26 Ways for Musicians to Make Real Money
Copyright 2013 – 2022, by Jeff Napier
Table of Contents
Part I, The Businesses
3. Street Performing With a Visual Twist
5. Write Background Music For Video Games
6. Teach Music Out of Your Home
8. Teach At Schools and Music Stores
9. Teach At Community Education Centers
11. Buy and Sell Rare Recordings Online
27. Repairing and Making Instruments
Part II, The Details
Part III, The Final Bit
If you are a musician of any sort, you have interesting opportunities that non-musicians can only dream about. Oh, you may have considered some of the ideas presented in this online ebook, and assume you won’t make any real money, or that you don’t have enough skill or knowledge, or that it would take too long to become professional. What you didn’t know, until now, are the secrets of success. You may have seen street performers making a couple of dollars per hour, and figured that not only is that low pay, it is embarrassing. But what if you discover some noteworthy techniques, so even as a street performer, you can make more than forty dollars per hour? What if you discover that teaching music is meaningful, enjoyable and profitable? What if you can be well paid to collect recordings? This book will give you the missing information for a variety of musical pursuits from teaching to buying and selling musical equipment. This book will also present ideas you’ve never considered before, so you’ll find something that’s just right for you, can be started with little or no time, risk or money. Many of these can eventually take you away from the drudgery of an ordinary job, making more money than you have ever made before. Most of these can grow beyond limits, as long as you are observant and patient.
Have fun and prosper! – Jeff Napier, business coach
I’m going to suggest something off-the-wall. Or, actually, on-the-wall, as you’ll find out it a minute.
Do you have a useless instrument laying around the house? Perhaps an old trumpet that’s just to dented to play. Or a flute that’s leaky, but not worth re-padding. Maybe you have an old guitar with a warped neck. It would be a great candidate for what I call crush art. Take that old tuba, saxophone, piccolo, whatever you have, put it under a piece of thick plywood, and slowly run it over with your car. (Make sure everyone watching has goggles and stands a long distance away in case a piece explodes outward.)
Once it is horribly crushed, you can sell it as wall art. You can even get fancy if you wish, mounting the main instrument and its detached parts on a board, and putting the whole works in a frame. Or gluing, welding, or tying the parts back together in a new arrangement. Or mixing and matching with pieces from other instruments, or even non-musical objects.
Crush art would work particularly well with brass and string instruments, but others may surprise you. I wonder what happens with all those keys if you drive over a keyboard? I can imagine the successful crush artist buying broken things on eBay or Craigslist, just to enjoy running them over, and then profitably selling the results.
In this book, you’ll discover all the details for buying and selling whatever you want on eBay, craigslist, and other venues, plus details and ideas for many other musical businesses.
Street Performing Surprise
Street performing, often called ‘busking’ in much of Europe, at a glance seems like the least likely way to make real money, and has a bit of a stigma. After all, street performing is all too close to ‘living on the streets’ isn’t it? Well, it’s true that some street performers do live on the streets. And the majority of them make very little money. Probably less than minimum wage.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, after you read and learn from this chapter, you might become so excited to give street performing a try that you may not have time to read the rest of the book! The big surprise is that if street performing is done with a bit of knowledge, and of course, skill, it can be remarkably fun and profitable. You may even have groupies come by to listen any time you appear on the street!
What are the advantages of street performing? Are there any advantages? Hmm, let’s see:
* You get to decide when you want to work. You might prefer to work just some evenings. You might want to work sixty hours a week. After all, while you’re street performing, what you’re really doing is getting paid to practice. Maybe for you, it is just two hours on a Saturday to pick up some extra spending cash. Or, maybe you’ll love it so much, you’ll want to work every minute that you can squeeze into your schedule.
* You get to decide what music you want to play.
* You get to decide what instrument you want to play.
You can be bad, as you work out a new piece, a new idea, or play with a new instrument. People just won’t stop and listen until you get better, or until you take a break and switch back to your ‘good’ material.
*You get to decide where you want to work. You might prefer to stay in San Diego or Paris, or you might like to hit the road, performing wherever you end up.
* There is no boss, so you can be in control of everything that matters to you. For instance, you might want to dress in a suit or tie, or a T-shirt. That too, is entirely up to you.
* You’re not obligated. If you don’t like a location, time, or type of music, you can change anything you want.
* You don’t have to care about being late.
* You don’t have to submit a resume. You don’t have to fill out employment papers. There’s no job interview. You don’t usually have to audition. You don’t even have to be good. Of course, if you’re mediocre, you won’t make much money at first, but as you perform, you’ll get better and better.
* You don’t have to wait until the end of the week to get paid.
* You may not know it yet, but you can make more money than you can with most hourly jobs.
* If you have other interests, or other profitable things you can do, you can present that in your street performances. It might simply be handing out business cards stating that you are available to play weddings and parties. Or, you might sell your CDs, schedule lessons, you name it.
To start, all you have to do is bring your instrument to a place where people are walking by, bring some sort of receptacle to hold the tips people will give you, and start playing. That can work, and may even surprise you how well it can work. But let’s talk about all the ways to make it work really well.
1. Location is the single most important factor. First, let’s talk about bad locations:
* If few people are walking by, few will give you tips.
* If many people are walking by, but they are all busy, that won’t work well either. For instance, a factory may let everyone out for lunch at noon, but they have to be back at 12:30. That crowd won’t stop to listen to you for even a minute. Your ideal people are those out for a stroll, to shop, or tourists.
* If they can’t hear you, or there is noise pollution that makes what you do sound less than ideal, you won’t make much money!
* If you pick a narrow spot where they can’t walk past you, before long someone will complain, and you’ll be asked to leave. Another problem with a spot that’s too small is that people must come too close. You see, many people are rather shy, and they don’t want to interact with the musician. They just want to listen for a while. If they have to be too close, they’ll feel uncomfortable and won’t stay. Depending on your performing style, you may be able to form a large crowd. The crowd will be limited if the spot is too small.
* If the spot is too large, you have other problems. People who are shy will stay so far away that they won’t be able to come close enough to give you a tip. They may feel that at a greater distance away, they aren’t obligated to tip. They may also have trouble hearing you.
* Some places require permission to perform. If you are on municipal property, check with the local law enforcement officers before you start to perform. They’ll let you know if it is illegal to perform there, since some places are indeed illegal to street perform. Some let you perform, but not collect money. In others it is legal, but only after you get a permit at a city office. In private places, you may need to simply ask permission. In others, you may need to audition. Yet others let anyone perform. In one place I know of, the performer who has been there the longest arranges the schedule for everyone else. Fortunately this fellow is magnanimous, but he could certainly stack the schedule in his favor. In Balboa Park in San Diego, you need to get a permit early in the morning on the day you plan to perform.
You may also want to check the performer pecking order. In Balboa Park, for example, where weekends can be quite lucrative, you used to have to arrange with the other performers for a place to perform. Even with the permit process, if you try to take the ‘wrong’ spot, the other performers will harass you. I don’t know if it is still that way. The newbies generally got relegated to out-of-the-way places where fewer tourists were likely to walk by. The performers who get the good spots are there due to seniority. They became good in the less ideal spots, and slowly were allowed into better and better performing spots. There is also a bit of specialty involved. The musicians who focus on walk-by traffic only need narrow spaces, but their spaces are often where many people are walking by. The circus arts performers need a lot of room to display their skills, so they get the larger spots, even though hearing is difficult in the larger spots. So, it can work out well for everyone.
* You might consider performance venues such as arts and crafts or theme fairs. Amusement parks are another possibility, if the noise levels are acceptable for your kind of music. At first, these events seem few and far between, but after a couple of years, you learn which work well, discover new ones in your area, and can develop a schedule that offers a good opportunity almost every weekend.
So, the ideal place is where there are lots of tourists or shoppers, on foot, with money to spend. Outdoor shopping villages are often great. Sometimes, you can audition for the management of an indoor shopping mall, and become ‘the’ mall musician. If you have a mall in your area that doesn’t already have entertainment, you might approach the manager. S/he may have never considered having live music, so you may need to explain how it works. Of course you’ll want to explain it from the manager’s point of view: That by providing your kind of entertainment, more shoppers will come to the mall, they’ll stay longer, and spend more money. Wives or husbands will be able to shop more leisurely because you can entertain the spouses who would otherwise be bored and want to go home sooner. You’ll bring an ambiance to the mall that makes it a must-do destination.
When you get your location right, forty dollars per hour in tips is not uncommon, even if you aren’t a great musician. Even if you don’t have much of a personality.
Now, if you do have a ‘personality,’ your tips will be even greater. While some musicians feel that just playing their music is enough, those who interact with the audience offer so much more. It is possible to draw people into your performance. Those who would have just listened for a moment will settle in and listen for much longer once you’ve ‘got’ them. There are several ways to exhibit personality.
One of the simplest is to simply smile, make eye contact from time to time, and offer the occasional friendly gesture. If you’ve never done this, it is worth your time to practice in front of a mirror or video camera. You may laugh, but many people haven’t yet learned the art of putting on inviting expressions. Just as with music, you can become good at expressions and appealing gestures with practice.
Between pieces, you can talk a bit. You can talk about just any old thing, and it tends to bond you with your listeners. You might offer a trivia item about the composer of the piece you just played or about to play, you might offer a bio of the composer, or of yourself. You might talk about why you like a particular song. People love to hear about lyrics. What do the words really mean in “Puff the Magic Dragon?” You can even get a bit technical, explaining details of the song or the way you play it. History is always appealing. If you can tell people a little about Haight-Ashbury in 1968, or Vienna in Mozart’s time, you’ll make more money!
This is a wonderful segue between songs. Normally, people will walk away after a song or two. But if you engage them, they pretty much have to stay for the next one. Someone who felt a dollar tip is good for one song, will probably feel like five dollars is more appropriate if they stayed for three songs.
Some performers ham it up with members of their audience. They make a big production of posing for pictures and videos. They may even make kind-hearted fun of their audiences. It is quite acceptable to take a good several minutes messing around between songs. You’d think the crowd would disperse if you don’t play for a few minutes, but done right, this kind of fun can build crowds.
Borrowing from the field of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), in which practitioners want to build rapid rapport with their clients to help them with psychological issues, you can use some of their techniques:
Body mirroring: Pick one of your listeners, and position your body in about the same way the listener is positioned. For instance, if your listener has his feet crossed, you can cross your feet for a short while. If your listener is leaning against a post on her left, you can lean against something or just tilt a bit to your right. Notice that you want to exhibit mirror-image, not cross-over. This soothes a very primitive part of the human brain. When it sees someone in a similar posture, this primal part of us feels that the person is ‘like me,’ and relaxes a bit. You can mirror one person, then another in your audience. Generally, you want to mirror perhaps five or seven seconds after the person has moved into a position. Even when you’re rather blatant about it, most people don’t seem to catch on. If they do notice, they just assume you are unconsciously mirroring them, and they are complimented. You can also mirror some gestures.
If you converse with your audience, you might want to try mirroring their tonality. To the extent possible, with someone who talks fast and loud, you can answer in the same way. With someone who speaks slowly, you can answer slowly. With someone soft-spoken, you can lower your volume a bit. You can also use backtracking. Use their exact words a few seconds or a minute later. If someone expresses delight, saying something is ‘tubular,’ you might use the word ‘tubular’ in a similar context a short time later. You’ll probably not be successful with mimicking accents, however.
This bonds your few first listeners. Crowds beget crowds. Sometimes, pulling in the first two or three people is the hardest part. Once you’ve got a few people standing around, more will stick around and hear what you have to play.
For example, one day, I saw a huge crowd around noon on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Figuring they were there for something interesting, I walked up and saw that two men were unloading buckets of crabs from a van into a restaurant. That’s all. But the little crowd created a big crowd.
While it is uncommon for a street musician to have a hundred people circled around listening, it can happen. This is often referred to as a “circle show.” When it does happen, it’s magical in more ways than just financial. It is a real ego boost to know that so many people voluntarily stayed around to listen to you. Ego, to a reasonable degree, is a good thing for a musician. It will spur you on to practice, and to want to perfect your art.
The typical musician can make forty dollars per hour in a good spot even if no one stops. They just walk by and drop dollars in your guitar case. But, when you stop a crowd, you’re assured of more money, and more success in general. For instance, a mall manager or policeman may be inclined to roust a musician who doesn’t have a crowd. But the musician with twenty people gathered around most of the time seems successful to the enforcement officer. The officer is much less inclined to run off a musician who seems ‘professional.’ This is especially so if the officer would have to bother the musician in front of all those people. It would make the officer look like a heel.
You’ll want to decide what to play, not based on what is easiest for you, or your favorite pieces, but on what the crowd will want to hear. If most of the people walking by are younger, then currently popular tunes will probably be more successful. If it’s an older crowd, perhaps you can play some of their requested favorites from the sixties, seventies, or the eighties. For street performing, playing favorites generally works better than introducing music your audience don’t know. For much of the general public, each piece of music is an acquired taste. How many times have you suddenly heard a song in a different light? I’m thinking right now about a certain song that was very popular in 1995 that I didn’t really care for at the time. I heard it again a few weeks ago, and can’t believe I didn’t love it then.
If you don’t want to play popular songs – perhaps you make up music on the spot, or want to see how the people react to your own compositions, you may find getting money is somewhat more challenging. But not impossible. The trick is to play something that people will relate to. That generally means foot-stomping music, or something that people will tend to whistle (or remember) as they walk away. Win their hearts, and you’ll get their dollars.
I know a musician who has a lot of two-octave jumps in his compositions. His melodies, if you can call them that, are non-contiguous. No one can remember and whistle his music. He doesn’t get it, or at least, he is not specializing in music that will work well on the street.
Some instruments are better for street performing than others. In most places, you need something that can be heard above the din of traffic and talking. Flute, being toward the higher end of the pitch range works well. Piccolo or a soprano recorder would work well for the same reason. An alto or tenor recorder would be terrible, since these are quiet instruments. Saxophone: Good! Cello: not so good. Trumpet, French horn, electric guitar: good. The downside with electric instruments is that you need a place to plug them in, and there is generally more to carry.
At many excellent performing locations, parking is a problem, so you may need to transport your equipment a long distance. Some street performers get a hand cart, and carry what they want. This can include chairs so your first few listeners can sit – which will encourage them to stay longer, and that will encourage more people to join your audience. Some bring effects pedals, looping recorders, even additional instruments so they can become one-person bands. One fellow wheels an upright grand piano into the streets of San Francisco, and plays rags, boogie-woogie and jazz from the 1920s. He is quite successful. By the way, he is costumed appropriately: pinstripe pants, bowler hat, bow tie and white dress shirt. He is a remarkably good musician. I believe this is because he has practiced in front of the public, on the streets, for many years, but I’ll bet he made money even before he was great.
Playing music on the streets is a commercial activity. So, you can do some things to make sure it makes as much money as possible. Think about your money collection system. For most musicians, that’s an open guitar case or an upside-down hat. People drop money in as they walk by. For some, like the circus arts performers, your music can be a show, with a beginning in which you draw in a crowd, a middle in which you perform, and an end in which you collect money. If this is your style, you can do things such as letting people know five minutes before the end, in subtle, possibly comic ways, that you expect them to tip you at the end of the show. Right at the end, you grab your hat, and make a show of putting the first five-dollar bill in yourself. When someone puts in a twenty-dollar bill, you can hold it up, and shout out excitedly, “Hey, look at that, a twenty-dollar bill!”
In the situation where people are walking by, you’ll want a collection device that is obvious. If your hat is too small, hidden behind your instrument case, or otherwise obscured, you will make less money, of course. A hat or an open instrument case is a good idea compared to a cardboard box, because the meaning is obvious. In fact ‘hat’ is used as the term to describe the collection device or the amount of profit. It is not uncommon to hear street performers talking about their ‘hat’ as in how much money they made. “How was your hat today?” “Oh, it was about $200.”
You’ll probably want to seed the hat. If you put some coins in it, guess what? You’ll get coins. So, you want to put dollars in it and get dollars, right? Not quite. You want to put in some bigger bills. Five and twenty bills make sense. You’ll want to put some dollar-bills in too, since all big bills might intimidate people who will only be willing to give you a buck. On the other hand, you don’t want too much money in your hat. You don’t want to have to protect it like a Brinks truck! Theft is a common problem on the streets. You might consider it just a cost of doing business. Or you might take some protective actions. Keep the hat within your reach. Develop a habit of watching it. Never leave it unattended between sets. You might also use an open instrument case instead of a hat, because it would be harder to carry away.
Street Performing With a Visual Twist
Looking professional is not as important as sounding professional, but it can still make a world of difference. I’m not saying that you need to wear your best wedding reception dress and jewelry, or your fancy suit and tie. You can dress that way if you like. It will most likely make a great impression on many kinds of audiences. Costuming can be of great benefit. If your thing is country fiddle, then a cowboy hat and tall boots make sense. If you happen to play klezmer music, then black and white antique eastern European attire with puffy sleeves, polished shoes, and so on will add to the ambiance. If you’re doing acid rock, then artistically torn jeans and T-shirt may be more appropriate. But then, who says you have to be appropriate? What if you purposely dress inappropriately? I don’t mean be an unshaven mess on the streets. But you could dress in full country style – overalls, a checkered shirt, and bandana, then play classical flute pieces. That would be somewhat eccentric, and positive eccentricity tends to attract crowds. It’s just an idea. You will probably be better off dressing appropriately, unless you can pull off the eccentric clothing style bit. One who does it well is Lindsey Sterling.
Click for YouTube Video
(on devices that support it).
Another example is ZZ Top.
Am I saying that it is important to offer a visual component to your music? You bet! Oh, you can be a great musician, never do anything visual, and make good money on the streets. But if you offer something more, you will benefit in a big way. A musician who takes it to the extreme is Steve Moore.
In his YouTube videos, you can see that he takes drumming to the next level. Who wouldn’t stop and listen to him for a while? Who wouldn’t drop a few dollars in his hat?
You don’t have to go to the extent of Steve. You can just add in a little something. A little flourish of your fingers on the keyboard. A tilt of the head as you play your trumpet. A swing of the viola bow here and there. You get the idea.
Here’s another drummer who does just that. Dylan Elise is a street performing drummer who adds just some visual content to his performance. In the video below, he doesn’t really have the costuming thing down, but then again, he doesn’t seem to need it. He has a good size crowd.
Let’s take this idea to the extreme. Have you ever seen a street circus, acrobatic or juggling act? These people have an entirely different way of performing. Instead of an ongoing performance, and expecting people to drop tips as they walk by, they specifically build a crowd, present an act, then collect money at the end. A musician can do this too, by offering commentary between pieces, or by adding in magic, comedy or juggling.
I’m not saying that every musician has to become a circus clown. Far from it. But you can consider adding a little something, and it may go a long way to making more money. A little bit of dance, a bit of comedy, in your mostly musical performances can put you on the road to making more money than any hourly wage.
I saw a fellow in Jackson Square in New Orleans wearing drywaller’s stilts. These are articulated with artificial ankles and feet on the bottom, so one can walk around quite easily and safely, even though one is nine feet (three meters) tall. He had custom made long pants, so he really looked nine feet tall. He simply walked around, playing his flute. Each piece he played was only thirty seconds or a minute is length. Then, he had a sort of musette bag on a long strap that he would lower from his arm, so that people could drop in their money. The invitation to put money in the bag was very obvious. Furthermore, he approached children, who especially seemed to get a kick from dropping money in his lowered bag. This fellow was making good, really good money, even though it was the off-season.
In my opinion, he wasn’t that great of a player. But he had a repertoire of perhaps six songs that he could play well enough. This was years ago, no doubt by now, he is an expert flutist, since one naturally becomes practiced while being paid on the streets!
Another possibility worth considering, especially for someone who doesn’t feel sufficiently skilled in presenting music, or one who is shy, is to present a little tabletop exhibit. It could be a Rube Goldberg-like instrument on which passers-by can turn a crank and hear a tune played. It could be an animal trained in some way that presents music. It could be some sort of interesting home-made instrument that the people can interact with. The point is that all you have to do, once you’ve created the tabletop display, is sit nearby and read a book while the money comes in. Or, if you prefer, you can talk with the crowd, explaining your thing, in the way a museum docent explains an exhibit.
One night, also in Jackson Square, New Orleans, I came across a fellow who had set up an ordinary ten-inch reflector telescope on an equatorial mount, aimed at the moon. He had a sign on a small table inviting people to take a look in his telescope. He also had a hat on the table filled with money. People couldn’t resist. I couldn’t resist. We looked at the moon and marveled, even though we had all seen it before, and sure enough, pretty much everyone dropped a buck in his hat. There was nothing musical about this guy’s deal, but perhaps it will give you food for thought for a musical exhibit of some sort. Of course it doesn’t even have to be musical, unless music is very important to you. Perhaps your tabletop non-musical presentation will earn the money you need, so you can support your ‘real’ musical pursuits.
Maximizing Ordinary Venues
Most professional musicians make most of their money by performing at local venues. They have a restaurant where they play several evenings per week, or they make the rounds of the festivals that hire entertainment, or they have developed a reputation for playing at parties, weddings, and corporate events.
This ‘ordinary’ style of performing can be lucrative, but for most musicians it falls far short of their hopes. Every now and then, a musician breaks out, becoming the one that everyone in town wants to hire. Eventually the breakout musicians play bigger venues, being paid travel expenses and much more. They may even get recording contracts.
If you study these breakout musicians, you start to see a pattern. These are not necessarily the best musicians. They may not have the best equipment. They may not wear any special clothing. They may not even have the most winning personalities.
So what is it that propels some musicians to success? They do something different. There’s usually some sort of positive eccentricity in what they do.
I remember one singer in San Diego who had an ordinary voice. The thing she did was to write comedy lyrics. She’d sing songs that we all know and love, but she’d come up with her own strange lyrics. She had her audience in stitches, and became quite successful.
Do you remember Weird Al Yankovic?
