Redefining Success in the Music Industry

Redefining Success in the Music Industry

What Musicians Need To Know In Order To Succeed Today

Back in 2001, I was working for a well-known security company that contracted to big corporations. Because of my IT background I was hired to work in the security control center, which was very much like a 911 call center, with one exception. Instead of just one state, I was responsible for off-hour emergencies in every state in which the company had an installation.

This included North Carolina, New York, Florida, and four other states. It was so busy at times that even a former 911 operator, who eventually quit, said that they weren’t ever as busy as that company was.

I was working that job, and many others over the years, doing what a lot of musicians do. I called it my side job, and the goal was to eventually quit when I became successful as a musician.

If you’re a musician like me, then you know that this is all too familiar.

While I was working for this company at night, I was building another company when I should have been sleeping. I was contacting other labels, planning events, catering to musicians, promoting shows and a lot more, all with the hope of making it big.

I honestly believed that I would somehow, some way, miraculously make it; that some magic money-man would fall in love with my music, give me a contract, I’d go on tour and millions of fans would show up and thousands upon thousands of dollars would just appear in my bank account.

And there is nothing wrong with believing that you will be discovered, and that your ability and talent and skill will reach millions of people and you will be massively successful.

The truth is though, that the world doesn’t work that way. The music industry doesn’t work that way, and things don’t just happen without a reason.

I had done everything I was supposed to do. I played clubs, I played with orchestras, I created my own label, and I chased spins, and plays, and listens; I tried collaborations and open mic nights and teaching music. I did everything that I was raised up to do and followed the advice I was given, but I never could attain the level of success I wanted in music.

I thought I was doing something wrong, and then one day, I met another musician named Everett.

I met him because of what I was doing. Word had begun to spread about me and what I was doing for local artists, and he wanted to meet me.

The Internet was still relatively new, and me, being a programmer and systems administrator decided to put my music online for people to listen to and download. I ran a SHOUTcast© server that played only local and independent music, and twice a day I’d go live for one hour.

There was also a community calendar where those artists could list their shows, and I had about 800 people that listened to my little station regularly, and around 2,000 people on an email list that liked to receive new announcements about music.

He arrived at my residence that evening, and I showed him what I was working on, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think he ever really got what Echoingwalls Music (my company) was about, but he was interested in learning about it and getting to know me.

As I listened to him talk, it was as if he were telling my own story back to me.

He did everything he was supposed to as well. He followed the same advice. The only difference between him and me was that he was grinding much longer than I had, by many years, and he was still grinding with no measurable success.

I’ve met with more musicians than I can remember, but I remember Everett because this particular meeting didn’t end the way any of the others did.

He handed me a compilation CD and said, “Whatever you can do with this, keep it. It’s yours”.

Then he walked out, and it’s the last I ever heard from him.

I have been a musician for more than 20 years and it’s the first time I had ever seen any musician give up on their music. I asked him why and all he said was that he needed something more stable income-wise for him and his family, and that was that.

If there was ever a moment in my life that I can look back upon and say, “That really broke my heart”, that moment is definitely one of the top moments, right next to, before celebrating our one year anniversary and after having talked about marriage, my then girlfriend cheated and broke up with me.

If you’re not a musician, that comparison probably won’t make sense to you, but for musicians, we see the world differently and we feel things much deeper than most people, and as a result, our passion for music is a huge part of who we are, and it affects us just as much as any other event in life.

For me, music was the thing that kept me out of trouble when I was growing up; it’s the first thing that I knew made my parents proud of me; the thing that brought me and my sisters together in a way that I didn’t think was possible, because they were musicians too.

And over the years, when I was stressed or overworked or needed to escape, or just figure things out, music was that place of peace. I couldn’t ever imagine walking away from music.

That’s how profound that moment was watching Everett walk away and give up on his music.

What came from that day though, I believe, would make him reconsider his decision. That moment changed the direction of my music career and gave me a higher purpose for being in the music industry, and for all that I do in music, there is one underlying hope and belief.

We put our blood, sweat, tears and every ounce of creativity into creating music, and we will work ourselves to the bone chasing our passions.

I believe that we should be the ones who benefit the most financially from our creation because what we create is valuable. I believe that we should have total control of our creations, and I believe that we should be controlling the music industry, not being extorted by it.

