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« The Musician's Arsenal: Killer Apps, Tools and Sites Featuring BandsinTown | Main | The Talent Myth »
Thursday
Jun092011

Do Social Networks Really Help Musicians?

Social networks provide far reaching opportunities for musicians, the only trouble is they don’t work for the overwhelming majority of bands and aspiring artists. Critical mass and huge opportunity creates overcrowding.

What always struck me as strange was how musicians on myspace.com actually thought that having a million friends was a good thing (despite the fact those friends were all musicians who only ‘friended’ so that they can get more ‘friends’ for themselves).

Can people spot the problem here? It’s a fake market, a bit like the sub-prime mortgages that bought the banks down.

A large proportion of musicians use social networks to build a fan base and launch their own careers. However, without adequate finances and marketing expertise it is very tough for a band to break through to reach public awareness. It is possible, but tough!

As much as musicians like to deny it, statistically they will need the backing of a record label at some point. So, can social networks get you spotted by the music industry?

Yes, but there is a problem here also. 99% of the music on social networks is junk. A song that was thrown up by a band 3 years ago is still there, effectively competing with millions of other songs in a sea of mainly poorly written and poorly executed music. This overcrowding, or “noise” makes it harder for talented musicians to get spotted (because it makes it harder for A&R to do their job).

Industry reps have to deal with noise everyday. Contrary to popular belief, record label A&R do more than simply find new talent, they also have to manage their current roster, which means they need to manage their time well. Browsing through a million ‘potential’ hit songs or listening to 1000 unsolicited demo’s is an unbelievable waste of time.

So, what is the answer?

A&R will naturally go where the noise (or overcrowding) is minimal. Some websites are helping musicians by inadvertently helping A&R reduce noise or by simplifying the search for new talent.

Let’s take a look at three websites that reduce noise in one way or another and help musicians reach the industry or grow their own fanbase in a more productive way.

Audio Rokit

Audio Rokit removes noise by giving industry A&R convenient tools to help manage and focus their search for new talent. Music companies can list what they are looking for on the Audio Rokit website and musicians can submit suitable material to them using a state-of-the-art song pitching system.

They also have a group of time saving tools to help organise and review song submissions, which removes ‘clutter’ and wasted time for A&R.

Unlike many other ‘song pitching’ websites, such as musicxray and sonicbids, Audio Rokit doesn’t pay A&R to give feedback (which seems sensible). Instead, Audio Rokit continues to developed better ways to help A&R communicate with musicians.

‘Status Folders’, for example, allow A&R to drag an artist submission to a folder, which automatically updates that artist. This benefits both parties and makes the song submission process more effective.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Audio Rokit is their hands on approach.

Founder, Darren Monson explains;

“We vet all of our listings and speak with the music companies on the phone to make sure they are legit. We’ve seen so many pitching sites that list out of date listings, or opportunities that come from companies who ceased to exist 2 years earlier! It’s a joke.

If you are seeking a record deal, music management, music publishing or gigs, I would advice musicians to use a pitching service instead of trying to find opportunities themselves. We spend hundreds of man hours finding quality opportunities, which is something very few musicians have time to do.”

The result of Audio Rokit’s song submission tool is that 94% of musicians who use their service get replies from the industry reps they submit to (which is very impressive seeing as those A&R are not paid to give feedback).

Band Camp

Beautifully designed, their website has the 2.0 thing going on!

Band Camp offers a great way for bands to reduce the noise we have been speaking of by helping bands organise and grow their fan base.

Fan-bases are extremely important. In fact, as my partner points out, many a band has been signed due to their huge vibrant fan-base (not a euphemism) rather than the quality of their songs. It’s true, sometimes ‘talent’ doesn’t shine through, musicians with business brains very often come out on top. I found a great article on the Talent Myth here

Band Camp allow artists to sell their music in a very simple way, but with one very nice addition – you can let the buyer of your music set the price. That’s correct. It seems that we have reached the point in human evolution when we fear not our neighbour, we can now open our arms and allow them the freedom to pay what the hell they want to pay. Why can’t petrol stations adopt the same philanthropic affections?

