The mere mention of a mission statement is enough to make any self-respecting musician run a mile – after all, it’s the stuff of clinical boardrooms. But bear with us a minute. What we’re suggesting here is not some bland, anecdotal business plan. It’s not even a bullet-point list of goals like “open Glastonbury by 2021” scrawled on a rehearsal room napkin. It’s a refinement of your creative vision, a honing of who you are as an artist – and it’s a vital step towards guiding your artistic vision, not constraining it.
Bree Noble talks about the need to articulate your purpose as a musician. And this has to be something more specific than “have a full-time career in music”. It’s got to be personal, specific, and motivating.
But why does a musician need a mission statement? Because of three words: first, best and different. A wise old music exec once told us that the key to cut-through in the music industry is to either be an innovator, the best in the business, or to have a point of difference. Considering questions like these is the first step towards defining the kind of artist you want to be, and that kind of focus can not only solidify your vision and values, but become “the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”
As Jennifer Rosenfeld puts it, your mission statement helps you articulate your uniqueness as an artist, choose the right opportunities, and perhaps more importantly, know which opportunities to not pursue. Your mission statement becomes your yardstick, the exemplar to which you compare yourself (which is a truer comparison to comparing yourself to other artists). It’s the essence of who you are as an artist, who you want your art to speak to, and the kind of impression you want to leave on the world.
When we work with artists to articulate a sense of mission, we’ll usually start with a bunch of guiding questions. Try answering the questions below and see if you can find some building blocks for your own mission statement. Be as specific as you can, realizing that a mission statement is designed to be as unique as your talent.
- Do you aspire to be first, best, or different?
- Who is your tribe? Who are you making music for?
- What is your message?
- What do you want people to feel when they hear your music?
- Why do you do this?
- What are you not?
- What does music mean to you?
- What does success look like to you?
Once you’ve completed these questions, you want to try and distill the information into a short statement, only a few lines at best. This will become your guiding light going forward – no doubt it will evolve over time, but at least you have a compass to begin with.
Hopefully you’ll find yourself able to echo the words of Mohammed Ali: “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”