Rant – The Music Business Is Not A Business.

Comments: 38

Musician with his head in the sand.

Many years ago, back when I had a big team of managers, lawyers, agents and the rest… One person stood out to me above all of them. He was the 18 year old intern of my manager at the time.

This kid was crazy smart. He was promoting major events with artists like the Black Eyed Peas, and this friggin’ dude was still in HIGH SCHOOL. It wasn’t hard to see that this guy was going places.

He eventually left my manager’s office and started working for Universal. I was sure he was going to be the company’s president one day.

A few years passed since he and I had spoken, and on a whim I called him up to see how things were going.

He informed that he had quit the music business because, “the music business is not a business”.

Instead he went to college to study just that… business. While there, he realized that there was a student housing shortage in the area, and so (long story short) he optioned a piece of land that wasn’t zoned for building for just a few thousand dollars. He then got it rezoned, built an apartment building on it with money he borrowed against the equity he now had in the properly zoned land, and the whole thing was suddenly worth FOURTEEN million dollars. He borrowed two million against his equity and bought a house in Malibu and two Mercedes.

The dude was like 22 at the time.

He has since become a major developer and God only knows how many millions he’s got in the bank at this stage.

Point is, this was a brilliant guy who left the music business because he felt it was a chaotic industry that didn’t follow any of the normal rules of business. And frankly, he wasn’t interested in playing crazy for the rest of his life.

That idea has really stuck with me as the years have passed and I’ve seen the music industry only continue to evolve into a bigger and bigger mess.

One thing my experience as an online marketer has taught me is that it’s all about return on investment (ROI). While that is a fundamental principle of business, it is a concept I have never had anyone ever bring up, in all my years in the industry, on four different record labels.

Instead the strategy employed has always seemed to be about hope. On the majors it was let’s spend a whole bunch of money shoving your music down people’s throats and HOPE that it sticks. With the indies it seems to be more like, lets do absolutely nothing and see if it sticks. But let us know when you’re playing. We’ll all definitely come out.

It’s no wonder that more than half the independent artists recently surveyed reported selling less than 50 albums per year.

But there is a better way…

My experience as an online marketer really changed my perspective on music, business, and even life.

The formula for success in any business is fairly simple… Find a market, get in front of it, and give the people what they want.

Everyone seems conscious of the fact that the internet offers independent artists a way of doing that, but no one seems sure of how to do it.

I do.

The long and short of it is . . . instead of just blindly going out chasing “exposure” we need to look to well-established direct response marketing strategies and apply them to music.

What does that mean and how do we do it?

It basically means that you need to create a scalable mechanism for selling music and generating income off of a relatively small number of people that are engaged with, and invested in, your career.

  • You do that buy building a website that has a purpose – To capture leads.
  • You do that by sending emails to your new subscribers which have a purpose – To create affinity and desire.
  • You do that by actually asking for the sale in a way that entices people to get off of the fence and buy your music – Sales triggers.

Once the system is in place you can calculate how much money you have made and establish your “subscriber value”.

Once you know what that is, you can begin to seek out traffic sources that allow you to acquire new subscribers for less than what you are ultimately earning from each one.

From there, you simply scale up until you have reached your income goals… ROI baby. It’s really that simple.

I don’t want to over-hype anything and insinuate that this is some magic button that you push and suddenly you will make a million dollars. That is definitely not the case. It takes work and skill development, like anything. But in my opinion this is the greatest and ONLY real path for a musician who wants to do more than just stick their head in the sand and HOPE to eventually become famous.

I have been developing and refining direct response marketing strategies for musicians for nearly three years now. They work, and they put power and control in the hands of the artist.

I am excited to announce that Music Marketing Manifesto 3.0 is scheduled to go live on October 16th, 2013.

In this course, I attempt to walk you step-by-step through the process that I described above. It represents many years of in-the-trenches marketing experience, both as a musician and as an entrepreneur.

MMM 3.0 is a multimedia course containing over 40 videos, a custom MMM website template (powered by WordPress), PDF workbooks, email templates, case studies, bonus audio interviews, and an interactive members area were you can ask questions along the way and get direct assistance from me and my team.

For the first few days of the launch I will be offering a $50 discount on the course. You can click here to find out how to get the discount and to learn more about what is included in the package.

If you have any questions at all about how to implement the direct response marketing strategy outlined in the post, or if you have questions about Music Marketing Manifesto 3.0, what is included or how to get it, please let me know using the comment options below.


