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The Secret To A Successful Music Career

by John Oszajca on February 15, 2011

Musician

Time to rethink your music career?

First the bad news… As a musician, you have chosen a career path that is arguably one of the most difficult ways of making money on the planet.

From a purely business perspective, here are some of the major things you have going against you:

1. High production costs.
2. Small Profit Margins.
3. Infinite amounts of competition.

The reality… It’s just damn hard to make a million dollars 10 bucks at a time, especially when it can easily cost you tens of thousands of dollars to get your album recorded and manufactured, and every long haired dude who knows a couple of bar chords has a band of his own.

…and yet, recording and releasing albums is paramount to the process.

Did you know that many authors release books, purely as loss leaders for much larger (and more lucrative) business models?

It’s true, many authors, particularly in the self help and financial markets, release books purely to establish credibility and greater reach within their market. They see the book as the tool that will generate opportunities for additional revenue such as consulting and live events.

Much in the same way, to make a substantial living as a musician, you really should be considering revenue streams beyond simply selling albums.

Let’s look at some numbers…

Let’s say you’d like to make $60,000 a year.

To generate that income by selling albums (working off of $10 profit per album), you would need to sell 6,000 albums annually. Okay, it’s possible. But you’re going to have to really grind it out to move that kind of volume as an independent artist.

Conversely, let’s say you sold 1000 albums annually – I think most of us would agree that that’s a fairly reachable goal.

If you’ve been generating leads like I teach in Music Marketing Manifesto, you could offer your fans additional, higher end items such as merchandise and private concerts, and still reach your financial goals with only a fraction of the traffic.

Let’s look at those numbers again when we add a back end…

1000 front end albums at $10 = $10,000

If 30% of those customers bought some merch, (let’s say a $30 T-shirt) That’s 300 X $30 = $9000.00

If 10% of your front end customers paid to have you play a private concert for, let’s say $450 (very doable by the way), that would be an additional $45,000.

That would bring the total earnings to $64,000 a year and you’d only need to generate one sixth of the total number of customers you would need to generate if selling albums alone.

Now, you can shift these numbers around anyway you like, but I’m sure you can see the potential here.

Look at your album as the tool with which you establish credibility, reach within your market, and create life long fans. Make your living on the back end.

It really is all in the way you approach your music career.

Another way to add a huge revenue stream to your business model is with music licensing.

For example, I recently got a track of mine placed as the end credit song for the film “What Happens In Vegas”, starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. The combined fees on that placement alone were $60,000, and that’s before royalties. I still get hefty checks every quarter on that film and probably will for many years to come.

If you look at things from a purely business perspective, that is $60,000 for a single sale.

And now you’re probably saying to yourself, now hold on… That’s not a customer, that’s a giant Hollywood movie licensing your music, the process is totally different… isn’t it?

Not really…

Selling comes down to a few basic things.

1. Find your market.
2. Find out what they want.
3. Offer it to them.

Landing a placement in a film or television show is not all that different. Knowing who the music supervisors are, what they are looking for, and how to approach them, can seriously increase your chances of getting your music licensed, which in turn might dramatically change your financial picture. Better yet, the right music placement might bring in royalties for years.

Here is a link to a video that will show you some of the key things you need to focus on when trying to get your music licensed.

There is no opt-in required or anything like that. Just go here to watch the video now.

If you found this post helpful, do me a favor and leave a comment or spread the love via one of the social media icons below… You know you wanna :-)

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Vic Stathopoulos March 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Interesting article. I need to look into licensing my music for movies or tv. Many people say that I am great in writing catchy instrumentals in various styles. In order to be successul there is so much to do to achieve it and near impossible. It is nice to read all these figures of many sales you can make, but it reality its very hard to achieve. I am trying to concentrate in making great music and marketing via social media. Thats all I can do for now.

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Daniel February 17, 2011 at 12:14 am

Hey John.

Excellent article! I think it’s important to point out the slowly rolling snowball effect as well. All of these concepts – adding value, giveaways, working the licensing angle, it’s all adds up over time. The key is to have a bunch of irons in the fire and add more all the time.

