Quality Vs. Marketing In The Music Business

This is a guest post by Paul Santo.

Yes, I used the words “marketing” and “product.” You may have created your art, but what you are selling is the privilege to someone’s time and money.

A marketing strategy is imperative, but usually useless without a competitive and unique product. A great song without a marketing strategy most often gets lost. A mediocre song played poorly is usually guaranteed to fail- you’re competing with attractive, young people who are often armed with factory-farmed songs and production specifically designed to succeed.

Without a very novel visual hook, or being an attractive teen, pretty much the ONLY thing that will get you a conventional record deal with a financially supportive label, everyone ABSOLUTELY needs the highest level of product to rise above the cultural noise floor. This means GREAT SONGS (and the BEST musicians to suit the song)…as well as a style, presence and the thing that sets you apart. You don’t want that record company anyway. It’s over and the future, which is now, is your own if you want it bad enough.

With great songs you can control your future a bit and maybe even make a living. A few exalted souls will make a great living. I don’t know about you but I liked being a musician because I liked being a musician. And no way did I want a “real job!”

Do you have the goods to inspire an audience to find you and make you their own? That’s the name of the game. Start there. THEN you can look at refining your image, creating your merch, kickstarting your partnering, and then promoting a great song that has a chance of being heard…

The Music Business Is A Competition

Ahhh, you’re an ARTIST! That’s awesome. You just jacked up the odds before you a little higher. Say you are in your 20’s or even 30’s and your art is precious and you want people to hear it and you’d like the creation and performance of this art to support you. You’re not a Tik-Tok-er, exactly, but you post and promote on IG, FB, Youtube… almost everywhere, hunt and apply for playlists, you name it. It’s difficult to be noticed much less acknowledged.

Then you see an influencer…my friend’s daughter is a very successful one…who has the attention of almost a half million people for being attractive and wearing branded clothes exploits that into a record deal…even though she’s really not a singer….and don’t you wonder: “How do I compete against THAT?”

But then think: how do you compete with…and how do you measure up to…the competition in your own field, the music world? Aiming high? Then how do you compete with YOURSELF? The self-imposed roadblocks, setbacks and paralysis that ALL artists deal with on the road, hopefully, to success?

And don’t you just hate the word “compete”? It seems to make it a sporting event and sucks the art right out of it, but only if you let it! It’s reality. Welcome! You can create great art and compete awfully poorly with it. You can create mediocre art yet be highly motivated and competitive to be heard. Wouldn’t the best of these worlds be creating great art AND working hard to get yourself and your art noticed? Unless you don’t care about reaching people.

However, I’ve found that every artist I’ve worked with, from Aerosmith to Ringo to Desmond Child have ALL shared these desires for quality, for the most intense realizations of their imaginations, and the work ethic to get there. To a person: HIGHLY motivated and competitive. Yes, they worked hard and relentlessly but they also invested their time in the right things; I can’t stress this enough. It is the thread that runs through every highly creative and driven…and yes, successful…..songwriter and musician.

Creating Quality Songs

And, yes…..back to songwriting…. How do you gauge a “mediocre” song, given that art is subjective? By the present (what sells) and the past (what sold AS WELL As what lasted). The bar you have to set for the “quality” of your music should be the music of the artists that inspired you.

It does NOT matter the style of music you create. If you’re a methmetal polka band you have to create the most alluring methmetal polka you can. This requires time, rewrites, editing and to not be fooled by your friends’ opinions, and to not be fooled by excitement in a track…and who doesn’t adore metal polka?…that makes someone react…but not actually interested. This happens all the time. It’s like cocaine or something. Big productions, hollow content. Much ado about nothing that usually results in…nothing.

I now refer you to the Motown “quality control” department (Google that)….the producers, writers, and executives who met each week and decided the fate of what would be released. The concept was adapted from the Detroit car factory assembly lines and chain of creation to the QC. It was highly competitive, although friendly, but it pushed everyone involved to greater heights. It was healthy because it resulted in a timeless, iconic body of work that is still of great value financially and artistically.

You can do this for yourself by stepping back and being objective and you can seek the unbiased input of pros. You must have a belief in yourself, but be open to opinions that may make the difference between good and GREAT, and even open your mind to things you hadn’t considered.

You must be relentless in showcasing the best of you and minimizing the less enchanting parts and this must appear in your songs, your image, your shows, and content.

This is not “selling out, man”, this is distilling the vat of your creativity into the finest glass of bourbon you can come up with. Besides, an audience can smell pandering and inauthenticity a mile away now. Authenticity and interaction with your base rules, even if it takes a lot of work to get there. And it will.

Time Vs. Money

Where do you spend the currency known as time? And where do you spend your money? When you look at time and money individually there is a stark difference: money is renewable and time is not. So, you can always make more money but you cannot make more time. Spend both wisely.


Social media strategizing, interactive content for your fans, advertising strategically, post-Covid appearances and collaboration, enticing merchandise that reflects a fan’s identity and bond with the artist….one can go on. You’ll need to do all this or delegate to helpful friends. But it usually all costs TIME and MONEY.

You can pay people to market you, pay people to do PR toward trying to get you written up but who’s going to write the great songs that are your most sensible pathway to being noticed? You. And that takes a major time investment. It’s a craft.

You CAN do your own presentation and promotion and if you’re good at it, you spent some time but saved some money.

But how you spend your money is really important, for both marketing AND the costs and investment recording, mastering, artwork, etc.

Focus On One Song At A Time

This is why I always suggest that people who are not just going to a studio or using AirGigs members like me because it’s fun and an avocation outside their real job but as a means to create music you want to SELL, in the vast popular music realm available to us, both mainstream and alternative/underground, seriously consider recording one song at a time and dialing that in to the max before recording more…unless you’re album-oriented like ambient psilocybin music or the like.

We live in a world where small content rules….ONE SONG….but being good at this can help you collect more fans with each song you release…. And with that I suggest you get back to work.

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