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Beethoven's Business Model for the Gig Economy

In our earlier blog we saw how Mozart invented the gig economy when he realized at age 25 that he could work for himself, not for an employer. Millions of people would follow Mozart in their own fields, making a similar leap into self-employment.

Mozart saw he could sell results that his buyers could enjoy: musical compositions, concert performances, and lessons in how to play an instrument. These three deliverables are music’s timeless offerings for patrons, customers, students, and audiences.


The sad fact that a brilliant, self-employed genius like Mozart died impoverished reveals that successful self-employment requires both professional and business skills. Mozart missed the business element in self-employment, and that understanding is crucial in the gig economy.

Beethoven Built on Mozart: It fell to another brilliant musician to invent what Mozart needed: a business model for self-employment. A business model is the outline of your plan to bring in revenue and make a profit from your activities. Beethoven devised the first model for making self-employment financially successful, and he was self-employed his entire working life. Beethoven was a savvy businessman.

Beethoven started strong, making enough money from publishing his first composition, Opus 1, to pay his living expenses for a year. Imagine in 2016 if your first self-employment gig pulled in $40,000-60,000, after taxes! And Beethoven’s commercial success continued. In fact, he never held a paying job as an employee.

Work with What’s New: Like many gig economy workers today, Beethoven was captivated by innovation. He invented the sale of printed sheet music to the public by printing his compositions using the new capabilities of commercial printing. I grew up in a musical household, and first learned this fact last March! The man could create!

Beethoven’s sheet music sold widely and helped further popularize his dramatic and exciting compositions, creating a demand for concerts, at which the public could hear him perform in person.

The explosive popularity of new, mass-produced five-octave pianos drove demand for his sheet music. Beethoven saw the increase in households purchasing pianos as a tide flooding in his favor; he used piano sales as a change that generated interest in his sheet music.

Later, when bigger, 88-key pianos were introduced, Beethoven immediately began composing and performing on them, playing pieces he wrote that used high and low notes that the old pianos could not play.

Beethoven carted his high-tech piano to concerts around Vienna, performing before audiences who had never seen an 88, nor heard the tonal range of his com­positions on them. Now when you hear the da-da-da-DUM, you can imagine the backstory: Beethoven the self-employed musician entertaining his audiences with a broader range of tones. His 88-key piano music wowed audiences like Pixar's early animated movies did--miraculous!

Beethoven’s exploitation of new musical technologies is just like the broadcast industry switching to hi-definition TV screens to give audiences the thrill of sports and movies close up. Novelty and better performance still sell, 200 years after Beethoven.

Use Beethoven’s Help: Like any successful entrepreneur, Beethoven the self-employed musician was alert to possibilities. If he had a latte with us today, Beethoven would be fascinated by your possibilities in the gig economy!

Beethoven would pepper you with questions that would help you create your business model and sell your services as a self-employed professional. Let’s guess what his questions might be:

[endif]--1. “With the skills you have right now, can you produce something new and different?” In your experience, what would be new and better for your buyers, increase their enjoyment, or reduce their costs or risk?

2. “Can you ride a wave of interest in popular trends or events?” Beethoven’s eyes would bug out over 3D printing or telemedicine or apps for phones or social media or programming or big data or the need for personal and professional services for people, pets, and places. He’d ask, what fast-moving carriage could you and your skills jump aboard? Carriage? You mean Uber? ![endif]--

3. “Can you make what you offer faster, better, simpler, or cheaper to buy and use?” Beethoven’s sheet music deliverable was ink on paper: can you use technology to deliver something in your field for almost no cost? Beethoven would say, “Think big!”

4. “What can you do to tell more people about your work?” Beethoven would excitedly mention his concerts and his riding the sales of new piano technologies, and ask you about making your brand more widely known.

5. “Can you work with prominent people in your field?” Beethoven would mention how he sought out Haydn to study with. He might say whether he met Mozart when he was young, and he'd describe how he regularly approached archdukes and other prominent people as patrons and customers. He’d look at you and ask, “Who are the leaders in your field? Can you meet them? Can you work with them in some way?”

6. “What if you priced your first gig or assignment low, to get the experience and a reference?” Beethoven might suggest offering an inexpensive test or sample, and mention that he worked as an intern without pay to get started. He’d say don’t worry, you’ll get better fast.

Your answers to Beethoven’s six questions could become your plan for successfully entering the gig economy. Beethoven would say something like, “The future’s not scary, it’s just new.”

Now, Ask Yourself: Could the gig economy be the best way for you to rise in your career? Listen to Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost Penny on YouTube [, performed by Don Dorsey on a synthesizer], and think about what kind of future you can create for yourself like the future Beethoven created for himself.

Two Quick Questions: Can you sell the results of your work, not your time? Can you expand sales beyond your first customer? If you answered yes to either question, then maybe the gig economy is for you. Imagine with a smile what a musical and business genius from 200 years ago would find for you in the gig economy. # # #

Beethoven and successful self-employment are inseparable.

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