All in all, Band Camp has a very nice platform that can help bands make money from their music and keep organised.

Sound Cloud

The popular audio file sharing site, Sound Cloud, reduces noise by increasing productivity for A&R. The Sound Cloud platform makes it very easy for industry to get a sense of how popular an artist is and how fans rate their music.

Essentially, (and I won’t be liked for saying this), Sound Cloud is like myspace.com, albeit more slick. The tradition of uploading a song and sending people a link to view that song (rather than emailing a song out multiple times) is not a new concept.

Sound Cloud have nice additions to the standard idea of sharing songs however, such as visualising the audio file and leaving comments along the time line of an audio file. Musicians can also make their music downloadable if they choose.

Reader Comments (30)

It's interesting to compare the business models of the three sites you list - one of these sites is very much not like the other two.

Bandcamp is free to use but only provides a limited number of free downloads, and you pay 15% of your total download sales, dropping to 10% if you have a large volume of downloads. You can, if you need, buy more free downloads, though if you are getting enough downloads to run out of free ones the chances are high that you are getting enough paid downloads to cover that cost.

There is no social networking on Bandcamp, as such, though it does provide Facebook like buttons and sharing buttons.

Soundcloud is free to use but there is a sliding scale of pay-for premium features, largely involving more audio storage and more flexibility with your audio (submitting tunes to more than one group and such).

Soundcloud also has a full social networking implementation; accounts can follow one another asymmetrically and there is messaging and discussion fora.

Both Bandcamp and Soundcloud provide a substantial free service for musicians, essentially only charging the heavier users. Both work on a win-win model - on the whole, the more value musicians get from the sites, the more money the site makes.

I would unequivocally recommend both Bandcamp and Soundcloud to any musician.

AudioRokit lets musicians set up an account for free but they must either pay per A&R submission or pay one of a sliding scale of monthly subscription fees to be able to submit tunes. It is - so far as I can tell - free on the A&R side. There are differences between it and other pay-to-pitch companies such as Sonicbids, MusicXray and Taxi, but it is still pay-to-pitch.

It's not clear to me if there is any social networking as such on AudioRokit, but if there is, I can't see it mentioned in the FAQ. It seems more like a premium classified-ads listing service, where the money is made from musicians - either from each pitch a musician makes or from a musician paying in advance for unlimited pitches.

It's very hard to see what advantage it provides other than, for those who want such a thing, acting as a middleman between musicians and another layer of middlemen (A&R, publishers). Have I missed something?

Finally, it seems rather odd to say "as much as musicians like to deny it, statistically they will need the backing of a record label at some point." That assertion needs some backing up in the context of a great deal of available information suggesting the exact opposite: as much as record labels like to deny it, statistically they don't really have anything to offer the vast bulk of musicians any more.

June 9 | Registered CommenterWayne Myers

The best social network is the one that happens every night before and after your gig, or your friend's gig, or anywhere music is happening.

Perhaps it's just easier to quantize, but I've booked more gigs for my band or made connections that led to more freelance gigs through face to face networking. Not to mention the positive impression it makes of people that come to your show. If they like your music, and think you're a nice person, they'll tell friends and come to another show.

Social networking is a great way to reinforce those connections. Meet somebody one night, follow up with them a couple days later on Facebook, send them a link to a place to hear your music...

'So, what is the answer?'

Being creatively unique. That is it.

Put it out there in the best way you can, that's all..

But the music has to be their. Or something. Some fuss...

As for over-saturation, that's always been there.

Gershwin was complaining about there being too many composers in the 1920's/30's. This isn't a new argument. It's an artists job to be unique, to rise above. It always has been.

June 9 | Registered CommenterMarco

First off, I enjoyed the article so please don't take this as bashing or negative... but I think the article here is assuming that social media 'doesnt work' because it doesn't make it easy for artists to get found and signed. THIS in itself is the biggest misconception about social media - that it's free and makes it easier for artists to make it in the industry.

