"Choose Your Own Adventure" Funnel
Michael Elsner is a guitarist, songwriter and music producer, with over 2500 placements of original music on TV shows, films and commercials including: American Idol, The Voice, Good Morning America, and many more.
He now shares this expertise with other independent musicians through his Master Music Licensing program. In only 22 months, he grew this online business to the 7-figure mark through a series of consistent six-figure launches and evergreen funnels.
In today’s interview, I interview him about how he uses Deadline Funnel to create his evergreen course funnel, which he calls a “choose your own adventure”.
Watch the video of my interview with Michael or read the transcript below!
LinksMichaelElsner.com MasterMusicLicensing.com Deadline Funnel
Jack Born: Hey, everyone. This is Jack Born, founder of Deadline Funnel, and I’m here with yet another Deadline Funnel client. I just absolutely love having these interviews because it gives me an opportunity to meet people who are doing some really cool and exciting things. And along those lines, I’m really excited to be talking with Michael Elsner today, who well, actually, Michael, why don’t you share your story? First of all, great to have you here.
Michael Elsner: Well, thanks for having me. Yeah, this will be a good time. Yeah, my story is, I think it falls in line with a lot of people who are in the online space. I had a career as a musician. Well, I still have a career, not past tense. But a real quick synopsis would be, I grew up in upstate New York in a very small town. I left there in 1998. I moved to Nashville to pursue the dream and very quickly fell into a pretty good cycle of studio work and writing songs and producing songs and whatnot. But I was really, really stuck in the studio world though. So I was working on a lot of records, and I kind of wanted to get out on the road and play and tour a bit. So after four and a half years of kind of being stuck in the studio in Tennessee and kind of getting pigeonholed a little with that, I moved out to Los Angeles. And so that was in the summer of 2003. And I’d figured I’d just give L.A. a shot, and very quickly landed a gig playing guitar on a TV show. And it was through that process, I gotta back up for a second. For the four and half years that I was in Nashville, while I was writing and recording a lot of songs of my own, I was trying to get a publishing deal. I got turned down by everyone. So when I got to Los Angeles and I started playing on the show, I met an individual called the music supervisor. Their role is to place songs on TV shows. When you watch TV there’s music pretty much endlessly from beginning to end. And the stuff that’s not composed by the composer for the show is often brought in from various independent artists and even well-known artists. And the music supervisor’s job is to find that music for the show. So I met a music supervisor on a show that I was working on. It was a popular show at the time called “Cold Case” on CBS. And I gave her a CD of songs that I had had a lot of rejections for in Nashville. And within two weeks I had a featured vocal placement on one of the shows. I really didn’t even know that was possible, but it opened up a whole new world for me. And so, as I continued through my career, playing on other TV shows and films for other composers, I was constantly writing my own music and getting that placed. So fast forward to around 2009, 2010, I got the gig writing for seasons, I believe, 11 and 12 of “American Idol”. That led into a show called “The Sing Off”, which led into a bunch of other shows. So, I was really getting fully involved in the TV world, the music world for TV. And I moved back to Nashville ’cause I just wanted to change my lifestyle. I wanted to get out of the L.A. world. And ’cause at that point you could [work] remotely. I knew a lot of composers who left L.A., and they were still working on big films but they were no longer living in Los Angeles. So I kind of followed suit with that. And I moved back to Nashville ’cause I had a lot of people here, and I still wanted to be in the music community. When I came back to town, kind of word got out of the placements I had had. And I started speaking at different conferences and spending a lot of time, a lot of independent artists and record labels and publishers were calling me asking to pick my brain on the world of sync licensing. And, so after doing that for a couple of years, meeting them for coffee and talking for four hours, taking them through my whole process, I just got tired of it, frankly, because I was working on movie trailers at that time. And I didn’t have the time to spend four hours for chai tea, talking about licensing. And the other problem that I had with that was, I would always follow up with these individuals and I’d say that for every 50 people that I met with, I’d follow up with them, and only one would take action. So that got to be very frustrating. That’s really was the root of the frustration, spending a lot of time. And, because if people were just getting the information for free and getting all the information, there was really no skin in the game. So there was really no motivation for them to take it further, even in their own career which always surprised me. So as I continued to get calls and emails to meet with people and stuff through social media and stuff like that, I just sat down one day and I wrote a little ebook. In the summer of 2017, I wrote a little ebook on my four-step process. And I figured if someone calls me, I’ll just send them the PDF. If they have any questions beyond that, they can call me. I had no idea either about the online world. And a couple of months later, I was playing on a session for an individual who during one of the breaks, he said, “So tell me about yourself.” I said, “Well, I just had my 2,000th song on TV this month.” And he said, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?” And I said, “Well, I have a little PDF. I’ll send it to you.” And he goes, “Have you ever thought about doing an online course?” I said, “No, I had no interest in it.” And it turns out he was an individual who was very much involved in Jeff Walker’s world, was part of Jeff Walker’s mastermind and speaks at Jeff’s product launch formula events and stuff. So, he has a lot of experience in that world. And over the next three months, he kept at it, he kept convincing me, “Michael, you gotta create a course.” So long story short, I released a program in 2018. And it’s actually been the most fulfilling, personally fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done in my career, helping other musicians get their songs placed on TV shows. And it’s just awesome to see the excitement when someone gets their song on a show that they’re a fan of, or just a show in general. Because for independent musicians, it’s really hard for them to make a living, even through the pandemic, where all their income streams ended. But the one income stream that did not end was really TV, film and commercials. Because even though that was shut down for a very short amount of time, the entertainment world has just kept moving forward. So for those really who were invested in licensing, sync licensing, through the pandemic, the pandemic was really, didn’t affect those musicians because there was so much opportunity to continue getting their music used. And every time you get what’s called a “sync placement” or a sync license, there’s an upfront licensing fee that must be paid. And then also you get back in royalties every time the show airs for the rest of your life. So, there are benefits to, both on the front end and the back.
