The Record Factory

#6 – Building a Music Career online with David Nevue

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I’ve just read this article on CD Baby and couldn’t wait until next week to share it. Enjoy – it’s a ripper!

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For over a decade, CD Baby has been flying the flag of DIY independence, fostering a community of spirited, innovative, and self-reliant musicians. There is a cliché about the modern music business that rings true time and time again: Labels don’t want YOU until you’ve done it yourself. Once you’ve done it yourself, you don’t need THEM. With our DIY Musician newsletter, we’re rallying the indie music community to share tips, tricks, and converse over topics that run through the collective conscious of every indie musician who creates, sells, and distributes their music with the world.


Our DIY Musician Podcast distills the wisdom of industry experts into a 45-minute audio delight. For those of you who can’t sit still that long, here’s an excerpt from a classic episode to review at your leisure.

 Episode #55: Building a Music Career Online, with David Nevue

Interview by Kevin Breuner

The internet is an irreplaceable tool for music promotion, but is it possible to build a music career in cyberspace alone? In a recent episode of the CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast we heard from solo pianist David Nevue who built his music into a full time career just by creating an effective online presence. It’s important to note that David’s success did not come overnight, but grew at a steady pace as he continued to release great music and home in on his online marketing strategies. David’s business model is the perfect example of what can be accomplished with great music, a little merchandising know-how, and a long-term vision. We cover a lot of ground in the podcast interview but we have some interesting excerpts for you below. To hear the whole interview, you can listen at or subscribe in the iTunes podcast directory.

Tell us about yourself as an artist and your history of selling music online.

I’m a pianist and composer and have been playing music for a long time. I released my first album back in 1991. I had the fortune of getting a job working for a company called Symantec, which is best know for their Norton products like Norton Anti Virus. That put me in a position where I was able to work in a technology industry at a time where the internet was just coming into public view. It was back in 1995 when I first put my music online and started selling it through my website.

The thoughts that I really had was thinking about who my target audience is and figuring out how to find them. Being that I’m a pianist and composer and that I write this great piano music that people love and enjoy to play, a good chunk of my audience was obviously piano players. So I went out searching different places where I could find piano players hanging out on websites, and in piano player forums and groups and just started getting involved. People started to ask me about my music and then they started purchasing my music and things just sort of took off from there.

You recently had your highest weekly payout for digital distribution through CD Baby and it surprised you so much that you spent some time thinking about it and even wrote on your blog about it. What were some of your conclusion as to why your music sales where on the rise during an economic recession?

Well, the one payment that got me really excited was a one week payout of over $2,100 just for my digital sales (Not including CD sales). On average month, I probably do around $1,500 total, so this was my largest one-week payout ever. That doesn’t happen usually unless you get really lucky and just have something that gets on fire and people are suddenly buying it for whatever reason. In my instance, I just have a lot of music available online and I have a lot of product out there. The more product you have, the more you have to sell, and I think it feeds into the whole internet marketing thing.

I have 150 tracks available online for sale and that’s 150 opportunities for people to find my music. Also, when people find and they really love your music, they have a whole bunch more that they can buy. That’s something that has been great for me as an artist because it’s very common for me to sell multiple CDs at a time when people come to my website to buy music. It is actually pretty rare when people come to my website for them to only buy one CD. The more products you have, the more merchandise you have that people can purchase. If they find you and discover you and like your music, they’re going to want more. If people are excited about your music then they also tell other people about it which is also a big key for selling music online. You’ve got to have music that people want to share.

What are some of the products you’re offering through your website?

I have sheet music. I have CDs. And I link to CD Baby and iTunes for my digital downloads. I also have a DVD for sale that is just my music that someone put to some very beautiful videography.

Are you generating consistent income from your personal website as well? I know you mentioned your CD Baby digital sales, but does your website continue to generate CDs sales and sheet music sales on a consistent basis?

Absolutely. I do great in terms of sheet music sales. Probably in the neighborhood of about $1,500 a month. I sell the score for each song for $3.95, and I also sell them in groups so people can buy a sheet music package. The sheet music thing is something that I don’t think a lot of artists are keying into that they ought to. You can sell sheet music or just lead sheets of your music or songs with the chords and lyrics with the melody, and fans of your music will buy that. Especially if they are piano players or guitar players. If you release an album, why not score your music or create tablature of your music? That gives you something else you can sell. For me, it’s great because when I release a CD, let’s say it has 15 songs on the album, I can sell that album for $10 as a digital album. I can sell it for maybe $12-$13 as a CD. But just from sheet music sales, when I sell it for $4 a song, I can get $60 for the sheet music sales from that same CD. That’s a huge market!

Some keys to David’s success

1. Taking time to listen to his audience and what they wanted — Artists and bands spend a lot of time and energy trying to communicate their music and message to their fans, but do you ever listen to what they say back? Have you ever asked them why they like your music in the first place? Their response may surprise you!

2. Sticking it out for the long haul — David started back in 1995, and he certainly didn’t see success overnight. What he did notice is that as his fan base grew and his musical catalog grew, the whole thing started to snowball. Now, with over 150 tracks available for purchase, the cycle is somewhat self-perpetuating and new fans go back and buy many of the older catalog titles.

3. Creating other products for his audience — David generates quite a bit of income from selling downloadable PDF’s of his sheet music. Give your audience other ways in which they can interact with your music

4. Maintaining an active email list — For any artist hoping to make a living from selling music online, this is key. You must keep active communication going with your fans.