By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 5 minutes
One of the artists we work with has been in the music business for years, and he has an established yet growing fan base. He’s worked with record labels in the past, but for a number of reasons he has ended that relationship and gone off on his own. This artist recently dropped by to visit with us after returning from a short whirlwind tour with well over 50 performances.
After hearing about one spectacular show after another, we asked him what his favorite moment was.
He thought for a minute, then shared with us this story:
He was working his merch table after a show when a teen came up to buy a CD, digging in his pockets for every last bill and coin he could find… and still coming up short. Way short.
Our artist noticed the crushed look on the teen’s face, asked how much he had, and discreetly made a deal.
The teen was elated, to say the least, and the smile on the teen’s face is our friend’s most treasured memory from an incredible trip.
While it was a very brief encounter, it’s probably not something either party will forget anytime soon, and it’s an awesome story to hear him tell. Better yet, there are a couple of lessons to be learned from this:
1. Make Yourself Accessible
Fans love personal attention from their favorite artists. You don’t have to hang out on social media all day or share your private phone number with your fans to be accessible. You just have to make an effort to connect with them.
This artist regularly does just that. Over the past year, he’s launched a new website with pages for fresh content and places for fan interaction; he also stepped up his social media presence to better connect with fans. He does a phenomenal job of replying to, or at least acknowledging, fans’ posts and comments. Because of his international fan base, this sometimes includes translating his comments into a fan’s native language. He regularly shares quick videos, a free ringtone, or pictures from the road with his fans; while the shared items are nothing fancy, his fans love them.
His efforts to connect with his fans in-person are also strong. Like many musicians, he’ll sign autographs or do post-show meet and greets.
It’s important to note where he was in the above story: at his merch table, selling CDs and interacting with fans. Early in his career, he never would have been caught at his merch table. He was convinced that artists were supposed to be mysterious, deific beings that were above the masses, and that selling merch was for groupies, managers, or… well, anyone but the artist. (For what it’s worth, he’s not the only artist we’ve heard share this concept.)
At some point in the not-so-distant past, he had a change of heart; he realized that fans want someone who cares about and appreciates them, someone they can relate to, interact with, and reach. So, he swallowed his pride and started working his merch table.
The results have affirmed his decision. Not only have his sales increased significantly (it’s safe to say he made as much from merch sales on this short tour as he did in the past few years from his record label), but his interactions with fans have become much more frequent and, like the above story, meaningful—both for him and his fans.
2. Make the People a Priority
You can be the most talented musician ever, but if you ignore your fans and make them feel like you only want them for their money, you won’t be left with many fans. With no fans to buy your music and come to your shows, you won’t have much of a career.
So, what does it look like to make your fans a priority? Well, it doesn’t mean giving everything away; you have to make a living, after all. It doesn’t mean taking song requests and polling the masses on every decision you make. It doesn’t mean that you become obsessed with your social media stats, analytics, and gaining traffic.
It does mean making eye contact while performing, considering them when ordering merch, sending out exclusive sneak peeks to your followers, and shaking hands and signing autographs after a show. For example, Taylor Swift has mastered the meet and greet. She gives up a few moments of her time to give her fans a moment they will never forget.
It also means going the extra step to connect with them, and remembering that they are people just like you, not numbers and dollars. This can include doing what our artist did and cutting the occasional deal.
Now, merch sales are literally what pay our artist’s bills; he depends on that income, and he knows it. Discounting merch all the time simply isn’t an option. So, while he knew sales had been going well, he also knew that every penny adds up and makes a difference. He could have said no.
But he didn’t.
Our artist wanted to make his fan’s day. He wanted that connection with the fan. He didn’t make the deal for good press coverage or out of greed after quick calculations on the potential lifetime value of a fan. He did it quietly and out of genuine affection for his fan base. To him, that was enough, and it was worth the small one-time hit on his profits. To the fan, it was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
That kind of mindset—where you make yourself accessible to your fans and you make your fans a priority—has made a big difference for our artist, and it is what can lead you to long-term relationships with fans and a lasting music career.
Sometimes I allow the past to fade from my memory too quickly. With things changing so rapidly in the digital age of music, it’s easy to forget just how different things in the music business were just a short time ago. One of my mentors always told me that it’s hard to move forward into the future when you’re focused on the past and looking over your shoulder, and, for the most part, he was right.
But not in this case.
Looking Over Your Shoulder
In the 90s, if an independent artist wanted to “make it” as a musician or performer, they had to beat the street and perform in front of real live people. How else would anyone hear their music? Artists needed fans, and live performances created fans.
Since creating fans is no easy task, that hard work was just the beginning. They spent hours writing music, picking band members, rehearsing, recording, mastering, ordering discs, and spending money—all of this just to acquire fans.
Now, the fans themselves weren’t the goal. “Making it” was the goal. What did this mean? To most independent musicians, it meant financial sustainability, which itself might lead to fame and fortune, if you were one of the gifted and lucky few.
To many artists, “making it” also meant widespread recognition. Because earning that recognition through constant touring and performing was slow and required hard work, some artists also banked on radio play, sending countless CDs to radio stations in hopes of breaking into the on-air market. Sadly, most of those CDs ended up in the trash and were never played over the air. While artists had hoped radio play would be a short cut to success, it was often a short cut to disappointment and unnecessary expense. So, starving artists either quit or kept on gigging.
The Internet Promise
The 90s passed by, and the next decade offered a whole new opportunity to artists with the launch of music sites on the internet. When the internet came, it promised easy access to self promotion and fame for indie musicians. Artists became enamored with the idea of getting their music on every internet portal for music, starting with iTunes.
The conversation changed; no longer did a musician have to work gigs to gain fame and make it in the business or wait on radio stations to pick up their music. With an internet short-cut to success, everything was finally going to be great. Fame was now possible without traditional air-play. An independent artist did not have to rely on gigging to make it any longer.
Not so fast.
The internet did deliver a wide variety of options for promotion of music, but it came at a cost. Fame was possible now, but money, which had always accompanied fame in the past, did not follow. In the 90s, more exposure turned into more revenue for artists; now, more exposure can actually turn into less revenue for the artist.
This doesn’t seem to make any sense—more exposure equals less revenue? But fans at shows today might hesitate to purchase music, since it is readily available online for free. In some cases, it seems that the more popular an artist becomes, the less likely it is that they could sell their music. But what could the artists do?
The Internet Is Not The Problem
Artists in the 90s had to make their way by touring and playing gigs. It was accepted as a necessary prerequisite to success.
Scratch that. It wasn’t “a” prerequisite. Touring and gigging were the only options available to an indie artist hoping to make it in the 90s. There was no internet, with its alluring digital tools, to distract and mislead musicians from the task at hand.
Here’s how it worked: a few gigs turned into a few more gigs; those gigs turned into better gigs at bigger venues. Eventually, gigging turned into touring and playing concerts. If you were good and lucky, you might even get radio play. If you did it right, all of this effort created fans who spent their money on your music.
It is exactly the same today.
Let me be clear about the internet age and what it allows artists to do with their music. The age of the internet has empowered musicians with countless digital tools to expose their music to potential fans. The only problem is that most of those digital tools do not generate any reasonable income. Therefore, the problem artists face today is exactly the same as, and yet completely different than, it was 20 years ago.
What Is The Problem?
The lack of income needed to sustain a career in music was a problem 20 years ago. It is still a problem today, and it’s actually getting worse. Surprisingly, the answer to the problem is also the same, but with a little twist.
In 1995, artists fought obscurity by gigging. As their fan base grew, people purchased music, and the artist began to make a living.
Due to the internet, obscurity is no longer a problem. This sounds like good news for musicians, but an internet fan base does not necessarily turn into music purchases. That is the significant difference between music today and music in the past.
