Metaphorically speaking, this is a post for those looking to become rock stars and their advisers.
I loved Rhodri Mardsen’s article on Music Think Tank. The post was entertaining and it perfectly expressed the sentiment that I hear from artists and managers everywhere. Moreover, the comments were equally telling. The music industry is a bitch. You have to do it because you love it. Music 2.0 hasn’t changed anything for artists. It’s harder to earn a living than it’s ever been. The consultants, the promoters and the bloggers - all their talk is a bunch of repetitive, give your music away, start a blog, post banner ads, sell t-shirts, build a brand, and other blah, blah, blah bullshit.
Ok, since I’m not one to swim in the tide of current sentiments, I spent the last seventy-two hours asking myself what’s wrong with that picture. After all, artists have gotten just about everything they asked for…
This is the rough text of a talk I delivered at Oxford Geek Night, which was held at The Jericho Tavern in Oxford, 27th August 2008. It’s quite long. Sorry about that.
I was pondering the other day whether I actually have a field of expertise. I thought for ages, and couldn’t come up with anything, and then in a blinding flash I realised, with a slight sense of despondency, what it might be: being in bands that people have never heard of. I’ve been doing it for years, now, and it’s incredibly easy. You get together with a few mates, write some songs, play some gigs, labour over some half-baked recordings, and fail to achieve any success whatsoever. It’s like falling off a log, seriously, and if you haven’t tried it, you should give it a go.
One thing that nearly all my bands had in common was a complete inability to get people to give us money in exchange for the recordings we’d made. As I’ll explain later, the MP3 revolution – if I’m allowed to call it that – has made that failure even more apparent, and the pain even more acute; it’s just few weeks since I went down to my local tip and recycled approximately 1,500 unsold CD albums in order to make room for my girlfriend’s burgeoning magazine collection. Her tatty copies of Vogue and Elle Decoration are worth more, square foot for square foot, kilo for kilo, than my CDs. I’d always suspected this, but that trip to Wandsworth dump confirmed it.
This talk was going to be called The Futility of Flogging Music. I’ve tweaked this slightly, because I’ve noticed that Columbia Records seem to be effortlessly selling CDs by The Ting Tings. So I changed it to The Futility Of Flogging Your Own Music. Although, actually, it’s probably just possible to flog your records to gullible family and friends, so let’s call it The Futility Of Flogging Your Own Music To People You Don’t Know Very Well.
One of the things that constantly amazes me about the discussions around the future of the music industry is how often it’s taken for granted that
- a) all musicians are trying to become celebrities and
- b) behaving ‘like a rock star’ is an acceptable reason for famous musicians not bothering to interact with fans.
I had a conversation the other day with a bloke who works in new media for a large independent label (I say ‘conversation’; he actually shouted at me at a party for 20 minutes, but I’m told he’s rather nice when he’s not drunk). While talking about musicians and social networking, he shot down the idea that musicians should be part of their own online strategy by basically saying that it’s ‘too hard’ to get them to do it and they ‘don’t understand it’.
The problem with this line of thought is that it’s predicated on a myth about musicians playing pop stars. It’s based on the notion that their unwillingness to provide the necessary online material to make their web presence worth having is excusable because hey, they’re a rock star, you can’t expect them to help out.
Should you go digital-only, and skip the CD?
The real question is: How much of your potential audience are you willing to exclude?
We’re in transitional times. A lot of people have iPods. But most still don’t. A lot of people get all their music online. But most still don’t.
If you decide not to put your music on iTunes or Rhapsody - (say, if you have cover songs and don’t want to bother with the paperwork) - your music will never be heard by the millions that get all their music on iTunes or Rhapsody.
But if you decide not to have your music on CD, your music will never be heard by the millions that still do all their listening on CD. (Even if they listen to streaming clips while sitting at their computer, they do all their real listening in the car, or on the home stereo.)
So the answer for 2008 is : if you’re serious about being a professional musician, you need to do both.
If you’re just playing around, and never expect even 100 people to want your music, then just upload to MySpace like everyone else does, and don’t make a CD.
