If you are young and use the Internet, you know more about your audience than [labels] do – for sure. This is a revolution and you can be a part of it. The old guard is dying; if you have good ideas – try them. (Trent Reznor, via the 9 Inch Nails Forum) Unfortunately talent is only part of the equation these days. Succeeding as a musician in a multi-media world requires you to understand marketing. Savvy self-promotion means the difference between empty gigs and heaving ones, between your latest tune reaching the ears of a key decision maker or languishing in the echoes of your bedroom. Traditionally, musicians have kept to the ‘creative’ corner of the room, factoring marketing and PR as the realm of the business world, and hence nothing to do with ‘what I do.’ Those days are long gone. Unless you’re one of the lucky and incredibly rare ones talent spotted before you’ve had time to think, it’s up to you to learn some new skills and put yourself out there. It’s an investment in your career which may take you outside your comfort zone, but might just get you where you need to be. Twitter With its 500 million registered users, including most of the key decision makers of the music industry, Twitter is a potential gold mine for up and coming bands. After setting yourself up a stylish and well composed account, start by investigating some of the key bands in your particular niche. Are these guys using Twitter successfully?, if so see who their friends are and follow them! Then move on to the labels which sign your kind of music, the venues, promoters and so forth. Twitter’s total transparency allows you to listen in real time to the key industry figures, and learn from their success. When it comes to tweeting, less is certainly more. 140 characters on why your band is great won’t rock anyone’s world, rather concentrate on developing a persona: be witty, creative, share helpful links. And from time to time, but no more than that, a link to one of your best tunes might just build your fan base. Remember, an effective Twitter account, highly targeted to your niche, is going to be a long term investment. Once it’s working you can use it to pack out your gigs, sell albums and merchandise, and generally build yourself as a brand. But in a world of that many Twitter accounts, you’ll need to be smart and savvy to stand out from the crowd. Blogging Pete Townsend, David Byrne and Brian May are just some of the many legendary musicians who blog. Blogs can offer a highly personal online diary of what you and your band are up to which is another great way to build an audience. Although the web exists in cyberspace, its emotionally driven and, as such people look for content which engages them on a felt level. Include mp3’s of your rehearsals, links to interviews, polaroids of the diner you stopped off at on your way through Arkansas. Tell stories which communicate what you’re about, and always respond to comments. Your website itself sits at the top of a pyramid, with your social media accounts at a level below. Above all, try to generate the best content you can: quirky and hilarious always finds an audience, as does moving and thought-provoking. Blogging is about connection and, when that’s established, the commercial side of things will run itself. Instagram Still one of the fastest growing social networks, Instagram has found its niche with a young mobile audience interested in sharing images and video. The Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and Bon Iver are just of the legends using Instagram to great effect, offering quotes, setlists and insight, behind the scenes shots and humour, all to powerful effect. Images are the basic medium here, though video is allowed, so use your phone to capture moments which are going to resonate. Soup them up a little using programs like Camera + or Big Lens, which offer a host of cool filters and effects to make your footage stand out. Finally, following the example of Deftones, use competitions to maximum effect. With their 43,000 followers, Deftones use Instagram dynamically, offering rewards to fans who submit photos from some of their gigs, then showcasing the winners on the bands social media platforms. They even offered a signed guitar, as an incentive to get people involved. This kind of activity would have been unthinkable to a band in the 1960’s but is now a classic example of how a proactive and intelligent social media approach can propel a band further into the spotlight. Email If you’ve got a site, you need a sign up box on the homepage for fans who want to keep in touch with your output. This email database will end up being one of the biggest assets in your marketing arsenal, and certainly the most profitable. To understand the sheer power of email, you could do a lot worse than learning from the unlikely marketing guru of Trent Reznor from the 9 Inch Nails. Trent has written extensively about this on the Nails forum here pointing out how even the bosses of a big label won’t be nearly as concerned about the longevity of a band as the musicians themselves. He suggests embracing new media, such as email marketing, to take control of your own outreach. Trent, as well as bands like Coldplay, give away free albums on their sites in return for bands email addresses, thus bypassing major label distribution entirely. With Music City networks estimating the fiscal value of an email ID for bands as $111 annually, it’s not difficult to see that this kind of exchange ends up brilliant direct marketing, in which returns can go straight into your pocket. Remember to push your website at every gig and interview, and to then incentivise fans to sign up via prizes and rewards. Many people find http://bandcamp.com/ is a useful tool to build their lists: this site allows fans to download your music for free, as long as they give over their email ID. Definitely worth a shot. Jane McInness blogs about the music industry, as well as writing for the great Imagem Production Music blog here.
