PHOTO: DAVID MCCLISTER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
I loved music, or to be more specific, rock and roll, as a kid. I’d lie awake at night listening to the radio. Soon I was tape recording songs off the radio that I liked, which eventually lead to a short but eventful career doing sound reinforcement for musicians at concerts and clubs.
I wasn’t really thinking about the business aspects of music then, even though I had tried to start my own sound reinforcement company until I realized I’d never have enough money to afford more than an entry level PA system, as sound reinforcement systems were called in those days. PA = Public Address!
But one thing I did learn was that it was far easier to work with the opening acts who were just grateful to one) get a soundcheck, which often they didn’t have the opportunity for, two) get to play through a great sound system, which 3) also had a high end monitoring system so they could hear themselves on stage.
After leaving sound engineering I became more interested in business and in the business of music. I developed great respect for the bands that actually got to tour and make records, the select few out of thousands of scuffling local bands.
So while The Wall Street Journal article Caroline Jones’s Unusual Journey to Country Music Stardom caught my eye, it was the article’s sub-title that captured my interest: The singer rejected management as a teenager, made her own bookings at schools instead of bars, and ended up singing with Nashville greats.
Though she already had a manager, she decided, at 18, to part ways with him and become her own agent, producer and publicist. Instead of following the standard club circuit, she cold-called boarding schools and colleges to book gigs there, eventually turning her set into a music-teaching curriculum. “I didn’t want to just play bars for five years. I wrote sensitive, poetic songs. At a bar they want to hear ‘Free Bird,’” she says, mimicking the sounds of its famous electric-guitar solo.
So there are two lessons for you founders out there: cold-calling can work! And creating a complementary service, as Ms. Jones with with her music education curriculum, and help pay the bills. And all because she wanted to play her own music, not ape the hits, as most bar bands are forced to do. She held true to her vision, even if it entailed a lot more work:
Of her independent path, she says, “Complete creative control … has always been essential to me.” What’s wrong with a more traditional path? “It’s not so much that they tell you what to sing, but you’re informed by people who know what sells,” she says
Like a true entrepreneur she re-invested her earnings from playing well known New York venues into producing her own songs and paying a website $40 to release each of her four albums on line.
She fell in love with country music as a young child and stayed true to her path:
“Country is the genre that still prizes lyrical and musical excellence above all else, above image, above fame, above production value,” she says. “I’m trying to steer clear of the basic pitfalls that a lot of artists fall into because they’re so sensitive and emotional. I want…to put happy music into the world, not sad depressed music.”
Indie musicians have learned a lot from web entrepreneurs about how to promote themselves through website song releases and social media, but tech entrepreneurs can also learn a lot from indie musicians about sticking to their vision no matter what and doing things for themselves, including cold calling customers.
Ironically Ms. Jones is the daughter of Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire hedge fund manager. But aside from giving her a strong work ethic and encouraging her to be independent, she earned her success through hard work and a little bit of luck in getting the right producer and being willing to move to Florida, where he’s based, to work on her album. That album became a hit. Fortune favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur.