Derek Sivers is a dear friend of mine and has long been a beacon of light for most of us in the music industry. These are highlights from talks I heard him give at Taxi’s Road Rally and at the Indie Buzz Bootcamp.
I constantly like to return to the lessons that Derek teaches and I always walk away feeling inspired.
Here are 7 wonderful lessons, which are great to revisit no matter how strong your marketing muscles are. These are all good places to start when considering your own plan of attack for marketing.
Before I dive in I want to start with how Derek got his own music career off of the ground. This speaks volumes about how he achieved his CD Baby success later in his career. There is a huge marketing lesson in his story…
When he was a student at Berklee College of Music, Derek was attending a music business lecture. Before the lecture was staring he overheard his professor whispering to the guest speaker Mark Fried from Warner Chappell Music that there would be no time to eat before the lecture was starting and it was a 3-hour talk. Mark was looking hungry and there had clearly been a miscommunication about eating before the class started. So, Derek slipped out of the room to a pay phone and ordered pizza for Mark and for the entire class. 45 minutes into his lecture, Mark was eating pizza with the class and was extremely grateful to Derek (who was one of many students in the room) who went out of his way to help Mark.
After the lecture Mark gave Derek his card and told him to keep in touch, which Derek did for the remaining 2 years he was at Berklee. When he came to New York he would meet Mark for coffee and their friendship grew. A week before his graduation, Derek called Mark to ask if there were any jobs at Warner Chappell opening up. Seven days later Derek had a job working at Warner Chappell in the tape room.
Lesson #1 A Marketing Golden Rule: It’s about THEM Not YOU
What struck me about this story is a simple marketing lesson that is one of the golden rules: Always think about this question: How can I be helpful to other people? That is what will make you memorable in the long run. It was Derek’s courteous consideration that opened all doors for him in the music business.
The pizza took Derek one phone call and $25 and it secured him a job in the music industry. There were probably 45 students sitting in that lecture hall that day and he was the one who ended up with a relationship with Mark and in the end…a job.
Lesson #2: Unsolicited Actions Will Get You Nowhere
Derek then went on to explain what it was like in the tape room at Warner Chappell. It was there he got to see first hand about what it looks like from the inside when indie musicians send unsolicited music to a publishing company. Warner Chappell is a large publishing company that was not looking to sign new artists and Derek saw the packages arrive by the dozen on a daily basis. From this he learned exactly what never to do.
Lesson #3: No One Is Coming To Save You In The Music Industry
Derek points out (and I have repeated this line in my own talks) that no one will come along and be your music business “fairy godfather” it all has to start internally. If you hire anyone to be on your team no matter what they are doing for you. You must understand that that person is your hired partner and that you will both will have to work to achieve your desired result. This is especially true in the realm of social media and online marketing.
Reach People the Way You Want to Be Reached
Stop thinking of it as Marketing and start thinking of it as creative ways to be considerate. Think of things from the other person’s point of view: Imagine if you called your friend up and screamed into the phone: “THURSDAY COME SEE ME PLAY NEXT THURSDAY!” (HANG UP)
You most probably would not show up if you were spoken to that rudely and then hung up on and it was funny to see Derek act this out but his point was: This is exactly the way most musicians speak to their newsletter recipients (and therefore their fans).
If your friends spoke to you the way you speak to them on your newsletter list you wouldn’t be friends. Begin to pay attention to other artist’s messages and notice what works on you. The considerate thing is to be so novel and creative and innovative so that people say: you have GOT to see / hear this musician play!
Lesson #5: Sharply Define What You Do
You cannot slice through the world’s attention if you are using a blunt knife and you will most definitely be blunt if you are trying to be all things to all people. Your message must be sharp and pointed. It’s OK to Exclude 99% and have 1% Worship You! Be unapologetic in your bluntness.
3 CD Baby Artists Who Are Sharply Focused
Eileen Quinn – Create A Niche
One of CD Baby’s all time top-sellers is an artist named Eileen Hoyton. Eileen is from Nova Scotia and she owns a boat. She recorded her music on the boat and the title of her album is called Songs For Sailors, and it’s a top seller at CD Baby. Why? Because it’s laser focused. It speaks directly to a niche audience I bet you can find a copy of her album on every boat that you set foot on. Eileen also laser focused her PR and marketing efforts on her niche audience. Since sailors read boating magazines, she went after reviews and features in boating mags, (she could have cared LESS about Spin and Rolling Stone) and she got publicized to a select group of people she knew would love her music and she sold tens of thousands of albums!
Regina Spektor – Don’t Be Afraid To Be “Out There”
Regina Spektor also understood laser focus but it took time. She did a Tori Amos style thing for years and with those albums, she did OK but when she added the hiccups and the “weird” themes and she started banging on her piano bench with a drumstick while she played people really started to notice her. This is what led her to her record deal and to her popularity. She really stood out from the crowd.
David M. Bailey - Find A Small Hill To Dominate
David was a lawyer who was diagnosed with brain cancer. Out of that experience he became a top seller at CD Baby. David was given a few months to live and he immediately quit his job and decided to record an album. He beat the odds and he survived brain cancer. He is now the poster child of surviving brain cancer. He has since recorded 7 albums and brain cancer patients often find him online through research, they then logon to CD Baby and buy all 7 of his albums at once.
Lesson #5: DIY Does Not Mean Do It All Yourself – Decide It Yourself
DIY does not have to mean do it all yourself. Doing it all yourself will surely set you up for exhaustion and will leave you no time to be creative.
Instead Derek recommends that you think of DIY as: Decide It Yourself – you call the shots but you MUST learn how to delegate, put your fans to work and get things off of your plate. If you have a sense of STRESS and UPSET around every decision and everything becomes so important you really miss the point. Just try delegating things and don’t make it all so serious and significant. Start every decision with: Let’s see what happens if… and try it!
Lesson #6: Act AS IF….
“You are whatever you pretend to be.”
- Kurt Vonnegut
Most people do not know this: Derek Sivers is an introvert by nature. His instinct when at a music conference is: he wants to retreat to his hotel room. To combat this he ACT as if he is an extrovert. Pretend to be the biggest extrovert possible for an hour at a networking event or at a party.
Lesson #7: It’s Who You Know Mixed With How You Persevere
Everything major that happens in your career starts with someone you know. Derek’s story of how he got the gig touring with world-renowned Japanese musician with
Ryuichi Sakamoto. Derek’s roommate from school was working wrapping cables in a studio and he overheard the musicians saying that they needed a guitar player to go on an upcoming tour.
To prove that he was the perfect guitarist for the gig, Derek got a hold of some of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s music that he was in the process of recording, wrote all of the guitar parts and mixed it and sent it back.
After a few days when he did not hear from Ryuichi he transcribed wrote a cello part out of another one of his songs and sent that to the studio.
After the third day he got the call and tour Japan for 2 months in front of 20,000 people each night
But Derek proves that it’s not only who you know but also what you do once you get the connection how to fully take advantage of each situation.
Persevere With People
Get used to staying in touch with hundreds of people with blogs and with your newsletter – it’s a psychological shift in your head but once you can make it you can be very very effective staying in touch with many people. This is the miracle of technology.
Make yourself meet 3 new people every single week: Do this by picking up the phone - people get hundreds of emails and dozens of phone calls.
My 2 Cents: AVOID saying the words “pick your brain” to anyone. That says: I want something from you…. and when you do talk to people, prove that you have already done your research. Derek says that people will ask him: So, what does CD Baby do? And It’s totally disrespectful – you want to let them know that you care enough to have spent some time learning about them before you talk / meet.