This MondoTunes DIY webseries aims to help musicians sell their music in every area of their craft. From attracting new fans to putting on a great live show, these videos and articles should have fresh, useful information for even the most seasoned veteran of sound and stage.
Table of Contents
- How to Sell Music: Build a Growing Fan Base
- Even More Ways to Get Fans Using Only the Internet
- How to Sell Music with Music Distribution
- How to Sell Music via Traditional Licensing
- How to Sell Music for Use in Film and Television
- How to Sell Music for Video Games
- How to Sell Music via a Music Label
- How to Sell Music by Helping Fans Find You Online
- How to Sell Music as a Street Busker
- How to Sell Music with Effective Crowd Interaction
How to Sell Music: Build a Growing Fan Base
With your fan base getting bigger all the time, selling music is never hard.
How to sell music is a question of fan numbers. Have fans, sell songs.
The most effective way to build a great, big fan base is by playing great live music at popular venues because people feel a strong connection to artists they see do a powerful job onstage and tell their friends.
Playing live is not an option for many independent musicians, though, so let’s explore some ways to gather fans without getting onstage.
Many musicians today enjoy global fame due to their presence on YouTube or other online platforms early in their career. Chance the Rapper is one of them, and the Biebs is one of them, too. If you’re reading this, chances are you own the technology necessary to tell people you’ll be performing live online at a certain time. If you don’t want to play live, simply record yourself performing and publish the video publicly on YouTube or another hosting service.
Most listening parties resemble album release parties, like the one shown above. But consider getting in touch with several independent artists in your area and throwing a larger, less-focused listening party at which everyone listens to everyone else’s tracks.
Other musicians can be an artist’s best asset, especially when putting events together for growing a big fan base. There’s a reason show promoters always book several bands for the same night. It’s much more fun to have some variety. It takes the pressure off the artist who would otherwise perform alone, too.
Since you have music available for sampling at Soundcloud or elsewhere (you do, don’t you?) why not print up some flashy download cards to entice people you meet to give your music a chance? A big fan base can be started with your printer.
The cards pictured here are from dropcards.com but vistaprint and other business card stores can be equally cheap options. Put some music online for download with a password you provide on the card. That makes it exclusive, and exclusive is attractive. This is a nearly free option any artist can fix up in an hour, tops.
- Unite with Other Musicians
Start a united group of music artists online in your music genre. Every time someone in the group publishes a new track, the others in the group listen to it and comment online.
If the members of the group keep listening to everyone’s music and publishing their own, the group will grow. This will happen painfully slowly at first, but once it gets rolling, it can get away from you in a very good way.
This trick comes from popular bloggers. Bloggers are a tight-knit crew of artists who read one another’s writing every time something goes online. This is very attractive to other new writers. You get thirty or forty people checking out your art on the regular, well look there, you’ve got a pretty great start on a nice, big fan base.
The best part is, you’ve been giving props and helpful (!) criticism to all these people and they’ve been giving it to you, so these aren’t just fans — they’re comrades. You can count on their support.
Can’t Play Live? Even More Ways to Get Fans Using Only the Internet
Some of us can’t play live or don’t want to. Here are even more ways to get fans without playing live using only the Internet.
Plenty of musicians today use the Internet as both their primary studio and their only performance venue. How do they form a fan base without needing to leave the house? The short answer is, today’s online studio music artist needs to have as large an Internet presence as possible.
That’s what we’ll be talking about.
For many of you, some or all of the below will not be news. Even so, only the most driven and dedicated few of you will have taken all of the below steps. That’s why today’s MondoBlog is about how to get fans without playing live, using only the Internet.
#1. Have an active Facebook page for your music project
Does this seem obvious? You might be surprised how many musicians go through the painstaking trouble of writing, recording, mixing, mastering, and distributing a music project without even making a social media account to advertise it.
Facebook is free and famously claims it always will be. It has a potential reach that spans the globe. It does not have a limit on how many legitimate social media pages a single person can operate.
