I’m writing this article as a guide to help beginner unsigned, independent musicians to sell more of their music. The following content is relevant and applicable to DIY artists of all genres – whether you’re an aspiring country singer, metal band, or rapper, such as myself.
One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write this is that like most people, I occasionally suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ – where I feel like because I haven’t sold millions of albums, I’m not yet qualified to be giving advice to other artists. But frankly, that’s nonsense. To date, I’ve sold over 25,000 total albums without ever being signed to a record label.
I didn’t have any special connections or cheat codes either. Everything I’ve learned and am about to share was through my own research, trial and error. I’ve done it, so I can talk about it and I can teach you how to do it. I’m sure you want to sell hundreds of thousands of albums, perhaps even millions – but if you can’t master how to sell 1,000 albums first, then reaching that level is merely a fantasy.
So buckle up and pay attention as I teach you how to sell your first 1,000 albums!
What you'll need
The ability to make and record good music (hopefully an obvious prerequisite)
Some money: £500 – £1000 (approx $700 – $1500)
Hustle, desire and the ability to handle rejection
Step 1 - Create the best music that you can
Record your songs as professionally as possible but don’t blow the budget.
Before you even think about selling records, you need to make some music. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many wannabe musicians obsess over selling records and making money before they’ve recorded their first song yet. Don’t be that guy or girl.
There are 4 main steps that go into creating a music release – whether it’s an album, EP, or single. These are:
Find a studio in your local area that you can record in relatively cheaply. Free is even better, so long as you can obtain good sound quality and have access to a capable engineer. Take the best songs that you’ve written and get them recorded, mixed and mastered to a professional level.
Create the best music that you are currently capable of.
I can’t stress that enough. If you haven’t yet spent the necessary time to become objectively proficient at your craft (singing, playing your instrument, rapping…) then you need to practice more. Nobody likes to talk about practice but there are no good musicians who haven’t spent thousands of hours practising.
At the same time, if it’s your first release then you can expect to get better with time. Get good enough and then get your art into the world.
Step 2 - Design the artwork
In this digital age, it’s possible to debate the importance of album artwork. In my opinion, it’s still very important and will be for the foreseeable future. If you’re offering something for sale then presentation matters. If you take pride in your music, then take pride into how your album or EP cover looks.
It doesn’t need to be a complicated masterpiece. Just make sure that it looks professional and is consistent with your image. Many people will see your album art before they hear your music and you don’t want to turn off potential listeners by having shoddy artwork.
Don’t spend loads of money on this either. If you have some design chops then create it yourself. If you don’t, then find someone who does. Perhaps you have a friend, family member, or fan who would be happy to help you out.
People like to help out people they know, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Step 3 - Manufacture 1,000 CDs
You now have a collection of well written songs that have been recorded, mixed and mastered. You also have your artwork ready. It’s time to turn that into a physical product.
"But Zuby…" I hear you say, "It’s 2018, no one buys CDs anymore."
Millions of people still buy CDs. Sure, it’s not like it was in 1996 but a large percentage of people still like to and will buy your music on CD. Assuming it’s good of course. For the people who don’t, no fear – you can also make your music available as a digital download.
Having physical CDs to sell is absolutely critical for this method to work. I repeat, CDs are not optional if you want this method to work for you!
(Note: If you can sell 1,000+ digital copies of your independent release then you are qualified to write your own guide. If you do then please send me a link because I’d love to read it!)
There are many good CD duplication/replication companies out there. Just search for ‘CD replication (your country)’ on Google and you’ll find several.
What you’ll want to go for is 1,000 glass mastered CDs. These are equivalent to the ones you’d buy in a music shop. They’re not CDRs and will play on all CD players.
You can get your CDs in either a card wallet or a jewel case, depending on your preference and budget. Keep in mind that 1,000 jewel cases is going to be much heavier and take up 4 times the space of 1,000 card wallets. However, jewel cases will look more professional for a full-length album.
The turnaround time for CD replication is normally around 2-3 weeks – so bear that in mind.
Step 4 - Sell your first 100 CDs to people that you know
So you’re now sitting next to several large boxes of CDs, wondering what to do with them…
I recommend to all new artists that you start out with your existing circle of influence. Sell your CDs to your friends, your family and existing fans. Are you in school or at university? Sell them to your fellow students. Are you working? Sell them to your colleagues.