Social networks have simple allowed people to connect with more people, but with that comes the clutter (as mentioned in the article) so again it comes back to focusing on the fans and creating a unique product. This is how it used to be and this will never change. The only difference now, is that those who DO pull off the strong fan base and unique product can connect with more people than they could without the internet.

Thanks for your thoughts Wayne, very detailed points! (I shall try and provide the same level of detail in my response)!

I think I should have been clearer in the article on a few things. I was simply trying to show how three web services (that I have used) go about helping musicians raise their heads above the sea of music acts out there.

Mentions of "social networks" was simply to illustrate that they make it "so" easy for musicians to expose their music, that we find ourselves with a degree of overcrowding.

Basecamp and AudioRokit are not social networks, you are correct, although both help bands in their unique ways.

You are incorrect on a couple points however:

Audio Rokit doesn't charge per pitch.

Musicians pay a monthly subscription but essentially all individual submissions are free. I use them for that reason. I personally question sites like musicxray and TAXI who make musicians pay for each submission and pass a portion of that revenue to the A&R that listed the opportunity (seems crazy).

You said:

"Finally, it seems rather odd to say (as much as musicians like to deny it, statistically they will need the backing of a record label at some point.) That assertion needs some backing up .."

Ah, this is were we enter a grey area - Statistics!

What I was referring to is how hard it is for bands to generate income and sustain it. Session musicians can sustain real income from their art a lot easy than bands for example. Many venues in the UK have become trendy bars that now don't host live music.

I once produced a track for Polydor. The marketing push on the song was about £150k. Did it succeed? No. It sold less than 50 copies!

The song was pretty good, the band were pretty good, but the marketing commitment wasn't. So, a band with just £1000 to market their new album is going to struggle. Yes, they may get 20,000 facebook fans and secure 35 gigs up and down the country, but the evidence (as I see it) still shows that without substantial financial backing it is extremely tough for bands to break through, especially pop acts.

Sorry to waffle on about this, I am pretty passionate about the music industry as I've worked in it for 20 years. I love the changes that are happening, I love (and use) Sound Cloud, Audio Rokit, Band Camp, Facebook (not so much myspace) and many other tools out there.

What I am questioning is, do social networks actually help pop singers or bands reach fans that will make them real, sustainable money? How do we (as songwriters/bands) move forward in web 2.0, or more to the point of the blog, how do we raise our heads above the sea of competitors out there!! Comments please folks :)

June 9 | Registered CommenterDan Morgan

Yeah, I'm not sure if I completely agree with this. There's TONS of value in social, and what I love about the Internet is that it makes things democratic. Your business skills and your talent are we get you noticed in the big sea of the social web. Music is inherently social, and watching the likes on my Facebook fan page grow is definitely a good thing to me. So what if other musicians are liking my page? I want support form the music community! Or a few spammers? Having 1500 likes is a good thing! And I'm betting that most of those are people. I'm surprised that there wasn't more reference to the importance of mailing lists, and sites that do that right. I guess this is supposed to be in your face & edgy? All I know is I use Bandcamp, and it's great. But the Facebook thing is also super important - it's a good way to casually reach out to fans. I'm using BandPage there, and I love it, too! Anyone who answers the question "do social networks really help musicians" and doesn't put Facebook & BandPage in there - well, I think that's the wrong answer.

Jonathan, you are absolutely right.

I suppose (as you say) there has always been 'clutter'. (I love the Gershwin quote behyped!)

Maybe it's me, but I feel we are exposed to this 'clutter' much more now. One thing is for sure (and I am certain we'll all agree), "quality" music shines through in the end.

June 9 | Registered CommenterDan Morgan

"As much as musicians like to deny it, statistically they will need the backing of a record label at some point. So, can social networks get you spotted by the music industry?"

This is the inherent flaw with your premise. If you are using social media to get "spotted by the music industry" you've missed the point entirely! As Jonathan pointed out, social media is to connect people with people. More specifically to this discussion, social media helps artists connect with their potential fans. The musicians who have successfully used social media to advance their careers (without labels, I might add), are the one's who have approached it from this standpoint.

