What’s the Plan?

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By Steve Oppenheimer

(August 1998)

When we first envisioned this month’s cover story (“Process This!” on p. 48). We projected an article of effects-processing “do’s and don’ts.” But as Associate Editor Jeff Casey worked on the article, it became obvious that there are few “don’ts” when it comes to effects. Oh sure, you could lose a part by burying it in too much reverb or clip the internal stages of a multi-effects processor by being careless about gain structure—but maybe that would create exactly the sound you seek. So rather than give advice about how to avoid “mistakes,” Jeff decided to offer a series of tips that you can adapt to your purposes. After all, when it comes to creativity, breaking with tradition is part of the game.

However, the business of music is a different story. When you’re running a business, you need a plan that states long-range goals and specifies the steps necessary to achieve your aims, including intermediate, short-range objectives. This blueprint helps keep you on course, and the short-range goals give you a benchmark with which to measure your progress. They can also provide a certain amount of satisfaction in and of themselves. Over the years, you will probably modify the plan several times; these are normal course corrections. But if you have no plan, any success you’ve achieved could he frittered away due to lack of follow-up.

Most musicians focus their energy on writing, arranging, performing, and producing. Business administration, marketing, and sales are rarely our strengths. One can think of exceptions, but the Kenny Rogers types who set practical goals and plan carefully to reach them are rare. Some of us lack the self-confidence to plan for success, and those who have faith in their own abilities often don’t have the patience to mess with the business aspects. The idea of writing down plans and signing contracts with friends and bandmates seems scary and distasteful. It means you are committed.

This month’s “Working Musician” column, which deals with organizing and booking tours, provides some good examples of why you need to plan ahead. Although author Anne Eickelberg focuses on planning road tours, it is instructive to apply her concepts to building a band’s following and record sales, or developing a recording business around a personal studio. Eickelberg explains why it’s important to assess the situation in advance, set clear goals, determine what resources you will need, decide what sacrifices you are willing to make, and agree on each person’s responsibilities—and then write down the agreement. In short, she advocates making a business plan.

Speaking of planning one’s career, this is the last issue that features the byline of Assistant Editor Diane Lowery, who is departing for greener pastures after contributing to our pages for almost five years. EM authors know Diane as the person who handled contracts and got them paid. But Diane is best known to readers for her monthly “Pro/File” column, which she leaves in the capable hands of Editorial Assistant Rick Weldon. We wish her well in her new endeavors.

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