This is a guest post by my good friend Virginie Berger. With more than 15 years of experience in the music industry, Virginie is the former marketing and content director of Myspace (France and French-speaking territories). She is also the founder and CEO of DBTH (www.dbth.fr/en) ; an alternative management firm, and the publishing editor of Don't Believe the Hype (virginieberger.com); a website specialized in music marketing.We've been told over and over : music in itself is just fine, the problems concern recorded music and the record industry. Recorded music doesn't have any value anymore, this is a temporary anomaly which has lasted for nearly 60 years.
Before musical production became industrialized, there were artists. We are not saying that things were better before, but we are simply coming back to the state of music before it got to be recorded: then too music was dematerialized.
Recorded music is becoming (again) a means and not an end.
To put it simply: don't believe that recorded music is going to feed you when it is barely consumed anymore. Or differently.
Indeed, for decades, the music industry has been relying on an obvious consuming behavior:
Except now things tend to be more like: Discover/Like/Support
What does this mean?
It means that, in a «digital world», where prescription is facilitated, individuals tend to become actors regarding the music they listen to and not mere followers. It is now up to the one who's got the power to decide, do what they want, influence, help, tell people to **** off, legally or illegally download, not buy records anymore, encourage artists or not; this is up to web users and nobody else.
As for artists, it all boils down to the famous equation by Mike Masnick :
(Connect With Fans + Reason To Buy = $$$)
Here are the steps which constitute this new scheme:
STEP 1 : BE DISCOVERED
STEP 2 : BE LIKED
STEP 3 : BE FOLLOWED
In the past, the path was relatively well drawn out:
concert –> contact with a label –> studio + record –> distribution –> Celebrity –> Glory, groupies, etc…
Today: many more artists get broadcast since the access to broadcasting has become widely open (a Mac, a guitar, and a Facebook page), and since labels face more and more difficulties (too many potential artists to manage and less and less money to do it).
OK: it has never been so easy to make music and broadcast it. And above all, via any contact platform, I am in tune with my public.
Last year, 90% of the revenue generated by online music sales went to 10% of the artists.
So, no matter if you are able to broadcast your music the way you like; if nobody cares and knows you, you might as well send it by mail to your friends and the result will be exactly the same. More and more online tools exist to ensure the promotion of artists. Pretty cool. But how can you master these tools?
It is of course quite normal, and even encouraged, to compose great songs, be an amazing stage performer... and show totally expressionless eyes at the sound of words like «mash up», «Twitter», «widget», «CSS», etc…, that is, not having the slightest clue about it all.
Why should you be bothered? You have a label, they'll take care of it. Or will they? Hum. A label is not a distinguishing factor anymore and it cannot anymore afford to be. Hence the necessity to find new ways to become visible.
As a matter of fact, this deeply questions the way you perceive yourself:
“I am not only an artist, I am also a product”.
As a product, I must follow marketing approaches ad hoc.
This simply means that you should right away consider yourself as a product and not only as an artist, because nobody else will do it for you and if you post your video on YouTube, just to try it, you'll end up being the only person to give it a ... try and watch it.
Nothing new there: you can stand out in the crowd and create a buzz without any particular talent, but you will definitely not last for long. Yes, this is something to rejoice about because it wasn't necessarily the case before.
Within the «digital world» then, your public does not necessarily «buy» you, rather they «support» you. Your fan - the one supporting you - will generate revenue, if you do things right.
But be careful for, the first consequence is that the (once obligatory) act of paying now depends on the fans' free will.
Your public is altogether given responsibilities AND given total freedom. And if they get a chance to «steal» your recorded music, they won't hesitate.
If your public considers your recorded music as worthless, they will not pay to listen to it.
And there's worse:
Yesterday, music was still a stock (CDs, vinyls). It is now becoming a stream (in the proper sense: streaming by Last.fm, Spotify, Deezer and others …).
It is probably only a matter of time and technologies before the smartest of these music taps becomes perfectly viable. In this world, cards are permanently reshuffled and the only way to save yourself is to strive to remain inside the stream...
Will you be able to make a living out of it? It's not that certain. The revenue for artists currently generated by Spotify is derisory compared to number of listens. But that's not the point. The point is for you to be discovered.
Bear this in mind: recorded music is about to become a means, not an end.
Hence THE fundamental point : establish strong bonds with the public / consumer.
To earn a living…
Position yourself on the same level as your fans, for example: dialogue, exchange, authenticity, proximity. We're not going to list all the available tools but a simple Facebook Fan Page with good ideas in it can be a very good basis (estimated cost: nothing, except time and ideas).
Share, for example. A lot. Always :
- exclusive or special advance information, teaser, remixes, backstage, demos, photos, videos…
- special concerts for fans (no official announcement, an almost secret showcase)
- contest with gifts
- free content for download
- a nice participative iPhone app
And these are only a few examples. Ways to share with your public, you can come up with new ones every day…
Let your fans create, for example :
We call it UGC (User Generated Content) and brands now tend to worry about it (after having been totally fond of it) for, of course, it deprives them of control over their image.
Let them broadcast:
- remixes (offer your separate audio tracks and see what comes out)
- live photos
- and even live videos (The Beastie Boys have released a DVD on this principle, N.I.N. is currently promoting on their official site a collaborative fan-made live video to be sold... for nothing, only downloadable in HD via torrent links)
For hardcore fans:
Give them visibility, recognition, VIP advantages… Recruit a core fanbase. They are the best spokespersons you'll ever find.
By the way, you can make recommendation easier, for example :
And this recommendation can take so many different forms:
- Sending of links (via FB, Twitter, Delicious, Digg…)
- Willing (or not!) creation of playlists (didn't you know? Someone listening to you and scrobbling your track on Last.fm is recommendation without knowing it, isn't it great?)
- Creation of fan pages (on a social network or independently)
Favor purchases, for example :
It is up to us to imagine new commercial experiences:
- nice collector object (Beatles box-set, NIN's “Ghosts” in an Ultra Collector version, unique ELLE by Mariah Carrey, signed object, …)
- value-added product (a concert ticket with the album…)
- a unique and uncompetitive experience (live performance within a virtual world…)
- sign of belonging and commitment
- merchandising (poster, T-shirt…)
- services : exclusive content, or delivered in special advance…
- Artists must integrate a marketing approach themselves in order to emerge. Either they master it or recruit the right people to do so.
- Labels and managers can support them in this «marketing 2.0» approach.
To sum up:
- An artist without a label and who is well surrounded can succeed.
- An artist supported by a label and/or a manager who know how to make their job evolve can make it big.
LISTEN / LIKE / BUY
That was comfortable and well mastered but that was before.
DISCOVER / LIKE / SUPPORT
This is not yet comfortable.
This is not yet mastered.
It represents great opportunities for independents. By starting from scratch (or nearly) we give niche music the chance it could never have had before.
Even better, the smaller ones are the most reactive, the smartest and the most innovative ones.