Internet Fame Does Not Equal Income
The question most artists ask when starting a career in music is, “How do I get my music out there so people can hear it?” Unfortunately, this is not the right question.
(By the way, the answer is simple: load your music onto every streaming source you can find, and bam, you’ll have thousands of people listening in a short period of time!)
The right question to ask is, “How do I make a living as an artist?”
As odd as it may seem, the answer is the same today as it was 20 years ago. Gigging is a great way to create fans that will purchase your music and merch… as long as they can’t get it all online for free.
Four Things You Can Do
If you want to find success today as a performing artist, focus on the things you need to do that will create more local fans. Here are a few points to consider:
Perform by gigging and touring as much as you can.
Release new music often, and sell it on your merch table.
Capture your fans’ information and communicate with them.
Limit how much music you offer for free online.
Here’s my last piece of advice: keep looking over your shoulder for answers to today’s problems. It may seem counter-intuitive, but some things really don’t change, no matter how different they may seem. Do not become infatuated with internet fame unless you can turn it into income.
The key to indie musicians’ success is the same today as it was 20 years ago: Find fans that will purchase your music.
There are easier career paths than that of the independent musician. In most cases, you—the artist or band—are the songwriter, manager, social media director, roadie, and, oh yeah, you play music. But, where do you play? And how do you break into those venues? We’re here to tell you.
First, know that the advice you find below won’t mean a thing if you’re not ready for the stage. To the serious performer, this means your songs are memorized, your instrumentation and vocals are tight, you have your transitions down, and—lest I forget the obvious—you’re comfortable in front of a crowd.
Having gotten those pre-requisites out of the way, let’s talk about getting gigs.
It’s all about who you know, so get out there and meet your fellow music makers. You might have thought I was going to say ‘get to know the venues’; that is also important, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It may seem counter-intuitive, but getting to know and befriend other bands can pay big dividends. Besides the fact that collaborating with other artists will help you grow and make you a better musician, knowing people in the local scene is a great way to hear about gig leads. These people can help; they are not your competition (unless you actually are doing a competition, like Battle of the Bands).
The independent music community is a place where you can find rich resources. If you make a connection with other groups and artists, they may be willing to put in a good word for you with promoters or bookers. Or, if you’re a fit, you could become an opening act for them. If you want to know the best places to play or get an introduction, play nice with other local musicians. And, when you get a break, remember to pay it forward for other up-and-comers. You never know who will be the next big thing.
Do Your Homework
The contact information for local booking agents is generally just a Google search away. But before you reach out to these people, find out all you can: their name, their preferred genre, the information and materials required for an audition, etc. If you have a buddy who knows the person you’re contacting, at the very least make sure to mention your friend’s name in your correspondence. Even better? See if your friend will introduce you in person—another situation where networking comes in handy.
If you’re trying to play an event or festival, first make sure your genre fits the audience. Your death metal sound may not jive with the bluegrass festival-goers. Second, know that there may be several stages, each with their own booker. Find out who you need to talk to about the stage that best fits your sound.
If it’s a bar or a club you’re looking to play, go check out some shows there. Get to know the bartenders. Watch the crowds; find out what they respond to and what seems to bore them. Make a connection with bands that are already playing at the club; a good word from a currently-performing band will go a long way in securing your gig.
You’ve found the person you need to contact. You’ve done your research. Now, make sure your email or letter to them is thoughtfully written. If this is not your strong suit, enlist a friend to help you. (I mentioned a letter intentionally. Lots of emails get lost in spam filters, are deleted without being read, or just don’t make it to the intended recipient; personal letters will at least get opened.)
I should also mention that persistence is a virtue when contacting a new venue. Don’t make the mistake of sending one letter and thinking all your work is done. It may take several attempts to get the attention of the person who makes booking decisions.
Whichever way you send it, make sure you have reviewed and edited your communication thoroughly. This includes spelling your contact’s name correctly. I had an opportunity to interview three different PR firms last month to help promote my band. I was surprised by the offer from one of the firms; they spelled my name three different ways in one letter! Needless to say, I did not use them.
No, not like that. I mean, make it easy for your potential promoter to listen to your audition. After going through all the trouble of researching your contacts, do everything in your power to ensure they listen to your awesomeness. For example, check (and double-check) that links to tracks and videos are working. Also, be sure to send a link or recording of a live performance—not a shiny studio recording. Your potential booking agent wants to know you’re capable of performing live.
In your communications, keep it brief (no life stories, please), but be informative. Include your contact information, genre, influences, and experience. If you have a considerable fan base and think you can pack the house, by all means, tell your contact that. (If not, don’t lie about it. You may get your foot in the door, but you will not be asked back.)
As in reflexes. Be ready to respond quickly if a promoter contacts you back—the same day if at all possible. They could have a dozen other hungry musicians waiting to take your spot. If, for some reason, you can no longer take the gig, let them know, and communicate your disappointment in the schedule conflict. They may remember you for the future.
Allow for Small Beginnings
When you’re just starting out, you have to build a fan base. To do that, you have to get your music into the ears of potential fans. Unless you’re getting booked every night, take the gigs that come your way—no matter how “insignificant” you think they may be. You can be proactive in these matters, too. Find a cause to support and do a benefit concert. Or, play your neighborhood’s next block party. Just get your music out there. You never know who will show up and catch your amazing set. Then, capture your fans’ info and invite them to future shows. As mentioned earlier, a following will help you land future gigs.
If your material is up to snuff and you are stage-ready, these steps will be instrumental in helping you get your next gig.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 9 minutes
With so many social media platforms to choose from, it can be hard to keep track of all the websites, blogs, and profiles to create for your band. Some might argue that a profile on XYZ’s site is enough. We disagree.
While it’s true that social media sites are useful and important tools for connecting with fans, they shouldn’t be your main focus. Why?
Well, first, the popularity of these sites is constantly shifting, and new sites seem to pop up daily. (Maybe not daily, but still.) How many profiles can you manage—five? thirty? seventy?—before becoming overwhelmed and losing track of them all? And when the sites your profiles are on fade from popularity or shut down altogether, how will you communicate with your fans? In the battle for social media platform dominance, having your own independent website gives you stability and your fans a consistent place to find you.
Second, relying on third party social media sites means you have no control over who sees your messages and when. It’s becoming increasingly harder, and more expensive, to make your voice heard over the noise, even by those who actively sought out your profile or page and want to hear your message.
Third, a profile or page isn’t the most professional way you could present your band or yourself as an artist, since just about anyone can create an account. On the other hand, a dedicated website shows professionalism and a level of commitment that profiles just don’t. When a label, promoter, or booking agent wants to look up your band, they want to look at your website. When the press refers to you, they will want to direct people to your website.
So, what’s a musician with no web design experience to do? Read on for more information.
Determine Your (And Your Fans’) Needs
Remember when the internet looked like an online phone directory, where one-page websites simply showed a brief company description, list of services, their contact information, and—if you were lucky—a photo or two? That kind of web site doesn’t cut it anymore.
Your band’s website should build a relationship between you and your fans. This means it must be informative, interactive, and up to date. Yes, your website should tell them about your band and display your discography. It should also give fans a place to listen to your new releases, watch your videos, and buy your music, and it should share your stories from the road and announce upcoming concerts or tours. Ideally, your website will also let you gather your fans’ information so you can continue communicating with them.
What type of experience do you want to offer your fans? What features does your website need to keep your fans engaged and coming back? Take some time to think about the sites you like to visit and what it is about them that keeps you coming back. Write out a list of those features, and cross out any that can’t apply to your band. If you need some ideas, here’s a list of features that we recommend:
There are other features you could add, but that’s a pretty good starting point. Of course, simply having these features isn’t enough; a tour schedule with nothing filled in won’t fill seats at your shows, and not adding new videos, music, or blog entries means there’s nothing new for your fans to see. Effective websites need a steady stream of content flowing into them.
