CD Baby Founder, Derek Sivers, on the Habits of Successful Independent Musicians: Podcast Episode 13

Comments: 43

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby

In this episode of the Music Marketing Manifesto Podcast, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers, joins us to discuss how he transitioned from musician to owner of the world’s largest distributor of independent music. He also discusses some of the defining patterns and traits he observed in their best selling artists.

To listen in just go to itunes >> Search “Music Marketing Manifesto” >> and subscribe. The episode will begin to download immediately. You can also access the Music Marketing Manifesto iTunes page here.

If you’d prefer you can also listen here on the site. Just click the play button below…


If you enjoy this podcast please be sure to head on over to iTunes, click “subscribe” and leave a rating and/or review. The more subscribers and reviews, the better we rank, and the more episodes we get to make for you as a result.

And as always, I’d love to hear what you think about the topics discussed on this episode. What do you think about the impact Derek Sivers and CD Baby have had on the music industry? What do you think about Derek’s advice for up and coming musicians?


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  • Michael says:

    Hey John,

    I’ve been checking out your podcasts and have really enjoyed them. Thanks for putting them up!

    Derek brings up a good point of working hard to have a great product before putting all of your energy into marketing that product. While what he says makes perfect sense I do wonder if having some balance in this area also makes sense. I’m starting to realize perfectionism can really hold me back as a musician. I have a tendency to say, “I’ll put more energy into marketing when all of my ducks are in a perfect row.” You can probably guess what happens. I don’t end up putting much energy into marketing. The idea of working hard at effective marketing and actually seeing fruit from it excites me though. Do you have any insight you could share on the balance between not being lazy and working hard to get the right product yet not being held back by perfectionism either. In other words, how far should we go to make sure everything is just right before we let go and allow ourselves to put our art out there?

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hi Michael,

      John here. Yes, you definitely want to have some balance. However you also want to make sure that anything you are going to try to sell is something you’re proud of.

      That said, I see MANY musicians going through what you are going through. They’ll spend years perfecting their album only to finish it and they’ve already evolved beyond the songs so they scrap it and start over.

      While you need to be able to stand by your art, being able to finish projects and get them out there is a huge key to success in my opinion. If you’re too much of a perfectionist you might have a hard time doing that.

      If I have one talent it’s being willing to call something done because the core integrity is present (despite imperfections) and just move on. Just listen to the audio in most of my recordings 🙂

      The fisherman who casts the most lines will usually catch the most fish.

      But yes, it’s definitely a balancing act.

      Hope that helps.

  • I’ve listened to this twice now, and it’s just great advice. Thanks for sharing this here, John. I’m reposting to my FB pages….great stuff, man….

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hi Michael,

      Really happy to hear that. I thought Derek threw some absolute gems out there on this call too, so it’s nice to hear you reflect that sentiment. Thanks for sharing the podcast too. I really appreciate it.

      Let me know if I can ever help with anything.

  • JM says:

    That was great John. You are so right in saying how Derek had a huge impact on the biz and changed everything. Not only did he change musicians ability to get their music out there and sell it directly, but the way he ran his business with honesty and integrity was very refreshing.
    Unfortunately DiscMakers bought CDBaby out and all that ended. Once gone corporate, all honesty, trust and fairness were gone. Now as an example they push upon you RadioAirplay which charges you to play your music. That used to be called Payola which was illegal. Also they don’t report to your PRO or SX so they are breaking copyright law. When being on CDBaby, payments used to amount to something, now after the recession in 2008, they will post a payment of .00034 cents (is that even possible?) and log it as an actual payment although it shows up as 0.00 on the statement, and they don’t pay you anything. That is fraud, and they get away with it. Honestly if Derek was still running the company, I don’t think he would allow that to be happening.

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hi JM,

      You definitely raise some interesting points about the mess that it the current copyright laws and how artists are paid for their work. Thanks for checking out the podcast and for voicing your concerns.

      Let me know if I can ever help with anything at all.

  • Chad LaMarsh says:

    Hi John,

    Good interview. I was curious if there might be any stats in regards to the “Prozac For Lovers” CD that Derek speaks of around the 46 minute mark – specifically how much did the guy spend on licenses for reproducing basically a cover tune CD? As it was a big seller for CD Baby – any way to find out what this artist, or the “mastering guy” actually made if he did indeed pay licensing fees to put out this CD?

    thank you again for the interview!

  • Jack Locker says:

    Hey John,

    Thanx for sharing this insightful DS interview. So when is the N Coast NZ posse gonna rumble the S Coast? In other words… what about a recording or jam session for fun?

