key performance indicators

How to measure success with key performance indicators

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To keep you on a long-term path towards reaching your goals as a musician, you should have several ways to gauge the success of your music career and your music marketing efforts

As an independent musician, monitoring your growth and success can be an abstract process. Years go by with you putting in your blood, sweat, and tears to create something meaningful, all while trying to find a way to establish a consistent connection with your audience with little notable progress week after week.

Most success stories don’t happen overnight. To keep you on a long term path towards reaching your goals as a musician in an industry where record sales are no longer the only key factor of success, you should have several ways to gauge your progress.

Some call them metrics, some call them key performance indicators (or KPIs), some call them benchmarks. We’ll call them KPIs, but they all essentially boil down to the same thing; providing a way to measure your performance and growth.

For any action you take within your overall marketing strategy, you should have a way to determine how effective it is. Not only will this help you avoid running the risk of wasting time on ineffective initiatives, it will also help you to identify what in your strategy is working well so you can dial that in for even more effective efforts.

The following are several KPIs for you to utilize as you focus on different areas of your community and revenue growth.


Making money should always be a primary focus for any business, and it’s no different in your business of being a musician.

Album sales. For many years, the music industry was focused on album sales as the only revenue stream, and thus the only indication of revenue growth and success. While album sales should not be considered your sole revenue generator as a musician, it would be foolish to overlook them as a KPI. In addition to providing a substantial percentage of income for a majority of independent musicians, album sales are also a good indicator of how many loyal fans you have who are willing to make a financial investment to support your career.

Ticket sales. Live music has always been important, and has only grown over the years, so ticket sales may be one of the best KPIs for gauging growth month to month and year to year.

Merch sales. Don’t forget the importance of the well-stocked store front. Along with album sales, merch sales (online and off) are another great indicator of how many dedicated fans you have who are willing to invest in your brand and community. It’s important to take specific note of your sales and inventory, to track how much you sell, and understand the relative importance of each product in your merch line.

Licensing/sync placement. This has become an amazing source of revenue for musicians of all kinds and offers unique and lucrative opportunities for artists at every level in your career. If a focus of your efforts is to create songs – or pitch existing songs – for sync placements or licensing deals, the revenue growth on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis could be a great KPI for you to use as a gauge of your growth.


There is still no better direct marketing platform than email. It is the only way to control delivery of your message to your fans, and it offers you a platform to open up in a personal way while giving you the opportunity to present a direct call to action for your fans. Careers can be advanced from effective newsletters, and the following are some KPIs to consider to ensure you are effectively building yours.

Subscriptions. Fairly obvious, and a great indication of your growth, newsletter subscriptions are a meaningful opt-in that indicates the size of your most dedicated fan base. Unlike Facebook page likes, these subscribers are the most likely to buy from you and support your various goals. Not only should you be monitoring the growth of your subscribers each week, you should pay close attention to how this number is affected (in both good ways and bad) by other marketing actions such as album or tour announcements, promotional giveaways, etc.

Opens. Of course, just having a newsletter isn’t enough to make a career, your newsletter needs to become an effective marketing and sales tool in order to become a contributor to your success. Newsletter opens are a great initial indication of this success. While an open doesn’t tell you what sort of results you are generating, it will tell you if your newsletter is compelling to your fans, which is a very important step towards loyalty and eventual sales. After every newsletter sent, you should monitor the open rate (unique email opens / total emails sent) and compare that to your previous emails, your average open rate, and the industry standards.

Conversions (via call to action). This is a great indication of just how effective your newsletter is at driving your fans to purchase your goods. Every newsletter should have one strong call to action (e.g. buy tickets now, pre-order our new album, review my album on iTunes). Most email marketing platforms, including MailChimp and FanBridge, give you analytics regarding open rate and click-through rate. The latter should be a critical focus on how effectively your newsletter and offers are and can help you to understand which calls to action resonate with your audience.

Social Media

While the argument about social media leading to direct sales continues, there is no doubt that a strong online presence and an engaged fan base can benefit your career growth. There are several KPIs related to social media that can help you to gauge the effectiveness of your content and community-management strategies.

Engagement. Many articles have been posted about how “engagement” is just a buzzword and doesn’t have a meaningful relationship to growth. If you view engagement solely as the number of Facebook likes or YouTube views, this may be correct, particularly as these stats can be faked through purchasing likes and views, making them devoid of meaning. But, if you look at engagement as genuine conversations – i.e. comments that lead to discussion, continued action, and sharing your content – it is easy to see how these KPIs can have a positive long-term effect on your career and fan base growth.

Stories written about you. This is PR in a nutshell. Traditionally the focus was on the major influencers: if the biggest and best were talking about you, you knew you were breaking through. Today’s music industry is so fragmented, with hundreds of unique niches, that the focus is no longer solely on achieving stories by the biggest and best, but by those within your musical niche who have taken to sharing and promoting content through blog posts, videos, podcasts, interviews, tweets, Facebook posts, etc. People talking about you and your music anywhere is a great indication of growth as it shows you’re becoming increasingly relevant within your niche.

Networks. You have two kinds of networks: your fan base and your professional network. Your fan base growth indicators are those mentioned before (ticket sales, album sales, subscribers, etc.). Your professional network is also an essential KPI – it’s the reason people say success is all about “who you know.” This is the group of people within the industry who can become collaborators, strategic partners, champions, etc. You should be paying very close attention to your professional network and nurture these relationships as often as you can.

Jon Ostrow is a regular contributor to the Disc Makers Blog. Follow him on Twitter @jon_ostrow.

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

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6 thoughts on “How to measure success with key performance indicators

  1. Thanks tonnes for the clear direction. I am new to the business and was a bit confused but thanks to you, I can make the confident starting step.

  2. See that’s just it…articles like this have solid advice/examples….but musicians are just that…musicians creating art….very few have business savvy let alone develop it…just because all this tech is at our fingertips just means that…doesn’t automatically turn u into Trump…actually IMO it txkes away from creating the art that’s gonna connect with fans old an new…

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