The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your Music

Step into the world of music entrepreneurship with host Bree Noble and Willow Sound Records and The (Gro)ve founder Tara Shannon. Tara shares her wealth of knowledge on valuing your music to build a thriving business. Gain practical tips and actionable advice to propel your music career forward. Whether you’re just starting or looking to elevate your existing business, this discussion offers valuable advice to help you succeed in the ever-evolving music industry.

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Striking The Right Note: How To Value Your Music For Business Growth With Tara Shannon


Getting Started In Music

I am so excited to be here with Tara Shannon from Willow Sound Records. We’re going to be talking about a lot of things that relate to you as an artist, especially understanding yourself so you can help other people understand who you are and figure out who you’re perfect fans are and how you can attract them. We’ll be getting into some money stuff, as we always do on this show. Before we do that, I would love to know, Tara, what is your background story? How did you get started in music? I know you’re an artist and you’ve also been helping artists for a long time. How did you get started in music? What was your music journey and what led you to do what you do now?

Sure. It’s so great to be here, first of all. Good to see you. I love everything that you do, especially for women and music. I was a typical kid. I took piano lessons and fell in love with it. I studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, which led me to pick up the saxophone, oddly enough, in high school and became a jazz saxophone player, which led me to McGill University in Montreal, where I studied music. Originally, I wanted to go into Music Therapy. I was drawn to music as a healing thing, but then I wrote my very first song.

I wrote my first song for my cousin’s wedding, which I now joke about in my workshop. I’m like, “The place to debut of first song may not be on somebody’s most important day of their life.” It’s not something I recommend. It was fine. I didn’t embarrass myself or my cousin, thankfully, but through that process, I fell in love with songwriting and thought, “This is what I was born to do. This is what I want to do.’ I want to sing songs that I’ve written so that put me on the recording artist path.

I knew nothing about anything like most people floating out there who don’t know the business and I was listening to what people were saying, “You need a record deal.” I’m like, “Okay,” so I started chasing this elusive thing called a record deal and recording my music and putting it out there. By the time I did get that off-record deal, I had three young children. I remember being explained what would be expected of me and me saying, “I can’t do any of the things that you want me to do. I have three young children at home. I can’t be on the road for two years.”

I think one way, they said, “It’s two years. No family. No friends.” I was like, “I don’t know. That doesn’t sound very glamorous or rockstar-like.” That was the moment that I realized the demands of being a recording artist and a touring artist. Remember, this was before the internet. This is before social media. I knew that being a mom was my first calling, if you will, or my first love and so I focused on songwriting and becoming a better songwriter because I could do that from home.

Let me ask you real quick. Were they surprised when you turned down the record deal?

I don’t know that they were surprised. Maybe if I think back to the meeting, yeah, probably surprised. I hadn’t thought about it through their lens. I guess most people probably are like, “Show me where to sign,” but wanted to understand what I was saying yes to and it wasn’t a fit. I focused on the music that I could do while raising a family. I went on to have four more kids. I have 7 beautiful kids, 5 boys, 2 girls. They’re all adults now.

I learned more about songwriting and then I carved out a niche for myself, writing songs for organizations and developing fundraising models for them for their churches, organizations and schools, which was fun. I ran a music school at the same time. In the mid-2000s and late 2000s, I actually walked away from music for a little bit because I started a business with my kid’s dad and his industry and we built that for a good fifteen years because that fed the family much better than music did.

That’s where I honed my business skills and got into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to build something from the ground up. I went back to music in about 2013 because I had a health crisis. In that health crisis, I realized I was so unhappy. I was so unhappy because I wasn’t doing music. I didn’t have music in my life and I had this deep grief about it. I shifted my thinking or my why change. In my book, I talk about what’s your why.

The why went from being on a tour bus and having a number one single to being helpful to organizations. Now, why do I need to do music because if I don’t, I don’t feel whole and my emotional and mental well-being suffers if I’m not creating music in some way. I came back to music with a totally different perspective. Ironically, I built an entire career around it, as it happens when you let go.