Find a System That Works For You
Now that you know what you want to offer, you need to find a way to offer it. If you’re an independent musician struggling to make ends meet, you probably don’t have a huge budget for web design. It’s equally likely that you aren’t an experienced web designer or fluent in CSS or HTML5. Even if you do happen to be the rare independent musician/code-writing web designer, you probably don’t have enough free time to be designing your website from scratch.
The good news is, that’s okay. There are hundreds of platforms available that can help you build your website, without requiring prior knowledge of code. We’re highlighting a few platforms here, to give you a starting point:
One place to start is Bandzoogle, which is geared toward helping musicians sell their music and merch. Sign up for the free trial and see if their options—like download codes, shopping cart, site-wide music player—and interface meet your skill level and your needs. There are hundreds of layouts to choose from, with additional customization and design available without coding or software. As far as perks go, the site gives you the option of letting your fans set the price of downloads (which some studies suggests can increase your income), and Bandzoogle doesn’t take a cut of your sales. However, the plans max out at 10,000 mailing list contacts, so this might not be a good long-term solution (or short term, if your band already has a large following).
Another great option is Squarespace. There are dozens of templates to choose from, each of which can be customized in appearance and layout. With galleries for photos and videos, music collections, and blogs, showcasing your content is easy. Squarespace has a built in eCommerce option, allowing you to sell physical goods (and it tracks inventory) or digital goods (and it auto-emails the file to the customer). Sign up forms integrate with MailChimp (if you use that to email fans) or into a Google doc spreadsheet (which you can export and upload to your email system), and the contact form forwards to a designated email address. Their help system (both searchable forum, live chat, and ticket system) is impressive. Squarespace currently lacks a site-wide music player (although you can add a player to your footer, if your template has one). You should also noted that Squarespace uses Stripe instead of PayPal; the services are relatively comparable, except when it comes to digital downloads. PayPal offers a lower rate on these, and Stripe (currently) does not. On a $1 download, you either lose $.10 with PayPal or $.329 with Stripe. Like Bandzoogle, Squarespace offers a free trial period; it’s worth testing out and seeing if the features and interface are a good fit for your band.
Yola is another option. While it isn’t marketed solely toward bands, it can easily be customized to create a great band website. Wix is yet another option and is similar to Bandzoogle, although it’s not marketed toward bands. Both provide templates and design customization; with Wix, you can completely customize each page using a drag and drop editor. If you’re wanting to keep things super simple (like, just a followable blog to share images and brief updates) Tumblr—one of those previously-mentioned social media sites—allows you to use a purchased domain and your custom URL.
When looking for a platform, it’s important to keep in mind your future growth. If a platform doesn’t offer a service you will need, or caps your traffic or storage at or near your current levels, it’s probably not wise to choose it only to change again in the near future.
After testing out a few platforms (using the free trial periods that many offer), you probably have a clear frontrunner. If that’s not the case, try narrowing it down to a top two or three platforms, and then ask for feedback from people you trust. Once you’ve selected a platform, congratulations! It’s time to start setting up your site.
Setting Up Your Site
If you decided to create a band website to own your fan relationships and give your band a committed, professional online presence, you probably want to use your own custom domain. There’s a difference between johnhenryandthecrooners.com (a custom domain) and johnhenryandthecrooners.webuildwebsites.com (a custom sub-domain). With the first, all the focus is on your band, John Henry and the Crooners; people won’t question that the site is official and tied to your band. In the second version, though, the phrase “webuildwebsites” takes some of the attention away from your band, and it might cause people to question how official your site is. Many of the platforms provide default sub-domains for you (as shown in the above sample). Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to register a custom domain. Some platforms, like Squarespace, will even walk you through this process. If you have a existing site, you’ll want to redirect traffic from that site to the new one (once it’s ready).
It’s important to set your site structure (page names and URLs) and basic design elements (color scheme, layout, logos) up before officially launching your site. You can set these up during the trial period, or you can set the pages under development as private and create a “coming soon” landing page. This lets visitors know they’re in the right place and that your site is in progress, and it’s far better than making an unfinished site public.
If you’re planning on long-term growth and aren’t quite there yet—for example, you haven’t recorded an album yet and are waiting on your t-shirt orders to arrive, so there’s nothing to put in a store—it’s okay to launch your site without that element and then add it when you’re ready.
Once your site structure and appearance is down, go ahead and launch it. Redirect your old site, and announce the heck out of it on social media. Be sure you have a way to track visitors and gather their information; a sign-up form is a must. (But be sure to do something with their information, like send them a follow-up email!)
Making the Leap
A professional-level band website is a big step to take, but it can make a big difference—both in how the public perceives your band, and in who owns your relationships with fans.
Take a look at where you are as a band and decide if you’re ready to invest in a website. Like many things (free stickers, opening for larger bands for free, ect.), the return won’t be immediate or direct… but a band website could get you closer to where you want to be.
Do you think band websites are essential? Or are you satisfied with social media profiles? If you’ve created a site, do you have tips for other artists setting out to do the same, or are there services you can recommend?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 9 minutes
Are you worried about fan burnout due to often-repeated gigs in the same venue? Are your fans tiring of you? While they seem like nice problems to have, they are legitimate concerns we’ve heard artists bring up. Read on for our take on this topic.
Dinner With Bob
I remember being out on a couples’ dinner date recently and watching with amusement as my friend Bob began to tell a funny story about his past. Bob is a great storyteller, truly gifted at communication. He has a knack for including just the right amount of detail in the story, and his timing with the punch line is excellent. Bob seems to have a million stories, and he enjoys sharing them.
Everyone was having a good time listening to Bob. Well, almost everyone. Teri, his wife, was not quite as enthusiastic as the rest of us, and she rolled her eyes back as Bob began the story. Now, Bob and Teri have been together for years; they get along really well, are a very compatible couple, share common interests, and love being together.
So, why was Teri less enthusiastic than the rest of us? Well, Teri has heard all of Bob’s stories many times, and she considers them counterproductive for the group discussion. She thinks Bob is funny—it was one of the reasons she was attracted to him so many years ago—but his material needs updating. Bob does tend to repeat himself, and not just to Teri; the other couples with us had also heard many of his stories. Nonetheless, Bob enjoys performing, so the show goes on.
Like Teri, I can only hear the same thing so many times before it begins to wear on me. It might have been engaging, interesting, or funny when I first heard it, but after a while I yearn for something new. The excitement is gone. When we go to dinner with Bob and Teri now, we have to prepare ourselves to endure some of Bob’s repeat performances. I hate to admit it, but I’m starting to feel just like Teri.
Overexposure to music can have the same effect. A hit single is incredible the first time I hear it. It’s fun to listen to or share for a few weeks. But then, when I hear it on every radio station, on the evening news, and as I do my grocery shopping, it becomes downright annoying. After a while, I just want it to stop.
As an independent musician, you face the same challenge Bob faces. Great material helps win loyal fans, but performing that same material over and over, without adding new material, can help you lose those fans. Fans want more new music. Otherwise, repeating your limited library of hits will wear on them. Your success as an artist can be impacted negatively if you do not produce new music consistently.
New music creates new sales and keeps things exciting and fresh, for you and for your fans. When I get a notification from a favorite musician that they’re releasing a new single or album, the anticipation of hearing their new music for the first time gets me excited. Depending on the artist, I’m ready to purchase the album from the first mention of it, without waiting for reviews and previews. Your fans are the same way. Don’t frustrate them with outdated, stale material.
A Story About Ashley, One Of Our Musician Clients
Ashley and I were having a discussion recently about her career. She had been performing in our area for some time and had some concerns about fan enthusiasm at shows… mainly that it seemed to be waning. She also felt that her connection with the audience was less than what it used to be.
