Sari Delmar has a few tips for anyone who wants to get into the music business: start young, ask a lot of questions and just keep going.
"Sometimes you just have to go blindly. Hard work is really only the secret tip I can relay. If you know what your passion is, let it lead you there. Just start. Go," she says.
Ms. Delmar has been working since she was 8. "I was one of those weird kids with three part-time jobs in high school," she says. Now, at 24, she is chief executive officer and founder of Audio Blood, a music marketing and brand development company.
The Toronto firm, with a dozen people on staff (including Ms. Delmar) and several interns, promotes artists and related businesses, such as a popular hipster hangout restaurant, navigating through a thicket of traditional and social media channels.
Ms. Delmar named the company after the song Audio Blood by The Matches. ("Tonight we meet underground/where the air is thick like mud/and the bands make noise that we call audio blood.") The group was one of her favourites when she decided to get into the music business, at 13.
"I found an Alternative Press magazine at the supermarket in my hometown of Barrie, Ont., when I was 13 and read every word," she says.
"I got invited to my first local show by my friend, Andrea, and was quickly wrapped up in the music scene after that. Nothing could quite hold my attention the same way and I did anything I could to get closer to the action."
She started interviewing musicians who came through Barrie and then started her own online e-zine, also called Audio Blood, in 2006, founding the management company three years later.
"The idea to start my own business came to me on a family vacation. I brought a big empty notebook and pen. I just started writing ideas. The pages were filled slowly with charts, numbers, lists, webs, and soon enough the whole notebook was filled. It was my first business plan. If you flip through it you would find lists of possible mentors to take out for lunch, service offerings, business models, cash flow projections, lists of prospective clients, potential strategic partners, and more," she says.
"Now I always take a fresh notebook and pen every time I travel."
Financing wasn't much of a problem. Ms. Delmar admits that she maxed out some credit cards at first, but "luckily with a service-based business there aren't many startup costs. The biggest wear is on your sanity and the hours you need to invest."
A bigger challenge was making the leap from being a fan to a businesswoman to a boss. "Hiring someone was exciting, but in the early days I rushed into it without taking much time to do it right. I found generous friends willing to help and had no structure," she says.
"Around the second year of business I realized something had to change. I had to make some harsh changes that went against my gut feelings and realized that being a boss first and friend second is necessary in a work environment. Being great at marketing and PR is one thing but being a great team leader and manager is an entirely different beast."
She concedes that it can be hard to keep things on an even keel in an unpredictable yet glamorous field like the music business. People don't always see the hard work that's behind all the partying and schmoozing, Ms. Delmar explains. To keep it real, she and her staff operate under a management structure.
"Internally we have a biweekly full-staff powwow as we call it. We check in and talk about the things we're stressed and stoked about and where we need support. At the end of that meeting I tack on any larger company-wide areas for discussion," she says.
"Weekly we do a brainstorm session with the full team where we funnel all the projects that need some creative thought. Quarterly we do team building sessions where we try to go off site and get mushy about our feelings. We are structured in three divisions [marketing, public relations and operations/management], and each division meets biweekly and circulates their meeting notes to the full team."
It does not frighten Ms. Delmar that the music business, once built on record deals and concert dates, has been transformed and upended by digital downloads, streaming and the like. "At my age, I've never known it any other way," she points out.
"I'd like to branch out into more international services, branch out to help artists increase their fan engagement and make more of their online marketing strategies," she says. "More offices, more people, more of the same – just more."