University research proves that the smart interlinking of multiple artist-controlled web properties drives success
I recently took a fantastic journey to Australia where I spoke at a music conference called Big Sound in Brisbane. There I had the honor and privilege of meeting Dave Carter, a Dr. at Griffith University who was presenting a fascinating study called The Online Marketing Research Paper.
The Online Marketing Research Paper examines the web presence and sales data for 99 independent Australian artists distributed by Musicadium (a digital music & video distribution service) to identify whether any of the documented online activity corresponded with proportionally higher royalty returns to artists.
I think all artists should read through this important case study. You can download it by visiting here: http://www.musicadium.com/online-marketing-research-paper
In my opinion Dave Carter found out some very interesting things: (Disclaimer: I may find this study so inspiring is it scientifically backs up my theories and teachings at Ariel Publicity and in my book/online course Music Success in Nine Weeks. Affirmation feels so sweet….)
After seeing him present and taking some time to read through the study I had more questions and I wanted an opportunity to delve deeper with Dr. Carter and he graciously took the time to answer my inquiries.
7 Questions For Dave Carter
1. Ariel Hyatt: Would you say this is accurate? To summarize your study: if you would like to make money at your music:
STEP 1. Create many presences online: Start with your own URL, add MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and Last.fm.
STEP 2. Interlink them all
STEP 3. Add a buy-link to iTunes on as many places as possible.
STEP 4. Get lots of fans engaged on these sites in two-way conversations
STEP 5. Have a newsletter & e-mail list.
STEP 6. Give away free content.
STEP 7. Earn more money than your peers.
Dave Carter: This is a bit tricky. Yes this describes some of the activities of artists who received better online sales of their recordings (but this doesn’t mean that if another artist emulates these strategies they will make more money). There are too many other factors at play and there’s never going to be a one size fits all approach. What the study does suggest is some ways to optimize your online presence, and that this might be important as so few of the artists studied were using the online space purposefully or, I think, effectively.
2. Ariel Hyatt: Based on your study, what are the first step artists, just starting out, to do should take in order to make a difference for their own online strategy?
Dave Carter: Based on the Musicadium study I think it comes back to basic marketing – deliberately and thoughtfully construct a web presence that engages the type of people you want to speak to through media they use. This sounds simple but in practice it can be very difficult and requires a lot of trial and error.
Step One: Find Them & Strategize
Figure out whom you want to talk to, where they’re listening and what you have to offer them. Then develop a strategy that helps you attract and engage your target audience through the types of media and services they use. An effective promotional strategy is useless if it doesn’t result in outcomes that mean something to you and so it’s also important to think about what you actually want to get out of the exercise (a bigger email list? more punters at gigs? better gigs? increased merch or recording sales? radio airplay?) and how you will achieve this.
Based on my observations very few of the artists studied had considered their online strategy in this way.
Step Two: Start in the Real World
My own personal advice to artists just starting out would be to make sure you’ve got something happening off-line – this doesn’t have to mean international touring or massive radio exposure but I think that for most people the online space is still an extension of the real world. Your online promotion should to be an extension of your off-line promotion and they should both result in outcomes that mean something to you.
As a starting point I would suggest a new artist might want:
– Something that tells the world who they are, what they’re doing (gigs etc.) and find out more about them (like a website)
– Some sort of regularly updated content like a blog, vlog or similar
– A way to communicate with their fans, like a Facebook page or similar
– Third-party hosted streaming content, ideally in a format that can be easily shared such as YouTube videos and streaming widgets. I’d include Myspace pages and Flickr photo’s in this category.
– Downloadable content (this could be through digital retailers but doesn’t have to be)
– A way for fans to give them something of value (not necessarily money and not necessarily in exchange for downloadable content)
– A way to collect information from their fans (email, location) that can be used to promote future events / releases via email
– Links between each site and service the artist is using, with prominent links to content, ways for fans to give them their details and / or something else of value.
This might be as simple as a Blog (who you are and what you’re doing with updated content), Twitter account (communication with fans), Last.FM page (streaming content), an email list (collecting information on fans) and having recordings distributed via the iTunes Music Store (downloadable content in exchange for $).
It’s not the tools that count it’s how you use them…
But for this to be effective the artist involved would need to really work at building a fan-base through these services and off-line activities. It’s not the tools that count it’s how you use them.
3. Ariel Hyatt: Do you think it is possible for an emerging artist to gain a large following in today’s industry without having a frequently updated web presence?
Dave Carter: My own opinion is yes, absolutely. However it would be unusual, difficult and I think bands would need a very good reason to ignore what can be a very powerful promotional tool…Things have changed a lot in recent years but I think one of the best promotional tools a band can have is still rabid evangelizing fans.
4. Ariel Hyatt: There is a lot of talk about the decline of MySpace. Do you think that MySpace is still relevant?
Dave Carter: Artists who used Myspace in place of a dedicated website actually received lower returns overall and, on its own.
5. Ariel Hyatt: Drawing from the results of this study, what are 5 action steps that you would recommend for an emerging band trying to increase their digital sales?
Dave Carter: On the basis of this study – and assuming you’ve got a high quality recorded product.
1) Get things moving off-line. Play gigs, tour, aim for media coverage (radio, TV, press, online, etc.) appropriate to your style of music.
2) Identify who your audience is, what you can offer them and how best to communicate with them. As an aside, YouTube appeared to be an under-utilized resource among the artists I studied.
3) Think about and develop a web presence that will help you attract and engage new fans in the places where they are – make sure everything is linked together like a web and that you make it easy for anyone who’s interested to give you money.
4) Develop a contact / mailing list that you own and control, add to this at every opportunity and use it to communicate and market directly to your fans.
5) Identify what services are getting fan engagement – start targeting these channels and reassess your online strategy. If something’s not working, look for another option.
6. Ariel Hyatt: Is having an ‘interlinked web presence’ as simple as providing links to all of your existing profiles across your web presence?
Dave Carter: Yes and no – what I looked at in the research related to clear links between the different sites and services an artist was using. In practice this meant they were easier to find online and, once found, it was easy to navigate across their web presence. I think there’s some other work that bands could do here in terms of SEO and keyword linking but I didn’t examine this in the research. What I went looking for, and was surprised not to find, was whether bands were making it easy to be found and share their music with others online.
Conclusion: There is No One- Size Fits All…
7. Ariel Hyatt: Is there anything else you would like to say about this study that could be helpful for musicians looking to increase their online sales and engage more directly with fans?
Dave Carter: The online space offers bands a lot of amazing tools but there’s no magic bullet and even a well conceived and realized online strategy may not result in increased sales. While there’s a lot to be learned from high profile success stories I think it’s important to ask whether this success is typical and could be repeated by another artist using a similar strategy. Often this isn’t the case and instead of emulating other peoples success I think it’s important for artists to try and figure out how they can best use the available tools to attract and engage fans. The research I conducted for Musicadium provides some useful pointers regarding what is and isn’t working for a number of independent artists who are using the online space to help build their profile. If this is you then I’d recommend having a read and getting in touch if you have questions.