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5 Biggest Mistakes Musicians Make Online (and how to fix them!)

[10 Minute Read]

Congratulations on deciding to make a move toward your music career — and even better — the ONLINE part of your career or hobby.

You probably sense that the music industry has totally and completely changed in recent years. You’re right, it has. The Internet pretty much turned the traditional music model upside down, yet so many people still wait around, hoping to be “discovered”.  

Guess what? You no longer need to.  

Today, you can do it yourself and put your music straight out to the public with no need for a “middle man” or label.  

Can you gain a following doing this? Yes. Can you even make money doing this? Absolutely.  

In reality, you have a better chance at making money as an independent artist than you do if you were “discovered” by a major music label.  

In fact, most bands signed to a label are broke and in DEBT for years!  

When you sign a deal with a label, it’s like taking out a giant loan from a bank. You don’t make any profits until it’s all paid back.  

The label’s main goal is to make a return on their investment (ROI), and you need to do anything and everything to make that happen, including non-stop touring and selling merchandise.  

It’s the equivalent of signing on for a big loan from the bank with the hope that you’ll get rich and famous. It’s not very likely.  

Even many bands that do get famous are still broke, and then as soon as they are able to break out of their contract, they start over as independent artists and raise money through crowdfunding instead, taking their fans with them.  

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Explode Your Fanbase, presented by Leah McHenry

That is the reality of today’s music scene.  

If you’re like me, it feels scary to think about stepping into a huge overwhelming sea of music. I totally understand. I’m just a stay-at-home-mom, myself.  

I didn’t begin making music until after I already had a family to look after. How would anyone hear my music?  

Well… after much trial and error, and lots of sweat and tears… I figured a few things out, and people did hear my music. It was very cool what happened after that.  

I’ve become a well-known recording artist in my genre, and I even raised over $27,000 in one crowdfunding campaign and $87,000 in another one all by myself!  

I learned many things the hard way and experienced much frustration. I hope to spare you that and give you some valuable tips as to how you can get started the right way.  

Understand, first off, that the Internet drives the music industry today. Everything you do is going to revolve around this.  

If you are just starting out, thinking of what it will take to start a music career, or have begun but are overwhelmed by what to do next, or wonder what the most important steps are, I’m here to help.  

Let’s start by talking about the biggest rookie mistakes I see over and over again when launching your music career online.

#1 Rookie mistake: Not picking a genre (or even better – a micro-niche!)

Look, I know your music is unique, you are unique, and you are probably great at a lot of things, including playing all kinds of music.  

The worst thing you can do is be a jack-of-all-trades in music genres. This is not the best way to build a fanbase, because if you’re great at everything, that means you lack a specific artist identity. And if you lack an artist identity, it means you don’t have a recognizable brand.  

Even bands who make a living doing cover songs still have a very trademark sound and style, like The Piano Guys, or the vocal band Pentatonix.

You can recognize them immediately by the WAY they do their covers. And they usually stick with the same genre of music – turning those cover songs into their own style and adding their unique branded-twist to it.  

So how do you choose your genre?

What if you love several genres and are good at them all? I have some homework for you.

Get out a piece of paper and write these down.  

What are you all about?  

You will need to choose a larger “umbrella” genre to work from and then we will narrow it down after. The goal is to end up in a smaller niche, which will help people find you better and help you stand out.  

You can start to narrow this down by considering a number of things:  

What bands/artists/genres do you already love and are drawn to?  

It’s OK if you have a wide variety of taste. We will use this to your advantage. Look at any current songs you already have written.  

What genre do you think your songs already fall into?

Think broad for now.  

Have 5-10 friends/family/fans listen to your voice or your songs and ask what they hear. If you add or take away certain kinds of instruments, would it completely change the genre? If you could combine elements of your favorite bands, describe what they would be and how it might sound.  

There is nothing new under the sun, but you can combine elements of your favorite sounds to make it sound fresh and different (paving the way for your micro-niche). Remember, different is memorable!  

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#2 Rookie mistake: Publishing any and all songs you write without any thought about your artist brand  

Let’s be honest, most artists don’t know what their identity is or what their brand is.