Jack Born: Yeah, wow, yeah. And I would imagine, especially, did you say, I think I read in your bio that you’ve had now 2,500 songs that have been licensed?
Michael Elsner: Yeah, 25.
Jack Born: I don’t know if you’re getting royalties off of every single one of those, but I would imagine the ones that you’re still getting royalties on, those begin to stack up pretty nicely. That’s awesome.
Michael Elsner: It really is like compounding interest. I still get placements of my first placement. Sorry, I still get royalties for the first placement that I got on “Cold Case” back, what is it? 15 years ago. So, ’cause they get syndicated. They get played in other countries and whatnot. So that’s really one of the nice things is, as you stay in this world, those back-end royalties, they really do compound over time.
Jack Born: So there are so many directions that I would love to go with this, but one thing that I’m just personally just dying to know is who’s job is it to keep track of who is owed the royalties?
Michael Elsner: There’s a whole system in place for this. But whether, Paul McCartney and John Lennon getting a song placed on a show from 10 years ago, that’s getting tracked, or whether it’s an independent musician like me getting a song place on a show two months ago, that’s getting tracked because every show has a cue sheet. And I bring up that example, just because there was actually an episode of “American Idol” where my song or one of my cues was right next to, the John Lennon, Paul McCartney track. So it was kind of cool to see the cue sheet, my name right below them.
Jack Born: That’s awesome. So I guess my next question again, just when else will I get the opportunity to ask such a question from someone on the inside? So I gotta ask, like if, I don’t know if it’s the producer of the show, but if someone determines, “okay, we want this popular song from Rihanna or Pink Floyd or something like that”, is there a catalog list where they just look it up and go, “okay, that’s gonna cost us X”.
Michael Elsner: So, yeah, that’s a great question. So not necessarily because every license is kinda like, it’s kinda like buying a house. Licensing is just like real estate. You can have a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house, say 2,500 square foot house in Los Angeles or like New York City area; that’s gonna cost a lot of money. That’s gonna be a multimillion dollar home. You can have that same exact house even with a lot of land in maybe, small town Alabama, that’s gonna cost you $250,000. And that’s really, it comes down to like the type of show. Is it network TV? Like a big show on CBS or NBC? Is it prime time? Or is it just some little random show on like The Hunting Network or something like that that very few people see? And of course then it changes to what is the duration of the placement? What is the type of usage of that song? So, it really is… Every license is negotiated separately with the publisher of that song.
Jack Born: Very cool. Well, tell me about your first launch. So you were reluctantly dragged into the world of online courses. So, what was it like when you first put out your course? And also, did you go and create it, spend a lot of time first, or did you sort of sell it before you built it? Which one did you follow?
Michael Elsner: This week marks the three-year anniversary of my first launch. So it was actually really interesting because the very first day of that first launch, we were out on… My girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, we were out on my boat out on a local lake here, just relaxing, and I told her, I said, “Could you imagine if this makes an extra 40 or $50,000?” And again, I really had no idea what to expect even, in the online world. ‘Cause I hadn’t really studied it. And so we started that launch and two weeks later, we had done $96,000 in sales.
Jack Born: That’s amazing.
