You may have heard experts say you don’t need to make something to sell it. Meaning – you can set up pre-orders and test demand before you put all your time, energy, and money into developing a product no one will buy.
Does this work? And if so, how?
The Cost of Releasing an Album & What We Can Learn from it
Chances are you already know everything that goes into making an album.
I have a friend who recently completed his, and at the end of the day, it cost him $40,000 to record his music and put all his marketing materials together.
And I have no doubt he will work hard and find an audience. His music is kind of like the meeting place of modern-day pop mixed with 80s sensibilities, and we all know there’s a market for that.
But there’s no denying that the $40,000 financial outlay was significant, and the oft repeated phrase, “there are no guarantees” applies to him as much as any other artist vying for the consumer’s fragmented attention.
What’s funny about this is that the only cost to record and release my three-time award-winning, one-time nominated short film score The Nobody Prayer (Original Soundtrack)was my own time and energy recording it (which for argument’s sake I will value at $720), and $49 for distribution.
If at some point over the course of my lifetime that release makes me $769, I will be free and clear and into gravy. As for my friend who spent $40,000, I’m not sure when he’ll break even and make a return on that investment.
Is this fair? No. But it also comes from a fundamental difference in perspective and experience.
Selling it Before You Make it
So, is there any merit to this idea of selling it before you make it, of validating a market first, of taking pre-orders on something you haven’t even put any time into creating?
And at the risk of bringing up a sticking point, I want to raise the example of Flashes of Elation, a book I have been developing since 2016.
Now, the project was well underway when I set up pre-orders for it. But I did not have a complete work on my hands. It still caught the attention of my audience, and several people were kind enough to pre-order it on good faith (thank you!).
What I need to tell you, though, is that there are some nuances to setting up pre-orders.
To an extent, yes, you can just say, “I’m making XYZ” and ask people to PayPal you. And if that works for you, go with it.
But usually, it takes a little more than that. Here’s what I learned about setting up pre-orders:
Make the Offer as Attractive as Possible
There are a few key things to consider here. And I know it might be a lot to take in but stick with me and you will see how it works.
And we’ll look at each of these elements in detail.
You need to sell your product. And that’s what copy does for you. It acts as a 24/7 salesperson while you’re busy doing other things.
As applied to Flashes of Elation, it was a matter of putting together a blog post teasing the release and talking about the benefits the book would offer.
Now for a bit of secret sauce.
When I put together my pre-order page, marketer Neil Patel just happened to be taking pre-orders for his book, Hustle. His pre-order post caught my attention, so I decided to model it. Apparently, that turned out to be a winning formula, because several people pre-ordered my book too.
My first mockup draft of the Flashes of Elation book cover was honestly terrible, and the book sold despite that. So, I don’t want to put too fine a point on design. But there’s no denying that, psychologically, we tend to put more value on great design.
It’s fundamentally illogical, as author and expert marketer Dan Kennedy emphasizes form over function. And I tend to agree with him. What sells isn’t necessarily what looks the best.
It’s at first brush that we tend to put more value on design. I’ve seen it firsthand as people were bidding on internet businesses. They automatically assumed a website with a better design was a better business. And it often turned out that wasn’t the case. The business that focused on design was the one that was earning less.
The point here would be to 1) have a design, and 2) test it. If it doesn’t work, iterate.
You can put a design together relatively quickly using a tool like Canva, and that’s the same method I advocate for in The Code Breaker Course.
Even if people say they just want the album, or they just want the book, there’s something about a value stack that makes the offer more attractive, and ultimately irresistible.
I learned the term “value stack” from ClickFunnels co-founder Russell Brunson. And it basically means to layer complementary products on top of your main offer.
A CD or a book might be worth $20 to $25. But if you threw in a digital version of the product, some merch, a personal call with the creator (i.e., you), access to a private Facebook group, and so on, it would elevate the value of the product in the eyes of your audience. And even with all these bonuses, if for a limited time, the buyer could get it all for $20? That would wow them, wouldn’t it?
