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Top Twitter Tips for Musicians.

December 29th, 2008 · 40 Comments

Twitter Win Fail at stevelawson.net I’ve been getting WAY too many ‘follows’ on Twitter of late from musicians who really don’t get it. So here’s my Top Tips For Musicians On Twitter. You may want to start with my Best Practices In Social Media post, or just jump straight in here.

OK, let’s start by comparing twitter with Myspace, as that’s where most musicians get their start in social media:

Like most musicians, my start on Myspace involved using the search function to find other musicians and ‘fans’ and adding them without any interaction. I accumulated thousands of ‘friends’ in no time, and for about a month was getting hundreds-sometimes-thousands of plays a day. But very little of it turned into any real interaction with them, either at gigs, buying/downloading music or just messages to say ‘hi’.

So I backed off, and stopped actively adding anyone to myspace, and recently deleted 8000 myspace friends in an attempt to make it useful.

So how does that relate to Twitter? Well, Twitter has no media player. It’s just text. It’s also asynchronous. This is crucial to understanding it. So point #1 with Twitter is:

  • ‘Following’ someone on Twitter means next to nothing. The interaction is everything.

So if you’re tempted to come onto twitter, search for ‘music’ or ‘jazz’ or ‘bass’ or whatever and hope to gain an audience. Think again. It’s not going to work. All that happens is, your timeline becomes unusable. You miss the good things other people are tweeting and you look like a spammer. Because (point #2):

  • Twitter is all about other people.

That’s right, it’s not primarily about you. It’s a very difficult interface to game anyway. You can’t turn up, post links to your own page and hope people will find you. Because everyone else is way more interesting than you are. So, tip #1 (as opposed to point #1, that was above) – Tip #1 is:

  • Be interesting.

And it stands to reason that tip #2 is:

  • hey check out my site” isn’t remotely interesting.

No, it’s not, it’s self-obsessed, dull and ultimately does you more harm than good. If you’re trying to get me to listen to you, you were in a better position when I’d never heard of you than when I saw your twitter page with 4 tweets that said ‘hey, check out my myspace‘. Now I just think you’re a tool.

No, if I go to your page, and you’re interacting (twitter interactions happen by way of ‘@’ replies – if you put an @ in front of someone’s username in your ‘tweet’, it shows up in their replies, and for other people, it links to their page. It’s creates a contextual network for what you’re saying, it means people can find out what your tweet was in response to, and more about the person you’re talking to.) then I’m more interested in talking to you, asking you questions, answering your questions and generally getting a conversation going with you. Which is good for you, because if I reply to you, the 900-or-so people that follow me are going to see it, an if they find what I’ve said to you interesting, may click through to you…

So, tip #3 relates to how to get started:

  • Start by adding people you know already and talk to them.

If you’re having normal fun interaction, you look like a human being, not a spam-generating bot, or worse, an up-their-own-arse musical narcissist. Just talk about what you’re up to. What you’re doing is placing your music within the narrative of your life. You’re letting people know what you’re about, so they may then be interested in what kind of music such an interesting person would make. And if you’re a musician, the day-to-day life of practicing, getting gigs, designing flyers, getting paid, making records etc. is fascinating. It really is. So talk about it.

Tip #4 relates to this:

  • Twitter users are largely curious people, you don’t need to post links all day to get them to find you.

There’s already a link back to your site on your twitter page. And if you’re clever, you can post a nice pretty twitter background (here’s mine) that will give them a little more info. When you are interesting, people will be interested. That’s just how it works. So be interesting.

Tip #5 follows on from this

  • Twitter users are curious, but also deeply suspicious of spammers.

Like I said at the top, if you get it wrong, it’s worse than not being there. if you look like a spammer, people will not only ignore you, they’ll block you. That’s not good. So If you

  1. interact
  2. keep close-to-parity in your followers/following ratio
  3. tweet a lot about what you’re up to without links to your site,

people may follow you back.

So, last tip – #6 – for now (I’ll do a part 2 later) is about Conversation:

  • People are far more likely to follow you because your conversation is interesting than because your music is great.

No-one knows if your music is great. Lots of links to your site won’t make them want to check it out any more than one link. However, lots of conversation makes you more interesting than no conversation.

No-one likes the guy/girl in a bar who talks about themselves all night to the exclusion of all else. Don’t be that guy on Twitter.

For reference, here are some musicians being interesting on twitter:

Lobelia, Jeff Schmidt, Imogen Heap, Warriorgrrl, Botched, Steven Guerrero, Alun Vaughan, Simon Little, Ben Walker, Graham English. They range from the hugely famous (Imogen) to the ‘tweets all the time (Graham and I), to the ‘small but important interactions’ (Botched and Steven G) – there’s a range there. Watch them, see what they do, what makes you want to listen to them, and do that.

Have fun, make friends, and post any questions you may have in the comments below! And if you want to recommend a musical twitterer (that isn’t YOU) then please do that too, but give reasons why…

Tags: Geek · Managing Information Streams · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The foolishness of Copying Radiohead (or 'why poor people vote for lower taxes')

June 5th, 2008 · 2 Comments

[This started out as being my first post for MusicThinkTank.com, a site I’ve been invited to blog for, but ended up far too long to post there, so I’ll put it here, and post something else there… 🙂 ]

So Trent Reznor has gone one step further than he did with Ghosts, and is giving all of his new album away TOTALLY for free. No high dollar packages – at least for now – just free downloads, including putting massively hi-res versions on Bit Torrent, with a CD/Vinyl release to follow in July. (No mention yet of extra tracks on the physical release)…

Since Radiohead and Prince ‘gave albums away’ last year, we’ve all been talking endlessly about whether or not all music should be ‘free’, whether this is the new model that we should all adopt.

