Is your mission statement a mess?

Is your mission statement a mess? Chances are the answer is YES because most musician’s mission statements are dreadful. Whether they’re for our ensembles, organizations, or ourselves, musician’s mission statements tend to be full of hot air, clichés, and sweeping generalizations. A lot of fancy words signifying nothing.

What’s the fallout of having a lousy mission statement?

It’s not just that it’s boring and doesn’t help readers connect with you and your work.

It’s not just that a lousy mission statement makes much of your marketing material ineffective.

The fallout is worse than that.

Having an unfocused mission undermines your own sense of agency.

Most musicians hide behind a false front of ineffective words—hoping it sounds impressive to others—instead of doing what’s harder: getting honest and conveying their real purpose.

Having an unfocused mission statement essentially says to the reader—and to your self—”WHAT I DO DOESN’T REALLY MATTER.”

If we’re not clear about what we do, who we serve, and WHY—then how the hell can we dare to become the artists we are meant to be?

So how do we do better? What’s the solution?

It boils down to being clear about the change we seek to make.

When I work with clients on their bios I often ask a tough question. It’s a favorite from author and marketing expert Seth Godin. I ask, “What’s the change you seek to make?” In other words, “Why do you make music? What’s it FOR?”

And I’m often met with blank or vaguely panicked expressions.

I get it.

We’re not usually asked to think about our work this way. As if it mattered in the larger scheme of things. But think about it.

Why would any of us devote our lives to something if we weren’t in it to make a real difference—to make the world a better place?

To help answer that tough question about the change you seek to make, let’s approach it from another angle. This comes from an earlier post and well worth the re-tread.

Another marketing expert, Terry O’Reilly, in his excellent CBC radio show “Under the Influence” (from the Elevator Pitch episode) says we have to first know what business we’re actually in:

“One of the fundamental aspects of marketing is that a company [think musician here] has to know what business [she / he] is in.

That may sound like a laughable exercise. But it’s not.

Apple is not in the computer business. It is in the empowerment business.

Nike is not in the sneakers business. It is in the personal goals business.

Molson is not in the beer business. It is in the party business.

A company can’t articulate its elevator pitch unless it truly understands what business it is really in.”

How does this apply to musicians?

The idea is to think beyond your immediate “product” and focus on what the product does – on the outcome for the audience.

When you are clear about the need you fill, then your bio, grant proposals, cover letters, booking inquiries, and interviews are all stronger.

Let’s look at some examples.

I’m a big fan of the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth and their bio starts with:

“Roomful of Teeth is a GRAMMY-winning vocal project dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice. Through study with masters from vocal traditions the world over, the eight-voice ensemble continually expands its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an ongoing commissioning process, forges a new repertoire without borders.”

What business are they in? Not simply the music or the “edutainment” business.

No, their business is “mining the expressive potential of the human voice . . . [to help] create a repertoire without borders.”

It’s specific, it’s targeted. They’re not trying to be all things to everybody—because their music isn’t FOR everybody. They’re being honest about what’s driving them. Their bio speaks their truth.

And here’s the opening of the bio of another terrific ensemble, Gutbucket (a version the group used a few years back):

“What happens when you take four highly opinionated, strong-willed and creative composer/musicians and put them in a band together? You might have a volatile problem on your hand…or else you have Gutbucket. The twelve-year-old Brooklyn-based quartet pushes composer-driven, art-rock-tainted chamber jazz into new terrain and boldly proclaims its voice.”

What’s Gutbucket’s business?

To push composer-driven, art-rock-tainted chamber jazz into new terrain. Again, this is specific, focused, clear.

And one more how about this bit of John Hollenbeck‘s bio:

“A drummer and percussionist possessed of a playful versatility and a virtuosic wit. Most of all, a musical thinker – whether putting pen to paper or conjuring spontaneous sound – allergic to repetition, forever seeking to surprise himself and his audiences.”  [italics: my emphasis]

Can you spot John Hollenbeck’s business—his mission? It resonates because his body of work backs this up so it rings true. This isn’t about trying to promote, please, or sell. It’s about coming clean and being real.

What business are YOU really in? Is this clear in your promotional materials?

The idea is to think beyond the immediate product (your music and/or teaching) and focus on what your skills do for your audiences and students. It’s about finding your own truth.

If your answer to the question, Is your mission statement a mess? is a “yes,” there’s more help. Read chapter 5 on conveying your authentic self in the new edition of my book Beyond Talent.

And for more career insights and inspiration, join our supportive community, our FREE Musicians Making It Facebook group. We’d love to have you!

Here’s to your forward motion,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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