Entries in Music Industry News (3)
I got married almost six months ago to the day. Besides the absolute beauty and wonder of the wedding and the following months of marriage, there’s been an incredible amount of introspection and change that’s taken place in me (which, to an extent I was expecting, I just wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to unfold). It’s been an incredible journey thus far, and I can’t wait for the rest of it.
Of course, to say that life is compartmentalized and love doesn’t affect work, that work doesn’t affect hobbies, and that hobbies don’t affect love (and we could continue with examples), would be shortsighted and naïve. The last few months have given me an unexpected opportunity to reflect on where my music career has been, and where it’s going. Just as two people in a marriage will change over time and the dynamic of a marriage will look different, so will artistic visions and the environments that house those visions.
Just to make sure I don’t get too esoteric with this topic; I'm going to go through some takeaways that I had about the state of the music industry and the state of my own artistry. I will list them in a series of posts, over the next few weeks. The first, for me at least, is that national touring should probably wait...
National Touring Should Probably Wait – I spent the greater part of the last 7 years trying to play a live show in every corner of the United States. While I can look back on this as one of the most enjoyable times of my life, it made little sense in the way of developing a real listener base. I would do a two week tour in the Pacific Northwest through the major cities and a few of the smaller ones, and I wouldn't make it back up there for at least another year because I was trying to book shows throughout the rest of the country for the next 9 months. So I was essentially living on the road, and I was always trying to promote for my next tour of shows while I was on a tour already.
This remained difficult even when I had a booking agent that took over a large part of the booking process, because most of the new cities where I played, I was a completely unknown artist. As an unknown artist, I had no radio exposure, and no nationally syndicated press clippings, and my agent was not booking shows that were part of a bill with other bands/artists in the region, so very few people knew that I was playing in their city even if they would have liked to come to the show. I was limited to playing for the people who just happened to be in the venue during the time when I was playing.
Even social networking promotional value had declined greatly since I first started touring back in 2005. In the time of Myspace (remember that weird thing?), artists could contact unreached fans directly and invite them to concerts. It wasn't unusual at that time to show up to play a concert in a city where I had never played before and have a solid 50 fans come out. But with Facebook and Twitter being the primary social networks that have gained prominence, artists have little opportunity to contact unreached fans in a new city where they are playing because both networks don't feature that same kind of personal interaction with unreached fans.
So – where have all these observations led? 3 ideas:
- Play concerts in cities that are easy to come back to. This one seems like a no brainer, but it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling and playing every show that’s offered to you. If you play consistently in a city, and know that you can come back soon, you will almost inevitably build relationships with the fans in that city. As those relationships grow, they can lead to introductions to friends of those fans, places to stay in the city, introductions to other venues in the city, and the list of benefits goes on. I plan to play shows regionally throughout the major cities in the Southwest until they grow to the same size crowd I can draw in hometown.
- Go for quality over quantity. People like to be blown away. If they attend a concert by an artist a handful of time times, and each time they walk away with the response, “That was alright,” more than likely, they’re not going to be long-term fans. My planning for concerts has changed drastically, because rather than trying to hit people with as many shows as possible, I try to hit them with the best show possible. That’s not to say that if you have a quality concert prepared that you can’t play somewhere 3 or 4 times in a year, just make sure that each time the focus is the best effort you can put forward, and not a phoned-in, obligatory gig.
- Use finances wisely. Most independent artists have a limited amount of money. Actually, most artists on a label have a limited amount of money too. If an artist is going to spend thousands of dollars on a two-month long tour across America, he/she probably better make sure it’s going to provide some sort of return on the investment; either on growing a fan base, or providing new opportunities to play, or generating ticket and merchandise sales, etc. The easiest way to use your finances wisely is to ask the question, “If I’m going to spend money on this, what is the real benefit to my music career as a result?” Though it’s glorious to state that you’re going on a nationwide tour, it’s not that glorious to say that your van got repossessed two months after that tour was over because you’re broke.
Obviously, there’s much more to be said, but those were my big three takeaways from touring. Thanks for reading, and tune in next time for A New Beginning Part II.
I love getting things for free – I remember the opening day of Chipotle in Fort Worth, TX back in the fall of 2000, they gave away burritos to all of us “starving” TCU students. I got the barbacoa burrito because it sounded delicious, and sure enough, I remember enjoying every bite of it…until the next day when I either by coincidence had a stomach bug, or else got food poisoning from the burrito. Either way, I do remember the period before the aftermath; I had enjoyed getting the burrito for free. Now being a number of years removed from the situation…I still will enjoy Chipotle from time to time.