I need to do music because if I'm not creating music in some way, I don’t feel whole and my emotional and mental well-being suffer. Share on X

I had a similar health situation that had me going all in on music as well. Mine was when my kids were little, though. I had only my two-year-old at that point, but I went through this whole thing where like, “I’m a mom now. I should give up this thing. It’s ridiculous,” or whatever, and then you have a health crisis and you’re like “No.” If I had died or whatever, I feel like I wouldn’t have fulfilled what I was supposed to do in this life, so I completely get that.

It’s woven into the fabric of who we are. It then becomes about validating spending time and money on it, which is tough to do with music in our culture because we value things that make money. If we are not making money with your music, are you successful? Are you truly an artist? All of that creeps in.

We’ll definitely talk about that. I think what the health crisis does is it crystallizes what is important to you and is it necessary to make money. If you didn’t make another cent doing music, would you still feel like you had to do it? For those that have that deeply ingrained soul thing, then the answer is yes, you have to do it.

I want to go back a little bit and talk about what you were saying about how you started working with organizations because I’m always talking about income streams and this is another income stream that artists may have not thought of. It sounds like you stumbled upon it a little bit. I’ve done a little bit of that myself, too, but I never pursued that income stream. How did you start doing that with nonprofits and churches? Did you start with the music and then expand beyond that?

Yeah. I’ve always been wired. My brain’s always been wired for business or opportunity or solving problems. I think the first one I did was in my own church that I was a part of at the time, we did a little fundraising concert event because the church needed a new keyboard. That was probably the first official project I did. In the recording arts world, opportunities would come by. I think it snowballed. People would hear about the last one I did and would reach out and ask, “Tell me how you made the CD and it sold at the school to raise money for stuff?”

The financial model for the project was either a live show or a concert to raise money for a very specific thing or getting a bunch of people. I did a couple. I did one that comes to mind for a high school in Toronto. It was a teacher who loved music and wanted to teach their kids about the recording arts. I wrote a song. I invited them to be part of the recording process in the studio as part of their education. The CD itself became a fundraiser for their music program to buy more instruments.

The financial model was different and unique to each situation, so identifying what the need was, and then pulling together all your assets to keep the recording costs low enough that there were actually profits when you sold it. It was very organic. It happened through these years were we didn’t have streaming yet. People had to buy physical products to listen to music. I don’t know how viable that model would be these days with the way that we consume music and how streaming has changed that landscape.

I was thinking that although you could still do the live show for sure and people would support that way or maybe people could do a merch bundle or something where they got the CD, but that wasn’t the thing they were buying. I think that any income stream is like that where you stumble upon something or you try something and you’re like, “This is cool. I never would have thought that this could be a thing.”

Getting Started In Music

Maybe you pursue a few more opportunities like that or you don’t, but then the word gets out and you become known as that person and people come and they ask you. I think we have to strike a balance between spreading ourselves too thin by trying a lot of different income streams versus if we don’t try these things, we don’t know that that could be our thing. Do you have any advice on that?

Trying Difference Income Streams

Yeah. I would definitely start with having a real good idea of your brand identity. You have to be rooted in who are you, what do you have to say and what’s your why? From there, when you’re trying things, at least you’re trying things from a place of alignment and clarity first. Income streams, too, you have to also keep in mind that your income can be super high, but when you tally the costs to get that income and not monetary because time is also another currency.

You have to factor in both currencies, not just money, but also your time to see whether the ROI, the return on investment on that income stream, which you also need to include in there, is how much joy it brings you because you have to assign value to joy. Maybe the spread or the profit margin isn’t so big, but you feel completely purposeful and full of joy when you’re doing it. There has to be value in that, too. The trying income streams, absolutely. When you’re evaluating the success of it or not, make sure you’re evaluating all of the currencies and all of the things you can assign value to.

The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your Music

Valuing Your Music: You have to factor in both time and money to see the return on investment in that income stream. You also need to include how much joy it brings you because you have to assign value to joy.

