Let’s face it: as musicians, we are walking small businesses. Our success hinges largely on our ability to get our names out and to turn positive attention into sales. Unfortunately, most of us lack any formal training in this area and are forced to flounder around, hoping to “get lucky” someday (I have long held that collegiate music schools should require their composition and performance students to pass a battery of business and marketing courses–after all, what good is learning to be a great musician if you don’t know how to sell yourself in a crowded marketplace?).
That said, there is a triad of fundamental marketing concepts that will help you to focus your efforts:
- Product (Is your music interesting and well-crafted? Does it appeal to a reasonably wide audience?)
- Pricing (Is your music priced appropriately given the market and your relative brand strength?)
- Promotion (Are you aiming your advertising at the right audience? How well do you understand their needs and their purchasing behavior? Are you making effective use out of promotional engines? How well-connected are you in the music community?)
We’ll take them individually.
Try to be objective about yourself here. There’s already so much music out there competing within a very small market. The pool of potential customers is very savvy and very picky. Is your music interesting enough and masterfully-crafted enough to compete with what’s already out there?
I live in a small town. Even so, there are probably more than a dozen places that sell really great pizza in the local area. If I open up a pizza shop and I serve up palatable but mediocre pizzas, should I expect to stay in business for long? No way! The customer has so many better choices at a comparable price! (And everybody’s an expert on pizza, right?)
So it is with the music business. Just open up any sheet music catalog and you’ll find literally thousands of fine choices for the discriminating buyer. What makes your music stand out? (The answer to this question will have further relevance when we get to promotion, so keep it in mind).
If you’ve decided your music is distinguished and of very high quality, you might also want to consider what kind of appeal it has to the universe of potential customers. Pieces based on intricate, technically-demanding, and highly-dissonant serial schemata might be really thought-provoking, but how big of a potential audience do you think this sort of music has? Beginning with realistic expectations for your product is important!
I’d love to charge $150 for a set of my concert band parts–but I also love making sales, so I charge considerably less.
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential clients. If you write band music, imagine a band director with a shoestring budget for new music and a JW Pepper catalog already full of options. If you’re not well known, you’re going to have to price yourself considerably lower than your competitors to even get your music glanced at.
So do your homework and discover what other pieces in your idiom are going for, then evaluate your position relative to the “bigger names” in the catalog to determine what a fair price would be. Even if your music is as good as (or better) than the well-established stuff, remember that customers are less willing to part with their money on an unknown quantity. You have to get your foot in the door before you can start demanding (and getting) a higher price.
The key concepts here are targeting and networking.
Across all of my social networks, I can reach about 1,300 people. You might be tempted to say “Wow! 1,300 potential customers! What a great start!” But then you take a closer look and realize the market is actually quite a bit smaller. Much as my fifth grade science teacher might wish me well in my pursuits, I doubt very much he has any desire or need to purchase the set of parts to my latest orchestral piece. Spending time and money pursuing folks like this just wouldn’t be very sensible (and wouldn’t result in sales anyhow).
So you have to narrow things down. It would be a good use of your limited resources to figure out who consumes the kind of music you write and then devise a strategy to reach them. For example, if, like me, you write a lot of concert band literature, your target market is going to be public school (and perhaps university) band teachers. To reach them, you need to understand their purchasing behavior. Do they mostly shop online? Are print catalogs and direct mail media still a popular option? What kind of budgets do they typically work with? When do they make their purchasing decisions? What’s “in vogue” right now with marketing angles? What’s currently selling well (and what’s not)? Are there conventions or trade shows where there are large numbers of potential clients in one place at one time? Understand who’s in your market and how they decide what to buy!
As alluded to above, there are a variety of ways to reach your potential customers (i.e., “promotional engines”). If they mostly order online, do you have an attractive, efficient web site capable of handling online orders securely? If there is still a heavy reliance on mailed media (and there is in many sectors; having something tangible to grasp and experience still adds an air of “legitimacy” to a product for many potential clients), are you prepared to invest the time and money into developing a mailing list and designing and producing high quality promotional materials (not to mention the cost of postage)?
If you’re going to promote yourself on social networks (and I advise you do so), there are effective ways to do this as well. Facebook and Twitter are the biggest networks but they behave in very different ways and have developed very different cultures. On Facebook, having an artist page separate from your personal profile is a good way to build up a brand identity and to develop a loyal following of fans (and later, potential customers). Invite discussions, promote your latest project, post videos or audio recordings of performances–get people “hooked” on you! Depth of relationships is the key advantage to Facebook.
The Twitter experience, on the other hand, is more ephemeral–tweets come and go in the blink of an eye and, of course, they are limited to 140 characters each. You can promote more often here without it coming off as terribly bothersome (as it would on Facebook). Boil down your marketing angle and develop a variety of novel ways to word it (always tweeting “interesting music here!” probably won’t get much notice). Cultivate your following based on whom you choose to follow (many people on twitter will follow you back if you follow them). Keep in mind that having thousands of followers won’t have much of an impact if most of them have no inherent interest in what you’re selling!
All of this is important and necessary, but networking and developing productive connections with music professionals (online or off) is just as important as your advertising campaign. I’ll refer you to an earlier article I wrote on this vital topic for a more in-depth treatment of it.
Music is a tough game–it takes a lot of time, ingenuity, and hard work to get your name out there and “make it.” Use the information in this article as a jumping off point to educating yourself about marketing. And remember: it’s not “selling out”–it’s selling yourself! No one can appreciate (much less buy) your music if they don’t know about it!
Keep up with my work and join the community conversation on my Facebook page!