Weird Al Yankovic
Oh, you don’t have to be as weird as Al. A couple of guys I knew played back to back electric pianos. It is a strange combination, and they really utilized the two pianos to good effect, sometimes playing just slightly syncopated to each other, rather spectacular harmonies beyond what a single pianist can do, and other tricks. If the songs they selected were their own compositions, they would not have done as well. If the songs they selected were obscure, they would not have done as well. If they specialized in hard rock, they would not have done as well. They picked things that people knew, and had grown fond of, and enhanced them with their two pianos.
Another example: On the Big Island of Hawaii is a performer who is a one-man band. Bosco knows all the songs that people always request. He has a very big repertoire. He can play Gordon Lightfoot, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, you name it. The thing he does differently is that he is a one-man band. He plays harmonica, guitar, and sings. Besides that, he has a drum machine, and foot pedal keyboard set up that emulates a bass guitar.
Again, I’m not saying you have to be a one-man band. Besides, that’s not easy to do well. Just find something different, but something that people can relate to. What was different about the late Ravi Shankar?
Or, think about Carlos Santana. He bends long notes beyond what most guitarists do. It gives him a unique sound that one quickly falls in love with.
Okay, one more thing about this positive eccentricity idea, then I’ll move on. If you get a regular piano, and practice for four years, you’ll be about as good as any other pianist with four years experience. But if you pick a trumpet, saxophone, marimba, or accordion and practice four years, you will undoubtedly be the best trumpet, saxophone, marimba or accordion player for miles around. And, you’ll have something unique. People will book you for their events because you’re interesting. The regular pianists will have to take the bookings that are left over.
On the other hand, you may love piano or guitar. It’s your instrument, and that’s it. OK, for you, I’d like to recommend that you find a genre of music that you can expand into. It might be baroque, honky-tonk, or ethnic music. Or, seemingly in contradiction, if you become especially good at exactly what everyone wants to hear, that will be a big advantage for you. Your specialty can be playing (or faking) whatever the crowd requests. This is a skill that is seldom developed as far as it can be taken.
Adding a visual component to your music can make all the difference in the world. If you haven’t already, you can read about the visual side in the chapter about street performing.
Getting gigs in the usual way is one of the most difficult ways to build a musical career. That’s why this book was written. But, if you absolutely must become a musician in the traditional way, then here’s what you can do:
1. Put together a website with photos and sound clips. Ideally, the sound clips will actually be videos. Your website can be as simple as a single page. You can upload your videos to YouTube, then link them to your page. Make sure that your webpage has an action step. In other words, you can tell people what to do so they can book you – give you a call, drop an email, whatever you prefer. Then employ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that all the local people who search for a musician online in your area will see your page near the top of search engine results. I’ve provided a discussion of SEO in the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book.
2. Get attractive business cards printed with your web address, and your phone number. It is worthwhile to spend a bit extra for high-quality glossy cards. If necessary, pay a professional photographer to get a great-looking photo of your performance style. Make sure everyone gets a card who comes within twelve feet (four meters). Tell everyone you meet that you are a musician.
3. You might consider free bookings at first. Some musicians are afraid that if they ever take free work, or very low paying gigs, they’ll be caught up in a situation where everyone always expects them to work for free. This is an unfounded fear. You can slowly raise your rates from free or low, and eventually to whatever the market will bear. If you ever get a call that goes something like this, “Well, last year, I heard you were charging $100,” you can respond by telling them that you are more successful now. People like success, and are generally willing to pay for it. If their budget is really so limited that they can’t afford a reasonable rate, then you don’t want to do that gig anyway. It is completely acceptable to tell people that you were just starting out, but now you can charge more.
You can evolve your pay scale. At first you can literally fill your schedule with free performances. The more exposure you have, the better. Then, once your schedule is full, you can turn down all the free gigs you can’t do, because you’re going to book low-paying gigs instead. Once you have evolved into a full schedule of low-paying gigs, you turn some of them down for higher paying gigs. Finally, your schedule can be as full as you want of only the highest paying gigs.
4. You can do all the usual publicity things that are talked about in the Publicity chapter at the end of this book.
5. If you happen to enjoy street performing, you have a great opportunity to hand out business cards. You can also play at hybrid venues. These are ones that pay nothing or very little, but allow you to have a collection jar on the piano. Next to the jar you’ll want to place a stack of cards, or a small pile of flyers or brochures. This can work particularly well at upscale restaurants.
6. The more exposure you have as a musician, and as an ordinary person, for that matter, the better. If you teach lessons, sell CDs at the flea market, and so on, you always have the opportunity to give people your card, tell them to visit your website, and that you are available for bookings. Even if you attend classes in a community education school, that’s an opportunity to tell your fellow students what you do.
7. I can’t emphasize it enough: Positive eccentricity. Do something different. Something out of the ordinary. Something that people will remember and talk about.
8. Have patience. If you stick with it, if you can override the disappointing events like being turned down, maybe even performing a gig or two that didn’t go as well as you would have liked, you will eventually win.
Have you seen Dan Menendez, the Piano Juggler? He has a unique way of playing a keyboard.
He was an ordinary performer for several years before he became “The Piano Juggler.” He was very good technically, and had a winning personality. But he was becoming disheartened by what he perceived as a plateau. He once told me, “Jeff, if I have to go through one more year doing the same gigs and making only $40,000, I’m going to start teaching.” (He has a college degree in education.) Then he came up with the piano juggling idea. The next thing I knew, he got a spot on a late night television show, and became big in the entertainment world.
Another thing Dan told me was that anyone who has performed 1,000 shows will automatically become a very good entertainer. Taking his notion a step further, it makes me believe that a person doesn’t have to work hard, to sweat, to worry about becoming a professional musician. All one needs to do, is keep doing it long enough. The desired results will come automatically. Remember that if you ever have a show that didn’t go as well as you would have liked. It’s just training. Eventually, every show will be a masterpiece.
Write Background Music for Video Games
In the early days of video games, the programmer did it all. S/he was the artist, animator, programmer, and musical composer. Most successful games these days are far more complex, and written by teams composed of specialists. The big games have at least one person in charge of sound effects and music. This person is likely to be a combination of composer, sound engineer, and director. Some of the smaller teams wish they had such a person. Sometimes the programmers can do the mixing, but it would certainly be nice if they could just commission custom sounds and music. That’s where you, the musician, come in. Your job would be to learn the game, then create all the music, and maybe the sound effects too. Without you, a game could be flat, uninteresting, one that does not involve the players emotionally. But with your input, the game might become the next big hit in the game world.
You probably already know how to compose a theme song, background clips for mood, and so on. I won’t presume to tell you what you already know. But how do you get your first gig as a computer game sound person?
The first game is the hardest. After that, your reputation will start to build. I heard that one game music composer has clients on a waiting list seven years long. So, let’s talk about how you get your first gig.
Start with a website showcasing your work. You don’t need to show finished games involving your music. Instead, just design a website with sound clips showing what you can do. Make it as visually appealing as possible. Leverage SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which you can read about in a later chapter. Make it clear on your website what you are about. You’re not just delivering sound clips. You want a position as a game sound designer. Even if you have no experience, if you have a website that brings game design teams, and gives them possibilities, you’ll win their hearts and their attention. They care much less about reputation than whether your music has the emotional content, the context, the j’ne c’est quas that they’re looking for. Interestingly, most game designers are somewhat rebellious at heart. Otherwise, they’d be designing accounting software. So, they’re not looking for music just like every other game has. They know that cloning the competition is death in the game world. They’re looking for something unique, but not so out of the box that your music wouldn’t make the game draw players in.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter that you might not know the insides of the game design world yet. You may not know whether you’re supposed to supply .AVI files, .MP3s, whether certain pieces must loop seamlessly, or whether they want one-second, three-second, or three-minute clips. The programmers or the project manager will tell you what they want. And, they know you are a musician, not a programmer. So, they’re looking for you – not a professional who knows all the technical details, but couldn’t put emotion in a song even if they had a year to do it. Ah, and that’s something they do want: Ideally, your site will let them know that you are efficient and reliable. If they need a change in the next twenty minutes, you can cobble it up. If they want twenty prototypes before they find one they like, they want to know that you won’t be offended because they threw away your first nineteen attempts (as long as they paid for them in one way or another.)
So, make your website speak to the game designers. Give them an action step: Tell them they should email (or whatever way you want them to contact you) at the bottom of every page – if they have money to pay you.
Many new game design teams don’t have any money, and most game design teams are new. So, they’ll offer you a percentage of the profit, rather than money up front. You probably don’t want to play that game. Only a small percentage of games succeed. You’d rather be paid a sure amount, in advance, or at least in frequent scheduled stages. This may be difficult to propose, because the successful game teams already have their sound people, and the new teams typically have no money. But if your website attracts enough attention (see the Websites That Work chapter), you’ll get the team that needs you.
Drilling into that a bit further: To get your foot in the door, you may be willing to work for free, just to show what you can do and build a reputation. But, working for free for a game that never sees the light of day is not going to help you one bit. What you might want to do is approach teams that already have a fair amount of market share, and work for free for them.
Did you see the word ‘approach?’ Yes. You may not want to build a website, then just sit back and wait. Once you have your website, you can do a bit of digging around on the Internet and find the contact information for many of the successful game teams. Write them. It can’t hurt a bit to send them an email offering your services. Within reason, it doesn’t hurt a bit to write to them over and over again. I once heard a multi-level marketer say that she had to approach prospective clients seven times before she closed an average sale. Persistence pays!
You could just send emails stating what you can do. This would be less effective than offering good-natured critiques of the music in their existing games. You don’t want to shoot the existing music down. Instead, just offer specific suggestions as to how it could be better in the next game. Better yet, email them little sound clips. Start a low-key conversation, and let it build into a friendly penpal-like relationship. Eventually, if you’re patient, and if you pursue it every day, magic can happen. You may not get hired by the actual teams you are in correspondence with. But they may know other teams, and pass your name along. Some of my best-ever connections came from indirect approaches.
Teach Music Out of Your Home
Old-timers remember when they could get music lessons for ten dollars per hour. Bill Cosby mentioned that his childhood drum lessons were 75 cents. Not anymore! Independent music teachers get anywhere from thirty to ninety dollars per hour. Many of them are not experts. They are just a step ahead of their students.
For an amusing aside, if you haven’t seen the classic 1962 musical, “The Music Man” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, then look it up. That’s fiction, but the idea is that as a teacher, if you have a winning personality, you can accomplish a lot.
If you know how to break subjects down to their component parts and explain them well, if you are patient, if people enjoy your presence, you could have what it takes to be a great teacher.
Some think of teaching as ‘selling out.’ They think of teachers as musicians who wanted to be rock stars, but couldn’t make it, so they took up teaching. This is certainly true, sometimes. In other cases, people took up teaching because they found it is incredibly enjoyable. There is a certain kind of love in imparting something to a student, and see the student blossom with it. The students look up to their teachers, almost as if the teachers are, indeed, rock stars. This is a nice ego boost, as long as the teacher doesn’t go crazy with the admiration. Then there are the few especially gratifying students who catch on fire, quickly becoming even better musicians than their teachers. The teachers with these super-successful students either proudly graduate them, possibly handing them off to more advanced or specialized teachers, or switch roles, becoming more of coaches than teachers. Some teachers enjoy continued learning, so they can stay ahead of their advancing students.
But one of the coolest things about teaching, in my opinion, is that it is so easy to make good money.
Most music teachers work out of their own homes, so there is no overhead – no costs involved. They charge thirty to ninety dollars per hour, offering half-hour or hour-long lessons. In time, they develop what’s called a ‘studio,’ a schedule that’s as filled as the teacher wants with one lesson after another. Sure, it is probably going to amount to less than $1,000 per week. But, it’s every week! Many millionaires have come from such humble backgrounds – see the Sure-Fire Millionaire chapter at the end of this book. The performing musician might make $1,000 for a single gig, but how many such gigs does the musician actually get? How much does it cost to get to those gigs? How stable are they? The teacher knows the comfort of having a fairly steady income month after month. Of course a teacher can be a gigging musician also. The two activities go hand-in-hand. You can pick up students who have heard you play. The students will help you fill small venues, so you’ll more likely be invited back.
Getting your first students is the only difficult part. Once you do, they’ll tell their friends, who will tell their friends. . .
You can start with a website. These days, websites are super-easy to create. Just get a free account at any of the blogging websites such as Blogger.com or Tumbler.com. Or, you can get an account with GoDaddy.com, and use their no experience required “Website Tonight” service to build your website with drag-and-drop and cut-and-paste. If that’s too much technology for you, you can pay someone to set you up with a simple site. It only has to be one page.
At first, the only function your website fulfills is to give people a way to assess whether you would be good be as their teacher, and give them your contact information. At minimum, you’ll want to list your name and phone number. Tell them what you do – what you’re offering. In this case, music lessons on violin, piano, drums, trumpet – whatever you teach. Let them know whether you specialize in young or older students, whether you work with beginners, intermediates and advanced. Then, you can add a photo of yourself. Interestingly, people feel much less reluctant to phone or email someone they’ve seen.
The next thing to add is SEO – Search Engine Optimization. See the Websites That Work chapter. For a local teacher, SEO works especially well. This is because you can use keywords like “trombone San Rafael California.” Everyone who types “trombone” and “San Rafael” into the search engines will see your page. And, it will be at the top of the list, if no one else has performed SEO for “trombone” in San Rafael. You win!
Then, if you can add some sound clips showing your skill, and specifically your skill as a teacher, that’s all the better. Rather than simple sound clips, you might like to make a little video or two, upload them to YouTube, then link them to your web page.
There’s also an effective low-tech technique. It worked well 100 years ago, and still works as well today: Print up flyers and post them on all the bulletin boards in town. You may find that the local music stores have bulletin boards on which several other teachers post their flyers. Add yours. Don’t worry about competition. Even if someone else in town is teaching the same style and the same instrument, your flyer is as valid as theirs. You’ll find that restaurant, coffee shop, cafe, laundromat and natural food store bulletin boards are also quite effective. Obviously, music and CD shop bulletin boards would be even more effective. Sometimes, store managers will let you put your flyers in their windows.
The best flyers are ones that have your name, and number printed several times at the bottom on pull off tabs. You’ll be surprised how often people pull these off, put them in their pockets, and then call you a week or two, or even a month or so later. You might make flyers in both full-page and half-page sizes, since bulletin boards often have little space.
If you’re going to do flyers, you might as well also print up business cards. Some bulletin boards have only enough space for business cards. You can attach a half-dozen cards fanned out under a thumbtack. You can also use the business cards with everyone you meet. Do you have an ‘elevator speech?’ This is your opportunity to tell someone in just a few seconds, what you do. For instance, “I teach boogie-woogie piano to adult beginners who want to learn quickly and have fun doing it.” So now, any time you’re in any sort of gathering (even while waiting in line at the grocery store), you can hand out cards.
Teach Music Out of Other Homes
You may not be in a place where you can have students coming by. It may upset your roommates, or your family may be too noisy. Perhaps you live in a gated community where too much traffic would be frowned on.
You can do house-calls. Most students would love that. They don’t have to go anywhere to get their lessons! The downside is that you spend money for gas and time on the road. The upside is you can charge a little bit more than the other teachers.
You can also teach group lessons. Perhaps your house is too small for six, or twenty-six people at once. You can be the teacher, band leader, conductor or coach. One person with a big house gets free admission. The others pay for your services.
Teach At Schools and Music Stores
The most profitable way is to be an independent teacher. You can teach out of music stores, schools and other institutions, but you don’t get all the money. The institution keeps anywhere from 25 to 75 percent. On the other hand, if you can get a position with a school or music store, that’s a leg up in eventually building your own clientele. Most of your students will come with you when you break away. The institutions usually bring you students automatically. For instance, when a music store sells a banjo to a beginner, they often suggest a teacher. That can be you.
You might teach out of your home even if you are affiliated with a store or school. Or, the institution may have practice and teaching rooms. You may also end up teaching group lessons. Nothing is as challenging as teaching basic jazz chording to twenty people at once in a room full of pianos, and doing your best to make sure everyone actually ‘gets it.’ From the group lessons, it is easy to pick up individual students who want to learn more.
In some school systems, teachers need degrees in education, but in many, maybe most, the music teachers are exceptions. They typically aren’t on the full-time staff. They are considered part timers without tenure, and many teach in several schools, driving to East High school on Tuesdays, and West High on Wednesdays.
I remember my first days as a music student. I was nine years old. The teaching was partially sponsored by the school system. My parents sent money to the school for six lessons at a time. The school issued tickets that looked just like theater tickets. On Saturday mornings, I went to the local high school. Each music teacher was set up in a classroom. The history class might be a French horn class on Saturdays, the biology lab was where the clarinet teacher hung out, and the drumming instructor was in the Spanish classroom. I paid my ticket at the front door, and went to my classroom, where I met up with my teacher, and fellow student. The lessons were taught to two students at a time. The students were supposed to be nearly matched in skill, but unfortunately for me, it was a real struggle keeping up with the other student. Somehow, I survived.
A few years later, in high school, I had a band elective. It was a sitting band, and we mostly played classical pieces, so it was really an orchestra, but for some reason it was called a ‘band.’ As is typical of high school music, there were six flutes, yet only one violin. There were four drummers, who were made to play tympani, xylophone, and pretty much anything but their beloved snares, hi hats and toms. Of course that’s not the way I’d teach it, and I’ll bet you’re already forming opinions about how you would teach such a class.
The instructor, a Mr. Boxton, was a remarkably grouchy fellow. I don’t believe he should have been a teacher, or at least he needed a major attitude adjustment. You see, one can love teaching, and it is wonderful when one does. But he sure didn’t. My guess is that he always wanted to be a reasonably well-paid musical performer, not a teacher. His mindset was so stuck that he couldn’t have fun teaching. As students under Mr. Boxton, we didn’t have any fun either! But he did amaze me in one way: He knew music inside and out. Not only that, but he could play pretty much any instrument, as he demonstrated numerous times. He could play the brass instruments, the percussion, woodwinds, and strings. He could interpret a classical piece beautifully, yet he could also jam with an instantly improvised jazz ensemble. And he offered hints and tips more than once on musical composition. At the time I was blown away. I still am. Too bad he didn’t enjoy what he was doing. In fact, if only he had known that what he was doing was by its very nature meant to be enjoyable. . . oh well.
Teach At Community Education Centers
While most musical instruction is aimed at children, there are millions of adults who want to learn more. Many have retired and want to take up a new musical hobby. Others are in their middle years, and they too, want to do music as a hobby. A few are striving to become musical professionals. You might enjoy teaching these people. You can specialize in adults out of your home. But you can also teach through community education programs. Most towns of 20,000 or more people have some sort of community education center. It might be called “community education,” “ongoing education,” “adult education,” “university extension program,” or “life-long learning.” The pay ranges from nothing to very good.
At the high end of the pay scale, the school gives the teachers a percentage of the tuition the students pay. For instance, you may teach a six-week class, and get forty percent of the course fee, which might be $100. So that’s forty dollars per student. If you get four students, you’re not going to be making much money. Assuming it is a one-hour class, that’s $160, divided by six hours, equaling $26 per hour. But what if you get forty students? That would be far better than the schools that pay $15 per hour, wouldn’t it?
The great public speaker Dale Carnegie started this way. He approached his local YMCA and asked for a paid teaching position. Nothing doing. So, he offered to teach on a percentage basis. His course “How to Win Friends and Influence People” drew few students at first. But he stuck with it. In not too much time, his course was filled to capacity. Eventually, he was filling stadiums with 20,000 people who paid to hear him lecture. He went on to become a best-selling author.
Run a Music Camp
Imagine a summer camp dedicated to music. Musically-inclined children would love it, wouldn’t they? And you can run it. While you do not actually need to have any musical skill to run such a camp. You do need to be good with kids.
You need to be organized so everyone eats on time, and so there are contingency plans for every possible breakdown. What do you do if the bus is leaving at 10am, but one kid is late? You need to be empathetic with the children. What if one kid just doesn’t get rhythm, or chording, or is disruptive, or starts crying at an inopportune time? In the end, you want them to all have had as good a time as possible. Compared to that, teaching music is secondary.
There was an experimental school in England called Summerhill. The headmaster, A. S. Neill, had a philosophy that children will always learn when they want to learn. Therefore, he imposed no curriculum. He just let the kids run wild – within reason. But around age seven, they naturally started taking an interest in reading. By nine, they were curious about math, and so on. He made sure the materials and instruction were available whenever the children wanted. Know what? Even though many kids started later, they turned out just fine. Better than average, in fact.
The camp can be held anywhere. It can be at a forest retreat. It can be in a converted warehouse. It can even be in your living room. You might decorate the place appropriately so the kids can feel they are involved in something special. It can be a day camp, or a residential camp. You can have a single one-week or two-week session, or have several groups throughout the summer. You can also set up an afternoon camp during the school year. Many parents would particularly enjoy that, since they’d have a trusted place for their kids during those challenging after-school hours, before their work day ends.
In addition to the things that camp always provides – food, fun, camaraderie – you can schedule any of a wide variety of activities. Being a musical camp, playing music together would be a big part of it, of course. Depending on your skill, the children’s skill, and the skills of whatever staff members you might hire, you could have elective classes in composition, jazz, chording, improvisation, other instruments, vocal studies, and so on.
In situations where you are pressed for time, you can play videos that have something to do with music, such as “School of Rock,” and “The Music Man.”
You might have all the kids work together to present a performance at the end of their stay. Most of the parents and interested members of the public would pay a reasonable ticket fee to attend this performance. The idea that it’s a paid show will help the kids feel they’ve done something ‘professional.’ You can use the money to help lower tuitions, buy instruments for the camp, or offer scholarships.
You might start your camp with a list of what’s feasible. What are your resources? What can you line up? Then check all the legalities. For instance, the city may have a park with a shaded or covered area, tables and benches that would be perfect for your camp. Do you need a permit to use that area?
