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Where the Music Industry Went Wrong: Why Indie Musicians Are Struggling to Sell Their Music

There are three reasons why local, indie musicians are not achieving the levels of success they desire in the music industry. In this article, I will give a short overview of these three reasons and the role the music industry has played. If you are an indie artist and you are struggling to sell your music, if you are struggling to get promotion and publicity, then it is probably because of at least one of these three reasons.

Three Reasons why most indie musicians are struggling to sell their music:
Reason # 1. Indie musicians have forgotten or are not aware of, the true value and power of music.

Reason # 2. Indie musicians do not communicate the value of their music or they do so poorly. This reason aims at how musicians market and promote their music. This reason also explains why most musicians are not able to network effectively at industry events and get the attention of music executives and the press. I will discuss this reason in a later article in this series.

Reason # 3. Indie Musicians do not deliver the value of their music to their fans. This is all about distribution, how your music is delivered, received, and experienced by your fans. This is about how your fans experience your brand. I’ll discuss this reason later in another article.

In this article, I will discuss reason #1. Most indie musicians consider themselves entrepreneurs. They take great pride in marketing and selling their own music. They see themselves as business owners, as they should. However, most indie musicians have not made the mindshift change that is needed to begin thinking and behaving like an entrepreneur, as a business owner. That is, most musicians fail to ask themselves the question that every entrepreneur must ask to be successful: What is the value of the work that I do or the product I make? In other words, what problem does my music solve for my target audience? If you can answer that question, then you have the mind of a music entrepreneur.

So what is the real reason why the music industry is in the state that it is in today? The music industry has cheapened the value of music and reduced the value of music to entertainment, to a catchy beat or hook, to packaging. These are all features and not benefits. All marketers know that in order to effectively market your product, you have to focus on the benefits that your product delivers to the consumer. You shouldn’t focus on the features. The value of your product is not in the features but in the benefits. The value of your music is not in your hook or your beat but it’s in how people receive your hook. It’s in how your hook/beat/lyrics solves the problems of others.

The music industry and musicians themselves have also reduced the value of music by denying the powerful impact and influence, both good and bad, that music has on its listeners. We have heard musicians refute the influence of music and their ability to influence their fans. How many times have you heard an artist, especially a hip hop artist say that he/she is not a role model? I argue that in doing so, musicians are ignoring the power of the music that they make and therefore, the value of the product they are selling. They are also turning down an opportunity to connect with their fans in a powerful, influential way. Mike Masnick, founder of Floor64 and says that the business model musicians need to adopt can be best represented by the formula, cwf+rtb = $$. Cwf= connect with fans and rtb= reason to buy. I agree. Musicians need to connect with their fans and give them a reason to buy in order to have success now in the music industry. In order for musicians to connect with their fans and give them a reason to buy, musicians first need to understand the value that music has in the lives of their fans and in society.

Music is more than entertainment for fans. Music has more value and more power. When musicians begin to realize this and focus on the real value and power of their music, they will build a successful business model that allows them to connect with their fans and give their fans a reason to buy.

People do not just want to be entertained. It is true that people buy music to be entertained, but real music entrepreneurs dig deeper to find out the real motivation behind why people buy music. A real music entrepreneur asks these questions: Why do people want to be entertained? Why do people want to be entertained with music? When a music entrepreneur can answer those questions, then he or she will know the value of music and can give people a reason to buy it.

So why do people listen to music? Why do people want to be entertained? There are many reasons. One reason, people use entertainment as escapism. People turn to music to get their minds off of the struggles they face everyday. People also listen to music because it helps them deal with their struggles and problems. People listen to music when they are happy, they listen to music when they are sad. Listening to music is an emotional experience for so many people. People love the way music makes them feel. Music helps people express and deal with their emotions. Music helps people to relax and deal with stress. People also use music to change an atmosphere, to create an environment, a mood. Music has the power to change our moods. Music inspires, motivates. Music is so much more than entertainment and a catchy hook.

If you don’t understand the value that your music has in the lives of fans, media, press, and venue owners, then you will have a hard time marketing, promoting and selling your music. If you don’t know the problems and challenges that these people have, then you are not a music entrepreneur. If you don’t know the problem that your music solves for these people, then you are not a music entrepreneur.  If you have not created music that solves their problems, then you are not a music entrepreneur.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue the “where the music industry went wrong” series.  I will continue to discuss the value of music and how this can help musicians market and promote their music. I will share with you how your music solves the problems of businesses, non-profits, and the media. I will also share with you tips on how you can communicate the value of their music in your marketing and promotional materials.

