I came across a blog post from Digital Audio Insider via my Google Reader this morning. David Harrell was asking for advice and ideas on his band The Layaway’s plan to release their new album as a free download. I felt the need to post a comment and it became so long-winded I thought I might re-post it here as a blog entry! So here it is….
The original blog post is located Here
“I really think that giving away your music for free as a business model is only really viable for established acts with a broad and loyal fanbase already in place.
When Prince gave away Planet Earth in the Mail On Sunday, you have to take into consideration that
1. He has already sold millions of albums and has an extensive and still popular back catalogue which will still be bringing in considerable revenue
2. He was about to embark on a month-long residency at the O2 in Greenwich which, I believe, was pretty much already sold out; again generating huge amounts of money.
Artists like Prince, NIN and Radiohead probably make a very small percentage of their income from selling their newest album. By the time the album has recouped it’s costs (and for artists at this level I would presume these costs would be considerable), there really would not be a massive profit margin. These artists would more than likely be earning the bulk of their income from touring, publishing and royalties.
Relatively new acts would have none of this financial security and therefore the act of giving away a new album would be like taking £10k (or whatever the recording costs may be) and burning it in the street. Obviously, some people will download anything if it is free. But are these people going to come to your shows or buy your back catalogue? Probably not.
I would say that the free download model works best when aimed squarely at an established fanbase. I particularly like the model exemplified by artists on sites such as Reverb Nation. Certain artists have made specific tracks (or sometimes albums) available to their ‘fans’ as exclusive downloads. All users have to do in order to access these downloads is add their name to the artist’s mailing list. In the current music industry climate (with the spread of piracy and P2P file-sharing), artists need to build up this kind of interactive relationship with their audience more than ever.
So in response to your question, whilst I don’t think that giving away your new album is necessarily a wise move right now, using this as a direct marketing ploy to gather a more comprehensive mailing list may well prove far more valuable in the long run compared to what could have been earned from physical sales of the album…?”
As regular readers will know I recently started up a Solo Bass Podcast. With a view to producing an album of solo bass material later on this year, I wanted an outlet to post new ideas and hopefully gain some feedback. The second and possibly more important reason behind starting the podcast was to begin to build some semblance of a fanbase to whom I could promote the album on it’s eventual release.
I am a session musician by definition. ie: I make a living playing other people’s music in other people’s bands. As a musician in my own right, very few people know who I am or what I do. As a result, making myself known to a few people has become quite important. I’ve trawled the internet to find the most appropriate spots for me to have some kind of presence, and have started up profiles on a few key sites. As you will all know, my MySpace page has been up and running for several years now, but I’m finding the lack of interactivity and endless friend requests from obscure housewives-turned-jazz singers quite frustrating.
My first port of call was Last.fm, a fantastic music streaming service that I have been using over the last few months as a listener. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Last.fm begins by collecting data from your digital music library (in my case iTunes) and can then recommend music based on this information. The ability to use the software to discover ‘similar artists’ has been the most fruitful for me. Each artist registered on Last.fm has an associated wiki page where users can contribute biographical information, pictures and videos. Artists also have charts showing their most popular tracks and shout boxes in their page for listeners to post their comments. I really liked the interactive nature of the site and wanted to get more involved with the conversational nature of the profile pages. So I signed myself up, created a profile page and uploaded all the podcast tracks. Of course, this may well drive some of the traffic away from the Podcast site itself, but the fact that I can see exactly who is listening to my music on Last.fm should eventually prove far more valuable when I actually have a product to sell. The other slightly embarrassing drawback is that (of course) I am my own top listener. I suppose we are all our harshest critics and my repeated listening to check what I’m posting all counts towards the total scrobbles. O well….
My second little project was to start up a Facebook Music page. This, to be perfectly frank, turned into a bloody nightmare. For some reason the whole process seemed frought with problems. The uploading of music/pictures etc was fairly straightforward, but there is almost no easy way to add functionality to the page. Maybe I’m just used to the MySpace system, which is initially incredibly complicated once you start editing HTML but once you’re used to it becomes almost second nature. I’ve lost count of the various applications and add-ons I’ve added an then instantly removed from the page. The features that really drew me to the site were the ability for listeners to share your music on their own pages and the availability of daily statistics for page views etc. Creating a buzz online is essential in trying to build a fanbase and it is only with the help of listeners/fans sharing your music and recommending you to their friends that the snowball effect can begin. This aspect is one of the things missing for me with MySpace, which has become so inundated with sub-standard music that finding something truly inspiring has become more than a rarity.
At this juncture I should probably mention that I also started up an iLike page, mainly as an add-on for Facebook. This has proved wholly disastrous and a complete waste of time thus far. I am apparently the only person who ‘likes’ my music and the page seems to have disappeared into the ether where nobody can find it. My advice if you are thinking about dabbling with iLike: don’t bother.