Figuring out the world of licensing is well worth the effort both in terms of $ and exposure. I have seen a few products to help musicians with Licensing and actually had some success with one of them. Seems like a niche where somebody with the knowledge and connections could put together a package that could really help people. (hint hint :)

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John Oszajca February 17, 2011 at 9:50 am

Thanks for the comment Daniel, as well as the encouragement. Honestly, music licensing is something I have lucked my way through for the most part. But it’s also been incredibly important in my career. It was a placement that got me my first record deal and it was a placement that gave me my first big push in terms of list building.

I have an email coming out soon with a recommendation on such a course though from someone who has been much more meticulous about it then I have been. Keep your eye on your inbox :-)

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Max Vasquez February 16, 2011 at 7:20 am

Good for you John. I praise anyone who can win at the “Hollywood Lotto”, as I call it. But the reality is, though, in licensing, you landed a huge fish, for most of us other “musicpreneurs” (my term), we’re lucky to get a small show, commercial or bump. Even When I got a needle drop on NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” the licensing fee was horrendous, there wasn’t a lot of back end and syndication didn’t bring in numbers such as yours. They also said take it or leave it, there are a lot of “whores” who would take WAY much less! But, I imagine you run in deeper circles than most of us, so maybe try to reflect more sobering figures in your data, please.

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 7:44 am

Hey Max, I hear ya.

Not at all trying to suggest that every placement is going to land tens of thousands of dollars – it certainly won’t – but I CAN tell you that it’s definitely happening every day. Often by artist’s you’ve never heard of. I’m highlighting an example from my career, and without a doubt it, it was a lucrative placement, but I’ve had several in that range and truly do know many other musicians who have brought in similar numbers. But again, I only mean to point out what’s possible to illustrate how important music licensing can be to your business model. Not necessarily what is “average”. But I do sincerely appreciate your post.

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Max Vasquez February 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

Thanks John,
Excellent answer. I also believe building and nurturing relationships is important. I briefly met an intern on the music sup dept on The Sopranos. I thought, “Let’s befriend and support his career. Sure enough, he’s moved up since and has turned me on to some good leads.
Another client I’ did a lot of pro-bono work for in the 80s, hired me to produce his album with a really decent budget a couple years ago.
I had a huge challenge in 98 of a forest fire that ate almost my entire catalog, killing my career in the process. It’s taken me since then to get a fraction of where I was headed back then, but I keep learning new methods and am working my way back. I appreciate your knowledge, tools & service- and one day, I’ll be able to afford em!

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 10:05 am

Thanks Max. Man a forest fire. That’s rough. I’ve always made sure to spread copies of my stuff around just in case of something like that. That’s my worst nightmare. Best of luck with everything.

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Amigo February 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

You have a btfueiaul voice! Keep up the hard work and keep singin’! God Bless =)

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John Oszajca February 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Thanks Amigo.

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Major February 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm

You did it again John thanks for the heads up and info also really appreciate it.

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 7:45 am

Thank you Major. Much appreciated.

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Lindsa February 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thanks John,
I do agree there are alot of details that are untouched, however it gets you thinking for sure. There are more than a few ways to increase revenue to get the ball rolling and your name out there.

thanks so much!

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 8:05 am

Thanks Lindsa,

For sure, the post is meant purely to get people thinking about mind set and possibilities. It’s by no means a complete discourse on the topic, however all of the numbers I used are numbers that I have seen with friends/students or in my own career. But again, I do hear where you’re coming from.

Thanks for the comment.

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John Tillman February 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Thanks John!! Good advice!! Look forward to hearing from
you again.

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 8:05 am

Thanks John, Much appreciated.

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Troy Castellano February 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

There is some god advice and direction here but keep in mind, if you made $64,000 annually. You probably did it with a 4-5 piece band, perhaps a two man live production team, plus PA rental if needed, and an maybe a booking agent too. So now that $64,000 actually works out to be about $7-10,000 per person a year in the band when it’s all said and done. And what about all the upfront cost for CD manufacturing, merchandise costs, marketing materials, posters, table tents, drop cards, etc. That all has to be recouped before knowing your profit too! I think the annual income for a “band” would need to be up around $250,000 a year to support everyone in it and make a livelihood out of making music! There’s a lot more to the big picture than what was described here! Not ripping on the advice just trying to bring it more into perspective.

