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Music Industry Statistics – Find Out How You Stack Up Against The Average Indpendent Musician

by John Oszajca on March 18, 2012

One of the things I’ve noticed while researching various topics for articles and blog posts is the lack of reliable statistics relating to independent musicians. It’s easy enough to pull up statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America but their data is largely related to what is happening in the main stream of the music business. But what about the average musician who is out there in the trenches every day, performing live and releasing albums but not necessarily achieving rock star status? I thought it was worth knowing what was normal and what wasn’t. How many albums the average musician is selling, where the sales are coming from, and what the average musician is doing to promote their albums in the first place?

I sent out a survey to my subscriber base (which is currently made up of over 10,000 musicians) and these are the results that came back from those of you who completed the survey.

Some of the results were surprising, and some not so much. Below I’ll share the results with you and offer a little analysis of what the statics suggest, and how they might be relevant to your music career.

Where do the majority of your album sales come from?

While it’s a bit disheartening to hear, it’s not all that surprising that the most significant source of album sales is “friends and family”. It seems the average musician is simply paralyzed when it comes to applying a marketing strategy that can expand their reach beyond their own personal network. This really needs to change folks. In line with that is the fact that the second richest source of sales is “live shows”. Live shows certainly are a great way to sell albums but the problem there is simply that your reach is limited to the amount of available time and energy that you, the artist, has at your disposal. In short, it’s not easily scalable, nor is it often even feasible.

What WAS a bit of a surprise, a shocker really, is that a mere 1% of sales are coming from people’s mailing lists. This is HUGE missed opportunity folks. Especially given that “the internet” is nearly on par with “live shows” as a source for generating album sales. A mailing list and a little knowledge of copywriting is your best chance and generating sales. It’s more powerful than shows, it’s more powerful than press, it’s more powerful than any marketing strategy out there. More importantly, expansion is possible without a significant increase in your expenditure of time, energy or resources.

Honest answer… On average, how many albums do you sell per year?

These numbers are just straight up devastating. Don’t let the breakdown fool you you either. 57% Percent of musicians are selling less than 50 albums a year. Yeesh.

More shocking… We’ve all heard about the 1000 fan model that suggests (I think very wisely), that an artist can flourish with only 1000 true fans. Well… gulp… 93% of artists are selling less than 1000 albums a year. Imagine those kind of statistics in any other industry. What would we also say if we learned that 93% of carpenters were not making a basic subsistence level salary? No wonder our parents tried to talk us out of becoming musicians.

It seems obvious already that there is a real disconnect with independent musicians when it comes to developing a methodical sales strategy. As unromantic as it is, if we are going to succeed in the music business we need to act like a business. That simply means following a strategy that produces more output than it requires input. We can do this folks.

Have you ever signed a record deal?


These numbers sound right to me. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the percentage of signed artists who took this survey is higher than average given that my subscribers are a much more proactive group of musicians than the norm (good on you guys). The one thing that does stand out is the fact that 16% percent of artists have had record deals but only 7% of artists are selling more than 1000 albums per year. This suggests that the marketing strategy failure spans more than just the DIY crowd.

Do you regularly perform live shows?


There are a number of ways you could slice these statistics. On the one hand this is an indicator of how many musicians are leaving potential sales on the table by not performing live. On the other hand I’m a passionate believer in developing direct response marketing strategies that work regardless of whether or not you perform. At any rate, it’s interesting to learn that almost half of the musicians out there are not performing regularly.

Approximately how many albums do you usually sell at shows in relation to the audience size?


This was really interesting to me. 33% of musicians “never sell ANYTHING” at live shows. And yet live shows are the greatest source of album sales beyond friends and family.

One of the primary mantras of marketing and sales is that you always need to ask for the sale. This DOES NOT mean simply spamming people and saying BUY MY S@*T. But it does mean requesting that people take a specific action at the right time. This is true whether you are selling on your website, via an email blast, or even at a live show. A live show is one of the best opportunities a musician has to land sales. The fact that so few are selling ANYTHING from their shows suggest a fairly deep rooted ignorance, or possibly resistance, to marketing in general. Another thing that I hope we can change here.

Another thing that stands out is that the conversion rates at live shows are on par with those we see with good email marketing. In fact I’d say email marketing yields better results on average. With the average email marketing campaign I am seeing a conversion rate between 1% and 10%. 14% was the best I have personally ever experienced and I’d say that 4% is about average. That simply means that of 100 people to sign up for my list about 4% eventually purchase. Judging by the results of this survey it appears that the average show is converting at only 2%. And email marketing doesn’t require gas money :-)

How big is your mailing list?