Very quickly, a brand is not a logo, a font, or a color scheme, although they should reflect the brand.

A brand is really a consistent feeling you produce in others whenever they think of your music, see your music, or experience your music.

It’s completely intangible. How do you produce a feeling in others?

You do that by FIRST choosing the correct songs that align with what you want your brand to be.

Let me give you an example.  

My brand is LEAH (my music name). It’s all about castles, fantasy, Celtic culture, beautiful landscapes, beautiful home decor, ancient ruins, Lord of the Rings, escapism, and my MUSIC is what “takes you there”.  

Whenever my fans see my face, see my logo, visit my website, or interact with me on social media and my posts, they are interacting with my brand. All my social media activities, promotional activities, and my song choices will align with this specific brand I’m creating.  

Choosing the right songs to create and further my band is a very strategic choice that most artists don’t give enough attention to.  

If I were to publish all the songs I wrote under my LEAH brand, my fans would actually be quite confused because sometimes I like to write in other styles, flavors, and genres. They do not all belong under the LEAH brand.  

So what should you do with all the songs that don’t fit or align with your main artist brand?  

Start another separate project or artist brand, or, perhaps save them for a catalog of songs for other licensing opportunities.  

Homework:  

Choose ONE artist brand or project that you will launch and put 100% in. I don’t recommend trying to get two or more projects/bands off the ground at the same time. This will take all your energy and focus.  

Decide what that primary brand is.  

What is the music all about?  

What’s the genre, what are the topics, what movies would it make a great soundtrack to?  

Make a list of your lyric themes that seem to come up time and time again (this will also help determine your genre/sub-genre and keywords later on).  

Unless Disney (or a company that dictates the subject and keywords you must use) hired you, I suggest not trying to write for a specific audience. Music is not about people pleasing. It will sound cheesy and manufactured if you do that. Some of the biggest hits have had totally weird and bizarre lyrics that almost make no sense at all (Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” anyone??). It doesn’t need to be groundbreaking; it just needs to be authentic.

If you are a songwriter, list all your best songs, or ideas that have the most potential.  

If your budget is very limited, pick the best three to five songs.  

If you have no songwriting skills, you can choose very old songs, or songs that have public domain and do your own rendition of them, or hire someone to write songs for you, or work with a band to create your own songs.  

#3 Rookie mistake: Bad sound quality on your recordings.  

This might sound like an obvious point, but unfortunately, I’ve come across more bad recordings by good artists than I’d like to see.  

Let me preface that you can get great quality from home studios, and it also doesn’t mean that it must be expensive.  

Even if it’s a single or an EP, you mustn’t cut corners on quality!  

This is sometimes the first and only impression you may get to leave with thousands of potential fans, and if the quality is less than fantastic, they may judge your music wrongly, or even turn it off or click away immediately.  

What instantly makes a recording instantly sound BAD?  

  • Very cheap microphone (although there are some inexpensive with fairly GOOD quality)
  • Poor mixing. If you’re not a professional mixer, do not attempt to mix yourself. Get an expert – mixing can mean the life or death of a recording.
  • Signal to noise ratio. Hearing signal noise, static, background noises, traffic, etc.
  • Unintentional distortion. When vocals or instruments peak, it’s distracting and instantly communicates “unprofessional”.
  • Lack of vocal edits. I’m not a huge autotune fan, but sometimes singers need a little polish to make it sound professional. If we can clearly hear bad pitch and it’s all over the place, it’s a big turn off.
  • Lack of quantization. This is referring to drums and instruments syncing precisely with the beats/click track. If your budget allows, always get your drums edited to be as perfect as possible. It’s the foundation of your entire recording. Make sure it’s perfectly in time, and make sure you edit your other instruments to be perfectly in time. The worst is when we can hear instruments speeding up and then slowing down unintentionally, and even worse – when they’re all doing this in different places!  

There’s a lot more to say about quality, but avoiding these few things will instantly make you sound that much more PRO!  

#4 Rookie mistake: Ignoring email list-building as the #1 online marketing activity  

Have you heard email is dead? If you have, that theory is dead wrong.  

Email is still the #1 way to market anything online. People still check their email multiple times per day, and when on a mobile device, people see all their emails in order and they don’t go into Gmail’s promotional folders.  

