Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Miguel de Maria, and I started a freelance guitar performance company. I provide live Spanish guitar background music for weddings and corporate events and bring in about $3000 a month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I worked a desk job out of college and hated it, so I began tending bar nights. As chance would have it, one of the places I worked had live entertainment--a Spanish guitar duo. I loved the atmosphere they created, and, being a guitarist myself, would sometimes sit in when things were slow behind the bar. One month, the normal musicians went on vacation to Spain, and the backup band had some problems. I went up on stage and helped them out, and just kept playing!
Whenever I play a gig, I view it as an opportunity to get more gigs.
Me becoming a musician was fairly random. I had been playing since I was young, but it never had occurred to me to do it as a living. But I enjoyed it, and people wanted to hire me. After a time, it made sense to pursue this path.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a performing musician, I am the product. There is a certain image someone has when they think about what a Spanish guitar would look like, sound like, and act like, and I do my best to accommodate them. Therefore, I dress, wear my hair (long!), and also learn songs that fit this concept.
Maybe because I went to business school, I always ran things differently than most musicians. I had business cards, a website, and contracts made up early on, to make it easy for clients who are used to dealing with businesses to trust in me. This is, I think, very important because being reliable and making a client comfortable is vital in the music field.
One thing to remember is that most people do not have sound reinforcement equipment, so musicians often have to purchase, carry, and set up their own. This takes time and effort, as I have to both be the roadie and the performer.
I got started by burning demo CDs and giving them out to prospective clients. I found that even in this internet age, making personal contacts was key, so I always tried to drive out to meet clients. This was the image I used on the front!
Describe the process of launching the business.
There was never a single “launch” point for my business; I just gradually got more gigs, until there was a point that I said, “I think this is my job, now.” It took several years to get to this point, and the gigs came from personal contacts I’d gotten while gigging with more established musicians, extra gigs from other musicians (who can only play one at a time, of course), and through music agencies.
When I started, most musicians didn’t have websites; now, everyone has one. I probably don’t need to say that a high-quality website, even if it’s minimalistic, needs to be present. The minimum is to have pictures, sound samples, videos, and a contact form. If you have these things, the client can feel reassured that they’ll be getting what they want.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I am a local business. My business involves me going out to a client’s event and performing there. My main lead generator is word-of-mouth. So whenever I play a gig, I view it as an opportunity to get more gigs, by doing a good job and fulfilling the clients’ expectations. It is also a networking opportunity because most gigs involve other vendors, such as event planners, bartenders, caterers, and even other musicians. The more people I know, the better a chance I will be who they think of if the event comes up that someone needs live music.
So being friendly to other people at the site (including the client, naturally!) is key. Business cards are still important. I keep in touch with other vendors using Facebook--it’s the most convenient and natural forum for me, and I post pictures from my gigs and try to get engagement from my contacts and try to support my industry contacts when I’m able. For a local business, this is vital!
I rarely use advertising, Google ads, or Facebook ads. My lead generation strategy centers on nurturing my local network.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
March 2020 was a brutal month for most of us in the event industry, and the market is only starting to warm up. COVID-19 attacked the very heart of what I do, which is to perform at public events where many people go to mingle. Due to the vaccine and the better “numbers,” more events are being booked, but things won’t be back to normal for several months, at minimum.
The future is uncertain. Due to the vaccines, there is cause for optimism, but a lot will have to do with how the corporate sector chooses to handle their travel and how they’ll decide to set up their events.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When I look back on my career, I see a business major who became a professional guitarist who used his business skills to carve out a living. I feel very fortunate to get paid to play guitar. I am not sure what lessons to draw from this, but I always remember the adage, “Just showing up is half the battle.” By being professional, respectful to my clients and fellow vendors, and doing a good job when I am hired, I have had the opportunity to work in a very pleasant business.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My business tools are minimalistic:
- Email, which helps to document client requests
- Word, for contracts
- My phone!
- WordPress for my website
- My trusty Cordoba guitar
- My trusty QSC K-10 speakers
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The thing that astonishes me the most, looking back, is how much other people have helped me. Whether that’s other musicians, event planners, other vendors, or my very supportive wife, it’s always been people giving me a hand, a lead, or an extra gig. I am where I am because of other people. If I wanted to get started in this field, the first thing I would do is start taking lessons from someone who’s gigging (and paying them for it!). That could just be the foot in the door that the new player needs.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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