But in these long-tail days with over a million bands on MySpace, having a professional CD - a beautifully designed and manufactured CD - really sets you apart and shows you’re serious to anyone in the music industry receiving your CD. Investing $1000 into manufacturing CDs shows that you plan to make at least $1000 selling them. Not spending the $1000 is like saying, “I don’t think I’ll ever make $1000 doing this.” Then you wonder why a booking agent or label is not interested?
To close with a telling example:
When visiting Apple iTunes, I had lunch with the guy who’s in charge of independent music editorial - the one who chooses who gets featured placement.
I asked him, “What’s the best way for me to turn you on to something I think you’ll love?”
His answer? “Send me the CD.”
I said, “Uh.. really? What if it’s already on iTunes? Shouldn’t I just send you the link?”
He said, “Yeah. I commute an hour each way to Apple’s office. I do all my real listening in the car, so I need the CD.”
The tech world is buzzing today about the TechCrunch Tablet concept announced on TechCrunch this morning. Regarding the music business, I have to ask two questions:
1) Could the TechCrunch Tablet be the final nail in the music sales coffin?
TechCrunch speculates that a device like the one shown in the picture above, could be built for under $200. Now, I realize that everyone has a mobile phone, so why is this different? Why would this product be more disruptive to the music industry?
Imagine every kid carrying one of these around in his or her backpack. Full screen browsing! Go to any music 2.0 site and interact with the full kit; not the watered down version you experience on a smart phone; you get it all: commenting, friends, music players, blogs, schedules, videos, sharing, streaming, etc. What do you need to buy or own music for? Moreover, this thing becomes another form of entertainment that subtracts from the pool of entertainment time you compete for.
2) What can artists do to prepare for the day when everyone has something like this?
Music will not be your primary product; it will be a component of your brand. Imagine your blog filling the screen above. It’s imperative that you build your own brand, or become part of a boutique brand on the Internet. To build the most value, you should do this under your own URL.
One of the easiest and cleanest ways to build a branded blog under your own URL is with SquareSpace (powers this blog and my own). Buy me a beer by clicking my SquareSpace referral link here. Read this related post titled Communities Dominate Brands for more info on building your own brand on the Internet.
I read this great quote on Kevin Kelly’s blog: “You would starve to death in a field of wheat, if you had never heard of flour.” Study the picture. Learn how to make flour.
A few weeks ago I spoke at Bob Baker’s Indie Buzz Bootcamp with 5 other music industry vets: Derek Sivers, Nancy Moran, Bob Baker, Tom Jackson and John Taglieri. We all delivered same message: Make great music that is a full expression of your creative self, then go out and connect your expression to people using technology and with a little learned marketing knowledge and discipline you will earn money. John Taglieri delivered an inspiring talk about what he did to go from full time day job to full time musician
As a social networking cheerleader who works full-time creating exposure for artists online I often find myself asking in my head: Why all of my artists be more like John? John Taglieri is a rare breed of musician: A natural sales person who understands the importance of working just as hard on his musical craft as he does on his marketing and sales and for him it comes naturally.
I know that this is not the case for a lot of artists who can get fully frustrated with the idea of sales and marketing and they “just want to play.” I’ve heard it thousands of times: “I just want to play, I hate doing that online stuff,” if you hold on to this attitude you will be left behind in the dust.
I did an interview today with Diana from savethesongwriter.com, and she said it was OK to republish some of it here:
Q. Not every good performer is a good writer, nor is every good writer a good performer. Do you have any suggestions as to how a writer (i.e. lyricist and/or composer) should proceed in order to get their songs covered?
First, figure out exactly who should be recording your song. Do your research and find out what songs that artist has recorded by other writers. Then Google those songwriters and song titles to see if interviews have revealed how that writer got that cut.
If nothing is found online, ask Diana if you can contact the writer in the name of savethesongwriter.com to interview them about how that artist chose to record their song.
Once you’ve done this research (which really only took you an hour, tops) write down at least five different ways you can reach this artist the way they like to be reached. Don’t stop at one idea. Come up with five and do at least three of them. Persistence really pays off.
Q. While becoming known is a desireable goal for a performer, many excellent songwriters will never be famous, nor is that necessarily a goal. How do you suggest a songwriter proceed in order to have their songs covered and develop a source of income?