Ashley had a revelation. “You cannot be a prophet in your home town,” she told me. Ashley felt that the local fans were too familiar with her and her music. They no longer recognized her talent the way they used to. They were not engaging with her. In addition to her revelation, Ashley had a plan. The plan was to move into new markets where people did not know her, book new venues, start a new promotional campaign… you know, change things up a bit. She would be fresh and new; the old buzz would be back.
Well, maybe not just yet. Let’s back up just a little.
Ashley is a good songwriter and quite a talented performer. But the new digital age of music, with all of its opportunities and overhead, was overwhelming her. She was doing everything. Shooting high-quality music videos, expanding her merch line, updating her websites, tweeting regularly, signing up for social media accounts left and right, and posting her music on every possible digital download store and streaming service. She even traveled to SXSW to hear what the ‘next big thing’ would be. Ashley spent 30 to 35 hours per week on the ‘business side’ of her music and the rest of her time traveling to and performing at her gigs. In short, she was doing everything she could think of to feel and look like a successful performer, hoping that it would make her one and bring hordes of fans in to purchase her music.
The reality was different. Most of her fans didn’t visit her website, since there was no new music, and her social media posts vanished into fans’ feeds as soon as they were typed. Her video, which looked great but cost thousands produce, only had 220 views on YouTube. And, instead of buying her music, most of her fans were streaming it online for free. Ashley was dedicating way too much time and energy to things that didn’t really matter—or, worse yet, hurt her. Ashley looked great and was busy doing stuff, but nobody noticed.
Does this sound like you? Doing everything you know how to do and implementing a strong plan but coming up short? Have you figured out why? We have. Ashley was so busy doing the ‘business of music’ that she forgot about the music itself.
When Ashley was first starting her music career, she spent 90% of her time working on her music and developing material. Now the tables have turned. Ashley has not released a new album in over three years. She wasn’t developing new material with any regularity because her schedule was too busy. I remember a recent four-day period where she performed seven times in five different cities and spent 16 hours on the road for travel between gigs. I don’t know how she had any energy left to perform! The point is, she now spends 90% of her time either performing or engaged in the ‘business of music’… and she hasn’t even noticed the change.
This happens quite often with talented, creative people who also have to run their own business. They get into music because they have talent and love writing, playing, and performing. But before long, their focus has shifted to building their career, and they end up doing everything but creating new music.
The result? Your music and your career suffer.
Two Changes Ashley (And You) Must Make
Number One: Ashley is full of creative ideas but has allowed her schedule to rob her of time to work on them. This MUST change.
Think of the fan response to Ashley if she had released 3 new albums over the last three years along with several singles, EPs, release parties, and some promotional products. She would have done much better with her fans! Fan excitement and engagement would have been much higher, let alone the income generated.
Ashley needs to spend more time on the creative development of her music. We’d recommend at least 1/3 of her time to developing new material, which means her schedule should look something like this:
Ashley’s Schedule (45 – 60 hours per week)
1/3 of time spent on business/marketing matters
1/3 of time spent on developing new material
1/3 of time spent on performance and travel
Of course, we know that life is not that clean-cut. If one week or day demands more time for gigs, she should balance things out when she can. Maintaining a balance is key.
It would also be helpful for Ashley to set a minimum goal for creating new music. One new single to release every 6-8 weeks and one new album each year would be a good place to start.
Number Two:Ashley needs to look at her current venues and determine what is or isn’t working.
Let’s look at that four-day tour. Her income on one of those gigs was just $250, and she had to travel two hours each way to make it. As it stands, it’s really not worth the trip. Her other out-of-town gigs were further away but paid significantly more, making them worth her time. And her gigs in town paid well.
Once Ashley has determined which venues aren’t working, she can decide if they need to be cut altogether, or if they just need to be booked differently. The low-paying out-of-town venue on her four-day tour needs to go, or she needs to book additional venues in the same area to make the trip worth her time.
If Ashley cuts venues from her list, she can think about replacing them with new venues, as long as they pay well and expose her to a receptive audience. Touring is another option, but she’ll need to be strategic and selective about where she plays.
This might be a good time for her to hire a professional booking agent. If they can open doors to the right venues and help her organize her performance schedule, a good agent is well worth the money. She should try to negotiate an agreement that keeps her involved in the relationship with the venues, allowing her to personally handle the relationship after an agreed-upon period of time.
In the end, Ashley was partially right. She did need to change things up by expanding her venue options and purging those that don’t work for her. However, she was also missing something that was even more important: the need to make creating new material a priority. Ashley needs to dedicate a significant portion of her time to creative development.
Going on tour with old material will not solve her problem, at least not long term. Getting back to her creative roots will.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 5 minutes
Music has changed more in the last 10 years than in any other time in history. More specifically, how you listento music has changed. A wave of great new listening experiences has flooded the market, starting with CDs in the 90s, iPods in 2001, iTunes in 2004, and mobile phones that stored and played music shortly thereafter. These new formats allowed fans to listen to music everywhere they went, and we all spent a lot of time and money building our music libraries.
Now, we have progressed to streaming music. In the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in streaming services: Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, iTunes Radio, Deezer, SoundCloud, Grooveshark, and so on. The list keeps growing.
Streaming Was Made For Fans
For many fans, music is uplifting, and it evokes emotions in ways nothing else can. Just like the smell of cinnamon rolls baking still reminds me of Grandma’s kitchen, certain songs take me back to relive some great memories. I know others feel the same way. Music can also be exciting and fun; many fans eagerly anticipate the next musical discovery that blows them away, whether it’s from a musician they already know or from someone entirely new.
As a fan, streaming music isincredible.You can choose from an unlimited library of music and gain exposure to new artists that you would not have found otherwise. Streaming allows you to play music on almost all of your devices—from mobile phones to smart TVs—with just one account. Streaming music also lets you to listen to a huge variety of music without ever purchasing anything, as long as you don’t mind hearing a few commercials. If commercials bore you, then pay as little as $3.00 per month to listen commercial free.
Surely somebody brilliant came up with this idea. It’s an experience designed entirely for fans, and it’s almost impossible for you to say no. I get it, really.
Sound like everything is perfect in the world of music? For fans, it nearly is.
What The Changes Mean To Artists
Not everyone is benefitting, though. Streaming music, digital downloads, CDs—the music you listen to might be the same, but the delivery method is considerably different. That difference has affected how you listen and what you buy, which in turn has affected the musicians that create the music you love and their ability to make even a modest living. I can’t say this about all musicians, but the vast majority of independent musicians—I’m not talking about superstar performers or the kids still in high school, but about professional, independent musicians (like me) who rely on their creative work to make a living and support a family—struggle with this new model of compensation in the music industry.
iTunes began changing the monetary model for musicians in 2004. At that point, fans learned that you could purchase any song you wanted for $0.99. No need to pay $12 for an album. Yes, you’ve downloaded a lot of singles since then, and some albums, too. But because you no longer had to purchase the album for $12 to get the hit single, the value for an artists’ most popular work dropped more than 90%. The typical payment to an artist for a single download from iTunes is about $0.65. Since singles are in such apparent demand, if they’re going to be sold, they should sell at a premium. This would help musicians cover the production costs and still make a living. Sadly, that is not the case.
But things don’t stop there.
Streaming music has been around for a long time, but it was not really mainstream until four or five years ago. Now, it is everywhere, and it seems to be impacting download sales. In 2013, iTunes had its first ever decline in digital download sales of music, likely due to competition from streaming music. That trend will continue. What’s worse is that artists generally make much less from streamed music than they do downloaded singles.
Music is just as creative and demanding of talent as other forms of art, but admirers of sculptures or paintings don’t expect to take their favorite piece home with them without paying for it. That would be crazy. Yet musicians, who put just as much effort into their work, are often expected to give their creations away for free (or practically-free).