Trent Reznor, a musician who has been known for his opposition to the major label model, has returned to Columbia Records for his upcoming album, “Hesitation Marks.” His other project, How to Destroy Angels, is also through Columbia. So why would Reznor go back to the major label model he was so against only a few years ago? The truth is that there is no right or wrong path in the music industry. There is only the path that works best for you at the time. What was right for Reznor’s last album may not be right for this album.
Reznor split with Interscope back in 2007 and founded his own record label to self-release his music through his website and social media channels in 2008. With this model, Reznor was able to have a more direct connection with his fans and keep 100% of the profits from record sales. Here’s what Reznor said regarding major labels back in 2007:
“I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.”
In 2012, How to Destroy Angels signed with Columbia Records. This new project, with Reznor’s wife, Mariqueen Maandig, and long-time collaborator, Atticus Ross, would certainly benefit from major label promotion and marketing as well as the radio play. Apparently Reznor had a positive experience with Columbia, as he’s decided to work with them for the NIN album set to release September 3.
“It really comes down to us experimenting and trying new things to see what best serves our needs. Complete independent releasing has its great points but also comes with shortcomings.”
So what are some of the benefits and shortcomings of the independent and major label model? The independent model give the artist complete control over their career. They will keep 100% of the profit from recordings and be able to sell directly to their fans. Any marketing efforts will seem more genuine because fans will know it is coming directly from the artist. However, the independent artist is also limited by the freedom they strive for. The artist is only one person and can only get so much done in a day. They are limited by their connections and their knowledge of the industry.
The major label model provides the artist with a knowledgeable and well-connected team. The artist will be able to effectively reach international markets through the marketing efforts of the major label. In return, the artist must give up some control and a percentage of revenue. For some artists, however, getting a smaller piece of a larger pie ends up being more fitting to their situation.
“To have a team of people that are better at that [marketing and distribution] than I am worldwide…that felt like it was worth slicing the pie up monetarily. Our main agenda at the moment was to make people aware of it in the right context versus a little bit more money we might or might not make.”
“And so far it’s been pleasantly pleasant. Having people that actually kind of know what they’re talking about. Having a team, it’s been nice.”
The music industry is striving for a “new model;” a one-size-fits-all solution that would bring success to all artists. Some say that direct to fan is the way of the future, others highlight the indie label or the label alternatives provided by lifestyle companies like Red Bull and Converse, and many disregard the major labels as backwards. However, especially today with so many genres and markets for music, there is no one right path to success. What works for one artist may not work for others. Many previously outspoken musicians like Trent Reznor have realized this and have set an example for other musicians.
Musicians need to look at their career objectively and find out what they personally need to be successful. There is no right or wrong path in the music industry, there is only what works best for you.
Here’s a great post by Mike Masnick.
“As you look through all of these, some patterns emerge. They’re not about getting a fee on every transaction or every listen or every stream. They’re not about licensing. They’re not about DRM or lawsuits or copyright. They’re about better connecting with the fans and then offering them a real, scarce, unique reason to buy — such that in the end, everyone is happy. Fans get what they want at a price they want, and the musicians and labels make money as well. It’s about recognizing that the music itself can enhance the value of everything else, whether it’s shows, access or merchandise, and that letting fans share music can help increase the market and create more fans willing to buy compelling offerings. It’s about recognizing that even when the music is shared freely, there are business models that work wonders, without copyright or licensing issues even coming into play.
Adding in new licensing schemes only serves to distort this kind of market. Fans and artists are connecting directly and doing so in a way that works and makes money. Putting in place middlemen only takes a cut away from the musicians and serves to make the markets less efficient. They need to deal with overhead and bureaucracy. They need to deal with collections and allocation. They make it less likely for fans to support bands directly, because the money is going elsewhere. Even when licensing fees are officially paid further up the line, those costs are passed on to the end users, and the money might not actually go to supporting the music they really like.
Instead, let’s let the magic of the market continue to work. New technologies are making it easier than ever for musicians to create, distribute and promote music — and also to make money doing so. In the past, the music business was a “lottery,” where only a very small number made any money at all. With these models, more musicians than ever before are making money today, and they’re not doing it by worrying about copyright or licensing. They’re embracing what the tools allow. A recent study from Harvard showed how much more music is being produced today than at any time in history, and the overall music ecosystem — the amount of money paid in support of music — is at an all time high, even if less and less of it is going to the purchase of plastic discs.
This is a business model that’s working now and it will work better and better in the future as more people understand the mechanisms and improve on them. Worrying about new copyright laws or new licensing schemes or new DRM or new lawsuits or new ways to shut down file sharing is counterproductive, unnecessary and dangerous. Focusing on what’s working and encouraging more of that is the way to go. It’s a model that works for musicians, works for enablers and works for fans. It is the future and we should be thrilled with what it’s producing.”