How are music marketers coping with today’s challenges?
As it has been said many times before, the best marketing tool is at your fingertips. The internet is one of the best promotional outlets available today, and it has created a semi-level playing field for everyone. This, however, does not mean that anyone can successfully market and distribute a product online, be it soap or juice or music.
Music marketers have their work cut out for them if they want to get their product noticed. Plus, these days, promotion duties often land in the laps of artists, and many of them barely have the time to write, record and perform, let alone come up with a marketing plan and execute on it.
Here are the main challenges facing music marketers on the internet today.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. There is quite a bit of noise on the internet, and busy people don’t necessarily have the time or desire to check out every new thing that pops up in an ad on a sidebar.
The internet has shone the light on some of the darker corners of the music industry (i.e. artists that never got any kind of attention before), and while that is good, there is no denying that sites like YouTube are now inundated with new artists, old artists, and everything in between. Even hobbyists and armatures have a chance at their 15 minutes in the spotlight.
Marketers have to find a way to stand out from the crowd. That has never not been the case – and it is the marketer’s job to figure out how to cut through the noise – but there is an even greater need today to discern how to capture the attention of potential fans and buyers.
Solution: think outside the box. Orchestrate a special promotional offer. Get the artist to put together a video song. Make cassette tape copies of the album. Get the artist to go on Facebook Live and lip sync their entire album. Plenty of artists are trying unique tactics like this and are seeing results.
2. The Value Conundrum
With online business, entrepreneurs are advised to look for ways to connect with people that have an urgent problem or need and solve it for them.
It may sound opportunistic, but in the right hands it can be a beautiful thing. Serving a niche audience, adding value to them and creating products to address their biggest struggles is a wonderful way to build a community.
The challenge with music is that it doesn’t inherently solve any problem in particular. Sure, music can be healing, stress-relieving, entertaining, uplifting or intellectually engaging, but that doesn’t automatically make it a value-add in the eyes of the consumer. A new music release has to address a specific market; otherwise, it’s likely to get lost among the many other releases that get pushed out every single week.
Music marketers have to find an angle for the music they are promoting. They have to look for ways to make it valuable to the consumer. Trust me when I say it’s nothing like marketing consumer goods.
Solution: work with the artist to determine if there’s a particular angle to exploit. For instance, if the theme of their album revolves around pets, then find a pet-related cause the artist can endorse. Donate a portion of the proceeds of album sales to a worthy cause.
3. Technology and Moving Targets
When you have the likes of Jack Conte from Pomplamoose saying things like YouTube used to be a great platform, but now it’s time for artists to move onto Kickstarter, it can’t help but stir up the notion that technological determinism is involved in a musician’s ultimate success.
You have marketers and talking heads pushing every new thing that comes along, whether it’s Snapchat or Facebook Live.
In my opinion, that’s a bit of a slippery slope, because it basically means that marketers must be using the right technology to make a music release a success, regardless of other factors like the quality of the product, the genre of the music, the musicians involved with the project, the popularity of the artist or the band, journalistic coverage or media attention, and so on.
There is certainly something to be said for being on the right platform. For example, marketing one’s music on Myspace today would mostly be an uphill battle, especially compared to its hay day. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any opportunities to be had on Myspace, but you could probably still get more attention for your music on Facebook (even with its pay-for-exposure model) than Myspace these days.
Be it PledgeMusic, RocketHub, Kickstarter, Google+ Hangouts, Livestream or other social networks, tools, apps and crowdfunding platforms, you can probably find examples of musicians that have initiated successful campaigns. In most instances, however, you will also find that it wasn’t necessarily the tool that made the campaign or artist a success.
One tool may have some advantages over another, and one may be set up to do things the other cannot, but without fan interest and clout, there’s no way simply picking the right app or site could instantly propel you to success.
Solution: commit to using one or two tools until you’ve mastered them. Using more than one reduces single source dependency. Once you’ve got traction on one platform, it’s much easier to build momentum on others too. But until then, focus.