I know that you, as a fan, love streaming music. But for me, and for my fellow musicians, the picture is not as promising.
Here’s How You Can Help
If you think you’re powerless to change things, think again.
An artist who had 100,000 streams of his music in a year might make $300 to $400. I don’t know anyone who can live on just $400 for a year, which means that artist would have to find alternate forms of income, maybe giving up on music altogether. But… what would have happened if 50,000 of those people had downloaded a single, or 15,000 had downloaded an album from that same artist? His income would have been $35,000 to $65,000. Wow, what a difference! The income would have been even more if the artist sold CDs, but the price to fans would remain the same.
None of this would matter except that fans streaming music tend to download or purchase less of the music that they stream. Remember what I told you about iTunes sales in 2013? If you don’t buy my music online or at shows, the income I need to make a living is being cut to almost nothing. Streaming music does not pay the bills.
I can’t expect you to give up streaming music. The experience is too good. But you can help your favorite musicians by seeking them out online and purchasing their music. Buy their album. It may sound a little crazy to pay for something that you can get for free, but it’s not. You could also choose to purchase their merchandise online. Better yet, check out their event schedule, attend a show, and purchase their products in person.
If you truly enjoy music and want to keep those memories coming, you need to go above and beyond the norm of streaming. Support your favorite artist. Support music. Support me.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 12 minutes
It really is a problem. Between social media, email, texting, and phone calls (let alone snail mail) there are numerous conversations going on with your fans all the time. If you want to be heard, your communication needs to fly above the fray. The key to doing that, thereby cementing your fan relationships, is quality content and an effective delivery tool. Otherwise, even though you’re talking, no one can hear you.
If you want better solutions for reaching your fans, keep reading.
The Battle For Your Fans’ Attention
We remember when industry pundits predicted that digital communication would make us all much more productive. It turns out that the opposite is true. The constant bombardment of information is distracting, and not at all productive.
In terms of information overload, social media platforms like Facebook are often the worst offenders. You may think that, since you are a performer and these are your fans, your voice somehow filters to the top. Not true. Performers get the same priority as everyone else who has something to say. The reality is most of what you say scrolls off the page before anyone has a chance to see it, which means you remain unheard, even if you have a large number of people following you. Why is that? Too much competition for your fans attention.
It may come as a surprise, but the average person on Facebook has over 335 “friends”. That’s like being in a room with 335 people simultaneously talking to you and trying to show you something.
Stepping slightly off topic for a second: Who really has 335 close friends? And even with your actual close friends, would you want to hear every single thing they think or see, every mundane thing they do? No. Sure, you want to know the big, even the medium, things: life milestones, how their relationship and careers are going, what their interests and hobbies are, what they’ve been up to. But the little things? Not so much.
It is like being a slave to a crazy person’s impulse to over-share all the things that stumble into their brain at any moment. This is what you face as an artist if you intend to communicate with fans on social media. Just more noise.
Let’s look at an actual, typical fan. This fan has 453 friends on Facebook (not counting pages liked or groups joined), has 68 connections on LinkedIn, and follows 259 users on Instagram, 129 users on Twitter, and 152 users on Pinterest. That makes five networks used regularly by this fan, and accounts on two other platforms that rarely get used. Plus a personal email account. And that doesn’t even factor in work-related accounts.
When faced with accounts on multiple social media platforms and hundreds of interactions to wade through daily, the thought of seeing everything becomes a bit daunting. The result is that, despite creating accounts to stay in touch, their connections actually weaken.
It’s easy to see how users can be inundated with information, and it’s clear that you’re fighting an uphill battle. Yes, some of your fans are seeing your information. And yes, there are ways to better your odds, such as paying to boost your posts, or strategically timing your posts. But, in the grand scheme of things, you’re still competing with all that other noise.
Good Content Creates Loyal Fans
While we are on the topic of noise and over-sharing, let us make one point that is critical for your career: do not over-share. When you speak to fans, make sure you have something important and relevant to say, something they want to hear. Otherwise, your fans will classify you as someone who wastes their time. It is like a good relationship that has gone bad; fans can close the door on your relationship as quickly as they opened it.
You may have a better chance of creating a connection with your audience if your communication focuses outward more often than inward. For example, if you are constantly talking about yourself, it might sound too much like self promotion or bragging. Quite often, when I get an artist communication it seems that they are “shouting” at me with their announcement – “Hey, come buy my new album!” Remember that you are talking ‘with’ people, not ‘at’ them. Have something interesting to say that gives insight into who you are, and try to engage fans in a conversation. That’s hard to do if the entire conversation is one-liners from you about your accomplishments, so stay away from “sales speak”. Inspiring fans with real conversation will get them engaged and talking, to you and to their friends about you. Other people talking about you is much more powerful than you talking about yourself.
Now that we have covered over-sharing, we want to emphasize the importance of good consistent communication. It is not our purpose to convince you that less is more. While you do not want to over-share, it is very important to share good quality content on a regular basis. Do not ignore your fans.
There are plenty of topics that are good for sharing, here are a few examples:
Announcements. This could be a new album release, concert date, tour, products, promotions, crowdfunding opportunity, last minute texts, etc.
Insights. These reveal what it’s like to be a musician or offer a behind-the-scenes look at the industry and your career, etc.
Personal comments about your music, how you write music, what inspires you, your passion for music, how you started as a musician, which musicians are your role models, etc.
Fun, short features. Shoot a simple video, tell a funny story, post a picture from a live performance with relevant comments, etc.
Whatever you offer, make sure it is thoughtful and well-presented. It does not necessarily have to be polished and professional looking; sometimes informal and impromptu create a better connection with your fan base because it feels more personal.
As long as we are discussing social media, we encourage musicians to maintain separate social media accounts: one for personal friends and family, and one for their music career. Friends and family can choose to follow both accounts, but fans should not have access to all of your personal comments and shares. Do you really want everyone to have access to the details of your personal life: a list of your family, photos of your kids, embarrassing posts from aunt Nicole and your sister Anna?
The Most Effective Communication Tools
What if there was a way to cut through that noise and truly stand out, to have your message pop up where your fan notices it (in other words, outside those social media platforms)? In our book, there are two methods that help you do just that.
Method One: Emails – Email allows you to personalize the communication, control the conversation, and convey a complete message without length limitations. Try to automate this process as much as possible. For example, a fan signing up for your mailing list should auto-generate a welcome email. This is also a great time to offer them a free download for signing up. (If you’re wondering how to capture their email, manage your contacts, and run campaigns, we’ll cover this topic in an upcoming article.)
Method Two: Text Messages – Communicating via text message with your fans (using an SMS service) is a great way to convey important information. This is the only communication (other than printed material or a phone call) that does not require your fan to log-on to their account to view it. This is completely different from Facebook, Twitter, and most other forms of social media. Text also carries a sense of high priority. When you get a message alert, don’t you check your phone and that message as soon as possible? Most people do.
(See the end of this article for tips on responsible mobile marketing practices.)
If you’re interested in mobile marketing, keep reading as we discuss several text marketing options.
Using An SMS Service
We scoured the internet looking for SMS service providers that offer good features and flexibility at a fair price. Of the services we found, we narrowed it down to two options that we would use.
Mozeo is our frontrunner. You can use keywords or a website widget to allow your fans to opt-in to your SMS contact list, or you can enter contacts manually or by uploading a spreadsheet. Mozeo allows you to enter a lot of fan information besides their name and phone number: address, email, gender, date of birth, and a half dozen optional fields. This is probably because it offers services, like email solutions. For accurate feedback on sent messages, Mozeo provides real-time reports. There is not a monthly fee for Mozeo’s SMS services; it’s simply 3 cents per outgoing message, and incoming messages are free. Keywords are sold separately as one-time fees ($25 for 1, $70 for 3, or $111 for 5). Mozeo also offers email solutions (half a cent per message—you can manage your contacts, design your emails, and send your marketing messages out to subscribers) and mobile web design (at $10 per month, with no limit on pages or sites). Web design includes the option of adding a mobile merchant/shopping cart to your page. Click on this link for a free downloadable guide.