Be where music is being made.
I used to work at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing in New York City. One of our most successful writers was only a lyrics-and-melody guy. So he would hang out at studios where many of the producer types, especially in R&B, had leftover grooves and tracks that they had never turned into songs. He’d just say, “Toss me your leftovers. Let me see if I can turn it into something even more valuable for you. If you don’t like my ideas, no problem, it’s still your track.” He’d just take home a copy of their groove/track for the night and sing to it, seeing if he could turn into into a cool song. About one out of every five songs he co-wrote like this was impressive enough that the producer liked it, and would often get it cut by whatever artist he was working with.
On the flip side, if you’re more of a music-only person, not so into writing lyrics or melodies, co-write with recording artists, letting them come up with the words and melody to your tracks. They’ll be happier with that because they can sing words they wrote, and the song is almost sure to be cut that way.
Q: What words of advice do you have for the new, up-and-coming songwriter?
Commit to constantly improving.
Don’t think your songs are etched in stone. Every song can be improved. Changing a single note or word can make or break a song.
Read all songwriting books. Read Paul Zollo’s interviews with the legendary songwriters. Read Jack Perricone’s book about melody. Read slowly, thinking how these ideas can not only inspire new songs, but improve your existing songs.
Never underestimate the power of an arrangement. Prince’s song “Kiss” is loved by millions because it had such a unique arrangement. If it had been a typical bar-band blues arrangement (the chords are just a I-IV-V blues) - it would have been unimpressive.
Maybe you’ve got great songs that aren’t getting the attention they deserve because you didn’t continue your creativity into the arrangement and instrumentation. People think they can hear though things like that, but they usually can’t, so it’s up to the writer. Maybe try never calling a song done until you’ve recorded it in five radically different arrangements.
Which comes to the last point : have a home studio. If you need to spend a ton of money at someone else’s studio every time you want to record your songs, it’ll hold you back. Spending just $1000 on equipment (decent mic, compressor, input adaptor, and software), then taking even 10 hours to learn how to run your home multi-track studio setup well, will pay off immensely.
Thanks for the comments I received on the Fan Funnel model we employ at ReverbNation. I’m still looking for more feedback, so please speak up if you have any.
Now, to continue the train of thought begun in the first post…
The Fan Funnel, in any incarnation, is incomplete. It is a ‘stock’ measurement in that it tells you how many fans you have in each section of the funnel at any given time. But it fails to measure some important things like the trajectory the Artist has (rate at which fans are entering the Funnel or moving down the funnel), and how deeply engaged those fans are with the content, to name a few. As a result of this deficiency, we developed a proprietary metric for every Artist that uses ReverbNation called a Band Equity(TM) Score. Artists use this in conjunction with the Fan Funnel.
Band Equity(TM) takes into account four factors that add up to the current value of the Artists’ portfolio of fan relationships (normalized as a ‘score’), as well as the trajectory of that value:
How many people does your content touch, overall? How many listen or even view it in a given time period? Having your content on many web pages, touching many people is a great way to understand the total conversion ‘potential’, and might be summed up as ‘awareness’. All else equal, an Artist whose content touches more people has a higher potential for converting fans and developing relationships than an Artist whose content touches fewer.
How frequently do those people seek out a second instance of the content (like play a second song or video or view the blog after they play a song)? What is the ‘open rate’ on your emails to fans (what is the probability they will actually open and read it instead of just deleting it when it comes in)? How long do they play a song or video before they turn it off and do something else? All else equal, an Artist that garners more engagement per interaction has stronger and deeper relationships with their fans.
When was the last time you engaged your fans? All else equal, an Artist that had their fans engaged yesterday has more Band Equity(TM) than an Artist that last engaged them six months ago. Recency causes your Band Equity (TM) to deteriorate over time if the # of fan interactions and level of engagement drop off. Think of this as the main ‘trajectory’ element.
Of your total ‘FANS’ and ‘LISTENERS’, how many of them can you contact without the assistance of a social network? If the only way you have to communicate with your ‘FANS’ is via a MySpace Bulletin, then you do not have the Band Equity(TM) that another Artist, all things equal, has if they can send a custom email or other custom message promoting their show or new release (full disclosure: ReverbNation provides a free email service for Artists, Labels, Managers, and Venues). This element cannot be underestimated by Artists. Social networks are a great place to RENT fan relationships, but the most savvy and successful Artists find ways to OWN their fan relationships, so they can access them when they want, and how they need.
