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Promotion Is A Numbers Game (Get Heard!)

July 14th, 2009 | 10 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

I’ve run across a few situations recently where people have been limiting the amount of their music that can be heard online. So here’s a few thoughts about free streaming music, and the business model involved:

Most of the research I’ve seen – as well as the conversations I’ve had – tell us that a reasonable percentage of people still buy CDs. They still want music on CD, and are going to buy the music they like.

Nothing that I’ve seen or heard tells me that music fans will pay money for a CD in order to hear music they’re restricted from hearing online – just so they can find out if it’s good or not – or that people who buy CDs are happy to sit and click ‘play’ over and over again on last.fm instead of buying music…

There are people who like music on CD, and there are people who like the digital version. Some people divide their listening into music that’s ‘good enough to buy’ and music that’s streamable but not worth parting with cash. There seems to be precious little evidence that people DON’T buy things because they’ve heard them, or do buy them because they haven’t been allowed to hear the whole thing…

So, what’s the business model?

Well, if a certain percentage of your audience will be CD buyers regardless of how they find out about you, and another chunk of them aren’t going to buy your music, no matter what, the connection you want to make is to get as many people as possible listening to you, so that the percentage that are into buying stuff will get on and do it.

So it makes sense to make it available to hear as easily as possible. Whether or not you do free downloads is largely moot. The important thing is that at the point when someone hears about you, they can then hear you. Last.fm, Reverbnation, Myspace, facebook, Spotify, Napster, Rhapsody, iLike… all these are places where people find out about music. There’s no guarantees that just by being on there, you’re going to get an audience. But there is a guarantee that if you’re not on there, your potential audience are going to be discovering someone else.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again until it becomes the norm: having an audience of 500,000 that aren’t currently making you any money would be an INCREDIBLELY WONDERFUL problem to have to solve. I can’t think of many puzzles I’d rather tackle. Having no audience, a cupboard full of CDs that nobody knows about and no plan for getting people to hear your music, talk about it and come and see you in concert is a bloody awful situation to be in. I’d hate to be there.

At the moment, I’m somewhere between the two. I’ve got an audience, enough of them are happy to pay for either CDs or higher-res downloads that my music career is well in the black. It’s not 500,000, but neither do I have mountains of unheard CDs that are being considered for the recycle bin.

So, get heard! That’s #1, #2 & #3 on your list. Once you’ve got people listening to you, excited about what you’re doing, interested in the how, where and why of what you do, THEN they are are likely to provide you with the answer to how to make some money out of it, without you even struggling.

  • T-shirts
  • gig tickets
  • house concerts
  • premium web content
  • super hi-res audio
  • CDs and limited edition boxed sets
  • posters
  • key-rings
  • or good ole fashioned generous donations from people grateful for your music –

there are TONNES of ways to ‘monetize’ your music. But finding an audience and making your music available to them used to cost a fortune and require you to be magazine and radio friendly. Now it’s just a matter of telling your story and getting your friends and fans to do the same. Easy as pie 😉

So what are your favourite zany stories of how bands have found an audience? Best strategies? What about merch? What do you spend money on? Your thoughts please!

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • phaty

    I don’t need to buy a CD I buy itunes (and nothing else). iTunes feels safe and I like the feel of it. Well I am a Mac-User. I have 9000 songs on my computer and not one is “illegal”. I’m just like that. You produce it – I buy it! If it is one of my favorite bands I will buy live recordings of every tour. I buy music of favorite bass players even if I don’t like the whole band they are in.
    If you publish a video that shows me how you did this or that I will buy it too. Maybe you should look at US pornstars and how they sell themselves – and I really mean that! Well you can leave your head on.

  • Nick

    Great advice, Steve – but I’d also strongly consider ways and means of tracking potential fans interests and interactions with you – offering a way for expressing a tangible interest in you (rss subs and email address are simple examples) is really important to create value from that free transaction.

    Before throwing the kitchen sink at the social networks you suggest (as I firmly agree they should), i think folks should consider how they might be able to track and use this interaction data to further grow their audience and to simplify the process over time.

    Trendrr pro and bandmetrics offer an as yet untested approach to this, while YouTube (insight) and reverbnation already offer analytics tools.

    This leads to the question of how best to use the data – and that will vary from artist to artist

  • Suzanne Lainson

    I know one artist who is hugely popular online, but who doesn’t have many fans who buy music or come to shows. I know another artist who hasn’t put in that much time online, but sells a ton of CDs.

    In other words, the one with lots of online fans isn’t making any money, while the one who focuses on real sales is doing well.

    Online exposure isn’t the same as profitability. MySpace has shown that to be the case. You can become famous online and still have a situation where no one wants to buy your music or come to your shows.

    It’s important to understand that online fans don’t have to put in nearly as much effort as those who come to shows and buy CDs. So you can’t assume they will become paying customers until they actually become paying customers.

  • steve

    Thanks Suzanne – there’re are definitely myriad layers of nuance in how we connect with ‘fans’ in the real world and online – as you point out, trying to rack up fans of Myspace is not neccesarily time well spent.

