We generally have opinions about everything related to music and the music industry. It is not often that we completely agree with an opinion expressed by the media. However, the recent article written by Jason Richards of The Atlantic is right on (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/07/for-indie-bands-the-new-publicity-is-no-publicity/241477/).
In today’s industry where quantity over quality overwhelms, true artists are taking a step back and re-evaluating how to present themselves and their music. While most independent musicians crave exposure, there is always a counter to that (if you have the patience): put out quality music and let the fans find you.
Recently some bands have been finding success using this “less is more concept”. Post a song on a taste-maker website and let the pieces fall into place. Obviously, this is not the right path for all bands. As with everything that we write about, we are always assuming that (a) your music is good and (b) you plan on making music for a living. Rather large assumptions, but if you don’t believe in your own music and career, who else will?
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We are constantly writing about the pitfalls of the music industry, the changes in the music scene today and the problem with the overal label system. Let’s focus on some of the positives of today’s music industry (there are more than you may expect, especially if you read our content regularly).
It has never been easier to get music recorded, produced and distributed to the masses. With today’s software, the home studio has become a reality for a ton of musicians. That means that the prohibitive costs of a studio, a producer and studio musicians can be avoided. While sound quality may not be as amazing as it would be if you spent the money to record at Abbey Road or Paisley Park, decent recordings can be done with equipment you can pick up at Best Buy.
Once the recordings are complete, the plethora of web sites and web based software that offers digital distribution is pretty amazing. Whether it is through www.tunecore.com, www.cdbaby.com or one of the hundreds of other sites out there, your music can be on the world wide web in a matter of minutes for little to no cost. The question then is: NOW WHAT??????
Getting noticed in today’s music industry has become the biggest obstacle for bands. The quality of music that is out there hasn’t necessarily dropped, there is just so much music on the web that trying to find something worth while is near impossible. In speaking to some industry experts, including major music supervisors and licensing agents, trying to get noticed by posting your music on myspace, facebook, bandcamp,etc. or by submitting unsolicited discs to supervisors and labels is pretty much a waste of time. The ease of production and manufacturing has left everyone in the music industry drowning in its own cash crop: music.
In the past, spending money on a radio campaign could help break a band. However, terrestrial radio has lost millions of listeners to the internet and satellite radio, so paying to get your music on the radio doesn’t even work anymore. If you can’t get noticed by creating a wicked cool website, submitting your music to supervisors/labels or paying to get your music on the radio, what is a band to do?
Fear not our loyal minions, we think we have some viable options. We’ll explore one at a time over the span of several posts. Here’s the first way:
1. The missing link in today’s independent music scene is competent, affordable and effective PR. As discussed above, a band can produce its own music, package that music in a brilliant way, promote the music to its own fans in its own region and send the music out to anyone it sees fit. However, without the right contacts and knowing where to send the music or the link or the super sweet low budget video that your cousin shot last night, your project, just like so many before you, will fall into a black hole.
In the old days labels had scores of PR/Marketing employees who got paid to promote their clients to radio stations, concert promoters, magazines, television stations etc. Now, those employees are looking for jobs and the labels have either cut way back on in house PR or outsource PR just like independent bands need to do.
Today, there are some really solid PR/Marketing companies out there servicing both major and independent labels. While a healthy budget is still required, we have worked with some PR companies by getting creative with budgets. Check out Riot Act, Flower, and Big Hassle to get some ideas. If you can scrounge together enough money to pay one of these companies to help you get your music in the right places, it will be one of the smartest investments your band can make.
What if you have a budget of $500 or less? Time to hire interns! Get your friends, class mates or family members together. Figure out which one understands your music and where you want your music heard. Make sure they have a computer and access to the internet and then…start posting! Smart teens and 20 somethings know where they go for new music (usually free). Figure out submission policies and be relentless. Finding the right blogs (the “tastemaker sites”) and getting your band’s music, or better yet your band itself featured on such a site can be a huge boost. If your music finds its way onto HypeMachine or Allhiphop or even Pitchfork, more doors will open. We’ve seen bands featured on these sites end up with sponsors or even tours. After that, if capitalized correctly, the added exposure can actually lead to money, which in turn, may lead to the ability to hire a PR company to expand the reach.
Obviously everything that a band does is predicated on actually having a playlist of high quality music. If your music is bad, eventually, the public will reject it (regardless of your budget). Speaking of good music, here’s our SHAMELESS PROMOTION OF THE MONTH: CHECK OUT ELEPHANT STONE. Our Canadian friends are on tour and will be hitting up CMJ. Find out more about them here: ELEPHANT STONE
Most people don’t want to be that guy. You know the guy that rocks the Iron Maiden t-shirt to the Iron Maiden concert. However, that guy, has helped musicians generate additional revenue for decades.
Today there are many more outlets and many more products that an artist may peddle. While t-shirts and posters still rule the merch tent, new (and cooler) band merchandise is being developed seemingly every day. Recently one of my clients put out an entire mix tape on a bracelet. The LiveStrong looking bracelet ingeniously connects via a USB drive (see below). This allows a band to sell something that looks cool, is unique and includes the band’s name, logo, design AND their music. It’s brilliant. There is even software available that would allow the band to continuously update the USB drive so the fan who purchased it will have updated music and band information and the ability to purchase new music every time the fan plugs the device into her computer. (contact Vadim at http://www.customusb.com for more info.)
T-Shirts are not what they used to be anymore either. If you remember this post: Mos(definitely A Great Idea, you know that I am a big fan of including music on non-traditional media. Computer codes and affordable USB drives can be included with all sorts of merchandise that fans are more apt to buy. Mos Def included a code on a designer tee which enabled the purchaser to download his entire new album. Magazines have used this idea for years; purchase the an issue of Spin and you can download the new single from Jack White’s new band, The Dead Weather. Even beer purchases include mp3 downloads. Obviously, indie artists do not brew their own beer, publish their own magazine or manufacture their own t-shirts. However, with a little bit of research and some creative marketing, partnerships with content starved companies can be forged.
Not only are there new products, but with band websites, myspace, facebook, sonicbids, amazon and other e-stores, there are countless new ways to sell the products. The back of the tour van will always be the primary way that a true indie rocker sells his burned cd’s, but for a couple bucks more, that indie rocker could sell you an mp3 from his couch. Internet partnerships work just as well, if not better, as partnerships to manufacture and sell physical products. If you align yourself with a like minded or themed website that has an on-line store, than you can offer exclusive gear to that site. You take a chunk of the sales and share the rest (and all of your users that visit the site) with the partner website. Everyone is a winner.
Music is quickly becoming a “value add” to products that people already purchase. In the battle to grab a consumers attention, companies will pay a bit more to make their product stand out. “Free” music is a great way of doing that. And for musicians, the deals that can be struck with these type of forward thinking companies can be fairly lucrative; or at the very least serve as a great way to get music out to a whole new audience.
Creativity has to continue after the music is recorded. In today’s era, where the only type of music sale that is increasing is vinyl, artists have to think creatively in order to make a profit. If the public will only pay for select albums and download the rest of their music for free, new income streams must be forged by bands. Selling your music in a non-traditional way may increase a band’s merchandise sales as well as “album” sales all at the same time.