From these four elements we construct a Band Equity(TM) Score for each Artist (and we also build our Charts from those scores, because we believe that it measures the right things). It is updated once per day. The goal is to raise their awareness of these important factors in their success, and to give them visibility into which promotional/marketing efforts deliver the desired result - stronger, deeper, and more fan relationships.
Let’s face it, record labels, talent buyers, gig promoters, and brands (people who pay the Artist) do not believe in MySpace friend counts anymore. The numbers can be easily spoofed and a few bad apples have spoiled it for everyone else. Artists, likewise, should not measure themselves by a metric like this alone, as the correlation between MySpace friend totals and commercial success is dubious, at best. That is not to say that establishing friend relationships at MySpace is not a valuable endeavor (it can definitely add to awareness, and MySpace is probably still the best place to go to harvest fan relationships). But, as a single metric for understanding the ‘financial potential’ of your band (notice I did not say the ‘artistic value’), it falls short. We provide tools for the Artists to actually incorporate the activity happening at MySpace, Facebook, blogs, homepages, etc, into the Band Equity (TM) Score, so they can have a global view of their success. Its a big music world out there on the web, and Artists need a way to consolidate and understand how those fan relationships are changing across the board.
Steve Lawson recently posted an entry on understanding and measuring the path that fans take from simply listening to a song, all the way to ‘conversion’ into a fan.
That got me thinking about the Fan Funnel metaphor we use at ReverbNation. I am looking for feedback from Music Think Tank readers on the steps below and the process we use to enable artists to essentially operate a “Fan Funnel”. Our goal is to provide a framework for understanding the process, and to provide tools for the Artists to experiment with marketing and promotion efforts so they can see what ‘works’ for them. Here is a crash course in what the FAN FUNNEL is:
Step 1 - Exposure
People must be exposed to the content. Once exposed, there is some probability that they will either move down the funnel, or pass the exposure along to friends who may move down the funnel. People who check out the content are called ‘LISTENERS’. Certainly the quality of the content matters here. Good songs and good videos will have a higher probability of moving folks down the funnel, but for ALL artists, increasing the number of exposures will have a positive impact on their raw conversion numbers. As a result, we began to provide tools for increasing exposure for the artist (widgets that make it easy to post the music and let fans spread it, street team functions so that the Artist can encourage existing loyal fans to spread it for them, applications for social networks, etc).
Step 2 - Starting A Relationship With The Fan
Once a person is exposed to the content, it is imperative that the Artist offer up some way for them to identify themselves to the Artist as a ‘FAN’ of the music. This could be going straight to a ‘conversion’ by letting them join the street team or providing them with a purchase option, but most often it simply manifests with a person joining the mailing list or just identifying themselves as a ‘FAN’ of the Artist. We ensure that potential ‘FANS’ can do this with every exposure tool we offer. Its critical that Artists OWN this ‘FAN’ relationship for themselves, and not RENT them from the various social networks on which the relationship was created – more on the importance of this later.
Step 3 - Converting FANS Into STREET TEAMERS
Once you OWN the relationship with the ‘FAN’, you have a ‘pipeline’ of folks that you can talk to, on your own terms, and in any way you wish. This is critical to success by our observations, as this allows the Artist the most flexibility in the messaging they convey to their ‘FANS’. The next logical step, beyond asking them to buy a product (ticket, song, t-shirt), is to ask them if they want to exchange loyalty or behavior for something of value to them (something you can give away that actually deepens the relationship with them, like a backstage pass). This is the act of building a ‘STREET TEAM’. Artists that have ‘STREET TEAMS’, all else equal, find much more success than those that do not. In addition, these Artists have the ability to execute marketing and promotional programs for less money than those that do not possess a ‘STREET TEAM’, as they work for non-monetary items like being put on a guest list, etc.
