SERFA Tech Workshop 2016
This is a living document. Make use of the dozens of live links, leave me comments, and stop back now and then to check for updates.
Create an Internet Identity and Master Social Media
Technophobia? Get over it! Musicians have never been more empowered to control their careers. Building a following and connecting with listeners and bookers has never been less expensive. Electronic distribution has cut inventory and distribution costs to the bone. But the music business in 2016 is very different than it was 30 years ago. The old tools and techniques no longer work. It is unbelievably cheap and easy for you to record, distribute, and promote your music. This is both good and bad. It’s good because you can do it all. It’s bad because so can everyone else and more albums are released each week than came out in all of 1964. Your dentist, your priest, your grandfather, and that cockroach who will survive climate change are all dropping their recordings the same day as yours. There is a tsunami of music raining down upon the listener. Yours is a needle in a huge stack of needles. You are going to have to do everything right if you want this to be a success.
So, how do you leverage social media to boost your career?
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I do. The recording has to be GREAT! The songs have to be strong, the musicianship excellent, the vocals outstanding, and the recording top notch. You can’t promote a bad recording. Don’t waste your time and money. Go back and start over if you have to.
Are you still here? Once you’ve made your “Rubber Soul” you need to tell the world it exists. The absolute barest minimum essentials are a webpage host (very likely running WordPress software) and an email host. There are quite a few free services available, but you may very likely achieve more satisfactory results by buying services. Whatever web server you use, it has to be mobile responsive. 60% of Internet traffic now comes from mobile devices, a number that keeps growing. This means trash the Adobe Flash media content and make sure your page renders properly on all screen sizes and popular web browsers. As your career grows, you will certainly need an email list provider, like MailChimp or Constant Contact, to do mass mailings. My websites are all hosted by MidPhase.com, but there are tons of web providers out there. Shop around. Your web page is your own little piece of real estate. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram may all be gone 10 years from now, but ElvisNewsome.com can last forever. Your webpage should contain everything people need to know about you. Your bio and testimonials. Links to your sales and streaming outlets. Photos, videos, music to listen to, booking information, your EPK (Electronic Press Kit). It’s the encyclopedia of Elvis Newsome. There’s just one problem. Nobody knows you exist yet, so nobody is visiting your site.
So, how do you get the word out?
Playing gigs is good. Except few venues will hire you to play, because nobody will come out to see you, because nobody knows who you are yet. So you have to play for almost nothing, and to almost nobody, in the beginning. (This might take a long time…) You can accelerate your visibility by leveraging the power of social media to expand your reach and your mailing list. But make no mistake about it, YOUR MAILING LIST IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT CAREER DEVELOPMENT TOOL! It is your responsibility to identify, enumerate, and engage the people who resonate with your artistry. Adding people to your mailing list is always part of the goal. Once you find your audience, hang onto them! That means you need to USE your mailing list. It’s no good having one if you never post to it. Don’t inundate people, but I think once a month is a perfectly fine frequency for almost any list, with special postings if something important comes up. You’ll want to be able to tag venues, media, and other contacts. They may or may not need your monthly mailers, but you will certainly need to know how to keep in touch with them.
Let’s go viral!
Fortunately millions of people are just a WiFi connection away, soaking in a jacuzzi of social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+. and YouTube. Of course a million other artists are vying for their attention, but many of these social media users are relentless, passionate consumers of information. And a goodly number of them are also curators, like me, who sift thru enormous quantities of dross looking for the golden nuggets that occasionally glint and catch our eyes. Curators delight in passing these morsels along. But developing compelling content, building your personal social networks, and making it all work for you is very time consuming. The good news is that, as an independent musician you have more time than money, so this is still doable for you, right? But where to start…
A lot of people will tell you to pick two services and ignore the rest. I am more of an “All of the above” kind of guy, or at least I try to be, but you may need to pace yourself. If you get overwhelmed and quit, it’s worse than just doing one or two. Each service has different citizens. If you ignore those services, you are ignoring the potential audience pool that uses them. Major corporations generally support Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at the very least, and Pinterest seems to be becoming a must have also. There is a lot of “voodoo” in maximizing your social media, but due to the interest in this powerful new tool, numerous studies and metrics have been developed. It’s too much to go into in this handout, but I have created a Pinterest board with a mind blowing array of observations, tips, and tricks. Visit it at https://www.pinterest.com/alanrowoth/sociability/ At 273 entries, it goes into FAR more depth than this handout. It will tell you when to post, what to post and how to maximize the reach of your postings. It’s a lot to digest, but worth your time. Periodically examine your metrics. If a service clearly isn’t reaching your audience. Focus on the outlets that are working for you.
