The music business is fertile ground for assumptions. There’s lots of myths and folklore flying around. We hear about all kinds of success stories, but we often don’t know about the real facts and reasons behind them. It can be difficult to put together a clear picture of how to develop your career in this environment.
I decided to reach out for my buddy Andrew Apanov to bring you some insight on what is working right now in indie music marketing. Andrew runs a music marketing agency (Dotted Music) as well as a great training program for electronic artists (We Spin). Besides that he is a consultant, speaker, blogger, DJ – in short one of the hardest working guys in music I know.
Here’s the plot: I put together a bunch of common assumptions about the electronic music business. Many of these myths stem from the personal beliefs that I’ve had at some point of my career. Andrew will tackle them one by one, and I will bring it all together at the end of the article. Andrew knows the ins and outs of electronic music marketing, so no better person than him to do some mythbusting with! Let’s see what he has to say.
1. When my music is good enough, I will be noticed.
Andrew: This is the most common delusion. What I naturally want to ask when I hear such a statement is: how will you be noticed, please tell me, if next to no one has heard your music, and those who have don’t care to spread the word only because it’s “good”?
Here’s the core of the problem we, as content and art creators, face these days (and it only gets “worse” daily) – by default, nobody hears and nobody listens. By the former I mean that there is too much noise out there, too much music (over 12 hours of audio per minute is uploaded to Soundcloud alone), too much content to consume. There is nothing easier than to get lost in this Ocean of new tracks and songs, hence you need to work on getting heard. This is the obvious (doesn’t mean easy) part.
What a lot of musicians miss is that no one listens. It means that no matter how good your music is, people won’t care. Strangers won’t sit for an hour with their headphones on to appreciate the structure of your tracks, the crisp bass, or the melody or lyrics. If you music is very good it could help win their ears, but they simply won’t spend even a minute listening to it, most probably. They will scan the track briefly, seeing if it’s worth allowing you inside their world which is already overloaded with music and information.
You may think all that matters is your music, but I tend to say that people start listening with their eyes, not ears, even without realizing it. A new listener will pay attention to things like your look, the cover artwork, the story behind a track, if it was recommended by a friend with a good taste, the state of your social networks (“why should I spend my energy on an artist who has a nice track, but no online presence – what if he will quit music tomorrow?”), your charisma and non-musical interests and many other things.
It’s sad how many artists still think all it takes to achieve success is to have great music and to reach as many people as possible (like “getting on the radio”). As you could notice, I didn’t mention promotion at all, although without marketing and networking you won’t get too far. That’s because you need to work on your brand first, and think about reach second.
And a little ironical thing… While you have to convince a listener that you are worth their attention, if your music is plainly bad, they will notice right away – and no marketing will help you “get” them. You can’t afford stopping to improve your production skills, ever.
2. The digital sales are poor – it’s not worth the trouble to start your own label unless you are going to do vinyl.
Andrew: Running a label can stay unprofitable for a long period of time, but it’s not just about money.
Things like industry connections, a respected brand name, and a following can open doors to so many opportunities and income streams that poor digital sales won’t bother you much.
Licensing is just one example. Build a high quality catalogue and shop your songs to commercial opportunities and bigger labels.
3. The only way to make a living in music these days is by doing DJ gigs and live performances.
Andrew: There is a lot of money in the live industry, EDM in particular, but if you think you can’t earn making music elsewhere you haven’t looked around yet.
Sync licensing (movies, ads, games), public performance licensing (organisations like PRS & PPL in the UK, ASCAP/BMI & SoundExchange in the US pay out much better than many artists realise), direct to fan sales (premium and custom digital bundles for the most loyal fans), fan membership programs and creative merch (don’t try these unless you have a stable following), ghostwriting (some may be against that idea, but… it can pay well), teaching others to produce music – these are just few ideas.
4. Piracy is bad
Andrew: Avoiding the these days somewhat unpopular debate on music piracy I will get straight to the point: I don’t think you should care about piracy at all. Piracy is very real (over 300 million people download media and soft via P2P every month), and it brings harm to big companies and big mainstream artists. But piracy is also overrated.
Many blame it for low sales, when they should blame themselves for marketing their releases poorly instead. Someone put your track up on torrents? Awesome, maybe someone cares about you!
Never encourage pirating your music unless it’s a part of your strategy, like in case with Pretty Lights who became worldwide known through a BitTorrent campaign. But look at your songs being pirated as a sign of something good happening. How about giving away a track in exchange of an email address if people demand free music from you?
Then, free unlimited streaming is already legalized with streaming services, there are even DJ apps allowing you to mix Spotify tracks. There is also Soundcloud, and there is YouTube. And when getting access to music is so affordable and easy, piracy doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Should you care about DJs downloading your tracks illegally to play them out? They miss the whole point and should either be educated or punished if they don’t want to change their attitude. But they are not worth your time and energy, and if your music is played somewhere, it’s good for you anyway.
