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3 Essential Elements of Music Marketability

While artists may wish the capital M in this industry belonged to music, the truth is there is many other elements which have to be in place to successfully launch and nurture a career.

The record execs and publicists would have you believe that the M stands for marketing. They love to take credit for how they masterminded the strategy that broke the band.

In reality when it comes to successful acts, the dominating M is not music, or marketing, but marketability, and that ultimately lies in the hands of the artist themselves. The most successful acts in both the mainstream and the more niche genres, understand this as the key to growth and sustainability.

So many artists fall down because they put too many eggs in one basket. They woefully neglect other key ingredients, which, unless firmly in place, will lead to missed opportunities and ultimately, failed careers.

The arena in which to market your music is more widespread than ever before. It can range from securing a magazine cover, to engaging a fan to share your latest video. A magazine can reach thousands of people, but get 1000 people to post your video on their profile, and the potential spread of that could well out grow the scope of a print publication.

The strategies are even more open too. Being the world’s most unmarketable band could strangely be a good marketing tool, if used in the right way. However, it is the artists who have to be savvy with what they are doing, and how they present themselves. Nothing halts the flow of a marketing campaign more than an artist feeling uncomfortable and resentful with how they are being portrayed.


No matter who is helping market your music, there are a few essential elements that will help make you marketable enough for that magazine cover, or a share on a few thousand fans facebook wall.

1. MUSICAL ABILITY:  There is a reason pro-footballers train all the time; they have to stay on top of their game and in shape. If you want to be a pro-musician, you have to do the same. Your mind, voice and fingers have to be fighting fit and getting better everyday. If you believe that the talent you are born with is enough, then you better get used to being a hit with just your family and friends and not much else.

When people talk about the music seemingly flowing through someone, it is not because they are more special then anyone else; it is because they dedicated themselves to pushing their abilities to the max and never giving up. The end result is that their abilities become second nature. We can all walk and talk very well, because we do it all the time, everyday. Playing an instrument or singing is no different, you have to engross yourself in it, every spare second you have.

When we get on a airplane we like to know the pilot has put in his hours of training. When you are on stage, you are the audience’s pilot, and they respond most favorably if you are totally in control of their evening.

2. SONG WRITING: A great song is an amazing marketing tool. However, only having one great song, without a second to back it up, is taking your career path towards hosting a karaoke contest in Reno, rather than hosting the VMA’s.

As with musicianship, songwriting takes time to get right. If you luck out and write a catchy song early on, it can actually doom the rest of your career.

The more you write, the more genuine your music will become, and the better your songs will be. So many artists never progress passed the mimicry stage. They settle because they think they find a formula that connects. When that formula is convincingly sounding like some else, it can too easily be mistaken as genuinely marketable. It isn’t, people can tell the difference. Even if they can’t always articulate it in words, they enforce it by not investing long term in you or your art. You need to forge your own identity, otherwise the new Bob Dylan comparisons will soon become “he’s just a second rate Dylan” and that does your career no good at all. Being referenced to others is OK, but if all you can be is referenced, then you’ll come up short.

Writing your own songs and having the ability to write for others significantly increases your marketability. Collaborations open up your potential for adopting other people’s fans. You don’t have to set your sights immediately on writing for Lady Gaga either; it can be with another band on the local scene. All collaborations will increase your exposure and increase your marketability.

3. IMAGE: It takes dedication to learn what makes you look good and what suits you, and it’s very important that you do. Just because you get a top stylist to dress you for a shoot, doesn’t protect you from looking like a tit. If you know what works for you, then you can make the most of what they bring and collaborate with them.

You don’t have to be outrageous, you don’t have to be shocking, but you do have to be honest and convincing. Nirvana wore ripped jeans and t shirts, and the kids loved it, because it felt real and was congruent with their music. Madonna pushed the boundaries of the era and made it work, because she did it without any apologies. Tom Waits continues to embrace the character that he created and retains his authenticity.

There are no concrete rules, but if you are a college graduate from the Hamptons trying to portray a down on his luck, growling tramp from southern California, you probably need to rethink your strategy. The best way to be believable is, like I said before, to be honest. If you like pretending to be other people then I’d recommend being an actor, because if you haven’t heard, the music industry doesn’t pay so good nowadays, and competition is tough.

Time will tell if Lady Gagas 24/7 fashion show results in a long-term career. Maybe we will be watching I love the 10’s on VH1 in 15 years, and saying oh yeah I remember her, I think she hosts karaoke in Reno now. Gaga’s image certainly is marketable, but whether it is sustainable is another question.


Honesty and ability will win through every time. Sure some people have faked their way through the business and reached a modicum of success, but the opportunity to do this is shrinking everyday. You want to be famous? Be a reality star, your 15 minutes awaits you.

Want to be a successful musician? Then you got to be in it for the long haul. Understanding who you are, why you are that way, and how to best convey it, takes time, dedication, and…oh yeah, a hell of a lot of practice.

Robin Davey is a Musician, Film Director and Producer born in the UK and now residing in Los Angeles. He was inducted into the British Blues Hall Of Fame at the age of 23 with his band The Hoax. His current band The Bastard Fairies achieved over 1 Million downloads when they were the first band to release an album for free via the internet in 2006. As a director he won the best Music Video award at the American Indian Motion Picture Awards. His feature documentary The Canary Effect - an exploration into the hidden Genocide of Native Americans, won The Stanley Kubrick Award For Bold and Innovative Film Making at Michael Moores Traverse city Film Festival in 2006. He is also head of Film and Music Development at GROWvision - A full service media, management and production company.