    My point is more about ‘allowing’ people to hear you, more than it is about chasing numbers – I’m certainly not advocating seeing myspace friend numbers as a metric of success (as you may have read, I deleted 8000 myspace friends late last year)

    But to hide your music in the hope that people will find you more mysterious or alluring and buy your CDs just to see what you’re like is – in my experience as an artist,fan and observer of both elsewhere – a non-starter. When those lovely people who come and see you live want to tell their friends about what they’ve just seen, having your music available for streaming means you’re more likely to get a load of people listening to you in the time before you play a show in that town again…

    For most artists, whether or not your audience spends money on you is still a secondary question to having one – clearly, spamming social networks with ‘hey, check me out’ messages isn’t going to help, but making sure that people who want to listen to you can find your music, find out more about you, connect with you, and buy whatever it is that you do have for sale makes lots of sense. :)

  • Suzanne Lainson

    Here’s a variation of exposure, which I believe works. The artist who sells a lot of CDs also plays at every opportunity. She used to play as many as 200 shows a year. Not around the country, but locally/regionally. Lots of people criticized her for it, saying she was overplaying, but she played in front of so many different audiences in so many different places that she rarely played in front of the same group of fans more than once every three months.

    So I fully believe in playing everywhere. It gets up out in front of people, you learn more about playing, and it gives you more opportunity to sell CDs/merch, etc.

  • steve

    Playing everywhere is a great strategy if your musical style/set-up supports it. It’s MUCH easier for a solo singer/songwriter than it is for any other kind of artist – it’s easy to pick up support slots, open mics, coffee-shops etc… Tonnes of work.

    That’s not the case for a some other kinds of artist, and certainly not the case if you play the kind of music that only really thrives in a ‘listening’ space, or if your personal circumstances don’t work with that (like you’ve got kids, or a disability, or a day job that prevents you from traveling to that degree)…

    So yes, gig everywhere – I did it for a long time, playing at every available opportunity, from open mics to the Royal Albert Hall. It did me a whole power of good, but it just doesn’t work logistically for me any more.

    So I use internet exposure and conversations to drive interest and excitement in house concerts, which I then book in mini-tours a few times a year, allowing me to pool the expenses, maximise the buzz, and which will still be viable when we’ve got a baby in tow :) The gigs become financially viable in and of themselves, the scheduling leaves way more flexibility for teaching/lecturing/consulting as we travel, we get more time to hang with the people who host the gigs (win!), and the digital footprint of every show is so disproportionately huge to the number of people there, it’s insane.

    There’s no one way to make this ‘work’ – there isn’t even one way of measure what ‘working’ means. For the most part, promotion is a both/and proposition rather than either/or :)

  • Charlie Harris

    Baby in tow?
    Doing that this year, had the birth of my first child, Catherine, in February. So far, just adjusted 1 gig in anticipation of the birth date.

    I’m still looking for ideas to make money with music, since last year been focusing more on making it a second business. The decision tree on this is pretty simple: “Yeah, man, sounds like a really cool gig, love to do it—how much this [benefit] gonna pay?” It seems no pay, always a [benefit.] When is the band going to have a benefit?

    Promote? I have no time left anymore, much less practice. Very fortunate to have a day job that supports my family (especially with health insurance) but need to be doing side jobs and music would be a first choice. This year, reinstated working as a house painter to pick up a few bucks, I had “retired” from the building trades some 20 years ago as the day job.

    sort of rambling on now.

    I play out about once a week in a bar for tourists as a sideman in a blues/rock trio doing mostly covers. We don’t have any merchandise, no recordings, nothing to offer the customers who seem to really like our renditions.

    I should be practising, bye for now
    Charlie

  • I don’t have a right to earn money from my music. | I Hate Mornings

    […] currently making you any money would be an INCREDIBLELY WONDERFUL problem to have to solve.”, Promotion Is A Numbers Game (Get Heard!) by Steve […]

  • This Reality Podcast

    ‘Getting heard’ are valuable words of advice; there is, obv, a pivotal point beyond which some kind of repayment (I gave you this, what you can you give me back to help pay the bills so I can give you more) has to occur. But yes, some artists are too quick to whip out the cash register. Kerching!

    But for me, personally, I wish I could tell you how many copies of this track, that single, these EPs or those albums I’ve bought over the years. Because I’ve loved them.

    And so it goes on today. In my ‘music’ life I hear work from artists that makes me want more of their work to the point where I’ve bought *hundreds* of albums in the last 18 months – tracks which came to me FOC got me so hooked I put hand in pocket and bought the musicware.

    And now I’m working with two bands who are a cut above the ‘good, unsigned’ work that one normally hears; giving them my time, accessing my contacts for them, advising them on strategy and a roadmap to achieve their goals.

    Because they shared.

    The appetite for good quality independently produced music is enormous, we have over 100,000 subscribers to our weekly audio. That figure didn’t build up by accident.

    And Charlie’s point about lacking audio? How difficult is it to record one track?

  • steve

    Hi Nick,

    yup, that makes lots of sense too – there are definitely different levels of interaction, and ways of measuring the value in that. Time can be targeted in different places depending on the actual interaction generated there…

    Again, as I just said to Suzanne, this isn’t the ‘go out and ‘connect’ with loads of people end of numbers, it’s the ‘being available to be listened to when the discovery process leads someone to your part of whatever online platform they spend their time on. Whether that’s a friend referral, being in someone else’s myspace top friends, last.fm ‘similar artist’ radio playlists, iLike suggestions, twitter recommendations…

    The admonishment here is to see making your music available to be listened to as a top priority. The degree to which you go actively looking for an audience is a different question…

    But I do love Youtube Insight – fascinating stuff! :)