Six Keys to Success for Women Musicians


Music editor Marcia Dunscomb’s note: Joan Cartwright, PhD, is an internationally renowned jazz vocalist, composer, author, promoter, and entrepreneur. While this article was written specifically for female jazz musicians, female musicians of every genre will learn the benefits of adding business skills to their toolbox.  Additionally, the information will benefit visual artists and authors.


By Joan Cartwright, PhD

I founded Women in Jazz South Florida, Inc. (WIJSF) in March 2007, after 40 years of performance with hundreds of musicians worldwide. I observed that women musicians are severely marginalized in the male-dominated music industry. During six years of research for my dissertation, I determined that women could succeed by using six essential business skills: branding, marketing, networking, teamwork, negotiating, and accounting.

Branding: Create an Identity

Joan Cartwright portrait
Joan Cartwright

Branding is an important skill for musicians to embrace. Strong corporate identity assures a competitive edge. A musician’s most valuable asset is a recognizable brand that consumers trust and desire.

The brand symbolizes values and activities, not just the product. Strong brands generate growth, profitability, and consumer loyalty. Musicians can grow their fan base with brand recognition.

A brand is a bundle of benefits that distinguishes an individual from competitors. Branding includes a logo, packaging, and performance characteristics. Successful musical entrepreneurs are brands. Musicians are branded as solo artists or as a group, performing in a specific genre — jazz, bluegrass, or heavy metal. Crossover musicians risk blurring their brand, but crossing over expands your audience. Successful musicians use insightful corporate branding.

Example: The artist’s photograph is the easiest identifier.

Marketing: Sell Yourself

Employing an agent to market an artist or band can be painful. The history of the music industry has too many horror stories of agents stealing earnings, killing careers, and sidelining acts. Companies seeking to brand themselves, however, need a brand manager and skilled individuals to create, develop, and manage images that attract consumers.

A good music agent manages the artist’s brand and ushers the artist into venues that are beneficial to a successful career. A bad agent wants to get paid for doing nothing. Often, it’s easier to find work than to find an effective agent.

Music service providers can affect record sales by pricing the CD competitively with other artists. A CD’s price should be affordable and consistent with other CDs in the genre. While discounts generate strong sales bumps in the short run, they have adverse effects on strategic long-term marketing. Undercutting the price of a musical product or performance devalues the product and the musicians.

Some music service providers think bad press is better than no press. Musicians gain notoriety from misdemeanors, but a favorable image in the public’s eye is advisable and commendable.

Example: Your CD cover is a form of advertisement.

Networking: Work Together with Colleagues

Aside from branding and advertising, artists are visible when they network and collaborate with high-profile celebrities and music management experts. Networking is advantageous when you’re looking for touring opportunities.

Performance opportunities increase when you tap into multiple business opportunities through networking and teamwork with professionals in other fields. Travel and tourism require entertainment and background music that jazz musicians can provide, if the staff of a travel company is familiar with their music. Companies look for holiday gifts for their clients — and CDs, books, and T-shirts are products that women musicians can invest in to promote themselves.

Example: A catering company purchased 500 CDs from WIJSF as holiday gifts for their clients. The only requirement was for the company’s logo to be placed on the CDs. This transaction garnered income and introduced WIJSF and 10 women composers to 500 new people.

Teamwork: Help Colleagues with Their Projects

Another important activity of entrepreneurs is developing a team. It’s imperative to determine which individuals work comfortably with women musicians.

Musicians must balance the dichotomy of collaboration and competition. Teamwork is an important part of collaborating. Every band is a team, including many outside the ensemble, like website and graphic designers, social media experts, radio personalities, cultural journalists, and event planners.

Often, in-kind exchanges come into play. A website or graphic designer may provide service in exchange for concert tickets or logo placement on your website, CD cover, or concert poster. A large part of the music industry is marketing CDs with attractive artwork. Building a team to promote you in print and on social media is productive, lucrative, and valuable.

Negotiating: Know Your Value

Since the turn of the century, women have been more visible on the jazz scene. Yet, the male-dominated environment remains challenging for women who fail to educate themselves about the business of music. Everyone who embraces music as a career should know and use business skills. Women musicians, especially in jazz, have not been properly educated in the business of music.

You can develop the necessary business skills to succeed and tap into the $19 billion music industry in the world. One study indicated that the marginalization of women jazz composers and instrumentalists occurs because they lack strong negotiating skills.

In her 2010 TED talk, “Why we have too few women leaders,” Sheryl Sandberg said women don’t negotiate for themselves in the workforce. A recent study of people entering the workforce out of college showed that 57 percent of men negotiate their first salary, but only 7 percent of women do.

According to a survey in the UK, women make up 32.2% of music-industry-related jobs, but earn less, give up their careers sooner, and experience more barriers to progression than their male counterparts. For many women, the calling to be a musician is a miracle that few experience; therefore, they feel that time spent developing their talent outweighs the rewards. Women must learn to ask for appropriate compensation.

Women who pursue careers in jazz may travel or live away from home. Musicianship is a balancing act that takes know-how, determination, and perseverance. As in any other profession, there are tricks to the trade that successful women have mastered. The successful musical entrepreneur needs business acumen. The question to consider is: How do women musicians acquire business skills?

Accounting: Know Where You Stand

Entrepreneurs in all fields need to understand business finance, accounting, and financial management. Today’s entrepreneurs face additional challenges and opportunities due to international competition and the potential of the internet to connect regions and ethnic groups.

Musicians can improve their business performance and compete in the global market. Travel abroad is a plus for women musicians because it builds name recognition back home. Seeking and negotiating performance contracts abroad was the boon of male jazz musicians for over a century. Aggressive global promotion should be at the top of the list for women musicians.

A lucrative means of earning for musicians is grants from municipal, county, and state cultural divisions. Learn to draft grant proposals. Grant writing requires you to identify a target market, create a program for that market, draft a budget, execute contracts, schedule performances, publicize activities, lead rehearsals and performances, and keep accurate financial records.


For more information, see Joan Cartwright’s “Women in Jazz: Music Publishing and Marketing,” available at