We make the music, we write the songs, we compose the scores, we make the beats, we inspire people and there’s one thing I know for a fact – nobody in the corporate world of the music industry would make a single dime if it weren’t for us doing what we do.

And I knew for a fact that I wanted to change the game for every musician out there and create opportunity where so many have been denied because they don’t fit some corporate cookie-cutter image, and that they can have the success they deserve, on their own terms.

That’s what it means to be independent.

So, I got to work, and have put all of my IT skills and marketing knowledge and creativity to use to build a solution, and behind it all was my sincerest hope that whatever I created, would  give any musician who is struggling and grinding  an alternative, so they won’t ever give up on their music.

To some that may sound all cheesy, but it’s the truth. I know a lot of people won’t agree with me either, and that’s okay with me. And I know many won’t get it. That’s okay too.

It’s what I believe and why I do what I do.

If you’re a musician and you’re serious about your career; if you’re tired of grinding and getting little or no results; if you want to be successful and have the kind of money you’ve always wanted in music and you’re sick of hoping like I was for some “lucky break” someday…

I’ve created that solution.

After years of all-nighters writing code, and testing, and running on caffeine, it’s live and operational and ready to go, and as exciting as that is, and as much as I want to talk about it, I’m not.

I want to talk about something else even more important – why so many artists fail.

As I’ve said, the moment Everett walked away and gave up on his music changed the direction of my own career and my company, but it did something else.

It forced me to take a long, hard look at the industry itself, and as I continued to meet more amazing artists and hear their stories, I began to realize something.

First, we all had the same story and struggle, and second, there had to be a reason behind it. Success leaves clues, but failure leaves clues too, and after meeting so many artists, all with the same story and failing results, there was only one conclusion to be drawn.

If we’re all doing the same things we were taught, and following the same advice we were given, yet very few will ever become successful, then the advice we all follow, and the things we all do is either wrong, or no longer relevant.

Read that again.

It’s as simple as that – we’re all following a plan that no longer works, and we need to adapt.

And before I give you a new plan to follow, there are some things you need to know.

It All Began with an Outdated Idea

Back in the day, there was a saying, “it’s not about what you know, but who you know.

It was on t-shirts and slogans and every form of media and advertisement and soon made its way from the entertainment industry into corporate life and then it became a household saying.

That is when it started. I don’t know who originally coined the phrase but it changed people’s behavior. They stopped trying to do things on their own merit and started looking for hook ups and people to get their foot in the door with opportunities.

The music industry especially latched on to that and ran with it, and a lot of musicians still believe that to this very day, and it defined “the grind”.

Of the musicians I’ve met over the years, nearly everyone expressed in one way or another that they were looking for a “hook up” or waiting to be discovered by someone famous or influential to push their career to the next level.

It’s an outdated mindset, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why most musicians are not making the kind of money they want to with their music. It’s also why so many musicians have “side jobs” while grinding and hoping for a break.

But what if you could make the kind of money you always wanted as a musician?

I know that sounds like the opener for a sales pitch, but the truth is that everything is a sale, and the mindset of grind until you make it or waiting for a lucky break is as outdated as the industry itself.

We all know what’s wrong with the industry.

For example, Michael Jackson laid into Sony live on stage about why he went independent (video).

And before someone thinks that this was “way back then”, Jay-Z just recently did the exact same thing, but talking about YouTube, Google and Spotify (video).

Ask any musician who’s been in the game for a while and they’ll tell you what’s wrong with the music industry.

Without going into in-depth details, the industry was created to exploit artists.

  • There is an undervalued view of music that makes companies think that an artist should perform for free and be grateful for exposure;
  • A false idea from the public that they are entitled to, or have a right to hard work for free, and those with the skills are polluting the Internet with free software so that anyone can rip and steal music almost at will.
  • And of course corporations and entities that purport to help artists only seem to serve their bottom line.

If it weren’t so, then why is it that the music industry is the only industry in which the ownership of content a person creates is automatically on the negotiating table?

Authors who write books don’t give up the ownership of their books to publishers. Painters don’t give up ownership of their art to galleries. Those things and more are sold for a price because they have value.

Why is it that musicians have to negotiate to keep their music master rights?

