Why you shouldn’t sell your music at gigs

One of the best feelings us musicians can have is when someone buys our music.

What a validation of our creativity!

(and, of course, we get money, and who doesn’t want more money?!)

Unfortunately, though, we often let those two boosts – one to our ego, the other to our wallet – get in the way of an even better result; a long-term relationship.

Is it better to sell one £5 product to a customer once (i.e. your new EP) or to sell to that same customer one £3 product every year for the next five years?

Let’s do some quick maths:

1 x £5 = £5

5 x £3 = £15

The second option is clearly the best.

But because we humans often crave instant gratification (especially us musicians!), rather than planning for the long-term, far too often we pick the first option.

Here’s an example;

You’re playing a gig. You’re killing it! In fact, it might be the best you’ve ever played. At the end you shout out about your new EP for sale, only £5! And, very happily, you get ten people come up to you to buy it!

Eagerly you exchange those pesky drinks coasters CDs for a crisp £5 note, modestly accept the adoring praise of the drunk customer (who might not even remember you when their hangover kicks in) and wish them well on their merry way so you can get to the next person in line.

Eventually you get through all ten people. Huzzah! You just made £50 – milky bars are on you.

But in your haste to grab the money from the punters queuing up, lest a delay in getting to them causes them a change of heart, did you get contact details (i.e. a valid email address) from each person who bought your EP?

If you confidently answered “Yes, I always get their email address!” then you can stop reading now and go write a song (unless you sell music on iTunes or offer it on Spotify, in which case I’m not done with you yet…).

If you sheepishly answered “No, not every time…(or ever)” then fear not, that’s what I’m here for.

In business there is a term called Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). It basically refers to the total amount of money a single customer might spend with the same business over the course of all their transactions.

As a business (and if you are wanting to sell your creative output in today’s world, you ARE a business), growing each customer’s CLV is crucial to your long-term, sustainable success.

So if you sell a CD for £5 and never transact with that customer again, their CLV is £5.

Moreover, you’re going to need to continuously find new customers every time you have something to sell.

This is one of the dangers of using iTunes to sell downloads (or sending traffic to Spotify, etc, to stream your latest release); you have NO WAY of EVER guaranteeing future contact with those customers/listeners again.

Got your next EP ready to sell? Great! But you’re going to have to start selling it from scratch, again.

All because you took the instant win (£5 in the hand) rather than build the long-term foundation you really need.

Instead, if you have the contact details of previous customers (i.e. their email address), you’ve got a ready-made audience to start selling to.

And this means you can increase their CLV and benefit from the compound nature of repeat business.

Additionally, the higher the CLV of each of your customers, the less total customers you’ll need to make a living.

Your ideal position is to own both your product (music) and your customer database (email list) Click To Tweet

Because one without the other is pretty useless.

So, taking our live gig example from above, let me give you a different idea:

By all means announce you have EPs for sale at £5, but offer people an even better deal; if they give you their email address you’ll email them the EP for free.

Yep, you read that right; free.


Three reasons;

  1. You’ll guarantee that you get valid, working email addresses
  2. You’ll get far more people give you their email address for a free EP than you’d get people willing to pay £5 for it there and then
  3. You’ll be able to sell all your future music to those people again and again, for a long time to come.

I know what you’re thinking; “You expect me to turn down £5 for the potential for them to buy music from me in the future?”

In short; yes.

It’s the potential that is key; remove potential for the future and you have…well, nothing for the future!

And here’s why:

If you’re planning on a long-term music career, you are going to be making a lot more music for a long time to come (and probably that music will improve too, as you get better at your craft). Over the next few decades you’re going to have so much new music to sell that giving your current EP away for free really doesn’t matter. Just the opposite; the more people who hear it – whom you can contact afterwards – the more chance of finding and cultivating a growing body of fans who will buy your future releases.

So have confidence in your ability to continually make great new music over the coming years; don’t be too precious with your current batch of songs.

Instead, use them to build long-term, direct relationships with your fans, so you can grow their Customer Lifetime Value and have a sustainable and successful career in music.