Not only is Facebook an obvious go-to for advertisement and music news distribution, but seeing how many “friends” follow you is a great way to measure the growth (or decline) of your fan base.
Keep in mind, though, that artists must be active on these pages or they work in reverse. A silent band page on Facebook is the same as a vacant, closed storefront. They look awful and are bad for business.
You don’t have to put your whole catalog online for everyone’s free listening, but you do need to give the public a considerable sample of what you do.
It’s incorrect to think people will invest their attention (let alone their money) in music they haven’t heard. Very few music listeners will buy an album on faith alone.
If your music is good, people will find themselves drawn to it like ants to sugar — but you’ve got to put the sugar out, first.
“I’m on one of those sites, and one’s enough.”
Enough to what? Make it harder for potential fans to find you? Besides, you don’t want to make three identical sites, either. Have a little something exclusive on each page to encourage people to pay attention to all your webpages. Regularly update all of them with new music and stage banter. You can’t effectively use social media and be antisocial at the same time.
#3. If you want to get fans without playing live using only the Internet, you need an official website
Ground your Internet presence on an official website. There are sites like Wix.com, WordPress.com and many others which make website creation and maintenance incredi-simple.
Use one of them to make a site with a URL like “www.YourBandNameHere.com.”
If your band name is already taken, you might even want to rebrand your music with a less common name. Redundancy hides you online. You don’t want to hide.
You don’t necessarily have to pay to have a site, but “www.50Cent.com” looks a lot more legitimate than “www.50CentTheRapper.wordpress.com.”
#4. Be active on the webpages of other indie musicians
If you make noise on the pages of your music friends and acquaintances, your acquaintances will make noise on yours. If you don’t have a large (or existing) music circle, this is a great way to make one.
To get fans without playing live using only the Internet, you’re going to need to make friends using only the Internet.
It’s fantastic that the Information Age has made this possible. It behooves us artists to take advantage.
Simply following the above four precepts is a lot more work than most online musicians do to make their music available. Start here.
How to Sell Music with Music Distribution
This handy how-to guide will tell you everything you need to know about music distribution today (and a little bit more).
How to sell music using distribution is all about digital movement today. But what exactly is it? Music distribution is the act of getting your music into the hands of listeners.
And while it may feel like there’s an awful lot more to learn, as a musician with online access and only a little money, there’s not much else you need. This will explain how to get your music live for purchase and listening all over the world, practically overnight.
Today, nearly all music distribution is digital for lots of reasons. We’re going to assume you already know the future is in online music distribution and skip the explanations about the dinosaur methods of yesterday.
But first, let’s examine why every musician should take advantage of music distribution.
- Music distribution is open to everyone
- It’s totally affordable
- It makes artists money
- Music distribution goes around the world
That first point is one everyone should know. Nobody is turned away. No record is shut down. All the people of Earth are welcome to publish music around the globe.
But you’re probably more interested in the second point. Practically anybody can afford music distribution right now.
And what of making real money? Can that actually be done? The IFPI says yes, with 50% of all music sales last year coming directly from digital and only 34% from physical formats.
Streaming alone went up more than 60%. Musicians are making more money online than in any other way, live performances included.
If you consider every point-of-sale as an opportunity to sell your music, then it is a statistical fact that everyone multiplies their chances to make cash with global music distribution by many times.
This is especially true if you choose to distribute your music through MondoTunes, which has the largest distribution network in the world, the same one used by Universal artists like U2, Lady Gaga, and the Black Eyed Peas.
So now that you know why you need music distribution, which company is right for you?
A Brief Look at Music Distribution Companies
In the beginning, there was CD Baby. Founded away back in 1998, CD Baby did exactly that. They sold CDs.
After almost 20 years, their name brand is the one most people point to first.
It’s probably due to this that Wired Magazine nods to their healthy “community vibe.”
