ATTENTION MUSICIANS: Wake up! It’s no longer about CDs. Do This Instead!

July 28, 2014

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I’ve been involved with music since Mary had her little lamb.

I started singing in the children’s choir at the age of three and playing the piano at the age of 10.

I’ve played for more people and groups than I can remember all over the Caribbean, United States, throughout Germany (ahh, fun times) and have even appeared on TV a few times.

As a musician with many friends who are also musicians, I felt like I had to write this blog post for one very important reason.

I see many of my musician friends trying to “Make it” out there who are just not able to make it work.

Why not? There’s one simple reason:

They are marketing themselves in the exact same way that musicians marketed themselves when we were growing up.

07_28_Musician_PinterestAllow me to explain . . .

Back in the days, if you had great musical talent and wanted to get out there, you would invest some money in studio time to record a demo, or maybe even a full CD (if you could afford it).

Once the demo/CD was recorded, that’s when the real work began.

You would try to book as many gigs as possible.

If you were a secular artist, you’d try to land as many nightclubs and other events. One event would lead to another, and another and . . . you get the point.

If you were a Christian artist, you’d call up as many churches in your denomination to try to get the opportunity to “minister” to their congregation. If you were one of those wild and crazy out-of-the-box thinkers, you might’ve even call up a church of another denomination – you “WILD” thing you!

There was one initial goal – Sell CDs. The more CDs you sold, the more money you made and the happier you were about all the work you put into that CD. It would finally start to pay off.

Ultimately, the goal was to “get discovered”. Who knows? You just might end up in the right place at the right time.

Maybe someone with a connection to a famous artist might introduce you to them and you get the opportunity to open for their concert. That connection might lead to another connection and the next thing you know, you end up with a record deal.

Now, life is good, and you’re touring all over the world being paid to do what you love. It’s a beautiful thing.

But then something significant happened – times changed!

The world moved into the 21st century.

Even Eve Bit The Apple

On October 23, 2001, Apple launched the iPod – 1,000 songs in your pocket according to the first commercial. What commercial? I'm glad you asked.

This took the music industry by storm. What so many other MP3 player manufacturers were trying to do, Apple did, as a result of their awesome, simplified, and elegant engineering combined with clever marketing strategies.

When Apple launched the iTunes store on April 28th, 2003, the combination was like putting the last nail in the coffin of the old music industry.

If you liked one song from a popular artist, you no longer had to purchase a $20 cd just to get that one song. You could just purchase that 1 song for $0.99 or (unfortunately) just copy it from a friend.

Don't front – even I had that 40 Gigs of stolen music on an external hard drive back in College (side note: I no longer do that. I've converted – get it? lol. Ok, back to the seriousness).

The Rise Of Streaming

Fast forward a few years, services like Pandora and Spotify have made it so that you never have to purchase another CD again.

With Spotify, you can stream all the music you want for free (ad supported). I pay $9.99 and that allows me to stream (or download) music on my Samsung Galaxy S4, iPad, laptop and any other device I plan on getting in the future (yes, I've gone somewhat tech-crazy) without any ads.

Why continue to buy CDs when I can have EVERYTHING I ever want to listen to for free (or $9.99 without ads)?

A Required Change

Here's the problem – hardly anyone cares about CDs and people are caring less and less about purchasing downloadable music.

In 1999, the recorded US recording revenue was around $71 Billion. In 2009, that number was $26 Billion. However, due to the digital revolution and how easy it has become for the average person to make CDs, there is definitely much more of a selection to go around.

Take home message – much more music is being professionally produced and there is significantly less money spent on purchasing music. Doesn't sound very promising does it?

Now that I've said all of that, let me make the following statement, which will sound very strange

Smart musicians who think outside the box are in a better position to be successful today than EVER before.

What? Did he just say that? Yes, I did.

A Good Example

Ok, so after all that talk about the dying music industry (which probably involves 99% of independent musicians out there), lets talk about the 1% that are doing things differently, of whom the poster child in my mind is Jonathan Coulton, affectionately known as JoCo to his fans.


If you’ve never heard of him, it’s probably because you aren’t in his target audience of those passionate about Geek culture.

When he left his computer programming job in 2005 to pursue his music full time, he began posting a song a week on his blog. The idea was to push his creative ability, prove to himself he could work with deadlines and to test out this thing called the internet.

What was also interesting about how he chose to do this is that he decided to release all his music under Creative Commons attribution non-commercial license.

This meant that you could copy, share and distribute his music freely as long as you attributed it to him and did make any money from it (i.e. don’t sell it).

Why in the world would he do that? He just left his job. How would he make money?

Well, by 2006, he was making a decent amount of money (although I don’t really know what that means) and by 2007, he made more money than during his last year at his computer programming job.

In May 2011, he revealed on an interview that he actually reached a million dollars in sales from his website that year alone.

He grew a passionate fanbase that loved what he did so much that they were willing to spend money on what he did, even though they can literally download everything he does free of charge.

Leslie, are you saying that if I give away my music, I will make money? Absolutely not!

The question you need to ask yourself is this – why was he successful?

Now, I don’t know everything, but I do have some biased blogger ideas about why I think he was successful and I believe they can be instructive for you as a musician (or any other kind of creative artist).

What It Takes . . .

To be a successful musician takes more than great music. There's an abundance of music to go around and yes – I would even venture to say that there's a lot of great music out there.

