How NOT to sell your music.

ThoughtsYeah, you’re reading that correctly. Today, we’re gonna talk about how to keep your music from making a penny. I’m an expert on this subject. I’ve kept my music from making money for years!

Now that my tongue has been removed from my cheek, I can get more serious with you. All of us dream of selling our music. Imagine how thrilling it would be to hear your song on the radio or during a TV show. It’s fun to fantasize.

For me, the fantasy follows a song that I’ve written through a journey. In the fantasy, the song makes it to the airwaves and I get paid money for each time its played. Sweet deal. Here’s the fictional story about how that happens. Afterwards, we’ll look at what didn’t happen.

“Before we leave, let me check my messages,” Earle said. Pam crosses her arms, sighs and waits patiently. She’s a good wife, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t annoyed.

“I just wanna check to see if anyone has listened to my song today.”

Exhaling, Pam says, “Okay, no problem.” She shifts her weight to the other foot. She starts to pull out her phone to check her messages too.

“Holy shit!” Earle says.


“Oh my God!”


“I don’t believe it. Remember that contest that I entered like three months ago?”

“Mmmm…” Pam really didn’t remember. Earle’s always making music and posting it online. Sometimes submitting songs in contests too. It’s hard to keep track of it all.

“You know, the one about the puzzle pieces? The winner gets a royalties contract with ABC Family.”

“Oh yeah. Wait, did you win?”

“I f***ing won baby! I totally motherf***ing won. Holy shit!”

“Wait, what does that mean?” Pam’s always the pragmatic one.

“It means my song is gonna appear on one of the upcoming episodes of an ABC Family show. That means someone’s gonna pay me for doing this shit.” Earle chuckles and repeats in the same hushed tone that every guy has used when he first learns that the girl he loves loves him too, “Someone’s paying me to make music. Someone’s paying me for this.”

“Are you serious? That’s great! That’s amazing!”

Earle looks around the room. He sees guitars and amplifiers and keyboards and mics and a bunch of other junk that he uses every day to make music. Now they look different to him. In the past, they were toys. Things that made him happy. Even the tedium of putting ideas together and recording them to disk made him happy. Until today, he always considered himself to be a big kid with lots of toys making beautiful noise all day long.

But not today. Today is different. Today, those toys seem more like tools. “Tools can be fun too,” he thinks to himself. “Yeah, why not?”

Earle snaps out of it, looks at Pam and says, “I never would have thought anyone would ever like my particular form of crap.” He meant it too. Earle never considered his stuff to be particularly good. All 2,000 songs on his iPod were way better, in his opinion. He thought his songs were good, but good enough to be on TV? Nah.

“Oh my God sweetie, stop calling it crap. I think you can now officially retire that word to describe your music.”

Earle thinks about it for a second. “I guess so. There’s no accounting for taste.” He smiles wryly. Maybe because he only half believes it now. The other half actually believes that it is possible that people can enjoy his creative process as much as he does.

Okay, so there’s the fantasy. Fictional Earle loved making music and was discovered by someone willing to pay him for it. Here’s what didn’t happen: the fictional Earle didn’t do market research to find which words, notes and instruments could be combined to make the perfect revenue-generating song. There aren’t magical recipes for great songs. He just created music for the pure joy of it and let other people listen to it. At the heart of it, that’s all you can do.

Besides, people can sniff a fake. If you’re making music to make money, people are gonna know and they’ll turn you off. That’s why most of us grow out of the obsession with teenie-boppers sometime in our early teens. Our post-pubescent olfactory senses can more acutely detect the bullshit. Don’t believe me? Ask any ninth grade English teacher who has tried to say “What up, dog?” If you’re passionate about your music and you can perform it fairly well, people will listen. Plain and simple. You can’t be passionate if you’re also being calculating. They’re antonyms, really.

Create music because you love it, not because you want to make money. The next sentence may sound a little harsh (the truth usually is). You’re probably not gonna make money anyway – not because you’re a bad musician, but because we’re all very little fish in a very big pond. So you might as well enjoy it. Your best bet is to play and write music with passion. Only then will people listen. Only then.


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3 responses to “How NOT to sell your music.

  1. Great read! From time to time I wonder what fueled the inspiration for the timeless, classic popular music. Sometimes I feel that it’s the result of the musician just relaxing and turning off his or her objective mind, and letting the creative subjective mind to take over for a little while. After all I believe the saying that “music is what emotions sound like”. Maybe if you find a way to turn off your “left brain”, rational side and relax, letting your right brain take the wheel, you’ll be surprised at where it’ll take you. I think music’s foundation is embedded in the emotional side of us all.
    Try letting it free. Relax and let it flow.
    They say there’s a collective conscious,
    perhaps there’s also a collective subconscious. If you love music as a musician, then it will show. When it shows, then people will latch onto it!
    Never lose your passion for music!

    • Great stuff Dad. You’re right, music should be a reflection of our creative side rather than a machination of our logical side. Save the ration side until you need to solve a music problem. Don’t use it to conceive the song.

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