The New Music Gatekeepers: Fans & Workload
April 28, 2009
Bob Baker in Expanding Your Fan Base, Indie, Marketing, Marketing Strategies, promotion, social media

It’s the most common frustration I hear uttered by independent artists and promoters: The workload.

How can I find the time to do all this social networking and guerrilla marketing stuff?

I’ve got so much on my plate already, how am I supposed to add even more to my overflowing to-do list?

I hear you. I know. And ISN’T IT WONDERFUL?

Huh? What in Jehovah’s name is so wonderful about being overburdened by all that needs to be done to succeed with music?

I have a good answer. Let me explain …

You’ve heard of “gatekeepers,” right? In decades past, the gatekeepers of the music industry were A&R execs at major labels, prominent artist managers, radio station program directors, music magazine editors, big venue talent buyers, etc.

You needed to get the approval of some of these “special people” to have half a chance at fame, fortune and success with your music. If they didn’t deem you worthy, you were damned to struggle in obscurity for the rest of your days.

I exaggerate to make a point, but that’s the power that many aspiring artists gave to these gatekeepers in the past. Sadly, many artists still grovel at their feet today.

But now there are new gatekeepers. You can also call them “filters.” And it’s these new filters that help weed out and determine who is to be highly successful, moderately successful, and not very successful at all.

(Of course, “success” can be measured in many ways. There are no right or wrong definitions. But for the sake of this article, let’s say that success is the ability to support yourself financially from your music-related income.)

One type of new gatekeeper are music consumers. You must get a response from at least a small slice of people in the marketplace to gain traction and grow your career.

Chris Anderson spells this out wonderfully in his book, The Long Tail. He describes the industry gatekeepers of old as “pre-filters.” They decided who was worthy of being exposed to a wider audience. There was a weeding out process *before* the music was produced and distributed to the general public.

Nowadays, Anderson says, there are “post-filters.” Because of the Internet and digital technologies, practically everything is made available to the public. And now music consumers decide what is worthy of their time, attention and money.

If you can break through the clutter and find your audience, and if what you create inspires fans to rave about it to their friends, your notoriety and career will grow.

I love that concept. But there’s another new filter that has become more obvious to me in recent years. And that has to do with effort and workload.

The truth is, not everyone embraces marketing, publicity and social networking. In fact, a large percentage of artists have disdain for most marketing activities and curse the long list of things they must do to promote themselves effectively.


And it’s not just because the workload problem means there will always be a demand for my books :-) What I really like about it is how it has become a new organic filter that thins out the number of artists who succeed at higher levels.

Yes, the Internet and digital technologies have created a more level playing field. I’ve been saying that for years. But we need to clarify something:

It’s more accurate to say that all artists now have “equal access to the field.” How you play your role once you’re on the field is a whole different ball game.

Just showing up does not guarantee you a full-time income. Some indie artists do amazingly well, some do moderately well, and many continue to struggle — no matter how many opportunities and low-cost tools are at their disposal.

It really comes down to a new “survival of the fittest” paradigm. Only a small percentage of artists have that rare combination of musical chops, stage presence, likeable qualities, marketing smarts, communication and social skills, discipline, drive, passion, etc.

Sure, there are ways to lighten the workload, involve your fans, and pay people to do design work and other technical tasks. But the most effective artists are hands-on with many aspects of their promotion. It’s something they accept and embrace and make the time for.

So I encourage you to reevaluate your relationship with marketing, social media, and your growing to-do list. Find a way to incorporate them into your life! Yes, it takes effort. Yes, it can be confusing and frustrating. YES, it’s what you need to do to make an impact with your music!

This is certainly not the most uplifting article I’ve ever written, but let me ask you this:

Wouldn’t you rather have every artist’s success be based on their unique ability to create remarkable music and find an ideal audience that supports them … instead of success being based on what a small group of industry gatekeeper insiders feel is worthy?

I’ll take the new filters and gatekeepers any day!


Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (
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