No rules in this game

No rules in this game

By Derek Sivers

Everyone thinks you have to move to the big music cities. But Mihkel Raud in Estonia(eˈstōnēə) sold thousands of albums(ˈalbəm), 100% independent, without leaving Estonia. “Rondellus Sabbatum” was an album so unique that word-of-mouth sold thousands, with hardly any promotion.

Everyone says you need to make your music appeal(əˈpēl) to the masses. But Regina(rəˈjēnə) Spektor proved that emphasizing(ˈemfəˌsīz) your quirks(kwərk) gets you further. Listen to her early albums from 2001 and 2002. She was more mainstream piano vocal(ˈvōk(ə)l). But the weirder(wird) she got with “Soviet(ˈsōvēət) Kitsch(kiCH)”, the more remarkable and noteworthy(ˈnōtˌwərT͟Hē) she became, and that’s when her career really took off.

Everyone is worried about piracy(ˈpīrəsē), copyright, and trademark(ˈtrādˌmärk). But Jonathan(ˈjänəTHən) 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(ˈwebkämik), audiobooks, comedy(ˈkämədē) shows, and others’ YouTube videos. He disclosed that he makes about $500,000 a year by licensing(ˈlīsnsiNG), touring(to͝or), donations(dōˈnāSH(ə)n), 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(i(r)ˈraSH(ə)nəl), you can really have some fun with the counter-intuitive(inˈt(y)o͞oədiv) pop-psychology(sīˈkäləjē) of it.

A great way to win fans is to target a sharp niche(niCH) — 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(ˈsirēəs) career in music is to take nothing seriously. Do the opposite(ˈäpəzət) of other musicians. Make up your own game.

Gurus(ˈɡo͝oro͞o) will say what you must do or can’t 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.