Michael Elsner: And at that point I drank the Kool-Aid, and I realized, “oh, wow, there’s really something here. Could you imagine what would happen if I actually learned how to do this properly?” And so, that was when I started the process of learning, really the online marketing space and diving into it full force and really giving it a considerable amount of time. I started studying, really every book that I could possibly find on it. And when I say that, I don’t mean that like everyone else, like, “oh, I just read as many books”. I literally read like a book a week on it and highlighted it, and just really tried to implement as many things as I could. I went out to as many different conferences as I could, and just started, I basically approached this industry just like I did when I got into the music industry. When I started meeting some people who had some clout, I just clung to them. And I learned, and I soaked up as much as I could from them. And it was the same thing with the online space.
Jack Born: That’s just absolutely amazing. And I think just based on what you shared in your bio before we jumped on the call, your business has continued to grow. You’re now doing seven figures, I think?
Michael Elsner: Yeah, so it took 22 months to get seven figures, and we’re right, just about to cross into $2 million now.
Jack Born: That’s awesome.
Michael Elsner: So it’s really been an interesting journey of learning. This last year, I went from the launch, just the “open and close” launch to the actual, really like the deadline, utilizing your Deadline Funnel aspect, keeping it as an evergreen program, to where it can be available to those who need it at that moment, who are ready for it. And that was the one thing that I always had a struggle with when it came to the launch process was, I’m really just launching it when it’s convenient to me. But I also know as a consumer that, when I’m ready for something, I want it now, as opposed to when someone’s ready to give it to me or provide it to me. And that really was the big jump going out of the launch formula more into the deadline sequence and letting people kind of choose their own adventure, so to speak.
Jack Born: That’s awesome. So when you did that, did you go to a model where it’s available all the time, but when someone just signs up to your list, there’s a special offer that’s kept authentic through Deadline Funnel, or was it more of an open, open-closed thing, but it’s timed based on when they’ve joined your list or something totally different?
Michael Elsner: Kind of different. So basically, like I said, it’s kind of a choose your own adventure. I switched my email system over to ActiveCampaign. We did a pretty crazy build out where it’s, we provide a lot of value in weekly content and whatnot. Because this is the type of program that… I just know musicians. Musicians aren’t gonna go right into this program. They’re not gonna come into my world and just go right into that program. It’s not a cheap program either, and so that’s another key element to it. So they come in, and we just love on them for a while. And really what happens is it’s based on the actions that they take through the emails. As they get to a certain score either in their engagement or, the different paths that they’ve clicked on. Maybe they clicked on a bunch of different links in the “P.S.”s that take them through a quick start series. If they go to the quick start series, then they go into a Deadline Funnel. When they reach a certain amount of engagement, if they haven’t gone through the quick start series, then they go into the Deadline Funnel. So it’s really triggered on their own actions and not necessarily based on, “okay, seven days after you come into my world, now you get a deadline.”
Jack Born: That’s fantastic. I mean, a lot of people will use Deadline Funnel in a fairly rudimentary way, which isn’t bad. Simple works really well, where someone opts in, but I love the fact that you’ve got people in your world and they’re choosing their own path. And then based on the behaviors that they take, you can apply a tag and in your case, ActiveCampaign, but it could be ConvertKit or whatever. And then they go into, okay, it’s sort of like, now you’re ready. Like you’ve taken these steps, you’ve watched these videos, you’ve clicked these links, you’re engaging. And so that’s the trigger that says, “okay, we need to move you over here and talk to you about our course.” And then the special offer ends with a deadline. That’s really, really cool and congrats to you for, I mean, just thinking about it. Is it the three-year anniversary, I think you said? For three years–
Michael Elsner: Three years this week, yeah.
Jack Born: From three years, you went from a very successful launch, not knowing “anything” to now, you’ve got three years later you have an automated system that’s bringing you clients all the time. That’s fantastic. Congratulations.
Michael Elsner: Thank you. Thank you. A big part of implementing that system really has to do with the way that this particular course is laid out. And that it’s not just a course that you buy, you go through, it really is, there’s a lot of engagement there. And so that was the one hangup that I had by the way, why I held off on, ’cause I wanted to go evergreen for a long time. My problem was while it’s so heavy on the engagement aspects that I just don’t want people coming in all the time and asking the same questions. ‘Cause then to me, I feel like that devalues the experience for everyone who’s been in it for a while. And that to me was where leveraging like the engagement aspect before they get the Deadline Funnel came into play because now we know, “okay, they’re really ready. They’ve gone through a lot of previous stuff that I’ve already put out for free. They’ve engaged with it, They’ve learned a lot of stuff. Now they’re really ready for what we’re providing.”
Jack Born: So let me ask you a couple of questions here. Are you still doing launches every so often? Question one. And then question two is, how did your business growth change when you added in or switched to evergreen?