  • D-Funk says:

    It’s a difficult swallow when folks already on your “fan list” which seems to grow constantly via sites such as RadioAirplay.com either don’t respond to requests to forward a listening link, click “Like” for a free download or even much less buy a single track or CD. I just find that those who seem to “like” what I do are only willing to listen (the numbers for which seem to climb steadily) and leave nice comments but all other “calls to action” fall on deaf ears. I’ve thought of the idea to sell each album for $1 because I always believed that having 10,000 buyers of a download is better than 1000 who will pay $10 for one or even the physical product but then there is the argument of just how much value do I place on my music when I do that. It’s frustrating and I’m trying to find a balance.

    • Dan says:

      Wow, that’s disheartening to hear, D-Funk. Are those results from using John’s MMM system?

      John, what do you think about D-Funk’s results? Any ideas why the strategies aren’t working for him?

      • John Oszajca says:

        Hi D-Funk,

        I completely understand what you are saying. It is frustrating when folks on your list are not responding.

        A large part of the issue is that most independent musicians aren’t really aware of how to create an offer, using the direct response selling methods which tend to make people actually take action and buy.

        Usually it’s more like, “Hey, here’s a link to my new single,” and hoping that they will buy it.

        It’s not enough to just get “likes” either, as you’ve pointed out. Usually after someone “likes” what you are doing, they have satisfied their curiosity and by that point they may likely be gone forever. Facebook’s edge rank algorithm certainly doesn’t do fan pages any favors either.

        What’s worse is if you are paying for “likes”, you can lose a lot of money without ever seeing a return.

        This is why I recommend musicians focus their effort into getting fans into a follow-up email process where you can actually build a relationship with your subscribers. This will give you several opportunities to keep you music in front of them, but you’ll also have enough back and forth with your subscribers to have a fairly good idea of what percentage of your list would be willing to buy when you ask them to.

        Again, if you tie in some time-tested direct response selling triggers, you’ll be able to come up with a compelling enough offer to get them to take action and buy.

        The bottom line is that if people are signing up and not buying then something isn’t clicking with your autoresponder series. Your next task would be to go over those emails, take a look at your stats, and rewrite your emails. It’s not uncommon that a funnel require some refinement before it converts, but I’m yet to see a situation where a failing funnel can not be turned around.

        Let me know if i can ever help with anything else.

        • John Oszajca says:

          Dan – I may be wrong, but I didn’t take D – Funks comment that way. He is referring to some strategies that are not from my courses. I took his comment to just be an expression of frustration over the fact that in his personal situation he has not been able to get people to buy. That is not uncommon. As I explain in my comment reply to D-Funk. It can take some tweaking but a funnel can always be turned around.

          There are four basic areas where something can go wrong. Traffic, the opt in, the follow ups, and the offer.

          If someone is getting traffic and subscriptions, but no sales, they need to look at the communication that is going out to their list and tweak until things turn around. It’s a process. If you’re concerned that the process does not work, here is a sampling of testimonials people have sent in over the years. Some mention specific results, some are just reviews of the course: https://musicmarketingmanifesto.com/testimonials

          • Dan says:

            Thanks for clarifying, John. In re-reading his post, I notice he was all about getting “Likes” rather than subscribers. So I get it now. 🙂

            On a side note, listened to the Billy Burke interview late last night. It was encouraging for those of us who may be starting later than most (though his already having some notoriety and an existing fan base from his acting career was no doubt beneficial). In his case, he could explain his debut album coming later in life by the fact he had always pursued music and then got detoured by the successful acting career. What would you suggest for those of us starting later in life who don’t have a similar story (i.e., where it’s not something we’ve been pursuing all along from our youth)? What would be the better way to position ourselves: “new artist”/”new album”, “debut artist”/”debut album” or maybe don’t mention “new” at all and just use “upcoming artist”/”upcoming album” or something else? I’m thinking if a point isn’t made that an older artist is new, people may be inclined to think: “hmmm, why haven’t I heard of this person by now? Must not be any good” before even giving them a chance. So I’m thinking it’s best to go with “new”, though that seems to beg a load of other questions – but then again maybe that’s a good thing (gives you something to talk about that maybe they can relate to)?

            Also, for those not lucky enough to have a name as unique as yours 🙂 and find that all all the .com’s and .net’s are taken, what’s are some other domain naming conventions you’d suggest?

