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« How to Get Endorsements or Sponsors for your band, tour, record, etc. | Main | Face the Interface »

Are You Really Selling Music?

It is critical in any business to ask yourself several questions before starting. As a performing artist (or songwriter, composer, producer…), one question you must ask yourself at some point is, “What am I selling?”.

One of the biggest ‘light bulb’ moments I ever had was as a senior in high-school, when I learned the story of Ray Kroc. For those who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, let me explain….

Ray Kroc is the man milkshake machine salesman who took McDonalds from being a small,  innovative, fast food restaurant, into the largest restaurant chain the world has ever seen. Before he died, he was asked what was his secret to selling burgers. His reply was simply, “I’m not in the burger business, I’m in the real estate business…”

What’s he mean? Well, McDonalds restaurants sit on some of the most expensive corners in the world. High traffic, a lot of potential customers waiting to walk into the door for lunch, dinner, and eventually breakfast. Most McDonalds restaurants are owned locally (franchises), and just rent the land and the McDonalds name. Ray Kroc realized long ago that that’s where the real money was going to be.

How does this relate to you? Music is more than a series of notes that someone enjoys hearing. Music, unlike any other medium, is something that consumers make personal. Yes, you need a catchy melody and memorable hook, but you also need more to be successful. MUCH more.

Artists need to remember that what they are really selling is themselves. YOU are the product. The music is a piece of that. But then there’s the story. Does the listener relate with you as an artist. How about the image? Does the listener look at you and see themselves at all?

artisit merchandise

There Can Be More To Sell Than CD’s And T-Shirts

To connect with your fan base, you must be able to connect on several levels. Inspirational music is a great way to establish an initial connection, but there must be more. You have to sell a whole lifestyle. That’s what will make a fan read your every tweet. That is what will make a fan download your song, ringtone, and remix. That is what will make a fan come to your every show. That is what will make a fan….a fan.

Once you truly embrace this concept, and adjust your strategy for it, you will instantly see a new growth in your career, with an explosion of new fans.

Nathan Talbot is an Entertainment Consultant with over 15 years experience in the entertainment industry. He has worked with independent artist as well as major labels like Sony BMG and Universal Music Group, and in television with national programs airing on WB and UPN, and others.

Reader Comments (8)

Nice article. I was hoping for the other shoe to drop with a massive realization of what to sell at the end though. For a minute I thought it was going to be an ad for Burnlounge (which I had hope for even if the government said it was a pyramid scheme). I suppose at a certain point we are in the business of selling fantasies & vicarious lives, but boy would I rather sell something else. Sometimes I make cupcakes to sell at shows & it usually goes well. I've heard about some bands who homebrew & sell their beers at shows, but clearly that is something the clubs might not be big on.

Hey Brian, Thanks. I'm sorry I couldn't help so much on the "what to sell" aspect. If I knew the answer, I'd bottle it and sell it. The problem is, the 'what' always changes. What works for Band A can be a miserable failure for Bands B-F, then work again for Band G. I think the best thing to do is connect with the fan base. Especially the core fans. There's a great article about that on this site here, If I happen to come across a magic answer though, I'll let ya know! (:

As far as selling fantasies and vicarious lives, I don't think that's your only option. Maybe for traditional Pop success, but rap was established and grew because it spoke to the realities of it's core fanbase, as did Alternative music. With the world being as small as it is these days, I believe any artist can reach some sort of fan, so there's no need to sell what you don't believe anymore (unless that's what floats your boat). Be true to yourself, and someone, somewhere will find you.

October 19 | Registered CommenterNate Talbot

Great post! I liked the McDonald's story and how you compared it to selling music. I think that many artists now are concentrating more on trying to tell their life stories to connect with fans. I find songs more interesting when there's a story behind it.

October 19 | Registered CommenterNatalie Cheng

Nate, please post somewhere else - this has nothing to do with music... which is your point, right?

And Natalie, what do you mean? Is this a recommendation? We now have to tell/sell our life stories in order to make it as musicians? Instead of making it as musicians?

Sometimes on MTT I feel like I've stumbled into an alternate, 80s based tooth paste commercial of another universe, where irony and intelligence are beaten up by straight white teethed bullies in college baseball jackets and then... that's it. Beaten, kicked out of town while Patrick Swayze laughs...

'If I knew the answer, I'd bottle it and sell it' - so what was it you do, then?

November 1 | Registered CommenterTim London

100% spot on. The guy who started ArtistShare many years ago realized this from the beginning. The "creative process" is the product - not the end result pressed to plastic or sent as 1s and 0s. This guy is brilliant and from what I can see really tapped into this with his artists. People pay to follow the creative process and "participate" in the projects. The most sophisticated approach out there.

November 4 | Unregistered CommenterJason Clarke

I have to agree with Nate. It is important to make your music a sellable product outside of the music itself because it creates more loyalty within your fanbase and keeps people interested; for instance, I am writing an epic novela that will include detailed artwork to go along with the story. The novela is based on the music of my instrumental project that we had recorded last year, and I will be selling this as a package.

Selling something like this will appeal to a wider audience and will make it more interesting to fans. People who like to read epic stories will like it, people who love eccentric artwork will like it, and people who like ecclectic instrumental music will like it - at least that is my goal!

Thanks for instilling further confidence in my efforts to pursue such a wild idea, Nate. You made a very good point in this article.

November 4 | Unregistered CommenterChris Amenita

Nate you make a great point. I have been giving this issue a lot of thought as I recently got my first song published and have been receiving a number of offers to perform live in NYC. What I realized is music is not merely a product (sure we sell CDs and merch); music is really an experience!

As a songwriter or performer we are selling the fan (customer) an experience, comprised of special moments, that they will connect with, enjoy and remember. Just as in any business, it is the customer that we must focus on to meet their needs. If your fans wind up spending $30 for the evening to see you perform, then you better provide them with an experience that they value being at least $30.

The performance is not about the venue nor the drinks, it is about you - that is what your fans are paying for.

November 4 | Unregistered CommenterHoward Pavane

pete townsend talks extensively about how, in reality, any artist's goal is the acquisition of commission. and that's quite true, i believe. i do, however, find it very interesting to focus on the precursor to that goal: finding out what you're being commissioned for.
i also find the phrase/idea of "selling vicarious lives" to be very compelling. perhaps someone should write that blog? haha.

November 4 | Unregistered Commenter@thefallowband

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