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A Music Business Plan For The Independent Musician

by John Oszajca on May 3, 2012

Recently I was going through my stats for the Music Marketing Manifesto blog and saw something really depressing under “search engine terms”. Take a look at a query that brought someone to my site…

Failed Musician Search Engine Stats

Dude! How much does that suck?

As musicians we all dread that potential “end of the line”, where (God forbid), we decide that we just can’t make the money we need to live the life we want, and we throw in the proverbial towel on our music careers.

But to see it right there like that… Man. This poor guy/gal had presumably decided that their career was over and had turned to the web to find a new way to make an “actual” living. It really struck me. It was like watching someone get hit by a bus in a crosswalk that you had crossed just a few seconds earlier. Okay, perhaps it’s not quite as dramatic as all that, but you catch my drift.

The thing is though, it really doesn’t need to be like that…

I recently had a conversation with a client who had released an independent album and was somewhat disappointed by the results. It was the same story I hear time and time again. She had a few thousand people on her list and hopes of selling nearly as many copies of her album. But when the album dropped, and much to her dismay, instead of selling thousands, she sold just a few hundred. This left her feeling that her chances of success in the music industry were pretty much non-existent.

But when I took a look at her stats I saw just the opposite. She actually converted (the percentage of her list that purchased), at over 5% with no touring, radio, or advertising at all. Most markets consider a 1% – 2% conversion rate to be pretty decent, with something like 10% of what is possible (and that’s very rare). So 5% is really strong and much better than your average business is doing. And we’re talking multi-million dollar corporations that really know their shit.

Nonetheless, she was feeling a little down about her album release and so I took her numbers and did a little extrapolation to show her just how possible it would be for her to put in a little additional effort and achieve her dream of a profitable and sustainable music career.

I thought I’d share those numbers with a little make-shift music business plan that I threw together and show you what you’re realistically looking at.

And remember, ANYONE can do this. It doesn’t matter if you have a track record, whether you tour, whether you are 16 or 60… Anyone who is willing to put in the work can accomplish this.

This involves a little math, so I thought I’d make a quick video to show you the breakdown.

Watch this video breakdown of what it takes to succeed as a musician now…

As I was saying… Dude! Those stats suggest that your chances of success as a new artist are 300% WORSE than getting struck – and KILLED – by lightening. That’s insane!

Meanwhile, making a REAL living as an independent artist can be as simple as driving less than 200 people to your site each day. When you look at it like that, we really have NO excuses for not succeeding as artists. We simply need to adapt to this new music industry, add a few skills to the skill set (or hire someone who has them), and make it happen.

And the model above doesn’t even touch on things like music licensing, traditional touring and additional album releases. All of which can lower that traffic requirement even more.

Needless to say, everyone’s conversion rates are going to be different. Some will be better and some will be worse. But all of those numbers on par with stats that I see EVERY single day using the same strategies found in Music Marketing Manifesto 2.0. I really want everyone to realize that these are real and attainable numbers.

That’s about it. I’m sure I’ll get the usual handful of comments from musicians who insist that I am wrong, that NOTHING works, and that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to succeed as an independent artist (always surprises me how many artists seem to be nihilists). But I’m equally sure that this will cause a few of you to have light-bulb moments and begin to see just how doable this whole thing really is.

So let’r rip guys/gals… Leave me a comment and tell me how wrong I am :-)

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Blu Torrent June 5, 2012 at 1:02 am

I had a good idea about how to do this type of this but you really broke it down and opened my eyes. Thank you so much for this info. P.S. i looked up google’s keyword stuff. kick ass tip thanks!

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John Oszajca June 6, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Awesome. Glad I could hep reinforce what you have learned already and give you a new lead to follow as well. Let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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Charley May 13, 2012 at 5:19 am

Hey John,

Great stuff as always! The plan is simple. Not necessarily easy–because it takes either time or money (I happen to have more of the former than the latter!)–but very doable by anybody who is persistent.

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John Oszajca May 14, 2012 at 2:10 am

Hey Charley,

Yes, there is definitely some set-up time and costs, like most any endeavors, but as you know from experience, the cost can be negligible when you execute the strategy. :-)