5. Getting my music played by “A-list” DJ´s is the best possible promotion.
Andrew: I’ve seen tracks by artists with little following and great music played by A-list DJs. Not only in live sets, but radio shows, with shout outs and mentions in public tracklists. For example, I know someone whose tunes have been featured on BBC Radio 1, and someone else – with lots of love form Armin Van Buuren.
Were these features good for the artists? Hell yeah! Even financially (PRS and PPL in the UK can pay well as I mentioned earlier). Were these features means to “breakthrough success”? Nope. They were big opportunities, but when you don’t act on such opportunity with a timely social media and PR push, it’s wasted.
The A-list DJ will play someone else’s track next week and if you won’t help people remember you, they won’t.
6. Facebook and Twitter are essential for success these days – focus on growing your follower counts.
Andrew: Facebook and Twitter and all the other social networks are important for success these days, but too many musicians and brands don’t really understand why they grow the following, or even why they run social media profiles in the first place. Social networks play the roles that you define.
For example, if I want to sell a new EP through my website, I want to inform my Facebook following of the new release in interesting ways – as people on Facebook want to be entertained. So asking questions, sharing memes around the EP’s theme and stories about each of its tracks would help generate interest and build an email list (through a giveaway), as your list is where you can sell to fans directly. Selling on Facebook? Nope, doesn’t work too well.
If I want to tour in a particular country, I will focus on earning fans based in that country, and engaging them (in their own language? Steve Aoki has been pretty good at it with his videos in Spanish).
Social networks should be parts of your strategy, serve goals, and work for you – not vice versa.
As for focusing on the number of followers, that’s not the key indicator these days. There are much more important metrics. On Facebook, you can get a thousand likes in a week through Facebook Ads, and then not engage them. What will you have in a month, a thousand fans? Nope, not even listeners. They won’t buy from you, they won’t go to your gigs and they won’t care. The metrics I’d focus on instead are Post Reach, amount of comments and likes, among other things.
On Twitter, don’t care about the amount of followers too much. Twitter can be as effective for those of you with 70 followers as for ones with 7,000, but that’s only if you understand what to do there. And that is communicating. Bringing value. I am confident that the most powerful business networking tool in the music industry is Twitter, not LinkedIn – it can bring you a lot of amazing connections.
And if you want to get just one thing out of this article – start growing your email list. For a few reasons, watch this video of mine. One of the most important reasons is that it’s something you control… We all know what happens when you rely on a platform you don’t have a control over. MySpace flopped. On Facebook, you have been chasing the Likes and now, after couple changes in how the platform works, each your post reaches only 15% of your Page’s fans if you don’t pay for a “boost.” Doesn’t it feel annoying?
7. If you give your music out for free, you are losing prestige and sales.
Andrew: I’m against “free” as in “totally free”. When you give away, give away for something, even if it’s not money – an email address, a social share or something else. Thinking you will really lose in sales is a delusion, since you don’t make a lot of money on selling music anyway.
You don’t lose prestige when you attach a non-monetary price to your music either, as an email address is an online currency. What I also recommend is self-releasing the tracks you are giving away (if these are not bootlegs with uncleared samples). First, it will add value to the “free” tracks. Second, you may get more sales even than from your other tunes if the “free” track is picked up, and played out…
Remember, digital stores (Beatport, iTunes etc.) and streaming services (Spotify, Beats etc.) are places where many listeners and DJs discover music – so you have to be there, even if you give some of these tracks away.
There we go! Let’s recap Andrew’s thoughts.
- Attention has to actively be created. To make it happen, you have to work on your brand first – then reach out to people. Build a good online presence.
- You cannot ever afford to stop improving your production skills. Stay busy on the music, always.
- There are many more income stream possibilities around besides music sales and live performances. It’s worth looking into licensing, providing education and direct to fan sales for example.
- Worrying about piracy is not worth your time and attention. Focus on providing value to people who like your music and show that you care about your followers.
- Getting your music played by an A-list DJ is great, but it will only help a little if you don’t utilize the opportunity properly. If your track starts getting big airplay, act quickly with a synchronized PR campaign.
- Social networks should be parts of your strategy, serve goals and work for you – not vice versa. Fan engagement is a lot more important than follower counts. Speak to your followers, as a person to person.
- When giving out your music, always ask for something in return – an email address or a social share for example. You need to actively develop your reach and giving out free music is a great way to do that.
- Digital music stores and streaming services are places where people go not only to buy music, but to discover new music and keep themselves up to date on things. Don’t miss out on that exposure.
The main takeaway I think is that the opportunities are definitely there, but you have to be willing to take matters into your own hands. You need to check your facts, embrace the great tools we have available these days and do some studying about how to market yourself as an artist. If you can do this (and if you have the music to back it up), you are putting yourself ahead in the game.
Any questions? Does the truth hurt? Let us know in the comments and we’ll get back to you.