The Top 3 Reasons Why No One Is Listening To Your Music

listening-to-music

As we move away from the pay-for-music debate, we enter into a world of millions of publicly available songs that no one wants to listen to. Literally.

Now that anyone can release her music to the world with simply an internet connection, why is so much music being ignored?

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The number one question I get asked by musicians is “why isn’t anyone paying attention to us.” There are many reasons for this. But here are the top 3:

+Fans Aren’t Going To Pay For Music Anymore. And That’s OK

1) Your Music Sucks

Sorry. I know this is hard to hear. But most music out is really not that good. Now, I know that music is (mostly) subjective. But even though your mom and lover tell you your music is great, it may not be just so. Even though you dropped $20,000 on your last album, it may, in fact, be a pile of dung. It’s possible. Believe me. I’ve heard it far too many times. Before you furiously scroll to the comments to blast me, hear me out. I thought I was hot shit long before I was. Juuuuust kidding. But seriously, I thought my music was incredible when in reality it wasn’t very good. Listening back to my early recordings, I can hear my shortcomings. But most artists are blinded by their own, unequivocal love of their music that it trumps what the majority of the listening audience thinks – it’s just not that good.

So, how can you objectively decide if your music is shitty or not?

Do some market research. Labels do market research to help them figure out what audience to target, you can do this too. But first, you need to find out if you are any good.

AudioKite is one of the best (and most inexpensive) market research outlets out there. Basically, you can pay $20 to get 100 random people to listen and rate your song. You can pay more to get more listeners. You can filter by genre so folk lovers aren’t rating your metal tune. You can use DMN’s affiliate code AK-DMN for 30% off your report. If you distribute through Tunecore you can use Fan Reviews and ReverbNation has Crowd Review. These are both similar to AudioKite’s market research platform. Or if you want full critiques from industry-heads, check out Fluence. You’re paying for the “curator’s” time (their term). And each curator on the platform has a different rate per minute (average is about $5/min). But it’s a way to get through to some respected voices. MusicXray enables you to submit to opportunities, but you can also use it to get “Music Industry Professionals” (their term) to listen and rate your music. Yes, these “MIP’s” are faceless. But they’ve all been vetted by MusicXray. They rate your song on 5 criteria: Composition, Production, Arrangement, Performance and Hit Potential.

Most will let you know where you rate against other artists (“Top 10%”). If your music is consistently rated low on all of these scales, it may be time to stop blaming others for your shortcomings and reevaluate your own damn music. You need to surround yourself with fewer people who only tell you what you want to hear and get some unfiltered opinions.

Throw less money around. If you pay someone enough money, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. When your music is great, people will beg to work with you based on the earning potential it has. If you find yourself paying lots of people to do work for you, but very few people offering to work for you for free (or for a commission), there may be a reason for that.

2) Your Sound Isn’t Current

This is a biggie. I hear so many incredibly polished records released this year – that sound like a pop/rock song straight out of the 90s.  Retro can be cool, but the problem is, 90s ain’t retro (yet).  You have to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone.

Stop making music that sounds exactly like your favorite bands (from when you were in high school) with absolutely no modern twist!

You have to stay up on musical trends.   What are you bringing to the music world that is different?  Special.  Undeniable.

Team up with producers who you respect (who have made current sounding records).  They will help you bring your brilliant songs into the current age.

That being said, great music (regardless of production trends) will find a home.  It’s just easier to get noticed if you make music that fits today’s production standards and trends. I t seems that the 70s and 80s are coming back with a vengeance.  Funk anyone?  Synth pop anyone?  So all you 90s pop/rock lovers, if you really can’t pull yourself from those Semi-Charmed guitar tones, sit tight for about 5-10 years and your (ahem their) sound may be ‘hip’ again.

Tip:

Make a list of 10 artists that rose to prominence in the last 5 years whom you dig.  Study their production.  What are they doing in studio that is making their record sound current?  Your producer will know if you don’t.  It’s a producer’s job to keep up with this stuff.  But really, you should too.  Make a playlist of 30 of your favorite songs from the past 5 years.  Put it on repeat for a couple months.  You’ll start to notice production trends.  And they will find a way into your creative process.