Once you have worked out the details, you’ll want to publicize like crazy. Take a look at the Advertising and Publicity chapter at the end of this book for details on that. The first year is the only one in which you’ll have to work to get enough campers. In following years, if you’ve made the place fun and beneficial for the kids, if you related well with the parents, you’ll not only have repeat campers, but they will have told all their friends, who would just love to participate also.
Buy and Sell Rare Recordings Online
I know a fellow who goes to garage sales looking for older vinyl records. He knows what is collectible, and sells them on eBay. He also dabbles in CDs, but his love is records. He also goes to bookstores, second-hand stores, thrift stores, library sales, and anywhere that he may come across vinyl for sale. He can buy a record for one dollar, and sell it for $300, although more typically, he buys it for five dollars and sells it for twenty. Over the years, people have come to know Ken, and they call him anytime they see an interesting collection of records for sale. His only means of advertising is business cards. It is not an easy way to earn a living, but he loves it!
This fellow is sufficiently successful, and so involved in collectible music, that he doesn’t spend any time with the useless items he undoubtedly attracts. In his business, it is very common to buy a box of typical albums, mostly ones that are worth nothing online, in order to get the one or two gems that may be in the box. In short order, dozens or even hundreds of boxes of ‘useless’ items can build up.
If this seller were more hungry, he could put the popular stuff in the trunk of his car to sell to friends and acquaintances, could hold garage sales, sell it at the flea market, consign or sell it in music stores, or sell bulk lots on craigslist or eBay.
Continue on into the next chapter about sheet music, because many of the techniques used in buying sheet music apply to buying albums in the same way.
Buy and Sell Sheet Music
It turns out that you can sell sheet music and music books on Amazon.com, eBay.com and elsewhere. Sometimes, a single piece can bring reasonably good money. It is not uncommon to get twenty dollars for the right sheet music. The trick to making a living with sheet music is going through a lot of it.
You can pick up boxes of sheet music at garage sales. Most of it is worth nothing online. There is only so much room in the world for more pop collections for easy piano. But collections by specific artists sell well, classical sheet music, especially for specific instruments, sells well.
You can get an account on Amazon.com for free. It takes less than five minutes to set it up. Then, you can sell your sheet music just like any of the thousands of second-hand booksellers on Amazon.
For each piece of sheet music you have, you start by checking the current price on Amazon. Just like a buyer, you enter the title and artist in the Amazon search field. You’ll be shown a list of all versions currently available. You can see what prices others are charging for the same thing. You can also check salesrank. This is a number ranging from 1, for the best-selling piece of music, to somewhere in the millions, for an item that sells only rarely. A salesrank of 0 means no one has ever sold that item. If you find a lot of sellers have the same item as yours, and it has a high salesrank – or zero – you don’t want to waste your time listing it. If it has a reasonable salesrank, and the price is high, just go ahead and sell yours. Amazon changes from time to time, but generally, when you look up an item, you are presented with an option to sell one just like it. You simply describe its condition, and decide on a price. I like to under-price the competition by a couple of pennies for copies in the same general condition as mine, so mine will be the first one to sell.
Just keep listing. Once you have hundreds of items listed, you’ll start selling tens of items per day.
At first you can simply list your items for sale, almost as easily as buying items on Amazon. However, Amazon charges a dollar (US) flat fee for each item you sell, plus a small percentage, unless you subscribe as an Amazon Professional Seller. For forty dollars per month, you no longer need to pay the flat fee, just a small percentage for each item sold. With Professional Seller status, you gain several advantages. One is that Amazon gives you web pages where you can keep track of your inventory. Once you have more than perhaps a dozen things listed online, it is easy to lose track unless you assign a number to each item. You wouldn’t want to ship your very good copy of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols to the buyer in New York, and the acceptable copy of the same music to the buyer in Paris, when it was supposed to be the other way around. So, keeping track is very important.
Some people mix in all sorts of other items to sell on Amazon. If you can’t come across enough sheet music, you can also sell music CDs, books, even books not about music, if you wish, and all sorts of other things on Amazon.
eBay is also a good market. The upside is that you can auction items that collectors may want. If you have a bit of sheet music that two or more serious bidders want, they may go crazy, and you end up with hundreds of dollars for a couple of pages for which you paid only 25 cents. This is not common, however. Therefore, eBay also provides an option called Buy It Now. If you choose to list your sheet music that way, then you set a fixed price. When someone wants your piece, they pay the price, and you mail it to them.
There are other markets through which you can sell online, but Amazon and eBay are so much bigger and better established than the others, that you’ll probably not want to try the other markets.
You can read much more in the eBay chapter at the end of this book.
If you live in or near a large enough community, you’ll find garage sales are a great way to get sheet music. You can get fancy, looking at craigslist to find the sales, planning a route, and using GPS to get to as many sales as you can on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Garage sales may not be enough, however, especially during the winter.
You can also go to second-hand and thrift stores. You can place an ad on craigslist saying that you buy sheet music. You can also place ads in your local newspaper, flyers on bulletin boards, and so on. Handing out business cards is a good long-term plan. As people come across sheet music, they’ll call you.
When you come across a pile of sheet music that you’d like, you might consider the best approach for buying it. If you have a lot of garage sales to visit, and a short time to get to them all, you can just offer a bulk price to pick up the whole lot, even though only a small percentage will be something you can sell. First make sure there is at least some that you can sell. Then offer far less than you might think would be acceptable. You’ll be surprised how little some people will sell things for at garage sales. Often their primary objective isn’t making money, but cleaning out the basement, or getting ready to move. Not everyone is like that, and some may be offended by your low offer. I used to say something like, “What you have there is worth more than I can offer, so please feel free to turn me down, but would you take five dollars for that?”
If you’re not in a hurry, you can go to the other extreme, and pick through all the music, one item at a time. With your smartphone, you can download an Amazon application that is a barcode reader. Aim it at the back of a barcoded sheet music book, and in a few seconds Amazon will show you the current listings and prices for that item. If you come across something without a barcode, you can key in the title and author.
Some professional book scouts go a step further and get a dedicated scanner. This is a device typically built on a smartphone or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, a predecessor of smartphones that were similar, but only had the computer part, not the phone), that has a barcode scanner attachment. It has a pre-downloaded list of everything on Amazon in its memory. This is much faster than waiting for the barcode upload to Amazon, and waiting for a response. The dedicated scanner typically has a bluetooth earpiece that makes a success sound or a failure sound, based on whether the item will be profitable or not. The book scout sets the scanner to chosen limits. For instance, the success sound will only go off if the item has a minimum price of ten dollars, there and the salesrank is below 50,000.
My scanner’s failure sound was a low-pitched beep. The success sound was the ka-ching of a cash register opening. The scanner will also show a big visual display for each item scanned, plus the scout can drill in for more details, if needed. Just like the Amazon app on a smartphone, the scout can enter title and author manually for non-barcoded items. If you get a scanner, you can go through hundreds of items per hour. Some people use scanners once they have purchased boxes of items, quickly making success and failure piles before listing only the successful ones on Amazon. In order to make the best use of a scanner, you’ll want to download the Amazon listings at least once per week, a process that can take hours, so is usually done overnight, since there are millions of items on Amazon. A scanner typically costs $500, if you don’t use your smartphone, and fifty dollars per month for the subscription so you can access the Amazon database.
With Amazon, you can list everything you want. There is no cost for having items on Amazon. For instance, you may find an old copy of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. On Amazon, you see it has a low salesrank, but there are five copies available for literally one penny – plus shipping. How can you compete with that? Well, you probably don’t want to. You might be better off discarding that piece of music, and listing something more likely to sell for a good price. But you can list it if you want to. Sometimes magic happens. Sometimes someone gets on the Tonight Show and plays “Yesterday,” or someone makes reference to it in a popular book or news article. Suddenly, all the one-penny copies sell out. Then the next higher priced ones sell out. Eventually, your copy, that you may have listed for seven dollars, is the lowest-price copy available, and it will sell.
You can’t play that game as successfully on eBay because it costs a little bit of money for everything you have listed every month. Many eBay sellers will discard an item if it didn’t sell for a reasonable price within one month. Otherwise, depending on the type of eBay membership they have, it can cost anywhere from five to thirty cents (US) per month for each item you have listed. eBay does not have salesrank, but instead, you can check items that have closed during the past thirty days. More about that in the eBay section at the end of this book.
A Free Exchange
What if you can’t get enough material at second-hand stores, garage sales and so on? Or, what if you don’t like driving so much? There is another way. It’s called a “free exchange.” The idea is that you set up a place where people can come get as much free sheet music as they want. They are also encouraged to donate any sheet music they no longer want. As it turns out, much more comes in than goes out. People will love the idea that you’re absolutely giving it away, and will support you. They’ll go through their stuff, and bring you dozens of pieces. They’ll tell their friends, who will bring boxes of old sheet music from their garages and attics.
This idea works not only for sheet music, but also music CDs and albums, books, even clothing and bicycle accessories. But it works especially well for sheet music because there is little reason to hang onto it once a piece is memorized.
But how do you make a profit if you’re giving stuff away? What you do is let everyone know that the way you stay in business is by selling online a small percentage of what comes in. As it turns out, the stuff you’ll end up selling is the very stuff that would sit on your shelves collecting dust for years, even if offered for free. And the music that is too common to sell online is the very stuff that your local clientele will want. You see, if you come up with the sheet music for an obscure Mozart concerto for second violin, who in your community would actually want that? But the orchestra leader somewhere in the world who’s trying to collect the music for that concerto will pay whatever it takes to get the second violin part.
Because an exchange can be a component of many kinds of music businesses, I’ve written a whole chapter about the free exchange concept at the end of this book.
Buy and Sell Instruments
Are you a gear-head like me? Not only is playing music fun, but collecting musical instruments can be even more fun! Merely collecting is an expensive hobby. But you can buy and sell instruments, keeping the ones that most appeal to you, and end up with a tidy profit, even a full-time living.
Let’s say you like guitars. That’s a particularly good field because there is a lot of interest, and because there are price guides
Even without a price guide, it is fairly easy to assess the value of an instrument. You can use eBay. As a member, and membership is free, you can check listings that have closed during the past month, and see what people have actually paid for an instrument you’re considering. This is very up-to-date information, compared to price guides which are usually at least a year out of date.
You can discover a neat trick for assessing the prices of instruments in the eBay chapter at the end of this book.
You may already have too many guitars, so the place to start is by selling them. If you have a fairly common guitar, you can sell it on craigslist if it serves your area. If it is less common, then eBay may be a better market, because the local market may not contain a buyer who is willing to pay what your guitar is worth. But nationally, or even internationally, there’ll be someone who really wants your guitar. On the other hand, the common, low-value guitars don’t sell well on eBay because there are so many that the prices are low. The shipping cost is also high compared to the value of a low-end guitar.
You can look for musical instruments at garage sales, second-hand, antique and thrift stores, but you probably won’t find many worth your time. You can advertise through business cards and other ways (see the Advertising and Publicity chapter at the end of this book), and in time, perhaps years, that will eventually bring a lot of business. You can let everyone know at the music stores that you’re always interested. That may bring quite a bit of business.
But you may do better using eBay for buying as well as selling. It is possible to find the occasional deal on eBay, that even with the shipping charge, is such a good deal that you can resell it on eBay for much more. This will hardly ever happen in the auction format, but it can happen with “Buy It Now.” Sometimes people don’t realize that an old Fender Stratocaster is worth something. They’ll sell it for $100 plus thirty dollars for shipping. Some buyers cruise the Buy It Now listings for their favorite instruments several times a day, looking for those deals. This method works better if you’re specializing in slightly off-beat instruments, such as alto flutes. It’s even more effective with high-end or collectible instruments – but of course you have to take a big risk every time you buy one.
You can buy an Armstrong student model flute with good pads occasionally for $100, and sell it for $200. But more often than not, you won’t find that wide of profit spread. You’ll have to pay $150 for a good flute that doesn’t leak, then it will only sell for $200, shipping included. You end up paying twenty dollars for shipping, so in the end, for risking $150, and the work of receiving it, re-listing it, and shipping it, you make thirty dollars, minus eBay fees, which run around eight percent, so you actually end up with fourteen dollars.
With a high-end flute, maybe a Haynes, you can buy one for $2,000, and sell it for $4,000. As long as you play by eBay’s rules, the risk is not that you’ll be cheated by the seller. If you open the package and find it is filled with rocks rather than a flute, eBay has insurance and will cover you. The risk is that you’ll probably misjudge the market until you become more experienced. You may pay $2,000 for that flute thinking that you’ve made a brilliant purchase, but discover that the particular model you bought is the one everyone doesn’t want, and can’t be sold for more than $1,000. There’s no way eBay will cover that! So, this is not a market for fragile dealers!
If you still find the notion of buying and reselling on eBay attractive, then my advice is – start out slowly. Just buy one instrument at a time, so you can learn the ropes without wiping out your life’s savings.
In the long run, volume is your ally. Even the experienced buyer will sometimes pay $10,000 for a collectible violin, and find that it can’t be sold for even $5,000. But the experienced buyer has twenty other violins at any given time, and makes a profit on fifteen of them. This buyer shrugs her shoulders and moves on when she makes a mistake. She can only make a $5,000 mistake so casually because she has built her business slowly, and has gained expertise and money along the way.
Whereas it is possible to buy and sell on eBay, you might find it is easier to use eBay for one side of your transactions, and Craigslist for the other. You can buy beginning and intermediate quality instruments on eBay for a very good price, but you can’t re-sell the same ones on eBay at a profit, usually. What you can do is pick up these low-end and medium instruments on eBay, then sell them to your local market by way of Craigslist. You might be able to pick up a reasonable saxophone for $300 on eBay, then sell it to a local musician for $500.
If you are not capable of repairing instruments yourself, make very sure that the ones you buy online are in proper working condition. For woodwinds, this means the pads must not leak, and all the valves should function properly. For strings, the wood must be in good condition, the tuners ought to work right, necks can’t be warped, and so on. You can expect that you may need to invest in new strings, especially for guitars. If you buy an item on eBay and the listing says it is in good condition, then you are covered by eBay’s insurance as long as you play by the rules. So, with eBay, read the fine print carefully, and stay away from any off-road requests by sellers, such as paying outside of PayPal, or accepting delivery a month after the sale.
I’m not doing this business currently (because I’m focused on being a writer), but let me give you an example of a buy gone wrong: Last year, I bought an alto flute for $750, which is about half what I could have sold it for. Unfortunately, it had leaky pads. I made a weak attempt to fix it, but couldn’t get it right. It would have cost $300 for an overhaul, which I felt would have eaten too much into my profit, so I contacted the seller, who accepted a refund. They usually do, in order to preserve their feedback, but if they don’t, you can contact eBay through what’s called the Resolution Center, and if the seller doesn’t respond with an acceptable solution in a reasonable amount of time, eBay through PayPal, will refund you in full.
Like buying and selling on eBay, I recommend you try the eBay – Craigslist approach with just one instrument to start. If it goes well, try a couple more, and gain your experience slowly, unless you don’t mind having an instrument junkyard in your attic.
When you have an instrument, you simply post an ad, with pictures, on craigslist, and wait for a buyer to come along. You can decide whether or not to wheel and deal on the price. You can decide what profit margin is acceptable. Keep in mind that you need enough wiggle room in the profit to pay for the occasional repair, or outright failure. You might end up with an instrument that seemed okay, but after a couple of weeks, your buyer reports that a connecting rod broke. This kind of thing is common. It has been in your possession long enough that you can’t recover the cost from the eBay seller, but it has been in your buyer’s hands for only a short time, and so you have to cover the repair. Worse, something might break, or go wrong in some way, that costs the entire instrument. Perhaps a cello’s wood turns out to be so dry that it has started developing cracks.
The markup is very nice, and the turnover can be high, meaning you sell a lot of instruments in a short time, when you buy entry level and mid-range instruments online and sell them locally. That is not true for high-end instruments. The problem is that buyers are limited. When you have a 1963 Fender amp that’s worth $2,000 online, you probably won’t have anyone locally who specifically wants a collectible guitar amp of that type. Those who do, are very specific about what they want. The guy who might have bought your Fender only collects Marshall amps, and so you’re stuck with your Fender for a very long time. Even if you lower the price to $1,000, if there’s no one who wants it, you won’t sell it.
This is also true of odd instruments. You might think a bassoon is the coolest instrument ever. But who, in your neck of the woods, actually wants one enough to pay for it?
Besides craigslist, you can advertise in the local newspaper classified ads, you can make flyers for bulletin boards, and you can hand out business cards. Most of these techniques do not work nearly as well as Craigslist. At the end of this book is a chapter detailing some tricks for getting the most out of selling on Craigslist. There is also a chapter about advertising and getting free publicity locally.
It is also easier to buy locally and sell on eBay than buying and selling just on eBay. You see, there are many people who have to move out of town, have run out of money, or for one reason or another have to sell their instruments. They don’t have the time to sell on eBay, or they lack experience, confidence, or don’t want to deal with packing and shipping. You can simply put a couple of ads on Craigslist, one in the “wanted” section and the other in the “Musical Instruments” section saying that you buy instruments. Most who contact you will have something you can’t sell on eBay, or they’ll want too much money. But some will have absolutely great deals!
You don’t want to take advantage of people who are currently down and out, so I recommend paying fair prices, but at the same time make sure you are going to profit sufficiently to cover your time, and make enough money that when something goes wrong, your profit from your other sales will cover the loss.
I like to recommend doubling your money at the low end, and getting at least a fifty percent markup at the high end. If a drum set costs you $100, sell it for $200. If you buy a really nice drum set for $500, sell it for $750. Remember, it will be harder to sell the $750 drum set, because musicians buying in that range have specific notions as to what they want.
During the past ten years, several instrument manufacturers in Asia have come up with very nice entry-level equipment. Oh, the professional musician would complain, but these instruments actually work fairly well and have decent sound. They are sold on eBay for remarkably low prices. You can take a tour of your local music stores, and if they don’t have instruments of the same type and in the price range in which you can profit, you can pick up these new Asian instruments and sell them locally. You can’t quite get the markup you can with used instruments, but it is still good. For instance, a new Korean electric guitar, with a beautiful red finish, complete with a 10-watt amplifier, can be had for $85. You can sell it for $140. Or, you can get a used acoustic guitar in good condition for eighty dollars, and sell it for $200. But, you’ll sell more of the colorful guitars, and you’ll be able to buy them more easily on eBay. For the used stuff, you have to check every listing, and hope that the instrument is in good, playable condition. For the new stuff, once you have established a list of good sellers, you can just reorder every time you sell one.
You can also sell at flea markets, or have a music specialty garage sale from time to time. You can even tote some instruments around in the back seat of your car, and sell them to friends, at musical gatherings, and so on. Perhaps you love recorders, and are part of a Baroque group that meets every Wednesday to play together. When the members learn that you have a collection of very nice recorders for sale, not only will they buy some, they’ll tell all their recorder-playing friends. Just wait ’till Fred finds out you scored an actual bass recorder, and you’ll sell it for $1,000!
Some stores take consignments. Others don’t know exactly what this concept is, but when you explain it to them, they may be interested in setting up a consignment deal with you.
So what is consignment? You can bring items to a store, and they sell them for you. When things sell, you get a percentage of the money the store charged. Typical consignment deals range from 25 to fifty percent going to the store. That’s fair, considering they paid the price to get customers into the store so they’d buy your stuff. The store has to pay rent, utilities, and possibly advertising and employee expenses. Yet with consignment, you don’t! Furthermore, someone has to be in the store all the time. If you had your own small store, that would have to be you.
Imagine the potential. Let’s say you have a hundred collectible vinyl records. You don’t want to have a garage sale or sell them at the flea market. Craigslist would not be a good option, because you’d have an endless parade of buyers coming to your home.
One of the best options then, is consigning at the local music store. Some other stores can work too, such as flexible antique dealers or upscale second-hand stores. If they are new to the consignment idea, you may have to guide them through how it is best done. If they are already doing consignment, you may have to comply with their ways of doing things, which might not always seem best. Each business has their own rules for how they handle consignments.
You will want to agree on a percentage up front. I like to recommend that you accept anything reasonable. Remember, if they get as much as they want, they’ll be more inclined to push your inventory. In a dedicated music store, They can set a price higher than you can through a flea market or craigslist because they attract people who have come specifically to buy the kinds of things you have. So you can come out ahead even with a steep percentage.
You’ll want to discuss security. Who’s responsible if an item is stolen or damaged? What security precautions can be implemented? When do you get paid? What happens if a customer wants to return an item? And, what is the procedure if someone wants a discount? Are layaways allowed, and if so, what are the terms?
When customers ask for discounts, many stores just tell them, sorry, it’s consigned, so the price is non-negotiable. Others allow, with the consignor’s permission, a ten percent discount just for the asking. Yet another alternative is that the clerk will call you when someone wants a discount.
If you can both sign a document that spells those things out, it should work fine. Still, unless the store is trusted, you’ll want to start with a small amount of merchandise, just in case the store owner is so hard up financially that he has to delay paying you month after month. This is one of the biggest problems in consignment. Many stores are unfortunately in ongoing financial trouble. When I see a store in trouble, as a former business coach, oh, I so much want to offer some help! But I have learned to resist the temptation. It only works if they ask.
Finally, with consignment, you’ll want to keep careful track of your stuff. Each item of inventory should carry an identifying mark or tag of some sort that won’t easily pull or peel off. You’ll want to have a spreadsheet, or at least a notebook, documenting where every piece of inventory is, the price, and its current status – at your place, at the store, for sale, sold awaiting payment, or paid.
You may find a cooperative store in town. This is not like a food co-op. A co-op is a store that rents spaces to individual dealers. A typical space is 8 x 10 feet, just enough room for a ten-foot row of shelves, and some display cases or tables. Most co-ops specialize in antiques, or arts and crafts. Some will do general merchandise – clothing, garden tools, books, you name it. As a dealer, you pay rent to the co-op, perhaps $125 per month. In addition to the space, they provide utilities, and retail services. That means, there’s someone at the counter to answer questions, take the customers’ credit cards, and so on.