With the proliferation of digital downloads, piracy and peer-to-peer file sharing, music releases don’t generally bring in a lot of revenue on their own anymore.
Fortunately, streaming has taken the reign, and that at least rewards artists on a micro level.
Big deal. All the money is made on the road, right? Well, not necessarily.
Certainly there are some bands that command a hefty paycheck any time they hit the stage. Some independent acts have been known to pull six-figures from their touring efforts.
But in my experience, it’s safe to assume that most independent or developing artists and bands aren’t making more than $50 to $200 on any given night; sometimes a piece, but most of the time total. Some bands happily and willingly play for free too.
Realistically, how much money can a marketer spend on paid advertising, be it online or off? Music marketers don’t necessarily have a huge margin to work with on any given release. Furthermore, how does a marketer navigate the value conundrum (also see point #2)? Advertising isn’t terribly effective unless you address an urgent need (you can also create an urgent need, but that’s not going to come easy).
Artists and marketers can always put in a bit of sweat equity – and there are plenty of great ways to market without a big budget – but compared to other industries that might have a tendency to sink tens-of-thousands if not millions of dollars into advertising, there isn’t necessarily as big of an anticipated return with music releases.
Solution: diversify. Don’t count on streams, music sales, merch sales, and live guarantees alone. I’ve put together a list of the many ways I’ve made money in the music industry. Perhaps not all will apply to your particular situation, but it should at least offer a good starting point.
5. Attention Span
Music must be heard for someone to like it, and then they have to like it to buy it. It’s a three-step process. It can take many repeated listens, however, for someone to like a song, and it’s challenging to manufacture that kind of outcome.
I think we can all agree that – no matter where you go out in the public – you are most likely to hear mainstream radio over other outlets or curators. Sure, some stores or malls may have their own proprietary playlists. Some may choose an eccentric internet radio channel or independent station for their car, residence or place of business. But the majority are playing top 40 hits over, and over, and over again.
What do people hear? Top 40. What do people like? Maybe not top 40, but they like a song or two enough to want to check it out. So what do they buy or stream? Top 40. It’s easy to find, and it’s inexpensive besides.
And, think about how much damage the 99 cent song has done to this industry. If the value of a song is 99 cents no matter what the quality of the song is, or who recorded it, then what can you compete on? Not price, obviously.
How does an artist or band get heard enough for someone to want to buy their music? A marketer has to come up with a plan to address this problem if they want to make a music release a success.
Solution: if the artist can’t deliver a new album every six to 12 months, consider getting them to write and release singles and EPs more frequently. This can help drive engagement. Whatever you do, keep pumping out new material.
Are You Looking for a Comprehensive Marketing Plan?
I wrote a book called The New Music Industry: Adapting, Growing, and Thriving in The Information Age that features several chapters on modern marketing tactics – live performance, radio, copywriting, blogging, podcasting, email marketing, social media, and even YouTube and video marketing.
I would encourage you to learn more about the book if you’re looking for a solution to your marketing woes.
Conclusion: Music Marketers
For every disadvantage or downside, there is always an equal counterpart advantage or upside. There are a lot of “free” marketing channels like social media that allow artists and marketers to get their music out there. There are plenty of inexpensive guerilla marketing tactics that can be used to drive more eyes to a product.
But it still stands that there are substantial challenges for music marketers to overcome in today’s online space.
What do you think? Are there any other major challenges that you are aware of? How would you go about marketing music online? Let us know in the comments below!
It’s hard to imagine a time when the internet wasn’t in common everyday use, but you don’t have to go back much further than 15 to 20 years in the mid-to-late 90s to discover just such a time.
In the 90s, streaming audio or video over the internet was generally a pain in the butt, and took more time than it was worth. Even downloading pictures was sometimes more wasteful than we sometimes like to admit. This was due in part to our dial-up modems, which made funny noises and were extremely slow; especially compared to the high-speed technology that’s available today.