Step 4 - Getting Fans To Promote You
Now that you have some ‘STREET TEAMERS’, the next step is to give them tasks to do that promote your music or add more ‘FANS’. This can take many forms, but usually involves prompting them with the right tools and clear instructions on where to post your content on the web in order to help you (something you need to OWN the relationships to do properly). Many Artists have an untapped base of extremely loyal fans who have never been engaged to actively help them grow their popularity. This is a wasted marketing asset. The most successful Artists that we have observed tap into their fans at least once per month to help them spread content, recruit new fans, or promote a specific product (we provide tools to help them do this). You are probably thinking that this can only help established Artists, but we have seen the power of this tool for even the newest Artists, and it is POWERFUL. Remember, Artists with smaller followings often have a familiar relationship with their fans (read: friends and family) where established Artists only have an affinity relationship. It is often the case that these close relationships can be the seed crystal that these Artists need to grow from obscurity to local recognition in their area.
That is the ‘FAN FUNNEL’ in a nutshell, and it is the framework with which we encourage Artists to view their business. We provide ‘FAN FUNNEL’ stats directly to every Artist that uses our site in hopes that they will use it as the framework for understanding how to approach the challenges they face at growing their popularity. It is based on the empirical evidence we have around the things that make a ‘successful’ Artist. Soon we will be able to incorporate the actual sales data that come back from digital retailers like iTunes, closing the loop on how the activities of the ‘FAN FUNNEL’ impact real business objectives like selling music.
But the ‘FAN FUNNEL’, even as it grows in scope, is deficient in some respects. It does not take into account the relative value of your content above other Artists (comparing you to standards in your genre), nor does it factor in a few other things of critical importance to understanding how you are doing, overall, at growing your fan base in both breadth and depth (especially depth). For this, we developed an overall metric of the Artists’ ability to develop and nurture fan relationships called ‘BAND EQUITY’. I will post a follow-up entry on how we look at this concept, but I’d love your feedback on the FAN FUNNEL in the meantime.
Click here to read the update to this post.
With the exception of marketing music to naïve teenagers that consume anything that’s fed to them on FM radio, it’s becoming impossible to market music to people that know what they like.
In the old days, mystery, intrigue, celebrity, and real or imagined bullshit benefits could be baked into the product and into the packaging. Record labels profited wildly by being experts at it, but digital music has changed all this.
Music is now the most naked product on Earth. Music sits upon the shelf unwrapped, raw and void of packaging. Consumers can fully try it before they buy it; they can take it home unmolested; and they can pay for it randomly, or not at all. I can’t think of another product that is so fully exposed and vulnerable to quick and precise, pre-purchase decision-making as music. You click. You listen. You buy. It doesn’t get any quicker or more precise than that.
I fully believe, of the five billion tracks sold on iTunes to date, a billion (20% or FAR more) have been sold to consumers that have NEVER seen the artist, have NEVER visited the artist’s website or MySpace page, and have NEVER had any interaction with the artist…other than exposure to a thirty second clip. A billion(s) of iTunes purchase decisions have been driven off simple recommendation algorithms (those that liked X, also liked Y).
Fortunately for artists that make great songs, the same naked qualities that make music impossible to market, also make music the easiest product in the world to recommend. Once again, I can’t think of another product that has the viral qualities that are inherent in music. It’s the only product where the entire product (the MP3) can be easily attached to the recommendation. Try doing that with chicken nuggets.
In my mind (no jokes please), the greatest unintended consequence of being stuck with a product that can’t be marketed, and can only be recommended, will be the overwhelming desire to seek brutal feedback and rapid validation. You can no longer say: it’s a marketing problem…when marketing was not an option. The only questions worth pondering are: does this song suck? If so, how can I make it better? Nothing else really matters in the recommendation-driven world of naked digital music.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we measure the depth of interaction that we have with our audience. So often we get obsessed with hit-counters, relying on services like StumbleUpon to drive traffic to our sites, or blogging about ‘buzz’ topics in the hope that people find us.
