Anyone running a business has asked themselves at some point, “How do I get people to buy my product or service?” You can have a perfectly good (okay, maybe just decent) product or service, yet somehow no one even pays attention to it, much less pays money for it. It’s something every (successful) small business owner knows: You have to market your business. You have to figure out who your target audience is and make them sufficiently aware of what you’re selling. You can’t expect to set up a brick-and-mortar store or an online business and just watch the customers flock to you without doing some marketing (unless you’re the only Chick-Fil-A or Popeyes in town…but even then you still have to). What’s more, you have to be sure there’s a market for what you’re selling even before you start–your product or service has to meet a need out there, it has to solve a problem, it has to make people feel something. And your business has to meet certain standard expectations for your field, while simultaneously distinguishing itself from every other business in that field, finding a niche for yourself. So if marketing is a given for conventional businesses, then why does marketing so often get overlooked by people in the music business?
What marketing is not
I’m not a marketing expert, but I’m becoming more and more familiar with the various approaches that musicians and producers use to get people’s attention and sell music. If you talk to anyone who has gotten very far in the industry, you’ll probably hear them say, “You have to make great music,” with the emphasis on the word “great.” What they mean is, “Practice, practice, practice…then practice some more…and then when you think you’re done practicing, do it some more. Then come back and we’ll talk.” The emphasis in music is so much on the skill side of the equation that it would seem like there was no way for budding musicians to get paid while they learn their craft.
But is that really true? Do you have to be an expert in your field before people pay you? Do doctors have to finish a residency in their specialty area before they get paid? Do painters have to have a PhD in art before they can start a business? Of course not. And neither do musicians have to become the next Yo Yo Ma before they can get paid. The question is, then, if you have a decent amount of experience as a musician or producer, “Why don’t people buy your music?”
Why people don’t pay attention to you
If you have enough skill to keep the interest of your family and friends (and at least a few of them don’t think you’re absolutely crazy for trying to sell your music), there’s a good chance that you have enough skill to sell to a few other folks as well. We’re not talking about going viral or becoming the next Taylor Swift–we’re talking about selling beyond your natural friend circles. But most people outside of those circles will not pay any attention to you, and as far as I can tell, there’s two main reasons for this:
1) Devaluation of music
Everybody is a musician or knows a musician, so there’s very little sense of awe inspired by mediocre abilities. Your work is either amazing or else it just doesn’t compel people to spend time admiring it. What’s more, with the onset of the computerized home studio (out of which I’m writing this at the moment), the competition is absolutely ridiculous. So unless your music is particularly special, it won’t stand out to people and they won’t pay attention to it. Hence the “You have to make great music” mantra, which happens to be a good strategy for getting people to pay attention, but it’s not the whole story. And as we have all seen, you don’t have to make great music to make (lots of) money at it, and even making great music doesn’t guarantee that you’ll become rich and famous (consider your nearest piano prodigy). Furthermore, the devaluation of music is a much bigger topic (including the devaluation of art and creative work in general) that we can’t possibly address in a single article. So we must look at the other reason people don’t pay attention.
2) Marketing, marketing, marketing…
The main reason people don’t pay attention to you is that they don’t know you’re doing anything. They’re busy doing their own stuff, and they don’t really have time to check in on you to see if you’re doing anything. You have to tell them. More importantly, you have to tell the people that will care. Most people won’t care, but a select few–your target audience–will, and they’re the ones you have to get to. They’re the ones whose tastes align with yours, whose hearts are inspired by your human story (even if they have different tastes), or whose projects can be enhanced by your work. But even if such wonderful people exist, how do you find them? It’s a process that takes time, effort, creativity, learning, and opportunity.
In this age of connectivity, you’d think it would be really easy to find your future fans. And maybe it is… Maybe you just need to be creative in looking around for preexisting fan groups that would get into your style of music. But more often, it’s not quite that easy. You can use social media to get the word out, but these are shotgun approaches that primarily target your friend circles and aren’t very dependable for reaching the people that will care. You can use e-mail lists, but you have to have a way of reaching new people who aren’t on the list yet. You can set up a website, but (just like a local business) it doesn’t automatically start attracting customers. You can also stand on the street and hand out CDs, but you’ve got no guarantee that the right people will listen (and, no offense, but you’ve got a good chance of annoying some people in the process).
Ain’t it necessarily so?
What every business (including music businesses) needs is a way to identify and attract the people who will be most interested in their products and services. Notice the magnetic force in that statement. You want to attract the right people. Why would you hunt down and pick up a thousand iron filings by hand if you could simply wave a magnet over them instead? Well, why would you hunt down and convince your target audience one by one (unless they’re really high-profile iron filings) if you could instead draw them to you like bears to a honeypot. You don’t have to annoy them into buying your product if they’re already predisposed to do so. Instead, they will actually perceive value in your services and will be willing to pay more than others would anyway. And what’s more, they will actually profit from your work in a mutually beneficial transaction. How do you do attract people to your business like this? Enter a little something called content marketing.
Content marketing is the development of quality content that attracts and helps to retain your target audience. It’s not a new thing, but it has become more formally defined since the dawn of Internet business. It can take all kinds of forms, including trade magazines, travel guides, tutorial videos, podcasts, newsletters, product reviews, and much more. In particular, we’ve seen a new kind of content marketing arise: the blog. Practically every small business has its own blog now because people recognize its usefulness for marketing. Not only do blogs engage your target audience with information that is genuinely useful to them, but they also cause your audience to begin to see you as an expert in your field. Your readers begin to see you as a go-to person for advice, and they begin to value your product more highly as a result. And they can find your blog posts easily enough if you spend a little time making them search-engine friendly for the keywords you’re trying to focus on (there are various plugins that can help you with this process if you’re using a standard blog platform like WordPress or Joomla). What’s more, it’s completely free to start a blog (except for the time you have to invest in it).
You don’t have to be an expert
I’m not an expert in film music, but I don’t have to be an expert to share what I’ve learned about the field. I know a few things and there’s a lot I don’t know, but if I can help you by sharing one thing I have learned, then it’s worth sharing it.
You may have more experience in composition, production, or the music business than I do, or you may have less, but share what you know with someone who doesn’t know it! Whether you’re a musician, a producer, a videographer, a marketing person, an entrepreneur, or something entirely different, you can share what you have already learned in your field with the people who don’t know it yet. Focus on what they need to know, what inspires them, what problems they face, what questions they have… More than likely the questions you’re asking are questions other people are asking too. More than likely the things that inspire you will inspire them too. And if you don’t believe me, maybe this article will help you feel better about starting a blog, since they know more about marketing than I do. And for more discussion of the benefits of a blog, see this article. I didn’t see that one till after posting this.
So rather than spending time and effort on spammy or manipulative salesmanship methods, let’s use that time to offer helpful, useful content to our audiences in order to serve them and make the world a better place, to share a relatable human story, a behind-the-scenes look at the faces of your business…and perhaps in the process make them more aware of our products and services so we can share what we’re passionate about with other people. More than likely, someone else out there will be passionate about it too.
What are you passionate about? What kind of blog are you going to go start now? Let me know in the comments below.