I am a big fan of the TV show Shark Tank. Each week, entrepreneurs bring their inventions in front of five millionaire/billionaire venture capitalists (a.k.a. “sharks”) who will invest their own money in a project if they find the invention compelling and capable of making a profit. While musicians and composers don’t usually create something that requires the funding of a venture capitalist, I find that we can take a few ideas from the show and apply them to our careers:
• Do something unique that makes you stand out from the rest.
Time and again, the sharks are most excited by a product that fills a need that nothing else yet covers and that no one else is doing. I have found the same idea to be true in the adjudication work that I do for various music organizations: if an ensemble’s concert series looks remarkably similar to another ensemble’s series, and these ensembles happen to be in the same region, then neither ensemble is all that unique. What concert program can each ensemble design that would be innovative and fresh, while also staying true to their mission? The same concept is applicable to composers in terms of musical aesthetics, compositions, collaborative projects, and even the types of activities a composer does to build one’s career into a viable business.
• Presentation counts.
Most entrepreneurs who appear on Shark Tank give a solid, well-rehearsed presentation. They offer clear points on what their product does, the particular need it fills, and what the sharks’ monetary investment and professional expertise can bring to their product’s potential future. Musicians and composers can learn from Shark Tank’s best pitches (click here for a list) about how to be concise yet informative, as well as engaging while trying to interest concert presenters or potential commissioners in a new project. The same is true when speaking to audiences in pre-concert activities, panel discussions, classroom or university visits, in-performance piece introductions, and so on.
While the details of a presentation greatly matters, so does the way the presentation is delivered. Some entrepreneurs have very little stage presence on Shark Tank; others have this in spades. I get the distinct impression that the best presenters have practiced incessantly -- in front of family, friends or a mirror, and even videotaped themselves -- so as to get their pitch to look and sound natural instead of coming across as stilted and nervous. There are many factors musicians and composers can consider when working on presentation skills: the tone and inflections of your voice (i.e. avoid a monotone delivery), the pacing of your words, the expression on your face, using your hands to emphasize particular points, and keeping yourself from engaging in any nervous ticks (such as scratching your head or swaying your body from side to side). Study your posture as well – does your stance look confident? How about the way you walk into a room? Everything you do speaks volumes about who you are and how much self-confidence you have.
• Develop your negotiating skills.
If one or more sharks hear a pitch that they like from an entrepreneur, then the negotiating stage begins. This can be quite exciting as well as harrowing, as things can go right or wrong very quickly. An entrepreneur who has carefully considered all possible options (both acceptable and unacceptable) in advance tends to navigate the negotiation successfully and lands a deal with a shark. Those who haven’t reviewed their options in advance usually end up making one of the following mistakes:
• The entrepreneur hasn’t figured out how much money he really needs and gets flustered when the sharks start throwing around different amounts they’re willing to pay, particularly if the numbers are lower than what he wants.
• The entrepreneur tries to renegotiate for a higher amount once sharks start bidding (this can look greedy).
• The entrepreneur leaves the room to consult with someone else about any offers on the table; when an entrepreneur leaves the room, sharks tend to re-think their decisions and will often change their terms or even retract their offers.
Musicians and composers can learn from these entrepreneurs' mistakes so they are able to handle negotiations for any situation that involves the exchange of money -- performance fees, commission contracts, arranging tours or residencies, etc. The key to negotiating is this: know exactly what you want before you negotiate, and how high or low you’re willing to go in exchange for your services. The time to figure these numbers out is before you start the negotiation, not during it. Once you start negotiating, stay calm, listen carefully, write information down to keep the details straight, consider what you’re being offered, and give a counteroffer if the terms aren’t quite what you’re hoping for. Above all else, be courteous throughout the entire process, even if you don’t land the gig or commission that you want. You never know if you’ll find yourself negotiating at a later time with the same person, and you should always leave a good impression no matter the outcome.
I highly recommend watching a few episodes of Shark Tank to see various presentation skills and negotiating strategies. Full episodes can be watched at ABC Shark Tank; you can find episodes (or even individual pitches) on YouTube as well. There are also a number of great online articles about giving presentations and the art of negotiation based on Shark Tank strategies; here are two:
Ultimately, the music business is, quite literally, a business. By developing one's business skills, musicians and composers will be better situated make more of the gigs that come their way as well as create their own opportunities.
• How to Pitch an Idea to Shark Tank, Science of People
• 7 Must-Know Negotiation Tips From Shark Tank, Forbes Magazine