Building a business model for your music

One lesson Zim Hip Hop artists can learn from #Nokia

Every marketer understands the need to build an avatar and make sure that it’s need are constantly met. As an artist, you ought to regard yourself as a brand and your music as one of the products that come from said brand. We are always advocating for the artists’ need to create a business model. It isn’t enough to simply have your music put out on all sort of outlets. You have got to have a plan of how you would be able to make a living out of what you are investing your time and money in. Zim Hip Hop artists and Zim Dancehall artists alike can benefit from this.

With that in mind, think about every brand that you know. They all create an avatar that their products and subsequent marketing are targeted towards. What does your avatar look like?

Building a business model for your music

No matter how good you are, you will never fulfil everyone’s needs. Your art should be built with the recipients in mind. This should be done to as far a degree as it wouldn’t affect your artistic license. What you would want to avoid is becoming constraint as an artist. Your art should invariably be an active and live expression of you as the artist.

How Nokia missed the avatar curve that Apple, Samsung and others caught:

How to build your avatar:

  • Who they are
  • Their age
  • Their means
  • Why them?
  • Method of best delivering to them
  • How can your current delivery be altered to reach them?
  • Can they meet your price point?
  • If not, do you need to shift price point or alter demography.

You are signed to yourself first and foremost

Most of the questions and communication that we get from people are about how they can get signed. How can we assist them in that regard. The answer is almost always the same, there are always thousands of people who do what you do, heck millions even, what sets you apart is hardly ever the talent. There is only so far that talent will get you. It always needs to be coupled with determination and relentless hustle. This is the reason you see so many ridiculously talented artists barely scratching the surface while the average ones make waves.

Do not ever let anyone out believe or out hustle you within your domain. Be hungry enough to be ready to make the sacrifices that are needed to get to where you want to. Most of the artist you see doing great things today have been putting in mad work behind the scenes for years. I joined some guys at Simba Tagz’s place years ago when he was running his studio from home. Very few would have heard of him back then, but he was always in front of his computer putting in that work. Artists would come and go, yet he remained and continued to work on his craft. The stars you see shining today have been polishing themselves for years. Do not expect to get there too quickly. Pace yourself.

Who is your avatar?

Grab a notepad for this one. We want to create a mind-map. Thinking about your music, what sort of people would you say make up the bulk of your fans. Jot down the characteristics that these people would have. Zim Dancehall artists may note that their music is doing well among the so called “Ghetto Youths”, that’s a massive category. Let’s start within your own city. Note every residential area that you think the people who listen to your music would reside in.

Using the same example of Dancehall artists within the city of Harare and reachable areas, I will jot some places down:

  • Epworth
  • Glenview
  • Glen Norah
  • Mbare
  • Kuwadzana
  • Dzivarasekwa
  • Chitungwiza
  • Highfields and so on

Don’t let my limited knowledge of your area limit you to the number of places that I have put down. Put down as many as you can. Once you have all the suburbs down, pick the two largest by either number of fans you think you have there or the population of the place. I have it on good authority that Chitungwiza would win this one, on the list above.

Now that we are focused on Chitungwiza, you would draw up a targeted marketing plan just for Chi-town. What artists are you connected to who are based in Chi-town? Which promoters do you know that run shows in that area? Based on your familiarity with the area, you should be able to come up with a few more questions than I can.

How old is your avatar?

The age of your avatar is very significant when creating a decent marketing plan. There is hardly a one size fits all when it comes to marketing. The most effective form of marketing is always targeted. A targeted marketing plan will also allow you to create room for evaluation. You will be able to note whether or not it hasn’t been effective, and more importantly, you will know exactly what needs to be tweaked. Let’s say based on our previous Zim Dancehall marketing plan example, we will go with an avatar of between the ages of 15-31.

Does your avatar have the means to support your craft?

It’s no secret that your avatar will have to be part of your income stream. Do most of your fans have the means to be able to pay for your music. It is one thing for them to give you props and request songs on the radio as well as download your free stuff, what matters is whether they will be able to pay for your music when asked to. There are many artists whose music I would listen to for free, but would have to really dig deep if I am going to have to pay for it. By the same token, my favourite artists’ stuff is always pre-ordered. I support them so much that I would gladly buy an extra copy of their work to give it away as a gift to someone else. The relationship between an artist and fan should always be a sacred one; both way. The artist should never release half-baked content and expect to be paid for it. The fan should be keen to invest in the artist.

Let’s say for argument’s sake, your avatar has the means to pay for your stuff, we can move on.

Why them?

An artist and his management should always play the role of fact finding. Why is it that said artist’s music resonates with such and such a demography? In most cases, it comes down to being able to relate to the story. It is not always relating in the direct sense. For example, with Jnr Brown’s Tongogara, I cannot personally relate to the situations that he describes, yet I have seen and read about the things he speaks of, so I can relate to the content from an adjacent point of view. Understanding why will help you carve a better marketing plan.

Zim Hip Hop artists

Method of delivering it to them

We are in a transition period now; more and more content is being transmitted digitally. Invariably, more and more content will begin to be sold online. Before our website was hacked during the festive season, we had created one such platform. I have seen some mobile apps as well in the works in some circles. Your role should be to make sure that you are not too focused on the post transition that you begin to neglect the present. Most sales today will be made physically, not online. There is not enough infrastructure and awareness for that to occur right now. That time is fast approaching, but keep using the avenues that work.

A story comes to mind in this regard, when CDs were just coming onto the market. Most artist quickly switched onto the CDs and abandoned tapes. Alick Macheso however released more content on tape, with great success. He understood that his avatar covered a wide range of people who do not instantly jump onto the new thing on the market. Cater to your avatar, and not to yourself.

Be creative with your method of delivery as well. Begotten Sun has done this quite ingeniously if I may say so myself. The marketing approach that he took with Jnr Brown on Tongogara was quite a feat. They didn’t allow the lack of direct infrastructure to hinder them. In fact, they made use of WhatsApp, which is still one of the most used method for music piracy in Zimbabwe. In genius part was making sure that the financial part was done with before the merch was handed over.

Can they meet your price point?

What do you currently sell your music and merchandise for? With your avatar in mind, consider whether the price point is ideal. This doesn’t have to mean that you will have to cut your pricing. At times the best thing to do would be to increase the pricing. Undercutting yourself too much will mean that you must struggle, while making your fans happy. As romantic as that is as a concept, it isn’t viable as a business model.

zim dancehall artists

At the very least, as you seek growth, find a breakeven point. If not from the music itself, there should be some sort of profit made from the merchandise, as it usually costs more to produce.

If you cannot find an ideal price point to suit both you and the avatar, you will want to consider choosing a different avatar.

Evolution of your avatar will need to be considered. Your avatar will not remain the same over time. People will grow older and no longer consume things that they do now, the way they consume them now. Your business model should be reviewed and improved consistently. This is where the Nokia examples comes up. Nokia was an industry leader, way ahead of their competition in all respects. Yet, they forgot their avatar. The market and their avatar both evolved, and they lost the market share. This is not something that you want to see happen to your art. Music moves much faster than tech at times, and it is more ruthless. Let’s win!

We are always happy to take questions, our goal in the next 5 years is to help 50 artists build sustainable business models.



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