In my latest podcast, I catch up with my producer, LA based Gary Gray, to discuss the latest trends in the world of music licensing. Gary and I talk about what supervisors are looking for, how to network directly with supervisors in LA, which type of artists supervisors gravitate towards and more.
Check it out!
More information on The 90 Day Music Licensing Challenge.
For more information on Gary Gray, visit http://LearnAudioEngineering.net
When I contemplate topics that would make good blog posts, I look for topics that first and foremost inspire me. It’s hard for me to take the time to write a well written, thoughtful and concise piece, if the subject matter isn’t something I’m interested in. It’s similar to writing a song. I ultimately want other people to like and appreciate the music I write, but it’s hard for me to even finish a song if it doesn’t first move me. I do my best to create work that I’m inspired by and ultimately I hope others feel the same.
When I started investigating and exploring the idea of why music exists at all, I got really excited. You see, long before musicians were trying to sell their music to TV shows or aiming to get record deals that would advance their careers, long before there even was a “music industry”, people were making and listening to music. In 800 BC the first recovered piece of recorded music was found. It was written in cuneiform and was a religious hymn. Music has been with us as humans a long, long time. I’m excited about this topic because it’s so easy to get caught up in the whole business of making and selling music that it’s easy to forget about why music even exists in the first place.
Surprisingly, for as long as music has been around, there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus on why music actually exists in the first place. Music has been with us as long as we can collectively remember. Musical instruments have been found dating back tens of thousands of years. Yet, no one really understands why we love music in the first place, or what practical function, if any, it serves. Researchers have yet to find a "music center" in the brain. Like many other higher-order processes, the mental tasks involved in listening to and enjoying music are distributed across several brain areas.
Sociologists have suggested and put forth different ideas, about why music exists. Here’s a quote from BBC.com about a 2001 study done by McGill College that focused on our emotional responses to music:
“We like music because it makes us feel good. Why does it make us feel good? In 2001, neuroscientists Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre at McGill University in Montreal provided an answer. Using magnetic resonance imaging they showed that people listening to pleasurable music had activated brain regions called the limbic and paralimbic areas, which are connected to euphoric reward responses, like those we experience from sex, good food and addictive drugs. Those rewards come from a gush of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. As DJ Lee Haslam told us, music is the drug.”
For me, I don’t need a study to explain why I enjoy music so much. I enjoy listening to and performing music because it makes me feel good and it seems to make other people feel good. That’s enough for me. However, it's fascinating to contemplate and think about what the point of music actually is in the first place. Perhaps better understanding the role music plays in our lives, will allow us to become more effective and more successful musicians.
So, for the sake of this article, let's agree that the point of music, fundamentally, is that it makes people feel good. Or perhaps, more accurately, it makes people feel strong emotions. Some pieces of music may evoke more of a sense of melancholy, whereas other pieces of music may evoke more of a sense of joy and happiness, depending on the key and the subject matter. But either way, music elicits an emotional response in the listener, which makes the listener, ultimately, feel more alive.
One of the traps we fall into, as both musicians, and in general, is focusing more on the pursuit of money and success, than on the point of why we're doing something in the first place. Are we making music in order to create people to feel something, first and foremost? Or are we making music in order to "make money"? Think about it. It's a subtle, but profound difference.
We live in a society that makes it incredibly hard to not be motivated by money. It’s required for our very survival. For many of us, it also ties into our sense of self worth and our perceived status within the social hierarchy we exist. It’s pretty hard to take money out of the equation when it comes to our art because, for better or worse, it plays such a big role in our lives.
However, the problem with being motivated primarily by money, is that ironically, it's not really a very powerful motivator. Once we have enough of it to survive, we tend to stop working as hard. Numerous studies have pointed to the fact that once we’re earning around $75,000 per year, making more money does little to increase our happiness. However, when we're fueled by passion and a deep sense of meaning, we're more likely to keep going, beyond the point of earning just enough to survive.
