7 Ways To Increase Your Odds Of Success In The Music Business In 2012

By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)

You’re an artist, you want to succeed, you recorded music.  What do you do next?

Below is a blueprint that, if you apply over the next year to six months, should increase your chances of success.  Some of you may already be doing/have done many of these things, and should start where it makes sense.  Others may need to start at step one.

The goal is to encourage you to measure and track your activity with respect to reaching fans so you can better define what is working, and (equally importantly) stop doing what’s not working.  To do this, you’ll need a Dashboard.  I’d suggest using an excel spreadsheet or Google doc that has weeks across the top, and the categories you’re measuring on the side (the vertical axis). We’ve supplied a sample spreadsheet for you to view/use here. Please do hover over the cells in the sample we’ve created, as there are explanations for many of the elements.

I’d love to see those in the TuneCore community take the plunge and commit to following these steps starting in the new year, and then check back periodically throughout the year to see what’s working (and what’s not). I’m willing to bet we’ll have some success stories.

“Conversion” and “The Funnel”

Conversion means getting someone to do something you want him/her to do – like download a free song, take a poll, buy a song, give you an email address, etc.

Your entire career is about first reaching people and then getting them to “convert” to do the thing you want them to do.

Therefore, you must define your goals before you can “convert them.”

Once you know your specific goals, you can then go out into the world and engage and interact with people, and try things to get them to do what you want.

For example, you might want to start collecting email addresses of people so you can inform them about your shows, new releases, etc..  Maybe you offer a free song in exchange for an email address; anyone who gives you his/her email address has converted.

This type of approach is often referred to as a “funnel” approach.  It means that you – to mix metaphors – cast a wide net with the hope that some percentage of people enter your “funnel,” and that some (always smaller) percentage will do what you want (i.e. ‘like’ you on Facebook).

Eventually, the goal most likely is to get a percentage of these people to buy something from you (a download, a membership, a ticket, merchandise, etc…).

The percentage of people who end up doing the thing you want will be a fraction of those who entered.  Because of this, it’s essential to have a large number of people enter the funnel.  If, for instance, 3% of people who enter the funnel end up converting, it means that you would need 1000 people to enter the funnel just to have 30 people convert.

One of the best means of conversion continues to be email.  That is, the percentage of people who will do what you ask them (come to your site, buy something, etc…) is highest when those people receive an email from you with a request (sometimes called a “A Call To Action;” more people convert via email than when the request comes in the form of a Tweet, a Facebook post, etc…

There are a whole bunch of things that will factor into getting someone to convert – from the music itself, to how you write an email, to what you are offering back to the fan in return for their doing the thing you want.

See below for some specific tactics on how to do this.

Thus, you need goals and a way to track what is and is not working; this will be your “Dashboard.”

Below are seven steps that will help you: (1) get people into the funnel; (2) measure what is working and what isn’t; (3) convert potential fans into customers.

1. Write Some Songs

Enough so that you can start playing live somewhere (this means at least 40 minutes of music – and no, you can’t write one long jam band song).  If you’re struggling with writing your own songs, begin by learning the songs of other artists you admire.  This will help you see what works and what doesn’t and help you begin to discover your own, unique voice.

WHY: The minute you make these songs tangible, you get six legal copyrights that allow you to make money off your art. Know these rights as they drive your income – you can read more about them here.

2. Play Live

Start playing these songs in front of people.  Do this soon.  Do not wait around for some “professional” gig.  Play in front of friends, family, strangers…whomever, wherever.  There’s a big difference between playing songs in your room, and playing in front of people.

WHY: You want to see first hand the reaction to your songs to understand what connects with people and what doesn’t.

This is also your first opportunity to begin measuring.  You will quickly begin discerning which of your songs elicit a response, and which do not.  Likely, the results will surprise you.  Artists often misjudge which of their songs have the greatest appeal (“Satisfaction,” “Single Ladies,” “Maggie May,” “How Soon Is Now,” were originally b-sides).

As part of your Dashboard, you should have a column of songs, performances, and responses.  This will help you see patterns.  It may be that some of the songs that people don’t respond to well at first, begin to elicit positive responses over time; in other words, people need to hear these songs a few times before they connect.  This information will help you create better set lists.

Don’t underestimate the importance of playing live before you record.  You do not need a demo to play in front of friends, to play at parties, to play at open mics, etc.  And these are precisely the types of places you must play prior to trying to get a “professional” gig at a venue.

3. Record Some Music

Make the recordings as good as you can make them (in terms of sound quality), but don’t go nuts.  You do not need a “professional” recording at this point.  Rather, in the spirit getting something out there so you can measure and track, it’s far more important that you get a recording done and into the world.

WHY: This will allow you to measure, track, and improve.  You are not going to have the “perfect” recording the first time.

As Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.”  In this era where it’s extremely easy and inexpensive to make a decent quality recording, there is no upside to waiting.  If you release a song, and people don’t react to it, no damage done.  It’s not like the old days where if something doesn’t work your career is over.

Not releasing music puts you at a disadvantage when compared to all those who are out there making connections, gathering information, and — most importantly — refining their work via this feedback so that their next recording is more effective than the current one.

Again, just like the above with respect to measuring the response you gain from performing your songs live, getting these recordings out into the world will provide you with tremendous opportunity to measure and track.  Your Dashboard, obviously, must have several categories that allow you to track responses.

At this point, you also need to contemplate how you will distribute the songs, but that part is easy…TuneCore.

4. Create Your Online Foundation

In order to measure the above, you need people to hear it and respond.