I love that perspective and a lot of times, we forget how valuable our time is and we don’t factor that in and then the joy. That’s a thing that usually gets last on the list, but when I think about it, why have I been doing my Women of Substance podcast since 2007? It doesn’t make me much money. In fact, it makes me zero money, but it reimburses me somewhat for the time I spend reviewing music and all that stuff, but I get so much joy out of it. I get great joy out of lifting up female artists and saying, “You guys need to hear this music. It’s amazing.”

I think that’s why I still do it even though on paper, it probably doesn’t make sense, but it is also part of my brand. That brings up what you said and then your why of why I do what I do. I want to elevate women in the music industry. That is a huge part of my brand, so at least for now, that’s not going away because it’s integral.

Why People Should Care

You said something in some of the prep literature that I read about you that I liked. You said you got to know your why and then you also have to know why people should care. I’ve heard that it’s like a pithy statement, but it’s so true. How do we get across to other people or make them care about our why because most people want to talk about themselves? How can we have them see themselves in our why?

I joke about who’s going to care. That’s what I say to my artist like, “Who’s going to care about what you’re doing?” Fundamentally, we can’t make anybody feel anything or care about it. I think what we can do is we can care about it and that’s contagious because that will draw people that are sort of on the same vibe to it. How do we get them to care about us? I don’t know. I wonder if that’s a good question. Do we try to get them to care about our why or do we lean into what they’re going to care about is their own experience?

We’re all the same. What we care about mostly is how things make us feel and what it’s doing for our human experience. I guess I try to frame it as who’s going to care, which translates to who’s going to make time for this because it’s giving them something. Who are those people who are going to listen to your song and feel what you’re about? That’s going to make them feel something. That’s why they’re going to give time to it. That’s the basis of trade in business.

Business is about a trade. You’re trading like what’s the trade which tells you the value? The trade is here’s my song. I’m giving of myself. This is who I am and that’s creating an experience in a moment for the person who’s going to care, so the trade is their time for the experience of feeling something. Who’s going to care has multiple layers to it because you can use that in straight-up marketing. When you’re thinking about building your audience and where are you going to spend your ad dollars?

How are you going to do up your marketing materials? That’s when you think about, “Okay, who’s going to care about this?” If I make singer-songwriter stuff, I’m not going to go advertise, first and foremost, into the heavy rock world because it doesn’t make sense. They’re likely not going to care. Is that to say that there aren’t some people who listen to heavy rock that won’t like what I do? No, there will be but you’ve got to start with the core group of who’s going to care. The who’s going to care thing is multi-layered and it’s about connection. It’s about connection. Who’s going to connect to this and why are they going to connect to this?

They going to connect to who I am as an artist and my vibe and how I talk and how I dress or the vibe of my show or they’re going to connect to the recorded music or they couldn’t connect to my social media content. Ideally, all of that should have some alignment which comes from your branding. As you were saying, this podcast stuff is one spoke of the wheel that is you and it all weaves into each other. Why are you doing what you’re doing, and who’s going to care? These are fundamental questions that I say to my artists, I don’t know, 50 times a day maybe for my coaching clients.

I’m curious. I’m thinking about singer-songwriter music. I do think that the singer-songwriters that I’ve connected with are people that I’ve seen live. I’ve heard their stories that relate to their songs. I’ve looked in their eyes. I’ve seen them getting super emotional with their own song. It’s hard to reproduce that in a recording. I feel every once in a while, there’s a recording that I connect immediately with, singer-songwriter-wise. Most of the time, it’s like I connected with the live performance of that and then I want to remember that, so I put it on my playlist. I think it’s maybe a little less with things like pop or electronic or whatever.

Connecting With Your Audience

I was in the gym and then thinking all this music sounds the same but it’s perfect for the gym. You’re not going to connect with an artist that way. I don’t care who those artists are when I’m listening to it in the gym. I’m curious if you have any thoughts in this digital world if you can connect with fans directly online without them seeing you alive or even seeing a live stream of you when you’re more in the singer-songwriter full acoustic genres.

