The Business of Producing: Strategies for Musical Theater Success

The Business of Producing: Strategies for Musical Theater Success

Overnight Success Takes About 10 Years

You know what they say, “All overnight success takes about 10 years.” As a musician and entrepreneur in the musical theater world, this saying really resonates with me. These days, we’re all entrepreneurs in our own right, constantly striving to make our mark. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is just how crucial it is to have a solid plan – one that you’re willing to execute and adjust as needed to achieve the growth and success you’re after.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been releasing music in a variety of genres, from jazz and rock to more experimental electronic sounds. I’ve put out tracks independently through platforms like CD Baby, as well as with the help of indie record labels like Climax Entertainment, Biblioteka Records, and Drexel University’s Mad Dragon Music Group. My music has found its way into some pretty unexpected places too, like random commercials, YouTube ad placements, and even a few independent short films.

But my recent success – hitting 700,000 streams for a single called “Eclipse” and accumulating over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify – has truly taken things to a new level for me. I figure other artists out there might benefit from hearing how I did it, because as they say, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” And believe me, I’m always hungry to learn and grow.

Building a Solid Foundation

In addition to my musical pursuits, I’ve had the privilege of interning and working with a variety of talent managers, music publishers, and producers in places like Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. I even attended Drexel University’s Music Industry Program to really dive deep into the nuances of this wild world we call the music industry.

Along the way, I’ve started up a few labels, a publishing company, a clothing line, and even some digital marketing agencies that help other music artists and small businesses develop their online presence. Through these journeys, I’ve built up an incredible network of graphic designers, photographers, fellow musicians, and fellow entrepreneurs that I still collaborate with to this day.

Most recently, I’ve had the honor of working as the social media marketing manager for the amazing folks over at Disc Makers. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with a variety of music artists over the years, like JUTAUN, who’ve sold over 100,000 albums and licensed their music to the likes of Netflix, NASCAR, Fox, and TLC. And let’s not forget my work with R&B legend Freddie Jackson, playing bass for him since 2016 and helping manage his social media and promotions.

Needless to say, my “overnight success” has really been the result of 15 years’ worth of hard work, learning, and building up my network of serious industry contacts. And now, it was time to put all those skills to use and start building my own brand awareness, getting more streams, and finding new fans.

The Power of Single Releases and Adaptability

Before this recent release, my most successful album was my 2018 effort, “Epoch,” which I put out in partnership with Biblioteka Records. That project generated around 100,000 streams across various platforms, helping me build my monthly Spotify listener count up to a few hundred to 1,500 – not too shabby, but I knew I could do even better.

So for this next project, I decided to invest serious time, energy, and money into developing a robust marketing and promotion strategy. We’re talking email blasts, blog interviews, social media posts, and paid advertising – all with the goal of getting people to stream my music on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and SoundCloud.

The results spoke for themselves. Naturally, as a musician, I never stop creating, and it’s always a special feeling when you know people are actually listening to what you have to say. So I allowed myself plenty of time for recording and mixing this next batch of songs, ultimately choosing 13 out of 20 that were ready to go.

I had this whole plan laid out – release the first single, “Cartercraft,” on April 20, 2019, then follow up with “Cavediver” on June 24th, and finally drop the full album a few weeks later in July or August. But as my team was still finalizing the physical product choices, we decided to hold off on officially announcing the album release itself.

This gap in timing actually ended up working in my favor. It gave us the space to create organic social media posts, premiere official music videos on YouTube, engage my prior contacts via email blasts, and utilize targeted paid ads on various platforms. On average, I budgeted around $300 for boosted and promoted posts, as well as ad campaigns designed to drive more listeners to my Spotify and Apple Music pages.

The timing also allowed me to submit my singles to algorithmic playlists on all the major platforms and reach out to playlist curators, bloggers, and journalists to try and get some coverage. And you know what? It paid off. When I released “Cartercraft” in April 2019, I saw a ton of response from different blogs and YouTube channels, which helped build my streaming numbers, fan base, and introduce me to a whole new audience. The same thing happened when “Cavediver” came out a couple months later.

Embracing the Era of Singles and Streaming

These early successes got me thinking – in the era of streaming and singles, maybe I should take a different approach with my release strategy. I had a strong feeling that most of the songs on the album were solid, each telling their own story. So rather than just dropping the whole album and maybe promoting a song or two, I decided to release each track as a single.

