The music business is kind of funny because your clients will expect you to be able to anything and everything for them, but they won’t trust you to do anything for them unless you’ve proven yourself in a specific area first. It’s almost the opposite of med school. In med school you start general and then you specialize later on in your residency. In music you start with one specific thing and then you can expand to other areas.
Step One: Choose Your Niche
So rather than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, focus on one area that makes the most sense for you. Use what you’ve got! If you’re a church musician, write church music. If you love acapella music more than anything, write acapella music. If you teach piano, write piano music. You can always branch out to other areas later, but first you need to establish yourself.
Step Two: Learn the Music
Once you’ve chosen your niche, the next step is to learn everything you possibly can about it. Listen to as much music as you can, study scores, ask questions, and hone your craft. Make sure the style music is something you CAN do, and more importantly, make sure it’s something you WANT to do. Authenticity is really important because to be successful at publishing you’re going to have to do a LOT of it, and you shouldn’t get into publishing a style of music that you don’t find personally fulfilling in some way.
Step Three: Figure Out Your Business Model
Now that you’ve learned the music you need to take a step back and learn as much as possible about the community surrounding your niche. Who are the major players? When are they buying music? Where and how is it performed? Put on your entrepreneur hat and look for needs that you can fill. It’s not about trying to crush the competition; it’s about bringing something to the table. Ultimately, you’ve got to figure out if there’s a way you can make money from this niche. If not, then you’re back to step one.
Step Four: Write as Much As Humanly Possible
Now you’ll notice I didn’t say PUBLISH as much as humanly possible. It’s important to maintain high standards and you don’t want to put anything out into the world that is subpar. But chances are, the more you write, the better you’re going to get at it. So, how much you publish, and when you publish, that all depends on the needs of the group that you’ve chosen.
Step Five: Establish Your Presence Online
People don’t typically shop by composer. Think about the kinds of search terms you would put into google if you were looking for a piece. What that means is that most people will encounter a piece of your music before they encounter you before they know who you are. If they like your music, they’re probably going to look you up online. And what they find needs to do two things: it needs to show them that you’re serious, and it needs to guide them to more music.
Step Six: Build Relationships
Just because our music is digital doesn’t mean our relationships need to be impersonal. If anything, the opposite is true. Get to know the people in your niche. Ask questions, be genuine, do what you can to help others, and just in general be a good human.
Step Seven: Get Better
After a few years, you should start seeing real results. When this happens, make sure you’re keeping your foot on the gas. Keep getting better and keep trying new things. Selling sheet music is a long game, but it’s also exponential. Once you get the snowball rolling it just gets bigger and bigger. Once you get a performances of a piece of music that tends to generate more performances. You build up some organic word of mouth and some buzz and some popularity and everything keeps spreading and growing. But as negative as it sounds, music is highly competitive and there’s not a lot of room to slack off, especially when you’ve built a reputation for quality music.
Step Eight: Decide What Comes Next
At this point, you’re well established, and you can decide to start over if you want in a different niche. Only this time the steps will move much faster because you’ve got credibility, you’ve got reputation. You’ve put in the work. Or maybe you decide you keep things going the way they are. But even if you stay in the same niche, it’s probably good to go back and repeat the steps again because your competition has probably been watching you and upping their game, so things aren’t going to be the same as when you started.
**This post was taken from Episode One of the podcast SELLING SHEET MUSIC. Check out the full episode below**