Seven years later, along comes Tunecore.
Tunecore provided digital retailer solutions.
This meant that musicians could go online and make their music available from online music stores.
Wired Magazine notes that Tunecore has a simple, easy setup, which is something everyone can appreciate.
Of course we’re biased about ourselves — so here’s what LedgerNote has to say about us, instead:
“The whole point of an online music distributor is they handle all the work of getting the music out. It’s a major job for them, especially if they’re getting the music to as many outlets as possible.
“Take for example a company like MondoTunes. Their reach includes all of the big dogs such as:
- Google Play
- and over 600 more…
“With one fell swoop you can hit the sites above, toss in YouTube, Vevo, Deezer, Rhapsody, and pretty much every other distributor you can imagine. One of the main principles of a takeover in marketing is to ‘Be everywhere at all times.’ This is how you pull that off with a literal fraction of a fraction of the effort it used to take.”
Wired Magazine loves the pricing at Mondo, which was about $40 per album at the time of writing — but today you can distribute an infinite number of releases for the same amount.
What neither LedgerNote nor Wired mentions is that Mondo is the next step in the natural evolution of music distribution.
“We essentially were the ones who linked major label distribution for indie artists,” says founder Javan Mershad. “Then we embraced recent technology and leveraged it to provide unlimited uploads.”
But is music distribution through MondoTunes all about facts and figures?
Not at all.
Excuse my breaking the so-called fourth wall, but what’s most important to me (Sean McCauley) is the relationship we have to you artists out there.
Everyone from the founders, to the support crew, to the press team and mastering geniuses are themselves musicians with real music experience in the trenches. We’ve performed, we’ve sold albums, we’ve printed tee-shirts, we’ve been stiffed by the show promoter and we’ve been robbed by the indie label guy.
For my money, I suggest Mondo for the simple reason that we’re artists, too, and we shoot straight.
How to Sell Music via Traditional Licensing
Licensing helps you sell music to people wanting to use yours for their own projects. Here’s how to license your music.
Licensing your music means selling or lending the rights to play your songs to other people. It isn’t hard to obtain licensing for your music, but it is necessary.
You do this by joining a Performance Rights Organization (PRO). They’re the good guys. PROs represent musicians like yourself and ensure you get paid when other people play your music (TV, radio, websites, the local gym, or whatever).
The main three in the USA today are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. You can only join one, and you only need to because all of them work together to get you paid.
An easy recommendation for today’s DIY artist is ASCAP because their online registration system is simple as pie and the people working there are happy to help you if you have questions requiring a telephone call. Here is a list of copyright collection societies around the world, however, for artists wanting to do their own research (also recommended).
Once you have licensing in place, you can sell your music to people. Some people do well by sending emails and making phone calls, but this isn’t recommended for most artists.
Chances are, you’ll want to get your music into production music libraries. Production music libraries catalog music for people in TV, cinema, video games, and Internet producers like popular YouTubers, etc., etc., etc. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who need to use music, here, all of them potential customers for you.
Production music libraries allow people who need music to search for sounds which might work for their purposes. They might very much like the music of Taylor Swift, for instance, but can’t afford to license her music, so they do a search for music like hers on libraries. If your songs happen to strike the same emotional tone they’re looking for, then they may purchase licenses to use your songs.
You’ll get paid depending on the terms of your agreement with each various library. You’re often paid via “sync fees.” Your library usually splits the money with you 50/50, but sometimes smaller libraries offer better. You may also be paid via performance royalties. In either case, the PRO you signed up with will collect these payments for you.
Different production music libraries find different customers for your music, so you’ll need to research which ones are best for your various purposes. The more different kinds of music you produce, the better your chances of getting licensing deals. This doesn’t mean fast rock, slow rock, happy rock, sad rock and every other kind of rock and roll. It means country, gospel, punk rock, hip hop, merengue, epic orchestral, EDM, singer-songwriter, roots reggae, polka, and the traditional folk style of the Republic of Djibouti.