It’s because the music industry, for all of the huffing and puffing about looking out for the artist, don’t actually do that, at least, not primarily.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Not anymore.

The Internet changed the game, so much so that you don’t even need a front end developer anymore to create and publish content, and all the music industry has done is change so they are advantaged by it.

For example, album sales have declined because people are seldom buying whole albums anymore because they can just buy the songs that they want. The days where people would buy a whole album just to get one or two songs they like is done, and it hit hardest in the industry’s pocket.

The industry’s reply to the Internet was a legal game with copyright and royalties. In fact, compulsory mechanical royalty rates in the US weren’t defined until 1998, and the rate has stayed the same since 2007.

The terminology for music recording sales certifications have remained the same, but the income earned has been decreasing dramatically.

Again, for example, in the US, whether it’s an album or a single, going gold is 500,000 sales, without adjusting for costs.

The average cost of an album is around $10 dollars US. Which makes more money? 500,000 albums sold at $10 average, or 500,000 singles sold at $1.00 average?

Who makes more money if you, as a musician, don’t own your music master rights? And after sales are calculated and the distribution companies take their cut of the profits, how much will you be paid?

You do realize that royalties are just pennies on the dollar of the real value of your music, right?

And now, the music industry is going after the outlets that play music, wanting them to pay as well, on top of already paying for the right to play your music.

Let me ask you a question. If you created a product and someone bought it. If they are already paying for licensing and paid the price for the product itself, would you charge them every time they use it?

Of course not. It’s crazy, yet the music industry is trying to do exactly that.

How soon do you think it will be until people decide that enough is enough and outlets begin to drop record companies and labels for their source of music?

It’s already happening. More and more companies are starting to seek artists to buy music from directly, and where are they going? Third party companies that are doing the exact same thing, but with a different business model.

These are just a couple of examples of the many problems with the music industry today.

You know whose fault it is? Yours.

I know that’s really strong accusation, but here’s the truth. Musicians are the ones who still buy into the mindset of 50 years ago. Musicians are the ones who still chase fame and still think that grinding will make them successful or wealthy – and it can, with the right focus (which we’ll talk about shortly).

Musicians are the ones who fail to learn and adapt, when an industry driven by profit is adapting all too well to maintain the status quo.

Hear me out.

A New Idea for a New Era

Back then it was about who you knew, but that’s no longer relevant.

Today, “it’s not about who you know, or what you know, but how many people you can reach.

The Internet changed the game and we are in an age of entrepreneurship. “Do It Yourself” is bigger than ever, and easier than ever before.

There are so many free platforms, paid services, social networks, and communities where you can literally reach millions of people on your own, that there is absolutely no reason why you can’t sell your music, or move more merchandise, or get more gigs – not in a time where millions of people are online.

That’s a fact!

So what does it take to be successful as a musician?

No, it’s not the same old re-hashed industry jargon about creating an image, soliciting venues and labels, reaching out to people of influence, and consistently working on your music.

I’ll tell you what it takes.

There are only three things you really need to make money today thanks to the Internet, and the same goes for any business.

  1. A product to sell.
  2. A system in place to facilitate your fans and conduct sales and transactions.
  3. Daily marketing.

There was a time when the only way to become successful as a musician was to be signed to a label or get your foot in the door through someone else. Now it’s just one of the ways to become successful.

But before we get into the other two things, let’s talk about your mindset and your focus.

In a nutshell, you have to stop thinking of yourself as “just a musician” and start thinking of yourself as a business owner – an entrepreneur – because that is what you are, especially if you’re an independent artist.

If you stop and look at all of the things you currently do and all of the hats you wear at any given time, then you’ll know it’s true.

You handle your own scheduling and booking, you handle your own finances, you handle your own marketing, you handle your own product creation, you manage your own deals, you handle product delivery, you secure your own funding, (most independent artists are working side jobs and odd jobs to fund their music), and a lot more.

As a musician you are an entrepreneur, so you have to start thinking like a business owner and doing the daily activities of a business owner to see any kind of positive result – and that also means you have to change your focus and develop a new skill-set.

The Only Skill That Matters

Most artists fail to master the only financial skill-set that truly matters in this world – sales.

A lot of people will tell you, “I hate sales” as quickly as you can mention the word, and for whatever reason, people have a bad image in their mind, and I was no exception.

