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BLOG: Finding Success in the Music Business – Part 2

By April 15, 2015February 15th, 2016Blog

Click here to read Part 1 of Finding Success in the Music Business. 

2. Celebrate Your Individuality

In East Nashville we have 5 independent coffee shops and not a single Starbucks. In fact, every time a rumor starts about the possibility that Big Coffee is planning to move into our hood people freak out. And each of the indies over here is different. There is Barista Parlor with the highest of the high-end experience (they had $100 baseball caps last year.) There’s Ugly Mugs with its urban style and neighborhood vibe. Bongo Java is the sort of Varsity level shop having been in our neighborhood the longest. Portland Brew plays vinyl records for overhead music and has a massive family room on the second floor. Sip just moved to an old bank building in a very unglamorous part of Gallatin Road. We’re all pulling for them.

Starbucks is the same everywhere. That’s one of its core strengths. Consistency is a critical component of industrialism. They want your latte to taste the same from Boston to San Francisco. It costs a lot of money to create that level of consistency, and it’s an impressive thing to see. But it’s not the only way to be successful. Each of the five shops in my neighborhood is unique and I support them all. It is their uniqueness, combined with a level of excellence that is extremely rare (maybe impossible) to find in a major franchise, that draws us to them. We don’t want Barista Parlor to be more like Starbucks. God forbid!

And you know what? Once upon a time Starbucks was a left-of-center outlier making coffee that diner drinkers couldn’t possibly understand. Kirk Franklin was creating music that definitely rocked the Gospel boat. Chris Tomlin was singing worship songs for college students. The great artists didn’t find success by mimicking other successes.

So, which are you? Are you looking at the charts and trying to see yourself alongside the major hit-makers? Are you listening to the songs being sung in all of the churches and trying to write your own versions of them? Or are you blazing your own unique creative path? Are you the funky new shop on the corner with lots of personality and the ability to actually know all of your customers, or are you impersonating a corporate behemoth? It’s awesome to be small. You can super-serve your customers. You can zig when the rest of the culture zags. You can experiment and fail and dream and improve. Be a musical boutique, not a kiosk at a dying mall. Create a space that is warm and fragrant and comfortable – or edgy and confrontational and hip. Just don’t be another Starbucks. We have more than enough of those already.

3. Know What Success Looks Like For YOU

If Jared, the owner of Ugly Mugs, looked at his monthly numbers and compared them to the P&L of a Starbucks franchise with a robotic drive through and national branding, he might feel like a failure. But, if he was to step away from the spreadsheets and walk out into his shop and see every seat occupied by folks from the neighborhood talking, working, and dreaming together, do you think he’d feel like a failure? Sure, the rent has to be paid. Jared is a smart manager. He is thoughtful about what he spends and how he grows. But his definition of success is personal. It is between him, his wife, his staff, and God.

I’ll talk a lot about this when we are together in June because I truly believe that a corrupted concept of success is absolute cancer to your creative and spiritual health. Beware of the soulless arbiters of success; those monsters that conflate profits with purpose and fame with impact. Craft your own definition of success and then get busy bringing it into being.

These are the kinds of things I explore in my book, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate; Crafting a Hand Made Faith in a Mass Market World. When I look at the “third wave” coffee renaissance, a boutique chocolatier, house concerts, or the return of the local farmer, I am profoundly encouraged. More and more people are rejected the values of the industrial revolution; things like scale and homogeneity and cheapness in their food, their relationships, their art, and their faith. Although the factories might be nervous, for people like you and me this is very good news.


John J. Thompson is a 25-year music industry veteran, author, songwriter, artist, producer and teacher who currently serves as Creative Director at Capitol CMG Publishing and leads a small group ministry out of his Nashville home. He spends his days serving a roster of Gospel songwriters that includes Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond, Aaron Lindsey, Anita Wilson, Tasha Cobbs and many others, and regularly provides Music Supervision services to faith-based films such as 2013’s Grace Unplugged and 2014’s 23 Blast. His abiding passions for authentic, spiritually alive art, transformative community, innovative business practices, artisanal living, and home roasted coffee are explored in a forthcoming book entitled Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate; Crafting a Hand Made Faith in a Mass Market World (Zondervan / Harper Collins April 2015) and can be found throughout his professional, creative and ministry-oriented career. Twitter: @JohnJThompson

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