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Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 1)

October 12th, 2008 | No Comments | Categories: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

Cash registers - no longer needed. There’s been a whole load of talk in the last few days, following on from the financial crash, saying that ‘Web 2.0 is dead‘.

Q #1 – what’s Web 2.0? Well, here’s the wikipedia page for it. For our purposes as musicians, it describes the use of the web for collaboration, conversation and creative empowerment, as contrasted with the old model of broadcast, one-way traffic, competitive, aggressive sales-driven stuff…

As the very wise DanLight says here, the people saying ‘web 2.0 is dead’ are actually describing a facet of the tech industry built around web 2.0 resources that is now in deep shit because its funding model is based on venture capital. VC money is deeply hooked into the world of money-markets, credit, banking and all those financial institutions who’ve finally realised that gambling can go very wrong even if you’re not in Vegas.

Clearly, the use of the web as a vehicle for collaboration and conversation is alive well and growing daily. The number of people who ‘get it’ is still growing, and loads of musicians now realise that with a little bit of care, attention and respect, their relationship with their audience can shift from being one of being “big-box producers throwing product at faceless consumers for money”, to being one of arts patronage, support and friendship.

So, just to be perverse at the Web 2.0 funeral party, I thought I’d spell out a few first principles for musicians:

  • Talking to your audience doesn’t cost big money but it does take time. In order to get the value from social media, we need to invest time in communicating with our audience. The equation is a fairly simple one – if you spend time talking to your audience about what you do, they will
    1. understand you better
    2. feel like they know you better
    3. be able to explain what you do to their friends better (peer to peer advocacy, if you will) and
    4. be FAR less likely to view your ‘art’ as something disposable to be thrown away on a P2P sharing platform.
  • Broadcasting over social media networks stands out like a dead sheep on a bowling green. People who try and use social networking sites and tools for 90s-style broadcast look really effing stupid. You become like the dude at the party who goes from group to group, looking for an audience,but leaves without even knowing anyone’s name. A HUGE part of web 2.0 for musicians is learning how to listen. I’ve met SO many fascinating people through the web, through talking to people on line, and many of them are now advocates for my music. I’m not friends with them because of that, but it stands to reason that people who are engaged by the ‘soundtrack to the inside of my head’ are going to be people I’m likely to like. My audience is almost always comprised of people I want to go out for dinner with and chat to.
  • If you don’t ‘get it’, learn from someone who does. Look, let’s be honest, a lot of people who come from a record company background [where ‘we’ make music and ‘they’ sell it for us] really struggle to understand how this works. If that’s you, GET SOME HELP. That help can come just by observing how people who do it well do it, or it could be that you hire someone to help you out. Increasingly, I’m working with bands and indie labels on strategy for social media engagement. There is no one way to do it, but there are principles to be applied in your setting. And if you don’t get it, you can end up looking like a dick. Hiring someone for a day to help you set up the right services, talk through some strategy and get you hooked up with a like-minded community that will help you move forward will be a hell of a lot cheaper than an 8th of a page ad in the back of Q magazine, and do you 50 times as much good.
  • What you’re ‘selling’ is so much bigger than the music on your CD. Think about the last time you bought a CD just because you heard a track on the radio. You didn’t know who or what it was, you just heard it and had to own it because it was so good. Been a while, huh? No-one does that any more. People are entranced by stories, and even more so, like to buy music by their ‘friends’. Even though I put ‘friends’ in inverted commas, there’s no duplicity here. Your audience become people you know, people you talk to, people who tell their friends about YOU not just your music. And you telling your story in your own words gives them the story to tell.

If your first response to this is ‘but will it make them buy more CDs?’, go back and read it again. And this time, read it because you need to know it, not because you want to disprove it so you can nestle back into ‘busness-as-usual’ safe in the knowledge that the internet is still full of know-it-all nerds who can’t actually play an instrument, but like to talk as though they can. This is all a long way from the music forums of the late 90s. This isn’t about being top dawg in a kennel of bass-nerds, it’s about inviting people who are interested in what you do to engage with it on whatever level helps them to get more from it.

I don’t know about you, but I want my music to mean something to my audience. I want to help them to find that meaning in it. I don’t need to define the meaning, just to facilitate them finding it for themselves. Next post will look at more ways of doing that, and maybe a case study or two…

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  • Darika

    Great post Steve, I love the way you’re not just talking the talk but passing on the learnings from years of walking the walk.