This is especially important when it comes to something like music, which is arguably one of the hardest professions to succeed in. If you're only focused on how much money you're earning from music, it's easy to get discouraged and just give up, or to experience a little bit of success and then start slacking off. Perhaps instead, focus on how people are responding to your music. Are you evoking a strong emotional response in people? Are listeners resonating with your music? Is your music creating the response you desire in people that listen to it? Does the music you make light you up? Or are you just trying to figure out a way to make an extra buck?
It's much easier to figure out ways to monetize the music you make if you know there's a demand for it. People want to feel good. Is your music helping them achieve that? Is your music creating powerful emotions in listeners that inspire them to move beyond the mundane monotony of their day to day lives? The ability to move others with your music is the point of music. How much money you're earning from your music is one barometer to gauge how well you’re doing your job. But if it's the only barometer you're focusing on, it's a bit like putting the cart before the horse. It would be like building a car and focusing on how fast it goes, before you build the engine.
I look at my job, in terms of my website and blog, as showing people how to make money with their music, because I realize how incredibly important that is for most artists. I also believe that there are many silver linings in the music business right now. THERE ARE ways to make money with your music, and my courses and website exist to show you how.
But don’t lose sight of what motivated you to make music in the first place. It probably wasn’t just to make a lot of money. Focus on your art, first and foremost. Write songs that people truly connect with. The one thing I know for sure, is that if you can find an audience, you can figure out a way to monetize your music. Whether it’s through licensing, or monetizing your tracks on Youtube, performing live, or perhaps a combination of these things. But don’t focus so much on trying to make money that you lose you sight of what drew you to making music in the first place.
Inspired by the recent course I created on how to make a full time income on Youtube and my desire to create uplifting and motivational content, I've decided to create a new series of videos containing positive messages combined with my own music and stunning visual footage.
My first video is called "All Lives Matter". It's short and sweet. Just 3 minutes. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Have you ever had the experience of writing what you’re sure is an amazing, masterpiece of a song, only to find out once you release it no else seems to agree? Have you ever poured your heart and soul into a song or an album, that you’re convinced is an earth shattering, ground breaking piece of art that is sure to move people all around the world, only to find out that no one really seems to care?
If your career has been anything like mine, you’ve probably had a few of these moments along your journey. It’s a humbling experience to pour so much of yourself into your work and realize that it’s maybe not as great as you thought it was. Of course, maybe what you’re doing is actually great, but you just haven’t figured out a way to market yourself successfully. Either way, when you give something your all and it falls short of your expectations, it can be a little discouraging, to say the least.
In today’s post I’m going to explore why so much music that is being made fails to gain any sort of traction. Is it all bad? Does the public have shitty taste in music? Are musicians just bad at marketing themselves? Is there just too much music out there? These are the questions I’m going to explore in today’s post.
Let’s get started….
Is Your Music Any Good?
Let’s start with an obvious question, which is, how good is your music? Often times musicians get so caught up in the experience and emotion of making art, that they convince themselves they’re creating something that is far better than it really is. Making music is fun and incredibly inspiring. I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’re so immersed in working on our music that we fail to retain any sort of objectivity about what we’re creating at all. It’s hard to be objective about art as it’s a pretty subjective experience in the first place. But we have to have some way of gauging whether or not we’re doing has value to anyone other than ourselves.
When you’re working on something like starting an internet business or building a company or trying to get a job, it’s much easier to be less emotional when things don’t work out. When I release a product for example on my website that doesn’t sell well, it doesn’t really hurt my feelings. I just take it as a sign that perhaps I misread the market and use that feedback to create something more aligned with what people actually want. I may experience frustration when things don’t go as planned, but I don’t take it personally.
However if someone criticizes one of my songs, it hurts on a different level. I tend to take it more personally. Almost as if they’re criticizing me. Of course, if you think about it, this isn’t really a rational response. Either people like your music or they don’t. It’s cool to pretend like were just making music for ourselves and that we don’t really care one way or the other. But if you’re trying to make music as a way to make money and support yourself, then you have to care what people think. Your success depends on it!
There is an enormous amount of music out there. More than there ever has been. There is more music out there than the public has time to listen to and much of it, isn’t really that good. It’s not surprising then, that if you release a song that is in reality, pretty mediocre or average, that it doesn’t set the world on fire. Your music needs to be amazing to rise above the barrage of mediocrity that’s out there.