Intimidated by my HUGE Pinterest board? In a nutshell, Facebook is essential because everyone is on Facebook (everyone except that guy yelling, “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” and your friends in sensitive corporate or government jobs). You probably need an Artist Page as well as a personal Profile. The biggest downside to Facebook is that their business model doesn’t accommodate your business model. They assume that you are making money or you wouldn’t be a musician. (and they are most likely wrong.) You can’t afford to pay what they ask to “promote” (actually, to not hide) your posts. You need to be on Facebook, but it’s hard to be effective. Your Facebook friends are going to have to like and share the hell out of your posts for you to have a major impact. Check your security settings to be sure your public posts really are public. The profiles, pages, groups, and events can be confusing. Here is a link to Facebook 101.
Twitter doesn’t suppress your feed, but it has its own drastic limitations. Originally conceived as a pithy, text only, terse medium, it has grown into a bloated Facebook wannabe with awkward kludges to get around the standard Twitter 140 character limitations. Users are increasing diverted with promoted postings. You can probably tell by my tone, that I think Twitter is struggling with its identity. Nonetheless it can be a very powerful way to reach your audience. Here are the Twitter Basics. You may also want to follow Madalyn Sklar and her excellent TwitterSmarter Podcast.
Instagram has limitations as well. Simplistically described as Twitter with pictures instead of words, it has a lot of members and is a good way to reach an increasingly illiterate constituency. People who are afraid of words just love Instagram. The upside is that Instagram posts have a higher degree of engagement than Facebook or Twitter. And a compelling image can sometimes get people to drill down into more precise content. Here are some Instagram tips for musicians.
Pictures rule. Even on Facebook and Twitter, postings with photo or GIF content get twice as much engagement as text only postings. And still pictures are rapidly being replaced by animated GIFs or imbedded video feeds. The main takeaway is you need something shiny to catch the eye of those media surfers who would otherwise rapidly scroll past your postings. Cell phone cameras are getting better and better. Shoot photos and video like mad and view them later to see what might catch the eye of your fans. Track your likes and shares to see what kind of images get the most traction.
Pinterest and Tumblr are very versatile at integrating various media types and have a lot to recommend them. Neither has the same user population as the Big 3. But Pinterest especially is coming on strong and they have recently implemented a click to buy feature that I have not yet explored. I exist in all 5 universes and several more besides. You probably need a Google+ account too, if only because you need to link your YouTube channel to it. Video is becoming more and more essential.
Audio and video files are larger and require greater bandwidth than photos and text. Selling your music also requires payment systems. Web servers frequently aren’t great at serving audio/video, so you’ll need help. Artists typically sell their music thru iTunes, Bandcamp, cdbaby, Noisetrade, Amazon and other vendors. Amazon and iTunes don’t want to deal directly with indie artists preferring that the relationship be managed by an intermediary, who also gets a piece of the pie. With the exception of Noisetrade, these are all fairly standard commission vendors. The Noisetrade model is different. The downloads are “free”, but members “tip” the artists. I am not sure how revenues compare to the old ways, but I suspect they may get more music out there to listeners. It bears further research. Here’s one take on this.
Many listeners no longer buy music at all, preferring to stream it online from sites like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime, and the Standing O Project. Revenues from these partners (except the tiny Standing O Project) are notoriously stingy. Numerous artists have complained about the remuneration, without a lot of success. They can be a good way to get your music circulating, but they probably won’t pay the rent any time soon. Music is placed with most streaming services thru a 3rd party aggregator like Tunecore or cdbaby. Once your music is available for streaming, you may gain more traction if you can get it playlisted by a curator with a following. Your Royalty payments come thru your aggregator, but be aware that approximately 10% of the royalties are diverted into a royalty fund which is distributed by Sound Exchange in a manner similar to the way ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI pay writers and publishers for other uses of their work. I am not sure how Standing O structures payments to artists,but they claim to pay at a much higher percentage (from their much smaller listener base).
Social Media is in LOVE with streaming video. Online services like YouTube and Vimeo are overflowing with it. The average YouTube visitor spends 40 minutes a day watching YouTube. Shouldn’t they be watching you? Vimeo offers higher quality and a smaller user base at higher cost. Though just a promotional tool for most indie artists, it is possible, though improbably to garner a solid income from highly shared YouTube Videos.Here are more ideas for generating income from YouTube. Facebook is offering great inducements for you to place video directly on their site, despite their clearly inferior quality. The latest greatest is Live streaming video, offered now by Facebook and peer to peer services like Concert Window (remote concerts with them collecting your fees, for a percentage.) And pure peer to peer video challengers like Periscope and Meerkat. These services are new and frequently beset with technical challenges and glitches, but I am confident that live video feeds are going to be an important part of our indie music future. Touring is incredibly expensive and time consuming. Lower merchandise revenues only exacerbate that. Reaching out to your audience over the Internet is far cheaper than doing it in your Honda CRV. It’s gonna get better. Contrast and compare Meerkat and Periscope here.