I will focus on how to measure and track your responses online, but it is crucial to note that to truly take off, you need to do things off-line, like play live.

WHY: Although you can reach levels of success with an only on-line strategy, you simply cannot build and grow your fan base to its true potential with an only all-online effort.

This does not mean you need to do everything at once; you can start with an online focus (get a quicker, easier, cheaper, more instantaneous reaction, etc…) and then take that information and use it to build your “real world” strategy at a much lower cost and with less risk (i.e. you know what city your fans are in, so you can gig there, as opposed to just guessing).

At this point, it’s now time to create your online foundation.

You must have your own, owned online presence.  This means you must create some type of web presence that can live in other places AND that you, and you alone, control.  For example, you could pour hours into building a band page on something like MySpace or Facebook, and they either go out of business, get sold and/or arbitrarily (or accidently) delete your page (yes, this does happen).  If you don’t have your own web page, you can lose everything.

My suggestion is that you create a combination blog/home page through something like WordPress (it’s free). WordPress has some great templates that allow you to create a very basic site to do a few basic things:

  1. Stream/sell your music directly from your site
  2. Collect emails
  3. Easily update information with respect to live events, other news
  4. Embed videos
  5. Embed live video streams
  6. Receive comments
  7. Embed your social elements (Twitter/Facebook)
  8. Embed polls
  9. View things like traffic to your site, bounce rate, where people come from/go to before/after visiting your site (all of this can be viewed by using Google’s free Google Analytics tool)

If you go the WordPress route (which is open source, and thus constantly being improved and developed for the community of users), you will be able to find plugins that allow you to implement the above on your page.

DON’T PANIC OR GET OVERWHELMED.  Start with what you understand, you don’t need to throw everything but the kitchen sink in to begin.

For example, upload a photo, a song, and create a simple poll – Do you like this song: Yes, No, Not Sure

To be sure, this is not easy for most people, and will require some trial and error.  The alternative, however, paying someone to build you a site that you can’t update/upgrade/customize is the wrong approach, and will be far more frustrating in the long term.

Your Dashboard, therefore, has some key elements related to your site. Not only traffic, but also how many people are converting to the thing you want.

You are going to need to do things to get people to your webpage – you have to experiment to learn what does and does not work.

You want to use FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube as a way to get people to your webpage, where you then get them to do something.

From these activities, you will — over time — be able to see what tactics have the highest impact with respect to traffic, comments, etc…

5. Create Your Online Solar System

I’m very tired of the word “ecosystem,” and I think solar system is a better metaphor anyway.  If you think of the above-described web presence as the center of your online solar system (your sun, I guess), all of the below elements are planets in its orbit.

WHY: In your orbit, you should/must have a Facebook account, a YouTube Channel, a Twitter account, some form of live streaming account (Ustream is a good one), and, as above, tools like Bandcamp can be value-adding.

The absolute key with respect to all of these planets, is that they must direct people back to your own/owned site.  While having a lot of Twitter/FB/Tumblr/etc. followers/likes is rarely a bad thing, it’s only a good thing if these people can be driven to your site.

Thus conversion is key.

This means that you must provide a reason in your Tweets or Facebook posts to compel people to follow the link from Twitter/FB to your site.  Examples of this abound, but could include things like:

Tweet: For the next hour I’ll be giving away a free song on our site [link to site]

Tweet: Sign up for our email newsletter and get $5 off tix to our next show [link to site]

Facebook Update: We’re playing next week, and want to make sure we perform the song(s) you want to hear. Visit our site [link] and enter your ideal set list.

Facebook Update: Post photos you took from our last show here on FB. We’ll pick our favorites and post them on our site. Come see if yours made the cut [link to site]

In your dashboard you must, therefore, not only measure things like Twitter followers, but also the number of people who come from Twitter/FB/etc. to your site (this is easily discerned via Google Analytics).

You can then measure conversion for things like how many people not only come from these sites like Twitter to yoursSite, but how many provide you with an email, download a song, etc…

6. Connect Your On and Offline Worlds

Peppered throughout, I’ve exhorted you to make sure that you don’t just focus on your online efforts, but rather make sure to keep playing live, and doing whatever else you can come up with offline (i.e. in person) to build and grow your connections with actual people.

WHY: The real key to success is making sure that these offline activities are supported and amplified online.  This could be as simple as offering people a discount on purchases of your merch/music at shows when they give you an email address, to as complex as live streaming your shows so that when you play live, people who aren’t there can watch the shows on your site.

In all cases, measure, measure, measure.  Some of these “straddle” tactics will work, while others won’t, but the only way you’ll know is to try each of them several times, and collect the data.

7. Shift the Burden: Evangelists

The final stage is the most important.  No matter how well you market yourself, no matter how brilliant your songs are, until you shift the burden from you talking about your music, to your fans telling their friends about your music, you will never really take off.

Therefore, you must identify and empower evangelists.

WHY: These passionate fans are the ones who will have the biggest impact in terms of making other people aware of your work.

How do you find these people? You ask (or, even better, they’ll ask you if they can help).  However, you shouldn’t ask (and they won’t) until you’ve reached a certain mass of actual fans.

Recalling the funnel, if only 1% of all of your fans will be so impassioned as to become evangelists for you, you’ll need more than 1000 fans before you can find 10 evangelists. Remember, in order to get these 1000 fans, you may need to compel 10,000 people into your funnel.

Once you’ve identified these people (or they’ve self-identified), you have to provide them with marching orders, and you have to communicate with them, and you have to reward them for their efforts.  Only you and your creativity can come up with what the specifics are, but do remember that what passionate fans want more than anything else is access to the artist that they love.

