Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The "Secret" to Selling Lots of Music...

I just received my biggest single payout ever for digital music sales from CD Baby. How much? Over $2,000 just in digital music sales. That completely blows my mind. Seeing that I make "about" .60-some-odd cents per track sold on average, that means this single payment represents about 3,200 downloads sold.

It's amazing to know there are that many people buying my music. Lest you think my success is the result of some gimmick, think again. I'm just a pianist. Nothing extravagant. I just play, write, and record my music. I have a few cover tunes, yes, but surprisingly that's not where most of my sales come from. A hefty portion of my digital music sales comes from my original music. In fact, my best selling song is an original tune called "No More Tears." If you look at my top ten best selling singles, six of the ten are original tunes I wrote.

I have been enjoying great digital music sales for awhile now. I typically average between $1,500-$2,000 over a month period. But to get one single payment of that size (CD Baby pays out weekly) is a marvelous thing. My lovely wife, the love of my life, is rejoicing.

I posted a simple comment about the event on my personal Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/davidnevue) . Here's what I said:

"I received my largest deposit ever from CDBaby. Record month for digital music sales! I'd do a happy dance if I wasn't so full from dinner!"
And that prompted this response from a fellow musician:
"Hi david...to what do u owe your great digital sales success?"
That got me to thinking about it. Why do people buy music? What is it that makes someone, a total stranger, actually go out and PURCHASE your music? Especially when, in this day and age, people can find so much music for free on the Internet? To what do I owe my great digital sales success?

Now, I could get spiritually-minded here. I could say, To whom do I owe my great digital sales success and then thank God for His great provision. That would certainly be correct and true. However, it would be a bit prideful and silly to say that God is out there telling people to buy my music. Yes, there certainly is a spiritual element to what I do. My music is faith-based. But there's more to it than that.

My response to my fellow musician was this; two reasons for my success came to mind:

1) I write music that some folks love so much that they can't wait to share it with others.

2) I have a large catalog. I have a discography of ten albums now containing somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 tunes. More product = more sales.
It's easier to sell a little of a lot than it is to sell a lot of a little. When someone discovers a song of yours that they love, they'll listen to your other songs as well. And that single sale might turn into a whole lot more sales. The more product you have, the more you have the potential to sell.

But when all is said and done, it comes down to the music. You can be the best online marketer out there, have a fantastic web site, get widespread distribution and all the press in the world and still not sell very much music.

True? Yes, absolutely. A great web site and publicity will help you sell great music. But it won't help you sell mediocre music, or even skillfully played music that people don't connect with. You can watch someone play and be amazed at their skill on their instrument, but is that what makes you buy their music? No. You don't buy the music because someone is a great player, you buy the music because you like it. And even if you get caught up in the moment and buy someone's CD because you were amazed at their skill, what happened when you got home and actually listened to the CD? The excitement faded, didn't it? Because what you want to listen to for enjoyment is music that speaks to you emotionally, not technically.

Music is all about emotion. For total strangers to buy your music online, especially if they are hearing it or sampling it for the first time, they have to fall in love with it in that very moment. Call it "love at first listen." They have to want it, to desire it, and then for you to find real success, your buyer has to love it so much that after experiencing it they can't help but to share it with their friends, family and co-workers who, in turn, fall in love with your music. That's how real success happens. That's how you grow a business based on your music.

At its core, music is more than just dials and buttons. It's more than good production. It's more than a great mix, more than a marketing plan, more than a skillfully played instrument.

It's raw, untamed, emotion. Capture that, and you just might have something.

1) Focus on your music and songwriting, first.
2) Then focus on the recording and production, taking great songs and making them sound the best they can possibly be.
3) Then focus on the marketing, distribution, and promotion.

A final word of advice: Never, ever, ever release an album or song before it's time. Never be in a hurry to release your music. Make sure what you put out there is 100% what you want it to be and that it represents you well. Because once you put it out there, you can't take it back.

Do it right, no matter what it takes. If you settle for doing less than your best, then less than your best is what others will perceive as your "best." And is what you are about to release really your best work?

