Let’s get right into it by talking a little bit about how you plan your new releases. This is one reason why it’s super important to be aware of your niche and WHEN customers are most likely to be searching for new music. It’s going to be a little bit different for everybody. For some of you, it won’t matter when you release your content, because there’s always going to be demand for it. But maybe you’re trying to time an arrangement to coincide with a new movie that comes out on a specific date. Or you’re like me and you write for school ensembles, which means that the bulk of new music is purchased over the summer.
Whatever your situation, you should work backwards from the time your music NEEDS to be available and aim to have the score completely finished and edited at least a week before you want to announce it to the world. That gives you time to write your product descriptions, make your cover pages, plan your social media posts, and check that all of your links are working properly. It’s a cliché, but you never get the chance to redo a first impression, and unfortunately, the first impression of your music comes not from the quality of the score but from the way it is presented.
So, with that in mind let’s actually start by talking about how you choose a title for your piece. Naming your piece is actually the first step in marketing your piece because it’s first thing a potential customer or fan is ever going to see. A good title does everything. It’s creative, it grabs your attention, and it accurately describes the subject matter and the mood of the piece. This comes more naturally for songs with lyrics, but the same is true for instrumental music. It’s all about setting and then meeting expectations. Think about if you bought a piece called slow waltz and then what you got turned out to be a piece in a fast four—you would be disappointed.
Before you publish you should do a google search of your title to see what you’re up against. I don’t care how amazing you are, if your piece is called Hallelujah or Symphony Number 1 or some other common, generic name then the chances of search engines serving up your piece are slim to none. You might also find that the title of your piece gets a lot of competition from something that has nothing to do with music at all. In addition, your title also needs to be easy to remember and easy to spell. In today’s digital world you don’t want to miss out on a sale because somebody forgot a letter and your piece got kicked out of search results.
The Product Description
Next is the product description. It’s less like program notes and more like your elevator sales pitch. You’ve only got a couple of sentences to let the reader know what your piece is, who it’s for, and why they should buy it.
If you’re like me and you hate writing product descriptions, you can follow the three-sentence rule:
Sentence one describes what the piece is, how it makes you feel, and who wrote it.
Sentence two is all about how it can be used.
Sentence three contains any practical information the reader should know.
So, to give you an example, if I were to sell the sheet music of my podcast theme song, the product description might sound something like this:
Forward Thinker is an upbeat pop rock cue written by Garrett Breeze and David Dykstra featuring synth lines and pulsing layers of guitar. Best known as the theme song for the wildly successful podcast Selling Sheet Music, it was also designed to be easily edited for use in advertising. It’s also available as a piano solo or solo instrument with piano accompaniment.
By the way, I haven’t published the sheet music yet, but you can go and listen to the full song on all the streaming services so go check it out.
Ok, here’s the thing, it doesn’t really matter how long or short your product descriptions are—the three-sentence thing is just something I made up. The point is you want to make it easy for customers to quickly find the information that’s important to them. Musicians are all super busy and most of them are looking for something really specific when they shop. So it’s in everybody’s best interest to make that information easy to find. So I say get to the point, keep it short, and avoid using a bunch of flowery language. It’s easier for you to write and it’s easier for them to find what they need.
Now this is probably the most important point of the whole episode: your product description is also the main source of text that search engines will crawl for when looking for results. So as you write, think about the search terms that are most likely to lead to your piece and then make sure you work them into the description somehow.
One more thing before we move on, you’re always going to want at least that three-sentence description, but there are some platforms where it might be beneficial to include other things on the product page. For example, on my personal website I often include the full song lyrics. On my YouTube videos I always include links to my website and social media. What I do is figure out what looks best for each platform and then make a “product description template” that I can use to copy and paste to keep the format consistent for each website.
So just to recap, your title convinces a potential customer to stop scrolling, your product description convinces them to click, and then your recording seals the deal. I feel like this point is obvious but just to say it out loud: No one is going to give your piece the time of day if they can’t listen to it.
Now how you make that recording or who makes the recording is not important. I think we would all prefer to have recordings of live performances to use instead of midi instruments, but at the same time if your live performance is full of mistakes then maybe exporting the audio from your notation software isn’t that bad after all. What matters most is that it’s easy for the listener to hear what they need to hear. They’re not listening to these recordings for fun, they’re listening to evaluate the piece.
Most websites will require you to upload your recordings as Mp3 files, but it will also be useful to have WAV files because the next thing you’re going to want to do is take that audio and turn it into a YouTube video. You can line up the audio with images of sheet music to create a score preview video, you can use a midi visualizer to make graphics that go with the music, or you can put the audio over a still image or stock video.
We’ll get into a LOT more about YouTube in future episodes, but for now just keep in mind that it’s the largest music streaming service in the world, the second largest search engine in the world, and all the major self-publishing platforms include space to embed YouTube videos in your product pages.
The Cover Page
The last element we’re going to “cover” today is your Cover Page. In a scenario where a customer is scrolling through hundreds of products, a colorful and well-designed cover is a great way to make your product stand out. This is one area where digital publishers have the advantage over print because they’re not concerned about the cost of colored ink. Make sure that your design makes sense with the context of your piece and keep in mind that most people are going to see it in thumbnail size first, so it needs to look good big and small. At a minimum, you’ll want to include the title, your name, and the instrumentation, but depending on what it is there may be other information you should include as well. As always, look at what your competition is doing and make sure that your cover pages are a cut above.
I use a website called CANVA to create my covers. I’ll put a link in the episode description for you to check out. But basically, it’s a drag and drop style graphic editor. You choose the dimensions or start from a template and then you can drop in images, text, change colors, and move things around until you’ve got it just right. Once you create a page you really like you can use it as a template and just swap out images and text every time you need a new cover. Canva lets you download the image in multiple file so you can get a pdf of your cover page to merge with the sheet music, as well as a PNG file to use as a web image. It’s also easy to resize images so for example you could take your cover and modify it to use as a video thumbnail or a social media post.
Figure Out Your System
Once you’ve finished going through these steps you’re going to end up with a lot of files so it’s important to stay organized. I have a google doc that I use to keep track of what I still need to do and I make a separate folder for each piece of music I create. That way when I go to upload, I have all the files I need in one place.
You need to get so good at this stuff that when your music appears next to titles from traditional publishing companies nobody can tell the difference. This takes us back to studying the particulars of your niche. There may be certain things that you notice publishers doing that you can copy, but you’ll probably also find things that you can do better, and that’s where you find your opening, and your best chance of breaking through.
That’s what I did when I first started arranging for show choirs. I noticed early on that very few arrangers had their own website. So what I did is I put my whole catalog online including audio demos and made it really easy to search through. And after a couple of years, I noticed that other arrangers had started to copy what I was doing! Now of course, none of that would have mattered if my arrangements were bad, but in an industry so many people are so good arrangers, the way I presented my music helped it to stand out in a big way.