Again, at a certain point, your Dashboard needs a column to measure the number of evangelists you have.


None of these elements will come easy.  I’d say that once you have completed steps one through six, you’ll need six months (at least) of consistent work, filled with weekly tactics, offline events, etc., before you will start seeing results.  However, if you put the work in — week after week — whether it’s six months or a year, or longer, you will see results.  You will see forward progress.

This does not mean that you will become a superstar or even that you’ll be able to make your living off your music.  It does, however mean that you’ll be moving forward in a very positive way, and gathering information about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to how your fans relate to your music.

Over time, if you continue this, you will build a real business.  Your fans will want to pay you so that you keep making music, and you will be able to integrate a commerce system that is agreeable to you and your fans.  This may or may not be something so simple (and old-school) as having people buy your music.  It will likely include this, but will also include things like subscription services, merchandise, tickets, etc.

Too often, people rush to this commerce step before they’ve gone through the steps outlined above that are crucial to actually developing a real constituency.  In their rush to sell (really a rush to validate), they misjudge awareness, and then misjudge the result.

That is, because no one buys the music they sell (because no one knows about) they assume the music isn’t good.  Typically, this isn’t the case.  Most of the time, it’s more an issue of skipping the steps outlined above that are required to actually create awareness and a market for your work.

So, I’d love to see if some people are willing to take the plunge, and start creating tactics that they can measure, and — most importantly — commit to doing so over the next six months to a year.  For those of you who do, let’s make public how it’s going.  For those who don’t, I’m curious what you’re doing instead.


George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.  He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

Related to this article: How To Get Your Song On Commercial Radio

  • http://deltadreams.com Quang Ly

    This is one of the greatest music strategies I’ve read and really agree with everything it says. Thank you for sharing!

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      Thanks for the kind words.


      • Pabey

        Thank u sir. I’m a mid level act with a goal of selling 50k units worth of my singles by june 30, 2012. i have a mixtape i’m dropping on the last week of Jan. As i have been devising a game plan your article helped me put things in perspective, giving me concrete actions and means to measure what works as well as better utilize my time by not doin what doesn’t. my ultimate goal is to  create enough “buzz” to demand a bidding war thus leverage @ the negotiation table. 

        Sound advice 

        Best Regards

  • Worked for us

    Or… You could envisage your end goal, establish your image then: write good songs, hire a good producer, hire a great publicist – enter a joint venture with major label, hire great radio plugger. With some luck hit the top 10 in Spring. Hire a great booking agent, organise a tour. When you play your first gig, it’ll be packed and you’ll get paid accordingly.

    The world’s changed, it’s instant, the slow build process get’s lost and hasn’t worked in comparison to the above approach since 1999.

    Still, you gotta be good. If your songs can knock a current one out of the top ten, if you’re that good, try the above. Give it your best shot.
    If not, follow the article – and don’t quit your day job.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thx for the comment, but I don’t agree that you can outsource all of the things you say (hire a great publicist, radio plugger, etc.), and have any degree of likelihood that doing so well help you. Far better, imho, to do as much as you can on your own, as no one will believe in your work more than you, and those you hire will only believe in your work so long as you keep paying them.


      • Worked for us

        Thanks, this is true – but from my experience it does take a skilled and committed team to breaking an artist – haven’t met an artist yet that has made a career on his/her/their own alone. Keeping a discerning eye on that team, though, is advised to anyone outsourcing, as you mentioned.

        • http://alexdaymusic.com Alex

          “haven’t met an artist yet that has made a career on his/her/their own alone” – hi, nice to meet you! My name’s Alex Day, I’m a Tunecore artist, and I’m in the Top 5 in the UK charts right now. I did it with YouTube and nothing else. Prior to the week my song charted I didn’t have any press or radio and I have no label.

          • Anonymous


            you are absolutely my hero. What you have done is amazing (not to mention the song is great!).

      • Worked for us

        please excuse me, just had to add: you outsource and pay, esp great publicist & radio plugger) because of their relationships with papers & radio stations – and no great publicist/plugger is going to represent rubbish music anyway, no matter the pay (they have reputations).

        Point: Tunecore don’t distribute your music because they believe in it – they distribute it because you pay $49 for them to distribute it.

        Making it in the music industry in isolation is futile.

        • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

          couldn’t agree more with respect to not doing it in isolation – you need a team. i don’t agree that hiring someone to get you to/past gatekeepers (press/radio) is the right approach.


          • Mako

            thanks george,  for a great post, all of this needs to be done in todays music climate and playing live is of the upmost importance esp today, i have experience of both sides my old group cyclefly had a major label deal with mca we released two albums when times were good in the industry and done really well budgets for touring big studios top producers the right tours  gigs, mags etc this all worked if the band had  good songs and was solid live and a big budget to keep pushing  also there were cd sales which netted big earnings this isnt the case today, the internet and downloading has finished all of this for most, its not a bad thing in ways its much easier now to promote yourself record high quality demos and once there good enough go to a good studio and record the finished product and as you said get as many emails as possible through face book twitter directed to your site to get your mailing list up for new releases gigs etc, but most important now is playing live as im finding with my new band Mako this is how you build a fan base and a team finally comes together to support you the more your out there playing and sharing what you do there is no easy way, paying some one for press radio etc is a waste of time unless there doing it for free at the start and believe in what you do other wise do it yourself you’ll push harder than any one else if you believe in what you do, most of the things you’ll find on the internet that seem like an easy way to gain fame so to speak are a waste of time and money there are hundreds out there we all know of. the only way i see it is to play as much as possible where ever you can self promote upload to youtube face book keep it moving and have a really good album and videos to back it up. 
            to be able to create is truly a gift to get paid for this is only a bonus .
            best wishes

      • BC

        Very interesting article George.  I totally agree with you.  I think that outsourcing to a great publicist, radio plugger etc is appealing.  It’s a massive financial undertaking though and I believe a pointless one until you’ve reached a certain level where you’ve created a brand around yourself and proved that you have something that they can sell.  They’ll certainly take your money though.  