Well, the reason so few of you are seeing sales via your mailing lists becomes immediately apparent. Most of you don’t have one… doh!

With any form of email marketing your sales are going to be in direct correlation to the size of your list. As I mentioned above… An extraordinarily good conversion rate would be in the 10% range. So a list of 172 people just isn’t going to cut it. Increase your mailing list size and you will increase your sales. The most common mistake I see when it comes to building your mailing list is not having a clear and direct reason for people to opt in to your list. That tiny little opt in box on the corner of your site that says “join my mailing list” just isn’t going to do it.

If you’re one of my subscribers than you know I recommend the use of what are called “squeeze pages”. To give you an example of how much a squeeze page can help… I have a very pronounced opt in form on my blog. It currently converts visitors into subscribers at a mere 4%. My Squeeze page, by comparison, is currently converting at over 25%.

It seems that a conscious change in the way many musicians are going about building there mailing list is needed. Build your mailing list and you will increase your sales. It’s that simple.

Have you ever personally spent money on advertising to promote your music?

This one somewhat surprised me. I expected to hear that only a tiny fraction of musicians had actually spent their own money on advertising. Good on you on guys for proving me wrong. That shows the kind of proactivity that is needed to succeed as an independent musician. The only disconnect here is that the number of artists selling a significant volume of albums is much MUCH less than the percentage of artists who have spent money on advertising. It makes me wonder how that money has been spent.

I know from speaking with musicians each day that most artists are still following the old branding strategies that the major record labels have been using for decades. Vague ads in the back of the LA Weekly just aren’t gonna cut it when it comes to direct response marketing. Instead of spending money on advertising that generates “exposure” to you as an artist, I suggest looking into much less wasteful advertising such as ultra-targeted Pay Per Click. Better yet, use geo targeting and advertise to only those along your tour route. You can potentially make album sales on the front end and ticket sales on the back.

Music Industry Statistics Concluded…

Hopefully these stats can serve two purposes. One, to show you that you are not alone if you are still struggling to sell albums as an independent artist. And two, to point out a few potential disconnects between what musicians are doing, and what actually works.

Needless to say, some of these statistics make things seem pretty bleak. But take solace in the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. There ARE strategies that work out there. Most musicians are just making music, sticking their heads in the sand, and hoping that it just all works out. In my opinion that is what has been leading to such dismal results for most musicians.

But in reality selling music is no different than selling anything else. Drive traffic, generate leads, build a GENUINE relationship, tap into what music lovers ACTUALLY want (which by the way is an experience, NOT just another download), and ASK for the sale.

If you’re interested in learning how to avoid becoming “just another statistic” and take the art of selling music into your own hands, you might consider taking a look at Music Marketing Manifesto. You can learn more here. <==

One question I wish I had elaborated on more was the one regarding Advertising… For those of you who have spent money on advertising, what kind of advertising did you use? And what kind of offer did you promote? Did you send your traffic directly to itunes? To your website? Or did you promote a show? What kind of results did you see? Do me a favor and share your experiences via a comment below.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Williams November 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to
your weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

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pop September 3, 2013 at 3:46 am

Public tastes now restrain the entertainment industry in a manner that has beenimpossible before the world-wide-web as well as the virus-like circulation of news flash, andfinished entertainment content. When you add to that distribution online and, media, web sites, from chat to complete videos. It’s a totally new environment. Much of it fine, some not.

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James March 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm

…Ah, and as a side note although I suck at setting up web sites and squeeze pages, I do LOVE coming up with marketing ideas. It’s a creative process so that’s fun for me. Keep the good stuff coming man. Thanks again!

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James March 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Great article once again John! I used facebook advertising to promote a show and get more likes on my facebook band page. I’ve done three promo for about 25.00 each and saw spikes in my plays and likes. I did this through Reverbnation. (although one of my add campaigns I put in a dead link! LMBO!) I also did some pomo through Headliner.FM. Most of my fans seemed to be musicians through them but hey we buy music too right? lol. And it’s cool to find good musicians to colab with.

I sent out a press release and had an article published in a local magazine on my music and my CD release Party and how I work with kids to inspire them to be passionate about attaining their goals whatever they may be and the importance of the arts focusing on singing and dancing. The magazine article didn’t generate any sales because I didn’t put in a call to action due to my album not being as ready as I’d like it to. In hind sight that was a mistake. But once I get one of the songs remixed properly I go hard with promo.

