Christopher Sharpe

C Sharpe Editions

Interview Text: 

So, tell us a little about your background.
I am from Oak Ridge, TN, near Knoxville in the eastern part of the state. I am a DMA Bass Trombone student at UNT and just reached ABD status, meaning all I have left for my degree is my dissertation and lecture recital, and I hold degrees from the University of Tennessee and the University of North Texas. In a nutshell, what is your business? -My business is called C. Sharpe Editions, an online sheet music publishing company specializing in trombone ensemble and jazz big band music. What sparked the idea for your business? -I've been an avid arranger of works for trombone ensemble since my time at the University of Tennessee, and my arrangement of Eric Ewazen's "A Hymn for the Lost and the Living" was published by Keiser-Southern Music in 2015. I'll always be grateful to them for helping me get the work published but after it took an entire year to get from the publishing agreement to the work actually being available for sale, I wanted to find a faster way to get my arrangements and compositions into the hands of performers. Not long after this, UNT alum Carl Lundgren told me about his own idea to self-publish his compositions, and this idea was on my mind when I started the MUCE 5000 Entrepreneurship course at UNT.

How long did it take you from the inception of the idea until it came to fruition and what was that process like?
It took a couple months before I had a strong concept of what I wanted to do with C. Sharpe Editions. All of the students in the MUCE 5000 course at the time had to come up with a business plan as part of the course, so I chose to use C. Sharpe Editions for the course and in the process of researching and refining my idea for the business, I became more and more convinced that it was something I wanted to see through. The process of researching the market and assessing financial concerns like start-up and long-term costs was really eye-opening and has been invaluable in helping me assess future plans for the company.

What challenges did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge so far has been building a customer base. Being a relatively new company in the sheet music business and focusing solely on PDFs so far, we don't yet have the reach of the larger companies with printed music in every music shop. We're slowly building awareness online, and I'm confident the customer base will grow significantly over the next 5-10 years as we add more and more composers' and arrangers' original works to our catalog and expand our marketing.

Who is your target customer?
The current target customer is anyone who conducts or teaches a trombone ensemble, as our catalog currently features trombone choir and trombone quartet music. However, we're adding several solo trombone arrangements from Evan Sankey in the near future, and we're very excited to be adding a significant amount of original big band music from current and recent UNT Jazz Studies students in the coming months, so our target customer will be evolving in 2018.

What do you do for marketing?
I am currently marketing on social media with the official C. Sharpe Editions account, and I'm about to start an Instragram series featuring myself performing multi-track recordings of excerpts from our available trombone ensemble literature. I'll also be adding advertising on social media and in trade journals during 2018 but the beauty of marketing through social media is that it only requires you to be interesting and catch your target customer's attention, so I'm interested in exploring more cost-effective routes of marketing at the moment.

What would you like to say to beginning entrepreneurs just starting out?
My best advice is to do your research, be pro-active, and be realistic about finances. Chances are that someone else (or several someones) already has the same idea as you for a business or has already started a similar business, but that doesn't have to stop you from creating a unique business that can be successful. See what your competitors are and aren't doing, and find a way to capitalize on your insight into the market to better serve customers. At the same time, you need to be realistic about the amount of money needed to run your business. Blindly jumping into a good idea without considering the costs of running a business will only end up turning your good idea into a terrible idea. Take the time to carefully plan out the financial side of your business in the beginning, and you'll be thankful later.