6 Business Lessons Walter White Can Teach Independent Musicians

**************Spoiler Alert – If the final episode of Breaking Bad is still on your Tivo, you might not want to read this****************

The business of creating musicIt’s only been two weeks and I already miss Walter White deeply. I can’t understand why he affects me so, but the image of him fondly gazing at shiny meth lab equipment in his final moments still sends chills through me.

The final scene proves what I always suspected – Walter White was an artist. Cooking meth was his muse and she made him feel alive. But unfortunately, like many artists, he loved the process and creating far more than the business side of art. In the end his business missteps not only took his art; they took his life.

Through the years we watched Mr. White learn many business lessons the hard way as he morphed from meek chemistry teacher to international drug-lord. In his memory I’ve assembled six things Walter White did (Walter White Win –WWW) and didn’t (Walter White Fail – WWF) learn about the business side of his art.

Networking for musicians Build a network of good people (WWF)

Walter got half of this equation right. He did an excellent job of building a network of people who helped him build his business. It’s possible to connect the dots of people who helped him along the way; starting with Jesse Pinkman and ending with Uncle Jack.

Walter was excellent at asking the current people in his life if they knew anyone who could do whatever it was he needed that week. He was also excellent at understanding how each person’s unique skill fit into his business.

You should be asking associates as well. Ask your friends who they know. Let them know what type of person you need to meet to improve your network. “I’m looking for a producer” or “Do you know any good booking agents?”

It was ultimately Walt’s relationship with attorney Saul Goodman that led to catapulting his meth empire. Saul is what I like to refer to as a connector. He may not know everyone intimately, but he always “has a guy.” He’s a great type of person to know if you want to expand your circle.

Unfortunately for him, Walter missed the ‘good people’ part of this formula; maybe it was because he was too busy using people. But for whatever reason, Walter never was able to see how people had their own conflicting agendas. I think his rush to get to the top got in the way of good judgment.

Of course, in his business, Walt wasn’t able to use a contract to solidify any of the agreements he made. But maybe you should think that way as well. Ask yourself “would I trust this person if we DIDN’T have a contract?” Don’t let contracts override good sense.

Make good music+ Make good shit (WWW)

Walter and Jesse got this one right on the money! Walt’s obsession with science and his uptight nature led to making the best art (meth) available.

Their customers loved their stuff! Walter (Heisenberg) had a reputation for making the best meth in the Southwest. Because of this he created a following of loyal customers/fans.

Walter understood the importance of having a reputation for making good shit. The few times when things didn’t go right in the kitchen he wouldn’t let Jesse sell a half-assed product. His customers deserved better.

Tracking their progress pushed Walt and Jesse to make improvements and set goals. Remember their detailed notes of each batch? They always knew what they had tried and why it did or didn’t work. That batch was 92% pure, that batch produced 50 kilos, etc.

Getting a reputation for not being professional or for phoning in a live performance will kill your business. Setting goals will help you improve each performance or recording. Always look for opportunities to improve your past efforts.

Above all, there’s no better marketing than having a great product! No amount of money or hype will make up for the fact that the music sucks or is recorded poorly.

hiring a music managerDon’t abdicate your career (WWF)

While Walter was making an awesome product, he had no idea how to market or sell it. For this he was forced to rely on others such as Jesse or the Chicken Man. Actually, he wasn’t forced. He CHOSE to rely on others and that was his mistake. In the end this caused him to make poor decisions and to trust the wrong people.

It’s one thing to hire others to manage areas of your career where you don’t want to handle every detail. It’s actually a good thing. You don’t have unlimited time. You need to focus on what you’re best at – making music.

The problem comes when you don’t pay attention or care about what these trusted advisors are doing. This is called abdicating your responsibility or sticking your head in the sand. It’s how so many high-profile artists end up owing the IRS millions of dollars; because they didn’t take the time to learn about all aspects of their career.

unique selling propostition+ Have a unique selling proposition (WWW)

What color was Heisenberg’s meth? BLUE! In a world filled with choices for addicts to buy methamphetamines, Walter stumbled on a way to stand out. He made a blue product.

His customers/fans instantly knew his product from the next. This gave him a USP or Unique Selling Proposition. FedEx had “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Burger King had “have it your way.”

What is your unique selling proposition? How do your fans identify with you? The world is filled with musicians and bands. You need something to make you stand out and to let your fans connect in a unique way. An off-the-wall example in music is The Naked Cowboy. Who knows if his music is any good? But you instantly know and remember him.

Think of your favorite band/artist. What sets them apart from other acts in their genre? Chances are that’s their USP.

setting goals in music Know yourself (WWF)

In the end Walter got this right, but by then it was too late. I think staying in the New Hampshire cabin gave him time to stop and assess. He was able to work things through in his mind and come to understand his true motivations, strengths and weaknesses.

My favorite line in the final episode is “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.” It proves to me that Walter had finally come to terms with his real goal – to feel alive.

What is your real goal? Why do you make music? It’s important to come to understand your motivations in life. If you don’t have a clear understanding of why you’re doing music then you’ll never be happy doing it.

Beyond goals you also should have an honest understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Insisting you’re an amazing singer when your real gift is songwriting will lead you down a path of disappointment. Be honest with yourself.

Love what you do as a musician+ Love what you do (WWW)

Walter White found his true calling in life. He loved the art of making meth.

It was his love of the process and creating meth that allowed him to make such an awesome product. Each time he cooked he gave it everything he had because it was his true joy. His customers probably couldn’t articulate it, but they subconsciously knew whoever was making their stash was following their true calling.

Can your fans say the same about you? Does your love for creating music show in everything you do? We all have a BS meter and can tell when someone is phoning it in or doing it for all the wrong reasons.

As Baby Blue played (love that song!) and the camera panned away from Walter’s dying face I could feel the love he had for his art. It was in his eyes. He was truly happy. We should all feel that way about what we do.


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