Do you need to “know somebody” or “get lucky” to build a fan base and grow an income as an artist?
As long as you’re making good music in a genre that has an audience, there’s a straightforward way to predictably and reliably grow your fan base… while you get to focus on the music.
By the end of this article, you’ll know the surefire technique that will help you make money with your music.
And I would know. I struggled for years to make a living from music. But after trying this technique, I built my way up to a six-figure salary.
But before we talk about success, we need to talk about failure. Here’s 3 of the MOST common indie business strategies… and why they all end up falling flat.
Terrible Strategy #1: Upload and Pray
Most of us think that when we get our album back from mastering and upload it to the worldwide distributor of our choice, the work is done.
Clouds will part, angels will sing, fans will line up by the thousands with wallets wide open and adoring looks on their faces, and our amazing songs will rise to the top of the pile based solely on how awesome they are.
Reality: Not so much.
By one estimate, there are over 30,000,000 songs available for purchase, download, or streaming.
That’s more than the combined populations of New York, Los Angeles, London, Rome, Paris, Munich, and Cologne.
When we upload our new music for worldwide distribution, guess what happens?
Our lonely little song gets lost in that giant sea of music.
So the best way NOT to make any money from your music is to upload it… and pray for lightning to strike.
“Upload and pray” is not a strategy that works… yet that’s exactly what 99.9% of indie musicians do.
That’s what I did at first.
Which is a little embarrassing, because I should have known better. More on that later. But first…
Terrible Strategy #2: Sign a Record Deal
It’s the method I call, “Beg a record company A&R guy to listen to your songs.”
Believe it or not, this is still a popular method. Because musicians are conditioned to think that once you sign a record deal, all of your problems are solved.
Money flows like water.
No more struggle. It’s all limousines, mansions, yachts, and fitness models.
Umm… again, not so much.
Here’s the reality. Record deals are, objectively speaking, some of the worst contracts on Planet Earth.
They are famously and horribly lopsided in favor of the record company.
Because the record company’s job is to make as much money as it can from your music.
(And by the way, the first thing that happens when you sign a record deal is this: YOUR music suddenly becomes THEIR music. OUCH!)
And that not-so-big advance payment they give you? Plus all the costs of making your album? That amounts to a loan.
You have to pay them back.
Out of your tiny little share of the royalties.
It’s pretty easy to see how up to 85% of artists who sign a record deal end up owing money to their label.
And you’d be surprised at some of the artists in this situation.
The band 30 Seconds to Mars comes to mind.
Their album A Beautiful Lie went platinum. They had an enormously successful tour.
Their record company made a killing on album and ticket sales.
But that apparently wasn’t enough. At the end of the tour, EMI handed the band a bill for two million dollars.
And this was totally legal, because the standard record deal states that all album and tour costs have to be paid for out of the band’s share of ticket and album sales… NOT the record company’s share.
Here’s another gut-punch. Record companies have become experts at adding on expenses and charging them to the artist. When a record company exec flies in to see you perform, you shouldn’t be flattered.
You should be extremely upset.
Because YOU are paying for all of his expenses… including the fancy private jet, limousine, caviar, and champagne. It’s all on your tab… and nobody even bothered to ask your permission to spend YOUR money!
By the time the record company deducts all the fees, royalties, and add-on expenses, most artists receive just two pennies out of every dollar their music earns.
Two pennies! With friends like that, who needs an enemy, right?
If in spite of all the horror stories, you’re still eager to sign on the dotted line with a record company, there’s one more thing to keep in mind.
Record companies no longer sign deals with up-and-coming artists… unless those artists already have a large and thriving fan base.
See, it’s hard times for record companies these days, and they only want to sign deals with artists who are already making money.
Which makes me wonder…
If you’re already making money, why in the world would you need a record company? And why in the world would you let them keep 98% of the money from your songs and your performances?
Terrible Strategy #3: Assume Facebook will Make You Famous
Okay… so we’re not going to “upload and pray.”
And we’re not going to sign a record deal that we’ll regret for the rest of our lives.
How the heck are we going to market our music?
Well… the answer is obvious, isn’t it?
Haven’t we recently achieved Marketing Nirvana?
Isn’t there a set of miraculous tools that will save the day, make us rich and famous, and allow us to achieve all of our dreams?
After all, it’s the era of…
(and the crowd goes wild…)
We can reach roughly a zillion people instantaneously using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.
Isn’t this obviously the way to make money with our music?
Well… I wish it were.
But no. Not by a long shot.
See, it turns out that social media is amazing for entertainment and building relationships one-on-one with other humans. But social media is terrible if you want to encourage people to buy anything.
It has just never lived up to the hype. Despite all the promise, social media has never delivered the goods.
In fact, social media is 20 times worse at generating sales than the tried-and-true method that I used to generate over six figures in music sales.
This is the same method that hundreds of thousands of internet businesses use. It’s the method that generates billions of dollars every year, in thousands of different markets.
This method is amazing at encouraging people to buy. Most importantly for us, it’s also amazing at encouraging people to buy your music.
It’s the marketing method that generates the best results… by a mile.
It’s also the cheapest marketing method to use.
But I have to warn you:
It’s not shiny.
It’s not new.
It’s not sexy.
It’s not flashy.
It’s actually kind of boring.
But I absolutely love it… because it works.
So what is it?
So What IS the Six-Figure Strategy?