The more variety you produce, the better your chances.
Also very important for most music artists: don’t take exclusive deals. If you make a song exclusive to a single library, none of the other libraries can make it available to interested buyers. If a library you’ve made music exclusive to loses your data or starts ignoring your music — which is possible — then that music is dead in the water. Don’t make your songs exclusive to a library until you know what you’re doing.
With a performance rights organization at your back and your music showcased at a number of production music libraries, you’re all set to sell music with music licensing.
How to Sell Music for Use in Film and Television
(Before you go further, make sure you’ve already read and followed the instructions on traditional licensing, above).
Looking to place your music in TV and cinema? Here are some pointers.
Some of the most lucrative music deals are in Hollywood, but they can be tricky to secure. So how’s it done?
First (of course) your music must be well written, well performed and recorded, well mixed and professionally mastered, perfect right down to the metadata in the files. It also helps heaps and loads if your music is accessible, non-specific to any particular group of people or situation set. That way your music is useful for a variety of scenarios.
After that, selling music to film and TV is a matter of social engineering.
Watch for the names of music supervisors in the credits of TV shows and movies. Research them. This may seem creepy, but you’re only looking through information they’ve made public, themselves. Check them out on IMDB, Twitter, YouTube interviews and panel discussions — anything and everything.
You’re looking for information that can help you create a relationship with this person. They’re people, not cash cows. Maybe they love Wendy’s chocolate shakes. Maybe they’re a huge Louis Armstrong fan. Maybe they have a crush on some movie star. Whatever you learn is useful to you in connecting with this person.
Never, ever send mass emails. They’re spam and they deserve to be ignored.
Craft a letter to the music supervisor you’re trying to reach. Ask them what they listened to in the car most recently. Make them feel special. Help them start to think of you as special, standing out among the swimming pool of solicitations they receive every day. Use your best spelling and grammar. You don’t have to be an Oxford professor, but don’t rush it, and don’t be too proud to use a spellcheck program if you need one.
The goal is to get these music supervisors to write you back. If you do a good job being warm, friendly, and seemingly relevant to their interests personally and professionally, they’ll write you back.
If you don’t start placing your music right away, you’re likely to start making friends and connections, which may be better in the long run.
“A lot of people think sales is about numbers, like you just have to contact so many people and the odds are that somebody will respond,” Los Angeles musician Cathy Heller told LA Weekly in 2013. “I don’t look at it that way at all. Sales in any business is about people. When you connect with somebody, you need to think, ‘I want to genuinely have a connection with you,’ rather than ‘you’re a person I’m going to contact to see what you can do for me.'”
Other industry professionals have boiled down the secret to getting music licensed to TV and film as one thing: polite persistence.
If you get a real phone call — something that Hollywood still does a lot, so don’t expect it to happen via text — be a warm, inviting person. Ask them where they’re from. Thank them for calling. Compliment them on having a job that seems to suit them. Tell them how much you liked their placement of a certain song in a certain show, and how it inspired you to seek them out.
This is key: you are not looking for instant results. You are building real, lasting relationships with real people with real feelings. You’re making friends. This is Hollywood, even if the person’s not in Hollywood. It’s all about connections.
It may take you a couple days to hear from someone, or it may take a couple years.
But with quality music and genuine social skills, you can be in the credits as a music artist, too.
How to Sell Music through Video Games
How to get your music in video games becomes more important all the time as games continue to overtake film and TV as the biggest entertainment industry. It provides one of the best ways to sell your music and get it out to listeners. Find some help to do so below.
(Before you go further, make sure you’ve already read and followed the instructions on traditional licensing, above).
How to sell music using the video game market depends on bringing your supply to the game developers’ demand.
Presuming you’ve already got solid recordings of great music, you want to get these tracks into the empty hands which need them most.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, yourself, you might know of some game projects in the works which might match the music you’ve made. Game devs can be very approachable, though they’re all extremely busy.