We chose our runner up, Ez Texting, because it operates on its own or as a plugin to other popular platforms (such as MailChimp), and it’s one of the most popular SMS service providers available. Ez Texting allows you to import contacts or add them manually and then sort those contacts into as many groups as you need to. If you need help gathering contact data, you can use the keyword, widget, or QR code features that Ez Texting offers. You can incorporate merge tags to personalize your messages, and you can send text or voice messages to your contacts either when they are written or at a future scheduled time. The site provides you with analysis of sent messages so you can see which messages and acquisition methods are effective. Ez Texting does not charge for incoming messages, which are stored in your account’s Inbox or forwarded to your email address; messages forwarded to your mobile phone do require a credit. Plans range from $29 to $2000 a month, depending on how many messages and keywords you need. There is also a pay-as-you-go option, where messages cost 5 cents each (unless purchased in quantities of 20,000 or more, when a discount begins to apply). Click on this link for a free downloadable guide.
Other SMS Options
While our downloadable tutorials focus on Ez Texting and Mozeo, they are by no means the only options. Here are some details on other SMS service providers:
For MailChimp Users Planning Events:Gather is an event-focused SMS tool available to MailChimp users. MailChimp recognizes that email is ideal for sending event invitations and information ahead of time and for following up afterward, but less ideal for communicating with attendees—sending reminders and updates or receiving live feedback—right before or during the event, when they might not have email access. Gather also provides texting security (by keeping phone numbers private) and ensures that attendees won’t be spammed with text message marketing down the road. As a musician, you could use Gather to communicate with your core fans about exclusive after-parties. What fan doesn’t like that idea?
For SMS Campaigns with MailChimp:Call Loop is another SMS option that operates independently or as a plugin for MailChimp. Your contacts—which are unlimited—can be uploaded in a spreadsheet, synced from MailChimp, or inserted individually. Call Loop offers many of the same features that Ez Texting offers, including Merge Tags, scheduled messages, and auto-respond triggers. There is a pay-as-you go plan at 5 cents per message, or plans range from $30 to $150 dollars a month (depending on the number of messages and keywords you want).
For SMS Campaigns and a Little Extra: ProTexting also offers a variety of SMS features. Subscribers can sign up through mobile keywords or web signup forms, which you can create and add to your website or social media profiles. The site then stores their contact information in your subscriber database. Messages—which can include audio, video, and/or text—can be sent to individual subscribers or to groups, and they can be scheduled or sent immediately. ProTexting encourages paying personalized attention to your fans, such as targeting recipients by location or sending birthday wishes. It also provides analytics on your messages’ performance, so you can see which messages are effective and which aren’t. ProTexting also offers a mobile website builder, letting you create a simple and functional interface for your fans, as well as an app for you to access your account on the go. For self-managed accounts, pricing starts at $70 a month and reaches up to $899 a month; as with the other SMS service providers, the packages vary in terms of how many messages and keywords they include.
Responsible Mobile Marketing
Now, before you go rushing off and start texting all your fans, you should know that there are some rules that apply to text marketing:
You must get recipient consent first (i.e., they have signed up to receive communications from you in this manner, and you’ve provided them with information on messaging rates, frequency, and purpose). Note that, if they’re under 13, they’ll also need parental consent.
You should not overwhelm fans with irrelevant or redundant information—don’t spam them!
You should make it clear who is sending the messages.
You should provide opt-out information with your messages and/or on your site.
For more information, we recommend reading this Best Practices guide assembled by the Mobile Marketing Association. You’ll also want to check state laws, both where you live and where your recipients live, to make sure there aren’t further restrictions.
If you’ve decided that SMS marketing is the right step that will give you an advantage in reaching your customers, and you’ve done the research to understand the best practices and laws regulating text marketing, it’s time to start looking for a way to get your messages out where they belong: in front of your fans.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 12 minutes
Fans are the lifeblood of your music. Learn how to keep them happy, and you will profit from the relationship. Ignore them, or trust your fan relationship to someone else, and you will suffer. Simple, but true.
We have a few suggestions to help you work through how to do this, including a free iPad app that helps to make it easy—read on.
The Right Stuff For A Career in Music
Remember when you were a kid, daydreaming of being a rock star? If you were anything like us, you were singing your heart out while picking out your clothes for the day, or vacuuming the house with the stereo blasting your idol’s tunes, or going all Risky Business while jamming on your air guitar. As a kid, it was so easy to become what you wanted. You just pictured your dream and—BAM—you were livin’ it.
As an adult, you might have realized it’s not as easy as just imagining. You now know that, to be a rock star, you need to have some talent as a singer, songwriter, musician, or performer. Ideally, you’ll be talented in each of these fields, but being extremely talented in just one field might be enough to gain some traction. You may also have realized that not everyone with talent has a successful music career, which means it takes a bit more than talent to make things really happen. That “bit more” includes some pretty mundane—but important—things, like collecting and reviewing data.
When we were growing up, we didn’t know anyone who wanted to collect data or review statistics for a living. It wasn’t exciting or thrilling. It still might not be… but it’s important, even to rock stars. Actually, especially to rock stars. Boring things like collecting data can make the difference between success and failure in your music career. Just remember, in this case, boring equals profitable.
Data Collection and Your Music Career
Let’s explore just one of those boring things today: what are you doing to develop your fan base? You know, your fan base. The people who like your music, attend your performances, visit your webpage, purchase your CDs, download your music on iTunes, and hopefully do more than stream your music online for free. Those people. Do you know who your fans are? What are you doing to develop your connection with them? We hope your answer is more than “ummm…” or “nothing”, because fans are the lifeblood of your music.
We know that musicians can be funny about fans. Everyone seems to have his or her own take on the musician/fan relationship. Some performers prefer to operate in a higher circle than their fans, creating a sense of mystique about their persona; others are quite friendly and enjoy personally interacting with fans. Whichever method works for you is fine… as long as you establish and maintain connections with fans. Don’t be the performer that ignores fans and then wonders why their career is suffering.
Why Knowing Your Fan Base Matters
We had the opportunity to visit with a musician client recently. He noted that he was struggling to sell merch to fans at performances, and he had decided that the fans attending his gigs already owned most of what he had to sell. Since a significant part of his income was coming from merch sales, this presented a problem for him. He told us that he had not released any new music in over 20 months. When we asked him why, he confided that he had material ready, but the expenses associated with releasing a new album were high. He also wondered, given recent low sales, if he would recoup the investment in a new release, yet alone profit from it. Lastly, our client said that he wasn’t doing much beyond social media and the merch table to connect with fans that attended his shows.
His story, especially that last statement, really resonated with us. He noticed that sales were down, he assumed it was because of product saturation, and he struggled with investing in new material. All of that is understandable. But, without solid connections with fans, he couldn’t confirm product saturation, couldn’t reach out to those not attending shows or who didn’t have his existing merch, couldn’t advertise shows effectively, couldn’t test the waters on interest in a new project, and couldn’t use his existing fan base to help fund a new project. He was up to bat, but blindfolded, deaf, and dizzy.
Had he connected better with his fans and owned that relationship, his story could be quite different.
Social Media Does Not Cut It
Don’t get the wrong idea. Our musician does have fans. People come to his shows and buy his music—just not as much as he’d like or as they used to do. And he has followers all over social media. In fact, Facebook was his main source of communication with his fans. He’d post about a gig, and they’d like the status, or share, or comment. He even recognized a few of them at gigs from their profile pictures.
Despite that, he didn’t have a good connection with them. The fans were largely anonymous, his posts didn’t get the reach he hoped, and—most importantly—he did not have direct contact information for them.
