I Turned A Music Hustle Into A 7-Figure Business – Here’s What I Learned
- Graham Cochrane, 38, owns a business that sells online courses in music production.
- Turning his side business into a business and developing his YouTube channel taught him a lot.
- He says he learned the value of offering free content to attract more paying customers.
I never thought I would make a ton of money as a musician, and for many years I didn’t.
In 2009, during a terrible
, I lost two jobs – one in finance when the department dissolved and one at a software startup when it closed – right after taking out my first mortgage and having my first child. My wife and I eventually had to pay food stamps to survive. Wanting to make everything work, I decided to focus more on my musical side.
I started freelancing producing music for bands and singer-songwriters and creating music production content on my blog. I also started a YouTube channel, The Recording Revolution, where I taught musicians how to record professional quality music on a budget and from a home studio.
Since then, I’ve grown my YouTube channel to over 600,000 subscribers. I post every week without fail.
For me, the best way to make money on YouTube was to create online courses and sell them
So in 2010, I launched my first product, an online course that taught viewers how to use popular audio recording software called Pro Tools. I only made $10,000 the first year of the course, but it was a start, and over the years I created more music and recording courses. In 2018, I made over $1 million in revenue from selling these courses.
The bigger it got, the more people started asking me about my business, not just the music. They wanted to know how they or they could earn an income by doing their own courses. In 2018, I decided to start a second business by teaching others how to start their own online business based on their own areas of expertise. This involved launching a second YouTube channel and blog and a separate website for online courses and coaching products. In 2021, this second venture brought in more than $1.2 million in revenue.
Turning a side hustle into a revenue-generating business takes consistency. In the years since starting my business, here’s what I’ve learned about what it takes to be successful selling online courses.
Lesson #1: Creating Free Content Will Generate More Paying Customers
In the field of information products and sales courses, you need to reach a large number of people to win their customers. Some people run ads to attract customers, but I focus on running my best content for free because in my experience it generates more leads that can turn into paying customers.
At first, I was afraid that giving away my “secrets” for free would mean that no one would buy my paid products or that I would have nothing left to sell.
But the opposite happened: the more content I made available for free, the more my audience grew and the more they trusted me. People who have had good results after following the advice in my free content have often emailed me saying that this is what made them decide to join one of my paid programs.
Even after launching paid courses, I’m still creating valuable, free content on my blog, podcast, and YouTube channel.
My free content tends to focus on one-off nuggets of information while the paid courses are more in-depth and involved. For example, I could teach a specific technique on how to make your drums more punchy and aggressive for free, but also have a paid course that teaches everything you need to know about recording and producing great drum sounds.
Lesson 2: More fuss is not the solution
I absolutely despise “culture hustle” – in my experience working more is simply do not the answer to earn more.
During the first few years of launching my online business, I averaged between 20 and 30 hours a week. But since my business products are online courses, once I complete a new one and post it, it can continually generate passive income. By doing this, I created systems that keep my business running smoothly and now allow me to work only five to ten hours a week.
For example, in each of my YouTube videos or podcast episodes, I offer exclusive free training in exchange for their email address if they want to dive deeper into my content. I use automated software to track these email leads to manage the qualification and sale process, possibly offering some of my paid digital products and completing the sale for me. Then, if they buy, my system automatically delivers the product and walks them through an onboarding process, again via email.
Additionally, I have a virtual assistant who handles uploading, tagging, and sharing my weekly content. He also handles all the customer service emails for me, making sure I stay out of my inbox as much as possible so I can focus on creating content, which is the best use of my weather.
When you’re ruthless about efficiency and effectiveness, you’ll have more bandwidth and time to focus on real growth.
Lesson 3: If you are good at what you do, your knowledge will be valuable to others
When I started my business, I had a lot of self-limiting beliefs and feelings of impostor syndrome. I sometimes fell into negative thoughts that people wouldn’t think I was good enough to learn.
But in reality, few people cared that I didn’t get a Grammy or produce music for household names. Instead, they appreciate that my videos have helped them make better sounding music. And as my skills and knowledge have increased, I have more value to offer my students and can take them further in their journey.
Here are two realities that I have learned that have helped me overcome feelings of impostor syndrome:
- People don’t need you to be an expert, they need you to get results
- You just need to be a step ahead of them in the journey to teach them something valuable.
Lesson 4: Design your business to serve your life, not the other way around
I don’t believe in sacrificing everything in my personal life to grow the business.
Family time is important to me, so I built my business around it from the start. Initially, I had simply decided not to work on Fridays. At the time, my children were small, so we had “Family Fun Fridays” when we went to the beach or the zoo or had a picnic in our garden.
As they grew, I made sure to cut work every afternoon at 4 p.m. so that I could give them and my wife my full attention in the evenings and on weekends. I also adjust my schedule as needed so I can take them to school every day, no matter what.
For new business owners, protecting that personal time might feel like making plans with friends and sticking to them or putting your laptop away at a set time every night.
I didn’t learn these lessons overnight – it took me years of trial and error, experimentation, and battling my own fears and insecurities. And while building an online business is more doable than ever, it takes strategy, commitment, and consistent effort to make it happen.
Graham Cochrane is a business coach and the author of “How to get paid for what you know.” He founded his YouTube channel and online music business, The Recording Revolution, in 2009. Cochrane has been featured on CNBC, Yahoo! and HuffPost.