Six months ago I wrote this post about mistakes I’d made in marketing my music and how I was trying to rectify them. Here’s an update.
If you make music, or any kind of art for that matter, there’s no point in leaving it hidden under the bed to be discovered when you die. You owe it to the work and heart you’ve put into it to put it out there and try to get it in front of the very people who might potentially enjoy it.
That’s one strand in the music marketing knot.
The others are the attention economy – who’s willing to give you five minutes of their precious time which everyone and their emotional support animal is trying to muscle in on? – and our largely unhealthy self-regard fostered by social media – who likes me? How can I get more likes? What if nobody likes me?
These are the rocks which I’ve spent most of the last year scrabbling over. I can’t pretend to offer you a solution or even a role model if you’re stumbling through the same quarry. But I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years and some of it may be useful to other musicians. If you’re not a musician it may be interesting to see what’s going on behind the pages that say “Here’s my latest song.”
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How I’ve worked with this
When I started having what they call a ‘web presence’ for my music, one of around a billion websites online increasing at a rate of about four a second, I thought it was a matter of putting it up there and people would find it. And this was in the late 90s when there were just a paltry million websites. I waved my little flag and, of course, very few saw it. I then used sites like mp3.com and Reverbnation to try to find an audience. For the first time I uploaded my songs to these social sites. And that did bring me more listeners.
Until quite recently I thought that was what it was about – finding a few listeners who liked what I did. I was reluctant to push the message any further. Why? Here are the reasons – you might find some apply to you as well.
- I’m primarily an introvert – I feel really uncomfortable saying ‘Look at me!’
- I’ve recognised and been hurt by the unhealthy craving for attention that goes with being a performer, even an introvert one. I’ve seen the feeling that says whatever attention you have it isn’t enough, and the discomfort that can cause.
- I realised that most of the ‘friends’ I was getting on Reverbnation were bands and performers doing a tit-for-tat – you increase my stats and I’ll increase yours, and I felt guilty about not giving time to listening to them. Then I realised they probably didn’t listen to me either. I stopped doing it. But it led me to think no ‘real people’ wanted to listen to my stuff
I listened to the voice on my shoulder that said,”The only successful people in music are (a) good looking (b) young and (c) good singers. You are none of these things. Get real. Nobody’s going to like you.” I still hear this voice, and from time to time I still believe it.
Yet here I am, certainly no younger, no better looking and probably not a much better singer, putting myself out in the music marketplace with a huge amount of effort and some expenditure. Why? What changed?
The dropping away of excuses
When I was working fulltime, I had an excuse for not putting effort into finding an audience. The excuse was that I was working fulltime, earning a necessary living to support my family. Gradually that changed. My children became self-supporting, I retired from my job and threw myself into creating two one-man businesses, in elearning consultancy and mindfulness training. I started learning about and understanding marketing and found that I wanted to apply what I was learning to my music as well as my businesses. After some time, I realised that I couldn’t do all three – elearning, mindfulness and music – with any degree of quality. Something had to give. I dropped the mindfulness business and found myself able to spend more time on music.
I spent two years working with Gerry Callaghan for about a day a week – he spent longer – recording and producing the album In Another Life and felt strongly I owed it to him, the band and myself to make every effort to find an audience for this music. Now I’ve put aside the elearning consultancy and my sole focus is on music.
Three sources of learning
1) The Content Marketing Academy
I joined this in 2016 after attending their conference in Edinburgh. It’s based in Scotland, and provides education and support for (mainly) small businesses and charities about finding new customers by providing useful information. At the time I was blogging for my elearning and mindfulness businesses as well as occasional blog posts about my music. The core of CMA is a private online community in Slack.
The community and its founder Chris Marr are remarkably committed to helping everyone with their difficulties and dilemmas around blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Facebook ads and turning these into customers and revenue. It’s a brilliant example of a mutually supportive online community. It makes big claims about this and, in my experience, lives up to them.
Although I was doing it for my businesses and not particularly for my music, I learned a lot that I could apply later to my music site. In fact it was one of the American contacts I made through CMA, Mark Schaefer, who gave me the insight that most helped my music site. I’ll come to that later.