I’m slowly learning and you’ve been an incredible help in navigating the music marketing waters. I’ve also learned my strong suit is not the technical end of setting up web sites and squeeze pages so I plan on using a site you suggested checking out a while ago; Web Sites For Rock Stars dot com to help me out with what I suck at! lol! #outsource.

Hopefully the top 5% will respond and share more of what has helped them be the top 5%. I’m looking forward to being among them.

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John Oszajca March 27, 2012 at 12:33 am

Hi James,

Great attitude. Yes, you should definitely look into outsourcing things that are not your strong suit. Otherwise you can waste a lot of time and energy and still not get anywhere.

Thanks for letting me know about your advertising experience. Bummer about the bad link :-)

Let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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Jesus J Romero March 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Los Guerreros de la musica recently hosted a show at an American legion. We advertised the show which consisted of three bands. Each band was to do their own promo. LGM created a Flyer that had what bands were performing location and time and price. We advertised at grocery stores and family dollar and

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Stephen Monroe March 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm

My comment of let the chips fall was whimpy. Your point and mine is that WE control our destiny by the effort WE put into what we do, how we do it and how often we do it. OUR effort is all we can really control and if we go out and do what we want with our music, then we are successful. Some people want to put out a CD once a year, once every two years, some people want to play 5 times a week all year long. We decide what we want to do and how we do it and with people like John out there, the options seem to be endless, however you want to roll.

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John Oszajca March 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Hi Stephen,

Yep. Great points, all of them. I only hope I can empower musicians to do just that by providing them with a clear and proven path to do it their way.

Thanks again.

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Mat Matlack March 20, 2012 at 7:51 am

Hey guys. Great insights and thanks for putting it together John. We have spent thousands on radio and publicity which got results but yielded no draw at shows or sales worth the expense. Something that we have been doing for a couple of years now is performing in virtual worlds and simple live streaming on our site and Facebook page. We have grown our fan base much faster since doing that (still modest) and we saw a majority of our backers of a Kickstarter campaign come from new fans found in the virtual worlds. Plus, it’s MUCH cheaper touring in Australia and Germany and Brazil when we never leave our studio space :) It’s not a replacement, but a great way to supplement touring and a super way to access a new fan base.

So, what is a squeeze page? I think I understand the premise. Could you guys post some links to your squeeze pages for me to have a look? Thanks!

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John Oszajca March 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Hi Matt,

Thanks for getting in touch. Nice to hear that things have been working well for you.

A squeeze page is simply a page that offers something free in exchange for subscribing to your email list.

It’s based on the the idea that it’s much easier to give something away on the first exposure, than it is to sell on the first exposure. The reason you want them to opt in to a mailing list is simply so that you can build a relationship with your subscribers so that they will be more inclined to buy from you once you’ve taken the time to build that relationship.

You can view an example of my squeeze page here:
http://www.johnomusic.net

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Colin Gordon-Farleigh March 20, 2012 at 6:55 am

Hi John,
You have done a great service to all the guys and gals who are trying to get their music not only recognised but sold. Folk who claim that the important thing is getting heard rather than getting bought are deluding themselves!
Do musicians do all that they can and seize every opportunity to sell their music? In my experience the answer is “No.” I have offered so many musicians to have their albums placed on the Sheer Joy Music Billboard for free, no strings attached, and yet the percentage of take-up in comparison to offers is abysmal. This is a free offer — all it costs is the time to send a jpeg of the album cover and a link to the sales site and we do the rest. Will they sell albums from the placement? Well, I can’t guarantee anything, but I do know that it’s one more advert that they would be without if it wasn’t there!
The truth is that if you want to make sales you have to make the effort, and that goes far beyond simply making the music.
Regards,
Colin Gordon-Farleigh

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John Oszajca March 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Hi Colin,

Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I think a lot of times musicians have a hard time distinguishing which way is actually up. Don’t take it personally when they don’t accept your offer. Take solace in the fact that you are trying to help them

Thanks again,

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Mark March 20, 2012 at 3:53 am

Hi John,
Thank you for this enlightening article. I am a MMM subscriber and after reading many of the responses, I am not seeing your program implemented properly. I would encourage the subscribers to thoroughly go through MMM and have a good understanding of it before implementing their marketing strategy.

