Surviving a Recession as a Musician

Kanon Kulpa recently published a post on Branding During a Recession. After discussions with fellow musicians, I’ve been thinking about how musicians are impacted by an economic slowdown.

As prices rise and incomes are stretched, entertainment is one of the early casualties of cutbacks. As Kanon mentioned in his article, people do not necessarily eliminate entertainment, they tend to look for lower cost alternatives. For example, it is a lot less expensive to grab a 12-pack and have a house party than hit the clubs.

For entertainers and venue owners, this can be a problem. As bar revenue decreases, owners and managers are forced to look at their expenditures and ask the question: Does providing music continue to generate revenue, or is it an expense that can be cut?
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Brand Building During A Recession

[Editors Note: Kanon Kulpa and I have been ‘marketing geeks’ and friends for years. We chat often about the ever changing world of marketing and the impact economics and technology have on the marketing landscape. – Jim]

Times are tough right now and it’s a normal reaction for businesses to initiate cutbacks during these trying times. Heck, I’ve cut back on drinking less milk and juice and drink more water from the tap, sold my gas guzzling truck to buy a more fuel efficient car and started a garden to grow my own vegetables. If you look at what I just said you’ll notice I made cutbacks on certain things like what I drink, what I drive and how I get my food, but what I haven’t done is give up on them entirely. I still drink juice and milk, I still drive a car that needs gas to go and I’m still eating my vegetables. In short, I’ve simply adapted my lively hood to overcome the burden of higher prices.

This same concept rings true for branding or marketing your business during tough economic times. It’s not healthy for me to give up on drinking milk or eating vegetables and it’s not healthy for your business to give up on advertising your brand to your consumers or target audience.

During the late 1980s to early 1990s, the United States went through a recessionary period which was peaked by the start of the Gulf War in 1990. During this time, many businesses started thinking about cutbacks with hopes of weathering this recession. The first item on the budget-cut list was spending for marketing/advertising. Many companies all but eliminated their spending on advertising to the point that they seemed almost nonexistent.


During this time, I was employed as a Graphic Designer for a small ad agency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The agency’s biggest concern was that clients were pulling back from their advertising plans causing the agency itself to fall short on profits and have to possibly enforce layoffs, but the agency owner had a plan. It was time to re-educate our clients on the importance maintaining their visibility in during these weak economic times. After countless meetings with clients, about two-thirds of our clients heeded the message and decided to take steps to build their brand in the marketplace when all of there competitors were in lock-down mode.

Two months after meeting with clients, they began to see payoffs in the form of increased sales. These sales were tracked directly back to our clients’ various marketing strategies that literally catapulted them to the top of their respective markets. It made that small ad agency look larger than life in the eyes of their clients, but what it really was was common sense that was worth repeating.

So remember that when times get tough, it’s also time to toughen up your brand. Let your consumers know that you’re a pillar of strength in the market, that you’re company is designed to handle adversity and that you’ll be here for years to come. By the way, be prepared to see an increase in consumer loyalty to your brand because of it.