the vehicle for doing so.

Entrepreneur, Troy Carter

Lady Gaga, with guidance from her former manager and entrepreneur Troy Carter, pictured, wanted to make meaning as well. She saw, and sees, her mission as being bigger than music.

Troy Carter Helped Build Lady Gaga's Career

Now, spend about an hour studying her music, style of dress and personal statements and it will become clear that she stands for tolerance, acceptance, and creative expression. You may select other values, but you get the point.

When Lady Gaga records a song like “Born this way“, she is making clear who she is standing up for. And, because she stands for something, by living her personal values of tolerance, acceptance, and creative expression, millions are automatically attracted to her. (There goes that word attract again. Did you catch it?)

Please don’t miss the importance of this move.

What Gaga did was draw a line in the sand and say, “If you are considered weird because you are heavy, skinny, or just plain different, I will stand up for you. Like me, you are a little monster and I will use my art to fight for you.”

Remember, Steve Jobs drew a line in the sand as well. He said, through his actions, “We, Apple, will be different from IBM, Microsoft, and others. We stand for simplicity and innovation. Yeah, we know some of this new stuff will fail, but we will stand by what we believe. In the end, it makes your life better.”

Then Jobs took it one step further: “Hey, if you are a creative, you know, a little crazy, we stand with you. We will make stuff that celebrates who you are.”

Richard Branson said, “I will take on the big guys and have lots of fun doing it.”

Ervin “Magic” Johnson said, “I will create opportunities for the disenfranchised.”

And, that’s the biggest point of all: by standing for something – living your core values – you automatically stand out and…attract the right people. And when you attract the right people, they will spend their time and money with you. Everyone wins. 

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