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 8:11 am

I hear you Troy, it’s purely an example to get people thinking about potential. You bring up a good point about a band needing to bring in additional income, as a solo artist, I often forget to come at it from a band’s point of view. With that said, a band has 4 or 5 times larger the work force so in some respects it balances itself out.

You’ll probably like an interview I have coming out next week with an artist who brings in six figures a year playing private events, largely just on weekends for a few months a year. He charges between a few hundred and a few thousand per house concert, and plays several a day. It at least illustrates the kind of thing I mean to suggest is possible. But I totally appreciate where you’re coming from here. Thanks for the comment.

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captain figgy February 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm

john,
thanks for breaking it down clearly. the loss leader thing is the killer, creating goodwill, and upsell to a higher ticket.
gotta model you on the licensing. all blessings!

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 8:19 am

Thanks Captain, I really appreciate it. Glad I could help.

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Nancy Johnson February 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I appreciate your posting very much. I am 65 and have made my living with music my entire life. I do have one question, though. I have an original tune and arrangement that would have been perfect for a certain scene in a movie but, although I had a lot of contact information, it was impossible to get my piece heard.
As it turned out the movie used a short filler piece that was not much of an addition at all. My music would have made a huge difference as far as setting the mood for that specific scene. But I could not get “in”.
Do you have any hints to help climb that mountain? As long as I’ve been doing this I still am searching for that answer.

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 9:41 am

That’s a good question Nancy, while I’ve had some good luck with placements, they have all come through personal relationships in the business, or out of the blue (meaning the music supervisor contacted me directly). With that said, I have many friends who are indie artists that have had a lot of luck methodically hunting down those placements. It’s not easy, but it can be done. The link to the video above is from Aaron Davison. He is one such friend. You might check it out and see if he can offer more insight into the process.

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Ioannis February 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I like the way you are thinking John and yes it’s true that little things like T-shirts and private events can increase the income. But you are leaving a lot of details untouched. I mean in order to make a concert in a place where 1000 people can fit in, means that you’ll have to rent this place and make sure that the audio equipment of this place will reproduce your music exactly as you want. Which means you’ll need a proffessionally audio equipped place and a decent sound engineer. And those two things don’t come free where I come from. Also I suppose you will not ask from the people in the concert to wait 15 min after the concert for you to catch a breath and then go out and start selling t-shirts. you have to hire also someone to it for you. that’s an extra cost. and about licencing your music? Here in Prague, Czech Republic, always you’ll have to grease the person in charge in order to even consider your offer. and we’re talking big money grease! So, of course all those things you mentioned will work but you’ll have to have a considerable amount of money to invest in order for those moves to succeed. And most of us don’t have this kind of money!

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 10:01 am

Hi Ioaniss,

While I respect where you’re coming from, and agree that if you approach this stuff in the traditional ways, much of what you’re saying is true.

However, what I’ve been talking about in Music Marketing manifesto is a somewhat different model.

For example, I have an interview I’ll be posting some time next week with a friend of mine who plays private house concerts for about $1000 a show. There is no PA unless the host pays for it, and he only needs to do a few months of shows a year (on weekends only) to make a solid six figures. I know another artist who charges $5000 per house concert. None of these artists have record deals. I only mean to say that with a slightly different perspective, one can experience some really significant changes in the results they experience. But again, I do hear and respect your points.

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Serge February 15, 2011 at 11:54 am

Thank you John. You are doing an important stuff for us.
Concerning music licensing I’m just pushing my music to http://pumpaudio.com/. It’s more promising than selling at microstocks.

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks Serge. It certainly does :-)

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villan February 15, 2011 at 5:26 am

Now I get it! Great post. Where do I start when it comes to getting a placement in a movie?

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John Oszajca February 16, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks Villan. Try checking out the link at the bottom of the post.

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Sarah February 15, 2011 at 5:24 am

Good stuff John. It does start to seem daunting when you think about trying to sell so many albums. This makes a lot of sense.

Thanks,
Sarah

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