What To Do To Get There From Here

It was an enjoyable afternoon at Music Connected, a conference on digital music organised by AIM, the Association of Independent Music, an umbrella organisation of indie labels, of which we are a member.

While digital music, of course, doesn’t really exist, it is a rather descriptive name for the hundreds of services which we, the creators of real, actual music, can utilise to help facilitate fan acquisition and engagement across multiple platforms and monetise our digital assets blah de blah catchphrase blah blah blah and so on etc.

Conferences are all about a lotta gobbledegook and a little bit of useful info in the way that the world is these days as I’m sure it always was and always will be. I spent four months without a TV recently. Didn’t miss it at all.

I digress, but I maintain that most of what is said and done, could just as well have been left unsaid and undone. Apart from this blog, which is vital to the well-being of mankind.

So, onto Music Connect. Old friends reacquainted, new friends made. I was chatting to Sharon from InGrooves when a young man approached me asking if I was Ville from The Animal Farm. Yes, I am, I said and added that my name tag is a dead give away, is it not? Turns out this fellow label owner and I shared a few friends and agreed that it would be great to do biz together.

That’s one of the good things about going to conferences. You do actually meet people with whom you can do cool things.

Another cool thing is listening. Listening to what people are saying. When was the last time you did that?

I tuned my antennas to receive. This is what I gathered:

It’s tough out there. Very tough indeed. Take it from me. There is lots, LOTS of music competing for people’s attention. Not all of it is shit. Some of it is quite good. For every well connected manager pitching his latest thing, there is an army of equally well connected other managers pitching their latest things. For every label trying to market their latest signing, the are scores of other labels trying get there first with theirs.

If you’re in a band, stop immediately and re-evaluate everything you have been lead to believe. Do not approach anyone with the line that ” all you need is someone with great connections, someone who can get to the right people at the right time “. It most fucking certainly isn’t all you need.

Most of all you need to be great and have something to shout about. You need to be blowing people outta their proverbial socks every time you hit a stage in front of 5 men and a dog. Your songs better be good. And the records you make of them better sound exciting.

When you eventually get the manager or label who’s willing to work with you, be prepared to work with them. Don’t just expect them to work for you. Working with someone means you take into account what they say.

They are going to be up against a mountain of apathy towards your art. Any PR you hire to work for you is going to think twice whether or not they should attach their name to you. Some will if you pay them some money. Some won’t even if you pay them loads.

Every music journalist they will approach will have been approached by a zillion other PRs with a million other bands with a million better songs than yours.

For those whose songs are better than this, the good news is that the world today is full of amazing tools with which you can get them heard by a lot of people. It really is mind boggling. Before you say what the moron in the back row said about Facebook, that it’s shit because it might not be around that long like Myspace which died very quickly… and being popular on Facebook isn’t worth much anyways, because people don’t care about good music… so, like, erm, what should we do because nothing seems to be working?

Don’t say that. It’s dumb. Accept that the reason it ain’t working is because the music ain’t that good.

Rather, work what is there to be worked and appreciate every ‘like’ you get on FB. Work very hard so that you can go to bed every night knowing that more people know about you today than the day before. This is all GREAT NEWS!!!! People are reacting to your music positively.

The excellent thing about technology is that it allows us to monitor our progress and gives us data to back up our claims. Simply put: we can tell by the amount of activity around our band whether or not people like our music. It amazes me to hear from bands who resolutely ignore this crucial fact. They are so convinced about the merit of their art that they refuse to accept any metric by which the popularity of their art can be measured. OK, art has merit over and above mere popularity, we accept this. However, if a career in music is the goal, being popular is kinda important. Doing something that others like helps our collective cause of making a living out of music.

We label owners blame the people in the other links in the food chain of music. Journalists are snooty know-it-alls who don’t appreciate the quality of our artists. Producers of radio shows and editors of magazines are beholden to major label interests and promote their content extensively. We managers love a&r guys when they love our bands, hate them for being ignoramuses when they don’t. PR companies say that they can’t get press because there are no gigs. The agent says he can’t get gigs because there is no press. They both point the finger at the plugger who shrugs and defends his turf by saying that the producer at R1 loved it. Artists think that people are lazy for not flocking to their gigs. It definitely is the fault of cloth eared a&r guys that they don’t have a deal. Managers are idiots because they don’t “believe” 100% and they’re not “committed”, also 100%.

Let’s deal with “believe”. Belief is something that develops over time, when you see that the people behind the project are serious about what they say they want to achieve. Like so many others, I believe in nothing until I see it with my own eyes. Don’t be offended when there is no blind faith on offer. Instead, show people what you can do, work towards mutually agreed goals with steely determination, create wonderful new music that surpasses your previous efforts, be excited about doing stuff and so on.

Man, you will be surprised how well it affects people’s belief in what you do. You earn your stripes by paying your dues and putting in this hours. It leads to belief and commitment. 100% true.

Just don’t expect it on the strength of a demo on Facebook. FB is just a place to hang, a place from where to reach out. Your career happens where it always used to happen: in the studio and on the road.

Create relationships. Connect. Get out there and push.

When you’re next on FB and you share a link to an activity by your band, whether it be a new song, a gig, a competition, think about the landing page on which the viewer lands upon clicking your link. A link to the place where they can buy your song is a cold place, offering no information about the culture of your band. It’s just a BUY THIS NOW message. Instead, try to get them to buy into the idea of your band first. The landing page will do the job if it offers a lot of interesting information about who you are and what you do – about the culture of your band. From the landing page offer links to do the biz.

There was an interesting bit about Frankie and The Heartstrings’ campaign. It took them two years to build up a fan base of 5000 fans or so. The idea was to get real fans who would really buy into the band, as opposed to adding 100 000 manufactured friends who don’t care. They took a lot of time cultivating the right kind of culture around the band. It can be argued that two years is a long time to only sell 5000 records. But I would urge everyone to stop and think. It’s a good start. Your business is based on sound principles. Plenty of belief and commitment. Way to go!

In stark contrast, too many artists are focussed on finding the right manager with the right connections, the gigs with bigger bands, the life changing exposure in large media outlets. It’s little to do with realism and a lot to do with lotterism. On top of that it’s based on the mistaken belief that the world owes us a living.

These risk averse, work shy and deluded people who are hopelessly out of whack with reality should be forced to attend seminars like Music Connected to find out for themselves just how challenging it is at EVERY level in the business. Just how HARD people work for their daily bread. Just how ENTHUSIASTIC they are about what they are doing. Meanwhile in an office somewhere a twenty-something wannabe rock god on £30k a year with an expanding waistline to match cries into his lunch time latte that people in the music business won’t give him a chance.

There are no free lunches. Or magic wands. Just get over it. Now.

My next stop is Brighton for The Great Escape. Hope to see you at The Latest Music Bar at 7pm on Saturday.

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