In addition to renting the space, you also pay a percentage to the co-op when items sell, typically fifteen percent.
In some co-ops, all the dealers are required to put in a few hours at the sales counter. I prefer co-ops in which the dealers pay a slightly higher percentage, but don’t have to spend time in the store. One reason is because you can put merchandise in several stores. You can make rounds perhaps once a week to organize your space, bring in more inventory, and of course collect the money. Selling in several coops, you won’t have time to volunteer behind various sales counters.
Co-ops can be especially good for vinyl records, CDs, entry level and mid-range instruments and musical memorabilia, such as concert posters, miniature instruments, and musically oriented jewelry.
Your Own Music Store
Once you have gained some experience selling albums or instruments locally, you can open a retail store. To some people, this seems like a difficult or impossible dream. Having started five retail stores of my own I can tell you it is not only possible, it can be fairly easy, and extremely successful, as long as you keep some basic concepts in mind.
1. You have to take in more money than you put out.
2. Any time you could possibly spend money, discover whether there is a better, lower-cost way to do what you intend to do.
3. Be prepared to work long hours at first. Once you become successful, you can hire people. Or, you might consider a partnership – discussed in a chapter at the end of this book.
If you have even just a few thousand dollars in your back pocket, you can start a store. Of course it is important that you don’t need that money for something else. There are people who aren’t friends with responsibility, or just don’t have the common sense to start a retail business. They forget, or choose to ignore the rules.
Then, too, things that you have no control over, can happen. I recently read about a couple who started stocking their brand new store when an earthquake hit, destroying all their merchandise.
So, when you have the money to invest, and only when you can spare that money, you might consider starting your own store. The prestige and freedom that comes from having your own place can put a long-lasting smile on your face. It’s your place, so you can decide to host musical jams after hours. You can have wonderful conversations with your customers. The local celebrity musicians will drop in from time to time. You’ll probably eventually end up making more than any hourly wage, and you can hand the whole works over to your children many years later.
Being impatient, I eventually lost interest in my retail ventures, so I did what you can do with your stores too: You can build your store up, then sell the business for what will seem like a remarkable amount of money. The longer you keep your store, the more it is worth. The downside is that you’ll be making so much after a few years, you may not want to sell it. You may not want to kill the clarinet that lays the golden notes.
The idea of starting a store from scratch seems to scare many people. That’s why so many will pay so much for an established store. Having started several stores, I can tell you it is really quite easy. Probably easier than it is to learn to play an instrument.
The first order of business is finding a building. Most stores rent their space. The only way it would make sense to buy a commercial building is if you could sell or rent the building itself profitably should you have a change of plans or a change of heart.
What you’re looking for is a store that is easily seen from as many passing cars as possible. Or, one that gets significant exposure to walk-by traffic. You want one where people aren’t afraid to shop, where in fact, they have come purposely to shop. Parking should be easy and close by. If you rent a location where your sign can be seen by most of the residents – or tourists, you may not need to do anything about publicity or advertising at all.
You’ll probably want reasonably low rent, so you can have as many square feet as possible. On the other hand, trading square feet for exposure can make a huge difference. If you have a tiny store in a well-populated mall, you can make more money then if you have a huge warehouse located where no one notices it.
You’ll want to make sure the zoning is right. That’s easily done by going to your city or county zoning or business licensing office. You can find that office by asking at the local chamber of commerce. You just give the zoning people an address, and they’ll tell you what can, and cannot be done there. For instance, they won’t allow an auto body repair shop in an upscale residential neighborhood. The residents would never want all that noise and paint fumes.
In some seemingly excellent retail zones, parking meters can be a problem. They are the death of a retail store. People would much rather shop at your competitors’ store than worry the whole time they’re in your store, whether or not the 25 cents they fed the meter was enough.
An aspect of zoning is sign regulations. Most communities don’t want unrestricted neon signs multiple stories tall over a little music store. But some areas might be overzealous in their requirements. I once started a 1,000 square foot bookstore in a neighborhood that let me have a sign no bigger than 3 x 2 feet (1 x 0.6m). In my case, there was a ton of walk-by traffic, so that didn’t really matter. You’ll want to make sure the signage requirements in your area are appropriate.
Generally, they’ll allow an ordinary music store in any building that has been used for retail business in the past, but you’ll certainly want to make sure before you sign a lease.
Now, before you sign that lease, you’ll want to write in the one clause that is missing from most commercial leases. It’s missing from most residential leases too. You want an escape clause. What if you chose the wrong location? What if a dog barking next door just won’t shut up? What if your business is more successful than you thought, and you need to rent a larger building? What if a family crisis requires you move to Philadelphia? A typical escape clause – one that the landlord will usually accept – is that you can break the lease if you pay three months rent up front.
Finally, before you sign that lease, you need to work out a business plan. Oh, I don’t mean a fancy plan to show a banker for a loan. I do not advocate starting with a loan. If you don’t yet have enough money saved up, and the ability to risk that money, there’s no hurry. You can just keep selling instruments or CDs on Craigslist, out of the trunk of your car, the flea market, or wherever, until you do have enough money. This is a better idea, because you’ll be proving to yourself that the musical instrument business is profitable, while you learn the ropes.
A business plan just for yourself can be as simple as scratching some numbers on the side of a grocery bag. What you want to see is whether you’re biting off more than you can chew. Figure that you’ll need to pay first and last rent, then pay the rent for a few months until your business is running and established. You’ll need to cover the electric bill and other overheads. If you’re smart, you won’t figure in employees. They come later, after you’ve become successful. This is a business that you’ll run entirely by yourself at first. Finally, you need a starting inventory. Ideally, you already have plenty of instruments, or albums, accessories, sheet music, collectible event posters – whatever you’re going to sell. If you don’t, go ahead and step back for a year or so, continuing to do your business out of the flea market or wherever, until inventory surrounds you. Until it fills your garage, living room, bathroom, and takes up all the space under the kitchen table.
Moving forward, let’s say you have crunched the numbers, and secured a store. Now what? There’s just a little bit of paperwork, and it is easier than you thought.
Through your chamber of commerce, find your local business license office. There, you can get a DBA – Doing Business under Assumed name, also known as a business license. This costs anywhere from $20 to $200 per year, depending on your community. You fill out a one or two-page form with the usual stuff – name, address, phone number, and they give you the license. No one is refused. Furthermore, you don’t have to know anything about it. The people in these offices know that you are not an expert in what they do. The typical person coming in wants to start a car repair shop and knows all about car repair, but nothing about business. So, they are there to help you. They want you to succeed, so you can continue to support the community by paying your annual license fee.
You’ll probably want a business checking account, and in some cases, the local government wants to see this account number before they’ll grant you the DBA. No problem, any normal bank can do this for you in twenty minutes. Most banks offer business checking accounts for free.
Customers coming to retail stores often expect to pay with credit cards. In the past, this was somewhat expensive and difficult to set up. Now, you can go to PayPal.com, and get set up to take credit cards easily. In one of my stores, before PayPal, I couldn’t take credit cards for the first couple of weeks after opening. So as to not surprise customers once they approached the sales counter, I let them know up front, and that there was an ATM a block away. I did not lose a single sale during that time.
Finally, you need to get set up to collect sales tax or VAT (Value Added Tax) in most countries unless you are in a place without sales tax such as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. This costs nothing, and also requires filling out a simple one or two page application. The certificate, often called a resale certificate or tax number is usually given to you right away. They also hand you a pamphlet explaining how sales tax works in your area. You’ll learn what percentage to charge, and which items and people are tax-exempt. For instance, in New York State, American Indians do not have to pay sales tax if they present the retailer with an exemption form. To find the tax office in your community, simply ask at the business license office. They already know that’s where you’re going next, and will certainly have the address. Now-a-days, you can often set up your sales tax account entirely online or by mail.
Collecting sales tax can be thought of as a right, responsibility, or privilege. I won’t get into the philosophy here. The usual arrangement is that you set aside the tax money you collect, fill out a one-page form, and mail a check to your tax office once every three months.
Once you’re in business, you do need to keep track of income and expenses. You’d want to do this anyway, so you can understand how things are going, and what to adjust from time to time to make sure you’re making a good profit.
The old-fashioned way still works: You can buy an ordinary ledger book, and enter your expenses and income by hand. Domes Monthly is a ledger you can buy in any stationery store in the USA. There are no doubt equivalents in every country. Keeping track isn’t rocket science, although it may seem so at first. The only thing you need to do is list everything you spend money on and enter the amount of money you take in every day. You can optionally break out the income into categories such as “new,” “used,” and “service.” You’ll want to break out the expenses into categories such as “inventory,” “rent,” and “utilities.” You may want to additionally list all legitimate business expenses such as “automotive,” and “advertising.”
It is much easier to use automated software. For under $100, you can buy any of a variety of business bookkeeping packages, such as Quicken, or Microsoft Money, that tell you what to do at every step. The people who make this software know that you’re not an accountant, so you’re not expected to know what to do. The software has a lot of built-in help.
If that still seems intimidating, you can hire a bookkeeper for a single session to set up your system, and tell you what to do. Only after your business becomes successful, unless you are already wealthy, do you want to hire a bookkeeper on a regular basis. Some bookkeepers are better at teaching than others. If your first bookkeeper is not good at explaining things, try another.
At the end of the year, you need to figure out your income tax. This too, is easier than it might seem. In the US, the basic addition to your tax forms for business is a Schedule C. It is a single two-sided page. The categories are obvious. But it is easier to get the automated software that does it for you. At the HR Block website, you can do the whole thing on line, and then just pay thirty to eighty to file your taxes. It takes about twenty minutes longer than for someone who is only filing an ordinary 1040.
What if you make a mistake? All the government officials are on your side. Really! They’d rather have you succeed, than harass you. And again, they know you probably not an accountant with an MBA. They want you to succeed, so you can go on paying taxes year after year. If you make a mistake, they tell you what to do differently. They may issue a reasonable fine – just part of the cost of doing business, and you get to move on. No one goes to jail.
Well, okay, I knew one fellow who did. He was a professional ice skater who paid no income tax at all. Still, he wouldn’t have spent six months in jail if he didn’t stand up to the judge and the whole court and make a big presentation defending why he shouldn’t pay income tax. Only rebels go to jail. In fact, even with all the small mistakes all of us make, almost no one gets audited. I’ve received perhaps five letters from the IRS and sales tax agencies in all my 35 years in eighteen various businesses. In each of the three cases where I actually did something wrong, I had to pay a small fine. My fines ranged from $20 to $150. I knew one fellow who didn’t report his income tax at all for several years. This one was a professional juggler. He was probably making around $150,000 per year. He didn’t even keep any records, so no one, including himself, knew how much he made. The IRS stated that he owed them approximately $20,000 in back taxes, which he gladly paid. Of course from that time on, he did have to keep records and pay the appropriate taxes. I know a lot of business people and these two are the worst case scenarios.
Something like a signage violation is so minor that some business people play with them. For instance, in my store that had the three-foot by two-foot sign requirement, I made a much larger sandwich sign and put it out on the sidewalk every day from the first day I opened. I knew this was in violation, and I knew someone would notice it. They did, after two months. The zoning office did not issue a fine. They only issued a ‘cease’ letter, telling me I had thirty days to comply with the law. So I kept my sign out for another 29 days, then I threw it away. It had done its job. I’m not recommending that you play the edge with your local regulations, just letting you know of an experience I had.
Once you are in business, you can get wholesale catalogs and secret price lists. In order to qualify for a wholesale account, all you normally need is to fax or mail a copy of your resale certificate or DBA. Some wholesalers do require a photograph of the front of your store, or they have
protected dealerships. This means that if someone else is selling their brand within a certain distance, perhaps five miles (eight kilometers), you can’t also sell the same brand. This is seldom a problem in the music business. You can find the wholesalers online. Often, they find you, sending representatives to your store, to let you know about their wares.
Whereas you might start your store with only collectible albums, or only second-hand instruments, you now have the opportunity to sell new merchandise. The biggest advantage is that you can buy multiples of things that sell well. I have always imagined how nifty it would be to have a store that sells nothing but 25-pound (ten kg) bags of dog food. Only one brand, only one type. I’d sell them over and over, the same to everyone who comes in. This is of course, is an oversimplified dream, but you can imagine that in a music store it would simplify things if you could sell 100 copies of the latest popular album per day, or a certain student model drum kit that you can sell to five people per week.
In all this discussion I’ve assumed you’re not super-wealthy. If you are, you can start a music store in a 10,000 square foot store, and stock it with grand pianos and the very best collectible guitars from the first day.
The more reasonable approach is to start safely with what you already know, can get, and can afford to put in your inventory. Keep your quantities small. For instance, a wholesaler can sell you six identical Yamaha keyboards for twenty dollars less per unit. Seems like a deal, until you figure out how much other merchandise you could be selling while your money is tied up in those six keyboards. Better to start with one keyboard and pay the twenty dollars extra. In time, you’ll have the big store with the manager, and the service department, and the lesson rooms, and the huge sheet music collection, and the television advertising, and the rows and rows of glistening instruments. You are almost sure to succeed in having that store if you start small.
If you start with your inheritance or a big bank loan, you are almost as sure to fail! You know why, right? It’s about experience, and sense of balance. If you start small, you really get a feel for what it means to have $1,500 tied up in a French horn that takes a year to sell.
If you start small, you understand that investing $600 in a glass display case can wait, because you’re better off investing the $600 in more CDs at the beginning.
You may be amazed at how much a small store can grow, and how it can grow from almost nothing. Especially if you let it be a natural process. Imagine that you happen to like Lowrey organs.
Typical Current Lowrey Organ
Now, that may or may not be your favorite instrument, but they are worth a lot. So, if you happened to like them, you might eventually get yourself a used one on eBay. Perhaps it’s an old one and costs you only $1,000. You play it, enjoy it, and in time get a newer but still used one for $4,000. You sell the first one on Craigslist, and to your surprise, it brings $1,800. So, you put your $4,000 organ up for sale at $6,500, just in case someone would actually pay that much. And sure enough, after a bit of wheeling and dealing, you agree to sell it for $6,000. But now, you have no organ! So you quickly order another on eBay. Two in fact. And you end up selling them. Fast-forward a year, and you have four Lowreys in your garage, and two in your living room, and you’re selling one every week or two. At some point, you realize you’re making $30,000 per year with your organs, and so you quit your job, devoting your full time to it. Now, you’re making $50,000 per year, and have $20,000 in a savings account. So, you rent a store, put the eight Lowreys you currently have in the store, order four more, and things just keep growing.
As the years pass, you almost don’t notice the growth of your business, because you’re having such a good time. You spend your days playing your various organs, demonstrating them to customers, or just noodling around for your own amusement. You get to talk shop with lots of other people who love organs, including your sales people. Eventually you get a Lowrey dealership, and we won’t even talk about your income ten years later, because, well, wealthy people don’t talk about their money!
Many years ago, Jewel Tea and Fuller Brush companies used to have salespeople who did what was called route sales. For those customers who liked, a salesperson would drive to their homes, perhaps once a week, and show them new things they could buy. They sold more than tea and brushes. They carried a rather full line of household goods, gifts and snacks, such as tins of chocolate chip cookies. These sales people sometimes carried samples or things customers could buy on the spot, but more often, they showed their catalogs. Customers would order things that would be delivered by the same sales person the following week. There isn’t as much of that these days, probably because of online venues such as eBay and Amazon. But it still exists in some forms. For instance, a Snap-On Tools truck will make the rounds of car repair shops, tempting the mechanics with all sorts of nifty screwdrivers, vacuum gauges and air wrenches. These tool trucks are large, carrying a fairly large inventory. Most of the sales people from the earlier area used only their own automobiles, or sometimes an ordinary van.
I’m thinking route sales might be something one could revive, in the world of music. One could probably do it with musical instruments, sheet music and accessories, but wouldn’t CDs make an excellent choice? The salesperson could specialize in new CDs, purchased from a wholesaler, or could go with used, offering to trade and buy CDs as well as sell them. The person wise in music could buy especially desirable new or used CDs on Amazon.com, and then sell them to the route customers. At the same time, trade-ins could be sold to other customers, or especially valuable ones could be sold online.
How would one start such a business? I think the usual means of publicity – business cards, flyers on bulletin boards, advertising on Craigslist, and perhaps in newspapers would be the way to go. You might want to look at the chapter about advertising and publicity at the end of this book.
It would be advantageous to have big signs on one’s car or truck, with a phone number that’s easy to see from a distance and easy to remember. The signs would tout the concept of home visits. Once you get a few customers, the rest will be easy. As you make your stops, people will have friends and relatives over who will want to be added to your route. Besides that, your happy customers will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on.
I believe a winning personality would help. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys talking with people, you’ll be more successful, unless you’re the kind of person who can talk all day, and forget to actually sell things.
In time, as your schedule becomes full, you can drop the people who don’t buy enough merchandise per visit. In more time, you might set up your daughter up with another truck and her own route, or set up drivers and trucks all over the country.
Rent Audio Equipment
Remember the two back to back pianists I mentioned earlier? In time, they built up more equipment than they could use, as is typical of musicians. One time, a fellow musician offered to rent one of their amps. They agreed, and this started a side business that they tell me is as successful as their performances. They rent equipment to musicians and to venues. Not only do they have all sorts of microphones, keyboards, stands, amplifiers and speakers, they have also branched out into lighting. In a way, they like the rental business better than performing, because they don’t have to travel anywhere at specific times, and don’t have the responsibility of dressing up and putting on a good show.
With patience, this business is easy to start, especially if you know other musicians. Just do all the usual publicity tricks and let the business grow itself. In time, you’ll learn which equipment people want, how to do paperwork the best way, how much to charge, and what to do when something is lost or stolen, which actually happens only infrequently.
Instrument rental can become a big business. The clientele is entirely different than audio equipment rental customers. You’re renting mostly to children. Actually, to the parents of children. The usual arrangement is on-going monthly rental, which can be more lucrative than renting to professional musicians for one-day gigs.
Like any music business, I recommend starting small. You might have an extra student model saxophone that you’re not using. Perhaps it is the saxophone you learned on. Why not turn it into a money-making machine? If you can find a kid who wants a sax, it is understandable that his parents aren’t willing to fork out $500 to get one. On the other hand, they’d love paying you thirty dollars per month for yours. Then, if the kid loses interest after a few months, as kids will tend to do, they aren’t stuck with an expensive instrument. On the other hand, the kid may love the thing, and you’ll be getting rent for a few years. Hmmm, at $30 per month, three years would be $1,080. Not bad for an old instrument that was just collecting dust.
There is some risk. The sax will probably gather small dents in the hands of a youngster. It may even be severely damaged or destroyed. Generally, the parents will reimburse you for damages, but not always. So along with your profit, you have to figure in the cost of damage and loss. Oh yes, some kids will misplace their instruments, or have them stolen. Again, most of the time the parents will cover you, but not always. Many of these parents simply would not be able to afford reimbursing you for a lost instrument. That’s why they’re renting in the first place.
A few will be real deadbeats. These parents will move out of town in the middle of the night, taking their child and your instrument with them.
Then too, you’ll have kids who are becoming great mini-musicians, but the parents can’t continue affording the rent. It’s a heart-breaking, but a true reality. You, being who you are, will probably have some instruments rented out that aren’t bringing in revenue for months at a time. That’s just part of the cost of this business.
So, it is not only helpful, but necessary to make a big profit in the rental business. The best way to a big profit is to have a huge inventory rented out. It seems to me like it would be a blast to own hundreds of guitars, keyboards, flutes, trombones, drum kits, you name it. If you like repairing instruments, you’ll be in heaven in the rental business!
You’ll want to like bookkeeping too, since you’ll want to design a good system in which you can easily keep track of your monthly rental payments, and the locations of all your inventory.
The first, and perhaps most important step in collecting rent from people who are a bit loose about such things, is to be as official as you can. Have the customers sign a rental agreement at the beginning, and send or email formal bills every month. Send reminders as soon as is practical whenever someone is late. This will take care of most of the payments that you’d otherwise not get if you are disorganized.
You can start with second-hand equipment purchased through Craigslist and eBay. In time, you can hook up with wholesalers who can get you brand new student-model instruments for what you’d pay for used ones. The big advantage with buying new instruments is they are all the same. Let’s say a certain model guitar is popular. You can get as many as you need to fulfill your clients’ requirements, and you only need to get replacement parts for one brand.
Starting an instrument rental business would be similar to starting many local music businesses. You’ll want to do the usual free publicity things, which you can read about in the Advertising and Publicity chapter at the end of this book. You’ll want to let any of the music stores who aren’t already doing their own rental business know that you have instruments for rent. They may even let you put up a flyer on their bulletin board or in their window.
If a music store already does rentals, they might surprise you by sending along anyone for whom they don’t have the right instrument available. Most music stores do not have a very large pool of rental equipment.
And of course it would be great to connect with the music teachers in your community. If you call them out of the blue, most of them will probably be delighted to talk with you. Fellow musicians pretty much always enjoy talking with kindred spirits. Plus, you’ll be making them aware of a service that’s important to them. More often than you’d think, the music teachers have to struggle with a student who’s instrument is in such poor shape that the unfortunate kid can’t get good sound out of it. It’s sad to see a student who’s instrument just won’t play the low notes. Or one that won’t stay in tune for even a few minutes. A rental is the instant solution.
Connecting with the schools can be huge. In many cases, their few remaining music programs are stretched so thin, the last thing they can deal with is the actual instruments. If you get set up with a school system, you might suddenly increase your clientele by hundreds of students.
There are two usual ways to connect with the schools. The first is to make phone calls or send emails. At first, you’ll probably be contacting the wrong people. You might try members of the school board, or the principle of the local school, or even the school secretary. At first, all you’re asking for is “who to contact.” Eventually, you’ll reach the right person. And when you do, it can be good or bad. You probably don’t want to make the connection until you can handle the volume. Do you have enough inventory for 200 more rentals next month? How would you handle that if it should happen?