Leave me a comment. Do you agree or disagree with anything in this article? I want to hear your thoughts.

Author, Angela Carter is the Music Marketing Strategist and Music Success Coach for Campaign You Strategy Group, a music marketing company that helps empower indie musicians to deliver valuable music to fans and to society that increases exposure and solves social needs. Ms. Carter helps musicians develop creative music marketing campaigns that deliver social change.  You can find more information about Ms. Carter on the Music Success Blog  and on Twitter. You can contact Ms. Carter directly at:

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (14)

"What problem does your music solve?" A GREAT question to ask and thanks for the insightful post, Angela! In fact, a hidden gem - but yes, kinda hidden...

I feel so strongly that getting/understanding your message will REALLY HELP ARTISTS, that as a long-term and ardent MTT reader, want to offer some candid feedback...

I do think it could be more powerful (and more widely read),with a different title - mant of us are pretty weary of discussion of "what went wrong", so better to focus on more provocative and solution-based title.

Also, while the whole thing is a bit heavy on academic tone (not best for holding most indie artists' attention), a big benefit to YOUR audience would be putting your examples of what music CAN do (starts with "Why do people listen to music?"), in bullet point form, perhaps even as questions to artists - it would be more clear and have far greater impact.

YOU REALLY HAVE SOMETHING VALUABLE HERE, Angela - just think a punchier presentation (couple pics to break up text perhaps, also), would help you grab and hold the eyeballs that so desperately need to know this!!

It's a tough topic, since most artists DON"T think as you suggest, and probably inherently resist out of ego (what - MY music will sell itself!!), or sheer laziness. Let's face it - to deeply consider what you are presenting DOES take time and objective discipline...but is definitlty WORTH DOING!

Looking forward to the next installment!

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Back from checking your site - looks like a goldmine and signed up for your newsletter.

You seem to have a combination of common sense advice with depth, Angela - and insight, - for example your suggestion to look to OTHER industries carefully for marketing ideas...

and hmm - an attorney - ha, now that explains my observations above (no offense, so is my sister, but just sayin). Good stuff, please keep contributing!!

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Thanks for your comments and for signing up for my newsletter.

I will definitely take your advice on the title, bullet points, and pictures. Thanks for taking the time to leave me some feedback. This is my first post on music think tank and I would love to get more people to read this.

No offense on the attorney comment. I've heard worse, you know with all of those attorney jokes that are out there-ha.

I appreciate the tips!!

September 12 | Registered CommenterAngela Carter

And on the negative side... I had a look at your site, too, Angela - couldn't see any examples of artists you have helped to success - it would be great to see some examples where you have helped artists to 'understand the value' of their music and, as a consequence, they have gone on to success...

Now, you make a series of bold assertions and perhaps you could answer to a couple of them:

'The music industry has cheapened the value of music and reduced the value of music to entertainment, to a catchy beat or hook, to packaging. These are all features and not benefits.'

When did this happen? Was there a day, week, month or year when it happened? How come I missed it? Music still moves me, annoys me, gets under my skin... which bit of the music business did this? All of it? Disney? Mike Love's manager?

And, this being pop music I think you're talking about, aren't entertainment, a catchy beat and/or hook and cool packaging items of benefit? I know I enjoy the whole package, the pics, the vid, the story, the hook... perhaps you think the presbyterian experience of pop songs without hooks or a catchy beat is somehow deeper and more worthwhile...

'Most indie musicians consider themselves entrepreneurs' - I presume you have proof of this and not the kind of anecdotal info that I have which tells me that most indie musos consider themselves... stars, stars in waiting, songwriters, guitarists, cool, so nerdy they're cool, misunderstood, too cool to do anything beyond be on stage or in studio, oh, so many things that are the polar opposite of 'entrepreneurs'.

I know you give out free info on your site and there are obviously some nuggets of use in the article above but if you want to be taken seriously you need to prove your advice.

September 12 | Registered CommenterTim London

Some good Ideas and solid principals. Solving some of the issues that face the market as a whole is teaching independents how to market the wares without giving everything away, which only depresses market values as a whole.

As for CrowfeatheR material, my music is fucking priceless, why? Well, I don't have any for sale, I'll give some to special people once in a while, my groupies and gals and those who are deserving, but you can't buy it anywhere yet. It's priceless art. :)

~ CrowfeatheR

September 13 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

CrowfeatheR: check out my article on just this: "Everything You Need To Do To Be Prepared For Anything You Want To Do In the Music Business"

September 13 | Unregistered CommenterProfessor Pooch

I also think this is a good article, but do think it will be hard for the artists who need to read it to grasp. Although you are right in that all artist need to think and act like entrepreneurs, the ugly truth is they don't because they're not. As Tim put it, they are "stars in waiting", and getting them to act differently is definitely a constant uphill challenge (one that the more people in "the know" like you take on, the better).