I was inspired by MMM to explore direct internet marketing much further. I will be releasing my first album in a few months and I will be using MMM techniques and other direct internet marketing techniques I have learned. I will be DYI internet marketing on a larger scale than what I am seeing in most of the responses. If you would like to use me as a case study contact me and let me know.

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John Oszajca March 20, 2012 at 4:15 am

Hi Mark,

Thanks Mark. Shoot me an email at john@musicmarketingmanifesto.com and let me know the specifics of your campaigns. Cheers.

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Steve Archdeacon March 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

GREAT article John and great responses to the article too as I read ALL of them. It took a while to read everything, but I believe you have to be willing to invest in yourself because if you’re not willing to invest in yourself why would anyone else be willing to invest in YOU? Anyway, I agree that you should interview the 5% of people that are actually increasing CD sales and building their lists to thousands of people. I’ve done a little advertising, but only really on youtube and I got over 4,000 views on my video (which was a pic montage I put together using one of my songs in dedication to our troops as I raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, which is an organization that helps out soldiers in battle). It’s DEFINITELY not easy to be a musician even if you have products to sell, but like Kat Parsons said at least now I know the direction in which to go! Thanks again John!!!

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comment. I think it’s great that you are donating to such a cause. That may be something you should include in your sales offer if you’re not already.

I will have to see what I can muster up about the top 5%. The survey was anonymous so there is no way to track people down. But maybe I’ll put a call out for success stories.

Thanks again Steve.

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Bob Hargrove March 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Hi John, we started our band in 2008 on a shoestring budget… We got burned on our first try to record as we found out the “engineer” was a “live” guy and didn’t set up a click track on any of the songs so we had to start all over 9 months into it. Although we were disappointed and out about $4000 bucks we sucked it up and dusted ourselves off and gave it another try when we were approached by Anthony Valli (Crazytown/Sony Records) who offered to help us out and get producer credits. We ended up with a polished CD but the essence of the band’s vibe had changed. Nonetheless, we pushed the CD ourselves by showing up at local events and giving away tons of merch. The most money we ever made in one night was at our CD Release party but after you take into account the local ads, tons of flyer promotions around town, production costs to do the show, we almost broke even… $12K later we saw an article in the local entertainment guide that featured this guy who claimed to be the internet guru stating that “artist don’t need major label backing to succeed and how he could show the artist how to “make it” by purchasing his various campaigns… $20K later we sit here with a dumfounded look on our faces as we did not get what we paid for, our buzz is gone, and we are going back to square one and recording a new CD that is not tied up in litigation, and doing all our own press, etc. AND relocating in the hopes that a clean slate and some hard lessons will facilitate some type of interest in what we do. We made about $40 on itunes, $6 on reverbnation, sold less than 300 copies total at around $5 and made about $4k on shows. My final remark is that there is alot of music out there and it is overwhelming to the end user, coupled with a crippling economy and law enforecement making sure that we don’t “drink and drive” has ultimately killed most people’s motivation to go out and see a band, especially if they suck. Anybody can buy a slot anywhere so the “fans” have to suffer through various genres of music played way too loudly of stuff they don’t particularly care for. That’s not to say it is all crap but music is very subject to the end user’s fickle tastes. We are doing this for us now and writing what WE like and using your tips and stratgies as well as others to try to get the word out and if there is enough interest in what we do, we’ll be happy to accomodate the masses as long as the exchange is fair. Musicians need to keep the bar high and put out a quality product and remember that fans are worth their wieght in gold….

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Hi Bob,

Amen… your fans are really all there is.

You bring up great points about all of the other “noise” out there. Music is highly competitive. One way to stand above that noise is to first, target your potential fans properly and then secondly build a legitimate relationship with them via email, your social profiles and your website. Tie in some some tried and true direct response sales triggers and you will see sales.

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

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Tim Curry March 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I have spent money promoting shows using Eventful. It made no difference and was not that cheap. I was using Facebook’s targeted ads to drive traffic to my sign-up page and getting plenty of clicks, but no conversions. Right now, I’m trying it to promote an upcoming show in Birmingham AL, so I will see how it goes.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Hi Tim,

Cool. Thanks for commenting. If you’re not getting the subscribers from your FB ad then something is either off with the squeeze page or the targeting. Check out the video in this month’s Insider Circle training. I do an actual case study with Facebook and my ad went from a loser to a winner with just a few tweaks. At the very least it should instill confidence that solid conversions ARE possible once you dial things in.

