With the present state of the music industry, the chances of landing that entry-level, dream job in the music business is even more difficult than it may have been ten or even five years ago. As an intern in the music business working for companies that may be in the realm of record labels, music publishing, marketing or other types of social media/digital companies, you may be asked to do anything and everything.
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This post is slightly at odds with one of my mentors, Michael Branvold. Strange considering it’s based on his great advice on what musicians should do online daily. It’s not that I disagree with what Michael says. It’s that, well, there’s not enough time in the damn day! Time management is a bane to my existence.
I used to be afraid of always talking about my music to people, whether it was online or offline. Mainly because I was afraid I would annoy and lose them. I found myself in a dilemma of sorts because the promotion of my music was inconsistent as result. And inconsistency doesn’t breed success. So I had to check myself. I was taking this music thing too personally. I needed to step back and be a bit more objective with my career. I needed to think like a businessman. After all, I’ve spent 6 years building my own marketing company.
As I understood business, when you have a good product, the main task at hand is to figure out ways to let your target audience know it exists and raise your product’s profile in their lives. That is your focus. You are the owner. You are the marketer. The success of that product is in your hands. And, being in music makes no difference. If I ever want to make this passion my “9 to 5”, I had better pull things together. What I’ve found is that it took just as much creativity to be in business as it did to make music. Both requires you to take what is seemingly nothing and make it into something. Except when it comes to the business side of things, your job is to make your music, which at the start is nothing in the mind of a consumer, become something meaningful to that consumer. And the key to great marketing is one word: frequency.
I’ve spent my teenage and adult life obsessing over my music collection. Meticulously arranging hand labelled tapes and CD’s was FUN, but when the same job arrived for mp3’s, it became a massive chore. But I still felt compelled to own something, and so I continued for many years, wasting hours arranging an mp3 collection I’d not paid for. I passionately argued that I’d always want to own what I listened to, until the Spotify mobile app made that notion extinct.
I know what you’re thinking. “There’s no such thing.” That’s what I thought too. Until I started to piece together the stories and advice I heard after going to several music industry events. It all came together for me when I attended the recent ASCAP NY Sessions. The light came on. I saw a common denominator - an overarching theme in all of their stories and thoughts. There it was. Could it be? The silver bullet for music business success? Except it wasn’t the shiny silver bullet I expected to see.
As we rush headlong into an ever more connected society, the preponderance of technology is increasingly inescapable. As entertainment continues to bridge gaps we’re sure to see the growth of more hybrid events anywhere that an entertainment dollar is at stake. For bands like Umphrey’s McGee that are already involved in creating interactive experiences, there will surely be no shortage of those willing to attend and participate in them.
It was June 2009 when Radiohead and TOMS shoes produced a ‘love child’ in the business side of my brain. Flying from Dublin to New York on the US leg of, what has now turned into, a house concert world tour I was reading the inspirational story of TOMS shoes when the epiphany hit me….
This is a matter that I’ve struggled with, going back and forth. Should I release full length albums in this new music era or should I be releasing singles once per month? I was leaning towards releasing a single each month for one reason: consistent fan engagement. It’s good to always have something new to talk about with your fans!
But then, I ran into a problem - a few weeks isn’t enough time to promote a song in any kind of impactful/effective way, especially when you are an independent artist. You’ve barely promoted that song before you’ve moved onto the next one. And from the fan engagement standpoint, I found many of them didn’t know I had certain songs out. For whatever reason, all of the fans don’t pay attention all of the time. So if there’s no sustained attention/focus on the promotion of a particular release, it’s hard for people to know it exists.
I played keyboards on my first Broadway show a few weeks ago. For me, this is a milestone in my career and marks the achievement of a major life goal that I’ve been working toward for over 20 years. When I first decided I wanted to play keyboards on Broadway – and this will be a reoccurring theme – I had no idea where to start. There were a lot of very generous musicians who helped guide me along the way. So in an effort to pay back that kindness, and in the hopes that this might help somebody out there with similar goals, I’m going to tell you the story of how I got my gig.
In ‘Chaos We Can Stand: Attitudes Toward Technology and Their Impact on the New Digital Ecology’, a recent post on Music Think Tank, Kyle Bylin discusses the collapse of the record industry, with reference to Clay Shirky’s ideas about a new digital ecology and “cognitive surplus”.
Fundamentally, this is a transition from a situation of controlled scarcity of creative ‘product’ from a few major players to a flood of creative material as the previous barriers to entry have been demolished. As internet use replaces television watching, and freely available online tools enable learning, creativity, sharing and collaboration, people are shifting from being passive consumers to active participants and creators.
Suddenly there is a surplus of ideas, an abundance of creative content. One of the overwhelming problems faced by musicians today is the difficulty of ‘standing out’ and being heard above the noise, not drowned out by the herd.
Most - if not all - artists strive for some form of attention whether it be adulation, respect, being remembered or being talked about. It may happen as a result of a lot of work out on the road, or as the result of sheer luck, but more often than not it is the result of the fuss.
One of the classic books in this genre is Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion. It’s written by the social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini and although it dates from more than 25 years ago, the book is still relevant today. It provides insights in psychological principles that can be applied to a broad range of fields, including music.
As a musician or label-owner though, you might not have the time to immerse yourself in the psychology of persuasion. Therefore, to save you some time and to help you get acquainted with these essential principles, here are five proven psychological principles from Cialdini. Being aware of these techniques will help you with selling your music, your merchandising or tickets. Let’s get started right away with the first psychological principle!
Here’s a quick story about change that might surprise you …
Leo and Harry knew firsthand that new technology has the power it turn the status quo on its head.
They were part of an economic boom in the music industry that allowed songs to spread faster and more efficiently to more people than ever before.
The movement they were part of had the additional effect of encouraging amateur musicians to participate in music in ways they had never been able to in prior years. The wave Leo and Harry helped create affected the entire music industry.
However, within a short period of time, an even newer technology came along that disrupted everything. The stable business model these two men built and profited from began to crumble.
I. Where Salvation Lies
Upon discovering that I had relatively poor vision in the seventh grade—difficulties seeing the whiteboard and anything from afar—it was understood that I would need to get glasses. Not just any glasses though, the specific style that I wanted were those worn by the front man of the rock group Linkin Park, Chester Bennington; they were thick-framed, black glasses, and in my mind, they looked amazing—on him. As it would turn out, the glasses looked less than stellar on me and I got a completely different pair.
Back then, I was an adamant fan of Linkin Park. In desiring to align characteristics of their identity with my own, the thought of looking like Bennington and wearing his glasses seemed like a logical expression of self.
I knew all the lyrics, saw every music video, and owned all of the albums.
Members of Linkin Park were not aware of my existence—camped out on a farm in the backwoods of North Dakota—but I felt a compelling bond towards them and their music. Social scientists characterize this kind of one-sided relationship as “parasocial” in nature. I knew everything about Linkin Park, but they were not privy in the slightest way to the particulars of my life. Much of my relationship with the group slanted more towards the illusion of interaction than of actual social interaction. Mass media outlets served as intermediaries between us.
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(Updated Sept 29, 2014)