When someone said “sales”, in my head I had a picture of an overweight salesman in a dirty suit and cheap white loafers, pitching me on how great a deal he has.

While there are certainly people like that, the overall image of sales is a lie for one simple fact – everything you do in life includes a sale in one form or another.

If you’re chasing a girl or guy you like, you have to sell them on why you are perfect for them to be in a relationship with. When you fill out a resume, you’re trying to sell your skills as someone for consideration, and in the interview, you’re trying to sell them on why you should be hired above all other candidates.

When you’re with friends or at work and there’s a decision to be made or a question asked, you’re trying to sell everyone on your idea or persuade others to see things your way.

If you’re a public speaker, at some point you will tell people your qualifications and experience trying to sell yourself and convince them that you’re the one they should listen to.

Right now in this article I’m selling my ideas that the way the music industry works is outdated and exploitative of artists, and the opportunities of the Internet expand to more than just views, listens and plays.

Everything is sales and sales is a life skill. It affects all of us, every day.

As a musician, why should someone become a fan of yours? Why would anyone buy your mp3 download, your album or that t-shirt or watch? Why would someone follow you or opt-in to receive updates and emails from you?

These questions and more are sales questions, and by the time you’re done reading this, you will know how to answer them.

This is how the Internet truly changed the game.

You don’t need a publisher or a PR firm or a label or most anything else the industry has put forth as the default “go to” in order to become successful. And while there are some things that are mandatory (copyrights and other legal, studios and engineering, etc.), the majority of the “status quo” industry is optional and no longer mandatory.

Which brings me to back to the big reason why musicians don’t succeed as well as they would like – focus.

And by focus I mean the center of interest or activity, or what you put emphasis on, and in the music industry, musicians are focused on becoming famous.

They’re chasing spins, hunting likes and comments, trying to get plays for their music, views on their video and more, but here’s the problem with fame hunting.

Fame is the end result of something else – marketing.

The “grind formula” that the music industry has sold millions of people on is that you become famous first, then you become successful, so there are a lot of artists doing things like playing for free to get exposure, spending all of their hard-earned money buying likes and spins and plays, and worse – signing away their music master rights when someone flashes them enough cash.

Here’s the reality – the grind won’t make you rich.

There are a lot of famous, broke people walking around, and there are a lot of millionaires, quietly living off of the front page and off the television.

A lot of musicians also have a problem with wealth and don’t even realize it. They’ll take a deal and sign away their rights for a payday, or spend all of their money on stuff that makes them look more popular, but when asked to invest in themselves, that thing becomes a scam, or they’ll default back to “it’s not about the money; it’s about the music” excuse.

You’re a business owner. You have to think about making money just as much as you think about the music. And as a business owner you need to change your focus from becoming famous, to doing the things that business owners do – building an audience and serving them with value.

We talked about the three things you need to be successful.

As a musician you already have the first one out of the way, which puts you ahead of the game in so many ways it’s not even funny.

You are your product. The music you make is a product. The merchandise like your t-shirts, and pens, cups and more are your products. The shows you do are your products (ticket sales) – they’re all products.

You already make your own music, write your own songs, create your own videos, and you have a creative edge and the personal skills to reach as many people as you can possibly ever want, so there are just two things that are missing.

  1. A system.
  2. Daily marketing.

As I said, we’re not going to talk about the system I created (at least not yet), so let’s talk about daily marketing.

As a business owner, you have to learn marketing concepts as well as strategies so you can build an audience of fans and followers. In the business world we call that capturing leads.

And you have to learn how to leverage all of the tools on the Internet that are available to you from search engines, to social media and more, including both free and paid marketing strategies. In other words, learn how to create traffic.

And above all, you have to master the one skill that determines your financial future – sales. If you can’t close a sale, no amount of traffic and no amount of leads will help you at all.

With an understanding of what’s wrong with the industry, the right perspective of a business owner, a better take on what your products are, and the need for sales and marketing, what should you as a business owner be doing every day?

And what plan can you follow, and how can you turn these concepts into action you can take right now to start seeing results in your business?

A New Focus for a New Daily Grind

It begins with a change in focus and change in your goals. All significant change begins with mindset.

