If you want to make a living from your music, you must sell it. You’re probably saying, “I’m already selling it!” because your stuff is on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, etc. And your CDs are available for sale on your website. If you were in the craft beer business, would you be excited about having your product in a massive retail store alongside millions of other craft brewers? Or
would you rather have it at a restaurant chain where servers recommend it to their patrons? Of course, you’ll want the chain. Why? Because the giant retailer (or you) will need millions of marketing dollars to persuade people to seek out your product; in the other situation, your product is actively being sold.
When people think of selling, they automatically have a negative connotation. What most people don’t know is that everyone on this planet is somehow involved in sales. You’re constantly selling yourself, your ideas and products. Want that job or that gig? The better salesperson usually gets it.
Sales is the act of connecting a need with a solution. Music answers the following needs: it entertains, enhances video content, allows people to focus, is an anti-depressant, improves the environment, etc. There is a massive demand for music, but there’s also a huge supply. If you don’t take action, you’ll drown in the avalanche of music that comes online each day.
The worst and most important job in my life was door-to-door sales. It was the worst because we were selling crappy products (our slogan was: We sell shit for a good price!), but it was important because it taught me a fundamental principle: the 1 out of 10 rule. That means that 1 out of every 10 people you talk to will buy your product. The more people we saw and talked to on a given day, the more sales we would make. The rule taught me that you can’t be passive and expect to achieve results. Many artists throw their stuff on a platform and expect results from it, but they don’t take the action to sell.
Many artists have a misconception that they have to make it big before they start making money from their music. If you ask artists to name their number-one problem, many will say it’s a lack of radio play. “If I was on the radio …” they say, or, “If I could get to the Top Ten, my fan base would grow and I’d start to earn money.” They’ve just spent the last four to six months creating
a single or EP, which has a copyright that has value – so why aren‘t they out there selling it? Instead of spending $6,000 on a radio-tracking campaign, they should focus on selling.
What is the rate of return on a radio-tracking campaign? Unless you‘re an established act, it’s probably going to be negative. What would the rate of return be if you spent a couple of hours a day selling your music? It will be ten times higher than what you’ll get using the passive approach and waiting to get a return from the radio-tracking campaign or for someone to discover you on iTunes or Spotify.
I know an artist who makes a living strictly from his music. This artist is not on radio, and he doesn’t sell his music online or on any platform. A few days a week, he hangs out on a street corner in Toronto, where he hustles and sells his music in CD format to random strangers. Now, that takes balls! He‘s making the same amount of money that he would if he was working at some retail operation.
As an artist, you may have the following products to sell:
Song – Use that copyright! Pitch it to another artist who could use it to create a hit song. Both of you benefit from performance royalties.
Master recording - Copyright sync licenses.
MP3 – Make it available on iTunes or for streaming, or for download from your site (you get digital downloads and streaming royalties).
Physical CDs or albums or EPs in Vinyl – sell them through your website or at events.
Live Shows - Sell your music to venues, and at venues.
Your audience - Sell sponsorships to keep you going.
To start selling, you must put together an action plan. First decide who you’re going to target andhow you’re going to target them. You could do the following:
1) Package your live show, research and find all the live show venues and festivals in your area, then research to find the gatekeeper. Sell your show to them by contacting them via phone, email, or showing up to their office.
2) Pull out a list of all your contacts and spend an hour or two a day emailing them a personal email, directly, that asks them to help you by buying your album on iTunes. Ask them to refer you one of their contacts who might be interested.
3) Research music supervisors (a music supervisor is a professional who oversees related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games and other existing or emerging visual media platforms) and ask them to think of you the next time they have an opportunity. A sync license could lead to a massive payout.
4) If you have an audience, develop a sponsorship deck and call and email local businesses for support. Maybe they could cover some of your operating costs through an in-kind sponsorship. You have many opportunities to sell your music products. It might seem like plenty of work, but imagine being in the craft beer business. How many hours or selling must you endure to get your product into pubs or retail operations? That’s right: many hours – especially when you’re competing with more prominent breweries and other competitors. The music business is tough, but so is any other business.
Do you want to sell 10,000 records? Then ask 100,000 people.