Musician & Entrepreneur: How to Wear Both Hats and Find Success

“Making music and running an entrepreneurial career are dual roles now required of today’s artists.”

The quote is from an article out of Berklee College of Music. But you don’t need Berklee to tell you that; you’ve likely seen the truth of this statement for yourself.

You’re seeing more and more musicians booking their own gigs, becoming music teachers, running blogs, and even starting their own companies.

But what’s it like behind the scenes? Are they making money? Do they feel like they made the right decision? Are they running themselves ragged?

Photo of Jessica Wilkins
Jessica Wilkins of JDW Sheet Music

We love getting to know the real story behind musicians who pursue both performance and other entrepreneurial projects. That’s why we were so excited to connect with Jessica Wilkins, an oboist and founder of a sheet music company that specializes in arrangements for unique instrumentation, thereby expanding the repertoire for wind players.

Get her take on entrepreneurship, as well as her tips on building an audience so you can decide for yourself if an entrepreneurial career is right for you.

What has surprised you the most about starting your own company?

The one thing that has surprised me the most about starting JDW Sheet Music is the amount of hats you have to wear as the boss of a startup company.

When you’re in the beginning phases of the business you’re in charge of legal, marketing, website maintenance, product development, taxes, and financing. It can be very easy to get overwhelmed but it is important to remain calm and come up with a detailed plan for accomplishing all of your goals.

How did it feel to get your first sale?

In the summer of 2013, I had launched Wilkins Sheet Music (now JDW Sheet Music) as a part-time project. I had made a simple WordPress site and decided to feature only 11 of my pieces.

The night before my official launch I messaged all of my friends about the new site and invited them to like the Facebook page.

The following morning, I had received my first order from Nancy Ambrose King who was going to be my teacher at graduate school. I was shocked and excited for my first order but then I realized I was completely unprepared to ship the product!

Even though I had the pieces printed up I didn’t have any shipping materials, or even know how to properly put together a business receipt. I did manage to ship the order that day and it arrived three days later. So, overall my first order was a success.

What was the hardest part about getting started?

I think the hardest part about starting JDW Sheet Music was figuring out the identity of the business. I always knew that I wanted to sell my own music but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be restricted to just double reeds or all wind instruments.

The first thing I did was research different sheet music publishers and figure out what was missing in the market. I quickly found out that there wasn’t a publisher that specialized in chamber music. So I decided to create a business that specialized in music for wind instruments.

What new skills have you learned through this endeavor?

One of the important skills that I had to learn was how to become a salesperson. I’m naturally a shy person and I consider myself to be an introvert. So when it came time to talk about myself or the business I would tend to get nervous and awkward.

It took awhile to become confident enough in myself to go out and promote the business. But after a couple of tradeshows I started to feel more comfortable with selling and now I look forward to it.

How do you balance running your business with the other things in your career?

Trying to balance JDW Sheet Music with oboe and teaching can sometimes be a challenging task. Some weekends are filled with just oboe activities while others are filled with tradeshows and oboe performances.

The key to staying sane is being organized and making sure to budget enough time for practicing, making reeds and running JDW Sheet Music.

How do you approach marketing and building an audience for your business?

I have found that word-of-mouth marketing and social media are the best tools for my business.

Everybody has a network that can work to their advantage, and for me I have the advantage of knowing a lot of wind players. I make sure to stay in touch with my colleagues from college and various gigs so they are up to date with what’s going on with JDW Sheet Music.

As for social media, I have found that Facebook has worked the best for my business. Facebook allows me to test out new additions to the website and see what’s popular and what’s not.

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