What Authors Can Learn From the Music Business

what authors can learn from the music business

Recently, I was interviewed by Joanna Penn, self-published author and indie advocate and educator for writers, about the music business and the changes that have occurred in the music industry which preceded the shift in digital publishing: Physical to digital formats and now streaming and micro-payments; musicians choosing to go indie instead of joining big labels; and the need to establish multiple streams of income and building an audience online.

Even if you’re not into writing, there are a lot of parallels between the music world and the writing world. Both are facing similar challenges as creatives are forced to overcome dwindling revenue and the shift to digital.

But – I think we have a lot to learn from each other. Musicians can learn a lot from the strategies writers use to reach an audience and monetize their work, and a lot of the approaches can be directly translated into the music industry and visa versa. A lot of times looking to other creative industries can spark new, innovative ideas that are totally outside the box.

Here’s a short excerpt, but you can listen to the interview here, or read the full interview here.

What do you advise musicians? How do they build up a fan base, because it’s exactly the same for writers?


You’ve got to focus on it. You’ve got to get yourself in a position where you’re able to collect emails. That’s the preferred way to do it, as you well know.

And you want to drive your social interactions to your website where you’re collecting email and you’re trading email for something of value, could be songs, could be lyrics, could be insights into your work or your life. People have a lot of different takes on it.

The holy grail of the moment is having a large following represented in an email list that you are then able to directly promote your shows to, your music to, your appearances to, your merchandise to, your friends to. It gives you just so much flexibility in terms of how you pursue your career.

An interesting thing, when you think of the heyday of the record business, which is what really people think about the music business…you know, you think of The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, and Elton John, and, you know, massive stars, the labels really had no idea who their customers were. They had no mailing list. They thought their customers were Waterloo and Tower Records.

And so, when this digital shift occurred, and the labels found that people were basically just grabbing the music for free, they had no ability to communicate directly with a fan base. They didn’t have a fan base in a 2017 sense of being able to identify and directly reach your fan base, other than perhaps at a live show where you as…you’re Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and you’re on the stage, you can say whatever you want. But the label didn’t really have that power.

So in a sense, I think that we’re in a transition period in the music industry where it is difficult to monetize recordings, it’s difficult to monetize the most popular digital format, but it’s pretty easy to start building your audience.

And I think as we go forward in the next few years, the musicians that do spend energy building an audience and creating relationships with their audience are going to be in a better position to take advantage of the new formats and new performance opportunities that there may be online. The music business has always been driven by format changes, radio to vinyl, to cassette tapes, to eight-track tapes, to CDs.

Then there was this MP3 that they really just completely missed the boat on, and now you’ve got streaming which, the tech companies are doing quite well off of, you know, Amazon, Apple, Spotify, Pandora, they’re taking the lion’s share of the revenue there.

The labels are getting a small piece and the artists are getting a tiny, tiny piece. But I think there will be another format that we’ll see in the coming years that hopefully, artists with a fan base will be able to embrace those formats and really capitalize on them.

Not everyone is listening to the same thing. Not everyone is reading the same thing anymore or watching the same thing. We’re all in these sort of sub-niches. Do you see that parallel?


Yes, I do. I think there’s a huge fragmentation of opportunity for people, and it is really important to define your niche and to create some activity around your art. I mean, an audience doesn’t really form around nothing. It forms around some form of energy and some form of creative expression.

And to the extent that you can focus your energy on a niche, define it, promote yourself in that niche, you can be very successful, as you well know, as long as the revenue model is there to support what you’re trying to do.

If you want more, you can listen to the interview here, or read the full interview here.

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