We do NOT need labels anymore. Can they help? Sure. But they are not necessary to anyone except those shooting for super-stardom. Those of us concerned with putting out music and making a living from it can use social media to help us achieve our goals.

Jason Parker
http://oneworkingmusician.com

As someone who receives a lot of demos, soundcloud is the winner by a country mile from my perspective. You can follow particular artists/writers and their development as well as following the selections of people whose taste you admire. So it's an ongoing tool rather than a destination like bandcamp is. I don't really like involving myself with pitching sites; I get the feeling there's more of a barrier between you and the artist, so you don't have an idea of what they're like to work with. My perfect demo is a concise but informative email with a soundcloud link.

June 9 | Unregistered Commenterarun

I agree with this for the most part, but I have extensive experience with social media and I believe that while it is undoubtedly necessary, it cannot be the only marketing tool in the belt. SM should augment already existing channels. Reverbnation has done an absolutely amazing job with their platform which allows artists even on a meager budget to get invaluable feedback and marketing metrics. Their recent integration with Facebook makes RN a cost-effective powerhouse tool for artists. That said you still can't put lipstick on a pig- so the talent MUST be there if there's any hope to turn music into a career, but I have enjoyed a better than average ROI on social media in the last 24 months when you factor revenues, reach, marketing intel, auditions, and increase of my network to industry pros.

I'd never heard of Audio Rokit and I found that I'd signed up for Soundcloud three months ago and forgot all about it! There's just so MUCH out there...I'll nip round and have a look at BandCamp too...but I heard it's owned by Reverbnation and they spam you too much with constant upgrade ads.

"As much as musicians like to deny it, statistically they will need the backing of a record label at some point. So, can social networks get you spotted by the music industry?"

Why is there so much push-back on this point? If you hear a band on TV, they're on a record label. If you pay to see a show at a venue that holds more than 500 people, the band is almost certainly on a record label. If you go to your favorite music streaming sites and ask it for suggestions, the answers will certainly be bands with record labels. If you listen to the Radio and aren't specifically listening to a "locals hour" show, then they bands you're hearing are on record labels. If you read moderate-sized music blogs or read music magazines, you're reading about bands that are on record labels.

Until these facts change, its ridiculous to argue that being involved with the industry doesn't lead to more opportunities.

There's a world of difference in exposure (and thus fan base and income) between bands that have labels/agents/PR people and those who don't. Its very hard to find examples of artists that are able to reach that level of exposure without established industry people in their corner.

June 9 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Justin-

All those opportunities you mention are great. My point is that that is no longer the only way to be successful as a musician. As for folks who are doing it without the old-school "team", there are MANY examples.

It's no longer necessary to go the traditional route. Can it still work? Sure. But there are now ways for us indie musicians to have much more control over our destinies and still make a living.

Social media has undeniably revolutionised how musicians (signed and unsigned) can take control of their own career development but that does not mean floods of new prospective fans will be flocking to invest financially - no matter which platform is used - marketing muscle is still required. I would definitely agree there is simply too much noise (mind you, there always has been).

Its now entirely up to the artist to understand their fans preferences and deliver to them what they want, social media is great for this. Labels are still, in many ways, relevant but more so now is the artist embracing the direct-to-fan methodology.

Here's a thought: Social media turnover is vanity, bottom-line is sanity...

I figured this was a good article to open up in work.

I thought it might go something like this:

"Do Social Networks Really Help Musicians?

- Yes"

...and then back to work. Imagine my surprise when I saw more than 100 words! :)

June 10 | Unregistered CommenterGareth Ebbs

Jason,

A record deal never was the "only" way to succeed. There were always outlier examples like Ani Difranco who were able to achieve things outside the record label community. I know there are other examples today, such as Girl Talk and Jonathan Coulton.

But I don't see the trend of not needing a label and/or team as having gone very far as a result of new technology. You neglect to mention any of the "Many" examples you have, but most of the ones I'm aware of do not seem to represent any kind of paradigm shift in the industry. They're the same lucky/focused/industrious types who would have been able to succeed on their own in the heyday of the industry anyways.