Any company has a much higher valuation (think Shark Tank) if they have a large, active email list and is worth more if they ever sell it.  

Not only that, there’s so much we can do with email lists on Facebook.  

Did you know that you can actually upload your email list to Facebook and show the SAME PEOPLE ads in their newsfeed? This is an advanced advertising technique I teach our students that is highly effective during promotions or album launches.  

I do $20,000 music months because of email marketing. It’s a massive part of my music business.

So how do you begin building your email list if you’re starting from scratch?  

My favorite strategy is to give away free downloads in exchange for an email address.

Does this still work?  

HECK YES!!

Here’s a screenshot of how many email addresses I’ve added to my list in the last little while.

This one ad of mine works so well, I literally just set it and forget it (after lots of trial and error, I’ll add).

I literally added 5234 new people to my email list in the last few months by giving away a free track — ONE free song!  

Will people still want this if they can get it on Spotify?

HECK YES.

If someone asks me if they can get it on Spotify I tell people “Yes, you can, but I’d also love to give you a download of it for free so you can put it on your iTunes playlist, and have a “hard” copy of it for your library!” They LOVE it!  

And… if for some reason, this ever stops working, no problem. I’ll find something else of value they’ll want and use that. The point is to offer something they value MORE than their email address. In this case, they still want the download.  

How do I get started building my email list?

First, set up an account with a professional email service provider (do NOT use free email like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. It’s against the law to send promo emails to lists of people that way).  

My favorite is Mailchimp and Drip. Drip is the one I use (a bit more advanced than Mailchimp).  

You’ll want to use a landing page provider as well. Mailchimp provides some templates for free, but I don’t recommend them if you want to get serious about this — there are some limitations.  

My favorite landing page provider, hands-down, is Leadpages. It’s built specifically for conversions. This is all they focus on. I can do stand-alone product pages, thank you pages, etc.  

And most importantly —

DO NOT SEND PEOPLE TO YOUR WEBSITE to collect email addresses.  

I don’t have space here to get into all the reasons why that’s a terrible mistake, but in one word: distraction!  

Send people to a page where the ONLY thing they can do is make a Yes/No decision. That’s it.  

As for how to deliver the song and hook up all the tech, I have more in-depth training on how this is all done in our main program The Online Musician. See the free training on that here.  

One thing I’ll leave you with is that email should be the PRIMARY online marketing activity you spend your energy on — even above social media!  

After all, social platforms are borrowed land — you don’t own your profile.  

You can’t even contact your followers if anything happens, you get blocked or hacked, or the platform dies (remember Myspace?).  

You control your email, no one else can take that from you. Make sure you’re making list-building a huge priority.  

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#5 Rookie mistake: Not properly utilizing all the free traffic you’re already getting on social!

I’m a huge proponent of using paid traffic because you can control it, scale it, and dial it in. But if you don’t have the budget to go there yet, at the very least you should be optimizing every social platform you’re already on.  

The WORST thing I see in artist’s social media is a lot of dead ends.  

What I mean by that is they’re not using links in the obvious places. If a potential fan is curious and goes to your bio or page or what-have-you – they get a dead end.

Here are a few examples:  

Instagram: Use something like Linktree or Link in Profile for the ONE link you get to use in your bio. And don’t put URLs in your Instagram feed posts – no one can click on them! And no one is going to try and copy/paste it into a browser, that’s way too much work! Stop making it hard for people. Tell them the link is in your bio and make sure whatever you’re pointing them to is the first link they see (with a matching link description).  

Facebook: Make sure you’re using a professional artist page and not your profile. This is for a variety of reasons, one of them being it’s against the terms of service to sell or promote business-related things on a personal profile. Besides that, there’s no SEO on a personal profile, and many, many more reasons you need to use a professional Facebook page.  

Make sure your main page banner has links! Link to your music — don’t make people scour the internet to find you. Where can they BUY it? Use the Facebook page tabs to add all the info you possibly can about your music and where people can download, stream, buy, and follow you.  

Also, take advantage of the native Facebook Messenger bots you have available on your page. Direct people to your opt-in landing page or where they can buy music!

