Guest post by Dave Marcello, Head of Artist Growth at Audiokite Research. Audiokite helps musicians, labels, and media companies better understand their audiences through crowdsourcing.
Let’s face it; you’re pretty biased when it comes to evaluating your own music. You may think it’s the most soul-filled, genre-busting art the world has ever heard, or you might view it as a ten-pound bag of trash that belongs out on the sidewalk. That’s why artists need to seek input from people who can be critical and honest, then understand how to put that information into action. Here are some guidelines to help you along the way.
Your Mom Already Loves Your Music…Now What?
Tell me if this reaction sounds familiar when you ask a close friend or family member what they think of your song:
“Oh, that’s great, it sounds great. Everything is great!”
Did you buy that? Are you really going to take that comment to the bank? I don’t think so. Because musicians work hard, pouring your heart and soul into your craft, and at the end of the day, the people around you want to be supportive, not leave you disheartened. Your mom is simply not the best critic of your creations. Neither is your significant other, best friend, or musician pals.
Avoiding this “positive thinking trap” is an important first step to effectively analyze your own music…and music business. You want to do everything possible to avoid confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for and interpret new information that confirms your existing beliefs or theories.
If You’re Not Checking, You’re Guessing
The only way to get better at what you do is to know how to get better. As they say, “Measure twice, cut once.” Acquiring new fans, distributing your music, and getting better at everything becomes much easier when you have a clear path and measurable goals. The first step is to ask “Why?” as often as you possibly can. Some people like your music; great, find out why. Some people don’t like your music; even better, find out why. You get a ton of Facebook likes and Spotify plays in Saskatchewan; weird, but awesome, so find out why.
Point blank – if you’re not actively trying to validate the assumptions you’ve made before putting in a bunch of time, effort, and money, you’re losing out.
“…when an artist attempts to identify where his music is being played, who’s playing it, and how it’s being received across audiences, much is left up for assumption.”
- Caitlin Lopilato, greenlabel.com
With your questions at the ready, you can begin searching for patterns, outliers, and gaps. You can start digging. “Why?” is the most powerful question in the universe, but only if you follow it up with true exploration. Act like a scientist, an archaeologist, a street-wise detective.
Give The Fans A Voice
There’s a concept in the startup world called customer validation, which is a business-building philosophy that focuses on learning as much as you can from the market and making decisions based on what you discover. Soliciting feedback directly from music fans is much easier today than ever before.
Move beyond the retweet and the like: Social media is at its best when fans interact directly with artists, so be brave and use it as a testing ground for your songs. Ask your followers to answer questions about your songs or about their listening habits to get a clearer idea of your target market, straight from the source.
Get in on live streaming now: You may not have heard of it yet, but the live streaming site YouNow already has 100 million user sessions every single month. Then you have Periscope, Meerkat, Facebook Live, and more. It doesn’t get much more direct than live streaming, where you can be uninhibited and informal, like playing a live version of a work-in-progress song right from the studio and collecting instant reactions to it.
Hit up your email list: You do have a superfan email list, right? Anyone willing to fork over his or her email address is going to be a great source of feedback. Whip up a brief fan feedback survey and send it to your list (we use typeform and highly recommend it). Bonus tip: offer an incentive as a thank you for their time, like a limited time free song download or signed t-shirt to one random participant.
Play for an entirely new crowd: What better group to provide unbiased feedback on your music than consumers who aren’t (yet) your fans? Services like Audiokite Research play a song to a targeted group of music lovers, collect their sentiment and reactions, and provide musicians with a data-filled research report.
Uncover Actionable Information
Beyond surveying your current and potential fans, most artists have access to built-in analytics through popular music hosting and fan engagement services like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, SoundCloud, and more. Then there’s website traffic exploration tools like Google Analytics, email marketing measurement like Mailchimp, and even merchandise sales tracking via your preferred vendor. Spend some time getting to know how to use these analytics tools and putting that knowledge into practice.
Now that you’ve gathered a whole bunch of data and begun analyzing it, the time has come to turn this information into insights that can help guide your decision-making capabilities. Assuming you don’t have regular access to data scientists and number-crunching algorithms, you can follow these basic steps:
Identify patterns: The easiest way to get started is to look for obvious patterns across all your data. Keep an eye out for bits of information that continue to surface, whether they show strengths or weaknesses. You should also note any important data that might be missing, like where the majority of your sales come from or what other artists your biggest fans support.
Develop a hypothesis: Take one of those patterns or noteworthy points of data and make an educated guess about it. Notice your conversion rate from website visitor to email newsletter subscriber is weak? Maybe you’re chasing the wrong target market or maybe your homepage needs a redesign.
Test and observe: Now that you have a theory or two, it’s time to find easy, low-cost ways to test them. In the example above, you could add a new email sign-up box in the top section of your homepage and see if that increases your conversion rate. You never know until you try, and you’ll only know what works if you measure it and compare to previous results.
Repeat: This process should never truly end, as there are endless minor improvements you can make to your music and your process that, taken together, can have massive impact at the end of the day.
You don’t have to be a white-lab-coat-rocking scientist to act like one. If you put in the work to solidify your assumptions, you’ll end up making more informed decisions, then reap the benefits sooner and more often. Start small and don’t be afraid of rapid experimentation.
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