Forget the fame and the money and all of that and simplify the grind into some basic necessities. Instead of focusing on becoming famous, focus on traffic, leads and sales.

If you want to have a lot of sales, you need a steady stream of leads and repeat customers, (an audience); and if you want to go viral or become famous, you need to serve that audience with value that they will consume and share.

Fame and profit are always the result of marketing that builds an audience and serving that audience with value, and you want to master the basics of marketing and sales, because every strategy there ever was, and every close, are just the basics with a little something extra added to it.

But instead of giving you a tutorial on marketing strategies, (that will come later), I want to give you a set of goals to work towards, and a plan that you can follow every day.

  1. Start leveraging the free tools that you have available, not to sell, but to build an audience.
  2. As you start to generate traffic, direct that traffic first to your social sites, then direct all of your social profiles back to your website, your blog, etc.
  3. Once you’ve started building an audience, then you can start selling to them.

So let me break this down.

Your first goal is to get attention by leveraging free tools like social media. That’s your Facebook ™, Twitter ™, Instagram ™, and so on.

You’re publishing information that appeals to the general public like your music, video, memes, blog posts, or whatever else you do so that people start noticing your content.

This is different from chasing fame in that there is a purpose to this – building an audience, and for the first few weeks, or around 60 to 90 days, all you do is serve the public.

The key word there is “public”. Posting your song in a musician’s group saying, “Check out my new single” is the wrong type of marketing.

Musicians are a very small fraction of people who will buy your music. This is my problem with 3rd party services – they’re great at building a community of musicians, but the majority of the audience, (unless you do some serious marketing) will be other musicians.

That’s not your audience – the public is.

So let’s say your genre is rock. Ask yourself, “What do fans of rock generally like?

What about the rock culture attracts people? The clothes, the makeup, the music, shows and other related events, television shows, movies, cars, websites… there are countless things that appeal to the masses of rock lovers.

Post about those things, share those things and attract people who will see you as part of their culture and their interest.

Here’s a question. How many grunge music fans do you think are buying classical music? There aren’t that many.

How many country fans are buying electronic music? Again, there really aren’t that many.

Post about relevant things.

Gradually, as you generate that traffic, you want those people to be centered on you or your band. This is where your own website comes in.

Whether it’s a static site or a blog doesn’t matter – your site will be the hub of your activity and all of your marketing outlets will point back to your website.

The idea is that when anyone wants to buy merchandise, or download music, or contact you, get updates, or book you, they have to go to through website.

One of the biggest mistakes that many musicians make is that they don’t own their traffic. We all know who the big 3rd party sites are and when a musician markets their songs and merchandise it’s just their profile on someone else’s domain.

When they want to sell a song, it’s a link to someone else’s site. When they want to share a video, it’s someone else’s link. And that’s how it goes.

Traffic flows to every destination, but to the artist’s website.

You have to own and control your traffic.

And finally, once your audience begins to grow, then you can start selling to them and putting out offers.

The purpose of building a targeted audience, centered on you or your group is to push you out there to the rest of the public. They are the ones that are going to check out your music. They are the ones that are going to share your music. They are the ones that will take out their wallets and purchase that song or buy that ticket.

The reason you build your audience this way is to build trust between you and them, and once you’ve built that trust, they’re fans for a very long time, even for the rest of your career and beyond.

People don’t buy because of you. They buy because of them and what they believe they are getting out of purchasing it. They identify with you and see themselves in what you do in one way or another, and without that trust, you will never build an audience.

So that is your new game plan.

  1. Identify what it is that attracts people to you and your style of music.
  2. Begin leveraging the free tools around you by publishing content that relates to that audience.
  3. Begin first by building up your social profiles, then having your social profiles point back to your website.

If you are consistent with doing this daily, you will get results. In fact, I challenge you to do this every day for the next 90 days, and see the results for yourself. Don’t just take my word for it. Do it.

Now, this is just a game plan for getting started.

It’s great for those who are grinding and not seeing the results they want and are looking for something different with proven results, and for those just getting started and don’t know what to do.

From here on out, you have to become a student of business, a student of marketing, and a student of sales. There’s no two ways about it.

You have to master those things, sales especially, to create the success you’ve always wanted.

There’s one other thing you need to be successful – the right vehicle to drive.