Make it your best. Do it right. And then enjoy life.

David Nevue
Author of "How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet"
The Music Biz Academy


Anonymous said...

David, congrats on your great results. This puts you in pretty elite company of artists who are seeing real revenues every day from their music.

I totally agree with you that an artist's success starts with the music. If you can't write a song, you can't expect someone to like you enough to buy your music.

Thanks for being a CD Baby customer. We love you!

Tony van Veen

Piano Lessons by QM said...

Truer words have never been spoken. Another great post David!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely could not agree more with the concept of technical vs. emotional music. It was when I learned that playing the piano could be an emotional experience (as opposed to just technical drills and practice) that I learned to love playing and starting writing my own music. I'd rather hear a one finger melody played with sincere feeling, then a million sixteenth notes played a million miles an hour flawlessly.

Greenfish66 said...

Great advice...Sounds like you've tapped into the money stream using music/writing. Can be very tough to do...Congrates man...

Good luck to you now and into the future


Sridharsmusic.com said...

I love this paragraph -

At its core, music is more than just dials and buttons. It's more than good production. It's more than a great mix, more than a marketing plan, more than a skillfully played instrument.

It's raw, untamed, emotion. Capture that, and you just might have something.

I'm going to do a little post about my thoughts on it on my blog very soon! Thanks for sharing

- Sridhar

PicoD said...

Wow! $2,000 a month sounds decent. That's $24,000 a year. So we need 10 cds, and we have one. It takes us 1.5 years to make each 12 songs cd, so if we work hard on these 9 cds in 13.5 years we can make $6,000 a year each with our music! This isn't motivational, it's a reason to quit! Great article though.


VladaM said...

A nice article, but I think the author should tell us more about its essence. I may be wrong, but I concluded this was just a giving publicity to CD Baby. Everybody who deals with music selling/marketing knows that you cannot sell anything just like that. This sounds like, write some emotional music, go to CD Baby and you'll be famous and rich at once. Michael said it right in his previous comment.

Sounds Of Software

David Nevue said...

To respond to the last couple of comments...

A successful career in music takes TIME. It doesn't happen overnight, or even over the course of a few months.

I started promoting my music on the Internet back in 1995. By 2001, I was making enough money from music online to quit my day job. But that process took six years, and that was the result of my working very hard on it every single day. And that was BEFORE iTunes.

No, you can't put up a single song and expect to roll in the dough. But, over time, you can build up a nice catalog, which essentially grows your product line and brand.

Michael, it's hard. There will be many days you'll want to quit. The question is, will you? Or will you persist? Most folks who are "successful" are only successful because they didn't quit when their competition did. They never gave up. Sometimes success means outlasting your competition. And that can take years.

But it's worth it.

FWIW, in 2001, when I was able to quit my day job and do music full time, I only had four albums. And again, iTunes wasn't a factor in those days.

iTunes has had the effect of making it SO MUCH EASIER to make money from original music than it used to be.

Even so, you should expect it to take years of hard work to start making enough money from your music to go at it full time, especially if you're not touring.

The question is, will you tough it out? Is it worth it to you?

If so, go for it. And be happy.

David Nevue

VladaM said...

Everything you said was correct. But, I don't know why you had to mention CD Baby at all. Or any other distributor, it doesn't matter... I'm an artist myself and I'm pretty much angry at those "companies" that fool musicians around promising they will help them make some sales and they will actually do nothing... You said it yourself, you made it all even before iTunes (and CD Baby). We would really appreciate if you shared your experiences with us regarding promoting your music, how you did it and where you did it. Thanks in advance!

Method Promotion said...

This suggests that people hear something, like it and then buy it on impulse. This is a reassuring prospect in this day and age, and promising for those trying to build a fanbase.

Congratulations on your sales!

Music Distribution said...

Nice story, I'm guessing your cover versions help get you to people's attention then they went and listened to your stuff and you made a lot of sales like that? That's what a lot of people are doing these days in all different types of music. I hope the success keeps up for you.