        In my opinion, it all comes down to perception….ALWAYS!!  If you’re signed to a major label, great! Lucky!!  For radio and PR, often this is all the vouching they need as it proves a band is being bank-rolled and is worth something.  Doesn’t mean anything though, doesn’t even mean the music’s good. Realistically though, if you’re going it alone, the industry won’t invest in you and back you until you can prove the loyalty of your fan base.  This is obviously key!!  Great article.

        • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

          thanks for the kind words.

          I’m unclear, however, what you mean about the industry investing in you.

          I’m not trying to be glib, but (beyond, i guess, labels – and I’m not sure “investing” is the way I’d describe their relationships with most bands), I’m not sure what you’re referring to.


        • Theseamusic

          Great points BC… I was recently referred to a big-time literary agent in NYC by someone who works for the Today Show, and the agent took a look at my self-published 18 eBooks for Kindle (and 3 for Nook) eReaders and she said, “Right now you don’t need me… once you start selling millions of copies, I’d be happy to sign you… and take you to the next level.”

          While that’s frustrating (as it’d be nice to have a publisher printing copies of those eBooks and helping me promote on larger stages), I still get the lion’s share of the royalties because of less hands taking pieces out of the pie. 

          It also sums up Steve Martin’s quote: “How do you make a million dollars?  Well, first, get a million dollars…”

          Yet, in doing an artist’s/farmer’s market these past few days, I totally agree with George in that: you’ve gotta god out there and shake those hands, look people in the eye, and be Passionate about your Product.

          If you don’t believe in yourself and your “widget,” who will?

          Brian Shell

          ps – when I met Oprah in 1994, two things struck me: the genuine integrity and warmth of her handshake and eye contact.  To me, those two (unspoken) things of her “Quality” spoke volumes about why she makes the big bucks.  Just my two cents… imho

    • http://kck.st/siVfGl DecaGon AKA -Gon

      You know, I thought that was only a Hip-Hop artists approach. I’ve witnessed it work the way you just outlined for an overwhelming number of rap artist. I’m personally using both Mr. Howard’s approach as well as the one I know about and have witnessed working (what you said). But, I’ve basically just started; not that I’m new but I’m just starting to put all my weight behind it, so I haven’t had much success with either, yet. So far I’ve done more being heard as a featured artist (on R&B, Rock, Pop and Soul albums) than I have for my own works. Aside from Dexter Jackson’s Unbreakable DVD soundtrack. People seem to like what I do A LOT so I’m hoping the instant approach pans out like it has for my peers. Though NOTHING beats hard work. And lately, I’ve been putting it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA-NwUD27WU

      • Swiftnsassy

        Great Oppinions and I am very impressed with most comments!.. I am a struggling artist with alot of live performances and experience, recdently added my newest song to tunecore ETC! but if your not in a location where the music scene is booming you are working real hard for little money to pay the bills..I need to get out and find a manager to help me market my band to open for bigger acts… I feel that is my goal as of now everything else has payed off but not got me ahead as of yet I  keep writing and practing anddoing  live gigs b,ut I want to play bigger gigs to satifly my musical passions..(any managers in Idaho that will help me get there???? Musically Yours Ms Sassy lee

    • Hazyinseptember

      Yikes – sounds like instant fail to me. :X

  • Electroma Boy

    Any advise on reaching new fans outside of my current network only existing out of friends? How do i open people up who are currently closed because of 99999999 artists spamming the world with their sh*t?

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      such a great question. i believe it was Gladwell in his book “the tipping point” (worth a read, by the way) who says that the max # of social acquaintances any one can have is 150. so…you see a lot of bands hitting about 150 fans (the avg attendance of a small club, for ex.) and not being able to break out of it. 

      the key relates to my last point in the article – shifting the burden. you’ve got to get these friends of yours to tell their friends (assuming that at least some of them have friends outside your circle).

      I’m reminded of how the band Guster expanded their base: Way back in the 90s while they were students at Tufts, every year just prior to winter and summer break, they’d load their friends up with CDs/cassettes of their music with the instruction that these friends should give copies to *their* friends when they saw them during the break.

      so…you had all these people who would go back to their various hometowns and see their friends from HS, and would give them Guster music. The people who got the music would then return to *their* colleges and turn their friends on to Guster.

      This is of course social networking at its most fundamental level, but hopefully it gives you some food for thought.



  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001930378707 Doolittle Lynn

    Definitely some critical information for 2012! We’re ( facebook.com/fathomblue ) actually only a year out and pending our full-length debut, we’re setting up a dot com to continue to build momentum. The fact is…everyone is online…you have to meet people where they are.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      well said, and good luck. just don’t make the mistake of trying to “market” to everyone. find the people – “where they are,” as you say – who are predisposed (from a psychographic perspective) to like what you do, and get your work in front of them.



    • Diana Lynn Howard

      Hey there,
      Are you any relation to Loretta Lynn? I heard that her husband also named Doolittle Lynn had passed away. For what it’s worth, I am a singer, songwriter and musician also. My name is Diana Lynn Howard. You can see me sing on youtube. Here are some links:
      http://www.youtube.com/dianalynnhoward  (country cover songs)
      http://www.youtube.com/guitarsongbird (I have 30 songs that I wrote on here.)

