This episode about making a living from millions of streams on playlists was previously published on the Profitable Musician Show.

Emile Pandolfi talks about his journey — how he plays piano for millions of people and how he got millions of streams on playlists on Spotify. We have had a lot of guests that are singer-songwriters but only a few that are instrumentalists, so it’s exciting to have Emile on the show.

How things started

Emile shares that with his advanced age, he is not so much involved with the web and new technologies and he has made a very successful career in an old-fashioned way. He’s been playing piano since he was a kid and has a degree in Music. He never considered making a living out of anything else except his music.

There were times he had to work other jobs like construction or being a janitor to make ends meet. He was happy and fine with that but he started to play cocktail piano years ago, and there’s very little of that going on. He learned how to entertain people. You play the piano, have conversation, tell jokes and have a good time. He wrote a lot about that in his book, but he also wanted to do concerts.

Doing concerts

For his first concert, he rented space in a beautiful hall. He and his wife did all the prep work like getting tickets printed, marketing and all of that. They then started doing concerts in a performing arts center. They got up to 1,200 seats. In the next five years, they got to about 30 concerts in a year. They did it all by themselves. She is a very good business person and became his manager. She arranged to rent halls and photo shoots, and all other things that a record company would have to do.

Albums, CDs and millions of streams on playlists

Emile recorded 30 albums in the last many years. They put the albums up on streaming, so they have a great stream. They have 400 songs up on streaming platforms. He also makes one video a week. He finds a fine artist and put one of his songs to do a video, so people can watch some beautiful artwork while listening to one song.

It’s been heard that instrumentalists can do very well with streaming, even though artists get paid less than pennies for streams. Emile is one of those instrumentalists who make his living from streaming. He has had 800 millions of streams on playlists of his music over time, 700 million on Pandora and another 110 million on Spotify and others. Once you get into the millions of streams on playlists, you can make a living. Emile started concerts in 1990 and has been playing longer than that. His wife took all his twenty CDs, did all the paperwork to submit each song with metadata, then submitted it to CD Baby that then distributed it to digital distributors.

He is not yet on any curated playlist on Spotify, but has been working to get on it. If you are included on such a playlist, income stream would explode.

Years ago when he was still releasing CDs, they were selling it the old-fashioned way. During their best year, they sold something close to 400,000 CDs in one year. His very first album, made in 1990 has sold 600 units by itself as a CD. Now, they sell 3,000 CDs in one year. Emile’s strength is arranging well-known songs for solo piano in a way that seems meaningful and people like it. He has one song that had millions of streams on playlists. It’s mostly from 18 to 35-year-old women as far as the stats go. Nowadays, he is mostly doing digital.

His wife was doing 100% of the work. They tried having agents for a couple of years but they weren’t doing any better than they were doing it by themselves, so they went back to being just the two of them.

Millions of streams on playlists during the pandemic

She was burnt out years ago and they were still doing it. When the pandemic hit, they cancelled ten shows as everybody did. When they were not doing any shows, they felt pretty good. Emile took the time to do write a book and put up more songs on streaming. They saw that streaming was paying the bills, and that is when they decided they were no longer going to do any more performing art centers, but will still do private events. They’ve done a few private events since then.

Finding your niche

Emile was not only playing the piano, he was also telling stories or doing comedy in between, which makes him unique. All these years, he has been making his business through word of mouth. He lives in South Carolina and all of his hundreds of concerts have been in 5 or 6 states in the Southeast. His niche is peaceful piano, easy piano, easy listening and cover tunes of people who love piano music but they’re not originals.

The first point is finding your niche. The second is all performing arts centers have one big shot, then they fill up their season with another twelve artists that maybe you’ve never heard of but are brilliant. If you find your niche, it fills up 500 or 1000 seat halls. Aside from word of mouth, Emile and his wife went to musicians’ conferences and art presenters conferences for several years. They build their network and made themselves known.

Emile calls his presentation comedic monologues because he is not telling jokes. The comedic monologue is family-friendly and good-natured but there’ll be some guffaws and mostly more giggles. He started doing this as it invites people to be your friend. They’re already your friend before you even touch the piano.

“Here’s a good message for everybody. I have had a non-stop very successful career without ever being famous. My message is you can be very successful and never be famous. Some people think particularly in their younger years, as I did, either you’re going to get a record deal and be one of the big household names. You’re going to be, in my case, the next Roger Williams. That’s what I wanted to be. Somebody else wants to be the next Liberace or Andrea Bocelli. You can have a wonderful, happy, exciting, successful life and never be famous. If it’s okay with you, it’s okay.”

Emile has a YouTube channel but his goal is mainly to get his music to streaming platforms. The YouTube channel is monetized but it is miniscule. Her daughter does her Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It is important to have talented people in your circle that can help you. The last chapter in Emile’s book is called “You have to have a Judy”. His wife’s name is Judy. You spent hours mastering your craft. How much time did you spend mastering business? Find somebody good at it.

He also sells a few sheet music. They sold them hard copies for $10 and it had a beautiful cover. As soon as people can buy them digitally, they only made it mostly digital.

Play It Like You Mean It!

Emile’s book is called Play It Like You Mean It! It’s not just pianists but musicians of any level where how come when this guy plays the song as time goes by, that’s very nice. This guy plays and you get, “I’m moved.” Why does this one artist move you and another artist doesn’t? That is the thrust of the buckets. It is holistic. It’s not how to play the piano. It’s everything you need to know about playing the piano, except how to play the piano. You can find the book on Amazon.

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