Talk to everybody in your current circle about your music. Play it to them. Show them the CD and tell them the story behind it. Tell them the story behind you as an artist – what you’ve done and what you’re trying to do.
A large segment of your friends, family and close acquaintances will be more than happy to buy your album because they like you and/or your music. It’s only natural to want to help people whom you like and have an existing relationship with.
Don’t guilt trip people or be too pushy. Be kind, gracious and polite but don’t be afraid to ask for the sale.
Not everybody will buy your album – even some of your friends and family members. Don’t let that get you down. Just say “that’s ok, thanks for listening” and keep it moving.
Show appreciation to everybody who supports you! I can't say this enough!
Make sure to thank each person who does buy your music. Let them know how much you appreciate it. If they’d like to be kept up to date then also add them to your email list so you can tell them about new songs and gigs in the future (if you don’t have an email list, get one now!)
How much should you sell your CDs for? That’s up to you but I’d recommend £3 – £7 for an EP or £5 -10 for an album. DO NOT GIVE YOUR CDs AWAY FOR FREE (I’ll write an article on that later).
Depending on how well connected and popular you are, you should be able to sell one hundred to several hundred copies of your new release, just to people whom you already know. Great work! Perhaps you’ve already broken even.
You should also be starting to get some feedback on your project (if you’ve done Step 1 correctly then hopefully it is positive) So what do you do with the remaining 900 or so CDs? That will be covered in step 5.
Step 5 - Sell the remaining 900 CDs to 'strangers'
That’s right. It’s now time to sell your music to absolute strangers who:
(a) don’t know who you are
(b) have never heard your music
How do you do that? You do what it takes to remedy those two barriers to entry.
Look at your existing fan base. Who does your music appeal to most? Which other artists do people say that you sound like? How old are your fans? Which gender? What other interests do they have? Where do they hang out in the real world and online?
The better you can answer those questions then the better you will know your target audience. That will help you throughout your entire musical career.
Your core audience is going to vary wildly depending on the type of music that you’re making. Perhaps most of your listeners match your own demographic or perhaps they are very different. (e.g. if you’re a 25 year old male pop or RnB singer then a large % of your fan base could be teenage girls, or 40 year old women, or even both)
Once you’ve identified your audience (it doesn’t need to be exact and there will be people who like your music who are outside your typical core demographic – which is awesome by the way), it’s time to reach them.
Go to public places where you can find your potential fans. I’d recommend a high street in a city centre, or a busy shopping district.
Important – if you live in the UK then before doing this step I’d strongly recommend getting a Pedlar’s Certificate. Take the time to read up on the guidelines so you don’t get hassled or arrested for ‘illegal street trading’. If you’re outside the UK, then read up on the legislation in your area before selling stuff in public areas.
Be sociable. Talk to everyone who you think would like your music. Approach them, introduce yourself, tell them your story and play them your music. Let them know you have a CD for sale. If they like it then a percentage of people will buy it.
If the concept of talking to strangers terrifies you then that’s understandable. You were programmed as a child to not speak to people you don’t know, let alone try to sell them anything. Well, if you want to be a successful independent musician then it’s time to get over that fear.
I’m not going to go into great detail about overcoming approach anxiety, what to say, or how to deal with objections in this article – that’s what sales books are for. But the best teacher is experience.
If you can talk to 10 strangers, then you can talk to 100. I don’t even view people as strangers anymore. More as people that I haven’t met yet. It’s served me well so far and I can confidently say that I wouldn’t have accomplished a fraction of what I have so far if I let the irrational fear of talking to strangers stop me from ever trying.
Not everybody will be nice to you. That’s life.
But many people will be nice to you and you will gain new fans out of the blue if your music is great. Once you sell one CD to a stranger, then you can sell two. Once you can sell two, you can sell ten. Repeat this until you’ve sold the remaining 900 CDs.
Congratulations! You’ve now sold 1,000 albums without a record label. And you have 1,000 new fans. (I hope you got those email addresses…). As you can see the method is simple, but it’s not easy.
This method is not for the lazy or faint-hearted but it truly does work. I’ve done it many times over and have the results to prove it.
So you now have the blueprint. Go out there and get your music out to the world!
Let me know if this blog post helped you by leaving a comment or sending me an email! Good luck.