  • Calen

    I agree for the most part, but this seems to be geared toward the “newbie” bands out there, while I understand there are a TON of bands/artists that don’t have a clue how to start, there are a lot of bands/artists that have already done some or all of this, and continue to struggle even with a strong following.. Any advanced advice for taking a mid level band to the big stages? :)

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      You’re right, Calen, certainly the early steps are for new bands. I do know of many not-new bands, however, who aren’t measuring and tracking (in fact, i know of few who are).

      in any case, the question is a good one. if you have a strong following, and you’re doing the measure/track/refine thing, it’s really at a point where you have to focus on the last point – that is: shifting the burden from *you* promoting you, to your fans promoting you.

      In an answer to a post below with a similar question I referenced how the band Guster did this (i.e. shifted the burden).

      there are no easy answers to this, but you have to identify those fans who are what Guy Kawasaki refers to as “thunder lizards” (his book “Art of the Start” is worth reading. These are the people who, because of their passion/personality, are predisposed to want to share/evangelize. the key is to give them tools, empower them, and generally reward them for their effort.

      again, no easy answers to your question, but it is about this burden shift. bands who can do this succeed; those who can’t/don’t ultimately fail (i.e. stop).


  • http://www.mymusicbymebystevefitch.com Me

    In every discussion and article concerning how an  independent musician is to make money today (meaning, in the Brave New Internetric World), “playing live” is cited as a requisite, a priority for musicians. Live performance is not for everyone, and is a much more daunting undertaking than many of the writers lead me to believe they are acquainted with. Firstly, it is a major investment of time, effort and expense for each person in a band. Secondly, there are only so many places for live bands to play, and so many nights of the week and slots to fill; they also depend upon the type of music being performed. Thirdly, live performance rarely pays much; usually the revenues from gigging come to a slave-wage amount when considering the time invested in rehearsing, traveling, gas and vehicle, loading-in, settling-up, performing, breaking-down, loading-out, and so forth. Finally, not everyone is gifted as a performer, amd not everyone enjoys performing.

    Myself, I realized a long time ago that I not only did I not enjoy performing, I also loathed dealing with club owners or bookers, I regretted fighting with other bands over who was supposed to play first or last, I resented how little money rewarded the efforts of my bandmates and me, and I found the rigmarole of keeping a band together taxing upon my creativity and a major impediment to conducting my life. Presently, I realize that to reproduce in performance the music that I record would require massive financing for purchasing equipment and hiring musicians – but were I even interested in performing, I wouldn’t have the time for it.

    In such articles as I see here, it feels as though musicians are being encouraged to go through the same old motions in regard to the conventions of the music business as we’ve always known it, yet which online venues for distribution and promotion might promise to render secondary if not outmoded. While sound business practices related to the economics of self-promotion are crucial, it is often overlooked that pursuing a live-music venture is costly economically and temporally – and that unless one truly enjoys and is skilled at performing, one’s experiential and/or fiscal returns will probably register in red ink, so to speak.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      i don’t agree that i’ve ever suggested going through “the same old motions.” certainly, not what i believe.

      i do believe that playing live is important, but i’ve also said – for years – that just playing the same old clubs, etc. will lead to diminishing returns. I’ve suggested for a long time that you make your live performances “events.” Play in non-trad venues, house parties, etc.

      while some people apparently have been able to build/grow/maintain fanbases without playing live, i believe them to be in the minority. most develop/maintain their fanbases via offline work (i.e. playing live) and then amplify this online.

      not to say it can’t be done all online, but it will be hard(er).

      if playing live isn’t for you, i’d strongly suggest finding someone who is a great live performer to perform your songs live (ala Bernie Taupin/Elton John or Robert Hunter/Grateful Dead).


      • http://twitter.com/ryangtanaka Ryan Tanaka

        I was wondering if you had any suggestions for where “jam bands” might find its place.  I have a group that’s comfortable playing live but have been having trouble finding places that would be open to what we do — our music is improvised and interactive, which I think is a strength, but I think we need a right venue.

    • http://www.dianecluck.info/song-of-the-week Diane Cluck

      ‘can’t really agree with this.  i feel it’s very important for a musician to ( try and ) connect with a live audience.  i have certainly experienced the challenges of touring and gigging, but there are now hundreds of videos of my shows on YouTube–none of which i had to film or upload myself, which serve as world-wide advertisement for what i do, over and over again, completely free.  i truly appreciate that.  the presence of such videos certainly contributes to the sale of recorded music. and there are wonderful, unexpected personal connections to be made through live performance.  i don’t personally know of musicians who’ve successfully built a career without it, at least early in their careers.  ( think Kate Bush, The Beatles, XTC )

      • http://www.jerryandtatiana.com/poprock.html Jerry Chiappetta Jr

        Hi Diane, I agree with you 100%. If people like and enjoy a live performance and you’re playing your original music and it’s good, the word will spread through may different means..video, word of mouth, etc. I made a video demo of all of the songs on my latest CD and it’s really helped my on-line sales, but still 80% of my sales occur at my live performances and afterwards on-line but from a result of my live gigs. If someone gives me a tip of $10.00 or more, I always make it a point to give them a free CD which they listen to with friends and then I’ve received many orders from the friends of friends and free CD give-away results in a lot more sales.

