Few industries are as tough as the music industry, where consumer theft is considered harmless by most and sell-by dates are the shortest anywhere besides the fresh produce aisle. Lightening-fast changes in the industry and some of the lowest sales in decades make the music industry no place for the faint of heart. If things don’t change soon, future music industry executives may have to conduct business from drive-through windows during breaks in their day jobs. The bad luck of music marketers can be good fortune for you, however, if you watch and learn from their mistakes and successes. Here are some lessons the music business learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

Don’t Give Away the Store

Loss-leaders are a time-honored tradition in the retail business, and every successful store owner knows that sometimes you have to give something away in order to get customers in the door. However, you can’t give away your best product for free and then hope other people will see it and pay more for one of their own. That’s exactly what the music industry has been doing in recent years, and it isn’t working out well for them. Free samples and the occasional deep discount are fine as long as you can be relatively sure the customers are going to stick around long enough to spend some real money.

Every One’s a Winner!

In general, it’s a good idea to watch what works for others and try to emulate it. When it comes to copying specific products and services, however, that old advice isn’t usually as sound. For every breakout metal band or sexy female singer that tops the sales charts, there are usually dozens of copycat acts close behind. Few of them ever have much success, and most of the ones that do succeed make it because they implement their own unique style as soon as they can legally switch labels. Genius is elusive and, although no one knows exactly what it is, one thing is clear: Genius can’t be manufactured. Rather than trying to create another backwards robe, try filling the niche revealed by the success of the first few dozen brands of backwards robes. Develop a unique product that allows people to keep warm without sacrificing mobility. Then be grateful for the sales you make rather than bemoaning the fact that you haven’t beaten the record sales numbers of the BackwardsRobie.

Do More of What Worked in the Past

Sometimes the world just doesn’t need a better mousetrap. This is especially true if the old mousetrap works fine. When the music industry’s outlook seems poor, labels get to work re-releasing, digitally remastering, creating boxed gift sets and recording reunion albums. The same thing will work in most industries. The next time your sales slump, instead of looking for the next big thing, get out the old mousetrap and try some new paint or a new name or a cool retro ad campaign.

The next time you feel overwhelmed by the challenges facing your industry, take a few tips from the music industry. While you’re at it, remind yourself how much worse it could be. At least you don’t have to worry someone will insist you put on a fright wig and a pair of skin-tight pants for an eighties hair band reunion tour to perk up sales.