Interview with Derek Sivers of CD Baby

Posted on 07 October 2012 by Delta Dreams

Derek-Sivers speaking at TED ConferenceDerek Sivers is the founder of the independent music distributor CD Baby. He has amazing accomplishments being a professional musician, circus clown, selling his CD Baby for $22 million and giving the proceeds to his charitable trust for music education. Derek is also a frequent speaker at TED conferences and a published author. How many of those things can you do in a single lifetime?

Question: What criteria should artists use to help the gauge a show’s success?
Derek Sivers: “Every show is one step on the path – it’s practice for your greater goal of being one of the best live performers in the world. Video-record it, and watch the video for improvements. Get outside critique from a stage director. (Sivers refers to Tom Jackson is the leading expert at this: Make sure you are very deliberately trying some new techniques in every show. Like famous stand-up comics practice new material in small clubs before doing a big HBO special. Go test new songs, test new story-telling intros in between songs. Test new stage moves, or lack of moves. Test the set list order. Do this all very consciously, with the long-term plan of improving your performing skills at every show. What are the criteria for a show’s success? How much you learned from it, and can use for future improvements.”

Question: What advice do you have for bedroom musicians?
Derek Sivers: “If you passionately want to be a successful full-time musician, nothing can stop you. Quit your job, sell your home, move to the big city where everything’s happening, sleep on friends’ couches, hustle for 6 hours a day, practice for 6 hours a day, perform a live show somewhere every day, whatever it takes. When you really set your full attention to something, there are no excuses because there are no obstacles you can’t overcome. If you’re still in your bedroom, just occasionally complaining about the state of things, just decide to either jump in full-force, or stop complaining and just fully enjoy the fact that you’re a part-time musician, that you do it for love not money, and other things in life are more important to you.”

Question: Should musicians have a set of advisors who can be incentivized for their advice?
Derek Sivers: “Actively seek out everyone’s advice. Fans, industry people, other musicians, teachers, friends, everyone! Only take the advice that resonates with you. So no, don’t weight anyone’s advice more than anyone else’s. Industry people are no smarter than anyone else, and often their advice is clouded by self-interest and a need to seem smart. There’s no need to “incentivize” people. Advice given through that kind of motivation would be less trustworthy. Almost everyone is very happy to give advice for free. It’s worth it to hire a professional coach or teacher, maybe even an occasional consultant, but just pay them for their time, and realize that their opinion is just one opinion.”

Question: Artists today are often told they should “engage” with fans on social networks. How much truth is there to this?
Derek Sivers: “Do whatever makes you happy. That’s the main rule to filter everything else through. If you don’t like tweeting everything, don’t! Anyone who says you “NEED” to do something is wrong. There are always so many exceptions to those statements that the statements become moot.”

Question: What can musicians do to outsource their daily administrative chores for their projects such as contacting blogs?
Derek Sivers: “Ask your biggest fans for help. Get specific about what you need. Think it through and make a plan in advance, so the stuff you’re asking people to do is very specific and unambiguous. Don’t ask people to “help you promote”, and leave it at that. Give a detailed TO-DO list.”

Question: Can you talk about your new company MuckWork?
Derek Sivers: “Nothing to say. Doesn’t exist yet. I announced it 4 years ago when I sold CD Baby, but then decided to do other things first. It’ll happen someday. I’m in no rush.”

To find out more about Derek Sivers, visit He has great advice for entrepreneurs, musicians, and avid book readers.

Derek Sivers and his wife Saj

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