Making a living as a musician is all about personal connections; when you’re not networking with important business contacts, you’re interacting with your audience and making sure your music reaches as many new listeners as possible. This means that, as musicians, we all need to be salesmen on some level.
However, music isn’t a product you can sell like any other utility or necessity for the home. Music is for the mind, body, and soul, and it’s often taken for granted that it’s a service which needs to be paid for. To understand how to sell our music we need to be unique, we need to know why we listen to it, why people need it, and, for each artist, who needs our music.
These two members of
bring charm and soph-
istication to any event.
Purpose in Instrumental Music
Whether or not your song has lyrics, the foundation of any song is the beat, the rhythms, the notes, the form, and the feel. Instrumental music can do three things: It can make us want to move, it can alter our mood, or it can grab our attention and make us think. If you’re dancing, you’ll need to feel a steady beat and you probably won’t care about the chord progression. Likewise, when you’re having your morning coffee, you might want to hear a Bach fugue to get your brain going instead of a techno remix. When you’re watching a film, the background music is mostly texture that fits the mood of the scene, so having a good beat or interesting counterpoint is usually irrelevant.
Ask yourself what your music does, and where it fits with in the lives of everyday people. Once you understand where your music belongs and you know when and why you would listen to it, you have your first sales point. People want to dance, feel, and think, and your music provides exactly what they need, when they need it. If you just produced a jazz album that’s nice to listen to while enjoying a glass of wine with friends, let new people you meet know that you have “just the thing” to get people coming to their parties.
Music with lyrics can convey ideas and stories as well as emotion. A good song speaks to us personally and relates to our own lives and world view. Songs about break-ups relate to all of us and serve an obvious purpose of comforting us when we need it, so it’s not hard to convince people to listen. For anybody looking for an optimistic view on life, a simple love song might do the trick. There’s also a lot of angst out there, with plenty of angry songs to go with it. Many people just want to have fun, so there are thousands of songs about partying.
Songs are about life and when you have a message written into the lyric sheet, there’s little reason to answer why somebody needs to listen to it. Instrumental music is very abstract and often doesn’t have a message, so it needs to have a purpose instead. If you’re a songwriter, all you need to do is craft straight-forward summary of your message, find out who needs to hear it, where you can find them, and let them know what your songs are about.
My own cover art, designed
to look like anything but a
bland classical album.
Refining an Image
Your band name, song titles, album title, cover art, clothes, and overall image should relate to the message and purpose of your music. Your album should have an overall theme so that message can be more targeted and refined. First impressions are important, so spend a significant amount of time thinking about this. It’s also possible to refine and use your own personal image to push your music, especially if you’re writing most or all of it.
Kandinsky’s Transverse Line
presents an image fitting for
abstract, modern music.
If you’re releasing an album of all instrumental music, especially classical music or an album of jazz standards, it’s tempting to avoid using an album title altogether or simply call it something like Standards: Volume 1. Although this may be truthful advertising and could be exactly what you’re trying to produce, it conveys very little and doesn’t make much of an impression. There is a time and place for your music in people’s lives; all you need to do find it and use that place for imagery.
For example, if you’re trying to sell an album of avant-garde, post-modern string quartets, your target audience will likely be very academic and will be actively listening, appreciating, or critiquing your music. Complex, abstract artwork and non-conventional titles could grab their attention more than something easily accessible and mainstream.
The Bottom Line
Nothing sells itself; if business worked that way, there would be no need for ad agencies or marketing departments. If you are passionate about your music, you should feel just as passionately about getting it out into people’s ears. In addition to rehearsals, practicing, and time spent composing or songwriting, musicians should be constantly thinking of new and creative ways to get your music out of your head and into the world. If you can figure that out, you’ll have a successful career in music.