If you don’t think artists and producers are in the studio referencing other hit records from the past few years for production ideas, you’re out to lunch – at Bill Knapp’s.

Above all, a great song is a great song.  Acoustic guitar and vocals or piano and vocals will always work. Once you start adding more elements, it pulls it into a ‘vibe.’  If that vibe ain’t hip, you’re gonna have a hard time turning heads in the music (blog/playlist/label/tastemaker) world.

3) You Don’t Have a Story

This is the hardest thing to hear for musicians: You need a story. When was the last time you read a song or album review that discussed the song structure, guitar tones, harmonic and melodic choices, drum tones, the pocket, innovative syncopation, varied time signatures or sonic flourishes?  The things that musicians get off to, reviewers and average listeners couldn’t give two shits about.  What the reviews typically discuss is what sets this artist apart from every other artist on the planet – other than just great music.

What is your (non-musical) hook?  You need something for non-musicians to talk about.  Fans love to be in the know and to educate their friends on their new favorite band. Reviewers need something to talk about in addition to comparing your sound to other artists’.  The reason so many music reviewers compare new bands’ to other artists, is because music reviewers don’t actually know how to discuss the actual music – like musicians do.  And as much as you’d love it, their readers don’t want a two page diatribe dissecting your sonic brilliance.  They want to latch onto a story about who you are that they can tell their friends.

It’s the “he was discovered busking on the streets of LA and now has chart topping radio hits” story.  Adele’s breakup albums.  Taylor Swift’s love life.  The White Stripes’ brother/sister/husband/wife confusion.  Meghan Trainor’s behind the scenes songwriting career.  Bon Iver’s northern woods of Wisconsin home recording.  Deadmau5′ giant, demented mouse head.  Lucius’s coordinated (identical) costumes and hair styles.  Vulfpeck’s Facebook Page and videos.

 

Or it’s an interesting story around your song, album or music video. What sets it apart? Why should people give a shit?

Every artist says their new album is their best work.  Every artist passionately and unequivocally believes in their music.  Every artist thinks their music is great.  Are thousands of artists delusional?   Maybe. Or maybe they haven’t figured out what tastemakers (and casual music fans) actually care about.

Yes, of course, you need to make great music.  But once you (think you) do, then what? Hopefully this gives you some direction.

 

Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business and a Los Angeles based musician. He is the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

 

Photo is by Jacob Montrasio from Flickr and used with the Creative Commons license

24 Responses

  1. Nick

    I think bad album artwork is another common reason people never hear some music.

    Online and on streaming services, album art is often prominently featured and acts as sort of an introduction to the music. If the image doesn’t convince browsers to click, they’ll never hear the song.

    Unfortunately, most artists don’t invest enough time or money into perfecting their artwork and settle for images that resemble that of a social media profile.

    Reply
  2. Sakis Gouzonis

    “…Basically, you can pay $20 to get 100 random people to listen and rate your song.”

    Nice but unsuccessful try to advertise a site that has never helped any artists to become international superstars. A musician who is very confident and serious about his music, would never pay for such useless services.

    Reply
    • Marketing Manager

      Uh, labels do market research like this all the time. You clearly have no clue what you’re talking about.

      Reply
      • Sakis Gouzonis

        It is you who has no clue what he is talking about. Music is free. It is no longer business. Almost all professional artists have already made their music available online for free.

        Reply
    • Sarah

      A musician who is serious about making money from his music is a business – and any business that doesn’t market test its product is setting itself up for failure. This has absolutely nothing to do with confidence or seriousness … it has to do with recognizing that, when you’re trying to sell to a market, that market’s opinion matters more than yours does because it determines your success.

      When you’re a musician, making music that feels good and right to you is all that matters – and that’s an awesome spot to be in.

      When you’re a professional musician, your market and audience matters, because you want their money. No one is going to pay you for something you like when they don’t like it.

