Interview by Charlie Doom
CD: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in creating a career as a musician?
RAVI: No one is going to do it for you, and no one is to blame but yourself. I’ve met many bitter musicians over the years, and bitterness doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to learn at every opportunity and take responsibility for your own successes and failures. Ultimately, one must surround oneself with good people, strong values, and pursue all aspects of life in an ethical, kind, and intelligent manner.
CD: One look at your career and it’s not hard to see you have a very shrewd business sense–cross-pollinating your interests in music, writing, aviation, and philanthropy to create a living for yourself—one that takes you around the world. How important is it for musicians to think of themselves as entrepreneurs?
RAVI: Today, it is more important to be entrepreneurial than ever. The traditional music business model continues to crumble, which opens many opportunities for the independent artist/musician. This also means that one must consider multiple streams of revenue, and with the kind of technology we have today, this is more easily realized than ever before. The Internet provides distribution at the tip of a finger, as well as publicity and marketing opportunities. Yet, one has to be creative in order to navigate and capitalize, and that is where one must be entrepreneurial. I have found a niche in public speaking and magazine writing that compliments and cross-promotes my music. Moreover, by working in two seemingly unrelated industries that are both my passions (music and aviation), I have become the crossover vehicle which created a niche market – I’m now the “go to” musician in the aviation industry. Aviation shows are huge with great music performance potential. As a founding member of the Flying Musicians Association (almost 200 of us now), I’m making quite an impact in this regard and generating great endorsement and sponsorship deals based on my ability to cross-promote. The third component to what I do is activism/philanthropy, as I fundamentally believe that every for-profit business model should also have a non-profit component. It’s just simply the right thing to do, and in turn, generates many mutual benefits that one simply cannot buy.
CD: What should musicians keep in mind as entrepreneurs–should they have a website, a logo, or hire a mascot?
RAVI: For sure one must have a web site, Facebook page, and perhaps a logo. However, what is most important is to have—or be—a “brand.” This can be captured in a name or a logo (such as “The Raviator” which is my brand in the aviation industry), but more important, the brand needs to stand for something. Most people in the music world associate me with Integrity, or more specifically Artistic Integrity. Hopefully that has something to do with the way they perceive me, but it is also because I have repeatedly associated myself with the word as my brand. It has long been part of the title of my primary music business lecture, “Maintaining Artistic Integrity While Running Your Career as a Business,” and the URL of my music business web site, ArtisticIntegrity.org. I have also turned my name into an acronym, Reaching Audiences with a Voice of Integrity, which is not only a BIS (brand identity statement), but a core value that I try to always maintain in everything I do. As an artist, I believe it is important to stand for something, and for me, that is “integrity.”
It’s pretty clear that musicians don’t make money selling their music anymore; it’s all in the live shows, but you need a network to get those shows. How do you that?
Well, yes and no. Live shows are essential, but selling CDs off the side of the stage is still my #1 form of merchandising, and second to that is digital downloads. However, if I’m not on the road, nothing moves. When I play a show, I sell CDs at the gig. Perhaps most interesting is that if I give a lecture, be it in music or aviation, I see big bumps in my iTunes sales. Social networks are important in terms of making connections, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction. I’m a big fan of music business conferences and networking in that manner, and I try to introduce myself to people I will likely meet ahead of time on Facebook, LinkedIn, or simply by email. I think it is also paramount to develop good social skills and to use every opportunity to exercise them. I hardly ever go out to clubs and listen to bands without also meeting the talent buyers—and/or the owners—at the venues. Then, I follow up. After the gig, I send a hand written thank you note. So, three steps: Personal introduction, follow up, thank you note.
CD: What’s on the horizon for you?
RAVI: Lots of things actually. In aviation, my relationship with Sennheiser Aviation Headsets (yes, same Sennheiser who makes those killer mics!) as their spokesman continues to grow, and I have just inked a deal to conduct seminars for Cessna Aircraft Corporation to improve the state of flight training. On the music front, Voyage-Air Guitars will be putting out “The Raviator” signature model next year, with all the bells and whistles that every aviator/guitarist (there are a lot of us…over 50% of pilots play a musical instrument) will want in a guitar. I am excited to be returning to All Star Guitar Night as a featured performer for the 2011 Winter Show, and planning to be in the studio this year doing two projects: one of my own music and the other a collaborative effort with some of the top pop/rock artists in India who are on the verge of crossing over (perhaps with my help) to western audiences. The independent music scene in India is ready to explode with the right catalyst. I believe I will be a significant part of that catalyst.
CD: Best advice you’ve ever gotten or would give?
RAVI: It’s actually one of my favorite quotes: “Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.”
CD: Any final words?
RAVI: Work hard, follow your dreams, and to quote Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Please visit and say hello to me at www.HeyRavi.com!
An active philanthropist, Ravi is building a foundation in his ancestral India and helping to cultivate the Shanti Bhavan, a boarding school for 300 of the poorest children in south India which has already sent 14 “untouchables” to college. Together with his friend Dr. Abraham George–founder of the Shanti Bhavan–Ravi is working with the Indian government to establish more schools for the poor, and he’s also spearheading the creation of an aviation infrastructure, connecting the most isolated villages in India to economic centers. Learn more