If it seems like I’m speaking from personal experience, I am. I published my first website in 97/98, when I was just barely a teen. People didn’t have an inordinate obsession with great design and best practices just yet, so anyone could launch a website and get it seen by a lot of people – literally. Having a website was kind of a novel thing.
Fast-forward to today, and the tools have gotten so good that anyone can launch a website in an hour or two. There can still be technical hiccups along the way, but with the help of the many resources that can easily be found on Google, most people can walk through the steps to get up and running fairly quickly.
Having said this much, I think you can already put together some theories regarding how the internet age has affected music marketing.
Let’s take a look at several key advancements and components that have made a huge difference to modern music marketing.
In the early days, it wasn’t exactly easy to sell things over the internet. There was no PayPal, and going through the rigmarole of setting up a merchant account and taking credit card payments was neither a cheap nor straightforward process. You can check out my interview with Derek Sivers to get a sense of what that was like.
You get the sense that big companies weren’t terribly interested in helping the small guy, and things may have stayed that way if it weren’t for entrepreneurs like Sivers that blazed a trail for us musicians. Thanks to him, CD Baby was born, and musicians could begin to sell their CDs online.
While music sales may not be directly connected to marketing, if music could not be purchased online, there wouldn’t be as much of a reason to promote one’s music on the internet. I wouldn’t say that there wouldn’t be any purpose, but cash is a pretty strong incentive overall.
The internet led to some even bigger changes for music. Without getting too heavy into the details, Napster – now an app or streaming service – was once a peer-to-peer network where independent or hard-to-find music was shared among friends. However, it grew in popularity, and its growing user base started swapping all manner of music; rare and popular. Some bands like Metallica got pretty upset over this. Napster remained, but its P2P network was eventually shut down.
Many consumers used to feel that music was too expensive (in fact, some people still feel that way). Buying an entire album – they said – and getting only “a couple of good songs” in return for $15 to $30 was a losing transaction. However, to a large degree, the free debate has a lot to do with what went down with Napster and P2P networks in general.
This isn’t to say that there wasn’t a lot of grumbling that took place prior to file sharing , but the internet seemed to amplify the notion that consumers were on the losing side of the cash-to-music value exchange.
Thus, the propagation of online music stores and apps began. With iTunes, fans could finally purchase a single without having to buy an entire album. There are more options for distribution today than ever before, with the Amazons, Bandcamps, and various streaming sites of the world.
What did we even do before websites? At a most basic level, we can’t underestimate the impact of being able to publish your own online pamphlet.
In the early days of the internet, when you launched a website, that’s exactly what you got. Dynamic components like scripts, Flash, blogs, YouTube videos, social networks… all that stuff was still in the making. At first, textual content was all there was. Then came graphics. Then, over time, the technology continued to evolve to the point where it’s at today.
It’s hard to fully appreciate how far things have come. However, there is no denying that websites have altered the face of music marketing. Being able to direct all of your fans to a central place on the internet is kind of a big deal. Being able to build your own community, share photos, audio and video files, sell music directly through your website… all of that did not exist prior to the World Wide Web. And being able to cultivate a global audience… that’s a whole other point.
It’s one thing to have a website, but then to be able to push it and promote it through all of the traditional media channels – the papers, TV commercials, radio and so on – that is hugely powerful. Of course, this is where some independents are still at a bit of a disadvantage, because they may not necessarily have big advertising budgets (like the major labels) to get their ads in the papers or on mainstream TV.
As far as technology goes, email isn’t exactly new. However, this tried-and-true medium continues to remain relevant (especially in marketing), and would mostly be a moot point if not for the internet.
For most artists, their mailing list is their retirement plan. Fans that opt in to receive communication from their favorite artists are more likely to pay attention, purchase music or merchandise, answer call to actions, contribute to crowdfunding campaigns, and so on.
Email is also the only direct form of communication available to artists, unless they’re in the habit of collecting addresses and phone numbers. Moreover, addresses can change. Phone numbers can change. Even email addresses can change over time, but for the most part, people either hold onto their inbox, or at least have the messages from their old email forwarded on to their new email.