As hard as it to be objective about your own art, ask yourself if what you’re doing is really special. Does it really compete with the best of the best in today’s market? Does your music get lots of positive feedback on social media from people that aren’t your friends? I think most of us know, deep down, when we’re on target and when we’re not. If your music isn’t ready, that’s fine, it just means you need to keep working on your craft. But don’t fool yourself into thinking your music is better than it really is.
Does The Public Have Bad Taste In Music?
I think Jon Mayer summed it up best when said, “The public is never wrong. In fact they’re right 100 percent of the time.” What he meant was, the public always simply gravitates to what they like, for whatever reason. There’s no point in endlessly debating whether or not the public has “good” taste in music. They just like what they like. Are you trying to be popular and sell a lot of albums? If you are, you need to figure out how to appeal to the publics’ sensibility. If you don’t care about being popular and just want to attract a small, devoted following, that’s cool too. But don’t be disingenuous about your goals. If you want to be the next Beyonce or Jon Mayer, own that and go for it. Don’t blame your lack of success on the public’s poor taste in art and then pretend that you just want to be an obscure indie artist, when you’d really rather be selling out stadiums.
Are Musicians Bad At Marketing?
As someone who listens to a lot of music as a part of my job description, I can tell you that, fortunately, there is a lot of really great music out there. Unfortunately it’s not all being heard. Although it’s true that there is a lot of really mediocre, average music being made, there is also some incredible unknown music out there. Not all great music gets discovered. Some musicians are great at writing music, but not so great at marketing and business. Some musicians give up way to soon. Some musicians simply haven’t had their break yet and need to keep going in order to reach greater levels of success and exposure.
One of the keys to making it in the music business is building a team of people that all play critical roles in helping you move forward. Managers, publicists, publishers, producers and so on, all play a key role in the careers of musicians. It’s very hard to do it all on your own. In fact, it’s close to impossible. There are only so many hats you can wear and there are only so many hours in a day. The musicians that I know that are the most successful, all have a network of people they work with who have helped them build their careers. No man is an island in the music industry.
Is There “Too Much” Music?
Sometimes it seems like there’s just too much music out there and that the public simply doesn’t have time to digest it all. There’s probably some truth to this idea. There is an enormous amount of music in the world and we each only have 24 hours in a day. Determining exactly how many songs exist is difficult as it doesn’t seem like there’s a consensus on how many songs are out there. According to my research there are anywhere between 97 million and one billion songs in existence, with new songs being created every day. There are over 4 million songs on Spotify alone that have never been played.
But I don’t think there will ever be too much great art. Some things are just timeless and will never get old. Take movies for example, there is also an enormous amount of films that exist, but the movie business is thriving. A lot of films are simply rehashed storylines told in slightly different ways, with different actors. Yet, they still find an audience. Good stories will never fall out of fashion.
In the same way, great songs will never stop moving people. New generations will always need new artists and new songs. Music will never get old or fall out fashion. Of course, with so much music out there, artists need to find ways to keep things fresh and interesting, to get the attention and leverage they need to attract listeners. But it’s preposterous to think that there could ever be “too much” music. Too much bad music perhaps, but not too much music.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that with so much music out there, and so many musicians making music that isn’t really that great or original, you need to do something really good and/or interesting to stand out. You need to somehow rise above the barrage of mediocre music and lackluster marketing that’s out there. There’s still a huge audience of people that are waiting for the next great artist and the next hit song and someone is going to step up to fill that role. The question is, will it be you, or someone else?
Speaking of songs, here's a new one of mine called "Sweet Little Thing". Is it any good? Fingers crossed.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with my Alma mater's (Berklee College Of Music) former Vice President, and founder of The New Artist Model, Dave Kusek. Dave and I talked about his time as a professor and VP of Berklee, current trends in the music industry and what led him to create his new online teaching platform, The New Artist Model.
For more information on Dave's The New Artist Model, click here.
The late comedian Bill Hicks had a great bit about how all marketers are evil scumbags that deserve to die. He suggested that anyone in advertising and marketing are satan’s spawn that should kill themselves and rid the planet of their evil ways.