    • Anonymous


      I agree with you. Tech has opened things up, unlike the old days, playing live is no longer a necessity in order to have some form of career as an artist in the industry

    • Rafael

      VERY WELL SAID!!!!  I AGREE, Been there done that!!  If you are Independently wealthy his advice good.  However In the REAL WORLD, we have to work. Lets not leave out Good luck finding a job that all members have the same days/nts off to practice or play out/  And what about Pay To Plat Venues?? My advice Jam @ Parties & record @ home.  Keep a reg job & CREATE.  Being Famous is OVERATED!!! 😉

  • Cali thy nation

    Great read, thanks George…
    if interested check out our youtube video
    we just got started  (“newbie” band)

  • Joseph Gergis

    George, GREAT article.

    I do have an interesting question for you though. I was contemplating writing a rather lengthy email to TuneCore because as yet I haven’t seen this addressed, and you’ve written the article that leads precisely to my question. So first let me say that I appreciate your work, and thanks.

    Consider the following problem, if you would please: what do you do if you happen to be an artist who works in a niche market? What I’m seeing as your advice works really well if you’re a pop artist, or a country artist. What do you do if the music you compose is electronic, and not the danceable kind? What do you do if your work crosses into soundtracks? These kinds of songs, usually instrumentals, are not the kind of music that lends itself well to performance to the public, unless your name is Jean Michel Jarre, or Yanni, or even John Williams. 

    See, those guys have been around forever, and have made it. They can sell concerts, and they have followings. I admit they had to have started somewhere, but given that in the 21st century the music industry is completely different, I can’t figure out where you start.

    So what do you do then? Give up and write in a different genre?


    • Paul

      Good – no, GREAT point, Joseph. I’m in a similar situation; I write a lot of classical-style music as well as instrumentals that could be movie soundtracks.

      My friends, relatives, and other people like my music a lot and are continually asking for CD’s. I plan on putting samples on  my website also when I feel I’ve recorded them satisfactorially. (I’m a perfectionist, not a good thing to be when you’re a musician!) But where to go from there? I don’t know.

      So let me know when you find an answer to your question, if there is one…



      • Glenn Galen

        I find that non-musicians cannot detect your perfection: they respond to the total “vibe” of the song and do not notice the details. My wife showed me this. I am a professional musician and recording artist. She loves music, and still could not tell the difference when I had added some changes to a recording.

        Musicians/composers think differently, and “hear” differently, than most of their fans.

    • Moonleyet

      Wow! I so relate to this… creating the music that doesn’t quite fit into mainstream styles of music. Ambient, New Age, Minimal Tech, etc. For me it’s frustrating because my sound seems to fall into a sub genre of sub genre, or perhaps my music just sucks. I don’t know. It’s frustrating.

    • Archie

      Hey Joseph,

      Those artists exist because they have had something that has really connected. What won’t be told is the amount of touring and hard work that would have gone into there career happening not over six months to a year but over many years.

      I think it’s a big issue of promotion and publicity (and money unfortunately) as well. To reach your listeners you need to direct MOST of your promotion where the kind of listener your after will take notice. It’s also going to be again how good your music is and wheteher your playing live on a regular basis. Whatever you do don’t compromise or you’re really going to be trading your artistic credibility for money (which may not work and be satisfying) and the whole reason you started making music in the first place.

      Great artists exist in any genre but it’s incredibly hard work. It may be harder in your genrte but you’ll sleep a lot better at night if your making something your proud of.

      George may disageree but that’s my opinion anyway.  I’ve said too much already. Good luck with it all! 

  • Mozartsound

    Very good stuff here. I’m doing a lot of this but I feel this will help bring order and more of a direction to what I am trying to do. Thanks

  • Adam

    I am willing to spend 12 months following this model, but what, may I ask, is your opinion on making CD-R EP’s available for sale at live performances, so as to subsidize the cost of living?

    • http://cdmusicmastering.com Big Label Sound

      I suggest getting cd-r’s printed that are somewhat generic (no song names), with mainly the band name, and year.  And then get generic band front covers printed.  You can slide these into the one sided cd cases (no backs). Then inside the front cover, you can print a label that lists the songs that you are going to burn on the cd.  This way you can burn anything on the cd, and you still have a professional look.  This way you can never get stuck with cds.  You can just burn new songs on them!

  • http://cdmusicmastering.com Big Label Sound

    Great article.  But let’s not forget to make a quality product that’s produced, performed, mixed and mastered well.  If you’re looking for a major record deal (or trying to sell on your own) you have 15 seconds to impress. “REALLY.”  Make a professional product!

    • Archie

      I agree in a sense but the real problem is who’s going to listen to that 15 seconds. We’ve reached a point where bands and artists have worn out there welcome with general listeners with over promotion (online anyway). While some labels might search myspace and facebook great music isn’t neccessarily what there after. There would be plenty of labels that would rather sell an image or trend (and not take any risks) as opposed to what maybe considered great music.

      • http://cdmusicmastering.com Big Label Sound

        Wow.  Really.  You’re right.  It is tough to even get the 15 second listen!!!

        • Archie

          I do have a slight habit of contradicting myself sometimes though. Great music will still be the way you will break through unless you are signed to a mjor record label (and you MAY or may not be signed for that reason). I really believe having great music in combination with playing live is the best solution.

          Business cards are something not utilized all that much and a great way of directing people to your music without them  feeling obliged to do so. Have your website address along with you facebook and myspace addresses on there and hand them out at gigs (or anytime you meet someone you like). They are extremely cheap as well and it leads them to all that’s happening in the future with your band as well. Hope this is of some help to anyone out there.