The problem with this “measurement” is that it doesn’t take into consideration scale or depth. There’s a ‘scale of interaction’ people travel on towards us - from no knowledge of what we do to joining our street-team and printing their own fan t-shirts when we’ve sold out of the ones we had printed. Stumbleupon traffic often doesn’t even lift people to the level of ‘name recognition’. I was recently interviewed for a podcast by Penny Jackson of the BBC. The podcast is hosted by The Creative Coffee Club, part of the Institute Of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University, and we talked in depth about the idea of using social media to curate conversations with our audience, rather that seeing the web as yet another scatter-shot broadcast medium. You can listen to the post cast here.
One of the problems musicians often have with social media is the idea that ‘talking to our audience is what we do until we achieve ‘proper’ succes’ - working on the assumption that we’re all heading towards riches and limos. Which is a bit like buying lottery tickets as part of your music strategy - it’s not worth planning for, and generally messes up your life because of the baggage that comes with it.
So I’m definitely looking at ways to continue talking directly with my audience, while increasing both the size of it and the depth of interaction.
How do you measure that depth of interaction? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
(Someone asked me how they could sell more of their instrumental music. My answer:)
For instrumental music, it sells best if you tie it into a purpose.
Massage music sells very well.
Yoga music sells very well.
Instrumental Christmas music sells very well.
… all because they’re selling more than just harmony, melody, arrangements : they’re selling something that non-music people find useful. They solve a problem.
Imagine two candlemakers.
One says, “My candles have only the finest wax with the best quality wick!”
The other says, “These are prayer candles. Light one whenever you pray.”
There are dozens of people who will buy the first.
But there are millions who will buy the second.
Does EMI uniquely understand that enabling and enhancing the music experience is where the money is?
Over the last six months, EMI hired Doug Merrill, formerly VP of Engineering at Google. Rumor has it that EMI is selling off their recorded music business. And now, EMI has hired Cory Ondrejka one of the founders and the computer science guy behind the popular virtual world called Second Life.
I believe that EMI has uniquely discovered that there is a paradigm shift underway, and they don’t want to be left behind. The days for selling recorded music are numbered (you heard that before). The competition for consumer mindshare is going to be between those that can provide the best music experience for the money.
Think outside the box and clear the slate. Go down to the phone store and use the gorgeous Cover Flow interface built into the iPhone. Look at Microsoft’s Surface computing platform. Spend a couple of hours looking into Same Sonic Science (music information retrieval). Try out Sony’s Play Station 3. Consider the adoption of broadband in the home and the adoption of 3G wireless technologies. Play the new versions of Halo.
It doesn’t take a futurist to see where this is all going. Record labels that are not in the user experience / user interface business will be disintermediated (forced to become marginalized middlemen) by those that are.
Here’s a user interface that can be built today. Forget looking for songs using genre, forget charts, and forget simple sounds-like lookups. Discovering songs like this sucks. Take any ten thousand songs and combine it with any high-resolution landscape image. Break down the songs into mathematical equivalents, and using Same Sonic Science, divide them into 100 buckets by similarity. Break down the image and logically map the buckets of songs onto fragments of the image using artificial intelligence.
Touch the sunny segment of the image and listen.
You want more sun, move your hand into the sun.
Touch the water in the image and listen.
Touch the dark shades in the image and listen.
Listen to the blue sky.
Cover flow to the next image. Try an urban landscape.
More your hand over the image.
Zoom in, zoom out.
You want harsh, touch harsh. You want soft, touch soft.
You want to get complicated, go into a virtual world.
Hang this on the wall in your living room using a 60” touch screen TV.
Or, just use it in your iPhone.
Pay a small subscription fee or deal with the strategically placed ads that appear.
Yeah, some of this is a bit out there. But the reality is way closer than some people think. The hardest part to get your arms around is the part that uses the Same Sonic Science. Same Sonic Science enables ANY song to go into the system, and EVERY song to come out SOMEPLACE within SOMEONE’S “landscape”. Subjective terms like “great” and “suck” are sensitively mapped into the user interfaces, which learn the tastes and preferences of their users. There may be only one person that wants to listen to fingernails on the chalkboard, but if it’s music to his ears, then he will find it.
The implications of what I just described for any company in the music business are huge. What’s smarter, investing in recorded music (if you are not an artist) or investing in the music experience? It seems like EMI may know the answer. If you are one of the major labels, don’t you ask yourself…self, how do we leapfrog Apple?
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(Updated January 13, 2016)