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Being The Boss of You

Mel Parsons. Photo: Lindsay Duncan
Mel Parsons. Portrait by Lisa Macintosh
Mel Parsons and guitarist Josh Logan. Photo: Nick George
Kathryn Burnett chats with successful self-managed Mel Parsons about going it alone.


When you’re self-employed in the arts it’s really common for people to tell you they wish they could work for themselves - because it’s super dreamy, right?

Well, kinda.  

Folks who work in the arts often end up self-employed by default but not everyone is suited to being their own boss, and while I love working for me, there’s definitely a downside.

So with all of this in mind, I caught up with someone who is nailing being a solopreneur - self-managed, singer-songwriter Mel Parsons who is currently on tour with The Proclaimers.  

Mel pretty much does it all. She’s her own manager, deal-maker, tour manager and co-producer – AND she has launched four albums through her own record label, Cape Road.

She mostly sees the upside of being a solopreneur in the arts - namely doing what she loves, being able to act on decisions quickly, getting a great understanding of how her industry works and learning about how to run a business. Not to mention being able to do exactly what she wants creatively without interference.

But she’s happy to admit the solopreneur life comes with challenges, for instance not having a buffer when negotiating deals, having to wear two hats rather than just being able to be creative, and just how much time it all takes. So much time.

So who better to offer advice and insights to other artists thinking about going it alone?

Just Start Now

Fun fact - Mel didn’t actually set out to be her own manager - it just happened when she started doing the things she saw needed to be done to get her career up and running. And she says the biggest mistake she made was waiting for someone to do it for her.

You don’t need to know how - no one does when they’re starting out. Decide what you want to do, start heading in that direction and the doors will start to open.”

I think the reality for most artists - particularly those who are early on in their careers - is that they will be self-managing by default.  So just get organised, get some spreadsheets happening and go forth!”

Develop a Solopreneur Skill Set

Mel agrees that being the boss of you is not for everyone and there are certain skills you will need in your arsenal.

“It’s not rocket science for the most part but you have to be quite particular and very organised to do it successfully … or so I've heard! You also need communication skills and learn how to put your humility aside and be able to sell what you’re doing.”

Now putting humility aside isn’t a particularly ‘Kiwi’ trait but Mel says that with practice she got much better at asking for what she wanted in a less roundabout way which is a useful business skill for anyone.  

Accept the Necessity of Self-Promotion

Mel believes that if you’re going to invest in one thing, in addition to a lot of time on social media, it should be the services of a good publicist. And given that Kiwis can be uncomfortable with self-promotion she advises trying to have some fun with it. 

“Keep a sense of humour about it. People and audiences are turned off if they sense you aren’t real or you take yourself too seriously.  Of course, I’d rather not be shouting out about what I’m doing all the time but I have come to accept that this is a necessary part of my job.” 

How to Stay Motivated When You Are The Brand

There’s a sign that Mel passes en route to her office that reads “Never, never, never give up.”  But helpful subconscious boost aside, she says a big part of keeping motivated is just looking forward and focusing on what you can achieve.  

“There’s always something else you could or should be doing, so it can be hard to accept that there’s only so much you can do on your own.” 

She also adds that learning not to take failures personally is vital.

“When you are the brand and it’s such a personal thing as music is - it can be really crushing when something doesn’t go your way - especially when it could have been some arbitrary decision out of your control. But I know now that for every 10 things that fail, there will something that will come through and go your way.”

Booking that First Gig

Mel admits that this was hard work and new self-managed musicians need to be prepared for that.

“No one knew me or my music because I booked it before my first record came out. So it was a lot of cold calling and deep breaths before picking up the phone. Lots of people didn’t reply or turned me down.”

When you’re starting out rejection is just part of the deal. As Mel puts it - when no one knows who you are - why would they book you? You have to work at it a while before people know who you are and what you’re about. 

And a final tip for young performers – “It’s always better to turn things down that don’t feel right, or where you’re not being paid properly - inevitably those badly paid gigs are a sign of how you’ll be treated at the show.” 

We are celebrating NZ Music Month and in collaboration with NZ Music Commission, our stories this week will focus on the fabulous talents in Aotearoa’s music industry, on stage and behind the scenes. Find the first story here - thank you for following along!

#nzmusicmonth2019 #nzmusic #discoverlivenz #nzmusicmonth #artsmatter

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

13 May 2019

The Big Idea Editor