This article was published in the Southeast Michigan Flute Association Newsletter on October 20th, 2017. This article discusses Entrepreneurship in the Music Industry and features an interview with Andrea Fisher, founder of Fluter Scooter.
Throughout my studies in the Bowling Green State University Entrepreneurship program, I have noticed so many parallels between musicians and entrepreneurs. I believe that all musicians must possess entrepreneurial skills in order to be successful in their careers, whether they are consciously using them or not. Professional musicians are expected to be proficient in a variety of different music-related fields. They can teach, perform, hold administrative positions in music organizations and ensembles, serve as board members of musical committees, judge competitions, do research within the music industry, create their own businesses, work in the instrument manufacturing industry, and so much more as a part of their careers. These multi-faceted careers that professional musicians pursue on a daily basis turns them into well-rounded and highly employable people who essentially work as their own bosses. While musicians are likely to be employed by a professional symphony orchestra, a music company, a school, or another professional ensemble at some point in their career, they are also expected to be promoting themselves and their music independently.
Something I have been very interested in lately is learning about people who have created a brand for themselves within the music industry. I have learned in my entrepreneurship classes that it is very important to differentiate yourself and create your own personal brand that represents what you do and what you are passionate about. A brand doesn't necessarily have to be a business you create. Developing a brand can be as simple as creating a personal website demonstrating your philosophies on music and on teaching, and then promoting yourself through this website and on any supplemental social media accounts you may create. Since there are many musicians in this world, it is important to figure out what makes you stand out as an artist and to embrace that element.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Andrea Fisher - the woman behind the incredibly successful Fluter Scooter brand - to speak on her development as an entrepreneur within the flute community and to give advice to budding entrepreneurs looking to get started in the music industry:
1) How did you get started with the creation of Fluter Scooter, and what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
A: I always wanted a cute and stylish flute bag for myself, since I was a bit embarrassed carrying the standard black case cover into sessions and gigs, and on the streets of NYC. I wanted something more like a designer handbag, so I wouldn't look as nerdy. After graduating from Juilliard and living in New York, it was difficult to make a living only on the occasional music gigs. Entrepreneurship and starting a business had never crossed my mind while I was a student, and at that time, schools weren't offering programs as many do now. I had a fashion designer friend make a sample flute bag just for me (metallic silver), and when I wore it to the New York Flute Fair, some high school students stopped me and asked where they could buy one like mine. After lots of market research, and trial and error, the business was launched in early 2011. At the time, I really didn't know where this would end up, and if it would even catch on, as marketing back in 2011 was a lot different than it is now. It was probably in 2014, where I really saw that the business could be viable (as social media was getting much bigger at that time, it definitely helped with getting more sales and dealers!)
2) Were there any hardships you had to face during the creation of your brand and business? If so, what were they and how did you work to overcome them?
A: Of course! If anyone says they don't have any hardships starting a business, then they are lying. The first 100 bags I ever ordered (that was my factory minimum order requirement) were way too small to fit the flute case. And it took over 6 months of waiting just to get the order. Imagine waiting that long and realizing that you can't sell any of them, and having to go back to the drawing board! After that, I found a much better factory, and they have been my factory ever since. One year, when I was still doing my own website, I made some huge errors inputing products around Black Friday (the busiest sales weekend), and sent out a newsletter, not realizing I had mistakenly erased all the products, and no one could purchase anything. After that, I realized I needed to hire a real web designer. In the beginning, with any business, you want to do everything yourself, to save on costs, but sometimes there are things that are much better handled by a professional.
3) How do you balance a multi-faceted career as a professional flutist and as the founder of Fluter Scooter?
A: This is something that is different every day. It really depends what I'm working on. For example, I just did another flute and organ performance, which took a TON of practicing...getting the flute to balance with only the left hand, and then the coordination of the keyboard and pedals along with the flute. I put it together in just a little over 2 weeks, but those 2 weeks were mostly dedicated to that performance. However, I timed it that way because generally October is a slower month for business. I often do festivals where I both perform and exhibit, which is sometimes difficult because I always want to be at the booth since I'm the only one who really knows the brand and can explain and answer questions from customers. Right now, I'm starting to ramp up for the holiday season and for my first Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, where I have a booth and will be focusing on my Campus Collection and networking with band directors and the band community, which is different than my usual network of flutists, flute clubs, and flute festivals. I'm always expanding the brand, and now I'm doing manufacturing for flute companies as well (you may have seen the new Powell leather case covers and tote bags at NFA). 2018 will be busy for both performing and the business, as I'm making my Korean debut at the Gonjiam Music Festival, and then concerts and masterclasses in China. I will be a Guest Artist at the Texas Flute Society Festival and Iowa Flute Intensive, and various universities. And then there's The Flute View magazine, and all of the work that entails, but we can save that for another interview!
4) What advice would you give to musicians looking to create their own brands and become entrepreneurs within the flute community?
A: First, you have to have a clear idea of your vision and what steps you need to get there. Know your audience. Don't ever doubt yourself, and understand that starting a business takes time. Network with everyone as much as possible (not just flutists and other musicians...you never know what connections others may have). Don't expect to make money right away, but expect to work harder than you ever had at anything. What people might not realize about having your own business versus working for someone else is that with your own business, it is 24/7. It doesn't stop. I answer questions from customers and dealers at all hours, as good customer service is essential. I work on weekends, on holidays, etc...but I really love what I do, so it never feels like "work." The flute community is a niche market, but one that is open to new ideas and supporting their community, so I am hopeful more flutists will get on the entrepreneurial track. And, if you're a student, definitely take advantage of Entrepreneurship classes if they are offered at your school. And if you have any specific questions, I am available for coachings through Skype!
By: Francesca Leo