Reader Comments (15)

Thank you for this post, Robin. A lasting career really is built by an artist through thoughtfulness, practice, and sustained effort. Marketing gimmicks, sales/promotion channels, musical trends, etc. all change over time, but creating great, honest music with a defined story/image will work over the long term. Cheers!

March 23 | Registered CommenterBand 101

Great post. Nice to see someone giving songwriting some appreciation. I think it's the missing ingredient for so many aspiring musicians & bands, yet it's so often overlooked.

March 23 | Unregistered CommenterRaj

One word...DUH! This article is pure common sense for any music business-minded person.

March 23 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I confess, I don't find this list compelling. Every element is subjective (you like Watts, I like Ringo; you like Dylan, I like Lennon; you like Kiss, I like The Beatles).

Here's what I would offer up instead:

1) Perseverance (are you willing to keep pluggin even as people laugh in your face?)
2) Willingness to learn (can you spot what you're doing right and do more of it and admit what you're doing wrong and do less of it?)
3) A great, big huge middle finger (kinda goes with one, but are you willing to tell those who discourage you to go f--k themselves?)

March 23 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Shattuck

I couldn't agree more with the fact that so many people move to CA believing they are just a performance away from being the next Colbie Caillat; moving to CA does not guarantee any kind of success. My favorite part of this article has to be: "If you like pretending to be other people then I’d recommend being an actor, because if you haven’t heard, the music industry doesn’t pay so good nowadays, and competition is tough." So true! As fans all we crave is for our favorite artists to be genuine, showcase writing abilities and be just as cool as themselves. We don't need you to pretend to be "as cool as artist X,Y & Z".

March 23 | Unregistered CommenterEvy

I think that having a daily song writing plan that you never miss is a great tool in marketing.

It gives you a massive amount of options when you have a big list of great tracks to play with.

Image is a strange thing because just when you think you understand it somebody will come along and turn it on it's head.

- Chris

passion is a linking key. beeing honest with your talent, hear your inner voice and communicate with the world outside. thats one magic point of music. and its very marketable.

March 24 | Unregistered Commenterstefan

In response to Jeff and Mary

My company deals with bands every day who approach us to work with them and the vast majority fall short on at least one or two of the points above. It is great that you feel you have conquered these basic rules but so many prematurely think they have and they never progress.

Jeff your second point was covered in my article, I just worded it differently.

And as for the middle finger approach, when you do that you only harm yourself. Taking on peoples criticism and not just brashly giving them the finger is how you grow. You can have 10 great reviews and one bad one, but you can learn a lot more from listening to the bad one then listening to all the words of adoration.

Thanks for commenting


March 24 | Registered CommenterRobin Davey

Sad to see Jeff Shattuck's third suggestion in his response to this story -"3) A great, big huge middle finger ... but are you willing to tell those who discourage you to go f--k themselves?" - especially after his suggestions one and two were right on the money. #3 is an instant career ender.

The attitude should be ... without making the comment out loud ... I'll show you, you son of a bitch! And, then proceed to do so by following Jeff's first two suggestions. Negative reactions to what you are doing are always more important to career development that positive reactions.

March 25 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

"So many artists never progress passed" should be *past

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterSmartass

Great article! .... Actually one to the best I've ever read! You guys get it and know what worked in the past and what continues to work .... with your own insight added. This is excellent encouragement by focusing on what Really Matters in a music career, when you are trying to make a living at it.
.......... impulsive lust ... a NEW Style REGGAE ..... ....

March 30 | Unregistered Commenterimpulsive lust

@ Robin, I think you make great points. (I also think Mary meant her comment in a good way) I especially like the comparison to pro footballers. If a musician is going to reach his/her full potential it will require an enormous amount of time, far more than 2 evenings a week & Saturday afternoons. This is why musicians need to be paid in some way for their work. The "music-should-be-free" nazis will pound me for saying that, but it's true.

Granted, some part-timers have written amazing tunes, but they are the exception to the rule. If Michelangelo & Beethoven had not been allowed to practice their art day & night for years it is very unlikely that we would have the Sistine Chapel or Symphony number 9 in d minor. IMO.

Thanks again for the good read.

March 30 | Registered CommenterClark Colborn


Thanks for replying, but just to be clear, I never for a moment would presume to think I have figured out even a single one of your criteria.

As for my point about the "middle finger", all I meant was that anyone hoping to succeed needs to have the ability to, on occasion say, "No, that's not for me." I stand by my point.

Last, I read your article from my point of view, which is that of someone who would like to see his songs marketed, whereas you wrote, as you made clear, from the point of view of someone looking for people to market. Taking this into consideration, I'm gonna say we're both right.



April 1 | Registered CommenterJeff Shattuck

Thanks for the comments I think as songwriters we must always have a message in the song. I like what you said about staying focus on your career and remebering what it may take to increase you talent. It is always great to have someone knowledgeable about this industry to keep songwriters in touch with how to be successful. Thank You, Ms. Robin Davey for you comments. Solomen/Allen

May 4 | Unregistered CommenterSOLOMEN

Thanks for these great tips. Surely, OPM will never be dead because there are still many of our countrymen believe that we, amateur composers, can still contribute to our music industry even in our simple way. Thanks and may God bless our Philippine music.

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