    Can’t wait to see the next post!

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    […] Recent Comments How to promote your music via Social Media « Grapevine Consulting on How to promote your children’s book via Social MediaMichael on is it a kiwi thing?darika on is it a kiwi thing?Lisa on is it a kiwi thing?How to promote your children’s book via Social Media « Grapevine Consulting on How to promote your book via social media How to promote your music via Social Media , Filed under: General, Social mediatools | Tags: Alex Milway, self-promotion, solobasssteve, The Mousehunter What a week. First I nab the goods from children’s author Alex Milway on How to promote your children’s book via Social Media then the ever talented solobasssteve whips up a similar post for musos with ‘Social Media- first principles for musicians‘. […]

  • Tom de Grunwald

    Hi Steve, been following you a while on Twitter so thought I’d say hi.

    Thanks for a great post, makes a lot of sense.
    I’d be interested to know how many musicians want to spend lots of time talking/ communicating about themselves rather than making music or communicating about other subjects of interest. Certainly these concerns sum up my experience as a musician. However I do appreciate that promotion is necessary to get music heard/ make connections (eg with the people formerly known as the audience).

    I also wonder whether web2.0 means that music need necessarily lose some of its mystery: sometimes the music that has most moved me to listen to I have known almost nothing about its creators, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Are those days gone now, do you think?

  • steve

    Hi Tom,

    that’s a fantastic question, and slightly pre-empts one of the main points in Pt 2 – you have to find your own level.

    Part of the reason why I say “there’s no one way to do it” is as much about the artist’s own personality as it is about musical genre, audience size and gig:recording ratio…

    But there’s also a key word in your question – ‘want’ – one of the hardest things to get past in all this is that it’s a job (assuming you want to be full time) – it’s not a ‘reward’ or a ‘prize’. It’s a job that requires a commitment to do what’s necessary if you’re going to make it work. And part of that commitment is to better time management. I don’t know of many musicians who are working full time hours on their music… Those that are, I’d recommend they find a way to incorporate some kind of social media interaction into their leisure time.

    I still play bass, write, pratice, gig, record etc. I just fit this stuff around it.

    Part of this post series will be about mobile tools – things that enable you to find pockets of time when traveling or out and about in which to maximise your engagement, as well as to ‘produce content’… All in good time 😉

    thanks a lot for your question – please post more questions/comments if anything I say isn’t clear, or you disagree, or just want to say that it’s all a lot easier to understand now :p

  • dan

    hey Steve – thanks for the big up – nice to be reminded that a simple comment on something as amorphous as Techcrunch can be enjoyed by a first generation friend.

    this is something i feel pretty strongly about – it’s such a facile view of web 2.0 to see it as intrinsically connected with silicon valley start-ups. on the contrary, i think it’s at its strongest when it behaves in the way that you describe, enabling us to bypass centralized, crudely commercial points of origin, and to share content and ideas – our actual and intellectual wares – with each other, in a delightfully personal, nuanced way.

    My hope is that the imminent and potentially long-lasting recession may prove to be lead in the pencil of web 2.0, causing us to reassess how we can use these tools to drive towards a new form of local economy, powered by creativity, endeavour and reciprocal self-sufficiency (if that isn’t a complete oxymoron).

  • Neil

    Hey Steve, absolutely great post. I’ve been checking you out for a bit, and trying to learn. I’ve been grappling with this stuff for about a year now… I know it’s important, but the time factor is still throwing me. I barely have time to blog, update all the sites, calendars, etc. and work 7 days, book gigs, teach, and most importantly…spend family time. But your post puts it all in perspective in an easy way to grok, and from there I think I can sort out what’s necessary. I’d sure like to rap in detail at some point, but no rush.
    Anyway – once again, many thanks!

  • Boy at Heart

    Hi Steve,
    Great post. I too have been following you on Twitter for a while with interest.

    I am very excited about the possibilities with social media networks and my music and talking about the finacnial crisis. It’s all starting to feel a bit like the early 90’s again: recession (following a middle East conflict with heavy funding.. “coincidentally”) and I seem to remember then that time developed into a great period for popular music. I do believe that “hard times” are a time of opportunity for us musicians because people are looking for inspiration or cheering up, even if they don’t realise it.

    Now it’s 2008 we have even more possibilities seeing as we don’t have to rely on a record deal to get our music heard.

    Now’s the time to get busy networking that music!
    Thanks for the post