Nobody Wants To Hear Your Music
If you are a music maker in the digital age there are many things you need to come to terms with. Some of it is going to sound harsh, but knowing this will give you a slight edge in this tough market.
We are bombarded with shit day in and day out like never before. Everybody wants to share their thoughts, opinions, art, music, cat vids, you name it. Not only are we bombarded with shit, we are bombarded with free shit (and let’s be honest, some of it is good, but most of it is shit).
If you are an aspiring music producer, you simply can’t compete with the wealth of free entertainment that is available to everyone with a TV or computer. Most people don’t want to bother with your free stuff, let alone your paid product that you poured your soul into.
Don’t worry, nobody wants to hear my stuff either.
I am not offering strict pessimism here, but I want to be clear that for the majority of people, you mean nothing, and that is what us artists are up against.
If you want to get anywhere in this business, you want to find out what everybody else is doing & do more, do different. Come from an angle that gives people value for their time. Do something that makes people give a shit about you. And trust me when I say, it’s you, not your music that people are buying. If people don’t feel connected with you, your great music will never matter.
It’s no coincidence that an outspoken public guy like Deadmau5 is on top of the electronic music game. He might not be your favorite & he isn’t mine, but you’ve got to appreciate his approach in this changing musical landscape.
Influence the influencers
If you want people to care enough about what you do to pull out their hard earned $5-10 on your EP or album, you have to understand that most people are naturally followers. You need to identify the leaders of your niche and make them care. You can divide your workload by 100, hell 1000 times by simply getting a nod or 2 from those who influence your scene.
Like in any field, you typically only have access to the guys in the middle, not the guys at the top. Although you might get lucky, you’ll have to accept that Richie Hawtin, Dubfire & Adam Beyer aren’t going to be very accessible, but you may be able to build relationships with people a bit lower on the totem pole that are connected to these guys.
In the early 2000’s, I got very lucky when my partner & I were trying to get out our music (under the name Innerstate). It actually took a couple years to climb the ladder though. We had about 4 songs we had finished and really had no connections. We would go to gigs with CDs and hand them to the DJs after shows. At the time Taylor was a pretty big name & we really loved what he did. We followed him to gig after gig bringing the same CDs. Each time he would say he hadn’t had a chance to listen, or “lost” the CD. He wasn’t being a dick, he was genuinely busy & he didn’t know us from anyone. There was no reason to care. In our scene there was a new guy that had been coming up named Brandon Meyers. Since he was still on his way up, he wasn’t bombarded with as much music, so when we handed him a CD, he listened right away & started playing a couple of the tunes. At some point, he connected with Taylor & when Taylor heard the tunes and the crowd reaction, he had to know who the artist was. Brandon told him “from what I hear, you have 6 copies of these songs stacked somewhere in your house!”. Needless to say, he started playing them a LOT & we build a friendship that lasts today.
Not long after this my production partner and I headed out to Miami for the Winter Music Conference. While many people were pressing vinyl & professional CDs by the 100’s, we went with 10 burned CDs with our crappy handwriting on them. We gave 1 to Pete Tong, Nick Warren, as well as a great guy who worked for Allen & Heath. Although it didn’t go anywhere with Tong, we did hear he liked what we gave him, so who knows if he passed it on. Nick & his Way Out West partner started playing them out, but most importantly, our friend from Allen and Heath liked our tunes enough to hand them off to Hernan Cattaneo who started giving us huge festival plays & talking us up in magazine interviews. When John Digweed did a gig with him, he heard one of our tracks & had to get a copy. Needless to say, he started dropping it left & right as well.
This is the equivalent of a nobody going hugely viral. It happens. I’m living proof.
As much as we would like our music to speak for itself, you are going to have to be the spokesman for your art. You need to do more than post “Listen to my new jam” if you want anyone to give a shit. If that is what you have been doing, most of your would be fans hate you. From your perspective, the time you put into your tune is your gift to the world. Unfortunately from the other perspective, you are just another crappy music maker trying to get famous. Sad but true.
There is a reason musicians and actors have a PR team. People need to feel like they know you for you to earn the time of day with them. If you don’t have the budget for that (and many of us don’t), you are going to have to give more value than music to engage people. For me, it was sharing my process, giving people a backstage pass into my little world. Giving my music a face, a soul.
When you have successes, many of your biggest fans are striving to be where you are now. Help them. Share your stories & your personality. You, your music and your story are all intertwined. The more you can open up, the more chance of building an audience that cares.
Learn how to market yourself
Technology has since changed & although my approach can still work, there are many more music makers in the game. Everyone and his grandma are slagging off their tunes to DJs face to face & through social media. Here is where you have to look at what others are doing & think different.
One thing that 95% of producer’s aren’t doing is spending money on marketing themselves. Everyone wants the free approach, and that is where you have an “in”. By doing what others aren’t willing to do, the noise in this scene gets cut by 95% & you have access to a much wider audience.
Understand that this is an investment that you won’t make back in sales in the short term, so you’ll need to be in this for the long haul (other thing that will set you apart while others get frustrated, lazy & quit before they ever got started).
Don’t worry too much about trying to be the biggest & the best right now. Focus instead having enough people who love what you do to support you. Kevin Kelly suggests building a fanbase of 1000 true fans. A true fan is someone who buys everything you do, including the t-shirt & the super deluxe box set with rare demos and b-sides & will also drive a long distance to come to your shows. If you can get 1000 people willing to pay you $50-$100 a year, you can make a living as an artist.
I’ll be sharing my own strategies for making a living as an artist. This not only includes selling your music stuff, but also ways to create some other passive income streams that can bring you income 24/7. If that interests you, you can sign up to my free mailing list here.
So try to think outside the box with your music & try to give people a reason to care. This will require more effort and energy from you, but doing what others aren’t willing to is the secret sauce to any success story.
Happy music making,