            • John Oszajca says:

              Hi Dan,

              Thanks for your comment.

              I think you might find it interesting that most of the people who have gone through my course all seem to be well into their 30s and older. Probably because that’s the crowd that has tried to play the exposure game and never quite reached that tipping point where the album sales were enough to sustain their career.

              That said, your situation is different being a new artist, albeit one who is getting a late start. The neat thing is that if you target your ideal fans properly, it’s not likely that they are going to judge you the way you’ve suggested.

              Just put something in front of them that’s right up their alley and ask them to sign up for a free download or two. Once you get your foot in the door, you can build a relationship with your subscriber and start to build that interest and desire for what you do.

              The beauty of this approach is that all that “stuff” that is usually so important to the industry is irrelevant with this (personality based) approach.

              Billy did have some notoriety, but that really didn’t matter. The process is the same. Build a list, create a bond, entertain, sell. In Billy’s case the traffic and the bond were a bit easier, but just a bit. The process works the same way whether you are working from scratch or not.

              On first exposure, it helps to have some social proof. I’m not talking mega-superstars giving your music a nod. That helps, but so does some of your closest fans giving an honest review. It’s just about overcoming that initial resistance to sign up.

              For domains, you can use your name and add “music” to end if you’re having a tough time finding an available one.

              For instance I use http://johnoszajcamusic.com. I’d try to stick with .com domains if you can.

              Thanks and all the best.

              • Dan says:

                Hi John,

                Great thoughts there and encouraging to know.

                And thanks also for the domain name tip.

                Hope you’ll send out a “last call” email before removing the $50 discount. I’m planning to buy MMM, but awaiting some payments myself before I can do so. 🙂

                • John Oszajca says:

                  Hi Dan,

                  Happy to help. Hopefully you find a domain that you dig and that will be easy for folks to remember.

                  Yes, I will definitely make sure you are notified before I take the discount down. That will likely be in the next 48 hours. I totally understand that some folks just need a few days to get the funds together.

                  Let me know if I can ever help with anything else.

  • susan says:

    Hello John;
    We are a talent house and some of our talented artists are just like what you mentioned. They are ready to do everything to create their best in music, but has no clue how to market themselves. Do you think we can work with you to market them?

    • John Oszajca says:

      I do occasionally take on marketing campaigns for artists, however my time for that sort of thing is limited.

      I’ll send you over an email with more detail about possibly working together. Check your inbox and you should see it here shortly.


  • paul n prince says:

    ok here is a tough question – I know its not a fun topic
    I dont think about this too often but it has to be a consideration to artists releasing music- I would think.
    There is a certain company ( probably more than one) which decided to just steal duplicate and sell my cd yrs ago , so 1 yr after it was released and ever since then ( 11 yrs) they have been selling it on their german and probably other websites, including in asia apparently and using amazon. I sent a cease and desist yrs ago but they just deny it or say its just used copies, but I don’t have distribution in europe, made few cds – they’ve rated it at 5 stars and I know for a fact that they duplicate illegally, as they even used to always claim they have a ghost copy of the cds. So I am not rich, not in germany, and aware of how international copyright law is different then US law, and this is supposed to be illegal. so what does someone do if they don’t just want their music again ripped, sold illegally with no return and at a price that makes it impossible for the actual composer to benefit or even compete with these bootleggers and from his own music??

  • Torontonian says:

    Try being a full time musician in Canada where there is a hostile environment to bring up starting out artists. The donor organizations tend to support mainstream acts more than indie acts. Websites like Pandora, Google Music, etc do not have access to Canada.
    Canadian entertainment is becoming Americanized and you rarely find one or two indie acts becoming popular even though Canada has 35 million people and at least 100,000 registered SOCAN members.

    There should be a Canadian version of music marketing and I am sure the many struggling artists will be more than welcome to purchase a copy.

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hi Torontonian,

      Thanks for your comment.

      MMM actually is a bit of a universal approach. It all starts with targeting your potential fans, regardless of where they (or you) are in the world. So it will work for Canadian musicians as well.

      In a nutshell the strategy is to target people who are most likely to buy the type of music you create, offer them a free download or two in exchange for them joining your email list, building a relationship with them and eventually ask them to buy your music using proven selling tactics and triggers.

      This way you are bypassing the entire major label branding model and organically building up and cultivating your own tribe of fans.

      Let me know if I can ever help with anything.