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2) The Online Musician course
This is a course (now a membership site) run by Leah McHenry, a Canadian symphonic metal singer who runs a financially successful recording career but lives at home with her children and doesn’t gig. To quote her About page:
Having started her music career completely backwards, she found herself learning the NEW music business long after she already started a family and was unable to tour. That wasn’t going to stop her. Instead of being discouraged and believing the lie that she was “past her prime” and that “no one will want to hear music from a stay-at-home-mom”, she let her obstacles become her fuel and determination.
You can understand why it appealed to me. I did the course (it was cheaper then) and it forced me to think a lot about how I presented my music:
- Whose fans I would appeal to
- What words I’d use to describe my music (’It’s pretty varied’ and ‘It’s hard to describe’ don’t help anyone)
- The beginnings of using Facebook – why you need a business page, the rudiments of Facebook ads – and YouTube
While I can endorse most of Leah’s course and am glad I did it, I do regret following one mini-course 10 Thousand Fans in 7 Days aimed at boosting Likes on the Facebook page. It did, but had unintended consequences that have taken a bit of effort to deal with. Leah’s courses have become a lot more expensive since I did them, but with the exception noted above, I’d still recommend them if you can afford them and if you’re approaching music marketing from a complete beginner’s stance.
This was started during 2017 by a young soul and R&B singer called Kyle Lemaire in Orlando, who uses the stage name Circa Modo. He offers two online courses, Fan Finder Boot Camp and Fan Finder Master Course. His courses have a narrower, deeper focus – using Facebook ads effectively for musicians. He has an excitable, enthusiastic millennial style to his presentation, and is very active in the Facebook group that accompanies the courses. I find his approach entirely credible – every piece of advice is backed up with a rationale and he really seems to have thought it through and to share what he learns as he continues.
His approach and The Online Musician are diametrically opposed in some ways – Leah’s course majors on building a following via organic (non-paid, non-advertising), personal posts on FB pages, while Circa’s is all about getting the most out of paid ads, downgrading the importance of organic posts. He places this in a longer-term context of building up a set of seriously interested and supportive fans, but doing so gradually without asking too much of them too early in the relationship. With the recent changes in Facebook’s algorithm, both schools are re-evaluating what they teach and may come closer together – or they may not.
If I were pushed to point a musician to only one of the learning resources I’ve used it would be Indepreneur.
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I particularly like these two music marketing sources because unlike many others I’ve read they don’t focus on touring or fan clubs, things that don’t seem relevant to my position in life.
My strategy now is based not on building huge numbers of fans but on finding like-minded people – maybe people who like the same artists, who share an interest in wordy songs, maybe from the same generation so reaching the same venerable years – who will be genuinely interested in what I do and, perhaps, willing to support it by buying the odd thing from me.
1 – write blog articles about topics that will attract and interest those people. Following some help from Mark Schaefer I changed the focus of the blog away from me to the artists who inspire me. Not surprisingly more people look in Google for the Incredible String Band, John Martyn and John Cale than look for me! If I can provide something those people will enjoy, they may want to investigate my music. If not, I’ve still provided something useful.
2 – use Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, to draw attention to these posts
3 – use Facebook ads to attract people to a music giveaway that includes something more personal than just an mp3 download. It’s a harsh truth, but a truth none the less, that a piece of recorded music has pretty much zero monetary value on its own nowadays. People won’t pay for it by itself, but they will pay to support someone they’re interested in. The kind of people I’m looking for are the ones who are interested in where a song came from. Whenever people comment or contact me, I respond.
Now it’s early days for all these approaches and while I can say (1) has had a beneficial effect on my website, the jury’s still out on (2) and (3) but it feels right, and I can say for sure I’ve enjoyed email and FB chats with people I’d never have come into contact with if I hadn’t done things this way.
I want you to want me
Finally, how to deal with the feelings of neediness encouraged by social media? I’ve only recently come to the conclusion that the answer is probably to have numerical targets. If your aim is ‘I want people to love my music’ you’re never going to be satisfied because not enough people will ever love enough of your music enough! Ever!
But if you say something like ‘I want my mailing list to have 200 people by June’ or ‘I want 10 downloads a week’ then there’s something more objective, less ‘me’ there. You’ll either make it or you won’t but not making it feels less of a personal failure.
How about you?
What are your experiences, either as a musician promoting yourself or a fan being ‘marketed to’? What works for you, what do you hate?