Music is being exchanged, remixed, re-interpreted, mashed up, and freely shared whether we like it or not. Musicians, bands, and labels are charging for music and CD’s, but the sad reality is it is becoming a smaller percentage of overall revenue. That only means we have to adapt and adopt different ideas to engage fans and appeal to them on a new and different level. By understanding our audience, we can find the intrinsic value proposition to engage them and appeal to their pocketbooks with other methods.

Here is one example of many that I will review later on rethink your band as a brand and lifestyle. My wife and I went on a Kid Rock Cruise. Pre-COVID, and yes, Kid Rock (amongst others) has his own cruise. It was one week, approximately 3000 people, left from Miami to Cozumel, had a huge party and band on the beach and 10 bands playing in rotation non-stop for the entire week. Yes, my liver was punished.

Here’s how the business model works. Norwegian Cruise Lines bought 49% of a company called Sixthman. Sixthman’s business model is similar to Ticketmaster and AEG, but they handle all the one-week cruise festivals. Right now, there is a total of 8 cruises. Kid Rock, KISS, Train, The Florida Line, and other venues all have an agreement with Sixthman to handle the organizing, booking of rooms, stages, managing fan list and communication, and the details with the cruise company. The relationship is, Sixthman pays Kid Rock to play on the cruise like a concert. He also participates in all the merchandise sales and drinks and other sales on the boat. The bottom line is he is making money all five days on the cruise, having a blast doing it, and deepening his relationship with his core fans.

Interestingly, the 10 other bands are chosen by Kid Rock and given rooms, food, and drinks for free. They also have to play for free. The idea is that the bands get to piggyback and gain access to a core group of ready and willing fans to spend money on similar music, especially those that Kid Rock endorses. Big money, by the way. The cruise on the bottom end is about $2k per person (drinks not included) and goes up to almost $10k. The idea is bands that Kid Rock has curated and (may or may not ) brought under his label get access to his fan base. Therefore Kid Rock makes more money.

What I am trying to hit home here is the value people place on ANYTHING is subjective. Whether you are the musician, band, or manager, I invite you to use the basic premise of music being free” to force you to look at your craft and its value differently.

“Let the Fan decide what your value is to them. All they have for you is money. Let them spend it on you. Stratify an experience like RadioHead and Trent Reznor (see link below) did to maximize profit. He offered outlandish fun things that come with a premium price tag. Dinner for two with you, for $1000.00. You just might get it! “

Fans choose to spend money on various things because it speaks to them. Music is that voice and language that lures people in. If we look at music as both a commodity and a business card, the closer we get to understanding how people relate with you as an Artist and literally “buy-in” to you as an artist. Money is really the only thing a fan has to offer. They want to be a part of your world. By combining the power of e-commerce, recur billing, affiliate networks (see how Affiliate Networks work here), and social networks, you are much more able to engage your Fan over a more extended time and make MORE money from them.

So, it all comes down to you as a musician, band, or manager.  

If you look at your songs like a commodity and understand YOU are the “experience…” 

YOU are the lure to attract people and engage them with your core fan base want to be a part of the Cult of “You” and be your friend and financier. That’s why it’s crucial to get your music out there as far and wide as you can.

Let’s look at the word Fan; it is derived from the word “fanatical,” which means:

fa⋅nat ⋅i⋅ cal –adjective

motivated or characterized by an extreme, uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in politics or religion.

This is your core audience. Your Evangelizers. You need them. The classic 80/20 rule applies. 80% of your money is going to come from 20% of your Fans. It’s the law of averages. YOU are the religion.

So, since you are basically starting your own cult, give the disciples a place to come and be a part of you…give them an experience in the form of a website, and let them use their wallet as their way of connecting. Cast your lures into the social media strata, pull them back to your website, and give them an experience and a glimpse of your world regularly. It may not sound compelling to you, but them. It’s everything.

Let’s take a brief time warp back to when music was first pressed onto wax; it was revolutionary and changed the way people could listen to music and sell music. Originally the concept was to give away the music on the wax records and get people to pay and watch the concert. Bands got into their Cadillacs and vans and hit the road to do gigs. The labels quickly realized supply and demand worked to their advantage. In fact, they could not press records fast enough. By investing and solving the supply and demand issue, they realized they could not only capitalize on production and sale of the record, but they could charge the Artist for the production of records, gas for the vehicles, studio time, etc. AND ultimately charge interest on every part of the process the musician went through. By paying musicians virtually nothing, they kept them hungry, stuck under their thumbs, and writing more songs under crazy agreements. As the detailed and ominous contracts became more prevalent and commonplace, exploiting artists was almost expected. Many great talents have suffered from these types of stories (Sting and Dixie Chicks are most notable for me). The problem is an artist typically wants to work on his/her craft. Not necessarily handle the business affairs. For those dedicated, naivety breeds opportunity, and that’s precisely what happened… The labels grew huge and exploited the artists. Some artists at the end of their contracts were bankrupt AND didn’t even own their own music.

Now back to the present day, with Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud, torrents, iTunes, Amazon, and a slew of other online music stations, never before could you as an Artist get so much exposure in such a unique and impacting way. The labels are going crazy because, in the end, they are becoming little more than a fan management company. Their large salaries and expenses unable to support the paradigm shift.

You, as the musician or Artist, are creators and collaborators. You want to perform and have people hear your voice. So let’s investigate this connection. If you and I as musicians connect, you are going to WANT to give me your music… For free. When you make your first “album,” “CD,” or set of songs, nothing will make you happier than having your songs played at a party or on the radio. Equally, you would want to hand out a CD to everyone just for the exposure. That is until it grows and hits the radar. And here is how the resentment begins:

I give it to a friend or someone at a party

they give it to their brother,

he gives it to his friend,

he doesn’t know you,

music starts gaining momentum,

music takes on a life of its own.

