The Essence of the Music Business: Strategy

PDF The Essence of the Music Business: Strategy May 24, 2021

Book author
  1. Mika Karhumaa
31i HKacw S SX326 BO1204203200


The fully revised Second Edition is here. New examples have been added to better reflect the present time. Also, as a main focus, strategic thinking, the ability to create long-term plans and how to prepare for this in everyday activities are also present in this book.

Understanding the importance of strategy is the basis for rational advancement. In the music business - strategies are not always perceptible. They are multi-layered, long-lasting, but also instantaneously effective. The ultimate goal often transpires along the way.

In order to understand tactics, one has to read between the lines. The reason why different pre-conditions and industrial expectations must always be taken into account is due to conflicts between artistic and economic goals. An artist's progress often depends on their interest groups' comfort to these aspects and is about maintaining the balance between business objectives and the artist's story.

This book deals with factors affecting strategy and how it relates to the artist and their management. Although viable passive income generation in the streaming era is what is most sought after, no other aspect, including social media capital, should be ignored, as it is often even more important. All this has an impact on how an artist succeeds in other music business areas. This book illustrates the current state of things in light of new opportunities.

'Strategy' is the final chapter of The Essence of the Music Business Trilogy from Mika Karhumaa.


his book is not written prima vista – ‘note to note’. When I started writing this book, I had a structure in mind. As soon as I got involved, I noticed the text became relatively effortless. I gave inspiration an opportunity. Strict adherence to the structure would have made the story fake and I thought different shades could come out differently in this way. With the idea that sentences follow on from the previous, you have before you a book that doesn’t necessarily have exactly what you expected beneath every headline. Hence, headlines do not infer the exact content of the book. All this also applies to this second edition. I approach the subject in exactly the same way as the first time.

Since it is good to have some kind of structure, I’ve arranged the book’s chapters with keywords I use. These keywords are of overlapping importance. In reality, they are not so separated from each other. Please note that this is just a way of presenting things, not a strategically sound proposal for their actions. The purpose is to present strategically valuable perspectives – regardless of the context in which it is raised. If I raise something in a chapter that deals with objectives, it does not mean that the matter itself would necessarily belong to it. On the contrary, both the goals and timing are keywords in this book; reserved for their own chapter. Since I chose this real-time creation style providing opportunities for insight whilst writing, it is possible that something is presented in a very different context as would be characteristic. This is not really a disadvantage considering the phenomena and ideals of the industry are characterized by the fact that they overlap, affecting different layers and interconnections. Timing issues are related to setting goals and vice versa.

I have tried to maintain the same terminology in the same contexts as the previous book volumes. With perspective changes, it is possible the meaning of terms will change slightly. On the other hand, this may be a matter of the natural development as a writer. Concepts may acquire new content. I noticed a few times that I jumped from one thing to another. I wondered a long time whether to correct them by changing the structure or context. It could have been possible, but as a manager this happened often. It is part of the growth story, learning to focus on the essentials, and putting things in order of importance. Since all these things are equally important and require the existence of each other, I decided to leave such overlapping reflections in the text. They are, however, quite different from the book’s systematics, and thus do not hinder understanding of matters. On the other hand, one important aspect of being strategic is the ability to identify the possibility of such drifting at all stages. It can only be a good thing that this issue also comes from the writer’s point of view. The discernment required to write such a book can be seen. I honestly think this will help the reader to face similar situations and feelings. It is completely natural to get carried away, especially if there is a great deal happening around an artist at any one moment.

In the second part of this book there were many chapters of the artist’s story. Now that we handle things from the perspective of strategy, its meaning widens. I did not want to use the term “promotion” in every context because this is a bit of a restrictive expression. Thus “promotion” is replaced by the term “story” or “artist’s story” whenever possible. In this way you can include the relevant dimensions that you would ignore when talking about pure promotion. The story now includes also external elements most commonly associated with artist promotion.

Even though the artist’s story is largely what an artist reveals in their songs or how they understand the world, it is also associated with external events that the artist’s actions bring about. Many times, this also involves a business perspective. The story is also a tool that seeks to create desired conditions. Therefore, as a top-notch concept, it can force reflection for evaluating the strategy of actions of the artist and their organization. The question is how the intended or implemented measures fit into the artist’s story and artist-related external affiliations.

