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Friday, August 20, 2010

Music Notes. The New Music Business and Social Media For Veteran Artists

It's no secret that the music business is in shambles. Sales have plummeted for most artists with 98 % of albums released supposedly selling less than 5,000 copies. New paradigms are constantly being created and those with enough vision, occupational stamina and enough emotional fortitude continue to work outside of the corporate infrastructure looking for ways to market their music. The definition of success needs to be revised for companies, artists and fans. In the music business one of the primary discussions, aside from how to replace shrinking revenue and sales is figuring out the most effective way to cultivate, grow and maintain increasingly fickle fan bases. Generally, this discussion is surrounding new and younger artists.

With the realities of ageism which exists more and more in the business; where do still viable, marketable veteran, legacy or career artists over 40 fit into this new landscape beyond the various "Classic Hits and More" commercial radio formats? Where are we beyond satellite, internet radio, various streaming outlets, Pandora, Last.fm and TMZ's "Memba Them"? Many continue to work on a regular basis stateside and abroad doing it in what some would call the old fashioned way; earning it. Performing live in a variety of venues and formats from festivals, intimate venues to select private/corporate events become standard. Selling branded limited edition merchandise to the faithful is also the norm for many. I'm not talking about the usual superstar rock bands like Paul McCartney, The Eagles and U2, etc. I'm talking about your everyday working artists in R&B, Jazz, Country, Rock, Adult Contemporary, etc. The faithful I refer to are what are called 'Superfans'. They aren't concerned with record sales and current pop culture status, they simply want to experience the bands and artists they love and continue to support. These fans will take the time to listen and purchase current musical endeavors and provide strong word of mouth support to their friends or out of the loop fans.

Some people assume if they don't hear you or see you these days amongst teen idols such as Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, or fill in the blank of the latest teen or pop idols from any era - an artist must no longer be in the land of the living or no longer working in the music industry. It's an unfair and rather lazy assessment from my point of view. It couldn't possibly be an artist is continuing to improve their craft doing what they love which happens to be their job of choice. I always find this mentality a bit disappointing. I get it from time to time online and off. I'll be honest, my stomach always sinks a little. It's always an appreciative love of your past "I used to love you. Where have you been? Do you still sing? We miss you. We need you back out there.., etc." that they express but they just don't know if it's not commercially high profile, not a part of a reality TV strategy - and they just don't seem to venture out of the very narrow box created by today's media and music industry. Great places to start are Google, Facebook and iTunes to look for the artists they 'used to love' to see what's going on, it would seem, but even in this day and age the casual fan doesn't seem to take advantage of the technology in this "information age".

Tony Bennett has been working for decades, to name one legacy artist. He went 30 years between Grammy's and won his first "Album of the Year" nearly 45 years after his debut, having survived turbulent private issues and a changing music climate. His return, as well as Tina Turner's ultimate success in her later years, as well as that of Bonnie Raitt returning from what many thought to be total obscurity are true comeback stories. In today's climate I'm unsure if those opportunities could happen within the standard industry. Today, each album for any artist is called "a comeback" instead of a new release, marginalizing the impact of when an artist has really overcome some major form of personal or career struggle.

The music and art of performing doesn't go out of style. You may not pack them in at arenas and stadiums or sell as much but that's not what performing and making music should be all about.

The growth and creativity of the music industry began to go into a bit of free fall once the focus generated from the business end was geared to strictly 'the numbers', like first week of release movie box office receipts. Focus groups, massive marketing dollars or not, tighter play lists; FCC deregulation all changed the game. The numbers mentality eventually trickled to the casual fan or consumers to the detriment of the quality of artists and variety of choice in popular music.

Some artists have chosen to no longer record new material choosing to stick to the nostalgia route, a solid pipeline to perform the familiar based upon the material most known to the public as the go to comfort zone. This area is quite lucrative for some. Fans of nostalgia acts are less likely to support new music, they just like what they grew up with allowing them to reminisce on their lives back then.
Nostalgia acts are also less likely to have any active online presence to keep their brand alive from what I've seen. Perhaps that category of artist may be painfully aware the chances are extremely remote to be given airtime on commercial radio or face time on the late night talk shows. Others have lost their creative mojo and no longer enjoy the uncertainty of the business and decide to simply move on to other careers or interests.

No matter how good the music or regardless of how many fans may be interested it's been tough for most career artists for well over a decade; that is unless of course you have a scandal or controversy of some sort that can be marketed and capitalized on.

Then there are those, like myself and a handful of others who continue to work independently immersed in the new music world order. Performing at select engagements and events, writing, releasing independently, blogging, social networking with fans while also planting seeds with newer audiences mined from collaborations with respected DJ/Remixers and taste-makers from a global pool in diverse genres such as dance, electronic and jazz. In the independent realm there is a plethora of quality music and numerous alternative fusions.

My suggestion is that it's important to find the format which best suits you and your online strategy, beyond promoting a new album or concert, that is unless you'd like to take the Prince point of view and declare the internet dead.

Blogging (personal interests a bit more humanizing and less based on immediate reaction), Twitter (real time happenings), Facebook Fan Pages (be sure to add a band app like Root Music or Reverbnation) each provide a different experience. Soundcloud is another terrific tool to post new music and get feedback from your fan base and continue to develop a new one, one fan at a time.

Reverbnation is multi-faceted and enables you to create a mailing list, newsletter, stream music and also offer free downloads to those who have signed up among it's benefits. Each outlet offers a different experience for you to continue to build and connect with your fan base, which is highly recommended. The service also gives you the ability to see how effective your newsletters are and who opened or not. It's important to view and analyze your online data.


Balancing accessibility and authenticity in the evolving platforms of social media is a constant learning experience. Most artists choose to outsource and have management or personal assistants act as the artist removing any chance of real interaction or personal presence with fans, I'm at a crossroads on that one currently, seeing the downside of being hands on. There's always the chance of being ambushed by 'haters', or other highly toxic encounters. I've discovered that less and more effective use of your online time reduces the likelihood of those situations.

In most modern business and marketing information there is a general consensus that simply inundating your audience with impersonal concert and release dates isn't effective. People want to feel connected to the brand, or artist and so it's important to find out where to draw the line without being generic. I'm still figuring it all out.

Here are two of my top suggestions navigating your online brand and presence:

#1 - Create and structure a personalized online plan, including time.
#2 - Define your goals, short and long term; remember them with each post.



More to come..

4 comments:

Zamba said...

Thank you so much for sharing your insight and wisdom. This is very helpful, and confirmation that we have to create our own opportunities/build relationships to pursue 'your thing' whatever that might be. Thank you!

Jody Watley said...

You're welcome! More to come :-)

un_taco said...

I'm with Zamba, THANK YOU. Jody, you've hit so many key points here! I especially the explanation of how a new album isn't a "comeback" -- the word is over used! UGH.

Kanisha said...

This is why I'm addicted to your blog and I've never even been interesting it too many bloggers.......very helpful advice and insight! THUMBS UPPER VANESSA! LOL