Thursday, May 21, 2015

So You Want A Career in Entertainment?

In May of 2015 I was invited to speak to students at Strongsville, (Ohio) High School as part of their career day activities.  I was asked to speak to them about the entertainment industry and how best to get started in it.

As some people know I wear many hats, so when I was asked to participate I initially thought that it was to speak as the academic dean of an online college or to share stories of my 23 years in nonprofit charity work.  But this time it was simply to speak about being a professional mobile DJ and event specialist.  Knowing that not all of the creative types in high school are curious about DJ work I thought to broaden the topic a bit and speak to entering the creative fields in general: music, song writing, acting, comedy, and others.  What do these roles all have in common?

I was so very impressed with the response of the students.  They were eager to learn and ask questions. I had three groups each for 30 minutes.  For lack of a better format, I put together an outline which I am now using for this blog post.

So here are some of the points we covered in each session:

1) Many entertainers have dual careers.  Don't let that prevent you from pursuing your passion.

Although I hated to start off on this note, I felt it was important.  Most of the entertainers I know have day jobs.  They're accountants, school teachers, electricians, waitresses, you name it.  The harsh reality for most people wanting a career in entertainment is that making it to the full-time status where you are making enough money to support yourself comfortably takes some time.  I'm not saying that it is impossible because it can certainly happen but I just wanted them to know it's ok and probably necessary to have dual careers.

2) The most successful entertainers are those who also view themselves as entrepreneurs.

Here's the biggie.  Students may feel that they're talented in some way but they don't really consider themselves entrepreneurs.  Why is this important?  As I shared with the students, from the day you are born to the day you turn 18 there are people in your life who either get paid to provide creative outlets for you or who volunteer their time to do so.  These people are typically band directors, choir directors, art teachers, voice coaches, music teachers, theater directors, poetry coaches, and so on.  When you turn 18 all of that goes away.  Creative types must consider themselves entrepreneurs because most likely they'll need to fashion a business structure around their talent to continue to hone their skill, promote their work and hopefully, in the end, make some money.  They need to do for themselves what adults were doing for them when they were kids.

3) Entertainers practice their craft while they learn to run a business, specifically their own "do it yourself" (DIY) media company.

You must be your own promoter at least initially.  That means that savvy entertainers are also savvy "mediapreneurs".

4) You are in the list building business.  Build your own fan base.

As a mediapreneur, entertainers need to utilize the technology that is now available to them to share their work and their passion.  Social media is one very powerful way to accomplish this.  Entertainers are essentially in the list building business - the list of followers and fans who care about them, the work they do and their next project.

Nick Gatfield, CEO at Sony, shares with us in this 10 minute video interview the importance of growing your fan base.  The truth is, you'll need to do it yourself until they decide to pay attention to you.  Watch, How To Make It In Music.  If you're in a hurry start it at 3 minutes and end at 4 minutes.

Julia Nunes is a wonderful example of a grass roots, organic, DIY entertainer.  She started initially posting video to Youtube of her playing the ukulele and singing cover songs along with some of her own original stuff.  It was her attempt of simply staying in touch with her high school friends while in college to let them know what she was working on.  She was surprised when many others saw her videos, liked them and began following.  It helps, of course if one is truly talented as she is and also likable.  The likability factor is fodder for another blog post someday but suffice it to say Julia was on her way to building a strong list of devoted fans.  Some of her videos now have over 1 million views.  She has over 200,000 subscribers to her Youtube channel.

Pomplamoose is another example of self-made, DIY entertainers.  In fact, they went on to spearhead some very creative new ways for fans to support their work.  More about that in a minute.  Take some time to click on them at the link above enjoy their unique sound.

The Piano Guys own a music store and enjoyed recording impromptu jams when business was slow.  The idea of taking a grand piano on the road to unlikely concert spots such as riverbeds, mountain tops, bridges, etc. was the wacky unique twist that many followers loved.  The thing that I like about the Piano Guys is that they're older, mature men who break the mold of the twenty something, hip, gen y entertainer.  They have a business, they're family men and they just also happen to be amazing musicians and again, very likable.  Check them out at the link above before moving on.

These entertainers and thousands of others have discovered the secret sauce - share your work via the internet, develop and grow a list of followers.  Not only are your followers excited to help you advance your talent, they're also willing to buy your stuff!

5) You must sell yourself, so marketing and promotion is key.  If you don't like these activities you'll need to partner with someone who does.