I discussed the idea with my team, and they were totally on board. So we mapped out a release plan for the next year and a half, strategically timing new singles around thematic events on the calendar that I hoped people would resonate with. Each release was accompanied by a social media ad campaign, email blast, and dedicated music video – and it worked like a charm.

A few Twitch streamers and the popular Spotify channel ChillSelect even featured my song “Zombies in the Forest,” which I released around Halloween 2019. I also collaborated with producer Fried Monk on “Waterfalls and Lavaflows” in early 2020, which was later remixed by Canadian electronic duo Tangerine Beams and released in March. And my April 2020 release, “Rainy Daze,” received rave reviews for its moody atmosphere and beautiful piano work.

Through all of this, I was seeing my monthly listener count grow from a few hundred in December 2019 to around 6,000 by May 2020. I was now able to use this growing audience to create better ad targeting and find more people who were likely to enjoy my music, merchandise, and overall brand.

Striking Proverbial Gold

The timing of my singles strategy, combined with my growing understanding of my audience and the steady growth of my listenership and name recognition, ended up helping me strike proverbial gold. My team’s promotional pushes attracted the attention of a few curators at Spotify, and before I knew it, my song “Eclipse” was added to the official “Chill Instrumental Beats” station, as well as four other editorial playlists.

In a matter of just a few months, “Eclipse” had accumulated over 100,000 streams. And six months after its release, it’s sitting pretty at over 700,000 streams, with my monthly Spotify listeners climbing to over 100,000 people. It’s opened up all kinds of new opportunities for me – collaborating with amazing artists and producers, connecting with new fans, reconnecting with old ones, and even supporting myself more through music.

Now, 700,000 streams is by no means the equivalent of 700,000 (or even 7,000) sales. But to me, the value comes from just how many people are being reached. And that’s why it’s so important to do your best to capture those passive listeners and turn them into active fans.

Engaging the Audience

I’m always looking for creative ways to engage my new listeners. On Spotify, I change up my “Artist Pick” section often, featuring different songs and messages to encourage people to follow and check out more of my music. In my email blasts and social posts, I make sure to direct my active fans to my Soulful Traveler apparel brand on Bandcamp, helping to increase sales for both my music and my merch.

It’s all about continuously re-engaging with that active fan base and building up my email lists and social media followings. And it’s been working – since “Eclipse” came out, I’ve released two more singles, “Real Life” and “Mooncraft,” that have also seen great streaming success, with nearly 20,000 and 10,000 streams respectively, as well as some killer playlist additions and critical support from around the world.

In total, the releases from my “Cartercraft” project are approaching a million streams and growing across all the DSPs – far more than any of my previous projects combined. We just dropped a Rainy Daze remix EP by Canadian electronic artist HF5 on November 5th, and I’ve got something fun in store for the winter solstice in December. The current plan is for a full album with an awesome product release to come in early 2021.

But as I’ve already learned, plans can always change. “Eclipse” may be considered a six-month “success story” (as opposed to an “overnight” one), but in truth, it’s the result of 15 years’ worth of hard work, learning, and building my skills as both a musician and a marketer. And it’s that tenacity to keep pursuing my dreams, combined with a willingness to adapt based on the data, that has been the real key to my recent successes.

The Importance of Strategy and Adaptability

On a practical level, this growth in both streams and product sales has come from careful planning, experimentation, analysis, and adjustment. If I hadn’t been willing to switch up my strategy based on the data from my previous releases, I never would have gotten to the point of promoting “Eclipse” – which, in my opinion, is the eighth-best song I’ve ever written and the catalyst for my success in 2020.

The Musical Theater Center is the perfect place for artists like me to learn these invaluable lessons about the business side of producing. Because at the end of the day, adaptation isn’t just a key to survival – it’s the key to survival. Being open and willing to adjust your strategy while continuing to learn and grow as an artist is absolutely essential for any independent musician or producer looking to make it big in this industry.

So keep hustling, my friends. Keep your eyes and ears open, be willing to experiment, and never stop adapting. With a solid plan, a healthy dose of creativity, and the determination to see it through, there’s no limit to what you can achieve. I’m living proof of that, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store.

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