Go ahead and send your music to them directly, but be humble, friendly, professional, and brief. To them, time is worth more than gold. Make your email subject “Music for X-Project” where ‘x-project’ should be the title of their game.
Eric Versluis for DiscMakers.com suggests the following template: ““Hey, I know you’re slammed, but I’m a big fan of XYZ game and know that you have a new one coming out in six months. I would love for you to take this new song into consideration. I think it would be perfect for the game.”
If you aren’t a big gamer, you can join one of a few websites where game developers work together to get resources for their projects.
Catering specifically to musicians and game devs, IndieGameMusic.com is currently free to join and works to bring your sounds to the independent producers of video games all over the world.
Painting with a broader stroke is LikeMindedd.com, where artists of all sorts congregate to put their talents to work or to find talents with which to work.
These sites and others can find ears for your music in the video game world. Use them.
But how should you prepare your tracks before you send them out?
We presumed earlier your fantastic track has a solid recording. To be clear, that means mixed, produced and mastered.
Tag the song with metadata. That’s the information that your media player shows you when you play a track: track title, artist name, album name (?), your contact information, who owns the master and publishing information. Don’t make anyone track that data down. Editing the metadata isn’t hard, but see next week for a how-to on that, too.
To send your music, don’t attach files to email, don’t use WeTransfer, and don’t use DropBox. Each can end up problematic. Box.com isn’t bad, and Soundcloud can work, too. You want to allow streaming and downloads without links which can expire over time.
Link to a maximum of three songs and include an instrumental version of each.
How to Sell Music via a Music Label
While there’s a ton of information involved with record labels and getting signed in 2017, artists and indie-label owners only need to know one thing, and that’s exactly how to do it.
I am asked how to get signed to a music label more often than I am asked anything. It comes in various packages, such as: “How do I get a record deal,” “how can I get my artist on a major label,” and “how do I get the attention of record executives?”
Turns out there’s a straightforward answer to the question.
You’re trying to get the attention of A&R reps, or artist-and-repertoire representatives. A&R reps are the talent scouts of the music industry. They work for big record labels sniffing out the next big thing, and they are the people who get artists signed.
Reps don’t usually look like those guys up there, though. They usually look like this guy down here.
So how do you get the attention of that guy? There are two ways, but really those ways are the same way.
- Build a large and growing fan base
- Start making money with your music
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “If I could do those two things, what would I need a label for?”
Exactly. That’s why the independent industry is bigger than ever in the 21st century.
But that doesn’t mean record labels are worthless. There’s a point at which growing your fan base and profit margin becomes seriously hard work on the business end.
Once you’re touring twice a year, selling merch from your official website and booking shows for every Friday and Saturday night, you’ll need a manager. Probably, you’ll already have been recording and distributing your music through Mondotunes. You’re essentially running your own label at that point, and you may have noticed that it’s hard to find time to write new music while doing all that stuff.
That’s what labels are really for.
To get signed, then, you first need to worry about Number 1, above — growing a fan base. (If you’ve managed to make money as a musician without building a fan base, please let us know how you bent the laws of music physics to do it).
Building a fan base begins with making great music which people in your area will love to hear.
Once you’ve got that, it’s about getting the music to the people. This is traditionally done — and often best done — by playing live shows at venues. People at music venues go there because they like live music and are open to hearing new things. That’s your infant fan base, right there. Play for them as often as you can, and when you make them happy, they’ll come back for more. More importantly, they’ll tell other people about you.
Once you’ve taken care of Number 1, Number 2 falls right in your lap. You can’t have people clamoring for your music without being able to sell them tickets, music and merchandise. (And speaking of merch, don’t stick to shirts. Get creative. Practically anything can have your logo on it, like armbands, beanies, or even coffee mugs). You’ll be making money, and so long as you keep the good times coming for your fans, it’ll surprise you how quickly the fans and the money multiply.