Granted, there is a lot more noise than before, even in people’s inboxes. Even so, it is still possible for artists to build a loyal fan base that they can constantly be in communication with using email. Try doing the same with social media. It’s just not going to happen, especially with the new pay-for-exposure model.
Social networks have actually been around for quite a while, but there are few sites as pivotal as MySpace if talking about music marketing.
At the height of its popularity, if you weren’t on MySpace as a band, you weren’t relevant. Many bands eagerly flocked to the platform, built their online press kit (MySpace allowed artists to post their music, pictures, blog posts, biographical information, and so on), shared way too many bulletins (community-wide announcements), and courted as many followers as they possibly could.
Unfortunately, this is where some of the check-us-out, check-this-out, buy-our-album, come-to-our-show, vote-for-us type self-indulgent marketing has its roots. After all, bands are just made up of creative people, right? They’re not marketing geniuses for crying out loud. How the heck are they supposed to know how to capture the attention of audiences everywhere?
Pretty soon, with the increasingly affordable studio gear (it’s not an exaggeration to say that you can record an entire album with little more than a laptop and a preamp) and the prospect of becoming an overnight sensation (thanks for that lie, music journalism), everybody and their dog started posting their music on the internet, hoping to become an overnight star in the process.
As we all know, MySpace experienced a bit of a demise when everybody started assembling at the doors of the then new Facebook. It’s hard to imagine life before Facebook, isn’t it? Though it isn’t – nor was it ever – a social network focused on music, bands and artists still had to find a way to use the platform to their advantage.
I believe that this occurrence is somewhat responsible for proliferating the erroneous idea that bands and artists must run with the trends to be successful, from Facebook to YouTube, from YouTube to Kickstarter, from Kickstarter to Bandcamp, and so on.
In any case, there’s little denying that music belongs on social media. Many people – especially younger generations – equate their identity with the music they listen to; even if their tastes range from Skrillex to Katy Perry to Korn.
Social networks aren’t merely marketing engines – at least in my opinion – but they have clearly had a huge impact on music marketing.
Arguably, YouTube is a social network of sorts. However, the effect that video has had on music marketing has been so instrumental that it’s deserving of its own heading.
Online video was already beginning to gain in popularity leading up to the launch of YouTube, but it finally gave content creators a place to share their creations with the world. At the time, there weren’t many great quality videos, but today you can watch HD videos – for free – on a community-based video sharing site. That should blow your mind.
In today’s age, the effectiveness of a music video is somewhat suspect. We know from the popularity of TV channels like MTV or MuchMusic that video killed the radio star, but today it’s pretty clear that reality shows and celebrity gossip killed the video (not to mention the music). Video was once a powerful medium for music, and it still is (just look at J-Lo’s A.K.A. album teaser video with nearly 9 million views), but it’s unlikely that it will ever capture the attention of fans the way it once did.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to find artists that are doing novel, interesting, and innovative things. Just look at Walk off the Earth, Igor Presnyakov or Pomplamoose. There are still plenty of wonderful ways to engage with video and promote your music in the process. However, it is a rather huge gamble that many artists are taking, offering their product for free without any guarantee for remuneration.
Speaking of video, there is also something to be said for video streaming, be it Livestream, Usteam, or Google+ Hangouts. Some artists have successfully leveraged these mediums to create a side income, or become internationally known.
Certainly, patronage has been around for a long, long time. However, crowdfuning, at least the form in which we know it by today, did not exist – nor was it logistically possible – before the internet.
Recording and pressing an album is a much more affordable proposition than it ever was in the past. The problem is that artists don’t necessarily see as much of a return on album sales or royalties. Then we also have to face the fact that marketing in this day and age is much harder than it was in the past. There is so much more noise to compete with; especially online. The long of the short of it is that if you subtract the amount artists used to make in album sales, it’s just as expensive to record today than it ever was.