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Veronica December 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Halle, 16th august 2011.Dear Mister Rutter,October 22th, my chaorl sings for the youth of six communities of Halle, Belgium. A Confirmation Celebration where youth of twelve years old will say yes to God with the help of the Holy Spirit.Halle is a place of pilgrimage in honor of Maria.During the reflection after Communion I want to sing with my chaorl a hymn for our Lady.Something new and fresh.I followed course direction, the teacher told us to study your music works, so I found your song ‘Christmas Lullaby’. The chorus sounds so soft and beautiful,I thought, if I use dutch words onder the notes of the chorus I have a sweet hymn to sing in the church.This might tempt the young people in my choir. The members of my choir are seven tot seventythree years old. We are fourty, when everyone is present.We are singing an Eucharistic Celebration, it is certainly not the intention to use the song commercially.With your permission, I’d love to use this song.I will be pleased to sing your ‘Christmas Lullaby’ on Christmas Eve, so I’d like to order twenty sheet music and fourty print licenses, because not everyone of my choir can read music notes. Is it possible?May I give you the translation of the text in dutch that I’ve written under your music notes of the chorus.Ave Maria, Ave Maria, wij willen even met jou samen zijn we want to be with you for a momentAve Maria, Ave Maria, voed ons met tederheid, Moeder van Godfeed us with tenderness, Mother of GodAve Maria, jouw warme glimlach verwarmt steeds ons hart your sweet smile always warms our heartAve Maria, Ave Maria, ons Lieve Vrouwke en moeder van God. our sweet Lady and mother of God Noe noe Ave Maria, Ave Maria, laat ons nog even heel dicht bij jou zijn. let us be for a moment very close to you.Deep in my heart I hope you will give me your permission to sing this short track.Yours faithfully,Fientje Deceuninck

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Glen Brown May 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for the great reminder about the power of using the internet for marketing, and how important it is to have a complete strategy in place.

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John Oszajca May 8, 2012 at 5:24 am

Hi Glen,

My pleasure. Thanks for the interest and I’m glad this stuff resonates with you.

Get in touch if I can ever help with anything.

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David Sha May 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm

peace. Did you say you had clients? What services do you provide? Personally I’ve been at it since 91 but always run into the same issue. My city is not big on original music from local artists. The cover scene is a giant to the original scene’s dwarf. so I travel to other places to get my music out org promote on the net. The other issue is I dont have thr budget to move around the way I need to. I dont have management, booking, or publicists help. Are there ways around these issues? around these

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John Oszajca May 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I have had thousands of clients over the last few years. I offer stand alone courses and training like Music Marketing Manifesto and the Insider Circle, but I offer consulting services.

Re: Your situation… One of the reasons you see mostly cover bands playing at the clubs you would like to play at is because it’s a predictable format that gets predictable results. Most cover bands are covering the same material as the other, night in and night out.

People will fill the room anyway because of the predictable atmosphere the club presents. People paying the cover charge is really the main thing keeping original bands on the outside.

However, if you were to use these strategies locally and build a responsive mailing list, you will also be able to get a predictable amount of people coming to shows in direct proportion to the size of you list. This will be something that you can use as a negotiating tool when you are trying to get into these clubs.

All a club needs to see is that you can bring a crowd. It may not change their mind about original music in general, but it will change their mind about yours. At the very least, they might take a shot on you opening for a cover band.

Get in touch if I can ever help with anything and thanks for the comment.

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Robin May 5, 2012 at 7:19 am

Thanks John – it’s fantastic to get these figures – it is really inspiring. And the success/lightning comparison is a real “jolt” – pardon the pun. I am talking to musicians about the type of internet marketing you do, and I get the feeling many of them are still hoping to make it the old-fashioned way, like recently happened with Gotye (he’s from here in Melbourne).

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John Oszajca May 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Hi Robin,

Great point. What’s interesting is that you are much more likely to land a deal when you can show a prospective label that you can sell with or without them.

Thanks for your comment and get in touch if I can ever help with anything.

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Oly May 4, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hi John, I am stuck a bit with my name D-R-U-N-K as Google ignores hypens, so I am competing with “drunk” ! I have just got signed, and getting gigs and do not want to change it at this stage. What do you suggest I use as my main keyword?

Also I cannot get my site indexed….I stared out with http://www.d-r-u-n-k.info, then someone sold me http://www.D-R-U-N-K.com, so I cloned the .info site over to the .com….but it won’t show up in Google (waiting 3 months now) should I delete the .info as maybe its a case of duplicate content?

Thanks!

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John Oszajca May 5, 2012 at 2:54 am

Hi Oly,

Thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately Search Engine Optimization is a too big a topic to fit into one comment reply, but here are some things to start with.

Currently, you are tying to rank for your name, which is essentially preaching to the choir. People are not likely searching for you by your name (unless you are mega famous). Most likely they are searching for similar artists who are famous or they are searching keywords related to your genre. That’s where I would focus my efforts if I were you.

As far as acquiring the .com and getting it indexed. Yes, duplicate content may be the issue. What I suggest is using a 301 redirecting (permanent redirect) your .info site to the .com. Search engines prefer that you do it that way. That will take care of the duplicate content.

You can take it a step further by pinging your urls, so that search engines will crawl your site.

Visit: http://www.pingler.com and start pinging each of your site’s content urls.

Get in touch if I can ever help with anything else.

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Anita Prime May 3, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Awesome blog John… can I hire you?!! haha :)

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John Oszajca May 4, 2012 at 12:07 am

Thanks Anita? Email us if you ever need any direct assistance.