The label gets interested and signs.

Artist now under the control of the label.

Label charges substantial management fees.

Passes fees on to Artist

Artist is making barely enough money compared to the overall sales.

Music is being pirated.

Artist and label upset and spiraling.

So it’s a double-edged sword. You are either frustrated because you can’t get your music out or mad because there are too many people sharing or stealing your music and not enough money coming back to the pocketbook. If you want to see an excellent documentary on this very concept, watch “Searching for Sugar Man.” It’s a great story about a man whose music becomes as iconic as The Beatles, only in South Africa. I don’t want to spoil it for those who are unfamiliar with it. But watch it, it’s a great film.

If you are selling a CD, it is merely a transport and archive mechanism to get music into an iPod or other portable device. Make it easy to obtain. However, many songs you have, charge between .99 and $1.49. It’s the standard.

There are also exciting marketing tactics to find your Fan base and to help you find and focus on your 20%. The reality is this is the most exciting time ever to be a musician. It’s how you approach your craft and knowing that you are a product as much as you are a celebrity.

RadioHead In Rainbows and Trent Reznor: A lesson in redefining your music and craft. 

Let’s take a step back in time to the RadioHead experience. If you are not familiar with it, check it out here, it’s a great read. They did a fantastic job of creating buzz and not only starting as free or pay..then migrated to pay something/anything to get the music. They are estimated to have made somewhere around $4M with all sales (CD’s, boxed set, digital downloads). However, they missed the boat and probably left an additional $1M on the table. The simple reason is psychology…guilt, consciousness, and proper incentivization. What’s even more impressive is the Artists and/or labels are not doing it either.

Here are notes to think about when marketing your music online, starting a store, or creating a membership-driven site:

  1. Use lower quality MP3’s and MP4’s: When sending content out to the networks, you can use lower quality files to seed networks and gain popularity.
  2. TIK TOK: Make sure you make songs that can be duets. The more people collaborate and make it their own, the more exposure you get.
  3. Universal Website: Make sure you make your site designed and optimized for mobile before you do a website for a desktop. Google penalizes sites for not having mobile-ready or “responsive” websites and if the images are not compressed. Load speed is equally important. You can find some useful musician websites here.  Get a WordPress theme here at Theme Forest. They are great and auto-size to fit mobile (this is also called Responsive Design).

  4. Always ask for a sale or email:  Anything. Put a pop-up screen (modal pop) with a song, lyrics, eBook.. anything. It doesn’t have to cost anything, just something personal they can only get and identify with you at the site. It could also be to get a discount on merchandise or promote a widget that pays you for downloads. You can also get more money for the .flac file.

  5. Testimonials and emotional upsell: When at the donation page or sales page, fans have a community of responses in the form of a bulletin board that encourages them to pay more than $4. IE: “The album is great…I paid .99 cents for every track!” Or “even if I didn’t find the entire album great, at least give them $10 for putting out a solid album.” – The point is getting people to think about not being a cheapskate and paying more for the experience. They like everyone else, are fans. And fans respect fans because it’s their own little “club.” Take advantage of that fact.

  6. Easy to fill out order page: Always use Standard HTML or forms that have been vetted and work well. It’s one less thing to go wrong, everyone has it out of the standard operating system, and HTML is universal. Make it clear and easy for people to give you money. If they miss something, MAKE BIG HIGHLIGHTS and keep the info they have already filled out.

  7. Gift certificate: the cost to send the music to friends is negligible. Also, you only get dinged once from the processor. Allow listeners to send emails to other fans as gifts. When being charitable, people tend to want to spend more money on their friends than on themselves.

  8. After the sale: once the sale is made, take them to a special page. Create a special thank you page from the band. It can include a song, not on the album but can be downloaded as a bonus track, rare footage both on or off the stage…any of these should be an “easter egg” for purchasing.

  9. The zipped music file: once the music has been downloaded to your computer, make sure it decompresses into one folder. Inside that folder should be the following:
    1. The music
    2. The upsell for merchandise and or the boxed set at a discounted rate.
    3. A .m3u track for easy and instant playing
    4. Wallpaper – and link to more
    5. Ringtone – with links to more
    6. Special links – these “easter egg” links are meant to be shared and drive more traffic to different landing pages with content on the band website. Ultimately you funnel them back to the main website.
    7. Remix Links: allow people to link to a part of the site to download individual tracks and remix.
    8. Album artwork for iTunes
    9. Lyrics – with links inside the lyrics .pdf is excellent.
    10. i. Upsells – always being upselling your experience.

  10. If you are so inclined to do a donation model: Once on the payment screen, there should be comments in the form of a bulletin board or Twitter feed that explicitly discusses what other people have paid for the music. Peer pressure will drive donations UP. Do not reference the 99 cent model because not every song will hit everyone the same way, so they won’t be inclined to pay $10 for the whole CD…but they may actually pay more.

  11. Beyond the download: Once the download screen is up and they start the download…it will take some time. Move them into another screen that is only accessible from the download page. Prepping them with lyrics and background on each specific song.

  12. Boxed Set – they state this in the article. Get creative with your offering. Check out what Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails did here. It’s a 15-minute video but will give you additional good ideas.

So get out there and start making music and making money. This is the best time in the world to be an accomplished musician with solid songs.

Article by:
Mark Heninger

Mark Heninger is the owner of 11 Amps Agency and specializes in the distribution, lead generation email marketing, and monetization of content online. He also has tutorials and graphic templates to help marketers market their products and services on the search and social networks.