  • Moin Pothead says:

    hey john, awesome interview! got great ideas:)


  • Mark PInkus says:

    Dear John and Derek, great combination the 2 of you discussing the buz. listening here in Montreal. thanks John for putting this together. I’m been in the biz for a very long time and each day I feel like there is another opportunity to keep climbing the ladder, another person to contact, another concert to prepare, another sale pitch to risk, it’s all connected.. you guys are always inspiring. carpa diem..peace, Mark

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the kind words. Happy to hear that you are seeing the opportunities for what they are and making the most out of them.

      Let me know if I can ever help with anything.

  • Hitman says:

    Interesting interview, although pretty verbose in the beginning (five minutes before the interview started!)

    I was really looking forward to hearing about successful CD Baby artists, but focusing on Amanda Palmer? Her husband is Neil Friggin’ Gaiman, for god’s sake! Not exactly the position most musicians find themselves in. Just by being married to Neil, she instantly had millions of people who wanted to read her blog.

    Not very realistic. Of course she took that ball and ran with it, and did it well, so kudos for that. But it’s like dunking a ball after someone puts a step ladder there for you first.

    How about some success stories from artists who started like the REST of us?

    • Ashley says:

      Thanks for the head’s up, Hitman. Was just reading comments while waiting for the introduction to finish; might skip the interview now though, as I was really hoping for some real-life advice for lesser established artists.

      • John Oszajca says:

        Wow, sort of shocked that that’s what you took from it. Amanda Palmer was brought up as an example of an artist who has created a brand that is bigger than just the songs. We spent about 30 seconds on her. Not to mention her career was extremely well established prior to Neil Gaiman. And as someone that has had a high profile relationship, I can tell you that it’s Amanda Palmer’s music and actions that have led to her success. Her relationship has nothing to do with it.

        The majority of the interview centers around the questions:

        “What were the most common signs of success you noticed when dealing with musicians over the years. Was there any defining pattern that you noticed, common to those who sold well?


        “Lets say a nephew or niece (or other young adult that was a close friend or family member) came to you and said, I want to make it as a musician but they didn’t know what to do. What would you suggest?”

        • Hitman says:

          Don’t misunderstand my comment. I have an enormous amount of respect for Mr. Sivers, and have been on CD Baby from way back. I also met him at a meet and greet he threw here in NY, and realized I seeing someone extraordinary who reached out to musicians at all levels of success.
          I also appreciate Mr. Oszajca putting up these podcasts, and purchased his course about a year ago.

          Mr. Kiehne, I actually DID listen to almost all of the podcast (about 90%), but got blown off when I posted the comment and didn’t have time to start again. There was no player control on my player, for some reason, so I couldn’t fast forward.

          I stand by my comments, however. You did mention Ms. Palmer a number of times, and I don’t believe using her as an example is applicable to most artists. You might as well have used Marilyn Manson, or Amy Winehouse, which were very specific genres (and in the case of the latter, had substantial financial resources behind her – fortunately for us, or we might not have had the pleasure of hearing her.)

          These are not the same musical times as ten years ago, never mind 20 or 30. The entire business paradigm has changed, and if you’re going for a “major pop star” break, good luck. Most of us would be very happy to even approach the level of Ani DiFranco, or other genre groups like Dillinger Escape Plan, Taking Back Sunday, The Districts, Local Natives, etc. I was hoping for some concrete suggestions about the business as it is as of May, 2014. As good as the interview was, there was a lot of generalities but not much specific information for those past the beginning point.

          My opinion, your mileage may vary.

          • Ashley says:

            Hitman – I relate to where you’re coming from and find your candidness refreshing.

            Where can I go to check out your music?

          • John Oszajca says:

            Hi Hitman,

            Thanks for clarifying. Being a customer of the MMM course, I’m sure you’re already familiar with my take about going for the major pop star break. That’s not really what I’m advocating here, but if an artists is trying to make that leap, then they’re likely going to have to show that they can sell records on their own. I don’t see how this doesn’t apply to Amanda Palmer.

            I’ll admit that I’m finding it odd that some of the sentiment here is that people would want to hear about indie musicians who are not successful, rather than about artists who have been successful by cultivating their own tribe and selling music to it, regardless of who they might have married later on down the line. Selling to your tribe is really how it’s done in this day and age and I can’t really think of a better example than Amanda Palmer.

            Thanks for your feedback. Sorry to hear that you had trouble with the podcast controls. To have full listening control you must listen in iTunes.

            • Ashley says:

              You know, I ended up listening to the rest of this interview and I found it very informative and insightful. (Definitely way more than Amanda Palmer references 🙂 Really glad I gave it a chance after all.

              Thanks John. 🙂

    • John Kiehne says:

      It seems like the “Hitman” didn’t listen to the whole interview. Derek is and has been *extremely* successful in (music) business and has always been very very generous in his support of indy musicians.
      He “gave away” his $22 million business because he didn’t need the money. Don’t pay attention to the trolls. This a great and informative interview. Check it out!

  • Sharon Pierce says:

    Great interview John. I love the way Derek thinks. Very inspiring stuff.

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