music company

How to Lead a Team at Your First Record Label, Music Tech Startup, or Other Music Company

Whether you’re launching your first record label, music tech startup, or recording studio, starting a new music company is an exciting but stressful experience — like playing the trombone while riding a unicycle. Even more so if you’ve never done it before. Knowing a lot about the music industry and the business model you’re planning to implement is one thing; executing it is an entirely different thing.

Of all the aspects people discuss when starting a new music industry company, if the business model is sound and you’re doing all the legal and commercial formalities, I’m of a strong opinion it’s the team you choose to help you do everything else that will make or break the company.

Realistically, if you have wild plans for business growth or world domination, it’s your employees who will hopefully end up helping you manage and run the company. They’ll know the good, the bad and the ugly, they’ll have gone through multiple business decisions and pivots with you and that, alongside the skills learned during the process, is incredibly valuable. Obviously, the first step to success in the music business is employing the right people with the right skills within your budget. This is true even for those just out of college who may be operating more on a “passion project” than a “get paid” level. But when you’ve found the right group of people — whether they’re volunteer staff, friends, or full-on employees — how do you get the very best out of them?

I’ve been managing the team at Music Gateway for three years and we’ve been going for a little over five years. We’re out of the start-up phase but not quite sunning it up in the Bahamas and a lot of our staff, like with most start-up companies in the music industry, started as inexperienced music industry lovers who loved the concept of Music Gateway and had a burning desire to be a part of something groundbreaking. Now they’ve perfected their crafts and formed impressive roles as true professionals in their fields who are helping us expand the company and provide more and more to our members month on month.

It has not always been a smooth ride and there are definitely things we’ve learned during the journey. So, if you’re stepping into that bold music start-up management position, here are some top tips from my team to keep everyone motivated, happy and get the best out of people throughout the adventure!

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” — Jim Rohn

Clear Direction

Every single person in the team said that they think it’s important for “clear goals to be set” and that “as important as it is for someone to communicate positives and barriers to a manager, it’s as important for the manager to communicate the importance in value of the project.”

“Obviously someone needs to know how to do something, but it’s the ‘why’ that will really get them to do it to the best of their ability. Feeling responsible for the bigger picture is a huge motivator.”

This is not just on a project-by-project basis but for personal and professional growth, too. One of the Music Gateway team stressed their “appreciation for evaluation meetings with management from time to time to go over how [the manager] feels [they’re] doing or what [the] progress and next steps look like.” As a manager, this makes sense and is an attitude you want to encourage. Anyone who’s working towards a career needs guidance and an evaluation of their journey to check they’re on the right track for their goals and an opportunity to really feel listened to and valued. Self-appraisals work really well for start-ups. It gives staff an opportunity to SWOT analyze themselves before you give feedback and really engage in the process and think about what they’re doing to drive forward both personally and professionally, which is always good for the overall business.

“Whilst it may seem like not a big deal on a case by case basis, if there is constant change happening and no clear direction then it creates a culture of demotivation. I find generally people want to perform well and enjoy striving for a goal so if there are no clear goals it can be demotivating and confusing. Equally, it can be a big slap in the face if every time you get close to achieving a target, the target changes because of company direction.”

Ask your team this…
Do you know exactly what your role is in the company? Do you know what you’re achieving each day? How is your role driving the company forward? Do you know where you see yourself in five years time? Is this company helping you achieve personal goals even if in five years time you’re doing it somewhere else?

These are questions that both management and the individual should be asking themselves, working together to achieve company and personal growth.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” — Ernest Hemingway

Trust

The majority of the team mentioned trust in their top three qualities they liked in a manager. I couldn’t agree more with Hemingway on this one! Trust is so important but you have to set the boundary as the manager. How annoying is it to have someone not trust you to do your job? And equally, how annoying is it when you’ve given someone a task, not being able to trust them to do it? This is where you have to be on the same page as your team. One member acknowledged in their analysis of trust that: “This also relies on staff being open and honest with any barriers and coming to managers if there are any issues, but this is how the trust is built.”