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Kat Parsons May 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Ha! I love the 300% worse than getting struck and KILLED by lightning!! Info is all very exciting- thanks for another inspiring post….now, where to start!

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 11:35 pm

It’s a pretty crazy stat. When you look at just getting “struck” by lightening, it sounds so unbelievable that i didn’t even bother mentioning it. And those are just US stats :-)

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Craig Stevenz May 3, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I’m afraid I don’t understand any of it. I know how to do the writing recording and performing – beyond that? I’m lost – unfortunately I’m not earning enough to even get in this game – but – I have no doubt this is the future of success in the “new world”

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Hey Craig, I can understand where you are coming from. It all made my head hurt when I first got into it. Keep in mind, it doesn’t NEED to cost any money to get into this game beyond a course or two to get educated. It certainly can, but plenty of people are doing well spending nothing at all.

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Constance Demby May 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm

And some of us are in a completely different category – like -
“contemporary electronic symphonic”
“Symphonic sacred space music” etc.
My google search numbers when you search my name usually come in around 300,000 results, which I’m guessing are decent search results. would be nice to see that translate to sales! I have two FB sites with well over 3000 friends on one of the FB sites, plus a fan group FB site. Anyways, I’m still a bit baffled about what may seem ez and clear to you. guess I’ll have to listen a couple more times. Thnx John

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Hey Constance,

Thanks for the comment. It’s possible you may be mixing up search queries with competing websites. When you search for your name in quotes that is the number of web pages that contain your keyword. What we also want to know is how many people are searching for your keyword. To do this I use Google’s keyword tool as well as more advanced tools like Market Samurai. Email us if you have any questions.

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Constance Demby May 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Hi John…
The following search words are embedded on the main page of my website:
inspirational, healing, meditation, metaphysical, spacemusic, meditation music, ambrosial, healing music, cosmic music, electronic music, symphonic music, new age music, So when a customer is searching for any of these qualities, those keywords, embedded on my index page, may show up for them.

I used these specific search terms to see what would come up:

constance demby
Global Monthly Searches 2,400
Local Monthly Searches 880

contemporary electronic
Medium
1,300
720

contemporary electronic music
Low
170
36

Market Samurai states that they can help you “Achieve quick, easy, profitable front-page rankings on Google, and see the results in just a few weeks.” My website constancedemby.com has been positioned as #1 ever since we posted it more than ten years ago. A google search of my name brings one directly to my website with several other websites right below it connected to my name.

I’ll keep reading your blog and the comments to learn more about how this all works. But it’s really not my thing … and intend to find some helpers on my list to assist.
Thnx John for always great info…

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Hey Constance,

It’s kind of too big of a topic to cover in just a blog comment but I think there are a few misunderstandings about SEO here. And that is TOTALLY normal.

Ranking for your own name is pretty much a given, and while it’s a good thing, you’re kind of just preaching to the choir. The goal is to rank for keywords related to the search queries of your POTENTIAL fans.

Such as the term “contemporary electronic music” or “mediation music” or whatever is appropriate. You don’t seem to be ranking for those words.

Having your keywords in your meta tags is all well and good but it counts for very little when it comes to SEO. It’s much more about backlinks.

Another issue is that the home page of your site has no real content on it which tends to make things difficult when it comes to ranking. But again, this is a big topic and requires a from the ground up training lesson.

Thanks again for the comment.

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Constance Demby May 4, 2012 at 3:13 am

You’re right John, this is beyond my current knowledge in this subject. In and amongst the recording and performing career and the 14 albums to attend to, plus the new album etc, I will have my engineer take a look at your suggestions. Thnx John — appreciate your sincere wish to help us all in this wild and crazy music biz! best, CD

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Dave Haertel May 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm

It’s really funny John,

On linkedin.. If you do .what you do plus locality and post it in your bio all over ie: composer Las Vegas

You will rank up the top.

I know you know this already heres the thing..The minute someone else has one more keyword then you, he is above you..Who has time for that.. I say be original do what works and work it..

Get likes right..cool :)

Dave

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 9:48 pm

“Be original do what works and work it…”. Well said. Thanks for the comment.

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Jay von Mohr May 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Hey John,

Great info & the vid really helps get your brain around it.

Thanks,

JvM

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Thanks Jay, Glad you enjoyed it :-)

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Richard Lee May 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Totally love this! Thanks, John. It’s inspiring to get real breakdown’s and goals that are achievable with some focused, intentional (even ‘hard’) work.

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John Oszajca May 3, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Hey Richard. Glad you liked the post. Could agree more. Looking at the reality of things is both daunting and inspiring all at the same time. Lets you see how much work is actually involved, but shows you how possible it really is. Most importantly it allows us to pull our heads out of the sand and create a target goal that IS achievable.

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