I love music. I was in a short lived band once and still have: being in a touring band at the top of my do-before-I-die lists. I saw this info graphic
that shows how little musicians earn online and then I read this article
about how last week had the fewest number of albums sold in one week since Soundscan began compiling data in 1994, and it started me thinking about how I would do it if I were in a band that people cared about. So this is what I would do.
Disclaimer: Musicians don’t want to think of themselves as marketers or entrepreneurs but I believe that’s exactly what small musicians need to see themselves as to make money in this new digital world. I say, Get over it.
First, I would like to describe my strategy and then below I’ll put the tactics. The main trust of my strategy is sumed up well with this quote by Cory Doctorow, “It’s very hard to monetize fame, but impossible to monetize obscurity.” You’ll never sell anything if no one listens to you, so how do you get as many people as possible to listen to you? Share your music and get others to do the same. A fact of the internet is that If the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied. Let your music be copied and shared as much as possible.
The second side to this strategy is that once you can distribute something digitally, for free, it will spread as long as it’s good. If it spreads, you can use it as a vehicle to allow people to come back to you and register, to sign up, to give you permission to interact and to keep them in the loop. The spread of your digital music in an effort to create a well maintained following is the core of being a successful self-published musician.
The bands that create communities, connect people and spread ideas are the ones that will win. Seth Godin defines permission as an asset to be earned. “The ability (not the right, but the privilege) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them,” is his definition of permission marketing and that is the biggest tool in the independant musicians tool belt. Most good bands have a message that their fans rally behind: anti-war, fun, unity – whatever. Your band needs to seek out those groups that agree with your message and want to be connected – and then the band works to become the connecting point.
Let me tell you what this strategy is not: You are not trying to get discovered by some self claimed gatekeeper who decides what the masses get to listen to. I would never try to join a label. What’s the point? All the tools necessary to self publish and distribute to the world are there already at your fingertips.
Onto the tactics:
1. Sell whats scarce. Music as a digital product is anything but scarce. And you don’t want it to be, you want everyone possible to listen to your music. Meanwhile, the one thing that you can’t digitize and distribute with full fidelity is a live show, limited edition t-shirts, special edition album covers and community. This is where you’ll make money.
2. To sell that stuff, you need to find your audience. I would make a band blog where I would write about what’s going on with the band as well as writing on the topics that the band is founded upon. Also there would be a music section for people to stream any song I had written. Next to each song I would put the Facebook Like button so people could Like individual songs which gets the song sent to their news feed in Facebook for all their friends to see. This would also allow me to message any of those people who Liked a song later on. Also next to each song would be a link to Tweet the song, email the song, embed the song on their own site or any other kind of sharing possible.
A downloadable high quality version of my music would be available if the person gave me their email address. Along with the download I would include album art, liner notes and stencils for printing out and spray painting the band name or image. I would also include a message to invite the downloader to share the music with their friends. Next to the download button would be a donate button to anyone who wanted to chip something in for getting the music.
I would also make a Facebook fan page, twitter account and YouTube channel for my band where the content from the band blog would be syndicated. All of these different avenues allows people to consume my music in their preferred place. If they want to listen to my music on Facebook but hate Twitter, or vice versa, I would make it possible.
I would make a YouTube channel and make music videos for every song I record. They don’t need to be high production cost videos just whatever speaks to the fans.
I would make a flicker group for fans to upload images from shows or themselves being a part of the music.
3. Once you find your audience, turn them into family. Kevin Kelly says you really only need 1,000 true fans to make a living. Making music for your fans instead of finding fans for your music. All sharing tactics above have the same goal in mind – get as many people as possible to listen and then capture their email to create your fan database. The fans in the database are your biggest asset. I would turn my music into a subscription service. They are the ones you send anticipated, personal and relevant messages to. They get first dibs on listening to new music. They get alternate tracks. They get asked for their feedback and see that their feedback gets put into practice. They get to talk to each other on the blog. They get exclusive fan club stickers and patches. They also can buy tickets to shows before eveyone else, buy the limited-run t-shirts before everyone else and get first dibs on buying special edition delux albums.
The internet is the best thing to ever happen to music. In an age when it’s cheaper and easier than ever to design something, to make something, to bring something to market, bands win.