Being an arts entrepreneur

 31 March 2011

Brian Harvey launched Open Ear in Glasgow in 2007, which designs musical identities and environments for businesses. Open Ear works closely with the independent music industry in order to licence music to use in bars, cafes, shops and showrooms.

Brian Harvey combined his interests in psychology and DJing to start his own company
Brian Harvey combined his interests in psychology and DJing to start his own company

An idea for a creative business

"Don't rely on grants or funding schemes. If you can do as much as you can on your own, your business model will be more robust."

"I have always had an interest in running my own business. During my teenage years I spent some time producing a small magazine and a few years later I began a lucrative (but short-lived) CD copying business.

"During my university DJ stints in various bars in Edinburgh, my entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. I started to question how my job could be done remotely. A DJ has an important role to play in shaping the mood and ambience for customers, and attracting new clients.

"I looked into the psychology of music and found a wealth of evidence supporting the powerful effect of music to increase sales, improve moods and help brand communication.

"Following some initial market research to make sure I was aware of similar businesses in the market place, I devised the concept for Open Ear and came up with the term for what it would do: ‘music design’."

Finding help for business startup

"I finished university with a degree in psychology and a masters in sound design. But nothing prepared me for the void I was left with outside the safety-net of an academic institution. I was suddenly under pressure to survive, get a ‘real’ job and carve out a career.

"However, none of the generic marketing/advertising/recruitment/media agency roles I was offered would allow me to use all my skills, or exercise my creativity to the extent to which I had become accustomed.

"Starting Open Ear became my priority, as it could combine my experiences in a way an existing job couldn't.

"Luckily, I saw an advert in Wire magazine for the NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) Creative Pioneer Academy. This was a unique opportunity for young creative graduates who wanted to start an innovative business. After my acceptance onto the programme I seriously began thinking about the launch of Open Ear.

"The NESTA Academy taught me the basics of business, including planning, finance, tax and legal status and responsibilities. The programme offered mentoring and access to creative industry ‘insiders’, all of which helped give me confidence and refine my idea.

"After the NESTA experience, returning to the relative isolation of business startup was difficult. Motivation became an issue – I knew I had a good business idea but no customers or investment, so I sought more help."

Making a viable business plan

"I finished university  and I was suddenly under pressure to survive, get a ‘real’ job and carve out a career."

"I completed a business course through my local Cultural Enterprise Office, got in touch with my local Prince's Trust (who loaned me £5,000), spoke to advisors at Business Gateway and asked as many people as I could for advice on my plans.

"Through this, I managed to make a lot of great contacts. I was able to put together a small team of freelancers who were able to help with the crucial technical side to my business so that we could start approaching clients."

"Our first client was The Lighthouse in Glasgow, the prestigious centre for design and architecture in Scotland. When they accepted my offer I knew I had made a major breakthrough. After more than a year of planning and development, I was finally able to say I was ‘running’ a business rather than ‘setting up’.

"I slowly gathered new clients. We also won a ‘Business Growth through Innovation’ funding grant of £3,500 from Glasgow council to fund the build of our website.

"A few years on, I have a business that is operational and moving forward. We are beginning to plan our expansion and looking at options for growth funding."

Advice for arts entrepreneurs

"My advice to those considering starting up in business is full of truism:

  • planning is key
  • everything takes at least three times longer than you anticipate
  • don't rely on grants or funding schemes - everything comes at a cost and if you can do as much as you can on your own, your business model will be more robust in the future.

"There will be plenty of desperate times, but at the end of the day, the feeling that I have a growing business with happy customers is a better reason for me to get up in the morning than any ‘creative’ office job that I could have taken. Best of luck!"

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