The other way is to let the school come to you. As your business builds, the right people in the school system will find out about you. When they decide their students need a source of instruments, there you’ll be.
Like so many of these musical businesses, the rental business can be mixed with other incomes. If you teach guitar, you might rent guitars to a few of your students. Or, looking at it the other way, if you rent guitars, you might give lessons to a few of your clients. Each business naturally supports the other, and increases your profit.
Many great performers have performance coaches. Many successful business people have business coaches. The musical coach might be a bit of both. Ideally, the music coach has a background that includes a musical performing success. Yet oddly, many coaches have never been particularly successful in performing, but they are especially good at coaching and teaching. It’s sort of like, “Those who can do. Those who can’t, teach.” This is an interesting expression. The way I interpret it is that if you are especially good at teaching, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you are good at what you teach. The extreme end is fictionalized by The Music Man, a musical mentioned in an earlier chapter, in which an instrument salesman comes to town, sells instruments to all the parents with the promise that he will teach their kids to play. But he has no musical skill. It’s a fun story. Real life isn’t quite as dramatic as that, but there is so much to be said for the ability to inspire others.
The ideal musical coach actually does have some experience in the trenches. So, the coach can teach specifics as needed, like how to hold the bow, or how to reliably hit those high notes. The coach can tell the musician about how to approach a recording studio, advise about what a demo CD should contain, and so on. But, the coach is also a professional friend. One who can listen. One who can support the musical client when things didn’t go well, or when the client is depressed. The coach is especially useful for keeping the musician on track. The coach may be a bit of a nag, or may use other techniques to make sure the musician does show up at auditions, does continue playing Wednesday nights at the restaurant even though the manager is maddening, that the musician does finish composing the lyrics for the new piece. One of the best things a coach can do is get NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) training. This is sort of like psychology, but not for people with mental illnesses. This is psychology for people who just want to reach their own maximum potential. The coach with NLP training can help musicians overcome unconscious blocks to their own success, and keep the musicians inspired. A coach with NLP training can be just the ticket for a musician with stage fright or procrastination problems.
I’ll give you a thought that I haven’t fully worked out yet, but perhaps this is something that will resonate with you, and that you’ll be able to creatively fulfill in your own way. The idea is that you have clients for whom you prescribe music. They may come to you mildly depressed, or may want to become more productive or inspired. You hand them a CD that you have burned for them containing music that will help in the way that they need.
Here’s another idea that’s not fully worked out, but once you hear about it, this may inspire you to fill in the details and create your own unique business.
The idea is that you gather several iPods or any kind of mp3 players and fill them with music, each player containing a different collection. You then rent them by the day, week or month. The idea is that your clientele can come to you at any time, or on a scheduled basis, and trade the player they’re holding for another, so they can be exposed to a new batch of music. This would be ideal for people who don’t have time to build their own music collections.
I don’t know the legalities. Certainly, if you use public domain music, or music of your own creation, it would be completely legal, but otherwise you’ll want to study a bit about potential copyright violation.
Since mp3 players are small, this could be done nationally, or even internationally by mail. This is not entirely different than what NetFlix does with DVD rental.
It reminds me of something I was allowed to participate in as a child years ago. I was becoming an avid stamp collector. I discovered an ad in the back of a stamp collector magazine that said they’d send me a full book of stamps called an approval album. I could take out the ones I liked for my own collection, and send the book back with payment for the stamps I took. I was a trustworthy kid, so after the first few books that came in the mail containing only cheap (but attractive) stamps, the value of the stamps in the books they sent went up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much money to spend, so then the value went back down, until they found my level. I really enjoyed just browsing through the books, and always bought at least a few stamps so that I was sure they’d keep sending more approval albums.
As you know, music can change moods, and even affect decisions. Years ago, I owned a bicycle store. I came across an old reel-to-reel tape recorder that could play three and a half hours of music per tape. I created some tapes as background music for the bicycle store. One thing became obvious right away: Any kind of mild background music breaks the silence and makes the customers more comfortable. Otherwise they hear themselves and others make the ordinary sounds of being human – shoes scuffing, sneezes, rustling of clothing, picking up and setting down merchandise, and these sounds can be a bit embarrassing. So with music to obscure those sounds, people are likely to shop longer, and with freer minds. I then took my experiment a step further. I mixed in a brighter, faster song about every fifteen minutes. As I suspected, there was a rush at the cash register during and shortly after those fifteen minute upbeat interludes. That’s as far as my experiment went, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could make ‘retail’ music and sell it to stores, maybe even chains of stores. I don’t know what form it would take. Maybe something like Muzak, or maybe you’d sell the CDs. I’ll leave it to you to work out the details the way you’d like.
Back in the early sixties, there was a guy that worked in his father’s music store who relaxed at a Liverpool pub in the evenings. A group started playing there that he particularly liked. One day, he approached them, and offered to be their agent. He probably had all sorts of dreams for them, like “We’ll break you out of this local thing, get you recorded, go national, and make good money.” Even though he had no experience as an agent, they accepted his offer. That’s probably because being a new, semi-professional band, he was the first who approached them about business, and like all musicians, the idea of making more money was attractive.
You probably know who I’m talking about. That was Brian Epstein, and the group was The Beatles.
The ideal musical agent would already have connections. This might come from employment within the recording or entertainment industry, or from working as a studio musician or someone who knows the right people to get started. But, as Brian proved, you don’t absolutely need to have the right connections. If you believe in your musicians, if you are a sociable person, and if you are willing to study the Internet and elsewhere to discover how ‘agenting’ is done, you might become the next Brian Epstein.
YouTube is a spectacular phenomenon. Justin Bieber and many others were launched to stardom just because they posted their videos on YouTube. Of course, it’s not easy. For every Justin Bieber, there are probably 100,000 people who post videos that go nowhere. The average musician who uploads something to YouTube gets three viewers, one of which is their mother. On the other hand, it may be worth the effort because when a YouTube video goes viral, there’s instant money and exposure for the musician.
First, you can sign an agreement with YouTube in which advertising is embedded in your videos and surrounding them on the same page. That brings you a portion of the revenue. YouTube is owned by Google, and the ads are Google AdSense, which are targeted. If you have a YouTube video having to do with “shoes,” for example, then the ads will be about shoes. Shoe merchants participate in a sort of auction, bidding on how much they’ll pay for their ads to show up with your video, and elsewhere. They may pay anything from pennies per click, to over $200 per click. An accident law firm, that can make thousands of dollars in litigation, will happily pay $200 when someone clicks an ad that links to their website. Of course, most ads are bid at more like ten cents or a dollar per click. If you link AdSense ads into your own website, you get 65 percent of the amount bid. Through YouTube, it is half that. On the other hand, just being on YouTube, you’ll get far more exposure than with your own website.
You can use YouTube to bring exposure to your site. Not only can you have Google AdSense bringing you money, you can put your own links in your video and in the description.
Let’s say you are teaching piano in Rome, Italy. You can upload a YouTube video that people will enjoy, and in the video you can let it be known that you teach in Rome, and show a link to your website. Anyone living in Rome who is interested in piano lessons is likely to click through, and hopefully become your student. The same would be true if you are a performer. In your video, you let it be known that you’re playing gigs in Rome, and people who want to hire a musician will click through to your website.
If you are like almost everyone else, you’ve put a video on YouTube, and it just sits there. You literally did get three visitors, and now – nothing. That won’t do you much good. So what can you do? Plenty!
First and foremost, make your video interesting to people who are into the same kind of music you are. Not many people want to hear yet another guitar rendition of Canon Rock.
Jerry C, Originator of Canon Rock
There are probably at least 25 videos of Canon Rock on guitar, so who’s going to look at yours? Now Canon Rock on oboe, that would be different. That would be targeted also. While there are not all that many people in the world who are interested in oboe, anyone who is will almost for sure see your video! They’ll seek it out. They’ll enter “oboe” in the YouTube search field, and there you’ll be, with your video near the top of the list. So, you want to give some thought to what keywords people are looking for, and put those words in your title and description. Or another example: You might be good at Roadhouse Boogie. If you title your video “Piano, Boogie Woogie,” you’ll have too much competition. It won’t show up in the search results. On the other hand, if your title is “Roadhouse Boogie” you may be at the top of the list when those few perfectly targeted people enter that keyword. I know it seems counter intuitive to narrow your results to fewer people, but in fact because of the competition for general terms like “rock guitar” you’ll do much better to be targeted. You can read more about this topic in the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book.
If you can get a few dozen visitors, then positive eccentricity can finish the job. If you can put together something that’s different, interesting, that people find so unusual that they’ll email their friends and tell them to check out your video, you win!
Earlier in the book, I mentioned Steve Moore. He is a drummer with an amazing visual component to his performance. Even Steve didn’t get many visitors for the first two years his video was on YouTube. I don’t know what the original title of the video was. It may have been “ZZ Top Cover, The All Nighters.” As you can imagine, that wouldn’t bring much action. Then the person who posted that video (Steve didn’t actually post that one) changed the title to “This Drummer Is At The Wrong Gig.” Next thing you know, the video had two million hits. Now, it’s around 17 million. What happened? First, the title brought more hits from searches, because it contained some keywords that must have struck a resonant chord. The words “drummer,” “gig,” and even “wrong” are probably entered by people in various combinations thousands of times a day. Then, the first thousand people who saw Steve in action were fascinated, and they told all their friends, who told all their friends, who told all their friends. . .
One of the most routinely popular kinds of videos on YouTube are instructional videos. If you can teach people how to triple-tongue, or use the whammy bar, or work out the counting of 7/8 timing, you can get a lot of viewers. If you are a teacher, this is a great way to show your skill.
When you get to the Writing About Music chapter, you’ll find additional information about presentations on YouTube.
Repairing and Making Instruments
If you have the skill and interest, you can earn a fine living repairing or making instruments. You’d be amazed at what people will pay for customizations. Repairing is a highly specialized field. I know one fellow who earns his living just from repairing and modifying amps – amplifiers. Unfortunately, that’s a dying business, as more and more musicians switch to computer-based equipment. This is true of many of the musical instrument repairing fields. Real wooden pianos, for instance, are being replaced more and more by electronic pianos. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, electronic pianos don’t need tuning.
Most of the people who do repairing have spent years learning their craft. You don’t just make an overnight fortune as a repairer by reading “Instrument Repair for Dummies.” It usually starts with someone who enjoys playing violin, saxophone, piano, or some sort of instrument. This person does a repair or two on her own instrument. Then she has a friend who wants a repair. At first she may just do repairs for the fun of it – for free. She may then buy or sell a few instruments on the side, repairing those that aren’t perfect. After a couple of years she has become so good that the local music store starts sending all their instrument repairs – of the kind she works on – to her. Years go by, and she has her own shop, taking work from all the music stores around, and even taking repairs that are mailed from stores and individuals far away.
An aside: I knew a fellow who was a very good musician, and quite mechanically inclined. He decided he wanted to start a brass instrument repair business, which was weird because he was a guitarist. Anyway, he rented a building and bought all the equipment. He made a connection with a musical rental company that had thousands of brass instruments in circulation to the school children in his city. As the time neared to open, he got to thinking about the caustic chemicals used to clean brass. He started worrying. Just before it was time to open his business, he sold it, so he wouldn’t have to deal with the chemicals.
Another aside: Walking around town last month, I happened across a street performer who was playing a bamboo flute. He had a nice sound, so I listened for five minutes or so. I noticed that he had a display of about twenty similar bamboo flutes laid out on a decorative cloth, so I inquired. He let me try several of them, and one sounded just wonderful. He wanted $28, and I couldn’t resist, so now I own a bamboo flute. I spoke with him a few minutes. This fellow was a traveler. In his backpack were a few tools including an electronic tuner. He made the flutes in the evenings, and sold them during the day simply by playing them in public and letting people like me buy them. This may or may not be your cup of tea, but does it give you ideas?
Writing About Music
It seems strange to talk about writing in a book about music, but there’s money in them ‘thar’ hills. As a musician, you love music, and you may like to talk shop. So, you might as well write it down somewhere that you can get paid for what you know. Or what you feel or think. You don’t have to know much of anything to have opinions, ideas, and so on. You might enjoy creating a website, an ebook, an audiobook, or even a YouTube presentation (which starts with a written script).
Instructional websites are a good choice with musical topics. Take a look at www.khanacademy.org where you will find many lessons, most of which are about math. Can you imagine doing something like that with music? Oh, you don’t need to provide hundreds of lessons like Salmon Khan did. You can just provide a few, ones within your particular musical niche. There are several ways to monetize such a website.
One way is to give everything away. You might have beginning, intermediate and advanced bongo lessons on your website. Around your lessons you can include advertising. Google has a service called AdSense, in which advertisers pay money to Google every time someone clicks on an ad. Google figures out which kinds of ads are best targeted to your website, and presents those ads. So, if an online drum store’s ad shows up on your bongo website, some of your visitors will click away to check out that store. The store may be paying Google a dollar every time someone clicks through. You get 65 percent of what Google gets. With my own websites, I seem to get about a dollar for every fifty visits through Google AdSense. You can also use advertising from Amazon, Walmart and hundreds of other companies that pay essentially the same way. Or, you can approach anyone who might like to advertise on your site, make the ad for them, and collect all the money yourself. Or, you can charge your advertisers a monthly fee to run their ads.
Another approach is to offer to design a company’s website. If you can reach and convince the right people at a conga manufacturing company, they may be happy to have you be their webmaster at $60,000 per year. Your job is to not only maintain their conga website, but to provide lessons and all sorts of interesting online material for their potential customers.
Another way to teach online is to provide your beginning conga lessons for free. You also offer intermediate, advanced and specialized lessons, but in order to access those, people have to pay money.
If your music website is more of a news service or a blog, you might consider a subscription. For instance, I knew of a former wrestler who loved writing about and photographing wrestling. He had 800 subscribers when I last checked. These were people who were willing to pay $20 per month to get the latest information on wrestling. That’s $1,600 per month, with his only expense being web hosting, which probably cost him under five dollars per month. That was years ago. No doubt he has many more subscribers by now.
There are already hundreds of websites having to do with music. There are already all sorts of free general guitar, piano and drum lessons. So the trick is to find a niche. You’ve got to face it: You won’t get all the 40 million worldwide people who turn to the Internet for free beginning guitar instruction. In fact, because there are so many websites and YouTube videos already addressing beginning guitar, and so many of those websites already have top ranking in the search engines, you may not get any of them. But if you pick a narrow niche, you’ll get everyone who wants that. For instance, you might pick “Composing Rock-a-Billy” music as your niche. I have no idea whether that’s been done or not, so you’ll have to research it. But if it has not been covered, you can have all of the perhaps 20,000 people who turn to the Internet for that. You may do the research, and find that your topic has already been covered. So, you can sub-specialize in a niche within your main niche that isn’t covered, or check the competition (see the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book), and discover whether you might be able to do a better job.
A relatively new way to make money is through ebooks. Amazon’s Kindle is the main brand. I’m going to guess that seventy percent of all ebooks are Kindle ebooks. That’s because Amazon was first out of the gate and spent a lot on advertising Kindle. Then too, free downloadable Kindle readers are available for virtually all computer, tablet, and smartphone platforms. You no longer need an actual Kindle to read a Kindle book.
Because 40,000 new books are published every day, you can’t just write a book and see it become a best seller. You have to do pretty much the same as you do with websites. You need to do one of two things, preferably both:
1. Discover what keywords people are searching for on Amazon, and create an ebook that addresses that keyword. In this case, keyword should really be “key phrase” since it is most often a short chain of words, such as “Advanced Tenor Recorder.” Chances are, there are no other books with that title. If people are specifically interested in learning more about the tenor recorder, and they enter that keyword, your book will be at the top of the list. Assuming you have an appealing cover, a reasonable price, and a good description, they’ll buy it. If someone is looking for any keyword that contains “tenor recorder” or “advanced recorder” your book may still be at or near the top of the list. How do you know what people are searching for? You can look up quite a bit of free information about Kindle authoring online. You can also use Google’s Keyword tool, discussed in the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book. With that, you can discover how many people are searching for various keywords on Google, and assume the proportions may be similar on Amazon. Then, you can enter that term in the Kindle Store, and see if there are any titles already addressing the keyword. Even if there are, you may be able to write a better book. With Google, people browsing the web will usually pick from one of the very top listings of the first page in search results. But with Kindle listings, they are willing to drill down further. You can be #47 in your category, as one of my books is, and still have a significant number of sales.
2. You can publicize your book. You can give free copies to reviewers, you can put together all sorts of social media about your book, you can participate in forums, where everything you write has a link to your book. You can even pay for advertising, although in most cases that doesn’t work. I have heard that you can buy advertising on Facebook for a Kindle book, and if done right, it can be a profitable business model.
Amazon isn’t the only ebook outlet. You can publish the same title as an iBook on Apple’s iTunes, and as a Google ebook in Google Play, as well as several others such as Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader. What I’d suggest is start with Kindle, since it is the biggest market and easiest platform on which to publish a book, and then if your book sells well, set it up in the other venues. This way, if your book doesn’t sell well, you don’t have to waste your time cloning it for the other markets.
Amazon has a program called KDP Select that offers additional benefits for an author, but if you select KDP Select, you are bound to an exclusive contract for ninety days, meaning you can’t publish the same ebook through other venues.
You can write as many books as you like. If you are a specialist in music of the sixties and seventies, for instance, you can write a general book about the Beatles, a book about Yoko Ono, another book about the Beatles in 1969, a book about early rock in London, and a book about Gordon Lightfoot. You get the idea. Put them all on Amazon, and then be surprised with which ones bomb, and which ones fly.
Did I say bomb? Yes, I have one book that has never sold a single copy. It was an early experiment. If I cared about that book, I would experiment with changing the title a few times. I’d change the cover image. I’d rewrite the description. You can easily get ten times more sales after a simple change. So, experimentation with a slow-selling book is the key.
You might be wondering what’s involved in writing a Kindle book. First, you have to be a fairly prolific writer. A book should be at least a few thousand words in length.
Signing up to be a Kindle ‘publisher’ (KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing) at kdp.kindle.com is free and easy. Once you’re signed up, you can upload the text you’ve created. In order to be published, it has to follow Amazon guidelines. You’ll probably want to use Microsoft Word version 10 to be in the best compliance. It can also be done with other versions of Word or Open Office, but you may encounter challenges for which you’ll have to experiment to overcome. Or, if you have HTML knowledge, you can look up the HTML Amazon guidelines and add the HTML markup manually to your book. That’s the sure-fire way to know that what you’re creating is publishing-ready.
You can add images to Kindle books. You can also add links. Most Kindle readers these days can go to outside webpages. There, you can do things like link to a YouTube video or a website containing a sound clip within your book. You’ll notice that I’ve done plenty of that in this ebook.
Once your book is created, you can upload it to KDP. Then you need a cover. This is a graphic image that generally looks somewhat like a ‘real’ book cover. Again, Amazon gives away the guidelines on their KDP website. You may find it easier to use their new cover creator. This is built right into the pages on which you upload your book, and presents several options. In about ten fairly simple steps, you can create a cover using your own image, or free images from a small catalog they provide. You can then make some adjustments to standardized text and layout, and voila, you have a cover! With their tool, it is easy to create a cover on which the title is hard to read. Try not to do that. Your book will be more successful if people can easily read the title at a glance.
Now, you get to make several choices. The most important one is that if you want seventy percent commission – as opposed to amazon’s 35 percent option, then you must set the US price to between $2.99 and $9.99. You also get to pick which countries it is sold in. Most of my sales are in the US, but perhaps another third of my sales come from the UK, Japan and Canada. I have books for sale in India, France, Germany and other countries, but get far fewer buyers.
Someone published a chart indicating that you make more money with books at $3.99 (US) than any other price, even though you’d sell more copies at lower prices. But then, you need to sell a lot more copies to make up the difference. Prices above $3.99 tend to greatly reduce the number of copies sold. I have experimented with prices, and this seems to prove true.
That’s it. You’re on your way to becoming an established ebook author. Your first book may not be a hit. Or maybe it will. But if you publish ten books, and read all you can about the ebook market, you are likely to be sufficiently successful to become motivated to write more, or improve the positioning of your existing books, and become even more successful.
Digging around in the information I can find, it seems there are literally thousands of books that make $1,000 or more per month for their various authors. Many of these authors have several books, perhaps many of which are each bringing in more than $1,000 per month. Many prolific authors in the Kindle market are making $6,000 or more per month.
To be fair to you, I should point out that there are also tens of thousands of authors who make five dollars per month with their Kindle books. I believe most of them could do far better if they were willing to focus and persist with their authoring. But then again, it is equally possible that some people just don’t have what it takes. I think it is possible to miss the point, be too much of a rebel to pay attention to what works, be overcome with writer’s block, or any of a number of problems that can’t be easily overcome. So, my advice, assuming you are willing to hear it, is: Learn what you can about being successful as an ebook author. Try a book or two. See how it feels. Learn how it works. Take your time. Enjoy the process. See what happens.
Then there’s YouTube. Videos generally start with scripts – writing. So, you might think of a YouTube presentation as a fancy book. It is a great place to publish your lessons. In your YouTube videos, you can advertise pretty much anything you like. You can even let YouTube decide which ads to present, and you’ll get a small payment when people click those ads.
Making a YouTube video is as easy as falling off a log. Just aim your smartphone, press the record button, go to YouTube, and upload your creation.
But making a quality YouTube presentation is much more involved. Ideally, you can control the lighting, the ambient sound, and have a well-designed script. You can get low-cost and free video editing for Mac, Windows, or even a Tablet, and edit your video in great detail, mixing in music, sound, banners, and all sorts of special effects. Some of the video editing software that’s free works great and is all you need for professional quality videos, as long as you have patience and are willing to practice a bit.
