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Thursday, September 16, 2010branded music: Derek Sivers
Branded Music – Part 1 of 5 – Derek SiversMonday, 13 September 2010, 0 Comments

Welcome to the MicControl interview series, Branded Music. This 5-part series will spotlight some of the new music industry’s most influential thought-leaders, dissecting the success of their own brands in order to share some powerful insights with the emerging music community, both artists and bloggers included.

Today we will be speaking with CD Baby founder and former president Derek Sivers. CD Baby was the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients. After he won the 2003 World Technology Award, Esquire Magazine’s annual “Best and Brightest“ cover story said, “Derek Sivers is changing the way music is bought and sold… one of the last music-business folk heroes.” In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby to focus on his new ventures to benefit musicians, including his new company MuckWork where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their “uncreative dirty work”. His current projects and writings are all at sivers.org:

Did you determine the direction of the CD Baby brand during the planning process of the business (i.e. creating a business plan, developing a marketing strategy, etc.) or was it something that came to fruition afterwards?

Oh I never had a business plan, marketing strategy, planning process, or even a brand direction. I was really just selling my own CD. Then some friends asked if I could sell theirs. Then their friends asked, and their friends, and so on. There was never a plan. I was just saying yes to requests.

The whole 10-year history of the company was really just frantically trying to keep up with all the things people wanted me to do. Not much of a plan at all.

Though in hindsight, that’s a good way to be. Growing reluctantly, instead of trying to force something that people aren’t clamoring for.

While CD Baby is a very well-known brand, you have also done an excellent job building up your own personal brand as an artist and an entrepreneur. Do you have any tips for artists looking to establish their own personal brand, meanwhile building the brand of their band?

Be selfless. Think only how you can give people what they really need and value. It has to satisfy a need from their point of view, not yours. Then just structure it so that you save a little bit for yourself, to keep you going.

Think of how much you can give. What else can you possibly do for people, that they value? If you want money, you have to do something money-worthy. For example: writing and publishing articles is not money-worthy. Everybody is doing it now. But writing a great book can be money-worthy. Singing your songs with nothing but an acoustic guitar with your eyes closed may not be money-worthy, because it’s what everyone else does. But putting together a killer house-rocking party-time band, for example, can be very money-worthy.

Keep doing things, always. Keep sharing. Keep helping. Keep writing.

At what point would you recommend that artists determine the many facets (i.e. image, style, unique positioning, presence, quality, etc.) of their desired brand?

Ideally, from the very beginning. Stop being yourself. Be a colorful character in the stage of life. Take a narrow-niche side of your personality, whether carnival barker, Euro-trash playboy, or Pagan wood elf, and amplify that all the way. Give people an extreme character that represents the self they wish they could be, if they weren’t so shy, or didn’t have that dumb job. Don’t just be another normal Joe.

Make the music that character would make. It can be incredibly creatively inspiring. Look at Tom Waits, Lady Gaga, old Bowie, Eminem, Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and hell, even Beethoven! Could you be a character along-side them? Or would you look…

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