Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Demands of Social Media

Each time we change our music marketing tools, what we expect from artists also changes.

For example, the music video age ushered in a generation of highly attractive performers. Good looks became at least as, and often more important than, singing and playing ability.

Now that social media and fan relationships have begun to define the new music business model, online communication skills are being added to the mix.
"It really comes down to a new 'survival of the fittest' paradigm. Only a small percentage of artists have that rare combination of musical chops, stage presence, likeable qualities, marketing smarts, communication and social skills, discipline, drive, passion, etc.

Sure, there are ways to lighten the workload, involve your fans, and pay people to do design work and other technical tasks. But the most effective artists are hands-on with many aspects of their promotion. It's something they accept and embrace and make the time for." "Gatekeepers & Music Promotion Overload: The Good News,"Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog, 4/28/09.
What I don't think has been fully sorted out yet is the extent to which social media is a must-do versus a nice-to-do. Presumably all things being equal, the more interactive artist will have the advantage. For example, there's Jill Sobule. She has been widely cited as someone who funded her most recent album entirely from fan contributions. She credits personal interaction as a plus.
"I’m really accessible. I get an email from a fan, I email them back. I’m still at the point in my career where it’s possible to do that. It’s not like some generic site where people invest in a band they don’t know. It was something personal for these people. They knew they were contributing to a real person who was going to put the money to good use." "Reinventing the music business: Fan donations pay for new Jill Sobule album,"Chicago Tribune, 3/18/09.
Another artist who works social media hard and well is Amanda Palmer (known both for her work as a solo artist and The Dresden Dolls). But she says there is a downside in terms of creativity.
"I'm spending a lot of time connecting with fans... and I don't feel as much of an artist as much as a promoter of Amanda Palmer. All of this instant connection has taken the place of making art. An idea that might have translated into a song before might now go into my blog instead." "D.I.Y. & the Death of the Rock Star...," Digital Music News, 3/29/09.
(Read more about her social media activities here: "Amanda Palmer don’t need no stinkin’ label," Online Fandom, 4/5/09)

Both Sobule and Palmer have had label deals, so their online activity isn't so much about generating fame in the first place as it is about maintaining a presence in an increasingly fan-focused world.

In terms of unknown artists, there have been multiple stories about artists who launched themselves via MySpace. But many of the stories have been more hype than reality. If you dig deep enough, you find that there was already a label, a manager, and/or a publicist engineering the "grassroots" campaign.

However, I recently ran across someone who I know truly has done it herself, so I asked her about her online fan and social media activities. She's a Colorado artist who goes by Danielle Ate the Sandwich. She has no team of handlers, or even a band for that matter. Just herself. But she also has over 10,000 YouTube subscribers and her videos have been viewed more than one million times.
1. How much time do you spend connecting to fans online?

I check MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube quite often and make sure I have a feel for what's going on and what people are liking and wanting more of. I'd say it's about an hour or two every day.

2. Do you try to respond to everyone, or just a few?

I used to try to respond to everyone, but it became a little ridiculous. And I found that if I stopped corresponding, some people would become upset with me. Nowadays I try to hit back a few, especially those who say interesting things, are funny, or pour their hearts out in ways that generic compliments don't.

3. How has it helped you in terms of selling CDs and/or finding places to play?

The majority of my CD sales have come from my videos on YouTube and being featured on blogs or written about on message boards. I haven't had too many offers to play at specific venues from my online popularity, but I have gotten an idea where I have fans and where they would come to see me. It helps me plan where to tour next and what kind of crowds to expect.

4. Did you have a plan when you started uploading videos to YouTube, or did it just evolve?

It did just evolve. I think it's impossible for me to be serious, so I did tiny silly things in the first few videos and then eventually turned them into 1-2 minute skits with costumes and songs and ridiculousness. Now, it's hard for me to not to have something at the beginning of my videos. But I do feel that some songs need a video all their own. When I want people to JUST LISTEN and not laugh and look, I try to only play the song. Also, some days I just don't feel like spending hours planning out a skit to do!

Some days I wish I was discovered in a coffeeshop or a county fair, like the old days, but I am so thankful I was discovered at all! And the Internet has been so good to me! It's a great medium for a person like me. I tend to be very anti-social and would prefer to be in my apartment all alone than talking and networking in a club. The Internet allows me to be a personality and be personable, but still remain somewhat anonymous and escape from people and the attention when I need to.

I was playing a show in NYC and this man shouted after one of my songs that I was the leader of the revolution of music. I could do it all from my apartment and book a show without a manager and without a team of professionals. Talent was what got me this far and he seemed to be postive that this was how it was going to be for musicians from now on.

I was a little rattled from a fan shouting a 2-3 minute speech on how I was the revolution. Then I played my next song thinking, "Hey, leader of the revolution might not be such a bad gig."
Welcome to the revolution.

Suzanne Lainson

AN UPDATE 5/17/2009

The comments function on this blog doesn't allow easy editing, so I am going to add my updates this way.

On Friday night (5/15/09), as Amanda Palmer was sitting at home, she invited everyone who was doing the same to join the "Losers of Friday Night On Their Computers" club.

Then she drew a logo and started selling T-shirts on the spot. On Sunday afternoon (5/17/09), she posted this on Twitter:
holy fuck! we've sold over 200 #LOFNOTC shirts. this shit is nuts! http://bit.ly/lofnotcshirt
And then, as orders started approaching 300 shirts, she wrote:
you're all paying my fucking rent!!! i love life.
Now, that's the way to do realtime market research.

If you want to follow the thread, go here:

Twitter search for #lofnotc

If you just want to read Palmer's comments on the topic, go here:

Amanda Palmer (amandapalmer) on Twitter

UPDATE NUMBER TWO 5/22/2009

One week after her LOFNOTC, Palmer posted her story of it:

Amanda Palmer's blog

UPDATE NUMBER THREE 6/23/09

Here's how the LOFNOTC story continued to play out.

How an Indie Musician can make $19,000 in 10 hours using Twitter

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