The Industry Alternative

The music industry, for all of the unique qualities it possesses is the same when it comes to every other business out there. All businesses need a platform that:

  1. Consolidates traffic around the company and its brand.
  2. Allows for interaction with their market, (building lists, providing support, etc.)
  3. Facilitates transactions (sales) and the conducting of business (communication, etc.)

Around four years ago, when I started programming what is now called The Music Sense Project, (or just Music Sense), it started with those three absolute necessities for business.

When I paired it with my desire to help struggling artists, I added some other necessities for musicians.

Some of those necessities include:

  1. Artists being able to sell songs directly to customers.
  2. Artists keeping 100% of their sales.
  3. Artists getting paid instantly and directly after a sale.
  4. Artists maintaining full creative control of their image and career.
  5. Artists retaining 100% ownership of their music.

A lot of companies out there provide one or more of those things separately, but none of them provide all of them.

My goal was to create a solution that cut out all middle men. That means artists no longer had to wait on some company to cut them a check when they reach some arbitrary threshold. It meant that artists wouldn’t have anyone putting their hand in their pockets.

And it meant that artists could, for the first time run their own business, without having to be beholden to an industry designed to exploit them.

What that meant for me was that I had to create a system that not only facilitated the day to day operations of running a business, but also allowed musicians to focus on being musicians above all else, and make running a business much easier, more affordable, and less time consuming.

More affordable, in that the traditional business model for the music industry is to front cash to an artist up front and recoup those costs on the back end either by owning the music master rights or taking a huge percentage of sales.

This is why many artists who do find success, eventually go broke. They’re indebted to the industry, and if they do own their music master rights, they tend to become one-hit wonders because the profit incentive for a company to continue working with an artist isn’t there.

The rare exception is when an artist effectively becomes an icon in the public’s eye.

If artists were to keep their ownership, sell directly, and have full control of their business, the traditional business model wouldn’t work.

What does work is the one thing that all businesses have in common – they pay for services that help their business, and that service, for all intents and purposes is silent. When you think about any traditional business, even in the music industry, this is how it is works.

Do you see labels signing over ownership of their artists to the publishing companies and outlets? Would, for example, Warner Bros ™ or Aftermath ™ sign over ownership of their artists’ music to Clear Channel Communications ™ to get their artists played on their radio stations?

Of course not! It’s absolutely ridiculous, yet many labels and corporations expect artists to do exactly the thing they won’t do themselves. They simply pay them for a service, as they do with everyone else. Musicians should have the exact same power to pay for a service that doesn’t infringe upon their ownership or cuts into their income.

It’s overhead – all businesses have it, and as a business owner, if you’re going to invest in your business, you have to invest in services that cater to your business needs, instead of just paying for spins and clicks and likes. That’s poor marketing anyway.

Another big challenge was the market Music Sense would attract. I mentioned how many 3rd party services focus on recruiting artists. It creates the wrong market for musicians.

So I had to create a service that attracted the general public – the masses that consume music. This is the reason why a musician looking at Music Sense will see a site that looks like a site that promotes music to the public, and not a community of musicians.

It’s why 99% of the marketing that I do is promoting to the public and it’s also why 20% of all fees musicians pay is invested right back into marketing them to the public.

Music Sense was built on years of experience as a musician, interacting with other musicians and listening to their specific needs. All of the tools are designed to cater to the needs of musicians, and during testing, the input and feedback from the many musicians who BETA tested it over the course of the last three or four years helped shape what it is today, and what it will become in the future.

And here’s the pitch.

You can take all of the information I’ve freely given you and run with it and do it on your own, and that’s great. That’s why I wrote this – so you have the freedom to take control of your own career, build systems yourself, begin learning sales and marketing, and run on your own power – that’s independence.

Or you can follow the link, watch a 7 minute and 15 second video, and learn about a system that was designed to save you the time, energy and expense of having to do it on your own, and know that you have someone, a team behind you, looking out for you and helping you work toward success with not just a break-through system, but with tools you need for business, and the sales and marketing education that it takes to become successful.

It’s time to stop grinding, and time to start succeeding.

To watch the video, visit

Please like, share and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dexter Nelson Echoingwalls Music (Founder), The Music Sense Project (Creator)