Even if You Give Your Songs Away for Free, You Might Never Get Heard


t one point in time, your goal as a musician was to sell your album. Just getting your CD into somebody’s hands was enough.

The new goal is to be heard. And strangely enough, getting your music into somebody’s hands doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll ever hear it.

Collector’s Lust

People don’t necessarily buy or download music so that they can listen to it. They buy it—or download it for free—because they crave possession of the music. Just acquiring a piece of music feels good.

Many music hoarders have much, much more music than they’ll ever listen to. In short: they love music, yes, but they also love being librarians. They love collecting, organizing, and storing music.

The Information Age listener has a taller stack of music and a shorter attention span than ever before. They’re always moving on to something new, always downloading something else.

Your Song Vs. the Entire World

The scary fact is that you can give a perfectly good album away and still never get heard.

Now that we listen to music on computers and on iPods that can check e-mail, play games, surf websites, etc., you’re competing with all of those glittering distractions. You’re competing with those games. You’re competing with your listener’s flirty online dating exchange with some strong-jawed fellow over in London. Good luck—his accent drives her crazy.

My point is this: even if someone’s listening to your music somewhere in the world right now, she’s probably half-distracted.

So with all of these obstacles, one has to wonder: is there any hope of really reaching people with your songs?

Yes, You Can Still be Heard

Competition is high, but all is not lost. I realize this all seems daunting, but I’m not trying to discourage you—I’m trying to inspire you to work hard on your art.

If you can cut through all that noise, we listeners will love you. We’ll tell our friends how amazing your songs are. We’ll spread word of mouth even while you sleep. Cute fans will tattoo your lyrics and your signature onto their bodies. All of this—and more—is still possible.

And that’s especially amazing when you consider that there’s more music out there than any one of us can hope to ever hear in our lifetimes. So how do you earn the privilege of being heard by today’s besieged listener, who’s bombarded with hundreds of other choices at any given moment?

I propose a few ideas; some old, some new.

  • You can embed visually stunning cover art into your MP3 album; that  might help you attract some attention when your listeners are browsing the iTunes store or their music library.
  • You can pack all your equipment into a van and tour the country, hoping to sell merchandise, CDs, and downloads.
  • You can get your music featured on a popular TV show or in a film, where it’ll gain massive exposure.
  • You can promote yourself all over the Internet and stay connected to fans via an e-mail newsletter.
  • You can work to discover and harness your own unique strengths, pushing your own boundaries until you’re the best possible writer, composer, and performer you can be.

That last list item is what The Halted Clock is all about. Stay tuned this weekend as I explore the art of writing songs that attract and captivate even the most distracted listener.

Posted on September 15, 2011
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