Michael Elsner: That’s a great question. So actually right now I’m doing a three-year anniversary launch, and the reason why we’re doing like a three-year anniversary launch is because we’re raising the price. And so we are gonna launch, basically, this is the last launch at this price. So that is going out to everyone on the list in a launch format. But as a whole, that’s the only time I’ve done it this year. Everything else has really been a “choose your own adventure”. And you go through it when you go through it. And of course, this is also now that people who haven’t either, who haven’t chosen the adventure fully yet, this is also where they’re getting that opportunity to get the program before, like I said before, it does go up in price. But the big difference that I’ve noticed, really the best way that I can explain the difference would be a launch brings in a lot of money at one time, and then there’s a big valley in between, right? And the thing that’s nice about setting up a Deadline Funnel is that it really kind of puts you in that consistent income bracket to where you’re literally getting… You’re bringing in…There’s a cashflow every week. So that to me has really been the biggest difference. I can’t say that it’s… I’m doing better this year than I did last year, but integrating that didn’t put me at a different level, it kinda just kept it consistent. And so, I think that to me is a really key aspect to it because I think the consistency in any business is essential. And if you’re starting to lose something in that consistency, then you can stop and you can analyze it as opposed to waiting every four or six months to do a launch and realize, “oh, maybe something went wrong, and we’re losing people for some reason.” So really the Deadline Funnel has just kept it consistent.
Jack Born: Yeah, smoothing out the income I’m sure has been great psychologically. One of the things that I hear sometimes clients talk about is having that more consistent income gives them the predictability in their business to know, “okay, I can bring on extra team members and staff rather than it’d be this sort of pop-up event.” And again, I’m not taking away from launches. They definitely have their place, but when you have that infrastructure in place and you’re switching more into the mode of bringing people around you who can really take your business to the next level, that takes an investment of capital and also takes, a leap of faith. And it’s easier to take that leap of faith if your income stream is more consistent and then the launches become the cherry on top.
Michael Elsner: You’re 100% right. That’s exactly it.
Jack Born: Awesome. So one of the things that you mentioned, and I wanted to skip back to real quick, your origin story kind of reminds me of author Steven Pressfield, who by the way, so you’re nodding. So, do you know who Steven Pressfield–
Michael Elsner: I don’t know, but I’m gonna remember his name because I read a lot of books.
Jack Born: So very, very talented dude. So he’s been on many podcasts, but one of his most famous books that like Tim Ferriss talks about, and lots of people rave about is the, I wanna make sure I get this right, it’s not “The Art of War”. It’s “The War of Art”.
Michael Elsner: I know exactly what book you’re talking about. Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Jack Born: Okay, he also happens to be the guy who wrote the story, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” which was a movie from at least over a decade ago. But Will–
Michael Elsner: Yeah, Will Smith, Will Smith.
Jack Born: For some reason, Will Ferrell was coming to my head and I’m like, no, totally different guy. Yeah, so Will Smith was in the movie. Anyways, his origin story is that people… He had been an author for so long and he was doing his work and showing up and battling with his inner demons, “the resistance” as he calls it, and other authors would come to him and pick his brain just like musicians would pick your brain. And he just got, I guess he got tired of trying to say the same things over and over and over. And one time just said, “I’m giving the same advice over and over and over.” And so, that’s what he did. He wrote “The War of Art”. And that was his book to answer that question so that anytime someone would ask him, he’d just go like, “here, I’ve already written this for you.” So that’s really, really cool how your origin story unfolded that way. And clearly from the success that you’ve had, I’m sure a lot of it comes down to you following advice, finding people that know what they’re doing and executing, because not only, I wanna point this out, too. It wasn’t just like consuming information. You were taking action. And so that, information isn’t power; acting on the information is the power. So congrats on that. But clearly there’s a need in this niche because as you said, this is, it’s a bit of an investment for your clients, but you’re giving them the freedom to be able to earn an income at what they love. So that’s fantastic. Congratulations.
Michael Elsner: Thank you. Yeah, the thing is with independent musicians, the industry has changed so much for them, or I should say for us really, because consumers expect music to be free. You wanna hear a song, you can get on YouTube. You can get on Spotify. You wanna listen to an entire record, you get on YouTube or Spotify. And that’s really hard for musicians to make money when their music is out there really in the world for free. And that’s one of the benefits of sync licensing is that, every time, like I said earlier, every time you sign a sync license, money is exchanged. The TV world, the film world, the video game world, commercials, et cetera, they value music. And the key thing here with that is that when we are just putting our music out into the world as independent musicians, it’s a business to customer relationship. And the customer expects it to be free. But yet, with the licensing world, it’s a business to business relationship. And there’s still a lot of value there. And that’s one of the key components that’s really a bit of a mindset shift for a lot of musicians to realize, look, your music is giving value to some other commodity and it’s giving it a very tangible value, right? But if I was just giving you my CD and you listened to it in your car, that really has inherently no value. Doesn’t have any value until I tell you, “well, my CD is $10”. But if you’re selling a Ford pickup truck and you use my music in the commercial, that music has a very tangible value when it comes to selling the truck.
