How to Avoid Being Salesy in Music Marketing

Salesy may not be an actual word, but we all know it when we see it. We can feel it from a mile away. And if we're not careful, we can often become it.

Salesy is that yucky, stinky thing we see on people trying to "push a product" on us. It's the worst! Because even if the product is actually a good thing for us, we feel totally unsafe moving forward with the salesperson—the salesy-ness breaks our trust. 

When I pick up on salesy-ness I usually just repeat "Cool thanks, ok, thanks, cool, ok thanks..." until I can leave the store or hang up the phone. 

We're all sensitive to salesy, but there's one group of people who seem particularly aware of it: artists

Artists aren't just turned off by salesy, they are deathly afraid of becoming it. And that's understandable. When your livelihood is built on you putting your name, your face, and your unprotected open soul out there, the last thing you'd want is to be perceived as a common used car salesman.

Trouble is, they also want to make a good living. They feel like they're between a rock and a hard place: either I act salesy to get people to buy my stuff and come to my shows or I go broke. 

So what do they do?

Try to get label deal. Hire managers. Employ digital marketing agencies of varying kinds. Basically, artists will outsource the "dirty work" of the business part of music business. Of course there are plenty of other good reasons why artists hire a team, but I believe fear of salesy business is a root cause of a lot of bad deals.

The point is, it's worth giving up significant portions of their income to avoid selling. Because in the music business, sales is a necessary evil, right?


I get why it feels that way — because I used to feel the same way. But now I believe that sales is one of the best parts of the music business. I actually think it's a miraculous design of life, like mountains or coffee or like those five days of humidity-free springtime in Nashville.

Good music marketing and sales result in both fans and artists getting more value than they bargained for. 

I'll come back to that idea in a minute, but first let's look at why salesy happens in the first place.

1. Salesy happens when you put your need to make money ahead of the needs of your audience.

Nobody likes a Desperate Dennis. And ya, I just made that up, but you know what I mean. It's very uncomfortable to try to buy something from someone who needs your money. It's awkward at best, manipulative at worst.

And yet, this happens quite often in music marketing. Labels can be especially guilty of this if their deals only consist of album sales and streaming revenue. Their one-track marketing efforts tend to put the need to get an album sale ahead of the variety of interests of the artist's fans.

For instance, when an artist releases a record, it can feel like every social media post is get the record, buy the record, have you gotten the record, hey now you can stream the record...

The thinking behind that is:

1. We just spent a lot of time and money making this project. We've got to recoup fast!
2. These three weeks of "social media splash" is our best option for communicating to fans about buying the record.

 This screenshot is from a course called  More for Your Music , a free video series that includes a lesson in the art of non-salesy growth.  Click here to get access.

This screenshot is from a course called More for Your Music, a free video series that includes a lesson in the art of non-salesy growth. Click here to get access.

Example: posting repetitive, one-size-fits-all marketing messages on social media overlooks your super fans—the people that have already taken action. 

When you approach an album release with a "this is where I'll get mine" mindset, you're prone to overlook the interests and desires of your audience. (Side note: it may seem counterintuitive, but you can actually make way more money putting the fans first). It's subtle, but over the course of an album launch, an artist can look salesy, desperate and/or just inconsiderate. 

2. Salesy happens when you put your need to make money ahead of your true identity.

Have you ever felt like someone is doing a "sales tactic” on you? Woof -- it's the worst.

It’s like that friend fresh from a multi-level-marketing conference. Now they're taking a serious interest in your goals — and what a coincidence, they have an amazing business opportunity just for you!

I've been that guy before, for sure. Not with MLM, but with selling business services. I desperately needed the money, so I thought the best mode of action was to learn some tactics, some "hacks" to close the deal. And man, that was miserable. 

When the tactics don't work, we come to the conclusion that "we're just not those kinds of people." There are sales people and then there's the rest of us. 

We think that because when the sales pros do a tactic, you can't even tell they're doing a tactic at all. Why is that? Practice? Well, sure, that may be part of it. But I believe it's much more than that.

I believe that great salespeople know themselves. And they like what they see.

They know and enjoy who God has made them to be. They have spent time discovering their unique identities—their strengths, weaknesses, personality, beliefs, likes and dislikes. They understand themselves—and when it comes to selling, they don't violate that identity. The sell from their identity, not in spite of or against their identity.

 Artist or salesman? Yes.

Artist or salesman? Yes.

Don't believe me? Let's consider the greatest salesman of the modern era: Steve Jobs.

No doubt about it. It's not even close. The guy was a master at sales.

And yet, when we remember Steve, we never say "sales guy." Why? Because Steve did what all truly great sales people do: lived from the heart, not from the tactics.

We know what he believed about the world. And we liked it. We wanted to join the movement. 

Sure, there are tactics that “work” better than others in sales. But trying to find the best tactics is a great way to end up being just another “salesy” salesperson. Instead, you should spend time getting to know yourself—how do you feel connected to another human being? What do you enjoy? Do prefer to speak in a highly animated or passionate way? Are you introverted or extroverted? All of this matters.

When I work with an artist client, I don't simply copy and paste great music marketing tactics on their brand. I have to know what makes the artist tick. What do they care about? How do they like to communicate? What pisses them off? What makes them come alive? Of course, the marketing tools mostly stay the same — but if I don't know consider the artist's true identity, they will come across salesy to their fans, and the marketing strategies will fail.

If the artist you manage hates being on video, stop making them record Instagram videos "because video works well these days." If your artist loves to be weird and funny, stop hiring photographers who force them into the "I'm so cool I'm pissed off" look. If your artist is extroverted, film them playing music for strangers in a park. If your artist cares about giving to Chicago Public Schools, don't hide it. Publish it on the homepage of the website and create media events around it (well done, Chance the Rapper and co.)

As long as artists believe that sales and marketing are necessary evils, they will always cap their ability to grow revenue. Here's why:

1. They will focus on avoiding too much "salesy-ness" instead of focusing on their fans and the value they could be creating for them.

2. There will be no motivation for their marketing teams to mine them for their true identity. There is always more to uncover and more to learn, but labels and marketing companies will stop looking if they're just trying to push through album cycles the typical way.

That's the thing with business. It's the thing I love. It's counterintuitive and upside-down.

If we only think in terms of "I need to make money off this, how can we make money off of this," we'll be blinded to the truly great money-making opportunities.

For proof, just look at the 2000s. Music labels had a scarcity mindset. They just wanted to keep things the way they were and punish those who fought the system. As a result, the door was open for an abundance-minded leader to step in.

That's when Steve Jobs decided to put the fans first. He asked, "They love downloading music online—so how can I make it even better for them?" He made it better by building from Apple's identity of elegance and utility. iTunes was born, and the rest is history. Today, Apple is still taking huge percentages of industry revenues. Revenue made available to the salesman who served.

When artists consider their fans' desires and market out of their true identities, money-making opportunities show up everywhere.

Blake Stratton