How to make music that people want and are willing to pay for

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Making good music that people want to listen to is an iterative process. Every release provides lessons for the next release.

Music requires patience, others even dare to say that music is a long-term career. They say, while you are seeking success from music make sure you have an alternative form of income.

Music requires a bit of money to enable you to support your journey to becoming a paid musician. To pay for a poster here and there, to travel to the venue where you will be performing, to attend music interviews, to buy clothes, to hustle for paying gigs, to prepare a decent meal before performances.

These are some of the things that make a huge difference that musicians tend to ignore.

I would like to share with you lessons that I learned from musicians that make a decent living from their music. These are musicians who are able to buy a car, a house, get regular paying gigs etc.

These lessons provide answers to some of the questions that I have always asked myself. These are some of the questions that used to bother me about music.

These are lessons I have no doubt will make you successful in your music journey. They are lessons drawn from real life observations but also from my professional journey in my other business endeavours.

I am going to discuss product-market fit without saying the word. I am also going to help you apply lean principles without even making mention of those words.


Decide today that you want to earn from music


This is an important step. Set this as a goal and like all other goals have a timeline for when you want to see this happening. Most people think that this will happen automatically, and that all they have to do is to focus on making "good" music. Unfortunately that is not always the case.


Making good music requires repetition


Making good music that people want to listen to is an iterative process. In other words, you make a song, get it out there. Get feedback. Improve. Make another song. Get feedback. Improve. You keep on doing this until you get it right. Every release provides lessons for the next release. It as simple as that.

Fortunately, this process has also become easier in the social media age where with the right technique your music will be exposed to the right people.


Know and understand your fan base


If you want to make music that people want to listen to then do the following things:

a) Make a song and give it away as a free download and obtain feedback. I know most people are always tempted to get paying streams immediately. At this stage you want to minimise barriers to people listening to your music. When you give your music for free you are requesting minimum commitment from your fans. Naturally, they still have to make a decision on whether to download your music with their data or not, so try and make it appealing.

b) Make sure that your song reaches at least 1000 ears. This is just a sample to help you gain a better understanding of who will most likely listen to your music. The bigger the sample the better the insight. Some of these people will download your music and others won’t. But guess what? You will still get useful insights from this.

c) From the people that have downloaded your music, answer the following basic questions:

  • Who are they, that is, their demographics (age, sex, education, nationality, ethnicity, or religion etc)?
  • What do they do (are they still in school, working etc)?
  • How do they pass time (They go to parties, hang out with friends, watch music channels etc)?
  • Are they likely to stream your music (can they afford)?
  • What do they like besides music (Branded clothes, Dining at expensive restaurants etc)?
  • Where do they spend most of their time?

d) From the feedback obtained, identify people that love your music. These are more likely to become your fans.

Remember, people that are more likely to love your music are those that have downloaded your music, not necessarily the ones who commented with fire emojis or likes. It is those that have at least clicked on the download link. The ones that comment help you increase your post reach but are not to be mistaken for fans. Sometimes people just do this to be cordial. It is their way of encouraging you. I generally do not read too much from it and I would also urge you to do the same.

e) After you have analysed your data, build a profile of people that like your music, expose the same song to more people like them. You can do this by boosting your post and targeting people like them.

f) Make a list of where they spend most of their time, is it a place where you can offer free performances? If yes, make the necessary arrangements to perform your music there.

g) Customise your social media posts for them, these are your people. Invest in your relationship with them.


People like them hang out with other people like them


Give your music to more people that like your music. Find other people like them. Chances are they hang out with other like-minded people. These are the same people who are likely to help you build a fan base. They might recommend your music to their friends. 


If you are not getting the love do not stop


If you find people not expressing an appreciation for your music, do not stop. Make another song, give it to at least 10 000 others. Repeat the same process.

You will start seeing the fruits of this process. At the least, this process will help you understand your fan base. With data on who your fans are you can start making the necessary steps to improving this process and to start monetising your music.

You are more likely going to earn from your music when you know who you are making music for. Most musicians ignore this crucial piece of information.

When you know your fan base and understand their mannerisms you then develop an understanding of the type of music they like and are more likely to spend their money on.

It is possible that you make music for the wrong people, in that case revise your strategy, learn, and incorporate new sounds.

At some point like any other thing, if you do not innovate people are going to get bored and start ignoring your posts. This is still data, learn from it.


Start preparing for the next step


At this stage, with this very important understanding of who you are making music for, you can start preparing for the next step. That next step is marketing yourself where these people are. Speak to the venue owners where this demographic normally hangs out and request to offer a free performance or two.

Take your craft seriously, just because you are performing for free does not mean you don’t have to prepare accordingly. Practice. Prepare for your stage performances. Make sure you are dressed accordingly. This point cannot be overemphasised. Dress for success. Dress in a way that you will be appreciated and respected as a musician. Allow people to take you seriously as a musician.

Show the next person that you take your craft seriously. Be very intentional about good performances. Make sure you give your best on stage and if your performance is not appreciated learn from it. Learn from others who are doing well. This is an investment, look after it.

Get people singing along to your music.