When we were at the very beginning of our iCadenza journey, we had the pleasure of meeting Matt Sandler through a mutual friend and mentor, when he was just starting Chromatik. Over the years, we’ve marveled at the incredible success of Chromatik and have been grateful to Matt for his friendship and support. As a bold entrepreneur with a clear vision, he offers a valuable perspective on what it takes to succeed in running a creatively-driven business.
Chromatik, which has been referred to by some as the “Spotify of sheet music,” allows musicians to learn, play, and share music online.
Founder Matt Sandler launched it back in 2011. Since then, it has been used by American Idol, Bruno Mars, UCLA, and individual musicians around the world.
Recently, Sandler recently spoke with iCadenza about his career path and provided some tips on how to be more entrepreneurial in your arts career.
A Big Idea
Tell us a little bit about how Chromatik came to be.
Although I love music and I still practice every day, I had little intention of becoming a professional musician. Instead, I wanted to empower musicians and pursue a career in the field I loved. That’s how Chromatik was born.
If you’re interested in starting your own company — or you’d like to take a more entrepreneurial approach to your art — there are a few tips based on what I have learned firsthand throughout my entrepreneurial career.
Tip #1 Solve a Problem You’re Passionate About
What inspired you to take the leap and start Chromatik?
Chromatik was the first startup that I pursued, and I started it because I was interested in solving a problem for musicians.
Why musicians? Because I know musicians really well — and I happen to be one of them. These are my people. This is who I love and think about all the time.
Instead of coming up with 100 ideas for a company and picking one that sounded great, I pursued something that mattered to me.
I noticed my friends wanted to play more music but they were struggling to find sheet music. Chromatik offers musicians a full digital catalog of free sheet music, so they can practice, perform, and share the music they love – through any mobile device.
It’s important to do something you’re passionate about because running a startup is hard! You’ll soon realize that anyone who pursues an entrepreneurial career is motivated by impact, community, and what they can do for the world.
We’re all struggling for relevance.
Tip #2 Remember That People Are Everything
Do you have a “secret ingredient” for running a successful business?
You can’t build something as massive as Chromatik without having wildly talented people around you. Your team and the relationships you develop are key. Everything you create is built on trust, relationships, and the talents of others.
It can be easy to succumb to “hero syndrome” but nobody can really do everything themselves.
I don’t claim to have exceptional business talent. When I first started out, I knew nothing about management, sales, or technology. (And even if you think you know, you quickly realize there are smarter people than you.)
If you focus on one thing and one thing alone, it’s all about people. Hands down.
Tip #3 Make Your Own Luck
You mentioned that running a startup is hard. What kept you at it?
I always come back to the idea that I’m in an extremely fortunate and exciting position because I get to think about music and musicians every day. Some might call me “lucky.” It reminds me of a quote I heard awhile back, “Luck is when hard work meets opportunity.”
You work as hard as you can and some people consider it luck when things work out. But it’s all about how many shots on goal you have. You have to be willing to put in the time and energy.
Tip #4 Talk to As Many People As Possible
What advice do you have for students or young professionals who are trying to find their career direction?
When you are evaluating career paths, I recommend you ask people questions.
If you’re in school, you have an inherent advantage over everyone else in the universe because you have a great excuse to talk to people. This is because you’re searching — and everyone sees a little bit of themselves in that position.
We all had an abyss of career choices and ambiguity to deal with so we’re empathetic. I got my first job because someone put me in touch with someone else. (It all comes back to people.)
And remember, a job that sounds great on paper might be completely different in reality. So it’s important to understand what the day-to-day reality looks like.
Talk to people in the specific job you’re interested in, and be open to their insights.
Ask questions like, “What are you actually doing every day?” and, “What are you working on?”
The goal is to go into your career with your eyes wide open.
Matt Sandler is a musician, entrepreneur, and founder of Chromatik, which was named one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 100 Brilliant Companies.” Matt is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer at universities around the US, notably Stanford and UCLA. He has been featured in Forbes, Billboard, TechCrunch, Hypebot, the LA Business Journal’s “Top 20 in Their 20s” and Business Insider’s “Top 30 People to Watch in Tech.” Prior to Chromatik, Matt was a professional saxophonist and held A&R/Programming roles at KROQ 106.7FM and Capitol Records. Matt received his BA in Music Performance from UCLA and was named a CA Distinguished Arts Scholar.