  • Bruce Bergh says:

    Hey John,

    Your video was awesome and made more sense than anything out there I have read or watched online. You mention about the automated email system that you have in place, and that it is available on you website. I went to your site to check it out, but did not find anything. Do you have a link? It seems that the email system is the piece of the puzzle I am missing! As I kept watching, everything made more and more sense! Thanks for your efforts and explaination. You truly know your marketing principals.

    • John Oszajca says:

      Thanks Bruce,

      Really glad you liked the video. I appreciate all the kind words. You can find my squeeze page at http://johnomusic.net and my official site at johnoszajca.com. Both serve different purposes but both have distinct opt in forms.

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

  • Phil says:

    If we’ve already bought MMM 2.0 do we get 3.0 or have we got to buy again?



    • John Oszajca says:

      Hey Phil,

      MMM 3.0 is an entirely new course and will require a new registration. MMM 3.0 is a much more involved course than 2.0 (it includes a WordPress template, new traffic strategies, etc). That said, MMM 2.0 is still relevant and is not going away.

      HOWEVER, I will be offering a special discount for the first few days of the MMM 3.0 launch. The new price point is $147, but I’ll be taking $50 off for the first few days so you can get access for $97, should you be interested.

      Thanks for the question. Let me know if I can ever help with anything else.

      • Phil says:

        OK. I’m currently subscribed to the inner circle, what happens with that?

        • John Oszajca says:

          Hey Phil, nothing it all. New training modules are published ever month, and I’m in the forum almost daily. MMM teaches a fundemental marketing strategy. The Insider Circle is a mastermind community for people who want to keep learning ne, and complementary strategies. It;s also place where people can get a lot of direct guidance with things outside of just MMM support. Login any time. Hope to see you in the IC forum.

          • John Oszajca says:

            Hey Phil,

            I just realized that you ordered MMM 2.0 very recently. I am giving free access to everyone who ordered 2.0 within 30 days. You are just outside of that but I can make an exception because it’s so close. Shoot me an email as soon as it goes live and I’ll hook you up.

          • Phil says:

            Thanks John,

            I didn’t say thanks for getting back to me last time either – so thanks a lot, it’s good to know you’re always available to talk to, I’ve been enjoying the inner circle 🙂

  • Nice story! I tell my students if they can quite they should. Everybody should be following their highest passion, acting on what is most exciting.
    For me I couldn’t quit playing my horn and composing.

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hey Richard, absolutely. We don’t do what we do because we want to, we do it because we have to. I just don’t think the business plan needs to be such a mystery for artists. Trying to change that 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by, all the best.

    • mark says:

      Hi John,

      Q: wondering there’s a discount to update to 3.0 from 2.0 if we just purchased a few months ago? Sorry… had to ask:)

      The cartoon does say it all. I released a single and recently bought your course to learn how to market while I finish my first EP.

      Meanwhile, my friend released a full CD and I pointed him to you and even offered to help. He wasn’t interested and instead is going the iTunes/ReverbNation route (again). To me this amounts to giving your work away or paying 30-40% commission fees if someone does spring for an iTunes download (depending on digital distribution terms).

      I’ve run the numbers and it’s no wonder that most of my indie friends tell me they don’t break even. These are extremely talented people too with good product. The normal way indie artists throw their work out there just doesn’t work financially – you might get some fans….. BUT THEY NEED TO BUY. Nice comments and followers don’t pay the bills. Selling CDs at shows is about the only thing that seems to get results but it usually takes a lot of shows and you have to float that large upfront investment.

      I’ve played live supporting other artists my whole life and it’s been sad to see great product not sell. I truly believe that as artists we MUST play and release music because it’s in our DNA. The work to hone our chops, write, produce and package the product is what drives most of us. Marketing and business doesn’t seem to mix well with artists, so the product doesn’t support production costs and the artists takes many years to release material or they completely stop.

      BTW- love your course and the PODCASTS!


      • John Oszajca says:

        Hi Mark,

        Thanks for the kind words. Pretty much everything you said is spot-on. You can make money by selling at shows, but like you said, you’d have to play a ton of shows and be pretty darned good at working the merch table.

        The nice thing about having a model for selling and executing it online, is that you don’t have to be there to see sales come in.

        Regarding 3.0, it’s actually going to be a completely different product from MMM 2.0 and at this time I don’t have any particulat upgrade option.

        That said, I’ll be offering a $50 discount on the course to all of my subscribers for the first few days of the launch, bringing the price down to just $97. I do want to keep this affordable for everyone.