        • Archie

          I do have a slight habit of contradicting myself sometimes though. Great music will still be the way you will break through unless you are signed to a mjor record label (and you MAY or may not be signed for that reason). I really believe having great music in combination with playing live is the best solution.

          Business cards are something not utilized all that much and a great way of directing people to your music without them  feeling obliged to do so. Have your website address along with you facebook and myspace addresses on there and hand them out at gigs (or anytime you meet someone you like). They are extremely cheap as well and it leads them to all that’s happening in the future with your band as well. Hope this is of some help to anyone out there.



  • enda reilly

    Hi George, Love the dashboard idea. What basic stats would you follow from the Live point of view. #people at the gig? Size of venue? How much each musician got paid at the end? Overall concert and cd profits? 
    This ties in with the question what is successful?

    Thanks again

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Max-Theuretzbacher/1741888256 Max Theuretzbacher

    very special thx for this sensationell article

  • Juan_lauda

    If you are scouting about for an industry in which to make some quick money then I would suggest that you try somewhere else…

  • Theseamusic

    Great article George (as always), and I am glad that I do have a single on TuneCore out there so I can continue receiving these excellent articles from you and Jeff.  As an upandcoming percussionist, musician, and published author of 18 eBooks, this new digital world that does away with the gatekeepers is excellent… and given me a sense of hope that wasn’t there for the 16 years I tried to get an agent to represent me, my books and my screenplays.

    Yet in reading your article, a part of me disagrees with jumping on the social media bandwagon for this simple reason… it offers a huge distraction.

    If you’re always getting invites to every show and event in town, there’s a part of you that feels like you’re missing out if you don’t attend… and it also diverts focus.

    When MySpace was huge, I had HUGE pages – one personal and one for my music – and a bestselling author visited my sites (at my request at one of his booksignings), and he posted the following on my page: “Brian, if you’re always on MySpace, you’re not writing.”

    It was that simple.

    Where is your true focus?

    And I know that it takes a lot of self-promotion to let people exist once you do publish or release music, but the fact remains that if your focus is scattered, you don’t tend to do the work at hand with the excellence that 100% focus demands.  When I was an electrical engineer in LA, I helped win a billion dollar satellite contract, and my project manager was convinced we won it (sole-source) because of our dedication to focus more than any other company in the bidding.  Our proposal was over twice as long as any other company’s… and it netted us over $1.3 billion dollars… causing our stock to rise $20 per share… and enabling me to make a leap of faith in becoming an author, screenwriter, artist and musician.

    So I respect every nuance you’re putting out there George… as I always do… but there comes a time when work needs to be done to make the money we all hope will pay those bills and perpetuate our ability to do what we love… which isn’t work… it’s the real success.

    Labors of Love.

    Like my senior scientist told me before I left: “The only truly happy people I know are those who are creative on a daily basis… period.”

    On that (grace) note… I humbly namaste to you all.

    Brian Shell

  • Charlesmarlowe

    This article really make sense for me. I’m an artist in Syracuse NY, which by music industry terms seems very isolated. It isn’t as much as I’ve made it out to be. Bands, acts, songwriter, ect can start to develope what even resembles a music career in there own neck of the woods using techniques you’ve articulated in this post.
    Been a big fan of your videos on artisthouse. Thank you for this very informational and inspiring blog post.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thanks for the kind words.


    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thanks for the kind words.


  • Gumede Lungelo

    Hi! just wanna say i’ve recieved your intresting e-mail,i like it but i’ve got a prolbem on how to stert all or do all the above. if u can e-mail me some more information based on startting my carrer on misic coz i also like to have my own recording lable.

    yours fathfully

    Lungelo Bonga Gumede

  • Archie

    My real problem is  getting people to sign up to email lists. The general listener is all to familiar with the free track in exchange for there email deal and also don’t want to give these details online with all the cybercriminals out there. As for having your own website it’s defenitely a good idea but how many people go to band’s websites these days. It would be rare for me to go my favourite bands websites. It’s good though if myspace goes bankrupt which is actually looking quite likely. If your promoting on facebook I think you’d be pretty safe for a while.    

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      with respect to song for email type tactics, i agree: tired. still haven’t been able to come up with a better gambit, however. trying.

      with respect to your own website, i hear you that people don’t go to bands’ websites (for the most part), but that’s a failing of the band, not customer behavior. if you make it compelling, people will come. i do agree that you should use the social tools (fb/t/etc) to make people aware of your site and drive them to that.


    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      with respect to song for email type tactics, i agree: tired. still haven’t been able to come up with a better gambit, however. trying.

      with respect to your own website, i hear you that people don’t go to bands’ websites (for the most part), but that’s a failing of the band, not customer behavior. if you make it compelling, people will come. i do agree that you should use the social tools (fb/t/etc) to make people aware of your site and drive them to that.


      • Archie

        You’re right with the website point.

  • Jekpromo


    RT: No AutoTune! @Kingof334Mobb & @jenniferekemp #1 New Track “Selfish” http://bit.ly/qjm2vc

  • Dfz

    Very good, although a bit general in some areas. Most producers of music for example don’t have the luxury of playing live, be it down to niche genres or instrumentation / performers not being available to them. But the business model outlined is the one most medium acts follow and it seems to serve the, well.

  • Rich @ moozi.cc

    The music industry is like a gigantic indoor market or bazaar with thousands and thousands of sellers trying to convince you to part with your money. The ones that generally win the sale are those with the loudest voice and interesting, sexy, captivating style. The music business is simply a marketplace and a lot of the time it has more to do with marketing spin than product quality. Focus on being different and stand out from the crowd. Don’t make the mistake of being the same as the last successful act because you’ll just blend in and fade away.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      well said. you have to have a comp advantage – you have to do something different. you have to be remarkable, which, broken down “remark” “able.” make people remark (talk) about your work.