In case you haven’t seen it, you can check it out below:
It’s a really funny bit that made me laugh. I can relate with Hicks’ disdain for marketing and advertising. The constant bombardment of advertising and marketing in our society can be overwhelming. It seems that everywhere we turn we’re being marketed to and people are trying to sell us something everywhere we go. Whether it’s on TV, or the internet, or even the billboards we see driving down the street, we’re surrounded by advertisements. This is why the bit worked so well. It’s funny because there's an element of truth to it and we can all relate to it.
However, as I started contemplating the prevalence of marketing in our society and how so many people seem to have such a strong disdain for it, I couldn’t help but to think about the hypocrisy of it all. So many people feel so strongly about the evils of marketing, yet either work directly for corporations that engage in marketing, or market their products and services themselves. It’s a bit like people who are horrified by people who hunt animals to eat, but go to the supermarket every week to on stock up on beef and poultry that other people have killed. As if somehow if you aren’t actually present when the animal is killed you’re completely innocent.
Take Bill Hicks for example. I’m a big fan of Hicks work and admire his views on society and the evils of capitalism. Yet, I’m pretty sure Hicks marketed his own concerts and I’m sure he had a publicist that helped him promote his shows, get booked on TV shows, schedule interviews and so on. It reminds me of people who preach the evils of the internet and social media, on social media. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.
I can’t think of many jobs that don’t involve some form of marketing. Even non profit organizations market themselves to get the word out. Hospitals market themselves, churches market themselves, musicians certainly have to market themselves and on and on. Most of us engage in some form of marketing or work for companies and people that do. Very few products and services market themselves.
Is marketing evil? Marketing by itself is just a tool. Like any tool it can be used for good or bad. Marketing used to increase visibility and recognition of products and services that actually help and benefit society is good. If you created something of value, wouldn’t you want people to know about it? If you created a beautiful song that moved people who listened to it, wouldn’t you want to find a way to share it with as many people as possible? Marketing isn’t inherently good or evil, any more than the internet or the printing press is inherently good or evil. Marketing is just a way to persuade and inform people, nothing less, nothing more.
What is evil, are marketers that persuade people to knowingly buy products that are bad for them. Or marketers that focus solely on the almighty dollar at the expense of what’s good for society and humanity. What’s evil are corporations that care more about money than the safety and well-being of their employees. What’s evil are corporations that care more about the bottom line than the health of the planet and the people that live on it. Marketing isn’t evil. People are.
Musicians, being the sensitive and idealistic people we often are, tend to be even more susceptible to the line of thinking that “all marketers are evil”. Take what I do with regard to my website. I create courses and compile information that a lot of musicians find very valuable. I spend a lot of time running my website, writing blog posts, making youtube videos, recording and editing podcasts, creating courses and so on. Naturally, because it takes me so much time, I need to be compensated financially in order to sustain the whole endeavor and grow my business. So I charge what I think are very fair prices for my courses and services. I live in a society that requires money to survive in, so this strikes me as a very rational and reasonable thing to do. Yet, still there’s a percentage of people who seem to have a problem with it.
For example, I recently created a course on How To License Songs in commercials. I created the course with singer/songwriter Cathy Heller, who has had a lot of success licensing her songs in ads and commercials. I’m really proud of the course, so I of course marketed the course to my subscribers and on my social media. Cathy and I spent a lot of time creating the course together and so of course we wanted to see a return on our investment of time. I think most people get this, but I still got a message from one musician who was outraged that we would actually charge money for our course. “Why is someone making a six figure income from licensing selling a course for $37.00?” they implored. Umm, I don’t know, maybe because they like teaching and sharing information and want to make money so that they can pay for things like rent, food, etc.
I think as a society we need to get past this black and white thinking about money that so many of us seem to have. Making money isn’t evil. Marketing isn’t evil. It’s what we do with money and what we’re willing to do with marketing that determines whether or not are actions are “evil” or “good”. Money is just a tool and a way to exchange value. That’s it.
I create music and courses that teach other musicians how to make money from their music. I’m passionate about what I do and I charge money for what I do. I sleep very well at night.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.