As for Tim's question on when exactly the value of music was stripped away, unless you're about 10 years old, it happened right before your eyes. As radio and MTV grew more and more powerful in the 80's and 90's reaching the masses, and touring became more of a supporting factor, labels knew they had to be able to dominate those markets so their product could be heard. How do you dominate MTV and radio? By delivering hit records of course. And the most consistent way of delivering a hit record, especially from a new artist, was to make the bubble gum, catchy hook and beat.

And as you've seen from the sales charts over the past decade, album sales have taken a drastic drop as everyone's focus has shifted to making 1 or 2 hot singles, and the rest can be 'fillers'. Do you remember when a highly anticipated album, from a top star might sell 3 million records in their first week? Anyone who sells that many now probably has the top selling album of the year (see billboards top albums for the past 3-4 years).

I could probably go on and on about this, but I've probably wrote to much as is...sorry for the tangent....great article though. With the few changes recommended by Dg, it is a definite must read, I will be following.

September 15 | Registered CommenterNate Talbot

Indie artists are struggling to sell their music because 1) they don't have the finances to manage and fund their own operations properly, 2) they're facing increasing competition from more and more new acts every year and 3) that competition is for less and less discretionary income every year. Music consumers are spending less, barriers to entry for competition keeps getting lower, and the US economy keeps getting worse.

5 years from now, everything will be even more grim and there will still be a huge audience for "Blame the Victim" pieces like this. We all want to believe we can just change something in ourselves and our whole career will radically change, too. This is the basis of the self-help industry and it's always been popular. Not to say your criticisms aren't valid -- this stuff is all true. But none of it really answers the question you're posing in the title.

The internal problems indie musicians have are small potatoes compared to the larger cultural and economic problems they're faced with.

September 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Another interesting post. Thank you to share this. I didn't know that indie artists were more struggling to sell their music. I decided to trackback your post, again it's very interesting.

September 20 | Unregistered Commentermusic works for you

"...the business model musicians need to adopt can be best represented by the formula, cwf+rtb = $$. Cwf= connect with fans and rtb= reason to buy. Musicians need to connect with their fans and give them a reason to buy in order to have success now in the music industry."

Doesn't "reason to buy" just mean "produce great music"? What other reason is there for buying music, other than thinking it's great? I propose the formula: rtb=pgm (squared)

Hasn't it always been this way?

I bet lots of people could come up with pretty good "formulas" ...

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Hol

Information is the key to every thing!
Its just not available!
I cant even find out the legalities of distributing my own recordings!
I am aware of licencing for distribution but what applies?
Everyone knows how to write a song and recorded it and master it but where to from there?
I have looked very where. Apra Amcos ARIA and about every web site regarding indie music and there is no straight answer for publishing and distributing your own music legally!

December 4 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Graham

Paul: I've posted information on how to do all of this at Here's your main article ["Before You Sign With Anyone"] : Also my blogs cover everything... If you have further questions, email me at

December 5 | Unregistered CommenterProfessor Pooch

There are a lot of great indie musicians that I have as friends, who communicate themselves and the value of their music very well. What we see now is that fact that people can get music for free or for little cost (iTunes and subscription services)....the technology is there to either get it cheap or to pirate songs. Even if you communicate your value and your music's value well, as long as a person can get a song now and get it for free, you wlll see a strong number in free sharing and less payment for music. The statistics are striking at the rise in piracy and P2P sharing. Musicians will have to totally change their mindset, change and build a new business model, and look at other income streams such as licensing their music to media productions (i.e;, video games, films) and continuing with live concerts. When you see many of our top bands/performers selling energy drinks, having a clothing line, and perfume...they are doing it for a create an additional income stream that is harder to copy and give for free. I am not saying that all musicians should do that, but we need to look at additional ways to market and sell our music instead of general public consumption. With a live concert, you can videotape it ,but it is never the same as actually attending it...that is where we get "its the experience" at its most purest. You can always copy a song easily and send it can't police all piracy...but you can never copy a live experience like a live concerts.

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterChristi Pemberton

Good article Angela Carter.

Your article is very good. I learned many things about independent musicians, record labels/distributors and music itself.

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterJerico

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