    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      well said. you have to have a comp advantage – you have to do something different. you have to be remarkable, which, broken down “remark” “able.” make people remark (talk) about your work.


  • PullofGravity

    I really love the information you listed :) I have been reading the books (All you need to know about the music business, etc.) and articles everywhere I can find them and I still have one problem that persists. The music my band writes is NOT the accepted genre in our area, but is not so far removed as to pull it from the pop genre. We are generally described as alternative/progressive rock. We are also Christian, but not praise and worship or screamo/hardcore, which seem to be the only niches people are looking for in our area. We would like to expand to other cities/states but cannot afford the time OR money, what can we do to boost revenue without breaking the bank going to a city that would accept us better? Which frankly is out of the question on a long term basis because my drummer and bass player are married.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kodiac.hampton Kodiac Hampton


  • Jwill841

    Hey everyone check out my site http://www.flashrec.com learn about me & listen to my music! Leave your info and comments in the contact section of my page. Thanks for your support!

  • http://twitter.com/ryangtanaka Ryan Tanaka

    Nice article.  Oddly enough it seems like we’re talking about the same things here despite approaching it from a different direction…my article is about applying “Lean Startup” principals to musical methods, which I’d like to expand upon some more next year.

    Guess a lot of it is just common sense when it comes down to it, despite its labels. http://ryangtanaka.com/?p=2118

    For those looking to get feedback on their works, I’d recommend places like turntable.fm or other types of self DJ sites to get a sense of how people are responding…it’s like a mini focus group that you can get for free, pretty much.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      *this* is the type of discourse we need more of! I’m an adherent of not only LS theory, but applying good management theory, generally, to the music business (too often this gets ignored).

      i also really appreciate your link to turntable.fm – been a fan for a while (though it seems like the bloom is off the rose a bit of late). it inspired a post i wrote about how important it is for web sites/apps to be “social, fun, and competitive.” 


      please keep posting your thoughts here, we need more of this type of discourse.


      • http://ryangtanaka.com/ Ryan Tanaka

        A bit late but just wanted to say that I got your message. I followed you on twitter and I’ll try to keep up with your posts.

        Turntable needs a *lot* of work done to it, but it has potential, I think. It’s a community worth keeping an eye on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/burgundymoore Mario Murray

    great article thanks

  • mrfuturistic

    Come on man all of this is outdated theory and does not work. Move with the times. A young lad from the UK got to number 4 in the charts, and over 100,000 first week sales. He is even a Tunecore customer. I can assure he did not do all the stuff you have written above. You are living in cloud cuckoo land if you think building your fanbase through gigs is going to work as well as the holy grail of email sign ups. Wake up people there is a new way and it works

    • An Observer

      Look up Alex Day and his UK chart entry at number 4 this week. http://www.theofficialcharts.com/singles-chart/
      Here is an article describing how they did it. Read it and learn people because this is a real world example with evidence and not just theory that has been dished out for years and is really outdated.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      first off, here’s the link i *think* you were trying to reference (when I click on the link you posted i get a 404 error):


      i read through it.

      here’s how they say they did it:

      “Between us we plotted a strategy. He contributed many ingredients (like all the different mixes). He wrote to his fans saying – only if they really loved the track; would they help break it? Thousands answered – he spent hours E-Mailing each personally. It was my decision to make it available in November and not just in the week before Christmas (I hated that boring old traditional industry trick of concentrating sales to get a high chart place – we wanted to sell a lot of copies whilst the No1 campaign was simply a focus) but he came up with Forever Day being the 18th and therefore having a day to increase interest and get a huge sale over one day.”

      This seems pretty darn consistent with my 7th – and as I say “most important” – point:

      7. Shift the Burden: EvangelistsThe final stage is the most important.  No matter how well you market yourself, no matter how brilliant your songs are, until you shift the burden from you talking about your music, to your fans telling their friends about your music, you will never really take off.Therefore, you must identify and empower evangelists.WHY: These passionate fans are the ones who will have the biggest impact in terms of making other people aware of your work.So, i don’t really know what you’re talking about with respect to my “outdated theory.” frankly, i don’t really see or understand *what* Alex Day did to succeed – what their/his “strategy” was. the one little bit of strategy the article shares is reaching out to fans. And, as shown, i said this was the most important thing an artist could do (shift the burden).so…what am i missing; what’s outdated? maybe you can let me know some of the other things alex day did that worked for him. i’d love to share these strategies/tactics with TuneCore readers.we all can learn from each other, but it helps to now what others are doing.also, let me know what’s outdated about what i wrote.Thanks,George

  • Jennajay

    I found this article very interesting and happy to see that through nothing but my own hard work and business like mind have I managed to achieve already some of the elements discussed. I would like to keep you updated on my progess :) Thanks again for you helpful information. Thanks. Jenna Jay

  • Scottroberts8070

    take all that time and effort and buy ba good guitar,if it sounds good it will sell itself,you should play in front of people,be happy,meet people.but mainly have a blessed instrument,one that carries you when your weak,if you can find one.like woemen,all the good ones have been taken.

  • Scottroberts8070

    take all that time and effort and buy ba good guitar,if it sounds good it will sell itself,you should play in front of people,be happy,meet people.but mainly have a blessed instrument,one that carries you when your weak,if you can find one.like woemen,all the good ones have been taken.