This all comes back to the original question, of course.
Once an A&R rep hears about your music, hears that people are wearing your tee shirts and going to see your performances, he or she is going to ask, “are they signed?” before he or she even hears your music. When the answer comes back that you are not, in fact, signed, then you can expect a call.
That’s what record labels want in the end, of course: a piece of the action.
All you’ve got to do is be the action.
How to Sell Music by Helping Fans Find You Online
Helping fans find you online is one of the most important things you can do to sell your music, and it’s easier than rocketry.
We’ve already talked about having an online presence in social media, in targeted groups, and on official websites, but none of that matters if you’re hard to find.
The Internet is like the ocean. It’s inconceivably immense. Like the ocean, if you’re not doing everything you can to stand out in it, then nobody’s going to find you. You’re lost at sea.
The number one mistake musicians make today — no exaggeration — is in naming their music projects things which camouflage them online.
Band names, album titles, song titles, YouTube videos, mixtapes, everything should be named with visibility in mind.
Think of every music item uploaded to the web as adrift at sea. You need to put a neon life preserver on them. You need to make them stand out.
This can be a touchy subject for artists because artists make art as an extension of themselves. Titles, band names, professional stage names, these are things people want total control over, and that makes every bit of sense.
But to sell music, artists need to name things with sales in mind.
The single most important rule is: don’t name anything the same thing as something else.
Let’s say you write a song about your current love interest. Let’s say that person’s name is Veronica. You’ve titled your song, “In Love with Veronica.”
Let’s Google that and see if there’s already a song called “In Love with Veronica.” Turns out that on page 1 of Google (at the time of writing) there’s a song called “I’m in Love” by an artist called Veronica. Not exactly the same, but it’s taking up part of your visibility. And anyway, it’s not a title that stands out in the memory regardless. If somebody were describing that song to a friend, it’s easy to imagine them saying, “You know, that one song by that one person? I think it’s called, ‘In Love with’ someone or other. I forget the name.”
If you had named the song, “Heartcrusher,” people would remember. Let’s Google that one. There. See? The closest thing to “Heartcrusher” is an item in the World of Warcraft. Much better.
The second big mistake is in naming songs, albums, or other projects things which absolutely cannot be searched for online.
Remember when Kesha had that dollar sign in her name: “Ke$ha?” If you wanted to find the musician online, you had to use that symbol, or you’d get some other Kesha. It was really annoying for a couple years, talking about her with people: “Have you heard that one song? It’s by that Ke$ha singer who uses a money sign for the ‘s.’ That’s right, K-E-dollar sign-H-A: Ke$ha.”
Don’t name anything in such a way as to cause situations like that.
Avoid calling your songs simple terms like “Blue” or “Number Three” or “Bus Stop.” There’s actually no way to arrive at your song by typing those things in alone. You’re asking people to type in whole phrases just to find your singles, and they may not even really care about your music, yet.
Try to create titles which can’t possibly go anywhere but directly to your music. Use unlikely, surprising words and phrases. Titles like “Diving-Board Pedestrian,” “Sprinting Underground,” and “The Sky that Ate My Teacher” sound insane, but they’re not going to link you to an old movie, book, or pre-existing song. Nope. Those things are too original for that.
Entirely made-up words are even better; they work like passwords: “Mushkabouncy,” “Treesailing,” “Kaleidoscorpion.” They’re silly as all heck, but you bet your listeners will get titles like that in one, easy-peasy Google search.
Now you don’t need to name everything something nutty to optimize your net visibility. Of course you want your music to be taken seriously, and titles are crucial to this end — especially artist names.
The main point is, keep in mind that you want people to be able to find you when you’re making titles.
There’s already a Jack Johnson, a Joe Johnson, a Joe Jackson and a John Jackson. If you release your debut record as John Joelson, even if that’s your given name, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
How to Sell Music as a Street Busker
Selling music as a street performer is one of the world’s oldest and best-loved professions. Like every job, there’s a better way and a worse way to do it. Let’s have a look.
