Do you want to make money with your music? Then you need to start thinking and acting like a business person.
I recently did a great podcast with the CEO of DeWolfe Music, Joel Feinberg. It was a great conversation and one of the things Joel really focused on, was how musicians tend to not be good at business and that this is holding them back. Making music is a very right brained, creative act, that doesn’t tend to lend itself to thinking like a business person, which tends to require more left brain thinking.
Joel’s point strongly resonated with me, as it did with a lot of you who checked out the podcast. I think as musicians we can all relate to this truth. We’re attracted to making music because of our love for being creative and tapping into this part of ourselves. All too often, we sort of look at the money-making part of the music business as more of a nuisance and an afterthought. Like something we have to do, because, well, we all need money.
This point that Joel made was such a good point that I want to expand on this topic a bit more. Let’s think about how this applies to something like licensing your music, which let’s face it, is not really a very creative endeavor. Sure, there are creative elements at play, like the vision of a music supervisor for a specific scene, the creative choices music editors make when cutting music to a scene, and of course the music itself. All these creative elements exist and are a part of licensing music.
But, the pursuit of trying to license your music. Well, it’s a much more analytical, left brained endeavor. The problem that many musicians face, and I’ve heard this over and over, from multiple people I’ve interviewed and have worked with, is that most musicians simply don’t put themselves in the shoes of those they are trying to do business with. Most musicians are simply making music they feel like making and then randomly throwing it out into the marketplace, just hoping that it will magically fit somewhere and make them some money.
It’s easy to see why this problem exists. As artists, most of us want to make music we feel is inspired and “from the heart”. We don’t want to “sell out” and just make music for the masses. We want to maintain our “artistic integrity” and do something that is “pure” and not simply something that is a product to be bought and sold. That’s a great attitude, if you’re not concerned with making money from your music. And perhaps, for some artists, this attitude actually does lead to unintended commercial success. I’m sure it does in fact. But you want to know where this attitude also sometimes leads? Nowhere. Obscurity. Frustration.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should simply focus on money and trying to write only music that will sell, regardless of whether or not it’s artistically satisfying. You could do that if you want. But what I think is a more rewarding path, for most musicians, is to try and integrate the two sides of being a musician, the right brained creative act of making music and the left brained, analytical act of marketing and selling music, into one holistic thing. Instead of looking at business as something you have to do, look at it as something that is part and parcel of being a professional musician. Don’t look it as a drag, just accept it for what it is.
All aspects of our lives are like this if you think about it. Let me give you an analogy. I’m single. Again. I actually love the growth that comes during periods of my life when I’m single. I love the process of putting myself out there, meeting women, getting rejected, having success, getting rejected again and so on. I feel like I’ve grown as much during these periods of my life as I have during relationships I’ve been in, albeit in a different way.
When you’re single, and here comes the analogy, there are things you can do that will almost universally make you more attractive and more “marketable” to members of the opposite sex. Things like dressing better, working out, being motivated, being confident and so on, will all increase the odds of attracting and connecting with someone. I know, because I’m going through this right now! Things like going out and meeting people, is sort of like submitting your music and making connections. You have to be in it to win it. You can’t just expect opportunities to fall in your lap.
Now, as a single person, it’s easy to take the attitude of, “screw it, I don’t need to do any of that. If someone doesn’t see my innate value as a human being, they don’t deserve me! I don’t have to dress well, go out and risk rejection and try to better myself. “ This is a pretty understandable attitude to take on the surface. It almost makes sense. But, if you know certain actions are going to get you closer to your goal, why not take them? Now, if you’re doing something that actually goes against your values, that’s a different story. But most things that make you more attractive in the dating market, are actually positive things that will improve your life overall. Working out, dressing well, interacting confidently with members of the opposite sex and so on, are things that make you more attractive because they are things we all, collectively, value.
Let’s get back to music. I see more successfully “marketing” your music in a very similar way. It’s easy to take the attitude of I don’t need to change my music for anyone. You can take it or leave it! But, what if there were changes you could make in either your music, or your approach to marketing your music, that would actually get you closer to your goals? What if there were a few subtle things you could tweak that would open up more doors and more opportunities, without conflicting with your values and sense of integrity? I think for most musicians, there are ways to improve your music and the marketing of your music, that would simply be a net positive and bring you closer to your goals, without compromising your values.
Ok, let’s get into specifics. Here’s the thing that Joel mentioned during our podcast, and I’ve heard variations of this same idea, repeatedly. Most musicians, when it comes to trying to license their music are simply taking a shotgun approach to music licensing. They’re sending the same tracks, to multiple places, with very little thought or consideration, to the needs of who they’re sending it to. It’s like being single, and walking into a bar or nightclub after being at the gym, without taking a shower or getting dressed up and shouting “I’m single, who’s interested. Anyone?”.
What Joel and others have said, is that instead of taking such a random approach to the business, spend some time studying it. Study what kind of music is being licensed. Get a sense of where you fit into the business. Study the specific needs of those you’re pitching to. Get to know their taste and the types of music they tend to work with. Then, when you approach them, send them a message that demonstrates you’ve put a little thought into your submission and interaction. Taking these steps will empower you and will make you immensely more attractive in the eyes of those you’re trying to start business relationships with.
In both business relationships and personal relationships, there are always two people involved, you and the person you’re in a relationship with, or trying to enter into a relationship with. To go blindly into these situations, without reflecting on, or considering the other person’s needs and desires is a bit naïve and foolish. You might have a certain amount of success taking this approach, if you try enough. We all get lucky every once in awhile. But doesn’t it make more sense to put more thought into your interactions and make yourself as attractive as possible to those you’re interacting with?
We all have things we want and desire in life. Most of these things involve other people. Whether it’s a relationship, getting your music licensed, selling your music and getting more fans, there are other people involved. Figure out what those people want, and it give it to them!