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Billy Lee March 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Very nice article. This is the kind of information and guidance the average indie needs but doesn’t really realize, 1) that it’s out there and, 2) that they can even have accesss to it. Please keep up the good work and maybe someday we can all make a honest living doing what it is that we really love.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Hi Billy Lee,

Thanks for your comment and for your feedback. Ultimately making a living from your efforts is the end game. Most of us just need a bridge from here to there.

Thanks again and get in touch if I can ever help with anything.

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Dan March 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Very interesting results!

In my previous band we took out some nicely designed ads in an influential monthly music mag, and we were also lucky enough to get some national radioplay (just from posting our CD to the station!) .. but to be honest I don’t think either of these things led to a single album sale. We’d sell CDs almost exclusively at live shows, with the occasional ‘curiosity’ sale from someone stumbling across our website.

Now.. With my current band I’ve been trying to build up our mailing list by trying to drive traffic to a squeeze page plus various other methods..

The main problem we’re having is how painfully slow it seems to be taking! ..Trying to strike a balance between getting people to take action, but still staying true to our band’s (admittedly pretentious) ‘mysterious’ image/brand – is pretty tricky. Using a combination of Twitter, targeted plays on Jango and a few blog posts here & there we’ve got maybe an extra 60 people onto the list over a 5 month period.

The up-side of this is that even with such a small increase, we’ve still seen a *few* good results – we’ve sold a handful of CDs to people through the mailing list who would never have heard of us otherwise…

So I do believe this approach works.. but *only* if you can somehow build up a list which is sizeable enough… and to be honest, that’s the bit we’re stuck on… just how to drive *enough* traffic to a squeeze page so that our mailing list gets sizeable enough to generate significant sales?

We don’t have time to write enough articles to do significant article-marketing for the same logistical reasons Max pointed out above, and there’s only so much one can do with Twitter etc…. Time for a brainstorm I think :) … onwards & upwards etc etc

x

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your comment. It’s cool to hear that you have noticed an increase, albeit a small one.

One thing to look at is the conversion rate for the squeeze page. Sure, you do need to drive a lot of traffic, but the results you get from the traffic can be improved if you are watching the numbers. It’s safe to say a page that converts at 10% is going to need a heck of a lot more traffic to get 3,000 subscribers than a page that converts at 40%.

So the game is played by driving more traffic, but ultimately optimizing your squeeze page to convert better as well.

Once things are optimized enough, you should be able to afford running PPC ads to your funnel while still profiting. That’s when things really scale up and you are able to build leads by the hundreds each day.

Thanks again, let me know if I can help with anything at all.

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mark Pinkus March 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

HI JOhn, thank you for doing all this work and for sharing the survey. I agree with Reb. It would be great to hear from the 5% of those who are very successful in the biz and to find out how they do it. I”m doing concerts every month and they sell out very quickly. I have however a lot of build on via mailing list and increase download and cd sales. I find it so easy to sell out concerts in advance than it is to sell cds in this day and age. YOur survey tells a very interesting story and reality. I believe however that one can make a hell of a lot of money in this business. I love what I do and I love learning how to make things better always..so let’s hear from the few big success stories from the survey. thanks JOhn, it’s really cool what you’re exploring.. peace, Mark

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Hi Mark,

Thanks for commenting. Yes, I will see if I can put something like that together for everyone. Really glad to hear what you’ve been able to accomplish with your ticket sales. One thing to point out about ticket sales, is that they are subject to availability. In other words, there are only so many, but there is also a time limit to when you can get them.

If you were to establish this type of scarcity to a cd offer… limited time offer, limited number of copies… if your list is big enough, you will be able to sell under these conditions. Especially if your list generally enjoys the interaction they have with you.

Thanks for your comment and let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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Kat Parsons March 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Hey John,
Really interesting post. Thanks for this.
Re: advertising…I’ve spent $ hiring a PR company for my last release and a very modest amount on a contact who worked a few radio stations. I’ve also spent money on an ad in The Onion. My offers were not very focused….simply “buy a cd” or “come to the show”. I’ve spent money on making shows special with all sorts of extras, door prizes, etc. As far as I recall, I sent my traffic to my website, which in turn sent it to cdbaby or iTunes. I’m also spending money currently on a very modest boutique digital PR agency to get me a few pieces for my next release and (hopefully) some traffic through blogs. My clear focus now is for all traffic to be sent to my squeeze page.

As for results: I never knew exactly what I was going for….just kind of a general improvement….sell more records? Get more exposure? I’m not sure and my results re: sell more records, which was the only measurable result, did not increase due to the money spent.

