Advice for Artists – Tips from CD Baby founder Derek Sivers

June 14, 2007

Date: June 14, 2007 6:08:22 AM EDT
Subject: Advice for Artists – Tips from CD Baby founder Derek Sivers

So my good friend Derek Sivers who founded CD Baby http://www.cdbaby.com gives the most amazing advice to artists.

I wanted to share some “tips” he shared with CD members that should help you with your career.  (I’ve thrown in some of my own advice here as well):

  • The best one was “don’t wait to be inspired, you have to meet inspiration half way”.  Sit down, force yourself to be inspired.  To write songs.  Every day.  The more often you write, the better you become.
  • When you come home from your day job (assuming you have one), don’t just plop down in front of the TV.  Get to work.  Right away.  Whether you’re emailing a club to book a show or writing a new song (or rewriting an old one), just go straight to work. If you come home and let yourself get comfy on the sofa, you will likely stay there the rest of the night.
  • Don’t be a mosquito.  Don’t constantly bother people trying to get what you can from them and then move on. Be a good human being.  Be sincere (hopefully this won’t require much effort).  Think about what you can do to help the other person instead of what they can do to help you.  You’ll get much further in life. i.e. if you’re talking to a club booker, ask them how you can work together to market the show and ensure the best crowd possible.
  • If you’re trying to get somewhere, start at the end and work backward. i.e. if you’re looking for a booking agent, call the club you want to play and ask them which agents they work with.  Have specific goals.  Don’t say “I need a manager” or “I need a booking agent” – which one?  I also pointed out, if you’re looking for either of these 2 people, you need to have something to offer them i.e. you need to be making money if you want a good manager or how will they get paid?  If you want a booking agent, you need to be drawing several hundred in your market and likely in other markets as well.  Don’t put the cart before the horse.  Nothing in life is free and nothing comes without hard work.  You can’t expect people to take you on until you have a viable business running.  Just saying “My music is cool, help me for free” isn’t even close to being enough.
  • Be persistent and follow-up with people – but DON’T BE ANNOYING.  Derek told this great story of how an editor/reviewer at a major music magazine used to put all the CDs they received in a big cardboard box, the size of a refrigerator.  When an artist called to follow up, they would look for the package and move it to a smaller box. Then wait.  If the artist called again, they’d move it from the smaller box to someone’s desk.  If the artist called a THIRD time, then and only then would someone actually listen to it.  With all the thousands (now millions?) of people trying to “make it” it’s not worth their time to review a CD if the artist doesn’t call at least 3 times to follow up.  However, don’t be annoying.  Some people may not like getting follow-up calls once, much less 3 times, so if you sense you are annoying someone with repetitve emails or calls, stop.  You don’t want to be so persistent that you annoy the person and prevent them from wanting to help you.
  • Spend more time on your songwriting craft.  Sure, it may seem cool to say you have however many thousand myspace friends, but if they aren’t buying your music at the end of the day, it’s just a waste of time (if you’re trying to make a career out of making music).  Focus on creating great music.  People will talk and the word will then spread.  Don’t spend time just adding myspace friends for the sake of having friends.
  • Eat the frog first.  Derek told a story that if you had to do several things, like mail a package, cook dinner, put gas in the car and eat a frog, eat the frog first.  i.e. get the unpleasant thing out of the way first like calling that club to book a show or rewriting the verse yet again until it’s perfect.  Once you get the bad stuff out of the way, you’ll be free to focus on the more fun stuff and the things we don’t want to do are often the most important.



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