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Aiming to please a few big clients versus aiming to please lots of little clients

Thinking about the difference between aiming to please a few big clients versus aiming to please lots of little clients.

From a business point of view:

Many small entrepreneurs think, “If we could just land Apple, Google, or the government as a client, we’ll be all set!”

Software companies often do this. They hope to make some technology that a huge company will want to build into every product, or install at every employee’s desk.

But there are many problems with this:

  • you have to custom-tailor your product to please very few specific people
  • those people may change their mind or leave the company
  • who are you really working for? are you self-employed or are they your boss?
  • if you do land the big client, they practically own you
  • by trying so hard to please the big client, you lose touch with what the rest of the world wants

Instead, imagine if you designed your business to have NO big clients - just lots of little clients.

  • you don’t need to change what you do to please one client - only the majority (or yourself)
  • if one client needs to leave, it’s OK, you can sincerely wish them well
  • because no one client can demand you do what they say, you are your own boss (as long as you keep clients happy in general)
  • you hear hundreds of people’s opinions, and stay in touch with what the majority of people want

Now, let’s think of this from a music point of view:

Some musicians think, “If I could just land a deal with Interscope or Warner, I’ll be all set!”

But look at the above lists again. It all applies.

The dangerous thing about the record deal mentality is you start changing what you do to please the one or two people at companies who have shown an interest in your music.

It not only hurts your music, but puts you on shaky ground when (not if) that person leaves the company.

By making a plan to only please your fans, labels be damned, then not only do you stay in touch with what people love, but it puts your career on much steadier ground.

Reader Comments (7)

I've been looking for a blog like this for years. It's about frackin' time!
Totally agree although from experience, it's often difficult to get the band out of that "get signed to a label" mentality. But that's what managers are for... good ones at least.

March 11 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Hickman

I definitely feel the core argument that is given by Mr. Sivers as I am of similar mindset to not just aim for the "big dogs". Although I am not for excluding them, I would just much rather have my value be recognized as it stands w/o excessive catering to their ways (and no I can reap profit regardless).

However, in my dealings w/ artists in the music industry or even more so, individuals who are trying to 1) obtain a profitable career within the industry and 2) have this cater to the big client mindset; these are the individuals whose more favorable option may be to tap into the industry this way. I say this because to do so in a new, innovative, and more hands-on way, would require them to be,, innovative, and more hands-on. Characteristics that many artists don't seem to readily possess or to tap into easily. Artists who are by no means lacking in talent and quality music, but rather need direct career guidance that in turn may affect (or is it effect?) their artistic vision. Good? Bad? Ehhh...can't call it, but real none the less.

(Anyway, that's just my half-a-penny and I know that I may be speaking from a much more naive vantage point. I also understand that there are many oversimplifications in play on my part.)

March 11 | Unregistered CommenterEpiphany

I was waiting for a blog like this, nice job guys.
I totally agree on Derek's point, it suggests a radical perspective change: establishing relationships with one powerful guy in a record label vs. establishing relationships with your fans. They're two pretty different businesses, and the second seems to be definitely more sustainable since you're getting in touch with those who really love your music and who will recognize your work with their money because they love you and your songs (or performances and any other thing you do).
I wanted to suggest an excellent piece by Kevin Kelly on the economics of the long tail for the artist (and not from the traditional distributor's point of view), which is closely connected to what Derek wrote here. He answers to a fundamental question:how do you find and relate to 1.000 true fans and establish a long relationship that allows you to make a living out of your music?


March 12 | Unregistered CommenterVladi

Great blog idea Andrew!

And I could not agree with Derek (as usual). With CD Baby he's helping to empower what I like to call the new "musical middle class" which I've blogged about extensively ( This growing group of artists understand that by building a fan base and holding on to it, they can make a living for years to come. It may not be stardom, but it allows them to continue creating and it sure beats being stuck in a cubicle.

March 12 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Houghton

Hi Bruce,

Great to have your comments here. Not sure what you mean about not agreeing with Derek. I think you're saying nearly the same thing.

Glad to have you aboard.

March 12 | Registered CommenterAndrew Dubber

With the exception of a very small few, everything starts as a niche. From there, simply keep feeding the beast (i.e. fanbase) and watch it grow.

March 12 | Unregistered CommenterRob Stefaniak

There is one thing to be said for aiming at several big clients: you know who (and where) they are.

Certainly, it's a lot easier to make a living off one big client (while you've got him) than many small ones. Just reaching a sufficient number of fans is a huge problem for most artists. Getting released on a major label (any working label, in fact) solves the problem of initial exposure. Without a label it might take longer than anyone is willing to slug it in a band to make even a passing impression in a enough minds to start a fan-base.

The Internet should be changing this, but now it's too easy to get lost in the background noise, so we're back to square one.

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