On August 16, we hosted the sixth Music Technology Meet Up in the Music Den. Our director, Steven Ehrlick, and steering committee member Noah Schwartz discussed what entrepreneurs need to understand about musicians and the ecosystem that surrounds them.

Steven is a 30 year music veteran, and led legal and business affairs departments at major labels BMG and EMI. Noah is an artist, musician and digital media instructor. He’s a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and wrote his Master’s Thesis on the cultural imperative of music. Below are a few of the key takeaways from their talk that any entrepreneur in the music industry needs to understand.

Musicians Aren’t a Homogenous Group

You can’t simply say your product will serve “musicians.” That’s like saying you’re going to serve Canadians. Which ones? Steven broke down musicians into the following categories:

  • Wannabes (These people probably play at home dreaming of being their favourite superstar)
  • Struggling Artists (Those putting out professional music and performing small gigs every so often)
  • Living Wage Musicians (Can afford to quit their jobs. The leap from struggling artist to being able to live off music is huge and very difficult)
  • Modest Success (The ones who fill the early afternoon slots at major music festivals)
  • Superstars (Headliners)

If you’re building a product for musicians, you need to narrow your focus and figure out which ones you’re targeting. It’s unlikely you’ll make something that appeals to both superstars and struggling musicians. Also remember that being a musician is not just about creating music, they create brands for themselves, which extend to how they engage with technology. A band that barely uses Twitter is unlikely to download your new app.

One underserved group Noah pointed out is underground and DIY music spaces. There’s a whole underbelly of music businesses that aren’t attached to big names, and they have needs. One example is Lab Synthèse, which Arbutus Records grew out of and Grimes came through. There are valuable music basements across this country.

Platforms are Expensive and Time Consuming

As leaders of the Music Den, Steven and Noah are often approached by people trying to build the next great native platform for the music industry. Platforms can turn an industry on its head — Spotify, Facebook and Snapchat have all changed the way we engage with media and each other. All of these major successes (often referred to as “unicorns”) were created by people who had significant resources and relied on heavy capital investments. Just look at who started Spotify — the former CEO of uTorrent and founder of Tradedoubler. These people could get meetings and secure big money.

Building a native platform takes incredible skill, a massive time commitment, and heavy venture capital investment. There’s no way around this. That’s not to say building a great platform is impossible, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s no widespread Tinder for musicians yet because nobody has thought of it, maybe it’s just never worked.

If you’re not building a revolutionary platform, that means your product must serve a real need. Identifying these needs takes time — a lot of it. You need to be able to hang around the ecosystem and have a deep knowledge of it. This doesn’t mean just researching online, it’s cultivating meaningful relationships with people working in the industry — those living and breathing it daily on both the art and business sides.

Musicians Aren’t Waiting for You to Save Them

Musicians have enough going on in their heads trying to create and promote their art, and they’re fickle people. As one meetup attendee lamented, most would have rather gone down sinking on the Titanic for credibility than jump off. That means unless they’re unlikely to use your product unless it actually makes their lives easier.

They’re not sitting around hoping somebody walks through the door with the next great music platform. But, as Steven explained, if you can solve a real business related problem or make an aspect of their lives easier, they’ll get excited. An example is a tuner app for your phone — something that most touring musicians probably didn’t think about, but was quickly gobbled up by wannabes and struggling artists. It saves time — something that’s limited for the guitarist who gets ten minutes to warm up for their set at the bar they play once a month.

Noah emphasized Marc Andreessen’s Product/Market Fit theory — the only thing that matters for a new startup is being in a strong market with a product that will satisfy its needs, and the number one killer for new startups is a lack of market.

“Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. Including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no when you don’t want to, telling customers yes when you don’t want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital — whatever is required.” — Marc Andreessen

It’s not enough to build a product that seems great to you and your friends.

Steven pointed out there’s so many opportunities to start small, filling a need of one of the musician groups, then scaling up. Struggling artists around the world have similar needs. So do wannabes, living wage musicians and those with modest success. You need to understand them.