I’ve written “what artists should know” articles on Last.fm, Jango, and thesixtyone, but after months of casual participation, I can’t seem to get anywhere on Stereofame. Rather than bore you with my less than noteworthy experience, I turned to the undisputed kings of the site, Temple Scene. Philippe Rose and Ric Levy make phenomenal electronica-tinged pop, but we all know it takes more than great music to get heard. Ric shares his experience and advice below.
BRIAN: Ric, congratulations on the imminent release of your debut album! The fact that you don’t have a full-length out yet makes your success on Stereofame all the more remarkable. Could you briefly explain how the site works and how you got started there?
RIC: The first we knew of the site was a small advert on TuneCore, the service we use to get our songs on iTunes. We’d just released our first EPs and we wanted to have a presence on every site we could find. Most of them turned out to be pretty pointless - full of bands but no listeners - but Stereofame have managed to build a genuine community of music lovers.
When we first joined, the site didn’t really seem to know what it was, but as time has gone on, it has become less of a competition and more of a musical social network. In terms of the competition it really has two running in parallel. You get points for your networking - talking to people, listening to their music, making comments - which you can then bid eBay-style on prizes. And for artists they have a “Stereofame ranking” which you cannot affect directly, but seems to be based on some sort of secret formula regarding how many people have been visiting your profile and listening to your music and how much they like it.
BRIAN: You’ve been ranked #1 since my first visit to the site seven months ago. I imagine at this point it’s self-sustaining, but how many hours a week were you putting into it initially?
RIC: I couldn’t put an exact figure on it, but we were initially putting quite a lot of effort into music sites generally. We’ve never specifically tried to compete (we never thought we would win anything!) but we’ve identified the sites that are full of genuine music lovers and used them as a way to try and connect with our listeners. As it turns out, I think this approach actually helped us do well on Stereofame, as it is set up to reward ‘good citizens’ who take part in the community.
BRIAN: I first heard about Stereofame at lunch with David Gonzalez of The Long Division. He showed me the Subway gift card he bought with his points. It was nice to see someone’s music actually put food on the table! What have you bought with your points?
RIC: I hope he treated you to a sub, then! We’ve been incredibly lucky with Stereofame. As well as Artist of the Year, we managed to win the laptop on which I am typing this and a PlayStation 3 (which only slowed the album down by a couple of weeks…)
BRIAN: It seems that the name of the game is to get labels to sign you. Did you approach the labels directly? If so, how did you decide which labels to target?
RIC: For listeners, the site works as a kind of “fantasy label” competition - they sign artists, and the better their signings do, the more points they make. Artists also get points when they are signed. I don’t think we’ve ever sent a message asking anyone to sign us. It’s already set up in such a way that listeners will encourage their friends to listen to and sign “their” artists, so the best way to expand your presence is just to be friendly and hopefully people will want to support you.
BRIAN: Have you done any promotion off-site to help you get ahead in the game?
RIC: Again, not really. If anything interesting has happened on the site we talk about it on our blog, but it’s not the kind of site where you need to whip up people to go and vote for you. We just concentrate on having a good relationship with listeners and other artists on the site.
BRIAN: What else can artists new to the site do to boost their ranking and maximize their exposure?
RIC: Obviously, we were quite lucky to join early when there were fewer bands and you were pretty much guaranteed to get heard. So I would guess that for a new band it’s going to be necessary to try and get people to listen. The best way is just to be friendly, and don’t make people feel like you are spamming them. The most important thing is that once you’ve got a few listeners, you mustn’t just ignore them and start pestering new people. Build a relationship with them. If they like you, they will put your songs in pride of place on their profiles and they will be your biggest advocates on the site.
BRIAN: Recently Stereofame added an album store, allowing users to buy songs with their points. Have you seen any sales? If so, have the proceeds reached you in the form of cold hard cash?
RIC: We’ve put some of our songs up for sale there, but we haven’t really seen much back from that. I think most people just go straight to iTunes or whatever they generally use, rather than signing up to a relatively small site just to buy songs. But they’ve only just activated the feature, and we’ve yet to see what kind of promotion they put into song sales on the site.
BRIAN: Looking at your statistics on your Stereofame page, I see a huge spike in points on June 2. What caused it?
RIC: I think it’s to do with our VIP membership. We’ve joined their paid subscription which allows us to sell songs on the site, and it also includes points bonuses, which I think you get once a month, hence the spike. Again, the VIP membership is a brand new addition to the site and I don’t know how it will pan out, but we’ve done so well out of the site that we feel like we should get involved!
BRIAN: I tried VIP membership for a couple months, and didn’t notice much of a bump. I guess that’s fair though. Bands shouldn’t be able to buy a good ranking.
RIC: I don’t think it affects your musical ranking - it just means you get extra points to bid on prizes.
BRIAN: Has your success on the site helped you beyond the prizes and exposure? Any label or publisher interest as a result?
RIC: No major industry contacts, but we get a respectable amount of web traffic from Stereofame. Also, whenever a label signs us we send a polite message thanking them and asking them to join the mailing list, and we certainly get more sign-ups this way.
BRIAN: Thanks for taking the time Ric! I know how incredibly busy you are with putting the final touches on the album. I look forward to buying my copy!
RIC: You’re welcome - thanks very much!
Brian Hazard is a recording artist with fifteen years of experience promoting his seven Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.