Here’s the downfall to counting on social media (or any third party) for your fan connection: it will always let you down.
With social media, you cannot control the conversation or its reach. Sure, you write a post, but you can’t really control who sees it or how they respond. You become just another voice in a long list of voices trying to communicate with your fan. After a short while, your post drifts off to the bottom of the fan’s feed. Even on your own page, it is very hard to control the conversation.
Also, what happens if your fans do not get on Facebook very often or are no longer active at all on Facebook? Anybody remember MySpace? We know of another musician that had over 90,000 people following her on MySpace in the site’s early years; when MySpace fell out of favor, the fans stopped signing on, and she lost the ability to communicate with them. It is a bad idea to base your entire fan experience on a site that may not even be popular in 2 years.
So… what can artists do?
Start Capturing Contact Information From Your Fans
Remember our other articles, where we pointed out that iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and other services wouldn’t tell you who downloaded or streamed your music? They know how valuable that information is, and they keep it for themselves. Social media is the same: no direct contact information, just an interface that is shared with everyone else trying to communicate with your fan.
Instead, you have to actively work at gathering information from fans. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that make the gathering part easier.
At gigs, you should have a sign-up sheet for fan names and email addresses. Better yet, save yourself a step and have fans sign up electronically. If you have an iPad and a MailChimp* account (which we recommend), we suggest using their free app, Chimpadeedoo, for in-person mailing list signup. We tested this software, and it performs well. We’ve even written a guide to walk you through the setup process, including a link to stands that prevent iPads from being loss or damage.
Having a signup list sitting on the merch table probably isn’t enough, though. You need to make its presence and importance known; point out the merch table and your must-have items, and ask people to sign up. Be witty and humorous. Play around with it to see what works.
If this still isn’t enough, you might offer an incentive. You’d be surprised how many people will give you their email address if you give away a t-shirt, CD, or signed mug at every gig. Our musician friend tried this the other night and got 106 people to give him their contact information. Not bad for one night.
Outside of gigs, you should add a signup form to your band’s website and social media profiles. While social media sites are not good for direct, consistent communication, they can be a great place to let fans know about your mailing list. Again, MailChimp makes this easy. If you need help with this, let us know and we will send instructions.
Of course, you don’t want a stack of sign-up sheets sitting in a corner. You’ll need to find a system to keep track of the data on them, and then you can put that data to use. Use your emailing service to help set this up.
As you collect names and email addresses from fans, you should begin communicating with them on a regular basis… but only when you have something to say. You don’t want to spam them by filling their inbox with repetitive information or meaningless ramblings. Don’t be like so many people on Facebook who have nothing to say but say it quite often.
Instead, you want your fans to feel special, like they are part of an exclusive club. The communication can and should share your current schedule, especially if you make it feel like a personal invitation to those shows, but it can also offer more. Share something revealing about your career, pictures from behind the scenes, or funny stories from performances. Post a “teaser video”; it doesn’t have to be anything complicated, either. One artist we know posts a 20 second video weekly; all he does is play his guitar off-camera for 15 seconds, then ask the fans to guess which guitar it is. The response to these videos is pretty impressive. Be creative and get your readers to respond.
In short, you should focus on communicating with fans regularly and with quality content. If this means you email once a week instead of daily, that’s fine. Just be consistent and be active. Your ability to communicate with your fans on a regular basis develops the relationship. You have to reach out to them.
Also, if you have the cell phone number of your fans, then texting can be a great way to communicate as well. (Hint One: get their permission first. Hint Two: this method might work best for specific messages, such as reminders about a show, instead of every message.) Although not as flexible in format as email, it puts your message right in front of your fan. They don’t have to sign in to an email account or social network to see what you have to say.
Does It Really Work?
Let us share our business experience with you. If fans have a relationship with you and have purchased your music in the past, they are over 30 times more likely to purchase your music in the future. This means existing fans are the biggest supporters of your music career, which in turn means you want to connect with them.
As with any form of marketing, not all recipients will read your material. However, email is one of the more personal and flexible forms of communication you can have. Some email programs allow you to thank fans for signing up or sharing your email by offering a free download, or you could tailor emails to each recipient by including their name in the subject line or message. You could (should) separate your list into groups, emailing grouped fans only about shows in their area (instead of shows elsewhere that aren’t relevant to them) or about product they don’t have yet (if you’ve tracked that). Short of receiving a hand-written letter, emails tailored to each fan is about as personal as marketing gets.
You should also be tracking fan data. When fans sign up for your email list, be certain to include details like the date and event information. Over time, as you interact with your fans, you can develop more detailed fan profiles. Don’t pass up an opportunity to capture more information about your individual fans. In addition to an email address, sign up forms can request or require a fan’s address (or at least a zip code), phone number, age, gender, how they found out about you, and more.
Ideally, some of your fans will become “super fans”. These are the people that absolutely love what you do. When organized effectively, super fans can form a network or street team that drives your success. They bring people to your events, help you promote your merch products, even volunteer to do some of the boring things that you might otherwise have to let slide by. Do not miss the opportunity to engage them.
Back To Our Musician
His past lack of data collection is hurting him, but it’s not too late for his story to change.
He needs to engage his fans in the markets where he is well known. While he thought that those fans were his least valuable audience (because they already have his merchandise), in fact the exact opposite is true. Because they already know him well, they represent a great opportunity for him. If he releases new music, these are the fans that will buy it. They might even fund the project. They just have to know about it first.
Taking action now can turn things around for him. It can work for you, too.
* This post is in no way sponsored by MailChimp. We simply think that it’s a valuable tool for musicians to consider when managing their fan databases and communicating with fans. And in some cases it is free, so it fits almost any budget.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 9 minutes
First thing’s first: YouTube will not make you famous.
(Don’t misunderstand us. It also doesn’t mean that you can ignore YouTube. It’s an important tool and platform that musicians should be aware of and using. We’ll explain.)
There are exceptions, those few performers who gain international fame because the right person saw their YouTube video, or those individuals who—as a result of their extreme and innate wit, talent, and ingenuity—have gained millions of subscribers and even more video views. We don’t deny that YouTube can make you famous… we just argue that, odds are, it won’t. Here’s why:
YouTube Is Not For Being Discovered
After signing in to your YouTube account, the home page shows videos of other users. The list of popular videos on YouTube are videos that already have millions of views. The list of recommended videos are based on videos you have watched previously. Unless your video has hundreds of thousands of views or is similar to something users have watched previously, it probably won’t show up on other users’ home pages.
Let’s assume that the user wants to find something new, so they click on “Browse channels”. The page shows 14 featured channels, 111 paid channels, and hundreds of channels that fall into categories like Music, Comedy, Film & Entertainment, Gaming, and so on. These categorized listings of channels, while extensive, only scratch the surface of what is available on YouTube. Users can enter a search term, but that will pull up thousands/hundreds/dozens of videos that fit that criteria. Even a specific search term (such as “fort worth folk blues”) brings up thousands (11,319) of channels in the search results.
Looking at the statistics provided by YouTube doesn’t paint a more-encouraging picture. Yes, the market of potential viewers is huge, with more than one billion unique users and more than six billion hours of video watched each month. However, 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. That’s a lot of other videos for users to wade through to stumble upon yours.
When taken all together, this means it’s pretty unlikely that YouTube will help you be discovered.
You Should Be On YouTube Anyway
YouTube may not be good for gaining random fans, but it does have its uses. When used properly, YouTube is a great way to:
strengthen connections with your target audiences
learn more about your audiences
make a little more money off your craft
These might sound like small things, but they can have a huge impact on your career as a musician. We’ll elaborate on each below.