Many social media sites now support the use of #hashtags to make computer assisted discovery easier. Learn how you can do this here.
So, where does the money come from in this brave new world?
Fundraising (and promotion) may find you using sites like KickStarter, indiegogo, GoFundMe and Patreon to raise money as well as awareness of your social profile. Kickstarter has a great reputation. Some artists are afraid of it because a Kickstarter is all or nothing. If you ask for $10,000 and only get $9000 in pledges, you get nothing and the money all goes back to the pledgers. In a way this makes sense, because if you ask for what you NEED to make the record and don’t get it, they assume you can’t do the project and they have a vested interested in keeping Kickstarter patrons from investing in projects doomed to fail. Indiegogo and GoFundMe will allow partially funded projects, but they suffer a bit of a credibility gap because of a higher number of failed projects. They all do credit card processing and make their money by taking a percentage of your proceeds. All three are project oriented. You can learn more about crowdfunding here.
Patreon is a different breed of cat. They are spearheading a model where patrons create an ongoing relationship with artists and organizations and agree to fund them on an ongoing basis. This, of course, requires a much higher degree of engagement and commitment from the patrons, but if you have that kind of support, you don’t have to go back to the well over and over and over again to ask for help. The jury is still out on the Patreon model, but if you think your fans are rabid enough for that, it may be worth a look.
Don’t make the common mistake of assuming that crowd funding sites are a big pool of money just waiting for you to suck it up. While Kickstarter and other campaigns can raise your visibility somewhat, the lions share of funds will come from listeners already on your mailing list. (Remember that bit about your mailing list being the most important career development tool? If you haven’t already, write that down.) Top flight Kickstarter campaigns can have some news value and find favor on sharing sites. But don’t launch a campaign until you have a decent mailing list and a reasonable expectation of its success. Starlet Melissa Joan Hart became a laughingstock when her comeback movie Kickstarter went over like a turd in a punch bowl. Kickstarters are a great way to presell your record, and bundle the release with other high end merchandise or house concerts and other perks. And the necessary sharing may build awareness and excitement for your upcoming release. If you aren’t successfully selling albums at your gigs, don’t assume a Kickstarter will sell them for you. It won’t. If you are struggling to support your craft, don’t ignore traditional sources of support like family or committed, affluent friends.
If your career is really starting to take off, there are also business services sites for musicians like ArtistGrowth.com that can help you manage your schedule and your finances, create and manage budgets, manage merchandise, attract the attention of agents and managers, and much more. I don’t know of any direct competitors to ArtistGrowth. If you are a full time musician, they may make a lot of sense for you. You may want to use Songkick.com to manage your online tour calendars and sync those calendars between your social media points of presence. (Web page, Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud, Facebook page, etc)
SonicBids or similar services like Bandsintown.com, artistdata.com, and Taxi may help you get gigs or monetize your music in other ways. They may allow you create and store an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) online for use in attracting the interest of music festivals, song contests, or music supervisors searching for music to place in film and tv. Your mileage may vary on the effectiveness of these services. A rule of thumb, The better you are, the more useful they are liable to be. SonicBids was bought out a couple of years ago and general consensus now is that they are no longer worth dealing with. You’ll have to make that decision for yourself.
So, how do you get started?
What do you need? Hardware- A Mac, iOS, Android, or Windows device or combination of devices. Most of these services can be administrated from an iPhone. A computer can come in handy for setting up your services. Most services are designed in such a way that they can be administered on the road from a personal device.
Software- Web Browser, Emailer, and possibly dedicated clients for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, SoundCloud and other services.
Many of these services can be automated. For instance, whenever I post to my WordPress blog, those postings are announced on Facebook, Google+, and my two Twitter accounts. You may also employ more sophisticated management tools like HootSuite, IfThisThenThat, Dlvr.it, PostPlanner, or Buffer.
How do I know if it’s working?
Most services offer you some sort of performance metrics and more sophisticated tools can give you a wealth of information like who visits your website and how they use it or performance metrics on your social postings. The two best indications of whether or not your are doing it right are product sales and a growing mailing list.
What else should I be doing on the Internet?
First and foremost, don’t just be a taker, be a giver. View, react, and share your friends postings to increase their social media reach. Remember that music world isn’t all about you. The golden rule applies in your virtual life as well.
Besides that, you can use the Internet for: Researching gigs and technology. Following marketing and other trends. Seeking out niche marketing opportunities. Travel routing and booking. There are great location sensing mobile apps for finding cheap lodging as you travel (Like Air BnB and hotels.com), cheap gas (GasBuddy), decent food (Yelp). If you have a question, the Internet may have the answer. It can’t hurt to ask.
Thanks for reading. I hope this has been helpful.
Please address questions, comments, or corrections to Alan Rowoth BigOrangeTarp@gmail.com