“This is too hard!” He said.
“I know it’s hard,” I replied. “If it were easy then everyone would do it.”
Students often come to me with lofty dreams of becoming superstar singer/songwriters and composers with huge followings. I can’t say I blame them. I want an audience as well. But music composition is tough. And it’s difficult to successfully market music.
The current cultural climate doesn’t help at all –
- Aspiring artist posts song on YouTube.
- Aspiring artist instantly becomes successful. (At least it seems to be this way. What is “success” anyway? A topic for another day, I guess.)
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have no problem with artists who post on YouTube and other social media platforms and experience what seems to be “overnight” success. Great talent and years of practice typically precede these “success” stories.
“But I want an audience right now,” the aspiring artist proclaims.
Master Yoda replies, “Patience you must have my young padawan.” (We just got the complete Star Wars movie collection on Blu-ray! Awesome sauce. But I digress.)
So, what is an aspiring songwriter to do?
She is gifted in every way and has a message for the world but doesn’t feel like the world acknowledges her message. Despite her attempts to connect with fans on Facebook and Twitter, her posts fall flat. Her hard work seemingly unappreciated.
Encouragingly, Master Yoda says, “Unlearn what you have learned you must.” (He’s so wise.)
Unlearn what you’ve learned about the music business. Unlearn what the culture has taught you about how to “make it” in the music industry.
Gone are the days of big fancy record labels and booking agents. Say “hello” to the independent artist, self-publishing, and self-promotion.
A small group of people still fall into the “big fancy record label” category, but this list shortens every day. Landing a record deal is almost impossible. And it’s difficult to get your work published. Trust me!
A brilliant and famous choral composer once graciously spent some of his time to answer my music business questions. I asked him how one proceeds to build a great music career. Sensing the frustration in my tone, he replied, “Five percent is talent. You must have it. But ninety-five percent is who you know.”
This wasn’t encouraging to hear. There was truth in his words, but they were nonetheless discouraging.
Connecting with professionals is important and one of the things to which we should strive. But I resent the notion that a composer (singer, songwriter, artist, etc.) can only “make it” through networking with those who are “ahead” of him.
I know artists who work hard to become household names in their hometowns and then extend their reach to a larger audience via online resources. Many of them have families and make a comfortable living without having to tour.
Social media has dramatically changed the way we connect with fans, network, and build community.
Consider the opening two paragraphs from Claire Atkinson’s post from January 2, 2014; Indie artists are new No. 1 in music industry,
The growth of streaming music services and shared playlists, and the continued strength of YouTube, unleashed new forces on the music business last year — catapulting independent artists onto the charts with growing regularity, music industry statistics show.
As the grip of the major music labels continued to loosen in the era of Pandora, Rdio and Spotify, one of the biggest indie stars, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, saw its hit song “Thrift Shop” hit No. 1 in 2013, the first time since 1994 that a song without the backing of a major label reached the top of the charts.
You see, the landscape is changing. This fact should empower independent artists to establish themselves without the aid of big corporate establishments. No more waiting for a “big break.” Just create and put it out there! Connect with fans and build community! There’s never been a better time.
But promoting music and building an audience can be a daunting task! So here are 3 steps to help you get started.
1.) Be confident.
This one is absolutely necessary. You won’t be able to publish anything without confidence!
How long have you been composing? How long have you been performing? I’ve met many talented and hardworking artists who are just too afraid to publish their work. They’re brilliant but held back by fear.
Fear is crippling. It prohibits us from seeing the good things that surround us. It stops us from pursuing our dreams. It confines us to a negative and worrisome state of mind. It’s downright destructive.
“But Chris, I really need to work on my music before making it available to others.” Okay then! That’s a good reason to postpone. Polish things up. Take a songwriting course. Practice some more. And once you feel like you’re ready, click “publish!”
(!!CAUTION!!) – Don’t wait too long. Don’t wait until it’s perfect (it never will be). Waiting can become a crutch. A sure sign that fear has taken over and is crippling you!
2.) Post consistently.
We live in a fast-paced society. People quickly move from one thing to the next. Therefore, it’s important to post your work routinely. Use social media sites and other platforms to drive traffic to your homepage or blog.
You want to post consistently so that your music and message are always in front of your fans. But this isn’t the only reason to post.
Consider what AJ Agrawal, CEO, and Co-Founder of Alumnify Inc., has to say about Facebook’s algorithm,
Unfortunately, Facebook alters its algorithms all the time, making this a constant race between marketers and everyone else. Right now, these are the main factors that influence this algorithm, and whether you appear on someone’s newsfeed:
- How often have you interacted with this type of post?
- How often have you and everyone else hidden this type of post?
- The level of engagement that page and post has received.
- The performance of each post among users that have already viewed it.
The research shows that 3-1 is a healthy ratio for Facebook posts. That’s 3 friendly, non-promotional posts (free content such as a blog post, an inspiring quote, etc.) to every 1 promotional post (“buy my CD,” etc.).
Every social media site is different. So it’s important to learn how to use them to your advantage. You can easily find information on how to leverage each platform by running a simple Google search. Here are some resources to jump-start your research.
3.) Nurture your audience.
Your fans appreciate you and your work. This is evident. But you can’t just pepper them with sales and promotions! Sure, they want to know what you’re up to and sometimes you just have to “bring it” regarding project promotion. But fans also need to be nurtured.
Look for ways to create value beyond your music and merchandise.
Instead of just selling your music, invite fans to experience the process of creating and producing the music. This is an excellent way to build excitement around a project. It’s also a great community building exercise.
Provide valuable free (yes, I said FREE) content for your fans. This can come in a variety of forms; blog posts, free mp3s, video lessons, encouraging e-mails, etc.
I like to deliver things to my fans the old fashioned way, through e-mail! Not annoyingly so. One e-mail per week seems to get the job done. This e-mail includes encouraging words relevant to my audience (teachings, inspirational quotes, etc.), links to recent blog posts, upcoming concerts, promotions, and sometimes free music!
Listen, you’re a dreamer, and I’m a dreamer. We want to add value to people’s lives through our music and message.
Don’t get discouraged when that blog post falls flat. Don’t get discouraged when your mom and grandmother are the only two people who purchase your CD (I’ve been there). This thing takes time. You’re going to get there! Just be confident, consistent, and nurture your audience.
I was going to leave you with one more Yoda quote but decided this Lao Tzu quote was probably more appropriate,
Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.