Whereas the vast majority of videos published on YouTube have very few viewers, you can do some things to attract more visitors. If you get everything right, and/or get lucky, your video can go viral, such as this one, which had 12 million hits:
Sungha Jung, 12 Million Hits
And you’ll never have to worry about money again. But, as the expression goes, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ What works best with YouTube, as with all these music businesses, is patience and persistence. You’ll notice that’s not Sungha Jung’s first video. He has made many. However many of his videos have also had millions of views each. According to Wikipedia, Sungha is the YouTube leader, with a combined total of over 687 million views and more than 1,950,000 subscribers. So, first and foremost, learn everything you can. The Internet is such a great source of information. There are literally hundreds of articles posted online about how to be successful with YouTube.
One trick that’s not discussed anywhere that I know of is to leverage successful videos. No doubt many people look up great musicians like Jerry C. Perhaps you know of some of the things he’s doing. So, you can build a video with a title something like “Learn to Play Guitar Like Jerry C.” What this does is bring in thousands of hits from people who are searching for keywords such as “Jerry C Guitar.”
Here’s another example: Ocarina is a weird instrument that’s getting a lot of attention on YouTube.
The above video has had over a million hits. So, if you know a thing or two about playing ocarina, you could make instructional videos with titles such as “How to Play Triple Ocarina,” or “Advanced Ocarina Tricks.”
Your first video may not be successful. I think my first video still has had only sixteen viewers! But stick with it my friend, because it might be your eighth video, or your 29th video that is the one that really brings results.
eBay For Musicians
On eBay, you can buy or sell anything from accordions to zithers.
Setting up an eBay account is free and easy. You’ll also want to set up an account with PayPal, a money-handling website that is part of the eBay empire and makes life easy for buyers and sellers in well over ninety percent of eBay payment transactions. PayPal takes care of all the credit card processing and payment details. PayPal is also free.
As a buyer, eBay can be a source of rare items and common everyday things. Often, you’ll also find wholesale lots, and at times you can buy new merchandise for less than wholesale prices.
As a seller, you have a national or even worldwide market, so rare things of interest to only a few people, things that would gather dust on a retail shelf, can do well on eBay. At the same time, the ordinary things such as student guitars, common sheet music, and regular CDs by known artists sell for almost nothing. eBay is generally better for items smaller than trombones, since shipping charges add so much to the cost.
When an item sells on eBay, the buyer almost always pays through PayPal. The seller gets to keep all the money collected except for an eBay fee, typically around eight percent, and a PayPal fee, typically around three percent. The money is placed in the seller’s PayPal account, where s/he can transfer it to a checking account, or spend it in a variety of ways. The seller then packages the item and sends it to the buyer. If all goes well, and it usually does, the buyer can leave positive feedback for the seller. Feedback is a point that’s positive, neutral, or negative, along with optional ratings on issues such as shipping time and communication, plus a comment. The seller too, can offer feedback for the buyer.
So, anyone doing business on eBay can check feedback before committing to a transaction. If a seller has mostly positive feedback, you can feel confident in buying that seller’s item. Therefore, as a seller, you want to treat your buyers well so you’ll get positive feedback.
Feedback isn’t as important as it once was because eBay offers a variety of protection for buyers and sellers. For instance, if you buy a laptop computer, but the seller keeps your money and ships you a box of rocks, you can do more than issue negative feedback. You can contact eBay, and they’ll refund your money – as long as you did everything right. That means to stay within eBay’s parameters. If the seller asks you to pay by some means other than PayPal, or if the buyer asks the seller to ship it to a different address than the one listed with eBay, the protection might be forfeited.
Selling on eBay
As a seller, you might want to build positive feedback quickly. One way is to buy a few inexpensive things. You get feedback as a buyer. But most sophisticated eBayers know the difference between feedback as a buyer and seller, and will want to see your seller feedback. Therefore, you can also start your eBay business by selling some inexpensive things. Perhaps you have some music CDs laying around the house. Sell them quickly, and get your feedback.
From this point forward, let’s pick a sample item, and discuss it as if it is something you really have on hand and will sell on eBay. The item is Rolling Homes, a paperback book by Jane Lidz, published in 1979.
The most important trick to selling on eBay is knowing what to sell, since many items have too little value to sell online. It turns out eBay has a tool for this. So let’s look up Rolling Homes.
At the top of almost any eBay page is a search field. You can enter “Rolling Homes Jane Lidz.” Today, there are three copies for sale, ranging in price from $42 to $59. The prices and quantities will vary from day to day.
So far, we have learned that it seems to be a fairly valuable book, but we don’t exactly know how valuable. These auctions haven’t closed yet. Will anyone actually bid? How high will they bid? Let’s find out.
To the left of the listings, you have a column of refinements you can click, to limit your search based on condition, category and other things. In that column, click More Refinements, then Show Only. Check Completed Listings then click the Go button.
Now you’ll see a list of items that sold during the past thirty days with the prices marked in red and green. Items marked in red mean the item never sold. It may have been an auction that ended with no bids, or the seller may have pulled it off the market. Items with the prices in green did sell. Today, I see that six copies sold, ranging in price from $39 to $45. So, it’s worth selling, don’t you think?
Grab your camera and take a few pictures. eBay will allow for up to twelve free photos for each item you list. The first one will appear as a thumbnail – the little image to the left of a listing when shown in a group of similar listings. So, it should probably give an overview image of the book. It’s best to photograph items against a solid color background, so they are easy to see. I often use a red background, so if there are many similar listings, mine will stand out. You might also prefer a bright blue, green or yellow background. This is only a small advantage, so a white, even a wood-grained background is fine too. You’ll want your lighting about right, clear focus, and medium to very slightly higher than normal contrast. In the case of a book, shadows aren’t much of a concern, but with non-flat items, you’ll want to make sure shadows don’t obscure important details or make the thumbnail image hard to figure out.
Next you might take some other pictures, such as of the back cover, and maybe the table of contents pages.
Does your book have any flaws? If the cover is dog-eared or stained, maybe a close-up of the flaw would be a good idea. When selling on eBay it is very important to clearly note flaws both photographically and in the text description. You don’t want negative feedback, and you don’t want to refund someone’s money because they were disappointed.
From the top of the eBay home page, you can click Sell, then Sell Your Item. You are given a field in which you can enter what you have, and eBay will give you matching categories. In the case of this book, it is easy. You can simply enter the ten or thirteen digit ISBN number that most published books have. Or you can browse to pick a category. Books | Nonfiction seems the most likely category, since this is a nonfiction book. But an option might be a category for motorhome accessories, since this book is of particular interest to the recreational vehicle crowd.
For music CDs, enter the UPC code found just under the barcode on the back. Most CDs have UPC codes.
Now it is time to enter a title. This is not usually the place to be creative. You want to enter exactly what buyers for your book are searching for. So it would probably be “Rolling Homes by Jane Lidz, 1979.” Since there is room left over, you might pitch your book a bit. If it is in excellent condition, you can say so: “Rolling homes by Jane Lidz, 1979, Excellent Condition.”
Then you get to enter details such as listing the flaws your copy has, the publication year, a condition category, and some other things. Definitely enter the ISBN, or if it isn’t a book you’re listing, enter a model or part number if one is available.
Then you get to upload your photographs. Below that, you can enter a description. For a book, if you have already entered condition notes, such as “very minor yellowing, slightly dog-eared” then a description is not usually required. You could give a synopsis of what’s in the book, but most book buyers already know what they want. If you’re selling something else, like a hat, you can describe it and pitch it to the best of your creative ability, keeping in mind that superlatives can actually hurt sales. So you might say something like this about a hat: “Size 7-3/8, hat in a vibrant purple. The brim measures fourteen inches in diameter. The material is felt. Very slight shiny wear along the top edge that can’t be seen from more than five feet away. This hat was worn by people who felt sure of themselves in the fifties, and it still has that effect today. This is just the hat for a confident and stylish resident of current times.”
There is no limit to how long your description can be. That doesn’t mean your description has to be long. Getting back to Rolling Homes, no description at all is adequate. However, you could state something like, “I found this book fascinating, and so I took a half-hour break to study it. A half-hour doesn’t really do it justice. A couple of full-time days would be more like it. I don’t really want to let it go, but you’ll probably enjoy it even more than I did. You will find photos of converted buses and trucks in these pages that you just wouldn’t expect.”
Keep in mind that an overly optimistic pitch like this doesn’t really help most products, so if you value your time, you might limit your descriptions to the basic facts.
As you are working your way down the page, you’ll see options that cost extra money such as sub-title and Gallery Plus. Most of these options have no effect on sales, but do generate extra income for eBay. Don’t worry, they have plenty of money already, so I recommend that you do not select any enhancements that cost money.
Now, you get to choose whether to sell it as an online Auction item or Fixed Price, also known as Buy-It-Now.
If you have an item that’s rare or collectible, and it is possible that two or more people will want it no matter the cost, then Auction is the way to go. You can start the bidding at whatever price you choose, and then decide if you’ll let the auction run for one, three, five, seven or ten days. If after that time, no one was willing to pay your minimum price, you get to keep it, or try selling it again. If only one person in the world wants it, it will sell for your minimum price. On the other hand, two or more people can get into a bidding war.
I listed an old wooden radio with a starting bid of fifty dollars. At the end of the first day, the price had risen to $200. When the seven-day auction closed, the high bidder paid me $1,200 plus shipping. This is a bit unusual in that the price went to $200 on the first day. Many experienced auction buyers wait until the last minute to bid, feeling that if they bid too soon, the higher price will only encourage other bidders. Taking that a step further, there is software that will bid on the buyers’ behalf at the last possible moment.
On the other hand, you might have an item that is common, and many copies are available on eBay. This might be better sold as a Fixed Price item. You can set the price at, or slightly below the other ones currently being offered, unless the condition of yours is above the others. Fixed price items are more likely to sell because many buyers don’t want to play the auction game. They want an item as soon as possible, and they want to know for sure that they won the transaction. They don’t want to wait a week to see if their bid was sufficient.
To get an idea about which items do best as Auction, and which are most often sold as Fixed Price, you can look again at Completed Listings, and see which were offered as Auction and which as Fixed Price. You can also study how other sellers handled shipping charges, and which categories they listed successful and unsuccessful items in. You can click on any item to drill in and see the pictures and read the description to figure out what the seller did, and whether it worked well – made money – or not. From there, you can even click on statistics to find out what kind of feedback the seller has, what other items the seller is currently selling, and what items the seller has actually sold during the past thirty days.
To give you another view on Fixed Price versus Auction, imagine that you have two saxophones. One is a regular student-model Bundy. The other is a Selmer Paris. There are two other Bundys for sale like yours. There are no Selmer Paris saxophones. So which one will do better sold as fixed price, a which is a better play for an auction?
Another example: You have a James Taylor CD that you’ve seen a hundred times before. There are six of the James Taylor CDs on eBay already. That would be fixed price – that is if the others aren’t already being sold for so little that you won’t make enough money. On the other hand, what if even though you are an expert on James Taylor, the James Taylor CD is an album you’ve never heard of? Some crazy obscure thing. Right, auction!
After some more choices on the eBay page, you get to decide about shipping options. You can have the buyer pay a shipping fee in any amount you choose, or you can include free shipping. Free shipping may make some items feel less costly to the buyers, but most are sophisticated enough to know that the shipping cost is absorbed in an inflated overall price. So, I generally go with an added shipping charge – charging slightly more than the packaging material and actual shipping cost. If the shipping price is too inflated, you may lose sales and get negative feedback.
You can figure out shipping costs at the major shipper websites. For instance at USPS.com (the United States Post Office), you can enter package weight, dimensions if needed, a specific shipping service such as Priority Mail, and figure out how much an item will cost to ship. Don’t forget that it will cost about a buck on average for a box and packing materials, unless you use the free Priority Mail and other envelopes and boxes supplied by USPS.com. It’s pretty much the same for UPS and Fed Ex. USPS tends to be a bit less costly for items under two pounds (one kg) in weight. In time, you may want buy a postal scale. Make sure to get a model that goes to at least twenty pounds (ten kg). When I started out, I had a five pound scale, and was constantly frustrated at having to guess the weights of six and seven pound packages.
Keep in mind that when you just ship an occasional thing on eBay, you can take all the time in the world to develop your own packaging out of old cardboard boxes and junk you have in your garage. But as you start shipping five or ten items a day, you’ll want to spend some money on consistent packaging materials to save valuable time.
Also keep in mind that some things are really hard to ship. A stand up bass will be much harder to package than you can imagine, until you’ve done it once. Not only that, a bass probably exceeds the maximum size that the Post Office and UPS will allow. This reduces your shipping options and raises your cost. For fragile items such as guitars, double-boxing is best. Pack your guitar securely in a box, as if it had to survive a run-away conveyor belt, falling off the back of a truck, and an angry delivery person. Then, put that box in a larger box, with at least an inch (3 centimeters) of padding all around.
If you live near a fairly large population, you can sell large items that are not cost effective to ship. You might have a chair that’s only worth fifty dollars, but the shipping cost would be another $100. So, shipping it is not a viable option. Instead, you set the shipping arrangement as No shipping, local pickup only. People in your area may bid on the chair and come by your place to pick it up. This severely reduces the number of people who are likely to want it. Occasionally, for a particularly valuable item, people will drive a thousand miles to come get it. This happens with antique tractors, for instance.
eBay has a program called Global Shipping for US sellers. For most categories of items, you can click a check box, and Global Shipping will be allowed on your listing. If someone in one of the qualifying countries (not all countries are supported) buys your item, they pay an amount that’s more than the shipping charge you’re asking. You are reimbursed the same as if you were shipping to a US customer. You are given an address of a building in Kentucky, where your item is packaged with all other packages currently going to the same country and shipped in a big lot. Once it arrives in the receiving country, it is then mailed to the buyer using the best local transportation company. This saves the buyer money, and makes your life much easier. Otherwise, you’d have to figure out a price for the non-USA buyers, and fill out a customs form for each item you send. You’d also be responsible for refunding in the cases of lost packages, which is unfortunately common in overseas shipments. eBay takes care of all those things for you with Global Shipping.
When you list an occasional item on eBay, you pay thirty cents (US) for a fixed price listing, plus closing fees when it sells. If it doesn’t sell in a month, you’ve lost thirty cents. You have the option to keep it listed for another thirty cents. You can imagine that for a thousand items, this starts to add up.
The answer is eBay Stores. You can get a store subscription for twenty to $200 per month. At the highest level, you get to list 2,500 items with no listing fee, and after that, each item is only five cents. So, you can keep thousands of items listed month after month for a few hundred dollars per month. Once you have thousands of items, a mere few hundred dollars in listing fees won’t seem like a whole lot. Stores give you some other advantages. Your listings that are similar to what others have are in some situations promoted higher in eBay search results. You can have a ‘presence’ on eBay, with webpages specifically dedicated to your store. eBay will allow users to opt into a mailing list, so you can email advertisements to those people periodically. You get some special features, such as the ability to run a sale across all, or selected portions of your listings. And you get to use a section of eBay called Selling Manager Pro. With this, you can change prices of up to 500 items at a time, as well as many other bulk and individual adjustments. Let’s say you want to add Global Shipping to all your items. Just a few clicks, and they are all changed.
Having sold over 20,000 items on eBay, I have found that eBay, and PayPal are good, responsive, reliable companies. I’ve also heard all sorts of rumors that PayPal does this ‘nasty’ thing, and eBay does that horrible thing. None of these rumors have proven to be true for me. If you have a store on eBay, they offer additional options in support, including as much free support by phone as you’d like.
I’ve found that the best way to get the most profit out of the common, non-collectible items you list, is to use Fixed Price with what I call a reverse auction. I start the prices of everything way too high, then, lower the price by one percent per day using Selling Manager Pro. A few people will buy things at the way too high price. Most others will buy them when the price falls to market value.
Buying on eBay
The experienced eBay buyer can come across fantastic deals. Once the things arrive, you can sell them on Craigslist, through your own retail store, on consignment, or in some cases, you can put them back on eBay.
When something comes up that you might be able to buy profitably, you can do a bit of quick research.
First, you can see whether others like it have sold in the past thirty days on eBay, and how much money people paid. As I mentioned earlier, you can just enter the item in the search field at the top of almost any eBay page, then select Completed Listings from the options at the left. Items that have their prices shown in red didn’t sell. Perhaps the auction ended with no bids, or the seller found a local buyer. Items in green did sell. When looking at green completed listings, make sure to factor in the shipping charge. For example, a cello that sold for $100, really cost the buyer $195, when you add in the $95 shipping charge.
That tells you the eBay price, but eBay prices, especially on musical instruments, are often depressed compared to what a person who can actually touch and play the instrument, such as a local Craigslist buyer, is willing to pay.
You might check Amazon.com and elsewhere to see if there are current price guides for the kind of items you focus on. I refer to my current acoustic guitar price guide from time to time. Old price guides will mislead you, so make sure to get the up-to-date one.
Look at the item’s pictures and read the description carefully. Are there any photos that ought to be there but aren’t? For instance, if you can’t see the back of a guitar, it might be because the seller is hiding a crack in the wood. Descriptions can be deceptively worded, not clearly letting you know that parts are missing, or the item is misbehaving in some way. One thing that is seldom discussed, but can be important, especially for items with cloth or leather components, is the odor of mildew, stinky perfume or cigarette smoke. You can contact the seller with questions that the description left unanswered.
In the rare case that the photos and description are clear, the seller is responsible if the item that arrives is not as expected. If the seller won’t make good on the deal, eBay has buyer protection – a kind of insurance – to back you up. In the worst case scenario, assuming you played by eBay’s rules, eBay will refund your entire purchase price. Still, you may have to package and ship the item back to the seller at your own expense.
Feedback can be a good indicator for a buyer. If a buyer has almost 100% positive feedback, and a lot of it, you can pretty well trust that all will be fine. If there is some neutral or negative feedback, you can drill into it and see what happened. Some negative feedback is totally unfounded or just plain crazy! There is a small percentage of people who are not quite sane, and they sometime leave inappropriately negative feedback.
Recently, I bought a laptop computer that was slow to arrive. I was not surprised that it took a while, since the seller had three negatives in the past month, all were about having taken more than a month to ship the items. I bought it because I knew eBay Buyer Protection would cover me if it didn’t arrive at all. In another case, a seller had two negatives in the past month. In both cases, he took parts out of the laptops before shipping them. In my opinion, that’s just plain weird, but on eBay, you’re dealing with everyone and anyone, so this kind of thing can happen. Needless to say, I didn’t buy that person’s computer.
There are two best ways to buy things on eBay.
The first is exactly what you would expect: You can bid on items being auctioned, and if your bid is higher than anyone else’s, you’ll win. Auctions can run one, three, five or ten days. You can bid any time you want, and you can bid as much as you’re willing to pay. Even though your maximum bid may be quite a bit higher than the current price, your actual bid is only one increment up from the current high price, generally a dollar in the USA. So, if an item has been bid up to $78, and you enter a maximum bid of $150, your actual bid will be only $79. But, if someone then offers eighty dollars, your bid goes up to $81. Because almost everyone offers maximum bids in excess of the current price, the price can suddenly jump as the automated maximum bids duke it out. If the current high bid is $79, and the other person’s maximum is $140, then as soon as you offer $150, your actual bid goes to $141.
Everyone believes it is best to bid at the last possible moment. This way, people won’t see that others are interested, and the casual buyers are less likely to bid. You can watch items’ bids grow during the last minute. It is kind of fun to see, unless you are one of the bidders. You’ll see a Zildjian cymbal go from $20, to $22, to $35, to $91 to $148 all in the last few seconds. Some bidders are actually sitting at their keyboards physically clicking their mice at the last possible moment. Others are using ‘sniping’ software that will bid for them, based on rules they have set minutes or even days before.
Occasionally, items that were set to end in the wee hours of the morning will get fewer bids. Items that are only appealing to a few buyers, none of whom have been watching eBay lately, may close at the minimum bid, or no bids at all. Items that are imperfect in some way that you are willing to accept can be good deals. This is especially true if you can repair musical instruments, and know exactly what’s wrong with an item being offered. One of the best ways to get things is to find items that are not properly described, or even misspelled. What if you search for “gituar?” You may find a very good guitar that no one has bid on, because when they entered “gituar” it didn’t show up in their searches. This is especially true if the gituar is also listed in the wrong category. I once saw a guitar listed under fountain pens.
The other way to buy, and one that’s more consistent, less stressful, but also less exciting, and perhaps less profitable, is to find Buy It Now listings that are too low. A seller unloading his old student-day stuff might not realize that a saxophone in any reasonable condition is worth hundreds of dollars, and list it for $75. This happens more often than you’d guess.
The problem is that there are other dealers also looking for undervalued saxophones. So, the listing may only last an hour or so before someone snaps it up. The professional fixed price buyer has bookmarked eBay search results sorted into just the right criteria, and checks the pages several times a day. For instance, the saxophone buyer may be looking in Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Saxophones, with settings for Fixed Price Only sorted by Most Recently Listed First, and a price range under $200. The same buyer may have another bookmark on “Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Flutes and a maximum of $150. She may also have entered “-wood -wooden” in the search field, to exclude all the wooden flutes.
Did I say snapping up Fixed Price offerings is less stressful? Maybe not. When you see something that just came up, you’ve got to quickly read the description, check the pictures, check the shipping charge, check the seller’s feedback, then maybe check a price guide, and see if you already have too many of the items in your inventory, all before someone else buys it. But this can be fun, right?
When considering a partnership, you want to look for someone who has what you don’t have. Starting out with a partner who has the same strengths and weaknesses as you, means something won’t be covered. That’s a recipe for disaster. Generally, the three ingredients that a partnership (or an individual) needs are time, experience, and sometimes money. There’s a fourth ingredient – one that all partners need, and that’s enthusiasm. You absolutely don’t want to start something with someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea.
Before forming a partnership, assess carefully your partner’s personality. Will you be able to get along with this person? How about in cloudy weather? Is the person lazy? Does the person have shoddy ethics? Is the person obstinate?
