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Future of the Industry

No Rules In This Game


No rules in this game

A Guest Post by Derek Sivers 

Everyone thinks you have to move to the big music cities. But Mihkel Raud in Estonia sold thousands of albums, 100% independent, without leaving Estonia. Go to sabbatum.com to see how he created an album so unique that word-of-mouth sold thousands, with hardly any promotion.

Everyone says you need to make your music appeal to the masses. But Regina Spektor proved that emphasizing your quirks gets you further. Listen to her early albums from 2001 and 2002. She was being more mainstream fit-the-mold piano vocal. But the weirder she got with Soviet Kitsch, the more remarkable and noteworthy she became, and that’s when her career really took off.

Everyone is worried about piracy, copyright, and trademark. But Jonathan Coulton writes a song a day, gives most away, and is one of the most successful independent artists today. By making more and more music, and letting it flow, his music has gotten into unusual places like webcomics, audiobooks, comedy shows, and others’ YouTube videos. He disclosed that he makes about $500,000 a year by licensing, touring, donations, and people choosing to buy his music from his site, even though they could get it for free.

Because the music business is mostly perception, and minds are irrational, you can really have some fun with the counter-intuitive pop-psychology of it.

A great way to win fans is to target a sharp niche - to proudly exclude 99% of the public. So the way to win fans is to exclude almost everyone.

A great way to get funding is to act as if you’ll never get funding - to make a plan that doesn’t need it. So the way to get funding is to ignore funding.

A great way to have a serious career in music is to take nothing seriously. Do the opposite of other musicians. Make up your own game.

Gurus will say what you can’t do or must do. They mean well, but they’re wrong.

For every rule they tell you, there’s an exception. They are just telling you their specific past, not your specific future.

There are no rules in this game. You change them as you go.


This was my contribution to Andrew Dubber’s great book, “The 360 Deal: A collection of genuinely helpful advice for people starting out in the music industry”. You should buy it.



photo by zickie. (Sorry I couldn't find a free Calvinball image.)




Originally a professional musician and circus clown, Derek Sivers created CD Baby in 1998.

It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100M in sales for 150,000 musicians.

In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education.

He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 5 million views of his talks.

In 2011, he published a book which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories.

Derek Sivers lives in Singapore, where he is creating his next company.


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Originally a professional musician and circus clown, Derek Sivers created CD Baby in 1998.

It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100M in sales for 150,000 musicians.

In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education.

He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 5 million views of his talks.

In 2011, he published a book which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories.

Derek Sivers lives in Singapore, where he is creating his next company.



Originally a professional musician and circus clown, Derek Sivers created CD Baby in 1998.

It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100M in sales for 150,000 musicians.

In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education.

He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 5 million views of his talks.

In 2011, he published a book which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories.

Derek Sivers lives in Singapore, where he is creating his next company.



Originally a professional musician and circus clown, Derek Sivers created CD Baby in 1998.

It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100M in sales for 150,000 musicians.

In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education.

He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 5 million views of his talks.

In 2011, he published a book which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories.

Derek Sivers lives in Singapore, where he is creating his next company.

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