      Reply
      • Sakis Gouzonis

        Music is free. It is not business. The internet is full of free songs that the copyright holders themselves have uploaded for everyone to listen and download. Any upcoming artist that doesn’t give away his music for free, he will never be famous. Any already famous artists who don’t give away their music for free, they will soon be forgotten.

        Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Quantity. About 5,000 new songs are released every day. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    Reply
  4. Nicky Knight

    There is Music and there is Business and the two should be mutually collated, operate hand in hand.

    Despite what one comment says “music should be free” then you just as well say “Coca Cola and Pepsi” should be free… it’s a nonsense…

    THE RECORDED MUSIC BUSINESS

    There is still a mountain of cash to be made out of Hit Songs/Hit Records and Mass Rotation Airplay Hits.

    In fact, I would go as far as to say that
    THESE ARE THE NEW GOLDEN DAYS OF THE RECORDED MUSIC BUSINESS

    But if you’re going to play the game then you have to play the game of Hits..

    Everything else sells next to nothing, or even worse.. nothing at all…

    It’s ALL ABOUT THE HIT .. more than ever..

    The monster hits still sell hundreds of thousands of individual single sales on iTunes.. One hit single can buy you a large comfortable mansion, an investment apartment/condo and a Range Rover plus plenty of spare cash in the bank..

    The thing is, there are relatively few hit makers around and the KING OF HITS
    is Mr Max Martin…

    You have to sell in AMERICA and have your Hits in America because that’s where most iTunes sales come from and that’s where huge airplay performance royalties are generated.

    iTunes is till the cash register money machine for the recorded music business so it is unwise and foolish for many to dismiss it..

    Reply
    • Sakis Gouzonis

      Everything that is downloadable is (or will be eventually) available for free. In your example, Coca Cola and Pepsi are not downloadable products yet. That’s why we have to pay to get them.

      Reply
  5. Versus

    “You have to stay up on musical trends. What are you bringing to the music world that is different? Special. Undeniable.”

    Isn’t that a contradiction then? Shouldn’t an artist who wants to stand out be going against the musical trends? Or was that your point: stay up on trends and then intentionally choose to go against them, or try to predict and be first out of the gate with the next one?

    Reply
  6. Versus

    “This is the hardest thing to hear for musicians: You need a story. When was the last time you read a song or album review that discussed the song structure, guitar tones, harmonic and melodic choices, drum tones, the pocket, innovative syncopation, varied time signatures or sonic flourishes? The things that musicians get off to, reviewers and average listeners couldn’t give two ***** about. ”

    I’ve read plenty of reviews that discuss the music, rather than the irrelevant story. I, as a fan, not just as a musician, am interested in the music, not the musician’s life story. Music transcends all that. That is why I value it.

    Reply
    • Versus

      P.S. I recall a time not so long ago when average listeners, kids my age when I was growing up, did discuss the actual music. And everyone was interested in hi-fis also, even the working-class kids with whom I grew up wanted the best sound they could afford.

      Maybe the change is due to the decline in music education, in the U.S.A. at least?

      Reply
  7. Versus

    Good advice to get un-biased critiques of one’s music. However, how do we know that the critiques given by the various companies are any more useful than those of friends? Just because they are negative does not mean they are useful critique, or generalizable to the judgement of the general listening audience.

    So how do we get unbiased perspectives?
    (Of course, all judgments of taste probably involve some biases, which complicate the matter further).

    Reply
    • Versus

      I’ll answer with some ideas of my own:
      – Play your music for friends without their knowledge; i.e. just put it in playlists when you’re socializing with them and note how they react.
      – If it’s dance music, and you’re a DJ, or have DJ friends, let them “test” your tracks and watch the crowd reaction. Floor-filler or clears the room?
      – Let a friend or loved one listen but make no comment. You will hear it “through their ears” in a sense, and flaws will stand out. Especially you become sensitive to that awkward feeling of embarassment when a part is boring or goes on too long. Or when you feel the need to apologize or explain something away.
      – If you have to do this on your own, do the old “other room” trick: listen to your music from another room.
      – Also try the distraction trick (which can be combined with the “other room” trick): listen to your music while doing other activities. This also works best when it’s in a shuffled playlist of the best music of its genre. Make sure to volume match your music to the other music. Just let it play in the background during various activities, and get a feeling for how your tracks stand up to the best of kind.