I have to say that my approach is changing drastically due to MusicMarketingManifesto and that I feel so empowered. I know exactly what I am going for (more subscribers), where I am sending traffic (squeeze page), and what my offer is once they have subscribed (sales funnel). It’s the first time I have felt so focused and clear and not at all interested or looking for the ever elusive “exposure” that doesn’t seem to lead to more sales.

All for now. Thank you again John. MMM has been one of the most exciting discoveries in my music career!

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Thanks so much Kat. Very awesome to hear. Made my day :-)

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Stephen Monroe March 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I spent money on MUSICSUBMIT for a while, now it costs so much, I can’t do it. I made great contacts thru the service, Shashona at AWESOMERADIO and Mike Canter at JIVEWIRED.COM. I did do the CDBABY too, I sold one at CD baby to Mike. There are other services out there but it all seems to be costing so much for what you get. I have another release ready all DIY and I’m proud of its quality. I think we have to be content with putting out a quality product, putting it in a professional package, becoming more market aware and doing what we can when we can and not being afraid to ask people to buy what we have at shows and make it available online and let the chips fall where they might. We do define our own successes and can feel good when we break a new barrier. Thanks for the generousity John. EVERYBODY KEEP ROCKIN!!!

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your comment and your enthusiasm. You’re right. You can be proud of putting your best foot forward with your representation of yourself. However, you don’t have to just let the chips fall where they may. You can actively position yourself to have control over the interaction between your fans and their decision to buy.

In my experience you establish this control by building a relationship with your fans through email and asking for the sale when appropriate.

Let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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Kent Burnside March 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm

This is a fascinating insight into the way things really are. In particular, one pair of stats stands out to me: Thirty-three percent of respondents say they sell no CDs. Forty percent say they don’t play live gigs regularly. There’s a connection here!

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Hi Kent,

Yeah there definitely is a connection. If you are playing live shows and not selling anything, it’s because you don’t have anything to sell, or you’re not asking for the sale, or people just don’t like your music.

I personally have never heard of a group that plays live with something to sell, that could not generate even one sale.

However I have heard of musicians that are strictly studio folks that do not ever play live and still sell music.

Live shows are usually how most bands are selling stuff, but you have to let the crowd know where they buy it. If you’ve got a merch table, let them know it. Otherwise you’re expecting them to come up to you and ask how to buy. Then you’re in big trouble if you have nothing to sell, but you are leaving money on the table if you do.

Thanks for your comment.

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Russell Alexander March 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Interesting article, but one topic not covered (although mentioned) is touring. Having done a number of tours in the UK and Europe, I can say “touring is expensive as hell, and not getting any cheaper with gas on the rise!” Since my tours were booked through an overseas agent, and I don’t have one here at home in the US, I’ve been unable to put together a decent tour here. An article about realistic (in this economy) booking for tours would be helpful, to go with the bit about geo targeting.
The fact is, even agencies like Intrepid are finding they can’t do better than door gigs (domestically) for even their established artists. Overseas venues and festivals won’t cover airfare anymore unless you’re a top draw, and even then it’s usually a co-operative effort among numerous festivals.
Touring, and the accompanying radio play generated by the artist playing locally, have always been the backbone of the music business. But now, it’s tougher than ever.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Hi Russel,

If you go the geo-targeting route and are building a subscriber list based on location, you can then book yourself in places where you have a large email following knowing that a certain percentage of them will come to the show. You can then use that premise as a negotiating tool for pay. “We’ve have x number of subscribers in this city and x% usually come to our shows, which means we can expect to sell x amount of tickets.” You can even just do the first show for the door (or free for that matter) and then negotiate better and better fees once you show that you can pull.

Does that make sense? So even when you are talking about selling tickets vs. selling albums it will still be proportionate to the size of the list.

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

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Max March 20, 2012 at 7:49 am

There is this excellent book by Martin Atkins (P.I.L., Killing Joke, Ministry) called Tour Smart with great tips how to organize a tour that actually makes money instead of wastes. Recommended.

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Jim Yeager March 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hi John,
I think that an important element of a discussion such as this is how we view success and the psychology behind it. I agree that many of us make our music and then burry our heads in the sand. I am notorious for that. In fact, I can’t seem to even complete a fluent product to sell (mainly because I can’t decide on what genre I want to settle in…or combination thereof). I would venture to say that songwriters are always crazy driven to make music…but then when it comes to doing something with it, all of a sudden that little voice comes in that says “who am I foolin?” hence, shotty record sales.
I am convinced that once someone becomes fully vested in their own music, your methodologies will take them as far as they want to go. Thanks for all you do John

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Hi Jim,

Thanks a lot for the comment and the kind words.