You need to believe in them:
“In the basic sense, I like to know that my managers trust me to get the work done and get it done to a high standard. I think empowering your employees is the most important thing and there’s nothing worse than your employer doubting or questioning your abilities.”

You need to know them:
“If an employee is struggling, it’s not always internal — there could be external or personal factors that are affecting their progress. It’s not necessarily management’s job to fix these issues but it is important to be aware of them. If you show compassion and understanding towards an employee’s personal growth it’s highly likely that you will reinforce their trust in you and their loyalty to the company will be a lot stronger.”

From the off, I find that targets and reporting give people the opportunity to do things their own way with a clear goal of when things need to be done by or what is expected of them. The hardest thing as a manager is not being positive someone’s going to hit their target and wanting to intervene before the deadline is given but there are two things here, which should stop you. The first is if you keep helping, they’ll never learn and you’ll never know whether they’re right for the job. The other is, if you have an open door policy, they should be coming to you for help, which makes the process easier for everyone.

Ask yourself this…
Are you assigning tasks to the best person rather than the best role for the job? Are you constantly wondering if someone’s going to deliver on time? Are you finding yourself setting mini goals for targets to encourage someone to get things done?

To start off with, open up a conversation with the person you’re starting to mistrust but if you’re finding that you’re feeling this way time and time again with someone, it might be time to be harsh with yourself. In the world of music startups, unfortunately, there’s no room for stragglers.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” — Bill Gates

Feedback

It’s ironic really that this was one of the top three things mentioned by the team as I partly asked them for the purpose of this feature, but mostly because I was interested in seeing what they liked and disliked about the way we were currently working together. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, eh?

“If I could do something better or I’m not pulling my weight, tell me! I work because I want a career and in order to grow your career you have to grow as a person and you can’t do that if people aren’t pulling you up on your errors. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be shouted at and have managers throw things at me Steve Jobs style, but a polite notice about performance and how it can be improved is always appreciated. Equally, if you’ve just smashed something out of the park then it’s SO important to praise. Even if it’s part of their role and it’s expected of them, positive reinforcement is possibly the best form of motivation.”

“I’d say as a manager it’s important not to put someone on the spot when addressing an issue. If, as the manager, you know the answer before you ask the question I’d rather you didn’t play dumb and ask: ‘Has this task been done?’ only to hear the staff member say it’s not been done and just feel guilty. It does no favors for morale. Instead please be direct that you know there is an issue present and ask how the staff member would like to resolve it, that gets the staff member to acknowledge the issue, discuss why it’s happened and then present a solution, rather than feel like they’re just being told off like a school kid.”

“Recognition and awareness of an individual’s skills and what tasks would be best suited to them are so important. It’s also appreciated if a manager tells their employee what they think their skills are. All this helps boost motivation, confidence, and efficiency.”

Ask yourself this…
Is your feedback constructive? Does it yield positive results? Is it something that those you manage want?

Feedback is important and one of the most valuable things a manager can give so making sure it’s done clearly and at the right time makes all the difference.

The Top Takeaway

Interestingly, not one of the suggestions raised in this feature is about business strategy or logistical engineering. What makes someone a good leader isn’t defined by how good you are at your own workload, or what music industry knowledge you can share or what tips you have to streamline processes although the list is not inexhaustible and I’m certain these are helpful qualities. Quite clearly, what marks the sign of a great manager at any music company — big, small, established, just getting started — is the relationship you have with your staff. Understandably, this can at times be quite time-consuming. I found like with most things in life, this is harder to do well during times of stress as you have a burning desire to put your head down and get on with what you need to do. However, as a manager or a leader you have to keep your head up and looking around at the team so you don’t miss any opportunities to encourage, motivate, feedback and direct.

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