The point is that a record deal, in principle, does not seem to be the outdated concept that everyone thinks it is, because we aren't hearing about artists who don't have record deals to any greater degree than we used to. I'll admit that the reason why an artist would want to sign seems to have shifted from a distribution need to a promotional need - but promotion is even more important than it used to be today, and its nearly impossible for an industry-independent artist to Marshall the resources and connections necessary to get wide acclaim. It's not completely impossible - as I said, there are always examples of indie heroes who overcome the odds. But the odds themselves don't seem to be changing.

June 10 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Here's my two cents on the debate over the importance of a label...

I agree with Justin that to achieve a certain amount of exposure, record labels are still necessary to some degree. They have more money and a group of people that work records every day. Money and connections can generate plenty of exposure, but what does a band get in exchange for that exposure?

Most of the time, debt.

I used to work for a label, and there was a young band that got signed. They were a great group of kids, wrote catchy songs, had a polished performance, and a lot of MySpace/Facebook/whatever friends. So, the label paid to put the rest of it together.

The record didn't sell enough and the band got dropped. Several months later I went to a slightly-better-than-fast-food-restaurant and guess who was working the cash register and bringing the food out to the table?

Despite playing large venues, getting radio spins, TV interviews, and having great store placements, the band is basically back at square one.

Bottom line, whether or not you go the label route, you still have to build a dedicated fan base. The main difference is that a band on a major label needs a much bigger fan base, and one that actually buys their music, to pay off their debt to the record label (and then the label still owns your record--that seems outdated and backwards to me).

As a metal guitarist (as well as singer) I applaud your capitalization of the word "Marshall." It's as it should be! (Just gotta love smart phone auto-complete!)

June 10 | Unregistered CommenterJames Steele

Dan,

Who are you? I see you positioned AudioRokit right up there with BandCamp and SoundCloud. Clever. This post does not seem genuine to me? Sorry if I am mistaken. Nice PR work though.

-Bruce

June 10 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Glad that I've already been using 2 out of 3 recommended sites here! Now it seems I need to learn one more.

Thanks for the share, Dan!

EDIT: Bruce, you have a point there!

Cheers,

Sorry chaps, not PR work, just me! I am slightly proud I have caused such a stir with this Blog, usually no one reads!

I threw in Audio Rokit as a suggestion because I wanted to mention a site that might not be known by the masses yet, rather than have all the usual suspects (thought that would be way cooler)!

I use quite a few sites that I would recommend, for example YMLP.com is a great newsletter provider and is way cheaper than the rest (good for band mailouts etc). I also have sites that I would never recommend but I won't mention them here in case you think I work for the competition!

June 13 | Registered CommenterDan Morgan

@ Dan Morgan: " I personally question sites like musicxray and TAXI who make musicians pay for each submission and pass a portion of that revenue to the A&R that listed the opportunity (seems crazy)."

This is incorrect; Taxi does not share submission fees with listing parties as do MusicXray and SonicBids; it's hardly crazy, but it's certainly unethical, in my opinion. Taxi also doesn't take' a percentage of songs it forwards, as seems to be commonly believed; it as an introduction and screening service.

@Rhondasongs: Reverbnation does not own Bandcamp; they are competitors, as both allow you to sell downloads. Reverbnation has recently made changes to their email notification system, likely due to complaints over notification of available submissions; they've gone to a digest format for that, a step in a better direction, imo. I use and mostly enjoy ReverbNation's tools, but have no interest in submitting to festivals for a fee; I consider this pay to play model unethical as well, or at best, a waste of money.

Justin, above is correct; there is little question whether a band needs a label, the question is only a matter of when and which. From another angle, does a fan need a label? Not anymore, but only if they're willing to involve themselves in finding the music that suits them best. (there's an argument to be made that those folks will love their favorites more, for not having them spoon-fed)

Jason Parker says there are "many" examples of musicians making it without a label, but I only ever see the same artists touted over and over; I can count them on the fingers of one hand, (Jonathon Coulton, AniDiFranco, Amanda Palmer, Corey Smith) and there are far more examples of artists (Imogen Heap?) who would likely do better with a label (one that understood them, at least) and they include most of the first group, as well.