In the Flashes of Elation example, I offered my audience the opportunity to get these pre-order bonuses:
A signed paperback
eBook version of the book
Audio version of the book
Two appendixes – My Top 10 Tips for Creatives, and interview with Sean Harley [Tucker]
Audio version of the interview with Sean Harley [Tucker]
Looks quite generous, even to me!
If I wanted to be more aggressive, I could have listed off the value of each of these products and then reinforced the fact that buyers would get all of it for just $25. Kind of like I did on the sales page for Members Only Audios. Not going to lie – it can start to feel pushy after a point, but you can experiment for yourself and see what works.
So, Do You Need to Make it to Sell it?
No, you don’t!
And the advantage here is that if no one buys, you can chalk it all up to experience, go back to the drawing board, and come up with something else. Although I’ve known this for a long time, it feels like I’m learning the lesson at a deeper level now.
Either way, if you do sell pre-orders, be sure to deliver on the product you promised. That’s key!
I’ve recently had some personal questions from those who are either interested in my forthcoming book, Flashes of Elation, or have already pre-ordered it, and are wondering about its status (and rightfully so). So, I thought it would be worth making a public statement so that no one would be in the dark about this.
You may have seen my November Monthly Hustle post on Music Entrepreneur HQ, seen the blurbs about “next books” and noticed that Flashes is missing from the equation.
First, and most importantly, I have not abandoned the project. Yes, I’m still working on it. And it is a very important work to me.
I admit that I use the term “working on it” a little loosely here, because honestly, I haven’t had a whole lot of momentum with it since 2018. But this is not because I don’t intend to complete it.
I am acknowledging that this has become somewhat of a Duke Nukem Forever or Chinese Democracy type situation, but at least what you can say about those releases is that they eventually happened (even if they didn’t impress). And it’s going to be the same with Flashes of Elation – it will happen, and hopefully, it will impress.
The other reason Flashes doesn’t appear in my “next book” list right now is because there are still some tough editing decisions to make. Will I eliminate certain chapters or entire sections of certain chapters, will I write new chapters, will I knowingly break certain writing conventions (spelling, grammar, formatting, etc.), and so on.
Not to make too much of it, but these are the types of difficult decisions I’ve been facing in the editing process, for a book that is sure to be the same length as The New Music Industry(66,000 words), which I laboriously edited many times (12 hours at a time), along with the help of my editors.
There is some good news in all this, though. I started an intensive yearlong leadership program about six months ago, and I’m in what they call the “Completion” quarter. And that means I’m looking for every opportunity to tie up loose ends in my world, and I know that Flashes is one of those loose ends I’m not willing to sit with for much longer.
But first and foremost, I plan to complete another Duke Nukem Forever or Chinese Democracy that’s been gnawing at me for even longer, and that’s my musical release, Back on Solid Ground.
That said, I’ve created a separate list of projects and tasks to complete, and Flashes of Elation is on that list!
As challenging as they have been, the last few years have taught me a great deal. With Music Entrepreneur HQ, I thought I was building a community / membership. Only to find that the traffic was just as disengaged as the stats showed. I thought it was growing into a profitable, sustainable business. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone one step forward and two steps back in the preceding years – even more so in the last six months.
I never would have discovered all that if I hadn’t gone through the motions of setting it all up and testing it in the market though. And maybe one day I will have a hungry, ready, engaged audience for what I’ve created. But I can see that time isn’t now.
I guess what I’m saying is – in experimenting with a lot of business models and initiatives, I’m recognizing that what people want from me most is music and books. And so, music and books you shall have. Online academies and coaching programs? Maybe for another time.
And, once the political weirdness that’s been playing out across the world over the last 21 months starts settling down, maybe you’ll see me on the stages of the world performing and giving presentations again.
Anyway, at this point I’ve gone on long enough, and I can’t justify spending more time on this when indeed, I could be working on Flashes of Elation. So, I hope your question has been answered, and thank you so much for sticking with me. It’s been a ride.