        While the core strategy of direct response marketing is the same, the way it’s laid out and the tools and implementation is 100% new. In addition to the fact that this version includes a new MMM WordPress template , it also includes a new take on driving traffic.

        Too many of the old methods have changed too much. They still all work, but there is a better way of approaching traffic now, and I thought it time I create the new course. It contains almost double the number of videos and reflects three years of experimentation and working with thousands of artists in varying capacities.

        Again the course and discount will go live on the site on October 16th at noon eastern time. Just keep an eye on your inbox and let me know if I can help with anything in the meantime.

    • mark says:

      LOL Richard! My guitar teacher told me the same thing!

  • Hi John,
    Good post as usual. I’m a working musician in France and I’ve hesitated getting aboard because I wonder if the strangeness of the music business here will fit the models you expose in mmm. I will be putting out a first album for one of my three projects and I do need to some on-line savvy, what’s your take ?
    Cheers, Craig Schaffer
    So WAX, original folk rock
    MZE SHINA, georgian harmonies (Caucuses)
    VOYCE, irish and scottish ballades

    • John Oszajca says:

      Hey Craig,

      My honest opinion is that direct response marketing works just about any where in the world. It’s really just an approach which turns the process of communicating into a conscious process, with a goal. Humans are humans. You will want to find your own voice, and align it with the mindset of the french people who are interested in your genre, but that is the same no matter where you are.

      Direct response marketing, to my mind, is the different between fishing with a net and a pole. With a net you consciously go after your audience and literally cast a broad net. With a pole you just sit there and hope that a single fish swims by your hook. That is the difference between the two approaches. Where you are in the world and what kind of music you make is largely irrelevant, so long as there is a market for what you do, and so long as the market has some degree of disposable income.

      Thanks for the question.

  • Chaz says:

    Yes, Marc, you’re right.

    The point is that someone who had the business smarts and insight to be very successful chose *not* to pursue a career in the music business. That’s the business that we as artists are up against.

    So we could do with some help and a fresh perspective from someone who has stuck with the music business and *does* make a living from it.

    Personally, I’ve decided it’s time for one last sustained push using someone else’s experience – I’ve been using my own and it hasn’t got me very far!

    John, I’m looking forward to MMM 3.0, see you on the other side!

  • David Wynne says:

    Thanks John, Its just what artists need to hear – that a high school kid that isn’t an artist and doesn’t know what the creative musical psychology involves, never did, never will, figures out how to make money outside of the music making process and becomes a millionaire. Not very original and does not have anything to do with being an artist who performs and shapes sound for a living. Good try. Your way off pitch here.

    • Marc says:

      I think this is right on the money. The story isn’t about a young artist. It’s about the concept of how business works and applies to success, and how the music industry doesn’t embrace these concepts. Artists have to step outside the creative musical process sometimes and become creative businessmen. I think David needs to read the story again. I am a full time working artist for 20 years and what a young artist needs to hear is that in the end, this is a business and they are the product, plain and simple. Or just get a full time job and gig on the weekends for fun.

      • John Oszajca says:

        Thanks Marc, glad you saw it that way.

        David – The takeaway here is that it’s strange that this is an industry which has chosen to stick it’s head in the sand and ignore the fundamental tenets of business. We don’t have to wander aimlessly into inevitable disappointment. Instead we can take a logical approach to systematizing the process of growing our fan base and generating an income. So we can be better, freer, and more fulfilled artists.

      • jpj says:

        I am very appreciative of this story. Unfortunately, not very surprised. After 10 years in bands playing gigs i concluded roughly 1 in 100 people values live music enough to pay for it without begrudging. Working the door for other bands was a great way to see just how many people dont want to pay a cover, well, and how many people do. Maybe 1 in 100 is a little unfair, still I don’t understand it. There are plenty of bars open that don’t have a cover and don’t have live music, i say go to one of them if yiu don’t want to pay a cover. If you prefer the bars that do have a cover, realize it’s because the atmosphere is different precisely because of the live music!

        • John Oszajca says:

          Hi JPJ,

          I hear ya. I promoted clubs for years before getting signed to Interscope. I know what the hustle at the door can be like.

          Thanks for stopping by and for leaving the comment.

  • Juan Cabrer says:

    Cool post John. Very interesting article. I always check your e-mails and the information posted at your page. Have a great day!

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