Jack Born: Absolutely. So I wanna make sure, so before we tell people where to go, if anyone is a musician, or if they’re interested, I wanna make sure that we lead them to your doorstep. And this has been great having a conversation with you. I do wanna ask you yet another question that’s been on my mind. So we’ve brought on video people and a new marketing manager. And so one of the things that we’re doing is we’re sourcing music ourselves. Do you have any tips for people who are on the other side of things like me who are looking for places that you think, being on the inside, are really high quality places to source music? Do you have any suggestions there?
Michael Elsner: There are a lot of high-level boutique music libraries that are out there. There’s really over 500 boutique libraries that are out there, and I’d be happy to give you plenty of them, probably off camera, just because it would be a major influx. But there’s also royalty-free libraries, and this is what a lot of people go to. They go to places like AudioJungle or something like that. And you have to keep in mind that, that’s really great for like a podcast or YouTube videos or whatnot, because you pay a one-time fee, but there’s no royalties beyond that. Now that’s great for the creator, meaning the creator of the podcast or the video. The flip side of it is that, let’s say it’s a $20 license fee and you’re gonna use that song as the intro for all of your podcasts, the reality is that the musician who created that, is probably only making $10 and that’s all they’ll ever make. So personally, while I understand it from the creative, from like the podcaster or the videographer’s side going to the royalty free libraries, as a music creator, I’m not a fan of those. I don’t work with them. I don’t have any of my music in them because I feel that music has…Music brings a lot of value to things over the long term. So those would be more high-end boutique libraries, and what’s interesting about that is, that you could actually find music from name artists, artists who you’re probably even a fan of in those libraries you can actually use. It would cost you more, but you could actually use some of those bigger named artists’ music, and a lot of people don’t really realize that that’s available to them.
Jack Born: Have you given any thought to creating your own catalog of music and going that direction? Are you going to stick with the business model that you currently have?
Michael Elsner: Well, as far as like having my own catalog where I represent other people’s music, is that what you mean?
Jack Born: Yeah. Maybe, what are some of these? Like you mentioned AudioJungle, so maybe that’s a bad example, but I’m just trying to like give an example of the business model.
Michael Elsner: So that’s a great question. The answer to that is no. I get asked that a lot, like, “oh, you know all this stuff. You should put together a catalog.” The problem with that is, is up until around 2011, 2010, 2011, I administered my catalog entirely on my own. That’s a full-time job. That’s really an office job where you’re sitting behind a spreadsheet and on the phone. I would rather be in my studio with a guitar playing music. And so that’s why I now only work through libraries where I let other people handle the phone calls and the spreadsheets while I can continue doing what I’m more passionate about. That’s a big key component, too, in what I teach. A lot of musicians think they have to do it all, and the reality is no, if you do it all, you’re not gonna be able to do a whole lot because you’re gonna get stuck behind your computer, behind an Excel document handling spreadsheets as opposed to creating music, which is what you should be doing. You should be creating music, and you should be working with a team who’s able to administer it properly for you.
Jack Born: I can tell just in three short years, you’ve come a long way. You’re just dropping knowledge bomb after knowledge bomb that really, even though we’re talking about, in the realm of the music space, this is really applicable to anyone who’s creating a course or starting their online business. So this has been really, really fascinating and entertaining to talk with you. This is a corner of the world that I haven’t had an opportunity to peek behind the curtain. So thank you for giving me and everyone who’s watching this the opportunity to understand a little bit more what you do and who you help. It’s been great chatting with you. Why don’t you tell people, like someone is dying to know where they can find you, because they want the freedom that you’re able to give to your students, why don’t you tell them where they should go?
Michael Elsner: Just my name, michaelelsner.com. That’s just my own personal website with my own adventures in music and life in there. But specifically for the online program that I have, that’s mastermusiclicensing.com. And you can find that also through michaelelsner.com as well. But either of those two would be the places that I hang out on the interwebs.
Jack Born: Awesome. Well, Michael, this has been great. Thank you for your time. And thank you so much for being a Deadline Funnel client and for sharing your story of how Deadline Funnel has been able to help your business.
Michael Elsner: Thank you so much, Jack.