I totally understand what you are suggesting. It makes perfect sense. One of things I’m trying to get across to musicians is how much control they actually have, if they would only choose to take the responsibility and control, rather than leaving things up to chance.

Direct response marketing has been working for over a century. It is called “direct response” because it gets a quantifiable and direct response. Once I started using these techniques to promote music I discovered I had some hard numbers in hand and a system that I could expand without a significant increase of energy. It was just a matter of fine tuning the system until the numbers made sense. It takes work, but anyone can do it. The end result is that you can actually effect your own chances of success. Something that most musicians seem pretty paralyzed by.

Thanks again and get in touch if I can help with anything at all.

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Reb Shaya March 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Thanks, John. It’s great to have some hard numbers for once. How many people actually responded to the survey? It might be interesting to ask for some real “success stories”, like the upper 5% who are really selling something, and ask them what they did right!

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Hi Reb,

Thanks for the comment. Yeah that’s a good idea. Problem is the survey was anonymous. I’ll see about putting a call out for success stories and see if I can’t get more info on what is working for folks.

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Jason Howe March 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Years ago we would buy 1/4 page ads in the local music magazine, usually promoting upcoming shows and they would have a link to our website. I put them in monthly ($75) for awhile, hoping to build the brand a bit and drive people to our shows, but I’m not sure they were ever effective.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Hi Jason,

Thanks for your comment. You actually bring up an important point. One of things most musicians overlook is even though you have a website for people to visit, most people don’t track where the traffic is coming from, which means you absolutely do not know if the ads are even effective.

Plus, if you’re not asking for contact information, you don’t know who your visitors are either.

Thanks for the comment.

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Constance Demby March 19, 2012 at 10:53 am

Hi John — and this was fascinating… I did surprisingly well, I have a very loyal fan base, around 3,000 personal mailing list and 4 FB sites with around 2,900 fans on one of the sites. One thing I’ve never done is advertise as it costs so much money. hmmm… well I’ll keep reading the article in more depth. and I’m consdering a FB add, but I’ve noticed FB folks like to mostly chat, havent seen them buy so much. I’ve got my CDbaby store up there. Thanks for this research, much apprecated. CD

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Reb Shaya March 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

You find that you get the best response from your email marketing? How did you get the subscribers?

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Constance Demby March 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm

In the late 80’s I had an award winning, Grammy nominated album that got a lot of radio airplay on Stephen Hill’s “Music from the Hearts of Space,” a program that has a huge listening audience, and has been around for a long time. So a loyal fan base was created from before the internet, and has continued to grow. Not all my fans are on my mailing list, but I receive letters from all over the world from fans, and receive orders in my paypal account pretty regularly without having to do any promotion.

I did a lot of touring both nationally and internationally for a couple decades and discovered there were loyal fans in New York, Brazil, Rio, Barcelona, England, Canary Islands, Japan, etc. In Japan they made a film of the concerts and handed me the international rights to distribute it; I’m
telling you the Japanese are the finest, most generous hosts I’ve ever worked with!

I have a label in NYC that carries my top albums and they do promotion, but myself, I’ve never done that much promotion, I’ve just kind of let it all come to me as a result of fans loving the music for where the journey takes them.
But all that has changed now, and I remember how I felt the moment I first discovered all my albums were up on Napster for free. I was living in Spain at the time, and it was such a horrible feeling! We got them to take down the files, but pretty soon they were back up there, and since that moment in time, the industry has been dealt a fatal blow, with artists left on the short end of the stick. Lots of feelings about that. Anyways, even with the current conditions, nothing can stop musicians from making music! I’m really enjoying reading all the letters here from everyone. As Frederich Nietzsche stated: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And as Jimmy Hendrix said, “Music is my religion.”

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Hi Constance,

Thanks for commenting. Yes things did change dramatically over the last ten years or so. An important distinction that I’m trying to point out is that indie musicians… and signed musicians for that matter, now enough an extraordinary reach that they never had before the days of the internet.

Now it’s just a matter of knowing what to do and how to do it, to make the difference between relative obscurity and actually having a large and supportive fan base.