Yes, I think that connection is possible. If I look at my own audience as an artist, one of the lessons I learned is to not assume or make assumptions about what people are going to connect with because I did this silly thing. During the pandemic, I was playing live streams and doing what we all were doing. I started this thing called Wine Down Wednesday, which was 8:00 on Wednesday for half an hour. I threw it on my Facebook Live.

If you look at your audience as an artist, one of the biggest lessons is to not assume about what people are going to connect with. Share on X

I poured a glass of red wine or any wine and I talked about my thoughts on what was happening in the world. It was like this sort of not particularly political or anything, but chatting about my life and what was going on. It was super casual and super chill. It was like I thought it was the silliest thing, but I was doing it for my own sanity because, in Canada, we were super locked down. The rules were pretty strict. The irony of the lesson of that was the connection that it created for people and the growth that I saw by doing this consistently was the data on it far exceeded the videos and the music I was putting out.

It taught me something about connection and that one thing that my fans loved about me or gravitate towards me is a frank, honest, but warm conversation about things going on or things that I’m going through. I’m a very open type of person about sharing things that I’ve learned in my own life and what I’m going through, the challenges I’m having. I learned that connecting with my audience on those issues was as valuable to them as a song.

I think it’s it’s a trial and error thing for each artist to figure out their points of connection because it’s the comfort level. Not everybody I work with is comfortable sharing what they’re going through with their life. I’m older so I have the benefit of decades and decades of life experience versus a twenty-year-old, maybe. I think for each artist, finding what makes you feel connected to people and then leaning into that. I’m very much a conversation person. I love hearing about people’s lives. I can’t do small talk very well. It doesn’t matter where I’m at.

If I’m meeting you for the first time, it’s likely I will say, “What’s bringing you joy in your life these days?” I’m that person. It makes sense that people would feel connected to me on things that I feel connected about. Maybe find the things that make you feel connected. If that’s putting a vinyl record on and listening to it and then chatting about the experience of the vinyl, so do that throw a live stream on, and have that conversation with your fans. It’s about finding the things that are truly you and not chasing things like trends or going viral, which can make you crazy.

I love all of what you said and that’s very much me too. It’s like what you said. I’m so over being freaked out about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing or I have decades of experience that I can randomly talk about and yeah, sometimes I’m going to say or do the wrong thing.

It’s going to be a little embarrassing but get over it because I have plenty of embarrassment that’s happened over my life for my five decades. It’s not going to be traffic. One of my daughter is like, “The world is ending if this happened to me or whatever.” Once you have this experience, it’s like, “No, the world didn’t end. It’s all good.” Perspective is a powerful thing. I love that you focus on things like you can’t know your brand until you know yourself, even in corporate-like aspects of psychology when you’re helping musicians.

Yeah, I’m a life coach. The training and coaching help. I’m big on empowerment. I’m big on you are the authority in your life. You are the expert in your life. My job here is to be a guide and travel with you while you explain the landscape of your life, and then your brand identity in the business planning and the strategy is born from that place as opposed to, “Country music is super trending right now. Have you thought about being a country music artist?”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with those business strategies and they can work. I just don’t believe they’re sustainable and I think that time has shown us that when you start from that point, the artists themselves, that doesn’t necessarily bring them joy and feeling purposeful. It could work for a time, but it’s not sustainable. You’re starting all over again because rebranding is starting all over again. That’s why I’m big on your starting points. You’re going to put so much time and energy. Trying to capture who you are in this moment and what matters to you is super important.

I think by virtue of being a coach, that helps in how in artists helping artists align with who they are. How many times are we ever encouraged to even ask ourselves that through the school system? Our culture is not great at uniqueness. We’re great at assimilating because this is how the system works or the music business is great at assimilating and being this because we know it sells and we don’t risk. We’re risk-averse, so we don’t want to take a risk.

We can’t be multi-genre. We need to put you into a box.

