Entrepreneurship Tips From A Rockstar

Guitarist Donna She Wolf is a seasoned vet of the music industry. Here are some of her best business tips
July 12, 2011

Savvy rockstars like Mick Jagger and Gene Simmons have built multi-million dollar empires, proving their worth not only as legendary musicians, but as astute entrepreneurs. We spoke with guitarist Dava Nasr, a.k.a Donna She Wolf of "Star & Dagger", who shared some business-related tips about sticking it out, staying relevant and making some money.

Pass up opportunities in favor of staying true to your own instincts 

When Nasr first started out in the music industry, she was eager for opportunity and didn’t always have the flexibility to step back and survey the scenario for the long term. Now that she’s re-emerged within a different band, she’s able to stay focused on what’s best for her career vs. saying “yes” to everything.

“I made a lot of mistakes as a rookie,” says Nasr. “But even when the business was at it's bleakest, I don’t let it sour the most important thing, which was the creating of music."

Be careful whom you trust

Of course you have to take risks to make it in a competitive market. Nasr suggests creating some rules to live by right away to help avoid the people who misrepresent themselves. Find people who want to be on your team and understand your vision. As you develop a team of people you trust (and hopefully even like), you’ll be able to make better decisions that have more lasting effects.

“I like working with kind, honest and direct people, and if they are fun to be around, even better,” says Nasr. “There will always be some who are getting ripped off. [Now I] play only reputable venues and steer clear of any 'pay to play' scenarios. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Keep the number of opinions coming your way at a minimum

The circle of people you trust are people you’ve likely thoroughly vetted in some capacity. But still, too many voices can make it hard to make solid decisions. Remember, you have the final say on your vision. Opinions are only opinions.

“There were many people advising us and I'm sure many of them had the best intentions, but it was difficult to know who to listen to and who not to,” says Nasr. “We didn't have Google back then. [Now] it's very easy for me to decide whom I want to work with, and what I want to work on without all the difficulties or concerns I experienced when I was younger.”

Study your industry from the inside out

Learn the ropes of your industry and relevant industries before handing over the reins to someone else. Be wary of those who tell you they know better.

“Any service you'd want someone to eventually provide for you, you should learn to do yourself first—even if you start out learning in the smallest increments,” says Nasr. “There is no substitute for knowledgeable professionals, but if you have an enthusiastic friend or brother-in-law that you get along with and can get the job done, then I say go for it.”

Keep your head on straight—especially when things pick up

Judgment can be blinded when dazzled by the excitement of new possibilities. The first incarnation of Nasr’s music career saw tremendous success. She and her bandmates rode it out and enjoyed their popularity while it lasted.

“We had bidding wars over signing us due to the unorthodox structure of our band,” says Nasr. “We had good songs, a great look and tremendous attitude. Our initial rapid ascent was not the norm, so it seemed like we'd have an easy climb in what looked to be such a glamorous business. The reality was it was hard to sustain.”

Don’t try to control everything

Let some things unfold naturally. “I try not to have any preconceived notions about people, places or situations,” says Nasr. “I try to always stay in the moment, and more often than not, I'm pleasantly surprised by the results that yields.”

Find balance in your evolution

Part of keeping any job and sustaining a business is being able to change with the times. Nasr transitioned from working as a singer/songwriter in a world-famous band to emerging again as a skilled guitarist in a post-modern heavy metal band.

“Being able to evolve artistically and simultaneously shift into alternate projects while maintaining an original fan base is definitely a challenge,” says Nasr. “Breaking away from a particular trend that the public has identified you with can risk alienation of the very audience you've built your previous success on.”

Also accept that your industry will continue to evolve

The making, marketing and selling of music has been drastically reinvented because of new media and technology, and Nasr has accepted this in order to stay in the game.

“The business is unrecognizable compared to when I was signed to Epic Records 20-some odd years ago,” says Nasr. “Branding is always key, and if you're already known, you will certainly have a jump on things.

"I maintain band status and updates on the usual social networking sites and try to keep things current. But I try not to spend too much of my day getting caught up in it unless a specific task is at hand, like booking or promoting shows.”

Stay true to your mission statement

“I just keep playing, writing and listening to good music in the forefront,” says Nasr. “Playing doesn't involve thinking if you're doing it right. If you get caught up more in pretense or the labyrinth of the business than in making music, then you've lost it. The fans will see right through it as well. I sort out all the logistical stuff during down time or field it as it comes.”

Let your own style emerge

Nasr first found that emulating people she liked helped her find her own voice. She played around with the music of her future competitors to figure out what worked and didn’t work in order to forge her own unique sound and style.

“We received considerable critical acclaim and my playing was being compared to (well-known) artists,” says Nasr. “My vocal style and overall attitude since CSFH has remained recognizable so there was a thread of consistency there that old fans could latch onto. Now I am playing guitar in Star & Dagger with Sean Yseult from White Zombie.”

Edit and protect what worked and didn’t work when you first started out

Both Nasr and Yseult came armed with a following, but with a new collaboration meant a new sound. Essentially, they had to figure out how to keep old business and still bring in new business.

“The hardest thing for me about keeping old fans was knowing where to find them just to let them know what I was doing next. We all had pseudonyms in Cycle Sluts and I dropped mine once we disbanded. Re-emerging primarily as a guitarist—with a new name, and doing a slightly different style of music—was very non sequitur and probably not the soundest business maneuver."

Perfect what you do best and Do-It-All-Yourself

To make it in a fickle industry you’ve got to wear a lot of hats. Nasr learned she had to be her own manager, booking agent, publicist, tech, roadie, soundman, merchandiser and then, after all of that, get up onstage and put on a show. But she’s in the business because she loves making music.

Image credit: Star & Dagger