For artists, crowdfunding helps to alleviate this problem. Sure, an album can be recorded on the cheap, but if artists want to do it right, they still have to put in the sweat and the hours. They may even have to buy new gear, rent out an expensive studio, hire a skilled engineer, or get their album mixed by a third party. Replication and printing costs also can’t be avoided; unless an artist has no intention of getting on the radio or getting their album reviewed. Yes, artists still have to get physical CDs made up for promotional purposes a lot of the time, even if very few people actually buy them.
There are certainly other reasons to turn to crowdfunding, but in order to make a crowdfunding campaign a success, artists have to engage all of their fans, be persistent in their marketing efforts, and be highly organized. Though crowdfunding isn’t a form of marketing unto itself, it necessitates it.
Conclusion: Music Marketing in the Internet Age
These are just some of the ways in which the internet age has changed music marketing. This article isn’t meant to be exhaustive by any means, but I think you can see that marketing – even music marketing – has more to do with the internet than it ever did before.
To some extent, the music industry has lagged behind, and it may take some time for it to catch up to where other creative industries have long since gone. Some would speculate that the Napster incident would never have happened if the major labels were ready to take things online, offering music in a more convenient and affordable format.
Major labels are taking fewer risks now than ever before, and it’s generally up to the artists to prove themselves and offer up a lot of the funding (and sometimes even marketing) for their projects. The profit model must evolve, as product is not in scarce supply. Scarcity is merely the availability of an artist, how often they can tour or connect with their fans, how often they can record and distribute music, and so on.
Supply and demand seems to be less of a factor in the world of music in this age. What’s important is the experience, and the connection people feel when they hear their favorite song on the radio or go to a concert. The currency of today’s music is engagement, connection, experience, feeling, emotion, belonging, community, and interaction.
Learning to play an instrument is a vital part of any musician’s journey, and most if not all players go through a period of wood-shedding to hone their craft.
Keeping that in mind, let’s say that you’re starting to feel pretty comfortable playing your instrument of choice, but you’re not having as much fun as you once did practicing alone.
For the sake of your growth as well as interest level, it may be a good time to consider finding jam mates. The question is, how do you find other musicians to jam with?
Option #1 – Ask Around
If you are still in school, there is a high probability that you will be able to find others that are interested in playing music. You could meet those who are already in the process of learning an instrument. Additionally, you may be able to twist a few rubber arms – friends that would think it’s “cool” to be part of a band.
Just so you know, if you’re looking to start a serious and committed band, you’re probably not going to find your ideal members this way. If you’re just looking for jam mates, however, this is a fairly immediate solution.
If you’re serious about growing as a musician, you will need to find better jam partners at some point (you can’t just jam with complete beginners all the time). If you want to be stretched, you’ll have to make it a point to play with those who are better than you.
Another way to find local players (even if you’re not in school anymore) is to ask around on Facebook. After all, most of your network is likely to be local, and you may discover that some people you know already play music.
Option #2 – Go to Workshops
If you’re willing to do a bit of digging, you can probably find instrument or songwriting related workshops that are being hosted locally. Some music stores hold events on a semi-regular basis, and you may also be able to find them through local churches and music instruction businesses.
People that go to workshops of this nature are already interested in music. Some of them might even be there for the same reason that you are (i.e. to find jam buddies). Though networking isn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite thing to do, if there’s anywhere you should feel at “home”, it would be at a workshop.
Some people might be in attendance to learn. Others might be there to check out the latest gear. Still others might be there to network and connect with other musicians in the community. Bottom line – you won’t know unless you ask.
Even if you don’t meet anyone that you can jam with, you’ll probably learn something at the workshop. In other words, there will likely be an upside to attending no matter what.
Option #3 – Go to Jams
Unless you are in a small town or a remote part of the world, you should be able to find open mics and jams at various coffeehouses, pubs, bars, and other music venues locally. Every jam tends to be a little different, but if you’re willing to look around, you will probably find one that a lot of younger, developing musicians attend regularly.
Jams are also great settings for networking, so take advantage. Even if you don’t think you’re great at striking up conversations, you could probably muster up enough courage to say “great job” to anyone that’s coming off of the stage after performing. You never know where that might lead.