‘Busking’ is the word for playing music for money on the street. Cities have many different laws about busking, from total prohibition to actual artist subsidizing, as is done in Rome, where every street performer must audition before the city council to get a license to play on the street — and competition is tough.
But regardless of whose street you’re playing on, there are useful tips for making as much money as you can as a street busker.
First, before your music even comes into question, be sure to look clean. Buskers have a bad reputation for being bums, vagrants, or public nuisances. It’s an idea that goes hundreds of years back.
Your shirt should have no wrinkles. Your hair should be combed. Your general appearance should be that of someone who’s about to go under the spotlight before scores of people — because you are. Hopefully.
Second, know your music inside and out.
If you can’t play your song effortlessly from start to finish while smiling at people in the crowd and maybe twirling a hula hoop around your ankle and balancing plates on your head, don’t play it at all. Public is performance, not practice. You practiced hard so you could wow people. Time to do it.
Third: use a closed collection bag, something like the kind used in some churches. You don’t want people to see how much cash is in the bag. It weirds them out. It really helps if you have someone in the crowd to pass it around, too.
What about the ol’ guitar case thing? The open guitar case is a classic, but it doesn’t work as well as something that looks deliberately thought out. The image we’re going for here is “professional.” You do this all the time. There should be a clear difference between what you’re doing and the kid down the street. (No offense to the kid. We all start somewhere).
Four: Have something to give away if you can. It doesn’t really matter what it is. This is a psychological magic trick. Even if you just have five dollars’ worth of sugarfree suckers from the bargain market in a jar for kids, it makes a difference.
Stickers with your name on them are a classic one, but make sure they’re neat enough stickers people might want to use them even if they didn’t really like your songs. Make the image something clever. Maybe a yellow “Have a Nice Day” smiley, but with your website in small print at the bottom. Or same idea, but a shamrock. Whatever. Just something people might stick on things.
Five: shake hands.
Any waiter or waitress worth their salt can tell you, just a moment’s physical contact with your customer increases your tips by a notable percentage.
The handshake is a safe, respectable way to do this.
Six: Play your first two songs back-to-back, then take a short break for applause. Don’t play more than ten minutes at a time. Don’t talk between songs for longer than two minutes unless you’re announcing your last number.
Seven: Don’t play for longer than half an hour per set. Between sets, disappear. If you can leave your stage marked as your territory, “Next Show — 7:30” or whatever, do it.
Eight: Give the impression you’re having more fun than the happiest kid at Disneyland. Even if you’re playing the saddest song you have, play it as if you would pay a hundred dollars for the opportunity.
Nine: Don’t just sit or stand there. Dance. Move. Have moves. Practice stunts, tricks, jokes during songs, anything to entertain. In other words, perform.
And that’s enough!
How to Sell Music with Effective Crowd Interaction
Anyone who’s been to a live performance knows the benefit of good crowd interaction. Here’s how you can reap them, yourself.
OK, you’re five minutes into your show with two songs behind you, and now it’s time to take a little breather. But here you are with a crowd to entertain, and you need to keep their attention. How do you do that, exactly?
It largely depends on your character, and on the character of your music, but there are some definite ‘DO’s and ‘DON’T’s to follow no matter who you are or what you sound like.
- Don’t, for instance, spend the time talking about yourself.
The whole, “Hi, we’re the Polka-Dotted Astronauts and we’re from Cleveland, been around a long time now seems like, and, uhm,” thing may seem classic or traditional or something, but really it’s just boring. Nobody cares. If they care later, you’ve done your job. They’ll come ask you everything after the show, and a crowd hanging around afterward is exactly what you want.
- Don’t spend more than one sentence talking about the deep personal meaning your next song has to you.
In fact, it’s best if you let your songs speak for themselves, altogether.
- Don’t make up jokes on the spot.
