Updated: Dec 14, 2019
For songwriters in the new millennium of music business, it’s tough to know what to do to get to the next stage of your career.
This is because the old tried and true ways that used to work in the industry are largely no longer effective.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however.
At our 2015 Nashville Songwriting and Music Business Conference, we heard from guest speaker Steve Ivey about how he is able to sell a million CDs physical product per year of what he calls “artist-less product” through his hard earned connections to big box retailers such as Walmart and Dollar General.
Let’s examine a few ways that songwriters can utilize self release and artistless products to build up a successful resume so that instead of putting all our eggs in the pay to pitch basket, we’re actually diversifying and increasing our chances of sustainable success.
As Steve explained at the Conference, an example of an artist-less product is a CD you find in Dollar General or Walmart that is more about the songs than the artist performing those songs. They’re typically compilations of songs containing a few recognizable tunes you’re familiar with aka cover songs, and a few originals that are written by the person putting out the product.
The format is simple. You find a niche market among music consumers, and then design a product with nifty packaging that has some familiar cover songs and some new songs that fit the theme. Then you market your product to your known customer demographic, and eventually work your way up to a million units per year if you’re as dedicated and talented as Steve.
An example of these artist-less products is Steve’s popular “Redneck Christmas” CDs available at Walmart in the metal tin packaging.
He also has a line of children’s book/CDs that sell through Dollar General.
The key to the artist-less product is that you make it all about the songs and the niche customer, not about the artist who is singing the song.
That’s where a lot of unknown singer/songwriters go wrong. They make their products all about themselves, and not at all about the customer.
If Steve called his Redneck Christmas projects “Steve Ivey’s Redneck Christmas” and made it all about himself, an unknown, he probably wouldn’t sell nearly as many CDs.
But when he is able to hit a low price point, provide unique packaging and quality, and well produced songs to a narrowly targeted demographic, suddenly he’s on to something, and is able to sell a million units per year in a day and age when few, not even the major labels, are consistently able to sell that kind of volume of product.
In fact, Steve is able to get his artist-less products into Dollar General and Walmart even when some big name major label artists are not able to get distribution through those massive retailers anymore. It’s simply a matter of what sells and what doesn’t sell, and Steve has proven himself and his artistless products as winners to those large retailers.
You might not be in a position to compete with Steve, but you can use the principles he applies to find your own niche of customers, and develop your own artist-less products based on your field of interest.
What if you’re an avid golfer for example? Maybe you could create an artistless product around a golf theme and sell your CD with a golfer’s gift basket complete with socks, golf balls and tees, etc.
Or maybe you’re into sewing. You could create an artistless product called “Grandma’s sewing basket” and include a variety of threads, needles, and thimbles along with a CD with music and basic instruction for simple beginner sewing enthusiasts.
These are just a couple of examples, but you can take your area of interest and develop an artistless product based on your target demographic.
Thinking about releasing an artistless product helps you to focus on a different method of achieving success with your songwriting ambitions, and will help you to use outside the box techniques to build up your professional resume of cuts and releases, and also, will help you to earn some income with your songs instead of always spending it chasing opportunities.
Songwriters who also sing and perform have an obvious solution to diversify their pitching strategy – releasing an independent project.
Like the artist-less product, self release can be a great effective way to by pass the gatekeepers that stand in the way of you getting your songs into the hands of your customers – whether it’s regular fans or artist fans who might eventually cover your tunes.
There are tons of examples of singer songwriters whose self-releases have ended up in the hands of major artists who later cut their tunes on major label album projects.
Examples include: Colt Ford, Brantley Gilbert, and Luke Bryan all getting their own artist breaks because of writing songs that were covered by other artists.
Singer songwriter examples of successful self-releases getting picked up by majors includes: Patty Griffin/Dixie Chicks, Lori McKenna/Faith Hill, Colt Ford/Jason Aldean, and Audra Mae/Miranda Lambert.
Whether your indie release features you as the singer/songwriter, or a hired singer, you can expand your horizons and create opportunities for yourself by diversifying your pitch systems to include artistless products and self releases.
When you have cuts and are making money with your music in a new model entrepreneurial way, the industry can’t help but to take notice. Before you know it, you’ll be getting calls from producers and production houses asking for songs from your catalog for their upcoming projects, and then it’s only a matter of time and perseverance before the bigger cuts come calling.
You don’t have to give up all your pay to pitch opportunities, but with a little ingenuity and hard work, you can beef up your resume of success, and that’s a good thing for everyone.
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