I once saw a bicycle shop almost destroy itself because one partner of the three who owned it suddenly decided that they needed new wall-to-wall carpeting just a few months after starting the store. That would have cost $10,000. I think any objective person would agree that carpeting was not a top priority in that store. It had a painted concrete floor that was just fine. But, he couldn’t be talked out of it, and the partners nearly came to blows. Finally, the two other partners bought this fellow out, at an inflated price that took them years to recover.
In another case, a partner got evicted from his apartment, and decided to live in the inventory storage area, against his partner’s wishes, leaving little room for the business, and violating the local zoning ordinance. This fellow would do things like wake up, and walk out among customers in the showroom at eleven am unshaven and shirtless. Nice partner, eh?
In putting together a performing group, whether it’s a duo, trio or a large band, all the members must have enough interest in the project that you can be absolutely sure they’ll show up at gigs on time. They must also be the sort of person who won’t embarrass the group by staggering around on the stage, or say inappropriate things while mixing with the audience. You also need musicians who are in alignment with your group’s philosophies and musical style. Finally, a band member must have their emotions sufficiently in check to avoid damaging the band’s potential as a group. All this is necessary, in addition to being an adequate musician.
So, if you’re going to consider a partnership, think about all the things that might go wrong with your perspective partners. Do not mention the idea of a partnership to any of your prospects until you are absolutely certain. It is harder to burst their bubble after you’ve created it, than before they know a partnership is possible.
Family members can be the best, or the worst! I think you know what I’m talking about. A grandfather-grandson (or grandmother-granddaughter) partnership can be wonderful with the right people. I’m sure you can think of several successful family musical groups such as the Trapp Family, Jackson Five, and the Haygoods.
Let’s say you have a brother-in-law who has been in jail twice for drunk driving. He’s unemployed again because he came to work too hung-over. You might think that if you offer this relative a partnership, it will help him. Wrong! You must, absolutely must, consider partners for their strengths, not their weaknesses, if you intend to succeed. And if you don’t succeed, it will not help your brother-in-law in the slightest. It will probably make his lack of self-esteem worse.
How many partners should you consider? The minimum number you can get away with. If all you need is someone with repair skill, or someone who can play drums, then one partner is sufficient. Additional partners means that the profit is split smaller. It also means it is harder to make decisions. Larry Page and Sergei Brin have been very successful with Google. When it came time to make decisions, they had a brief discussion, came to an agreement, and moved forward.
On the other hand, I knew of an organic restaurant that had seventeen partners. One of their specialties was waffles. They had one waffle iron, and so customers had to wait up to 45 minutes for their orders in the morning. So, the seventeen of them had a meeting to decide whether they should buy a second thirty dollar waffle iron. The meeting, argument really, ran until after midnight, and they couldn’t come to a decision. In fact, it was weeks before they could all figure out that thirty dollars was a reasonable price to pay for another waffle iron to satisfy their waffle customers.
Once you’ve sorted out who your partners are going to be, you need to state some things up front. Is one going to be a silent partner? If so, how silent? How will various kinds of decisions be made? For instance, the person who’s just about to book a gig probably shouldn’t have to place a phone call to another partner before the gig can be scheduled. What happens as the business grows? Do you add more partners? Do you hire employees? How do the partners decide on new employees?
In summary, all the terms of partnership need to be discussed. More than discussed. You want the major points in writing, and a contract signed by all partners.
The very most important clause in that contract will be an escape hatch for each partner. What happens if the business loses money? What happens if a partner becomes sick or dies? What happens if two partners can’t stand the sight of each other after a while? Escape clauses need to be fluid. For instance, if a partner wants to leave early on, his value in the business is worth far less than after five years. These escape clauses must be manageable, so that it is truly possible to make changes in the partnership as needed. For instance, a very bad escape clause would be that if a partner leaves, the others have to immediately pay her $500,000. If this is all spelled out in writing ahead of time, all will be well in these eventualities – or at least as well as it can be.
Another consideration in partnerships is your own personality. Take me, for example. I don’t like to share my decisions with anyone. I have always been a sole proprietor. I’d make a horrible partner unless I was allowed to run the show 100 percent.
So, on the opposite end of the partnership spectrum is sole proprietorship. The individual doesn’t have to defer to anyone before making major decisions. 100 percent of the profit goes to the individual. That’s huge, even with just two partners. Let’s say that the profit of a business is $60,000 per year. That means that an individual takes home $60,000. But two partners owning the same business would only get $30,000 each.
There’s also an ego component. I love being able to say, “I own this.” For me, it would be miserable to say, “I own a portion of this.”
Getting back to the original question, what if you don’t have the time, experience or money to start a music business on your own? And once again, there is a very simple answer. Start something evolutionary. Do you really need a drummer, or just a drum machine? How many solo musicians can you think of? Start something that you can manage, and let it build as you gain experience, money, whatever you’ve been needing.
The Sure-Fire Millionaire
As I indicated in the last chapter, partnerships are expensive. I mean, really expensive. I’m not saying don’t get partners, I’m just saying you should consider expensive options carefully, weighing them against potential profit.
For instance, you might think the decision to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks is simple – just do it. But what if I tell you that cup of coffee will cost you $26? Would you still buy it?
Let me explain. If instead of that three-dollar cup of coffee, you put the money in an investment such as a mutual fund, and leave it there for twenty years, it will, on average, turn into at least $26, maybe much more. I knew a fellow who understood this so well that he made millions of dollars, yet he worked for nearly minimum wage.
When I met him, Brian was 48 years old. He had retired with several million dollars two years earlier at age 46. When he was 26 years old, he got a job for Sears, driving a van, and repairing washing machines and driers in peoples’ homes, which pays just a bit more than minimum wage.
At one home, Brian met a couple who told him that he ought to ‘pay himself first.’ He asked what they meant, and it sounded like a good idea. So every week, he took 25 percent of his paycheck after taxes, and put it in a savings account. Then whatever was left went to rent, food, and fun. That wasn’t very much, but he wasn’t making very much in the first place.
Week after week, Brian kept it up, until he had $10,000 in his savings account. He knew he’d have to learn something about investing. Even though he didn’t feel like learning about that, he went to the library and started studying up – this was before the Internet. He learned about mutual funds, municipal bonds, money market accounts, and even some things that didn’t begin with “m.” He moved the money from the savings account into better investments.
Brian was content with his job at Sears, and not really qualified for anything else. He kept ‘paying himself first’ year after year. Early on, he could certainly have purchased a 35-inch TV, or even a 42-inch TV, but he knew how much that would actually cost. He felt his 21-inch TV was just fine, considering the bigger picture.
He learned to buy only the best car he could buy with cash – no payments. At first, this meant he had to keep his old car a few years longer than he might have.
He couldn’t really impress people with material goods. (He did impress people with his common sense.) He couldn’t buy fancy clothes. It had to be Walmart, and only when necessary. Sometimes he bought clothes at the thrift stores. After twenty years, he retired. He can now have pretty much anything he wants. He dresses well. He travels when he wants. Brian has a new Jaguar that cost $88,000, paid with cash, of course. Now, he can really impress people with material goods!
I think you can see that Brian was patient. Patience is a wonderful attribute in business. Just about any musical business you start, if you are patient, if you are willing to accept the occasional setback, grow it slowly, stay interested, you’ll be successful. Maybe even beyond your wildest dreams!
The Psychology of Making Money
Here’s another little story about patience in business. Steve was a science-fiction writer. Or, well, he wanted to be. He figured that if he could co-write with the big names in science fiction, he’d succeed. He pitched ideas to Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein and others, and some of them accepted the idea of co-writing with him. For eighteen years, he wrote with these famous writers. One after another, the books flopped. The publishers would pay a small advance, then no royalties came in. To make ends meet, he taught English at the local college. Eventually, Steve’s name became poison in the industry. No one would write with him any more. All these great writers learned that if they wrote a book with Steve, it would fail.
Out of desperation, he wrote a book by himself. It became an international best seller.
Now, eighteen years is extreme. I tell the story only to illustrate patience. For you and I, just a few months can seem like years. But if you can stick it out those months, you’ll probably see some level of success. Even if your success is slow, you can stick with it, and eventually you’ll have your major success.
Also, note that the story didn’t go the way Steve figured. He thought he had to co-write. Turns out, a little adjustment made all the difference. Don’t force your story to go the way you figure. Allow for some flexibility. Look around the edges of things. See what you can experiment with. See what you can change. Have fun. You’ll do fine. Better than fine!
Advertising and Publicity
It is easy to buy advertising. There are many salespeople who would love to have you advertise in their newspaper, in their phonebook, or on their radio or TV station. If it doesn’t bring the results they expected, they’ll just tell you that you didn’t buy enough advertising yet. They’ll tell you people need to hear the same message over and over. But you do need to buy some advertising, right?
Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small music business can afford will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. In many businesses, all most people want is your contact information. You can do some search engine optimization tricks, discussed in the next chapter, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other similar music businesses, they’ll all have their own websites, and you might be thirteenth on the list when people google your town name and musical specialty.
You can do more to boost a website in search results, but you may not have to. Remember that most people using the Internet to find a local business will already know your business name, and what you do. They’re just looking for your phone number. You can bring in new customers through a website in a few ways, but it is perhaps more work than other ways to bring in customers. For instance, your website can have a virtual museum of music. If you have pages of pictures and descriptions of unusual or antique instruments, it becomes a valuable Internet resource. You can also become an ‘authority’ site. You might post the schedule of local musical events, a blog for musicians, and things of that nature.
So, when it comes to paid advertising, almost nothing works for a small music business. Good free publicity, on the other hand, can change things overnight.
You may be thinking I’m talking about sending press releases to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations announcing that you have a new business. That can have a small effect. Much greater is to do something newsworthy, meaning, something positively eccentric.
I mentioned this to a bike shop owner, and he said, “Oh, like give away free water bottles printed with the store logo?” He didn’t get it. Better is to sponsor something unique. Sponsoring a compelling but unusual free musical event, or offering a half-hour of free recording studio access is a start. Getting musicians to wear your custom printed T-Shirts is a step in the right direction. Then, they will hopefully tell musical friends to do business with you. That will have a small effect, but it is not newsworthy, and it really isn’t free, because you have to pay for the T-shirts. I’m talking about something newsworthy. Let me give you an example.
Customers of an old bookstore in San Francisco used to complain from time to time because is was sort of dark in there, especially in the deeper shelves. That gave the owner an idea. He held a special sale. All books were half-off. But, the sale ran from midnight to 1am one night. And, he turned all the lights out. At the door, all the customers were handed flashlights. That not only made the news, but it is still talked about today, twenty years later. After reading the story, thousands of new customers visited the store.
At another bookstore, some college students created an art project. Their idea was to rearrange all the books, not by subject and title, but by color. Shopping there during that time may have been tedious, but all sorts of people came by to see it, and no doubt many of them came away with books they would never have noticed normally.
So, what kind of positive eccentricity can you imagine for your music business?
As I mentioned, having at least a basic website is important for most businesses. Fortunately, a one-page site is sufficient for most, and easy to create. You can do positive eccentricity on a website as well. We’ll talk a lot more about websites in the next chapter.
A guy who’s business was repairing Apple computers uploaded a little video to his site that showed him dropping a PC and a Mac computer off a six-story building. Both crashed to the sidewalk. The Windows computer was smashed to bits, but with the aid of trick photography, the Mac had only a couple of scratches.
Then there’s the old fashioned way, business cards and flyers. Putting business cards in everyone’s hands who comes your way can build a business slowly, but surely. Of course, giving them something more interesting such as a keyring tape measure, or an interesting hologram will be more effective. A computer business gives out business cards that have a chart of the common [Ctrl] (or [Command] on Mac) keyboard shortcuts. You know:
[Ctrl] + [A] = Select All
[Ctrl] + [C] = Copy
[Ctrl] + [F] = Find
[Ctrl] + [V] = Paste
[Ctrl] + [X] = Cut
[Ctrl] + [Z] = Undo
So what kind of information could you put on the back of your business cards?
For local businesses such as music lessons, or instrument repair, putting something on all the local bulletin boards can surprise you. You’ll get more business, for less expense than you’d expect. Bulletin boards at laundromats work well, because patrons have to spend idle time waiting for the wash. Bulletin boards at natural food stores work especially well. I’m not quite sure why. Bulletin boards at diners, quick-change oil places, and elsewhere can work well, too. A good flyer makes only a few quick points, because too much text is hard to read. The best flyers have little pull-off tabs at the bottom with your name and/or what you do, and your contact info, generally your phone number. You might want to have full-page and half-page flyers, since many bulletin boards are too full to accommodate full pages. When space is very limited, you can put several business cards fanned out under a thumb tack, indicating to people it is OK to take a card. For this use, the cards ought to have large text that’s easy to read at a distance. There’s a color called “Solar Yellow,” that’s very bright and sometimes used for cards and flyers. It is a bit loud for sure, but in a jumble of white flyers, it gets noticed.
For most people, selling yourself or wares of your own creation is difficult. When you’re selling someone else’s product, you don’t take it personally when a potential buyer says “no.” It is this fear of being defeated by hearing “no” too many times that stops a lot of people from even trying.
But what if you were, or could become, one of the rare individuals who can do that? Here’s a story from Jack Canfield (author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and many related books), as close as I can remember it:
A young man just out of chiropractor school asked at his local chamber of commerce some questions about setting up a chiropractic office. They essentially laughed at him, because in his home town of Pebble Beach, California, there were already way too many chiropractors. There’s no way he could succeed. Undaunted, he started going door-to-door, to every one of the 6,000 homes in his town. He introduced himself, and asked five questions, such as, “Do you think I’d be more successful to set up an office on the North, or the South side of town?” The final question was, “When you need chiropractic help, will you visit me?”
When he was done, he rented a space, and set up an office. During the first month his office was open, he booked $12,000 worth of appointments.
Websites That Work
Just about any musical business will benefit from a website. In fact, some musical businesses can be entirely websites.
There are now several places where you can create your own website by simply cutting and pasting or entering text, dropping in a picture or two, and click an OK button. Blogger.com and Tumblr.com come to mind. However, if you want to take advantage of all the ideas below, you might want to learn some basic HTML, or just hire someone to help you with the optimization parts.
Whenever you hire someone to help you with a website, make sure to maintain all access. You don’t want the site on some guy’s server. You want it on a big national company’s server such as Godaddy.com. Because, what if your webmaster goes broke, leaves town, or has an argument with his wife and shuts down his server?
It is very important to get all passwords associated with the site. You don’t want to have to hire the same webmaster over and over again for each little change that you could eventually make yourself, or pay someone else to make for you. I can’t tell you how many times, I, as a business coach, have had to tell business owners (kindly), “I told you not to trust that webmaster.”
When considering hiring someone to build your website, shop around. The prices can vary wildly. Really wildly. One fellow got estimates ranging from $600 to $20,000 for the same job specifications. He checked out the $600 offer, and discovered that the webmaster had references and quite a bit of previous experience. This fellow was so fast at boilerplating or recycling his previous work to create new websites, that he could make a fine profit at $600. Others may spend hours learning at your expense.
Get an estimate in writing that contains a guarantee. The last thing you want is to agree on $600, but have the final bill come in at $2,500.
The most important thing websites need is visitors. There are three main ways to get visitors.
1. Buy advertising. That mostly doesn’t work. Or more specifically, with enough money you can buy visitors, but that would be fewer visitors than you would need to pay for the advertising.
There is one form of advertising that can work for many musical businesses, especially local businesses. That’s Google AdWords. You can sign up for an AdWords account for free. Once there, you bid on keywords. They should actually be called “key phrases” because most keywords are more than one word. Let’s say your keyword is “Piano lessons San Francisco.” You may find that your closest competitor has bid $2.17 per click on that same keyword. You can bid $2.18. Your ad will show up at more websites, and closer to the top of the paid side of search results, than your competitor. So, your ad is then shown on random websites. Well, not random. Targeted. This means that if someone has a website that has to do with piano lessons in San Francisco, your ad – and your competitors’ ads – will show up on that site. Or if no one has a site about piano lessons in San Francisco, then you’ll show up on websites about piano lessons, and other sites about San Francisco. When someone clicks your ad to go to your website, Google takes $2.18 from your account. You can adjust maximums, and all sorts of other settings so that if it runs wild, you won’t go broke. You can do things like change your keyword to “Piano Lessons San Rafael” (a small city near San Francisco), which may not cost anywhere near $2.18 per click.
AdWords works particularly well because it is well-targeted. Google’s automated software does a good job of making sure your ad shows up on only the most relevant sites, and with only the most relevant search results.
Think about the results: If you’re teaching piano at thirty to ninety dollars per hour, how much would you pay to get another student? Each student would be worth hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars, right? So what’s $2.18 compared to that? Not everyone who clicks through to your website will buy lessons, but they are well-targeted, so a good many will sign up for lessons. Especially if your website is well-designed, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
2. SEO – Search Engine Optimization. You can do some simple things to make sure your website shows up near the top of search results in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. We’ll talk mostly about Google, because it is the elephant in the room. My guess is that at least seventy percent of all searches are done through Google, with the remaining thirty percent handled by hundreds of other search engines, although most of these searches are handled by Bing and Yahoo. If you make a website that works well with Google, it will work pretty much the same with the other search engines.
Google ‘ranks’ pages based on how closely parts of the page match the keyword people are searching for, and on how many other websites link to a page. The first aspect, matching elements of the page to the keyword is easy. The second is more work and takes longer to achieve, but may be less important.
By the way, don’t let anyone tell you they have a magic formula to get top ranking. There are hundreds of companies out there willing to take your money for search engine optimization that is all smoke and mirrors. What you are going to read in the next few paragraphs is the heart and soul of search engine optimization. Oh, there are some complicated schemes that might bring a marginal increase in results, but these companies that promise the sky do not deliver. That’s guaranteed.
So, if people are searching for “piano lessons San Francisco,” all you need to do is put that phrase in the page title – between the <title> tags, and in the < It can be helpful to have a page filename that also matches the keyword, such as www.mywebsite.com/pianolessonssanfrancisco.htm. Google says that as of October 2012, having an exact match page name is no longer significant. However, I have noticed that if you have an exact match domain name, such as www.pianolessonssanfrancisco.com, Google seems to index your page – include it in their search engine listings – within a day or two, rather than within two to three weeks.
So how many people are looking for “piano lessons San Francisco?” It would be important to know that, wouldn’t it?
As of now, 210 people per month are entering that keyword. How do I know? I used the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. It’s free when you sign up at adwords.google.com. You can enter any potential keyboard, and it will show you how many people are searching for that. It will also tell you how much AdWords bidders are paying for the keyword and some other interesting information. It will then offer a list of related keywords, in case you find there are already too many websites optimized for your keyword.
So, the next step is to see how many people have already optimized websites for your keyword. Good news, well fairly good: Not many people have optimized sites for “Piano Lessons San Francisco.” When you simply enter that keyword in the Google search engine, several sites come up, some which have the term in their titles, descriptions or <H1> tags, but none seem to be doing it in all four. So if you were teaching piano lessons in San Francisco, you could be the top page in Google search results, and most of 210 people a month who are actually looking for piano lessons would click through to your website. Gosh, that could bring you fifty or a hundred new students every month! So many that you could raise your rates and pick which students you want to teach.
But, if many websites already used your keyword, there are still some things you can do. You can change the keyword a little bit, checking the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and actual search results, until you get something that has enough people looking, and isn’t highly optimized. Maybe “Piano Lessons Berkeley” (a nearby community) or “Piano Instruction San Francisco,” or “Classical Piano San Francisco.”
You can optimize for more than one keyword. If you have a local business, you can make a whole bunch of similar web pages each focused on one area, or put several area names in your tags. For instance, “Piano Lessons San Francisco, Concord, San Mateo, San Rafael, Sausalito.”
If your business is national or international, such as a website designed to make money by itself leveraging Google AdSense, or perhaps selling CD or music memorabilia via mail order, then you might use a keyword that addresses a range of similar interests, like “Movie Musical Advertising Posters Flyers Memorabilia.” Of course you wouldn’t put such a non-poetic name in the visible portions of your page, but you get the idea.
Next on the list is backlinks. If a thousand websites have added links to your page, Google puts you higher in search results than someone who may actually have better on-page SEO.
This is another place the charlatans go crazy. They tell you they have all sorts of ways to get instant, automatic backlinks, for only $39.95 per month. . .
Don’t fall for any of that. Much of what they do, when they do anything at all, is pure spam, and in the end, may weaken your position with Google. You don’t need to pay money for backlinks, and you don’t need to do ‘spammy’ things to get them.
Getting backlinks is not always necessary. If your on-page SEO is strong, if your keyword is not well-utilized, you’ll be at the top of search results even with no backlinks.
Besides asking webmasters to add a link – many will, without cost, just because you asked, you can trade links, as long as you don’t mind adding a reciprocal links list to your site. Better yet, you can post in newsgroups, forums, discussions. You can answer questions, or ask questions. At the end of every single post, you are allowed a tag line in almost all forums. Your tag line can contain a few words about what your site is, plus an actual link to your site.
Not only will these be noticed by Google as backlinks, but some real people will actually click through, bringing up your visitor count organically. The trick to not spamming is simple: Simply contribute legitimately to the discussions in which you participate. You can answer questions, postulate theories, bring up analogies. If you don’t know much about a subject, it is completely okay to ask questions.
Once you’ve built or updated your website, you can let Google know it’s there. This is especially important if no other websites link to it yet, otherwise Google has no way to know you’re out there, because Google finds websites by investigating links from other websites, crawling the entire Internet every two weeks or so, link by link. However, you can expedite the process through “Fetch as Google” a simple, free and easy-to-use part of Google Webmaster Tools.
If all goes well, you can have a hundred visitors within 24 hours of building a new website.
Once you’ve got at least a handful of visitors coming to your site, you can do some more things to make sure it works.
If you can provide some useful content or positive eccentricity, then people will tell people who will tell people. Your site can go viral. Take a look at hamsterdance.com. Especially take a look at the “Hamster Classics” and then “Interactive Dance.” This one dance is similar to how the site originally looked when it was just one page.