Two things are clear about Radiohead, Prince and Trent Reznor – (1) they’re all massively wealthy, and (2) all could guarantee massive press coverage for a move as ‘bold’ as giving a record away.

From those two points, I think it’s easy to see why modeling our marketing strategies against these artists is a non-starter. Unless you’re independently wealthy, or have the kind of day-job that affords you both the time and resources to tour heavily to symbiotically promote YOU via the free downloads and the tour, there’s not really a comparison financially.

And as anyone knows who’s ever paid for print advertising, column inches are incredibly valuable – the value of the coverage that Radiohead got for ‘giving their music away for free’ must’ve run into millions of pounds worldwide – a new Radiohead album is frontpage news in Q and Spin, but not in all the national newspapers around the world that covered it as a lead story, or on the television news programmes that led with it.

Copying the actions of celebrity millionaires is a bizarre kind of aspirational living – similar to that which drives Grazia-buying women to copy the fashions of the wives of sportsmen, and which causes millions of Americans vote for a political system that will leave them considerably financially worse off, ‘just in case they ever get rich’ – the myth of the American Dream, that anyone can get rich, keeps a lot of poor people voting for low taxation & lower government spending, because they’d hate to have their money taken off them when they get rich, despite the statistics showing that a minute number of people ever make the kind of quantum leaps in earnings that take even middle-income workers into the world of the super-rich. [I know there are a lot of other reasons why people might vote Republican or Libertarian, so please, no political comments on this one 😉 ]

Musicians are following suit, taking at face value the idea that Radiohead, NIN et al. gave away their music for ‘free’ and not looking at the massive value it carried as a press-generator for them in a way that just doesn’t work if you haven’t already had millions spent on you over years and years to get you to the place where your ‘free’ album is front page news.

Clearly, me ‘giving my music away’ and Radiohead ‘giving their music away’ are not comparable situations. Not at all.

For one thing, I’m a solo bass player. In a world where ‘pop’ music is driven by two main things – singing and drumming – I play instrumental music without a drummer, often without a fixed rhythm at all. Copying the broadcast-focussed actions of a bunch of zeitgeist-defining millionaire pop-stars is about as useful to me understanding my audience as putting videos of me reading Shakespeare on Youtube would be, just because a lot of people like Shakespeare.

Getting sidetracked by the aspiration to be a rock ‘n’ roll superstar is career suicide for an artist still needing to generate an audience to be monetized. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, in the new music economy, any strategy that relies on Broadcast media but doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest to get that rolling is doomed to failure.

Yes, there’s the chance that something you ‘give away’ will ‘go viral’. There’s also a chance that you’ll win the lottery and be able to pay for all that lovely broadcast airtime you so crave. Neither happen anywhere near frequently enough to be statistically significant when planning how to build an audience and connect with them.

[this is the point that this post becomes ‘Social Media Thoughts Pt 5’]

No, we need to think differently, and the bit that we do have control over is the conversation. The back-and-forth with our audience, our friends and our peers about what we do and why we do it, framing out art in a dialogue about what it is, why it exists and the ways that people who like it have to support it.

That’s what social media presents us with. I can answer in-depth questions about what I do on the forum, I can invite comment about what I do, here on the blog via comments, I can answer one-line questions and field comments about gigs via twitter, creating a buzz about it amongst those people who get to hear about it.

Last Tuesday I did a gig at Darbucka, with Lobelia, and with the Lawson/Dodds/Wood trio (apparently we’re changing the order of the names in the band name – it’s getting very Spinal Tap! 🙂 ), and with special guests Lloyd Davis and Miriam Jones. Almost everyone there got in for free. The guestlist was HUGE. We made so little on the door as to be insignificant. However, the audience were, for the first time in AGES, largely people who’d never seen me play before, and as a result I sold more CDs at the gig that I have in ages at a Darbucka show. Miriam sold some CDs too, and the buzz afterwards on Twitter was huge – way more people talking about that gig via Twitter than any previous gig I’ve done. I got a lot of messages from people who were really sorry to have missed it, wanting to know when we’re playing again, and a lot of people downloading the free albums, and others buying Cds and downloads from the shop off the back of the gig. And there’s a LOT of talk about the forthcoming albums from both Lobelia and I and the trio…

So am I anti-free? Clearly not, the gig was essentially ‘free’, for most of the audience, but it was a different kind of free. It was free with context, free with value, in that everyone who was put on the guestlist was grateful, came with a sense of excitement and expectation, and went home talking about the gig. The music became a social object, something with value and cache, all of which is there to be monetized at a later date.

The bottom line is Don’t give it away for nothing, but the currency you trade in doesn’t have to be money

The gig, the music and my relationship with the people there was framed within the context of a series of social media-enabled conversations. I’m not suddenly going to fill Wembley by doing this, but the desire to fill Wembley is a destructive greedy pipe dream that ignores the beauty and value in where my music, career, and relationship with my audience is at NOW. I may one day fill Wembley, but I may also one day meet a benevolent billionaire on a plane who decides to sponsor my music to the tune of £200,000 a year, expecting nothing in return. Neither are a good plan to base a marketing strategy on.

So, forget about the mis-use of the word ‘free’ as applied to the ‘music in exchange for press coverage and gig promotion’ that already-successful multi-million-selling Rock stars do, and start focussing on the conversation you can have with your audience, using your music as a social object around which to build value, cache, excitement, events and value added product/scarcity-based revenue streams.

(A LOT of the stuff in this post is talked about in the Creative Coffee Club podcast That I recorded with Penny Jackson – If you’re interested in this stuff, you really ought to listen to it… )

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians