13 Principles Artists Can Learn From Startups

A framework for beginning. Plus, a producer chatbot & more.

Welcome, artists & builders.

Each week, I cover tools & strategies to form better audiences. Today, I bring some start-up thinking into artist strategy.

Inside Edition #10

  • 💡 Context: What artists can learn from start-ups

  • 🗒️ Numbers: Spotify 410, Apple 0

  • 🛠️ Tools: Your very own producer chatbot

  • 🗞️ What You Missed: Artist tools, web3 & AI

13 Principles Artists Can Learn From Startups

Artists are much like start-ups. Yet, we rarely explore how startup concepts can guide artists in their early career stages.

I’ve created 13 principles, drawing from startup methodologies, now customized for the artist’s journey.

Let’s have at it.

1. Do Things That Don’t Scale

Build from 1 fan up. Resist the urge to chase virality. Instead, engage directly & manually. Discover who you are as an artist & what resonates deeply. The strategy that lands your first 1,000 fans will differ from the one that propels you to 100,000. This non-scalable phase sets a foundation, so when your viral moments come, those fans stay for keeps.

2. Build a Brand, Not a Product

Your songs are the products. Your brand is the sound, personality & aesthetic connecting them together & setting you apart. Everything you do should be an extension of the world you’re creating.

3. Data is Everything

The most valuable thing to own is the relationship. This is how you turn 1 interaction into something bigger. Use every tactic to uncover fan data, as early as possible. An email is worth 1,000 streams.

4. Measure What Matters

Measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it. Whatever you see daily, that’s where your efforts go. In music, vanity metrics are in your face: streams, likes, monthly listeners. But are those the indicators of your goals? Do they tell you if you’re creating fans or value?

You build for what you measure. Choose your metrics wisely.

5. Understand the Lifetime Value of a Fan

Start-ups use holistic customer-centric stats like Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) as north-star metrics. Artists can use fan-centric stats like Fan Lifetime Value (FLV) to understand their audience segments. Once you understand what each fan type means to you, you can better assess costs & strategies to acquire, keep & deliver for the shape of your audience.

6. Offer Surprisingly Good Fan Engagement

Go above & beyond in engaging with your fans. Personalize interactions & make your fans feel valued, creating experiences they’ll not easily forget.

7. Better To Make a Few Fans Love You Than a Lot Just Like You

This is how you know if you have something real & sustainable. Build on love, not like. Craft a distinct brand & be boldly, authentically you. Your uniqueness is your niche in a diversified attention economy. Embrace it. You can always scale fans on top of superfandom, but it’s hard to do it the other way around.

8. Pick a Good Team, Then Trust Them

The success of an artist is almost always a function of its team. It starts with the artist, but your team helps you reach your full potential…or holds you back. Find people you align with strategically & ethically, empower them with trust & you will force-multiply each other. Respect the shared challenge & lack of resources. Build positively together.

9. Spend Little

Most artists believe if only they had larger budgets, everything would be different. Those days are gone. Be cheap. Keep surviving. Keep iterating. Money rarely starts the fire. It puts gasoline on it. Start the fire first.

10. Aim for “Ramen Profitable”

Strive to earn enough to cover your living expenses. This changes your relationship with labels or other partners & lets you focus solely on your career without distractions.

11. Recurring Revenue is King

Embrace subscription revenue. More than just financial stability, it cultivates enduring fan relationships, turning listeners into a supportive community bonded by your art. It also makes metrics like Fan Lifetime Value easier to measure. And increases them.

12. Expect Deals to Fall Through

Not all opportunities will come to fruition. Learn to move forward without letting failed deals affect your morale or your momentum. Deals don’t define success.

13. Be Good To People

This is not typical start-up advice, but it’s one artists should bear. Be good to people along your journey. It’s a small world & you never know where you’ll meet someone again. A good reputation has compounding effects.

If I could only keep one?

Build a brand, not a product. Once you know your universe, everything flows from here. Your songs, marketing, lyrics, performances, artwork — everything you do echoes your identity & acts as a magnet drawing people deeper into your world. Without a clear vision, your flywheel won’t work.

Start there.


This is heavily inspired by Paul Graham’s “Startups in 13 Sentences”.


Your Personal Producer Chatbot

The first producer to be transformed into an AI?

Plug-in developer Algonaut introduces Cosm Bot, an AI chatbot expert in music production trained on a thousand hours of tutorials by producer-educator Tom Cosm.

“I’m here 24/7 to answer your questions on audio production, DJing, or whatever is on your mind.”

Ask a question → get a concise answer in seconds.

  • What are some essential plugins?

  • How do you approach mixing & mastering?

  • How do you stay motivated & avoid creative burnout?

What I Like: Answers come with reference videos supporting them. Each clickable to the moment of relevant advice. This is massively helpful for going deeper & using AI as a starting point to dive into one expert's knowledge base.

🧠 Use AI to optimize, personalize & scale, but feed back to the originator.


Tracks with 1 Billion Streams

Spotify: 410
Apple: 0

Ed Sheerhan’s “Shape of You” will become Apple’s 1st track to hit 1B in the next few weeks. It has 3.5B streams on Spotify.

Spotify has ~5x more subscribers than Apple. But Apple has no free tier. 60% of Spotify subs are free.

If we estimated 40% paid for “Shape of You”, that’s 1.4B paid streams at Spotify vs. nearly 1B at Apple. Much closer.


Decent Introduce The Box

One-click checkout for any NFT. Across chains. With any token.

Currently, transacting across chains requires multiple extra steps, including exchanging currency. It’s all messy & a non-starter to deliver this experience to fans. Handling this all in the background, the Box enables:

  1. Lower fees

  2. Faster checkout

  3. More intuitive user experience

Why does it matter? This is a step towards putting more interactions with fans on chain. In the background as infrastructure to support better data-ownership & reward systems.

⚒️ Artist Tools
  • Pressly is your replacement for CDBaby physical distro

  • Audiomack launches Promote feature

  • TIDAL launches Artist Home: profile mgmt hub for artists

  • Distrokid adds iPhone app

🤖 Music x AI
  • Mirage FM: The 1st album made entirely from text-to-audio AI samples

  • Kits develops Personal Until Proven Otherwise AI voice license & drops 1st model with TK

  • Mixboard lets newbies mashup their favorite tracks, dragging from Spotify

  • Delphos drops fully generative jazz sessions

  • Survey shows love/hate relationship music producers have with AI

  • AI and Music-Making Part 1: Expansive piece from Ableton

🤝 Web3

That’s all this week. See you on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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