Nevertheless, why did Chipotle decide to give burritos away to students for free? Of course, there is always the notion that people won’t know if they like your product until they try it, but does it cheapen the value of your product if you give it away for free? This question has plagued marketers for years, and arguments from both camps have great foundations to stand on. So, when it comes to music, where does the cost or reward of “free” stand?
2012 is a far cry from the music world that I grew up in the 1990’s. My only access to music was the radio, The Box (that cheap network television version of MTV…remember that?), the local record store, and occasionally the copy of Rolling Stone that my friends would give me to after they were through reading it. Looking back, I really only had knowledge of a handful of musical acts at a time – I never really felt like I was overwhelmed with choice when it came to music. And while I never paid the $18 price tag on CD’s that I would see at Sam Goodie at the mall, I would typically pay about $12 for a new release of whatever band I had been exposed to from the one of the few channels I mentioned. The music that I purchased definitely had an assigned value to it.
In 2012, because there are so many channels to hear about new music, it almost becomes a case of paralysis by choice. I’ve addressed that before in multiple posts on my site, but the problem left over is, how do artists get their music to their fans? It seems like we live in the technological era where that should be relatively easy, but because there are so many channels, artists are tasked with really trying to understand who their fans are and what their listening habits are in order to try to connect with them in the appropriate mediums. That is a great thing because fans and artists will hopefully become better connected as that trend continues. The question still arises, beyond word of mouth, how can artists reach new fans? This is where I believe “free” comes in…
My good friend and cohort, Landon Smith, and I rewrote the music to an old Christmas hymn in the fall of 2010, and released it for free on Amazon.com as a music download. We figured, it was the first time we had written and recorded a project together, and because we just classified it in the “fun” category, we decided we’d make it available for free as a little reward for all of our faithful fans’ years of support. 14 months later, the song has had 64,000 downloads from the Amazon website. Needless to say, that song’s success (it is called “Christmas Anthem” if you’re interested in hearing it by the way) far exceeded anything we could have ever imagined.
When we consider the fact that a record will reach top 20 status on the billboard charts if they break the 50,000 unit mark, that was an incredible statistic for Landon and I as independent artists. There isn’t another avenue out there than I can imagine that 64,000 people would not only have access to an artist’s music, but also have it to access later either on their computer, ipod, phone, or whatever other storage device they have. I’m excited about that, because with services like Spotify and I-Match (offered by Itunes), I think music is heading in the direction of subscription services anyway, so our experiment with Amazon just drove that theory home a little more for me…
So, if an artist has the capacity to reach over 50,000 people with their latest project, and all they have to do is make it available for free on a major website? (I realize it’s a little more complicated than just that, but for purposes of this post, we’ll go with it) If that’s the case, my next record might be available at a 100% discount...stay tuned.
Keep on rockin’ in the “free” world,
The world is changing...
A Tolkien-esque intro always makes something sound epic - oddly enough, what's happening in how people hear about and listen to music is so incredibly different from the way it was done 20 years ago, I don't think anyone could have imagined it. Even 5 years ago, myspace was still making a huge splash and musicians everywhere were getting on board and making new fans and spreading their music in a digital age...
Now, in 2011, myspace is all but a barren wasteland of advertisements for second-rate movies, but music is ready to be spread in a way that myspace once imagined, only not completely. If Spotify (http://www.spotify.com) has its way, all people will be playing Netflix-style monthly premiums (only less - maybe about $5 a month) to be able to stream any song, by any artist you could possibly want , as often as you want.
Sounds cool, right? I think it will be - here are a couple of reasons why:
1. People won't have to spend money to try out a new artist, they just have to spend time to go check them out. If they like what they hear, they'll continue to listen.
2. If an artist/band has songs that people actually want to listen to, they are the ones that will rise to the top of the charts - it won't just be the songs that people are willing to spend money on. Imagine that you'll actually start hearing about charts that have music on them that people actually listen to rather than just download and let sit around
3. Music becomes more honest. I think this will be a huge step in a great direction to get the kind of music that people actually want to hear to the people. Whatever is being listened to the most will be the most popular, not just what has the highest gross from the last fiscal quarter.
As an artist, I still strive to write, record, and perform the best music that I am capable of creating. I think what Spotify has going for it may be the next big thing...or maybe it will just be the foundation of what some other company will end up doing even better. Regardless, I think this will be an incredible resource for artist to reach thousands of new fans that wouldn't have imagined before, and for music lovers to be able to make the charts meaningful again, not based on sales units, but by what makes it into their ears and their hearts.
Thank you Spotify, we owe you one.