We have to sell that box and it needs a label on it for people to understand there’s a good business reason for all that. The problem is in our industry, the product is a human being. If you make toothbrushes, the toothbrush doesn’t wake up in the morning and ask itself whether it’s a toothbrush or whether it still wants to be a toothbrush or whether it wants to get married or have children or get divorced or tour or not tour. The product we work with is a living, breathing human.

It’s a fluid, moving ever-evolving thing and we’re trying to take that human and put them into a structure that’s designed for inanimate objects. You get this tension, frustration and disappointment. I think part of the reason is that. For artists that are independent and they’re in charge and in control of their creative outlets and stuff. The first question is, who am I, what do I have to say and what am I about? If I were going to make myself a mood board to communicate who I was, what would that mood board look? That is one of the exercises I do with my clients that helps them get into the feeling and the emotions of who they are as a post to what they think might work.

The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your Music

Valuing Your Music: For artists who are independently in control of their creative outlets, the first question is, “Who am I and what do I have to say?” Then, “What am I about? If I were going to make myself a mood board to communicate who I was, what would that mood board look like?”

Your Relationship With Money

This was all wrapped up into the fact that musicians are trying to make money doing this and then they feel insecure because it’s like, “Am I the product? Am I worth people paying for?” I would love to go back to the trade thing. I got what you said about the trade: our time and our emotions when we experience the piece of art that the musician created but then what about the need to make money? How can artists get comfortable with that trade?

Yeah, that’s so tough. I’m sure you get the same calls. I get so many calls like, “I was asked to play here. I don’t know what to charge. What should I charge?” There’s no matrix for us to look at and be in other trades and other types of work.

Sometimes, you wish we had a union. We could go and pick a number off of a schedule.

We do for classical players, but singer-songwriters don’t fit that mold so much. I mean the first thing that I like to do with my clients is figure out their relationship with money because your personal relationship with money and your money personality will drive how you run your business. If you grew up in a family of origin that never talked about money, didn’t have a strategy about money, didn’t value money, or money is an expression of your own self-worth, if you don’t have very high self-worth, you’re going to feel uncomfortable about talking about money. It’s going to bump up on that all the time.

Your relationship with money and your money personality will drive how you run your business. Share on X

It’s going to feel uncomfortable charging because you’re wrestling with, “Do I have any value?” That’s connected to your belief system. What I like to do is untangle some of that to see what’s driving the bus because it’s easy for me to be like this is what you should be charging. If the person doesn’t feel good about it, it’s going to be more effective to figure out why they don’t feel good about that. Imposing this thing on them all the time is what you should be doing.

You’re going to come across as super timid and then the people are going to think to themselves, is this person worth this amount?

Yeah, and there are so many factors that go into like, “Are you ready to perform live? Are you ready to do a show?” A lot of people start doing shows and they are not ready to be doing live shows. There is an element of cutting your teeth on stage that you do have to develop through, but I think a lot of people start way too early in the wrong venues. I think the short answer is it’s a balancing act and it’s understanding. It’s like thinking about it from a business standpoint and trying to separate from your own self-worth and like you said, feeling timid or insecure about it and trying to look at it practically. Okay?

What show am I offering if that’s what they’re trying to value? What is the venue? What is the typical price point for that venue? How do artists usually set up their shows? Is it solo? Is it a duo? Is it a trio? What is that audience connected to that venue expecting? There’s so many like there’s a checklist of things to look at to be like, “Okay. What can I charge that feels right and feels good in this in this situation? I don’t think there’s a blanket statement for everything because there’s also coming to your trade point where we are talking about what’s the trade. Sometimes, you’re playing for less money because part of the trade is the opportunity to play that venue or that festival or open for that bigger artists, which factors into the value of the trade.

It does. It’s hard because I hate when people go, “You can play for exposure.” On the other hand, I’ve got this podcast that they don’t get paid to be on it because we don’t have that budget, but it is great exposure for them. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “Mmmm.”

I know. I have something to add there that helped me with that because where that was taken advantage of I think if somebody thinks about it, somebody’s having an event, they’re paying the caterer. They’re paying the rent to get space. They’re paying for the chairs, paying for this, and then they go to the artist and they go, “But we’re bringing an audience, so it’s good exposure for you. You should play for free,” but then the question is, does your event happen without music? If you don’t have music, is it the same event?

