This post is about the music industry from an outsider’s very, very insightful perspective. Today I share with you one of my favorite marketers and thought leaders of our time: Seth Godin.  Who’s Seth Godin? Here are the bulletpoints:

  • He’s the author of 18 books that have been translated into 35 languages worldwide, including one of my favorites: Tribes;
  • He founded Yoyodyne and Squidoo;
  • He launched the most successful book publishing Kickstarter to date at the time, which funded 4 books by fulfilling its KS goal in 3 hours;
  • His blog is one of the most popular in the world (not exaggerating: if you Google “seth,” it’s the first thing to come up).

I saw him speak at a marketing conference in 2013 and it was electrifying.  Listen to this man and you will learn something.

In 2016, he spoke at Carnegie Hall to a program out of the Julliard School and dropped some knowledge bombs on the graduating seniors by basically telling them that they may have wasted a lot of time in the practice rooms.  Listen to the full audio at the bottom of this post to see what I mean, but here are my biggest take-aways from his talk:

Scarcity No Longer Creates Value

“The dreaded, long-lasting shortage of highly competent musicians is finally over.  And that’s not good for you, but it is a complete shift in the way the world works.”

Back in the day, competent musicians were rare and highly valuable.  Today is different.  With the advent of the internet, information and access has been infused into our world in ways that have completely revolutionized, disrupted, or even destroyed certain industries.  The music industry is one that has been forever disrupted and the record industry has been all but destroyed in a handful of years.  Crazy times.

With this access and information, a new generation of competent musicians has risen up and continues to grow.  This makes the prospect of carving out a career for yourself into a daunting task – but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking of.  Seth did a brilliant job of describing a major shift in music: the shift away from scarcity as a commodity to an industry of abundance.  There’s a problem that arises from this shift, though: much of the information about sales, promotion, and marketing that has been true over the last several decades became nearly obsolete overnight.  On top of that, there’s a new social currency:

Connection is the New Currency

Connection, not scarcity, is what creates opportunities for the modern video game composer.  This is critically important to keep at the forefront of your mind as you plan and approach marketing and networking activities.  This is precisely why it’s always about “who you know,” and even more about who knows you and likes you.  Your opportunities will largely come to you through your network, which is why growing and maintaining (yeah, it needs to be maintained) your network is as important as creating music if you want to build a serious career for yourself.

“You don’t earn connection by being really good at the cello.”

I love this excerpt from Seth, because it highlights a major misconception about how skillful you need to be in order to be successful.  Your skill and your success are certainly correlated (though not as closely as you might expect), but your skill does not CAUSE your success as much as it would have 50 years ago.  Here’s what Seth had to say:

“You don’t earn connection by being really good at the cello.  Because almost everyone that you would like to connect with doesn’t know A) in advance, that you’re really good at, and B) after they hear you, they can’t tell the difference between someone who is unbelievably-off-the-charts-good at it and someone who is super, super good at it.  And if they can’t tell, then that’s not what they’re paying for, are they?”

Bringing it back to freelancing, I once had a conversation with a very dear friend and AMAZING artist who was putting his self-promotion on hold because he needed to do more work on his portfolio before it was presentable enough to bring forward.  Usually, this kind of hesitance is fear in disguise – so I asked him some questions and started digging into it.  He was basically holding himself to the standards that he would hold an artist to, which is good and bad.  It’s good because it demands a high quality product, but guess what?  The people he needed to impress weren’t artists.  They were more likely to be lead developers/CEOs who aren’t a part of the visual art process (which is why they’d be looking for someone like my friend).  With this in mind, if we were to look at his portfolio as a CEO or developer what would we see?  Some badass and imaginative concept art and some creepy-looking 3D models, or a portfolio that could really use a couple more narrative pieces?

Composers are susceptible to the same trap, also known as “the curse of knowledge”.  This “curse” describes the phenomenon that occurs when a skilled or experienced person has trouble envisioning a beginner’s experience or perspective which might result in them teaching ‘over the heads’ of their students.  This translates to a problem perceiving how the average listener (who is NOT a composer, musician, or maybe not even a competent listener) would receive our music.  Who’s going to notice if you spend an extra hour on the mix?  If the answer is “audio engineers,” then you may be taking things too far.  Some things may be worth obsessing over: John Williams absolutely SLAVED over the opening melodies in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones themes to make them perfect before composing the rest of it.  Now practically everyone in the world can recall and sing those themes.  Others are NOT worth obsessing over.  Like narrative art pieces (still not sure what that means).

In summary: The next time you’re about to spend that extra hour on “fine-tuning,” “tweaking,” or going for perfection… check in to make sure you’ve spent enough time building relationships this week.

The New Value Equation: Trust + Attention = Value

“Trust and attention.  If you have trust and attention you have value.”

This is the next wave of marketing and promoting yourself, and your new value equation: Trust + Attention = Value.

How do you build trust?  By being genuine, following through, and showing consistency over time.  Putting the needs of others before your own is another great way of building trust.  If I sit down with a client to discuss their needs, I have to be willing to tell them that I disagree or that we might not be a good fit to work together if I’m truly putting their needs first.  Not every client is a good fit!  If someone asks me to write an opera for them, I’m going to tell them that there are probably other composers out there who would be a better choice to deliver them an opera.  If they really want to work with me, it might still happen – but I’ve put their needs before my own and showed some honesty.  That stuff counts.

Attention?  There are lots of ways to get attention: social media marketing (a beast in and of itself), creating valuable content for people to download or share, and hanging out where your prospective customers are already hanging out online are just a few of the ways.  Just be smart and don’t be spammy.  Composers who go into groups/forums for composers to pitch your composition services: I’m looking at you.

Listen to Seth Godin at Julliard School

Here is the full audio.  If you do anything in the music industry, I would be 100% flabbergasted if you didn’t find this highly insightful and interesting.  Seth gave me special permission to embed the full video on the site, so take advantage and enjoy!

Seth Godin Live at Carnegie Hall (audio) from Seth Godin on Vimeo.




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