Build an Email List.
Here’s what I did… and what I recommend YOU do if you want to grow a fan base and grow an income.
It’s really a simple process.
Grow an email list full of fans, and build a genuine relationship with them over time. Then invite them to buy your songs.
It sounds too simple, right? We think it should be something cosmic.
But in this case, cosmic definitely isn’t more effective.
I know — there are a million counter-arguments:
“People don’t like email…”
“People don’t read email…”
“Email is old-school…”
“Spam filters eat emails like it’s their job…”
Here’s the thing: each of these critiques has some merit.
Email is definitely NOT perfect.
But email is the most perfect method we’ve found… pretty much ever… to spread the word and invite people to buy.
On average, for every dollar spent on email marketing, the return is $2.22.
That’s a 122% return on investment, for those of you who like the maths.
And here’s the other thing to be aware of: building an email list, and learning how to communicate with the PEOPLE on your list, takes time.
But that’s not surprising, right?
After all, none of us learned to play our instrument in a week. And we didn’t learn how to sing in a week. And we didn’t learn how to produce and mix a song overnight, either.
So it’s no surprise that building a career takes time.
But fortunately, it’s not too complicated.
The 3 Step Process to Make Money with Your Music
It all comes down to three simple steps.
First, we need to locate fans of our genre.
This is where social media actually can be a huge help.
Some genres have large and thriving online communities that you can become part of.
Other genres don’t, and you’ll have to look a little harder to find where fans hang out.
For some genres, the only reliable way to reach fans online is through paid advertising. Don’t worry though — it’s not as hard as it seems, and there’s a very straightforward process you can use to dial things in. Once you know what to look for, it’s still relatively easy to turn a profit.
Once we’ve found where fans are hanging out, we need to attract signups to your list.
Yep. It’s all about growing YOUR LIST.
Aside from your songs, your email list is the most valuable asset you have.
Don’t send people to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, or anyplace else.
Send them to a landing page…
Where you’ll give them a sample of your music…
And make them an exclusive offer for some of your best work…
In exchange for their email address.
(BTW, are you choking on that word “free”? You’re definitely not alone! But you need to trust millions of successful online entrepreneurs in thousands of different markets…
And offer something valuable for free in return for the privilege of gaining access to someone’s inbox!)
And what should you offer?
Your best work. The songs and/or videos you’re proudest of. Most importantly:
Something they can ONLY get by joining your list.
“But what about Spotify and all the streaming services?” you might be saying. “Does this concept still work in the ‘Age of Streaming?’”
Great question! The short answer is absolutely, but it’s important to understand a few things about how streaming services have (and haven’t!) changed the music industry.
Then, once people have joined your list, follow this proven process to sell your songs.
What’s this “proven process”?
Make friends with your new subscribers.
Give them an insider’s look into your process.
Tell them real stories about the real you.
Don’t disrespect them by hammering them with nonstop sales messages!
Give them things they’d never get if they weren’t on your list.
Make them look forward to hearing from you!
If you do these things, they will buy your music — even today, when they don’t have to buy ANY music from ANYONE.
Your “secret ninja weapon” is a genuine connection with your fans.
Does This Really Work to Grow a Fanbase??
If you’re anything like most musicians, you might be saying…
“No way, brah. This can’t work. Nobody wants more email.”
Except that it does work.
Nobody wants more crappy email.
But everybody wants more awesomeness in their inbox!
If you take a bit of time and care to do it right, you’ll be amazed at the response.
I regularly receive emails from my fans and customers like this one:
Just in case it’s not clear from the context, I sent a “sales email” out to my list with an opportunity for fans to buy a compilation…
And people wrote back to thank me for the “sales email”!
Here’s another one:
Same thing — this was a “last-minute reminder” email that a special offer was closing down…
And people replied to the email to thank me for putting a smile on their face.
If someone had told me when I first started out that something like this was even possible, I’d have called them crazy.
But it’s more than possible.
It’s predictable and repeatable…
You Can Do This, Too.
Remember, only two things matter:
Make great music that fans of your genre will love.
Grow an email list of fans and customers… and treat them like friends and family. They will support your career.
Making money with music really is a simple process.
It’s important to keep two things in mind.
First, you’re not going to be ballin’ with Bentleys and Gulfstreams overnight.
You’re building a business, and that takes time.
There’s a lot to learn, and we all make LOTS of mistakes along the way.
But if you stick with it and don’t quit, you’ll be amazed at how far you can go.
Second, just like writing, recording, producing, mixing, and mastering your songs…
There are some details to master.
And there’s obviously not enough space to cover them all in one brief article.
If you’d like a more in-depth walkthrough of the blueprint, I’ll take you through the plan in much greater depth in a free training video here.
UPDATE: Here’s a great tip on how to get more Spotify streams:
One Last Thing
Learning is awesome…
But just like with our music, it’s all about doing.
None of this information will help you if you don’t ever decide to build a marketing system to grow your fan base.
But before you start, check out my extended guide on building your fan base. If you’re really serious about your craft, it’s an essential read.
So… let’s dive in!
Steve Pieper is an author, musician, entrepreneur, and master ninja diaper-changing dad. He built several businesses using the principles described above, then retired in his early 40’s. Now he produces songs and writes trashy spy novels for fun, and he helps indie musicians find their first 1000 fans online. Click here to find out more.