If the answer is no, then the music goes into the category of renting the venue and renting the caterers. They’re not doing it for exposure so neither is the music. That’s where it goes sort of sideways for me when the service is undervalued, but you can’t get away from the fact that exactly like what you said, me being here, other people being on your podcast. This is exposure, but you would be doing that if your product was coffee or a toothbrush. That’s the nature of business. It’s getting your product out there. It’s getting people to know your name.

I think that because I joke with people being from Canada because it’s freezing in Canada in the winter. It’s like when somebody says to me, “Well, it’s good exposure.” I said, “You know what? Exposure can kill you.” Up here, exposure could kill you. I think people use it as a blanket thing and it shouldn’t be blanket like every situation should be broken down because there is an element of value to be in front of certain audiences, but you can’t take all the value away of what music in certain circumstances is bringing to the table.

The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your Music

Valuing Your Music: There is an element of value to being in front of certain audiences, but you can’t take away all the value of what music brings to the table in certain circumstances.

Yeah, I think artists missed that. You know what I mean? Because they know it’s their music and they know that a lot of times, it’s original music. They’re thinking, “Well, does it have value because people don’t know this music.” I feel sometimes musicians think that in a live situation, covers are more valuable because people know those songs and they might be tapping their toes to them or singing along or whatever and then they devalue their original music.

Of course, it depends on the venue and stuff but yeah, it’s a hard one to value. I also see musicians who forget that all their years of training, practice, and schooling and all that stuff has no value. They’re “I’m going to be here for an hour and a half and therefore, I should charge this much.” It’s you came prepared but with 30 years of preparation for this.

Exactly and even shorter than that. The hour to prep work, practice, planning, travel time, teardown, and setup. You’re right. There’s value to all of that. The original cover conversation comes up a lot for us, too. If somebody’s hiring you as a cover band or a play in a pub you’re providing a music service, you’re providing the service of adding music to the ambiance of those patrons experience. That’s a different thing than selling a ticket to a show with your name on the ticket and you’re drawing people to have the experience of discovering new music.

It’s not that either has less or more value, but you’re selling a different experience. Maybe attaching it to the wider view and not on the songs and the value of the songs. Within the show, we always incorporate cover music in an original show because there’s value to the experience of the show. When I teach it, when I teach performance coaching, I teach it within the concept of it being a conversation with an audience. Your show is a conversation with the audience.

If you compare that to regular conversations in our regular conversations, we will always have a touch point of commonality so even in our conversation, right, we’re both mothers, touch point of commonality. We both work in the music business and touch on points of commonality. A cover song is a touch point of commonality. When they’re put in your set at the right times and places, it’s a way to keep the energy in the connection with the audience intact throughout the design of your set.

Your show is a conversation with the audience. If you compare that to regular conversations, we will always have a touch point of commonality. Share on X

Yeah, I think it’s so important because even when we started talking when you were like, “I had the health crisis,” I was like, “I totally had that.” Immediately, I feel like, “I can talk to this person.” It’s the same thing with I love the idea of the conversation between and that’s that breaking down the fourth wall and all that stuff that we talked about from being on stage. There are so many ways that we can do that and cover songs are one of them. I want to see if you had any more business advice. You have so much experience being an entrepreneur. What are the biggest things that you work with musicians on the business side?

I would say understanding that their business is something they run but also who they are because they are the product, they show themselves, their brand identity. We talk a lot about money management and being realistic and that you don’t need 100% of your income from your art to be valued and a real artist. You are still an artist if 80% of your income comes from working at Kroger’s down the street and 20% comes in from. You’re a smart artist who doesn’t value suffering.

You’re running a business. You are the business. In the business of you, the human, this is how much money you need to make to live. Whatever that number is for you at your lifestyle that you like, driven by your values system, then you break it down. It’s math. How are you going to go get enough money to make that? Where I see artists struggling is like, “Yeah, but if I take the job or the government job or the 9:00 to 5:00 job, then I’m not being true to my vision and true to my dream.” I’m like, “Do you like to eat?” because that’s part of your dream and your vision.