Additionally, if you’re going to go to jams, don’t just look at it as an opportunity to scout talent. Be prepared to go up and play. When other musicians see what you’re trying to do, they may take interest in your music. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least they’ll get a sense of who you are and what you’re after.
Option #4 – Post a Classified Ad
Another way to find jam buddies is to post a classified ad on a site like Kijiji or Craigslist. Depending on your locality, you may want to take advantage of other sites, or even printed publications. It all depends on what people tend to use more in your particular town or city.
When putting together an ad, I would encourage you to be as specific as possible. It might seem counter-intuitive, as your inclination might be to open up the floor to anyone. However, this could have the opposite of the desired effect.
If you don’t want drunks, pot-smokers or riff-raffs in you or your friend’s house (or garage), you should take a little bit of care in screening people. When posting an ad, avoid being general. Ask for the type of people you are looking for, what you expect of them, and what instruments they should be able to play.
Option #5 – Create a Profile on a Site like BandMix
There are sites like BandMix where musicians can create a profile and let the network know that they are looking for other musicians to jam with or be a part of their band. These platforms generally allow you to be fairly specific as to what kind of players you’re looking for, so that’s a built-in bonus.
Though I have used the platform before – and I’m pretty sure I still have a profile – I don’t recall getting very many responses on BandMix. Having said that, I’ve never been particularly active on the site either.
If you’ve had any kind of success with BandMix, I’m sure our community members would love to hear about it. Make sure to leave a comment below, letting us know how you used the site to find jam partners or band mates, and what you liked or didn’t like about the platform.
Bonus: Connecting with Players in Your Community
Back in 2009, I published a post called “Connecting with Players in Your Community.” It’s definitely on-topic, and It was a shorter post, so I thought I would append it to this discussion on finding jam partners. Enjoy!
Over the last couple of days I’ve had the chance to jam with some of my friends. Because I am often preparing for gigs or rehearsing with the band, I don’t always have a lot of time to just jam with others.
However, I think that it’s really important to connect with players in your community when possible. Whenever I make the effort to do this, I learn new things and discover some possible growth areas to work on in my own playing.
Chances are pretty good that you don’t know everything there is to know about guitar, and other players can fill you in where you may have missed something. Even people that you may consider “lesser players” may know a few things you don’t, so it’s best to approach these situations with humility.
Try to create an atmosphere conducive to learning. Ask questions. Jam on a common progression and watch what the other person does for leads (as opposed to what you might do). Randy Rhoads, for instance, was known to sit down with every guitar player he met, and made it a point to learn something from them. As long as you are teachable, there is always something to learn.
Jamming puts you on the spot. You may not like this feeling, but the truth of the matter is that you should be putting yourself in more uncomfortable situations. As Marty Friedman says, there is no practice like playing live. Jamming may not be the same as playing live, but it’s good practice because you’re being put on the spot. You won’t get a second chance at your solo when you’re playing live. You only have one chance to pull it off. You may not be able to do things that you can do perfectly in your practice room on a stage, but that can be rather enlightening at the same time (i.e. it might let you know that you need to work on that passage of music).
Sometimes it’s immensely productive just to have a good conversation. You may learn some new things about guitar, gear, or promotion techniques if you keep your ears open. You don’t need to go into these situations with an agenda, though it can’t hurt to be prepared with a few questions. If you don’t know how to approach players you don’t know, simply ask if you can have an hour of their time and offer to buy them lunch.
How have you connected with players in your community? Did you find it to be a positive and helpful experience? Have you learned new things from other players?
Conclusion: Jam Partners
Using one or all of the above methods, you should be able to find other musicians that you can get together and jam with. More than likely, you would probably use a different process to find long-term, dedicated band mates, but if you just want to start jamming with others, you can take advantage of the steps outlined here.
Are there any other ways of finding jam partners that you are aware of? How did you find people to jam with when you were first getting started? Why did you use the method you did to find your jam mates? Make sure to leave a comment below and help out the community!