MusicBiz 2017: 5 Basic principles to make your business, more like a business!

Hello again and Happy New Year! Since it’s a new year for business, I thought that it might be good to visit some basic principles that can hold true in many fields in addition to music. Some of these involve money-based situations and others involve the relationships with those you work with or hire. Try working these 5 principles into your business practice:

  1. Clarify, Clarify, Clarify! – Make sure that you ask your clients (or band mates, co-workers, etc.) the right questions to ensure that you fully understand what you need to deliver. The questions are going to vary from scenario to scenario but as long as you know what/how you need to accomplish the task, then you are golden.
  2. Bring Up the Money – Whenever possible, don’t make the people you are hiring bring up the money topic. Be forthcoming and ask what they charge for their services. Also, it will probably come off sounding like a broken record, but please don’t ask for free and do not offer exposure, royalties (unless there will be some serious royalties), or anything else with which someone can’t use to pay their bills. If a person wants to do it for free, that is fine, but never expect it and never ask for it. (Caveat: Work between friends is a different deal. I have worked on the barter system before in addition to pro bono and I handle it on a case-by-case basis. The above advice is targeted towards working with people who you don’t know at all or with whom you have a strictly or at least predominately professional relationship.)                                                                                     
  3. Don’t Knock the Rates – Everyone has different rates/budgets and at some point you will likely run into a situation where you want to hire a specific person, and you can’t afford them, or someone wants to hire you and they can’t afford your services. Regardless of the scenario, being respectful is key. The ultimate goal is to keep the relationship on good terms, even if the hiring doesn’t happen. If you can’t afford someone, just be honest about your situation. Do NOT critique their rates. Just accept it for what it is and take it or leave it. If you leave it, do so in a respectful manner. In the same way, if someone comes to hire you and they can’t afford the rate you quote them and you are unable to budge on the amount, then be honest about it and respectfully, wish them the best on their project. Berating just isn’t good for business and the music industry is built on the relationships that we have with one another. At the end of the day, if you can’t say something nice (or respectful), then it’s better to not say anything.                                                                                                                     
  4. The “Pick any 2” Rule (Fast, Good, and Cheap) – This rule is not my own but certainly holds true in music business (you can read more on the principle here: If you are unfamiliar with this rule, the basic idea is that when a client wants something fast, good, and cheap, they only get to pick two of the three. For example, if they want it fast and good, it isn’t going to be cheap. Similarly, if they want it fast and cheap, then it probably isn’t going to be as good. You get the idea. At any rate, while hopefully, you won’t have to explain this principle too often (if at all to your client base), for clients who are insistent on fast, good, and cheap, then you can use the “pick any 2” rule to craft your responses and negotiating strategy.
  5. Treat it as a Business – Treat your work as a business, because if you don’t, then no one else will. Furthermore, and I may take a little heat for saying this, but do not rely on your family (and even friends in many cases) to buy your work, songs, or album. That is not their purpose in your life. Family and friends are there for moral and emotional support. They are not your clients. Please don’t confuse what I’m saying. I’m not speaking out against family helping family. This has nothing to do with a little help or physical support, but everything to do with you (the musician/business owner) and your expectations of those closest to you.


Aaron Kusterer is a musician and producer based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. He has worked on commercial projects for clients such as the Hawaii Visitor’s and Convention Bureau and Par Pacific Holdings, Inc. Additionally, he has performed across the globe during a 10 year-stint with the United States Air Force Band, 6 years of which was spent as a music director and tour manager. For more information on him, check out:


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