In the most ideal situation, all elements related to the artist’s story are in line with the original cause of the artist being in the field, or at least the artist feels that this is the case. Unfortunately this is not always true. Because only a few artists make it alone, they need external help in implementing their dreams. The involvement of this aid brings with it other motives, some of which are in line with the artist’s story and some not. Internally, strategy relates to how an artist keeps their story as close as possible to the original idea despite all that happens. Externally, strategy is about an artist’s organization as a whole, with each of its organs in mind. Strategic questioning is thus related to how the common goal will succeed. Every time strategic issues come up, it is important to note which side of the strategy is in question. Even though they are closely related to each other, they must be kept separated on a personal level. Otherwise there is a risk that the implementation will color other ideas as your own. This also applies to other professionals in the field, not just artists.

With the first two volumes of this book, I was tied to a structure, the laws of the field – written and unwritten, as well as the ideals. I then discovered with this latest volume I don’t have such restrictions. It allows the book its theme: strategy. Of course, laws must be taken into account, but strategy may sometimes consciously violate these. In this book, these opportunities are not presented more than required for the purpose, to avoid messing things up. It should be noted that such breaches may well be part of a successful strategy. You need to know the rules to break them.

Let’s consider an artist who decides instead of streaming, to release their album or single first as a limited physical edition to reward their fans. Release information will be distributed along avenues where the artist is in contact with fans. There is no public promotion; the only means of communication is direct access to fans. The release may even be offered at half the price of normal. Initially this may seem a completely absurd idea. With streaming, an artist would get completely different visibility than a limited physical edition. Such an operation may, however, attract different interest compared to the case where a release takes place in the same way as everyone else’s. The music business is a public phenomenon, nothing really happens in secret. The knowledge of such a release spreads through fans, but through different than normal channels. In addition, each fan shares their own views on the matter. This increases the reach of an artist’s online presence. Such secrecy may increase interest in the artist. If the artist has a huge fan base, such promotion can be even more effective than an expensive and full-featured marketing operation. As strange as it sounds, through such a silent release or closed promotion, an artist may acquire greater and far more effective visibility than traditional promotions. Fans may feel they are appreciated for the attention they receive and, as a result of that compliment, share more useful information about their favorite artist. Such a method does not exclude future streaming releases. But this example was a bit far-fetched because if such an operation was actually implemented, it would unlikely be with a physical release. It would more likely be an extra release with added value for fans. For example, by providing fans with a password that allows them to hear a new song, say, two weeks before it is released to the public. Silent releases happen through other means than streaming services. The difference is exactly that promotion channel, with my purpose to present an easily understandable example of applying ideals of the industry.

In reality, promotion is conducted through both public media and an artist’s own channels. In the above example, emphasis was on the artist’s own channels. Such a strategic solution may also be a way of acquiring a different kind of attention than previous releases for an artist. Hence, initially using your own closed channel to release an album may well be a means of manipulating the general media in a beneficial way for the artist.

The first two books dealt with substantive issues and industry ideals. Such a point of view requires a finishing touch – a mere industry presentation is not always enough. This book encompasses strategic aspects – the means that aim for those ideals. Strategy is related to the means, or rather the series of measures that when accomplished in a timely manner lead to the desired result, or at least closer to these goals. The first two books presented matters the industry and artist feel are worthy of attainment. Both books also discussed strategic perspectives, although the main idea was to introduce the industry. When I wrote this book, I tried to keep in mind to what extent these had already been dealt with. As much as I have tried to avoid repetition, there may be instances of such. On the other hand, not all readers will read every book of this trilogy. Therefore, you will have to excuse the instances of repetition.

As in the previous two books, things will be handled from the artist’s point of view. I have of course thought about other perspectives, but nothing else seems right. I am a manager and thus this perspective is the most familiar. It would be unnatural to start experimenting with another approach. I do not believe the book would be better with such a change, and from the artist’s perspective, general truths can be deduced. Another reason for my chosen route is reader feedback. I get a lot of feedback on how my books come across to the reader. I will continue to do so.
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