The last three days have already been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but I’m feeling better today, so a temporary Tuesday dip is not bad all told.
I already feel more accomplished on my current schedule. Doing less and not expecting perfection from myself truly is the way to go.
For instance, no matter how many times I tried, I could not import yesterday’s blog post to Medium (and because of that, I did not share my story on social media either). Oh well. I have not broken the chain! I’ve come much too far for that.
Today, I’ll share what I accomplished, as well as what products I’m going to be working on, in the exact order I plan to work on them in.
What I Accomplished Today:
I worked on The Renegade Music Marketer eBook – one more writing session and I should be done!
I completed a MIDINation post
What’s Next for Product Development:
In the immediate future, here are the products I’m looking to put the finishing touches on:
Likewise, I’ve been working on a multi-step funnel for The Music Entrepreneur Code, my latest best-selling book. And my plan is to add this to Content Marketing Musician as well.
Will more courses and content be added to Content Marketing Musician in 2021? That is the plan, but I tend to get a little overambitious sometimes, and I’m trying to be practical while thinking big. I’m happy to report that I’m ready to go live with Entrepreneurial Essentials for Musicians Masterclass any day, though, and the Digital Marketing Essentials for Musicians course also isn’t too far off from the finish line.
I am certainly excited about what’s to come, and I hope you are too.
If you have any thoughts on courses I should make, be sure to let me know. I’m always open to suggestions.
Right now, I have at least three books at various stages of completion. Which means it’s entirely possible I’ll have multiple books to share with you in 2021.
But truthfully, there is only one book I’d like to ensure the completion of. I originally started working on it four years ago. And it haunts me to this day that it hasn’t been completed.
From all the positive feedback and pre-sales received, I do not underestimate the importance of this book, which is in the final stages of editing.
As with any undertaking of this scale, I have had an on again off again relationship with this work, but I would absolutely regret not finishing it.
And every breath we take is a gift, which is something I don’t want to take for granted.
So, god willing, 2021 will be the year – the year of Flashes of Elation.
I have three music projects planned for 2021, and that’s still fewer than I’d like to take on. Like I said, I have a tendency to get a little overambitious!
Anyway, here’s what’s on the docket:
Myrtle. My grandma passed at the top of the year, and I wrote a song in her honor. I kind of thought of it as an electric “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” But then I thought to myself, “why don’t I record a version of ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’ as well?” Seems appropriate based on my grandmother’s faith. So, the plan now is to make this a two-song release.
Back on Solid Ground. As with Flashes of Elation, the incompletion of Back on Solid Ground has haunted me for years. The music is all written, so it’s mostly a matter of tracking the thing. The temptation will be to let perfectionism get in the way, but my listeners seem to appreciate lo-fi basement demos versus slick production anyway, so that might be the direction this takes.
Comedic tribute to the 80s. I have yet to reference this project by name, but I have mentioned it more than a few times on my podcast. I may reveal more closer to the end of the year.
Is That it?
Well, sort of.
You will see me publishing daily on my website and on Medium. I’m also creating content for Music Entrepreneur HQ and News Break. I’m still a staff writer with Music Industry How To as well.
I have a plan for how I intend to fulfill on these content responsibilities while developing products, but I’m trying to be as pragmatic as possible too.
I’m Staying Open to Possibilities
While many people have shown interest in the projects mentioned above (and some have even voted with their wallets), there’s always the possibility that there are others worthy of my attention.
I’d like to practice flexibility where it makes sense, and rigidity where it should be applied.
But either way, there will be great fulfillment in completing the above, especially since some of the projects have been in the works for a long time.
Feel free to follow up with me and see how I’m doing with these projects this year. I spend quite a bit of time on Twitter, and always like hearing from readers just like you.
I’m not asking for accountability, as I believe in holding myself accountable to my goals. I also have a mastermind group for that. But a little nudge never hurt.
What projects are you working on in 2021? What are you looking to accomplish?
Let me know in the comments.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.