Which brings me to the latest addition to my online marketing adventure. Reverb Nation is proving the most valuable addition to the buzz-generating arsenal. Reverb Nation takes all the best qualities of the various social networking sites and presents them with an incredibly clean and user-friendly interface. Uploading the songs, pictures and biography couldn’t have been simpler. I loved the fact that you can import data from other sites to be viewed directly on your profile page. I was able to import my Blogger blog directly… In fact you may well be reading this very post on my Reverb Nation page! Ingenious thinking. I really have neither the time nor the inclination to post my blogs separately on all the various sites that I maintain and the ability to import the blog from Blogger and have this automatically update is a true blessing. The same applies to being able to import status updates directly from my Twitter account.
Reverb Nation has, for me, two additional benefits over the other social networking sites. Firstly, you have the option of making your tracks available for streaming or download, and the further option of making these ‘fan exclusives’. This gives listeners incentive to sign up to your mailing list in order to be able to download specific songs. In fact, I’m soon going to post a couple of tracks which will indeed be exclusive to Reverb Nation (ie: not ripped from the Podcast), in a vague attempt to bolster the numbers on the mailing list. The second huge advantage with Reverb Nation is the ability to place widgets from the site on other social networking pages, to spread the word even further. In fact, your fans on the site can do the same which is a massive bonus. This is exactly the sort of interactivity I’ve been looking for and precisely how I envision the ‘buzz’ may well be created.
I only created the Reverb Nation page a few days ago, so it hasn’t had many hits thus far, but I’m sure this will improve in the near future. The fact that the widgets appear on some of my other pages is already driving some traffic to the Reverb Nation page, and presumably some of these people will be coming to the site for the first time. This should theoretically get more people to sign up to the site and in turn allow them to discover more exciting music from the recommendations I make on my profile page. I posted messages on Twitter as each of these pages were initialized and a few key supportive members (who have also been listening to my podcast) were always the first to sign up. Thanks guys.
I got significantly more hits after solo bass master and social media guru Steve Lawson recommended me on his Reverb Nation Page. Which proves how the best form of buzz comes from direct recommendations, especially from such highly regarded artists. Incidentally, Steve has been incredibly helpful and supportive since I started my podcast and I’d like to give him my thanks and tell you all to go and check out his music. Steve also has a fantastic blog which he updates far more regularly and eloquently than I; well worth subscribing.
The biggest influx of traffic to the podcast itself (second only to when Steve posted a message on Twitter saying that he was listening) was after I posted links on the Warwick Forum about a week ago. I literally doubled the number of hits. Which just serves to prove that targeting your audience directly is always the most effective solution.
But I do wonder how many of these listeners will go on to sign up to the mailing list on Reverb Nation, or become a fan on Facebook? So far I’d say none of them. The next phase of my online adventure will be an attempt to further tie together all the various pages and services in order to build up a more cohesive and measurable fanbase. I would say that is where the true secret to success lies….
Well as some of you may know, I signed up for Facebook during the week. And it’s been a very interesting experience let me tell you…
The only reason I originally signed up was because there was a link on he Warr guitars website for their Facebook page. Unlike MySpace, you cannot view anyone’s profile unless you are a member, and more often than not, accepted as their friend. Okay… So I signed up. Next thing I knew I was up until 6.30 in the morning hunting down all my old school mates, people from college and all my muso friends.
Judging by the number of people I found that are using it already, I’m a bit behind the times… but I’m now thoroughly obsessed with Facebook. It’s like a drug. I find myself booting up the laptop far more often than normal, mainly to see whether it’s my go on Scrabulous. I’m thinking this cannot be a good thing. Can’t be healthy…
Facebook has been great for finding long lost friends. I’ve finally managed to find my best friend from primary school, after years of searching myspace etc. And a bunch of people I’d completely lost contact with have come out of the woodwork and sent me little messages. Hopefully I’ll go forth and actually meet up with them in the real world rather than over the internet… We’ll see.
I always thought of Facebook as a poor-man’s MySpace, mainly aimed at bored office-workers. And to a degree, I still think that’s probably the case. But having immersed myself for a few days, I can see the attraction. I’ve come to the conclusion that Facebook can be a great tool for keeping in contact with your friends and colleagues. Kind of like a free version of Friends Reunited, coupled with an elaborate messaging service.
I can’t see me getting any more gigs off the back of Facebook. Unlike MySpace, which serves as a virtual shop window for musicians, Facebook seems more personal. But I don’t think thats a bad thing. I’m notoriously crap at keeping in contact with my friends and I’m hoping that Facebook will somehow help to readdress this situation. I find myself chatting with people I haven’t spoken to for years, simply because they’re online at the same time as me.
Until next time…