      Reply
  8. RobinAmalgamationSF

    Hey Ari~

    I met you at the Music Tech Conference in SF a few years ago and really appreciate your advice. I learn more from your articles than most other people in the biz! and the reality check is ok with me if it moves me and my band forward. I’ll be changing the “story” part on my band website to add interest for fans and listeners asap. The tip about artists in the last 5 years and their production values is helpful too. Curious, what about bands like Tame Impala who draw direct blueprints from the 60’s psychedelic period. Nice to listen to, kinda bland for me vocally…. but not that original. Why are they so popular now? You’re a good soul my friend. Will check out some sites you mentioned too for real feedback. Cheers~

    Reply
  9. Ted

    There are so many combinations and ingredients to “making it” that no one answer could be correct. You may have a good performance but look like a slob and no one wants to watch. You may have great songs but a voice that goes sharp every other note. You may have great songs and a great voice but in a band that will never go anywhere (but doesn’t know it).

    Really, the best measure of songs is made during live performances. If you can’t keep the attention of an audience when you’re playing your music live, then your music is not going to be strong enough to carry you….but there have been thousands of bands who made a living with less than stellar music. They made up what they lacked with something that was entertaining enough to keep audiences coming back.

    In my opinion (as a songwriter/singer that has been full-time musician most of my life) everything you need to know was summed up by Mr Big in the kid’s show, “Up”, when he said “Find a need, fill a need”.

    All you need to succeed in any business are customers who are willing to buy what you have to sell.

    Reply
  10. Nicky Knight

    Performing live artists and bands don’t necessarily have to release records and recording artists don’t necessarily have to have a band and perform live.

    The two activities can operate independently of one another or combine the activities.

    There is no need to perform live or have a band – that’s if you’re after hit selling records..

    Image and styling is important.. even the hidden faces of Daft Punk have good
    image and styling.. and they not singers (in the usual sense) … they’re using vocoders.. but the presentation is spot-on.

    The modern hit pop song/record.

    It’s shorter than what they were in the 80s and 90s

    The intro’s are usually anything from 4 measures to 1 measure.

    The hooks have to get you in right from the start..

    No long winder instrumental breaks and solo’s..

    The modern pop record has to be constructed with fast paced commercial radio airplay in mind.. no “dead air time” allowed ..

    Lyrics and be important and at least sort of tell a bit of a story.. but sometimes it’s just catchy phrases that hook you in..

    A fantastic sound using State-of-the-Art production and arrangement techniques..

    A big name producer like Max Martin makes the big knobs at the major label feel more assured they’re betting their money on a sure fire hit..

    If you haven’t got Max on your side then try to emulate his magic using every resource you have..

    You will need the big label machine to get the record onto radio playlists and into TV/Film syncs.. That’s something tiny tot indies can’t do..

    Big Hit / Big Money making records do frequently jump right out of the box from seemingly nowhere every so often .. i.e. “Cheerleader”, “Lean On”…

    Once you’ve had one you better start on preparing the next one and get that
    deposit down on some desirable piece of real estate in Beverly Hills..

    Reply
  11. Edu Camargo

    Fact is: There ain’t no easy formula.

    Some will try their best to continue an idea that’s been already established in people’s minds. Others will attempt to do the most bizarre things in the world. Some might really get there one way or another, or both might not be able to hit the charts, no matter how hard they try, even using marketing tactics to make themselves noticed.

    There’s too much going on and very often I see myself checking some albums here and there on Tidal skipping songs because they didn’t got my atention in some way. It’s rare to pick an album and listen to it from beginning to end… And also, there are lots of people doing more of the same.

    Or maybe, society is too overloaded with information, that the majority of music sounds terribly boring.

    I miss the 80’s…

    Reply
  12. Mefie

    These comments are all true, i think this pop/money music will soon hit the rooftop and they don’t know what to do next, doesn’t music sounds the best when there is no money involved?

    Reply

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