August 4


Music Isn’t Valued — What Can You Do?

By Keith Livingston

August 4, 2017

diy musician, music marketing

I feel your pain. You’ve spent months rehearsing for a gig, weeks in the studio, thousands on gear. And a handful of people show up to the gig, and a few people click “like” when you tell people about your new release, on Facebook.

I hear you. I experience the same delusions of grandeur, and resulting disappointment. Most of us do.

A friend of mine went through the same thing. He worked several months on an elaborate original music/video project, recently. When he finished, he posted in to Facebook and several people he knew clicked ‘like’, or left positive comments. But that was it. Months of work for a few positive comments and a dozen likes.

He went on a rant. He complained that artists aren’t valued in today’s world, and that most people couldn’t be bothered to even notice what he’d done. And most of the people that did notice, only took a second to click “Like”. Months of work and effort on his part, and 1 second of acknowledgement from them.

And he is right. The vast majority of artists aren’t valued highly in the world, today. I think most of us DIYers would like it if more people found more value in what we do.

But that’s just not the reality for most of us. Yet.

Do You Want Your Music Career To Live, Or Die?

A few hundred years ago, they didn’t know about germs. As a result, a lot of people died from infections after operations. Eventually, doctors learned to wash their hands thoroughly before surgery, and things improved.

Now, you probably don’t want there to be microscopic creatures that could get in your body and cause your death. But it doesn’t matter what you want. The germs are there. So, you’d better accept reality, and have the doc wash hands!

Pretending things are different, or wanting things to be different, is not going to make them different. Accept the realities of today, and find a way to bend them to your will 🙂

The first step is to take stock of the way things are, really, without wishful thinking, or outmoded thinking from days past.

A Perspective On The Worth Of Music

There’s a perspective that may help you get farther, faster with your music. Here it is. . .

Nobody owes you shit. Nobody. Nobody owes me shit, either.

Well, except for the ‘friend’ of mine who borrowed a ton of money from me 7 years ago, and hasn’t paid me a dime. Todd, pay up! Other than that, nobody owes me their time, their attention, or their money for my efforts. The same is true with you.

Now, you might have a job, and you might get paid for doing that job for someone. But whoever pays you, asked you to do that job. It’s a trade (fair, or not). They want your labor and skills, and you want their money.

Who Asked You To Play Music?

Nobody asked you to write an original song, record it, and play it for them, right? Chances are, you’re doing this because you want to, not because somebody else asked for it. So, it’s up to you to show people the value of what you do. And they don’t owe you a response — not even a “like” on FB.

I see the same entitled thinking about playing live gigs. “We’re good, they should book us.” Being skilled at your craft is only one aspect of getting live shows. What is the bar manager (as an example) interested in? She wants to bring in a crowd, so she can make money! She probably also wants an act that is easy to deal with, reliable, and nice to listen to. Whether or not she likes your music probably fits in there somewhere, but it may not be #1.

Does she care that you spent 6 months torturing yourself to get the lyric to the second verse just right (why is it always the second verse)? Only as much as that lyric affects your ability to draw a crowd.

What Would Be Success For Your Music Career?

Now, you might not like it that bar owners (or whatever venues you play) are this way. You may wish to play in a scenario where people are focused only on you and your music. I agree. That’s what we’re shooting for! And that’s why I’d rather play a house concert with 20 attentive, interested listeners, than a bar with 200, who are there to drink.

But this ideal scenario, where people are listening to every note. . . Who, exactly, owes that to you?


So, if you want it, you’ll probably need to create it yourself. And that means spending time building your fan base, and cultivating your relationship with them (or cultivating music industry types that can help you — but probably your fans, mostly). In other words, marketing.

Want an attentive audience?

  • Start working the house concert circuit. Find someone who’s already doing it and offer to open for them. Work the hosts for future shows. Ask your existing fans if they want a show at their house.
  • Find someone who is going to stage a play, and offer to write music for it.
  • Build up your fan base, and then 4-wall it (Rent a venue, and put on a show yourself. You take all the risk, and all the profits).
  • Get such a powerful stage presence that people stop and pay attention, wherever you play.

I Don’t Want To Market My Music!

I can hear you, right now, saying that you don’t want to spend your time marketing. That’s OK. Do music as a hobby.

Some of you might think you’ve got someone to take care of the marketing for you. And I do think it’s a good idea to work with people on specific aspects of marketing. But the whole, the “I’m going to be your manager” thing works a very small percentage of the time. I can think of 5 people, off the top of my head, who were going to manage me, at one time or another.  A couple of them made some graphics from me, and one actually sent out some songs to some record companies. But that was it.

“But Keith, this dude is really excited about promoting us! Why should I believe you?”

Don’t believe me. I could be wrong. Do it your way. But make sure you have access to everything this guy does. If he collects email addresses on your behalf, get them. If he works with a graphics person, get the original artwork. If he makes contacts with venues, make sure you have those contacts sent to you, as well.

That way, you’ll see if he’s doing anything. Plus, he’s going to flake in six months, and if he’s made any progress at all, you’ll be back at square one, unless you have access to what he’s accomplished.

Chances are, you’re going to end up doing a bunch of  marketing and promotion yourself. If you build up a nice fan base, you’ll get offers from legit management companies. Then you can ask them what they can do for you that you’re not already doing!

So here’s my advice. . .

  1. Define what success would be, in terms of your music career.
  2. If it doesn’t involve making a living, relax. Do music as a hobby.
  3. If you want to make enough to support your music habit and more, start working to build up fans, and don’t depend on anyone else (or any service) to do it for you.
  4. Wake up every morning (or afternoon, I know how you are), with the realization that nobody needs to listen to your music. You have to make it worthwhile for them. Think about ways your art is going to add value to their lives. And spend your time doing those things.

What If You Just Want Play Music, Not Market, But You Want To Make A Living In Music?

Be a bass player in a cover band. Maybe a wedding band. Bass players are in demand. You can play “Cherish”, right? There’s nothing wrong with that.

But I don’t want to be a bass player in a cover band!

Then read this article again. If it doesn’t resonate with you, come back in a year, and read it again.



Keith Livingston

About the author

Keith Livingston started recording his own music in the late '70s, on a 4-track. He worked his way into live sound and studio work as an engineer -- mixing in arenas, working on projects in many major studios as a producer/engineer, and working in conjunction with an independent label.

He taught audio engineering at the Art Institute of Seattle, from 1990-1993, and in '96, contributing to authoring several college-level courses there.

He was General Manager of Радио один (Radio 1) in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Now he spends his time recording his own songs wherever he roams, and teaching others to do the same.

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