You need to be making money in the reality of the economics of the music business. Even with a fan base, because of the economic structure of streaming being the main way we consume music, you cannot earn a living off your music. Recorded music only. You need multiple spokes. If one of those spokes is working at the grocery store, so be it. It doesn’t mean that you’re selling out or you’re less of an artist. We have a lot of conversationss about the value of it and running a sound business.

Accepting yourself wholly, meeting yourself where you are in this moment, being gentle with yourself, learning about the mechanics of this industry, which takes the stress off you because a lot of people come to me they’re stressed out, but it’s a lot of the time they have a misunderstanding of how things work business concepts that they don’t know yet. They’re feeling stressed and anxious. Knowledge is power, educating. We do a lot of emotional and mental health management stuff because that is what’s going to drive your business. For me, it’s a holistic approach.

It’s what is keeping you up at night we got to deal with that. If we don’t deal with what’s keeping you up at night, you’re not going to be effective in running your business. It’s unique when you, the human, are the product because it becomes all-consuming. My approach is very holistic from a business standpoint, mathematical, and practical. It’s like, “This is how much money you have to invest. This is your cashflow. Okay, we got to deal with the real.”

I’ve had people call me and say, “Somebody, this service wants me to sign up and it’s going to be $1500 a month for this whatever agency work.” I’m like, “How much income is that going to generate for you?” “Well, nothing. It’s going to help me.” I said, “Okay, that’s great. Does your music make more than $1500 a month right now?” “No, my music makes nothing.” “Let’s break down the math. You’re going to spend $1500 a cashflow on something. That’s not going to generate an income and then you still need to come up with more cash to make your music.”

I’m like, “Tell me the part that sounds logical?” I’ve missed the logic of this. When you break it down and you say if you were a hairdresser instead of making music and somebody came to you and said you needed their service, it’s going to be $1500 a month. You would immediately go. This is how many clients I have. This is what it cost and you would know whether you could have afford that or not.

In the music business, it’s the dangling carrot syndrome. What if this is my big break, what if this is my opportunity, and what if I say no to this? I guarantee you that if you choose not to spend that money on whatever agency, it’s not going to close the door on your big break. It should be a mutual trade. Practical things. I’m super practical. I’m like, “Let’s get the emotion out of this and break it down logically.”

I’m glad you said that because so many artists deal with that dangling carrot thing and whoever they are playlists, sluggers, agencies, whatever, they know how to play upon those emotions.

They do. You know what’s so frustrating? There’s nobody inherently evil in the system. Everybody is trying to make a living and they see a possibility to sell the service. There’s nothing inherently wrong with selling a service that you believe in. You think you can deliver, but because artists are conditioned by the messaging that you need to slug it out until somebody with power discovers you, plucks you from the masses and deems you special than everybody else. They’re going to elevate you to start him. We are primed to be waiting constantly for that moment to happen.

That message is reinforced. The voice, the launch, the shot, the one, the song, like all of this messaging of, this you’re going to be discovered by somebody with power. Of course, everybody’s sitting there waiting for somebody to come by and say, “I can make this happen for you.” We’re primed for that moment. It’s about switching that framework and taking your power back. I’m going to look at this like I’m running a business.

If I were running a coffee business, I wouldn’t be making coffee for my family and friends and waiting for Starbucks to discover me because that makes no sense. Essentially, artists are waiting for Starbucks to discover them while they pour coffee for free for their friends and family. It’s about changing the narrative. What’s the business? How do you build the business? Does that service make sense for your business at this moment in time? If it does, great, but it will be clear to you. It will make sense and you won’t feel this dangling care at all this emotional stuff tied up in it the what if. This is my big break. No, we don’t think like that in business. That’s not a thing.