It seems a computer science student made a one-page website as a thesis project. All it did was show lines of dancing hamsters with some background music. That was in the late nineties, when it didn’t take much to impress people. There was something about the cuteness of hamsterdance.com that caused everyone to email everyone else, and it went viral almost immediately. Millions of visitors came. The creator saw the potential, and quickly added more pages and advertising to the site.
It will take more than dancing hamsters to impress people these days, but if you can do something sufficiently amusing, or informative, you win the game!
Another example is Crayola.com. There, you’ll find quite a few interesting and interactive things for children. People come to the site because there’s something useful there.
Yet another example is a website you can buy an antenna for specialized electronics. The site has many charts with just the information that radio designers need, so of course this site is where the radio people go to when it is time to order antennae.
Once you’ve got a site that gets visitors, you want to direct their time there. It would be a shame to build a large visitor count, then have all your visitors become confused and leave the site without satisfaction. Or more to the point, you want them to do something that satisfies you, also. Think of your webpage, or your website, as a funnel. The top is wide. Lots of people spill into your site. The funnel narrows, directing people downward. Or more specifically, it holds their interest. Someone told me the average web page visitor stays one and a half seconds, unless something catches their interest in that time. The funnel eventually directs them all through the spout. The spout is the action step. What do you want people to do? Click the “Buy Now” button? Give you a phone call? Set up the page to have this effect. You should have a compelling title, or short bit of text in the upper left corner, since that is where most people look first. The purpose of this top left item is not to sell something, but merely to cause them to feel that your site is worth focusing on. To have them become invested in your site enough to stay on the page and read more, perhaps click through to other pages on your site. Finally, at the bottom of every place they might go within your site, you have your action step – the button to click, the phone number to call – whatever you want them to do. During this process, you also want to convince them that your site is so excellent they should tell all their friends.
One thing you almost never want is links away from your site. In this book, I can tell you about crayola.com, because you already bought the book. I don’t need to sell you anything. But if I did, I would not risk losing you to Crayola. Besides, I think I’ve got your interest by now. Hopefully, I have you well on your way to starting or improving your own music business!
Craigslist for Musicians
I wanted to tell you about a couple of craigslist tricks that are important to many kinds of music businesses.
If you have a service business such as teaching music lessons or repairing instruments, I have a tip for you farther along in this chapter, but let’s start with musical merchandise business ideas on Craigslist.
If you buy and sell things, great opportunities exist in the space between craigslist and eBay. You can often buy things, especially student model instruments on eBay. That’s because people often will not trust instruments they can’t hold and play personally before buying. Then, you can sell these instruments at a profit locally on craigslist to people who you will let hold and play them. These people are also more likely to buy locally because they can have their instruments right away. Many folks don’t want to wait a week or more for their items to arrive.
On the other side, people who are moving out of town don’t want to pack and ship things, and who want immediate cash will sell things, typically instruments, musical memorabilia, and large batches of sheet music or CDs, for much less then they are worth online. They can’t get the full value for these things, because the market is limited to the local community. So of course you can come along, swoop these things up, and list them for a profit on eBay.
First, let’s talk about a couple of tricks for selling things on craigslist.
When you list an item for sale on Craigslist, it scrolls down the list as other people add the things they have for sale. In a busy community in a busy category, such as Musical Instruments, your ad can scroll out of sight within a few hours.
So, here’s what you do: Every couple of hours, add a different item. Let’s say you are selling musical instruments. You can put up an ad for a violin at one pm. Then at three pm, you can put up an ad for a cello. Then at five pm, a classical guitar, and so on. Each one of these ads carries a link to your website, saying something like, “many more instruments available at mywebsite.com.” You might even have thumbnails for your other instruments at the bottom of each ad. This is not spamming, because the main portion of every ad is for something different.
As you may know, with Craigslist, you are welcome to ‘renew’ an ad every 48 hours. This means that your ad will reappear at the top of the list. So, after you’ve built up a sufficient number of ads, you can start renewing them, one at a time, every couple of hours, so you always have something near the top of the list.
The other trick, which I already alluded above, is that you can have a website that has a larger list of your inventory. Every Craigslist ad links to your website. It seems to work well to have a vertical table on your website, with thumbnail images of each item on the left, descriptions to the right, and prices to the far right. I used to do this with bicycles, although you could do it with collectible albums, musical memorabilia, or whatever you want. I kept an inventory of about eighteen used bicycles and each was pictured on my website until sold. I have to admit I didn’t stay up to date with posting on Craigslist. I usually only managed between one and three ads per day, and skipped some days altogether. This was because my bottleneck in the bicycle business was getting bikes, not selling them. Unlike most musical instruments, bicycles are too big to buy on eBay – due to the shipping cost, so I had to depend on a local market. And there too, I have to admit, I could have done things to purchase more bikes locally, but had other business interests at the time. Still, I sold fifteen or twenty bikes per week with an average profit of $75 to $100. So this could work the same way for your musical instrument business. Better probably, since the bicycle category scrolls much faster on Craigs than the music categories. On the other hand, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where Craigslist rules. After doing it for three months, I moved on to other pursuits, but during that time, strictly from Craigslist exposure, my bike inventory website had received over 20,000 unique visitors.
When an item sells, I think it is better to leave the listing on your website for a day or two, marked “Sold,” while leaving the price visible. When people see that your business is active, an unconscious impulse causes them to want to buy something ‘before it’s too late.’ It also keeps browsers coming back. They want to watch the activity, and eventually when they need an instrument, or have a friend that does, where do you suppose they’ll look?
One of the best ways I could have increased my purchasing of bicycles at the time would have been to keep an ad active in the “Items Wanted” section telling people that I buy used and broken bicycles. Or your case, that might be used and broken instruments, or guitars in good condition, or obscure CDs, whatever you want to specialize in. This has the added advantage that your wanted posting can also link to your website.
One of the best ways to let people you’re buying things on Craigslist is to let them know you’re selling things. Whereas you could post multiple similar ads such as “Cash paid for guitars,” “I buy violins,” and “I want your string instruments,” this verges on spam, in fact it pretty much is spam, in the “Items Wanted” category. Not only does spamming make a mess out of a good category, and is unethical, and will probably get you a bad name, and Craigslist users will probably get in the habit of flagging and deleting all your ads.
A much better approach is to sell things in the “Musical Instruments” category. In each ad, you also happen to mention that you buy instruments. Of course, you can also have a single ad announcing that you’re buying in the “Items Wanted” category at the same time.
If you are in a service business, such as entertainment or lessons, there are a couple of problems. First, you can list only in the “Services Offered” category, which fewer people see. Oh, they may be better targeted, but still, who would think of guitar or piano lessons as ‘services?’ The other problem is that it is difficult to post multiple ads in the Services category.
The only way you can post multiple services without spamming is to break your services down to specifics and advertise each one. For instance, if you tune and repair pianos, and give lessons, that’s three ads, isn’t it? Lessons, Repair, Tuning.
But that’s probably not enough exposure. So here’s the plan:
Now that you’ve read this book, you have a good idea about how to buy and sell musical equipment at a profit. I’m going to suggest you dabble a bit in used instruments. If you are into pianos, buy a couple of investment pianos and put them in your garage or whatever. Or, as you teach lessons, perhaps the very pianos you teach on are always for sale (as long as you keep at least one piano, ready to use). Now, you can put ads in the Musical Instruments section of Craigslist for your pianos, doing the tricks stated above. But your objective isn’t to sell pianos, although that could be a good income on the side. Your ads are there mostly to present the links to your website where you sell the lessons and repair services that you offer. If you don’t really want to mess around with buying and selling (but who wouldn’t?), you can keep your prices too high. The point is that people looking for used instruments are often the same people who want lessons or repairs. This is where they’ll be, in Musical Instruments for Sale, not Services Offered.
Finally, on Craigslist, you’ll notice that there are forums at the left side of the home page. You can participate in those forums. You can teach what you know. You can answer questions. You can ask questions about what you don’t know. But at the bottom of every posting, you can have a low-key link to your website. Keep in mind that some of the forums are national, so you’ll want to notice that before you post a link for local service or large instruments for sale.
More About A Free Exchange
Perhaps your church or group has sponsored an occasional clothing exchange. I’m not talking about a rummage sale where you donate your unwanted clothes and they sell them to support the organization. I’m talking about an event where everyone brings their unwanted clothes, perhaps on a Saturday morning, and everyone can carry away other members’ unwanted clothes. So, you can get rid of that funky sweater someone ‘gifted’ you with and pick up a great. . .
What if this happened on a grander scale and was about music, not clothing? Imagine a regular location where this free exchange of musical instruments, albums, memorabilia, and sheet music went on every weekend, or even every day? Do you see where the profit is in this? Since you could be the one who organizes and maintains it, it is only fair that you get first pick on everything that comes in. Naturally, you’d pick things that you can sell profitably online. If you let everyone know right up front that that’s exactly what you’re doing, they’ll all be okay with it. I can assure you of that, because I set up a business that grew nearly overnight into a large, ongoing general free exchange in Marin County, California, and that’s what actually happened.
More specifically, I rented a 2,500 square-foot store, primed it with stuff I bought for next to nothing at garage sales, and opened to the public. I allowed exchange of anything of reasonable size (no couches or mattresses, please!) There were many books (another profit-bearing business in itself), garden tools, car parts, sports equipment, you name it. But I could have specialized in musical items. A couple of years later, I set up a quite successful media exchange, dealing with books, CDs and DVDs, which in many ways is closely related to music.
Never once did anyone complain that I had first pick. Quite the contrary, I received complements all day long for the nature of the business.
Another thing that might surprise you is that I received much more stuff than I gave away. There was so much stuff coming into my exchanges, that much had to be discarded.
When people decide to clean out the attic, basement or garage, they tend to bring multiple boxes full of stuff. There were hundreds of wealthy people who brought things to the exchange just so other less wealthy people could get them. All these donors knew full-well that I was supporting the business by picking the cream off the top.
I only ran my exchanges as experiments for four months each.
During my first four months, in the general exchange, a volunteer ran some math and worked out that I gave away $44,000 per month worth of stuff. This was just wonderful for all the people who came from the poorer areas east of Marin and were able to get good things for their children and themselves. Even though the store was in a rather fancy suburban neighborhood, and many of the ‘shoppers’ came in junky cars and looked kind of scary to the locals, I was often told how much it was a great community service by the well-off locals.
Everyone encouraged the wealthier people to pick up things they fancied also. After all, when someone keeps an old garden rake in service, that eliminates the need to manufacture, package, and ship a new one. That’s the truest form of living a light footprint on Earth.
I have been more of an experimenter than a do-the-same-profitable-thing-year-after-year person – probably to my detriment, but my exchanges could have been huge successes. Instead of closing them and moving on to the next experiment, I suppose they could have branched out, and I’d be very successful in the exchange business. But, being an experimenter and a writer, I’ll leave starting the next exchange up to you.
Imagine the potential. You’ll get instruments into the hands of children and adults who couldn’t otherwise afford them. If someone has had their instrument stolen or broken, you can provide them with another. You can provide sheet music. It wouldn’t be surprising if your free sheet music collection could become larger than what any store in town carries. You could have walls filled with free CDs. Interestingly, your place can become a destination for musicians. Many will volunteer to help your efforts. Everyone will just love hanging out, offering advice, repairing instruments, talking shop, jamming – well, you get the idea. What a place it can become!
Of course much of the stuff that comes in will be in sad shape. You’ll get brass instruments that are quite dented. You’ll get woodwinds with leaky pads. You’ll get guitars with broken tuners. You’ll get CDs that are scratched. You’ll get funky CDs that are way too common and no one wants. Much of the sheet music will be thirty years old. But not all of it!
When it’s free, you’d be surprised how delighted someone can be with “Seventies Pop Tunes.” When it’s free, people will figure out a way to fix that trombone that doesn’t slide, or the djembe with a big crack in the side. Or if they can’t fix it, they’ll have fun trying. You may not be too happy about selling the good student-model instruments that come in, even though that could be quite profitable. But if a Haynes flute comes in that you can sell on eBay for $4,000, that money will go along way to support the exchange, wouldn’t it? That way, you can get a lot more instruments into a lot more hands.
Perhaps the bulk of the money will be from selling pieces of broken instruments. As far as I went with pieces is that I experimented with two student-model flutes. I took them apart and listed the individual parts on eBay. Each flute brought in just over $100, plus shipping, selling most of the bits and pieces for ten dollars each. I once took in a guitar that was cracked on all sides, missing a couple of tuners. It was not a production model. It appeared handmade, having no brand name and no model, but it had excellent inlay around the sound hole. I put it as-is on eBay, expecting maybe I’d get lucky, with a winning bid of around $20. It sold for $203.
The reason I created two exchanges was that I wasn’t quite happy with the first one.
My first version started out quite large, and I had a rag-tag assortment of about twenty volunteers. Not being a great manager, I quickly lost a degree of control over these people. Some came in drunk, some complained about everything in sight, some treated the clientele crudely. So, if you’re going to do this, you’ll either want quality employees rather than volunteers, or you’ll want to screen your volunteers better than I did, or you’ll want to have a more alpha personality. Or, perhaps the best solution, is keep it small and manageable, perhaps in a 700 – 1,000 square foot space in a smaller community, or hidden away in a neighborhood, and run it by yourself.
That’s what I did with my second exchange. It was 1,000 square feet in a town of just under 20,000 residents. Initially I did everything myself, no volunteers. I decided to specialize in books, CDs and DVD movies, because I figured I’d have a quieter, more focused clientele. I was exactly right. The second exchange was just as profitable, yet much less hectic, and therefore more fun for me.
Speaking of profit, I spent about $10,000 setting up the second exchange. I could have done it with less, but in my case, I didn’t need to. By the end of the second month, I was making $5,000 per month profit. At the end of the four-month experiment, I sold it quickly for $32,000. (If I had wanted to, I could have held on for a year, and sold it for much more!)
At the time it didn’t occur to me to try a music exchange, but I would have, if I had thought of it.
A bit of a problem with the first, general exchange was waste. Since I was taking everything, not just books and disks, I had to rent larger and larger dumpsters to accommodate the things that weren’t worth even giving away. At the end of the fourth month, I was paying $250 per month for dumpster rental.
Later, I learned that I could have reduced the cost of waste disposal by asking for momentary volunteers to each carry away a bag or two of junk.
In my second exchange, I learned to ask for momentary volunteers, simply by putting signs on the shelves. I let people know that anyone could help for five minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour, whatever they liked, whenever they liked. These would be people willing to organize inventory on the tables and shelves, clean the bathroom, repair items, and so on. As you can imagine, repairing was particularly desirable. In a musical instrument exchange, you could have a volunteer carry away a broken guitar, and bring it back fixed and tuned. You’d be surprised how many people would love participating in this way, and the quality of their workmanship.
You don’t have to worry about a volunteer failing to return a guitar or making it’s condition worse, because it was free anyway, right?
To not discourage people from bringing things, I decided never to decline any reasonable donations. I stand by this, and believe it’s better to spend a bit on garbage pickup than losing donations from people who start to figure you may not accept what they bring. Interestingly, things they assume you don’t want may be wonderful donations. I received a Sousaphone that’s bell was crushed all out of shape. It was awful in appearance, but still played, so I gave it away. If it had been unplayable, it would have actually been worth more to me.
In the case of an instrument beyond repair, there are two choices. The first is to sell what parts are good. There’s good money in a sousaphone mouthpiece or valve if someone needs that exact part on eBay. Another option is in the first chapter, Crush Art.
I had a sign on the front window that told people not to leave donations after hours. But they did. Most mornings I’d find a pick-up truck full of bags of worn-out clothing, broken lawnmowers, sofas without cushions, and so on. These were the things that people just wanted to dispose of, didn’t want to pay landfill fees, and would be too embarrassed to try donating to the store during the day. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem with a music exchange. In fact, the nighttime donations might surprise you. Someone once left two banker’s boxes full of old records. I called my friend Ken, who paid $100 per box for the collection. In my media exchange, I learned to solicit nighttime donations. I had a drop box with a slot outside. Hundreds of books per months came in through that slot. I used a slot rather than an open container, because I didn’t want other people coming by and rummaging through the books before I had a chance to pick through them. I also put a free shelf outside, so visitors could get books, and occasionally music CDs, any time of the day or night.
Taking the concept one step further, you might be able to design an exchange that doesn’t need your presence at all. One way is to man it with volunteers. Another is to have drop boxes around town, much like some clothing companies do, in which you ask people to drop of musical things they’re not using. On the drop boxes, you’d have signs indicating what you’re doing – donating the stuff that makes sense to children overseas – or locally, for that matter. But, on your signs I believe you should also state that you’re making a profit in the process. If you’re up front, not only will no one complain, but many will just love what you’re doing. If you try to hide it, people will undoubtedly get the wrong idea. Unfortunately, some of those companies that put out clothing donation boxes a few years ago developed a bad reputation for not actually fulfilling the promise of making good use of the donated clothing.
Taking it even a step further, I can imagine that you might give instruments away, and teach music lessons to children who otherwise couldn’t have that, in trade for general donations. If your drop boxes solicit CDs, clothing, even cash, you could employ what you can sell on eBay and otherwise directly in the service of giving instruments and instruction to children. I’ll let you work out the details!
To round out the picture, it would also be possible to have CD exchanges that are simply shelves in public locations. The idea is people can drop off CDs they don’t care about any more, and pick up ones they like – all for free, of course. Your job, besides keeping the shelves organized and clean, is to go through the stuff that comes in, gleaning what will sell online. Quick oil change places, laundromats, and restaurants would all love to have such a shelf.
You can tighten up the efficiency of free CD exchange shelves a bit by having a box with a slot on the shelves. Signs tell people to drop donated music into the slot, and take whatever they want. The point is you don’t want people carrying away the obscure and possibly valuable titles. You want to be able to sort everything that has been donated before it gets away.
Don’t forget to have contact info so if someone has boxes and boxes of CDs, they know how to contact you for a free pickup.
If have not tried this exact business model myself. I did, however, put book shelves in eight laundromats. These weren’t exchanges. I purchased the books by the boxful at garage sales, probably paying on average five or ten cents per book. I then put them in the laundromats with signs saying, “Put $3 in the slot per book.” I split the money fifty-fifty with the laundromat owners or managers. Sure, some books were stolen from my shelves, but I never noticed, and it didn’t significantly impact the bottom line. These shelves were quite profitable for the small amount of time involved.
These days, with millions of people looking for music they haven’t heard to put on their iPods or smartphones, and then discarding the CDs once they’ve finished uploading, this model ought to work particularly well. It’s recycling at its best, isn’t it?
Getting back to the idea of a full-size exchange, when you pick a location, it is important to have good parking. This can be even more important than for an ordinary retail store, because many people are going to be bringing large loads of stuff. If they have to carry it a hundred yards (100 meters), they’ll be less inclined to bring stuff next time. Fortunately, the parking was very close to my first exchange. Even still, I provided hand carts for people to get things from their cars into the exchange. You don’t want anything to come between people and their desire to bring things to your exchange.
And yet, parking was a problem. My store became rather popular within a very short time. (Advertising and publicity is absolutely not necessary in a business that exists to give things away.) The problem was the parking lot became congested. And that, ultimately, was the downfall of my experiment. When traffic started clogging the little strip mall I was occupying, the neighboring businesses started to complain. The property manager suggested I leave. Oh, I could have worked things out, but since I was ready to move on, I just pulled the plug. (This was my first exchange. As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I sold the second exchange at a small, but nice profit.)
So, you can learn from my experiments. One thing I’d recommend if you want to start your own music exchange is to start very, very small. You don’t need to rent a store. Depending on where and how you live, you might want to start it out of your garage. Or you can rent a space in a flea market. Or set up something cooperatively with someone who has commercial space available. For instance, you might find a quick-change oil change place who would gladly donate some lobby space in trade for every music lover in town getting their oil changed there.
I’m not the first one who set up a store to give things away. The precedent was set in late 1967 by the Diggers. The Diggers were a loosely assembled group of free-spirited souls, originally interested in improv acting (one of whom was Peter Coyote), who started making free soup, beans, and bread for the hippies that came to the Haight during the Summer of Love. In time, they rented a storefront in which they accepted donations and gave everything away. I did a bit of research and never found out how they paid the rent. That store, too was a short-lived experiment. Digger Archives
The Diggers did not operate their exchange for a profit. And you may not need to either. Assuming you are not independently wealthy, you will need a reason to offset the time it takes to run an exchange. The reason might be publicity for another music business. For instance, if you run an exchange, virtually everyone who is interested in music in your community will stop by. Then, you can let them know that you’re a gigging musician, that you teach lessons, or whatever you do, and you’ll build your business nicely, because everyone will want to support the exchange and its proprietor.
The Final Bit
A Little Hypnotic Suggestion
Now you have everything you need to start your own music business. If there’s anything I haven’t covered in enough detail for you, you’ll find what you need among the eighteen billion pages of the Internet.
So all you have to do is start.
Ah, but for most most people, that’s the rub, isn’t it? There’s something comforting about procrastination. Being defocused isn’t so comforting, but something wants to keep us defocused, doesn’t it? Yet we know how to stay focused when we really want to. I can’t explain the mechanism, but you know how to stay focused. Right? Perhaps you can think back to a time when you were surprisingly focused.
Now, think back to when you started with music. Your first exposure to music may have been your idea. It may have been your parents who pushed you into music. In any case, you started. And look where you are now with music! Were there times along the way when it was difficult? Were there times when you ignored your instrument for weeks, months, even years at a time? But there were also times when you progressed, weren’t there? And looking back, it wasn’t that hard, was it? Where would you be today, musically, if you hadn’t started, and eventually pushed forward?
You may be delighted to discover it is exactly the same with a music business. If you can find a way, however you may find that way, to become sufficiently motivated to start, and remember in whatever way you know how to stay motivated and focused, you can become as good in your musical business as you are in your music. Go ahead. That’s right – one little step at a time. . .
What’s today’s step?
Enjoy and prosper! – Jeff Napier