Professional comedians are professional comedians exactly because they know this doesn’t work.
- Don’t make excuses if you screwed up the song somehow.
Explaining to the audience that you broke a string or your laptop went on the fritz or the drummer can’t hear because blah blah blah just sounds unprofessional. It’s better to not screw up because you practiced for hours and hours and hours and hours the day before, but even then, it still happens. And honestly, it usually takes a decent musician to spot a screw-up, anyhow. If you’re practicing enough, that is.
- Don’t say deprecating things about yourself to seem humble.
There was a cultural thing for awhile when indie music was just getting its footing when singers were lauded for putting themselves down onstage, saying things like, “I don’t know why people like my music,” “I don’t know about this next song but I’m going to try,” or “Don’t worry, our new song only has four chords just like the others.”
This is advertising against yourself. It’s not endearing. It’s unattractive. Neither do you need to be the crotch-grabbing egomaniacs of the ’70s and ’80s rock scene, but it is possible to be humble and earnest without saying awkward, self-deprecating things. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
So that’s a bunch of DON’T. How about a bunch of DO?
- Do write some dialog ahead of time for banter between songs.
Just like any other kind of writing, think of what you’d like to say and work it out on paper before the show. Practice delivering it like a speech — because it is a short speech — and see what sounds right and what sounds silly. Know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Know when you’re going to say it, too. Timing is very, very important (but you knew that! you’re a musician).
- Do toss things to the crowd, if possible.
Download cards are a great option, but they flutter rather than fly. Anything that lands on the ground, you gotta pick up later. Try taping a peppermint to the backs of them for weight, then tossing three or four to people who look like they might make an effort to catch them. That’s really what you want is the interaction. Who cares if they actually download your mixtape? It’s the show we care about right now.
If you’re going to play a festival, they’re almost always very thirsty affairs. You can buy little bottles of water with custom labels on them and toss them to music fans. They will love you for it.
- Do single someone out and create a running interaction with them.
This is an ancient stage trick. Comedians do it all the time.
Simply find someone who looks friendly near you and single them out. You might ask them their name and if they’re having a good night (rhetorical question), or comment on their clothing (I like your hat, I should’ve worn mine tonight, then we could’ve been twins), or really anything just to give them a name in the ongoing relationship you’re going to have for the duration of the performance.
Once you’ve got that person named, the rest of your audience wants to see you say more to him or her. They wait for it. That anticipation works for your whole show.
Few songs later, just quip, “Thank you, thank you. What’d you think, hat guy? Was that one of our better ones?” or really anything. It doesn’t matter. The formula works, by God.
- Do make the distance between you and the audience seem as small as you can.
Really, this is what the whole thing is about. Deep down, everyone would rather have an audience than be an audience member.
You can give them this experience by leaving the stage (or platform, or stool, or whatever the performance area may be) and mingling with the crowd during your performance. Sing to individual people, lean on someone while you play your instrument. The possibilities are endless. Be a people person, and you will be well-liked.
- Do — and this is magnificently important — thank your audience for coming out.
I don’t mean, “Thank you New York! Goodnight!” I mean a meaningful, heart-on-your-sleeve, looking into their eyes show of gratitude that communicates how very much it means to you that they’ve given up their time to hear your music live.
There are people who do not like your music in your audience at all times. You can make them want to like you immediately by acknowledging their gift to you, the simple gift of their attendance.
And now, independent musicians of the Internet, I want to take a second to tell you that it means so much to me that you’ve watched this whole, often long-winded video, and a special thank-you to everyone who’s watched all the videos, and an extra-extra special thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who’ve taken the time to read all the written material on the MondoTunes website that goes with them. It’s been a lot of work but it’s all for you, and the only thing that would make me happier than your mere presence here is if the material really helps you out. I hope nothing but the best for all of you and for all of your music careers, you ingenious, imaginative people, you.
This is going to be my last song.
Senior Editor, MondoTunes