It’s like, “Here’s my advertising budget and can I afford to do that?” I love what you said about if you had to go work a part-time job or whatever. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist or any less of a business. I think about that with myself like I used to do this full-time. At some point after the pandemic, I need to do more music. I need to sing more. I need to get in front of people all that and I took a job as a worship director at my church and then expanded into even more time, but that doesn’t make this any less of a business because I’m doing that.

In fact, I think it makes it better because I’m fulfilling a part of me that was missing. For artists, maybe the part of you that’s missing is not I need to go work as a barista or whatever, but maybe you need social contact and money. It works. It’s a good combo for you. There’s no shade if you want to go wait tables, be a barista, work at a grocery store, or work in a business office like I do. It’s using different parts of your brain, different parts of your talents that maybe aren’t being satisfied by being an artist and there’s nothing wrong with that.

No. There isn’t. It’s actually very smart because one of the things that cover my book is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Your physiological needs need to be met first, that shelter, food, water, breathing, right the basics. If you are stressed about any of those things, you cannot get to the creative. It’s not possible. Your brain is hijacked by physiological and that’s like conceptually in your whole life, but also in a moment. If you’re super hungry right now and sit down to try to co-write with somebody and you’re hungry, you can’t.

You got to go eat a sandwich and then you can write physiological needs first. Accepting that and being gentle with yourself and being like, “Yeah, I need to pay my rent. I need to eat and my own music matters to me and it’s not going to generate enough income for me to do this. I don’t want to be suffering and distracted. I’m going to do what I need to do to make good decisions and lower the stress around that so my music will be better. I’ll have money to make the music that I want to make.” It’s changing the narrative and the framework.

The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your Music

Valuing Your Music: Do what you need to do to make good decisions and lower the stress around that, so your music will be better and you’ll have money to make the music you truly want. It’s all about changing the narrative and framework.

I love that you approach that from Maslow’s hierarchy because that’s true and about the creative side. It’s true. You can’t create when you’re distracted by hunger. There are lots of things I can’t do when I’m hungry because I can’t focus. I always approached it from the money side, like if you are thinking if I don’t get this gig, I won’t be able to pay my rent. You’re not going to approach that in a way that’s going to make someone want to hire you. That desperation is going to be visible and palpable and that’s not going to help you get the gig.

No, it’s going to change the way you do trade. It’s going to affect your ability to trade in a calm, practical, and business manner.

You And The Music Business

You mentioned your book. Could you let our readers and the people that are watching know how they can find your book?

Sure. It’s called YOU and The Music Business: Empowering Independent Artists: A Self-Care Guide to Finding Balance and Joy in ’s Music Industry. You can find it on all of Amazon and you can also go to and you can get it there if you’d. Yes, pretty soon, it will be global as well. Chapter Indigo, those regular. All the places you find books. It’s called You and The Music Business.

The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your Music

You And The Music Business: Empowering Independent Artists: A Self-Care Guide to Finding Balance and Joy in Today’s Music Industry

Awesome. How can they connect with you online?

On socials, it’s @WorkWithTaraShannon. They can go to my site They can also visit and that’s the Grove and that’s where I do my life coaching for artists’ strategic planning. You can sign up for a session right there. Yeah, but on social, you can also message me on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Closing Words

Awesome. Thank you so much, Tara. This has been such a fun conversation. I didn’t know before we started that we had so much in common and so many of the same ideas and philosophies about helping musicians. It’s been a super fun conversation. Thank you so much for sharing with everybody.

Thank you so much for having me and for all the work you do and continuing to send you creative energy to keep it going so that you can keep lifting women up, which is awesome.

Thank you!

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Tara Shannon

The Problem Musician | Tara Shannon | Valuing Your MusicTara Shannon is an award-winning artist and songwriter with over 30 years of experience in music and a successful entrepreneur with decades experience running multi-million dollar companies. She is the founder of Willow Sound Records and The (Gro)ve, personalized artist development to help better understand yourself as a music creator through life coaching, workshops, retreats and music business education. Tara has been a guest speaker at notable events such as the G20 Summit and won awards such as the BMO Award for Women: Community and Charitable Giving.