Great music won't be successful simply because it's great music. As a musician, you've got to create more than just CDs. You've got to create a brand, and that's where blogging can help you out. What does it take? I'm glad you asked.

Blog1. Start a blog

I know, I know – you’re thinking I’m biased. The fact is – I am. Blogging is the best way I know of to build a platform where people can find you.

2. Know your audience

Jonathan is popular for his songs about geek culture. His songs target people who are very much interested in things like technology, computers, cartoons, etc. They LOVE his stuff because he creates stuff for them.

Ok, so you’re a musician, but who’s your target audience? Be specific, because the more specific you are, the better you’ll be able to find them.

3. Create consistent content for your target audience

I’m not sure whether this was a part of Jonathan’s “master plan” from the beginning, but by doing that song a week, his audience was getting used to (and looking forward to) the content he was creating. His “fans” were eventually waiting for his regular release.

Your content does not have to be always new songs, but it does have to be for your audience.

4. Give, Give, Give

Generally speaking, the world doesn’t care about your music, just like the world doesn’t really care about my content. They care about solving their problems, accomplishing their goals, being entertained, you know – those kinds of things.

Fortunately, if you can help them with those things, they are willing to start caring about you too. Give them stuff that helps them with what they care about. Jonathan didn’t just give, he also made it much easier for others to give his stuff away – for FREE. I love it!

5. Be Unique

Everybody’s recording music these days. Ok, maybe not everybody, but you get the point. Why should I listen to your music when there are so many other options in your genre? What can you do that’s just a little different?

This can be as simple as really letting your personality shine through in everything you do, or as complex as actually coming up with a unique sub-genre (if that’s even a word).

6. Tell A Story

Good music tells a story and so do good musicians. Your songs aren’t just words on a paper. They most likely are part of your story, and stories are actually interesting. By sharing part of yourself (your story) and making that a crucial part of what you do, you can get people to buy into your story, especially if they can identify with it.

Once they’ve bought into your story, they’ve bought into you. And once they’ve bought into you, the sky's the limit. Jonathan shares his entire journey on his blog and his audience loves it..


Great musicians are talented individuals. However, when it comes to business, talent is overrated. There are many talented individuals performing on the side of the streets and many untalented individuals selling millions of albums.

The question is – are you willing to do what it takes to make things happen? Can you imagine recording a brand new song every single week for one year? No, I didn’t say writing a new song.

I’m talking about everything from writing to arranging, recording to editing and then posting online. That’s a lot of hard work, but it paid off.

8. Build a business, not just a product

Business planning and strategyIn 2007, when he reportedly made more from his website than from his previous job, he stated that 40% were from digital downloads, 40% from merchandise and performances. I don’t even know what the other 20% was from. When thinking about your business, don’t just think about a physical or digital album.

Those are products, and although they can be a part of your business, there’s so much more that you can do if you think outside the box. Think about merchandise, digital courses, eBooks, and yes, even sponsorships. Diversify your income streams and you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.

What you may have realized from reading this entire article (especially if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while) is that building a music business involves the same processes as building any other online business today.

If you’ve been doing it the old school way, I’m sorry – that’s just not going to cut it. You’ve got to market yourself in the year that we’re in.

If you’re reading this and thinking – man, that sounds good but I have no idea where to start, don’t worry. I have just the thing for you.

Sign up for my free course on how to start a business with a blog. Yes, yes. I said FREE. It’s my way of helping people get started without having to invest a bunch of money. I know what it takes to build a business with a blog and want to help to get you there.

Why? Because my mission is to change the world one blog at a time and I know that MANY musicians have messages that need to be heard. So lets do this!

Click Here To Sign Up Now


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  • Nate says:

    Good idea for my poetry.

  • Excellent article, Leslie! One critical part also is discovering and managing your brand. What you and your music stand for. Those intangible things that are unique to only you. Tie that in then with who your target audience is, how to reach them and then communicate to them your brand consistently and you’re off and running. I have written several blog posts on branding for artists that could also supplement this article. See

  • This is very real Leslie! And you confirmed what i was already thinking – as you know i’m about to record – like TOROMORROW 😀 !!! Thankfully it’s with one of my colleagues at work who happens to be a producer and has done great quality work with other artists from his home studio. I’m So grateful that he’s willing to help me out!!! But what you say about building a business is SO RIGHT ON TARGET. I’m gonna look more at that JoCo guy you mentioned to see what he’s got going on 😀 Thanks for the tip 😉 Great post. An awesome idea would be a follow up post about what ideas creative types might be able to use in their business model! Can you do an interview that JoCo guy? 🙂 Let’s find out what He’s been doing!!

  • By the way, i just emailed this article to 4 of my musician friends 😉

  • Chris says:

    Great article. Times are changing and this is how to keep up with it.

  • sandy says:

    Case to support your point: how the song Happy, by Pharrell Williams, was promoted and marketed online. You can listen to the same song, Happy, for 24 hours. Can you imagine the ingenuity in creating an online song that one can listen to for 24 hours? Now, people, in all types of circumstances, are dancing to Happy. Also, note he used a theme that he was looking for in his life and so are many others: Happiness. Here’s the site where you can tune in for 24 hours:

    Good post Leslie

  • Paul Gero says:

    Leslie, Thanks for posting this and thank you for reading the blog post as well. It’s almost like a podcast and I love that you are doing that.

  • Don Murray says:

    CD are definitely going out of style. You can also make music for such a lower cost than before.

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