So do social networks hold any value for bands/musicians? They certainly do for some, if not most, but they need to be handled differently than fan sites, blogs and email. For example, using Facebook invites to spam everyone in your social circle about every single gig, when you gig more than twice a week is a great way to get defriended; for that, you need to make a fan page and let people opt in.

Agree with all of Cameron Mizell's comments, and I suspect Bruce Warila has a very good point. ;)

June 13 | Registered CommenterMojo Bone

Be forever OPEN ,,, remain POSITIVE ,,, discouraged BRIEFLY,,, follow your INTUITION and INSTINCT,,, feel your ENTHUSIASM ,,, and simply do whatever your HEART tells you !!!

Bandcamp seems to be quite good and the idea of setting the price is not bad at all, but..
does Bandcamp mean freedom for bands/artists? yes, you can sell your music, but Bandcamp change the rules without even asking people, so now they charge i guess 15% from every sale. essentially, being a part of Bandcamp you're a part of a big organization and you're regulated the way they think is right..

June 17 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

I have just read a separate post on here called What are the odds of succeeding without a record deal? that appears to be a sort of follow up to this and I must say that I have really enjoyed both posts, very insightful and I am a bit of a sucker for statistics. Thank you to you both.

June 17 | Registered CommenterMarcus Beeze

anyone read the other post that marcus mentioned? Very interesting and tons of statistics.
I found www.audiorokit.co.uk really easy to use and cheaper than other pitching sites so thanks Dan for highlighting that company, they have some big opportunities on their site.

June 28 | Unregistered CommenterTre

This is a really well written article! Thank you for actually writing an article that not only stays on point (as far as the title goes), but really offers a valuable insight!

While I don't fully agree that a band needs a record label to have success, I do agree that label backing helps bands cut through the noise as you have pointed out.

Slowly but surely, more and more bands are moving away from the major label branding approach and shifting to a direct response approach and controlling their list to sell music. This only enhances the likelihood of getting major label backing. If you can sell on your own music, then a label will be more inclined to give you a serious look.

The sites you've shared certainly are a cut-above the "artificial bubble" sites. You are spot-on about musicians only friending each other to be self-serving. It's a noisy, no-gainer indeed.

Nice work!

-Steve
www.JamRoomManifesto.com

September 14 | Registered CommenterSteve Rodgers

Very interesting post. I believe it misses one benefit though. There are social networks like limebooth.com that offer musicians a way to grow as artists through feedback on their work by fellow musicians. They can test concepts and even work on them together. This is a benefit in itself, besides creating the perfect hunting ground for A&R.

February 10 | Unregistered CommenterDavy

I am an active paying participant of music x ray and one thing I see that they will not give you the industry proffesionals rating of your music until you have submitted that song 5 times then they show you have I got that wrong Im thinking that this system is a waste of time for many many songwriters, while X ray might seem to fit the valid points made in this blog, I question the business sense of it where musicians and songwriters have to keep pitching I also find the generic replies from a and r people are of putting to artists who might have had their heart and soul in a song...I question music x ray for some of these points and what has been discussed in a business sense for them it is congenial but for the artist it is a continuous drag and you need to keep spending with high hopes !!. However having said all that it may well work for some but I am thinking not too many success stories.In my opinion.
I think its a great money spinner for them and would like to see their business graph if I am the person they are running it off.

June 2 | Unregistered CommenterjT

Ok heres the truth ..... You do not need a record label.... Yes you do ... Start your own ... Its quite simple its about a brand that sells your brand ........
.....
Make good music ... get social ... Its hard work but so is making what you create ....right?
.....
Hard work pays off .... Promote like a madman.... Nothing happens overnight
And in time if you are making good creative music that pleases the population ...
Fan base grows music sells and repeat .....
.....
.....
One love .... Throw the middle man off a roof :)

May 31 | Unregistered Commentermarcus

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