Using Video to Connect with Your Target Audiences
As a musician, you might think audio should be your focus. In terms of marketing your music, though, it’s widely acknowledged that video is increasingly becoming an essential element of successful marketing strategies. Video allows you to send a message and connect with viewers in a way that text, graphics, or audio alone can’t.
If you’re going to add video, you need to know what your options are. You don’t need to spend millions on a national television ad campaign, but you probably should add a video player to your band’s website or share videos on your various social media accounts. Instagram and Facebook have added built-in video-sharing functions (15-seconds/unlimited time, respectively), and applications like Vine focus on creating video and sharing it (either with your followers on Vine itself or on other social media accounts like Twitter or Facebook). Websites like Vimeo seem to compete directly with YouTube, although their user count is much smaller. Obviously, YouTube isn’t the only method of mixing video into your marketing strategy. However, its size and market dominance make it worth seriously considering. Additionally, it’s simple for you to share your YouTube videos on your other social media platforms.
If you’re marketing your band, you need to know who your audience is. As an independent musician, your main audiences are your existing fans (your first audience) and their connections (your second audience). With your existing fans, you want to use video to connect deeper and strengthen their loyalty to your band. Behind-the-scenes videos can make fans feel like they’re on tour or in the studio with you. Music videos let you visually tell the story behind your song’s lyrics. Announcing band news via video is the next best option to announcing it in person. All of these video uses help strengthen your fan’s connection to your band. The more committed that your fans are to you, the more likely they are to share you with those around them. In terms of your second audience, they are likely unfamiliar with your work and who you are, but they trust the opinion and recommendations of your first audience. You want to hook them, so your videos need to grab their attention and leave them wanting more of you.
Why is YouTube important in reaching your audiences? Well, remember those one billion unique monthly users? Some of them are your fans. They are already on YouTube, watching other videos. Putting your videos where they already are just makes sense. Additionally, YouTube makes it extremely easy for your fans to share your videos, either with their connections on YouTube or with their friends on other social media sites. Below every video is a “Share” tab, with links to the top ten social media platforms as well as the option to embed the video or email it to someone.
Using YouTube to Analyze Your Work and Audience
YouTube provides you with loads of information (perhaps more than any other social media platform) about your content and fans. You can see how your channels are doing by looking at the number of subscribers, the number of views, and the total time spent watching videos from that channel. You can also monitor an individual video’s number of views, amount of time watched, likes, dislikes, shares, comments, and favorites. For shared videos, you can see how often it has been shared as well as where.
In terms of fan data, YouTube provides information on the age range, gender, and general location of viewers. It also allows you to track your subscribers, helping you understand what gains fans and what loses them. You can break this down further and compare overall viewers to your subscribers. YouTube tells you where your videos are played (on the video’s page, on your channel, on other websites, etc). It also lets you see where your traffic comes from and compare organic traffic versus paid traffic.
This data about who your audience is, how they’re getting to your videos, what they’re doing with your content, and which content is most successful is extremely valuable for marketing purposes. To access this information, simply log in, click the down arrow (at the top of the page next to “Upload”), then select “Analytics”.
Getting More Out of Your YouTube Videos
YouTube gives you a way to learn more about your audience and share content with them; both features are great. With the YouTube Partners program, though, it also gives you ways to make money from that content (as long as your account is in good standing and has not been previously disabled for monetization).
First, you can monetize your videos by allowing ads on your content. When you upload the video, you’ll be able to select the ad format you want on your video. You can also go back and monetize already-uploaded videos. The video will then be reviewed (especially looking at the content and copyrights) before any ads are approved. Note: you must either own all the content yourself (you created it and have retained the rights to it) or have expressed, written permission by the rights holder to use the content; this applies to the video itself as well as the music you’re performing in the video. (Visit here for more information.)Also note that you are currently unable to add ads to private videos. To get paid, you will have to link your YouTube account to an AdSense account and then reach the set payment threshold (in the US, that’s $100). Your profit will depend on the type of ad, the price paid by the advertiser, and the number of views the ad gets.
Another method of making money is by profiting off of others’ use of your content. YouTube allows users to protect their copyright claims on their material (the video itself, the audio of the video, and the lyrics/melody are all addressed separately) through its Content ID program. When you join this program, you verify that you hold all the exclusive rights to your submitted content. YouTube then scans all videos (past, present, and any going forward) to see if your copyrighted material is used. If results are found, you have the option to block the video (either entirely or just the audio, and with different geographic options), track the video’s statistics, or monetize the video. If you monetize another user’s video because it has your content, the profit from the ads will go to you instead of that user. Not every user will qualify for YouTube’s Content ID program, and it won’t work on instances of allowed use (i.e., you can’t monetize a video of a cover of your song if you authorized the cover). However, it’s worth looking into, especially if you know other users have been using your content or want to prevent others from doing so.
So, What Should You Do?
It’s hard to deny or ignore the impact YouTube has had on the internet and on the music scene, and it’s unlikely that YouTube will be going anywhere (but up) anytime soon. While YouTube won’t likely lead to your big break or help you gain a million random followers, it is still a useful tool for marketing your music, connecting with your fans, and adding to your income as a musician. Your best bet is to learn how to use it effectively… and then do so.
Do you use YouTube, and are you a consumer of content or a creator of content? How have you incorporated YouTube in your band’s marketing and social media strategies? Have you monetized your account?
If you’re a fairly new act, ask your friends and fans what upcoming local gigs they’re looking forward to; if those acts fit your niche, see if those shows or venues need opening acts. Being able to tell a booking agent or promoter that your fans already love coming to their venue is a plus.
If you’re looking for recommendations on great places to play or venues to avoid, use your peer network and ask other bands in the area (those you can trust).
Planning A Tour
If your band is thinking about hitting the road, ask your online fan base where your band should stop on its tour. Map out a route with the locations that will give you a good crowd. Once you have a tentative route planned, start asking fans about their favorite venues and local bands in those cities. The local bands might have shows you could get in on, drawing crowds from both of your fan bases.
Since not all venues provide lodging, ask the fans and local bands around about lodging, too. They might recommend places that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about, provide tips on getting a good deal at a place, or—if you’re lucky—offer to let you crash at their house. Not much beats a few welcoming faces and a home-cooked meal, and it gives you an incredible opportunity to connect with your fans. Plus, it beats sleeping in the van.
If your crowdsourcing brings up another band’s tour, look into the group and their plan. Should your sounds and vibes be complimentary to each other, touring together could benefit you both. Your differences might draw separate crowds, resulting in increased profits from gigs and possibly helping you win over fans that you wouldn’t have reached on your own. The key is finding balance; bands too similar or too different can cause more hassle than benefits.
If you can’t tour with another band, and if you won’t be competing for their fans’ attention, try learning from what they’re doing. Ask what gigs they have planned and how they spaced out their tour dates. Ask which venues worked well for them and which flopped. If the bands on tour won’t share information, talk to your existing peer network to see what tips and advice they have.
Crowdsourcing has a number of other uses that could work for a band. If you’re trying to determine which songs make it onto the next album, play samples and have them vote their favorites onto the album. If you need album artwork, you could turn to your fan base for recommendations of designer or for the design work itself. Or, you could ask them to vote on the design concepts, use the winning design for your album. The same idea (voting on design concepts) applies to t-shirt or merchandise design. Speaking of merch, you can also ask your fans what merch they want you to offer. Lastly (for the examples), you can crowdsource your promotions by creating a team of dedicated super-fans. Ideally, this team would be geographically spread out. While they can help moderate forums and assist with promotions online, you also want to work with them to promote your events in their area before you get to town.
Crowdsourcing is simply using those around you (as a band, mainly your peers and your fans) as a resource. Whether you’re playing locally or hitting the road, don’t forget to incorporate this technique into your band’s strategy.
Has your brand used crowdsourcing to make a decision, reach a goal, or build your fan base? How did you use it, and what was the result?