Youtube: Probably the biggest under-utilized platform I’ve seen in artists.

Use every single video description to link back to where they can

  1. opt-in to download that song for free
  2. buy the song,
  3. follow you on other platforms

…Or all of the above! So many artists and bands aren’t telling people where they can go!  

Your Youtube content is already “evergreen” platform in that based on how well you tagged your video and used keywords in the title and description, you’ll already be getting free traffic 365 days a year, so why wouldn’t you also direct all that traffic to a potential sale?  

My favorite tool for Youtube is Tubebuddy. If you upgrade, they have a really handy tool that lets you insert a snippet of text into ALL your video descriptions with the push of one button. This also comes in super handy during any of my promotions or sales! Then, once it’s over, I just change the text to something else!  

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I hope these tips have been eye-opening, even if only one of the points resonated. If you take action on these now, you’ll definitely see much better results in all your efforts!  

My goal as a fellow artist and musician is to help others succeed in their journey too.

I love to teach, it’s another passion of mine. If you are ready for more in-depth training and you’re serious about launching your music career online and taking it to the next level, I invite you to watch this free online seminar on what it takes to really Explode Your Fanbase THIS YEAR!

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The difference between making $0 month and $10,000 with your music

How I went from $0 in music sales to $1000 to $5000, to $10,000 and beyond…

Most people want to shortcut. They want to reap all the rewards without putting in the risk and the work to get there. That’s like signing up for a gym membership and thinking that you should automatically have abs in a month. Ha!

The reality is that you CAN take a short cut: listen to people who are already achieving the results you want. But don’t just listen. DO.

Take ACTION.
But don’t just take action TODAY…. you have to be in this for the LONG HAUL and be CONSISTENT over a long period of time!


THAT is how you get abs and how you make progress in anything!

Why do I bring up revenue as a marker of success? Simply because that’s what musicians ask me about day and night. They want revenue.

They want to fund their passions, dreams, next album and be able to pay the bills from it and quit the job they hate.

Okay then, we can do that…. but it’s going to take a major shift in your attitude.

Here are 10 things you must do to get there:

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1. Create amazing, quality music that the market wants. Quality means it’s in demand, and quality means it sounds great, regardless of the budget.

2. Identify your niche, your “twist” that a smaller group of people are actually excited about. You don’t need millions of fans, you only need a 1000 die-hard fans that are in love with your music.

3. Have a consistent image & brand across all social platforms, your website, and merchandise. What does your brand communicate? What feeling does your imagery create in your fans? If you don’t know, you’re likely missing out on a lot of sales.

4. Be purposeful in what your music stands for and build a culture around your music. People see your music as bigger than just the music. It’s part of their way of life. It’s a lifestyle brand.

5. Have a detailed understanding of how to launch your music online whenever you have a new release. You know how to plan and execute an online campaign, in a matter-of-fact, methodical way. No guessing.

6. Launch your old and new music perpetually to new people every single day. This is called an “evergreen launch”. It is always running, and the sales pay for the campaign.

7. Automate your “lead gen” or new fans. There’s a way to attract new fans every single day, 24/7. You know how to build relationships, and automate the process of taking a new fan from Aware to Engaged to Buyer.

8. Be fearless when it comes time to sell. If you want to succeed, you have to get over this. But even better, your system does the selling, and you don’t have to even talk to one single person (so yes, you can be successful as a hard-core introvert).

9. Regularly ask for feedback from your fans and survey them. Use the data they give you and you turn it around and make more music, merch products, bundles, and whatever they want based on that feedback. Don’t guess: ASK!

10. Be willing to take a RISK. Stop being afraid of what people will think. Don’t ask “How can I stand out online?” … just put your head down and start DOING what you know you should!

I am currently having my biggest physical music sales month… maybe ever. Mostly selling CDs.

What has taken me from $10,000 to $20,000 per month?

Doing exactly those 10 things over and over and over.

Getting better at it.

Dialing it in.

Then testing and experimenting even more.

Taking more risks.

Sometimes failing.

Learning from it.

Stepping out in faith.

Putting more faith in my fans.

Being more transparent.

And continuing this journey in the Wild West of the New Music Industry!