To piggyback on what we've just covered, entertainers must think of themselves as businessmen and businesswomen as well as entertainers.  If the entertainer does not possess the skills to act as an entrepreneur they'll need to find someone who does.  This really is not a new construct but the way entertainers go about their list building and selling is now very new and different thanks to computer technology and the internet.

6) Some entertainers join small groups or collectives of others who are pursuing similar careers.  They support each other and share resources.

Entertainers are a close knit "band" of people and for the most part they really do want to help each other succeed. It's this magic glue that enables musicians who play traditional big band jazz to get along with members of a hip hop group.  The genre doesn't act as an obstacle to mutual respect.  All performers have the common challenge of creating, performing, promoting, etc.

A small collaborative in northeast Ohio is Euclid City Limits.  This group of folk musicians purchased a house in a suburb of Cleveland, remodeled the inside to create a mini-concert venue.  50 people would be a sellout.  The goal really is to have a safe, supportive place for musicians to practice their skill, mentor each other and promote (list build).  I am impressed with the work they're doing and am happy to share their work in this post.  Many such collaboratives exist, albeit sometimes hidden, across the country.

7) You need to monetize your talent. Doing free stuff is fine for a short while but start asking for $$$ as soon as possible.

There is an awful myth that permeates our society that suggests people who pursue a career in the arts and entertainment do not need to make money to feel fulfilled.  This is also found in the social service, education, and charity (caring) fields.  I say bull crap (is bullcrap one word or two?).  If you have a special skill or talent you should get paid to share it just as an electrician gets paid to wire a house.  In our ever turbulent, stressful world, there is a demand for art and entertainment that is financially quantifiable, even if it offers nothing more than a temporary escape from the real world.  I happen to believe it offers much more than just an escape.

The truth is, if you offer your talent for free, people will simply want more free stuff.  Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't do free stuff, you should.  If you're just getting started and need to practice your skill, ok.  If you want to donate to charity, ok.  But the sooner you move from free to paid, the sooner you'll be seen as a professional.  I'm also not suggesting that you need to be expensive, you don't.  Charge a reasonable and affordable amount of money for your talent until you get asked to be the half time act in the super bowl.  Then charge a bunch of money and retire!

The entertainer in you will not know how to ask for money for your talent.  That is why you must also develop the entrepreneur-self.  That side of you will indeed find a way to charge for your work.

New, creative ways to direct follower support and funding to artists and entertainers are available.  Jack Conte, part of the Pomplamoose duo, speaks to his back story of being an independent musician and content creator, the birth of and more.  If you are a serious entertainer and entrepreneur, put on some coffee, get cozy and watch this video (24 minutes).  Click here to watch Jack Conte describe the birth of! is a crowd funding mechanism of sorts for digital content creators.  You can think of it as a dating service for creative types and people who might follow them/fans.  Best of all, it is a way for the flow of money to make its way to the entertainer.  Remember my story of the ukulele player Julia Nunes?  Go to the following link to see how much money her fans send her for each new video!  Click here for Julia!  Aside from Patreon, Julia sells CDs, digitized music through iTunes, concerts, t-shirts and more!

8) Develop a platform to help others.

If you really want to get fancy with your talent and entrepreneurial skills, develop a "platform" upon which many others can find success, such as  Another example includes  See my profile there at this link: Gigmasters connects event planners with a variety of entertainers from wedding DJs, bands, magicians and more!  Gigmasters charges entertainers a nominal $1 a day to maintain a profile and wants 5% of gigs that are booked through their site.  The customer can pay the 5% or the entertainer can absorb that cost.  Am I happy to share 5% of $1,000 that I know will come to me? You bet I am!

9) Last, how to get started - Find a mentor if you can and incorporate all of their good ideas.  Most people will help you if they believe that you are sincere.

I saved the best for last because although we creative types have more technology at our fingertips than ever to build our empire, there is nothing more valuable than a mentor who is already successful doing what you want to do.  I credit friend and associate, Dennis McNulty, for introducing me to the professional mobile DJ industry in the late 1980's.  He patiently taught me not only the technical aspects of disc jockey work but also the people side, the entrepreneurial aspects of marketing, promoting and charging money for providing a creative service.

Shadowing someone who is essentially a teacher will get you going very quickly.  Weave into this experience the latest technologies and strategies for marketing and promotion, social media, etc. and you'll be in good shape.

10) We're not done yet.  I truly want to hear from readers about their experiences.  Comment on this blog post, visit my website, leave an email.  Friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than hearing from you and, who knows, maybe even helping each other along the way.

Click here if you want to learn more about our DJ service or receive a price quote for your upcoming event!