Thanks again.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I meant to add… You’re right about Facebook… they like to chat on FB and don’t always buy. This is why I recommend funneling them into an email follow-up system via a squeeze page, so that you can build that relationship over time and take the responsibility of asking for the sale personally, in a one-on-one email, rather than leaving it up to them to go find a place to buy your stuff.

Thanks for your comments and let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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Constance Demby March 20, 2012 at 3:01 am

John mentioned: “This is why I recommend funneling them into an email follow-up system via a squeeze page…” I remember reading about the squeeze page…. could you give us a short explanation again as a refresher. If they’re on facebook at an artists page, I dont see how you could “squeeze page” them… so share a little more about this John…What we want from our prospective fans and buyers is their priceless email addy!

Thanks for your comments and let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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John Oszajca March 20, 2012 at 3:09 am

Hi Constance,

Here is an example of my squeeze page: http://johnomusic.net/facebook.html

The site serves one purpose. To present people with an offer. They sign up, or leave. This results in much better conversion rates then sending people to a content rich site with links to music, etc. It may seem counter intuitive but it’s absolutely true.

My blog at http://johnoszajca.com converts at a mere 4% where my squeeze page is currently converting over 25%.

Facebook has nothing to do with your squeeze page. Facebook is simply a tool to either reinforce the relationship you have with your list, or to drive traffic to your squeeze page.

Hope that clarifies.

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Mat Matlack March 20, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Yes, thanks for the squeeze page sample John. Would you share the code (or service provider) for collecting the name/email address and providing the download?

I can’t help to think that collecting a zip code on the form would be stellar. Have you found that this reduces the sign-ups? What if it’s optional?

Thanks! Mat

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John Oszajca March 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hey Matt,

Here is the service I use: http://www.musicmarketingmanifesto.com/autoresponder/

Generally the more you ask for the more your subscriber rate goes down. You may still find that it’s worth it for you though if you are touring a lot.

The service I use allows me to search my list by location using their IP though. So lets say I am going to roll through Texas, I can do a search for Texas, create a segmented list, and just email those people. It’s not quite as accurate as asking people but it does the trick and it’s yet another awesome feature of the top notch autoresponders.

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Max March 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

I used a Facebook campaign run through Reverbnation. Spent $25 which brought me 4 new subscribers. Growing a mailing list is hard if you don’t play live on a regular basis. You need traffic to your squeeze page to make someone sign up, but getting enough traffic is tough if no one knows you. Article marketing is an option but who can afford to churn out 20 articles a day if you also have a day job and need time to actually PLAY music? An easier way to get people on your mailing list is collecting fans through your Reverbnation page. But these are rarely real fans: most are other musicians who sign up because they hope that you sign up to their list too…. In other words, they are not really interested in your music or buying your album. I know, sounds hopeless :-( But I won’t give up.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Hi Max,

Thanks for your comment.

It is very cool that reverbnation allows you build the list. You bring up a great insight about them not being real fans though.

When you use an autoresponder service like Aweber for list management, you can see who on your list is actively opening your message and clicking your links. From there you can focus your energy on the ones who are engaging you as the artist and reciprocate their actions by providing them with cool relationship-building content as well as asking for the sale.

But yes you do need traffic to build that list. Article marketing is just one way to do that. It can be time consuming, but the payoff is infinite and the cost is just a little bit of time. Pay per click doesn’t take any time and you can get a lot of traffic fast, but you can also spend a ton of money fast if you aren’t properly targeting the traffic or getting it to convert to subscribers and buyers.

So there definitely is a trade-off. Personally I’d rather have control over the interaction with my fans than leaving it up to the outside chance that they will find my music on a retail site on their own and actually buy it.

I can say though that 4 subs for $25 is WAY to high. You should be acquiring subscribers for about 50 cents or less. $1 max. You’d be surprised what a little re-targeting and tweaking of a landing page can do. I just set up a campaign for this month’s Insider Circle training module where I take a campaign that was converting subscibers at only 8%, made a change to the headline on my ad, and my headline on my squeeze page and brought that up to 27%. And I was paying MUCH less than $6/sub. Facebook ads do take a lot of tweaking though in order to make them work. I think FB gives people the impression that you just turn on a campaign and you’re all set.

Thanks again and let me know if I can ever help with anything.

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John Oszajca March 19, 2012 at 1:42 am

For those of you who have spent money on advertising, what kind of advertising did you use? And what kind of offer did you promote? Did you send your traffic directly to itunes? To your website? Or did you promote a show? What kind of results did you see? Do me a favor and share your experiences via a comment

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