The hardest challenge facing musicians today is getting people to listen to their new music. Awareness campaigns are a thing of the past. They make people know you’ve got new music, but it doesn’t make them listen to it, at most it gets them to sample a few seconds of a track. Which is fine if you’re not about the new music, if you’ve got enough old hits to power a show people want to see, but not if you’re starting out or truly want people to know what you’re up to.
1. YOU’RE A FULL TIME MUSICIAN
You practice every day, right? So why do you only drop new product every couple of years? Open the doors to the public, show your warts, reveal your personality. The key is to keep people engaged on a regular basis. This is a huge sea change, but the most notable one in the business today. YouTube is the medium of choice. Put up a video of you practicing, doing covers, works in progress. The key is to speak to your hard core fans, who will continue to talk about you to their buddies and will spread the word on anything truly great. And don’t worry if it’s not great, it just gets plowed under beneath the endless tsunami of clips posted every single day.
2. KNOW WHO YOUR FANS ARE
Selling/promoting to those who don’t care is completely worthless, it’s so 1980s. Everybody’s so busy that if they don’t have an interest in you, you won’t be able to convert them via endless publicity, which is either namby-pamby whitewash or shock value quotes. Never forget you’re selling your music, your only goal is to get people to check out and keep listening to your tunes, everything else is irrelevant. Fame won’t put asses in the seats.
3. REACH OUT TO YOUR FANS
This is what the youngsters do so well with social media, primarily Twitter and Instagram. If you’re an oldster and you want people to check out your new tunes be on social media a year in advance, a minimum of six months, revealing truth, bonding your fans to you. This is much more important and dividend paying than a story in any newspaper. The paper is one day only, tomorrow they’re flogging something else, social media when done right is an ongoing conversation.
Credit to Bono for admitting U2’s Apple mistake, but not only did Mr. Hewson apologize, he gave an explanation, he humanized himself, which made me feel warm about him and his band. Don’t let your handlers speak for you, Guy Oseary never should have taken that victory lap. You have to stand up for yourself.
“Bono apologizes for putting U2’s new album in everyone’s iCloud library”: http://bit.ly/1w81QPF
This is the most important element. You have to create a track that those who know you, that those who are interested in checking you out, will hear once and need to hear again, it’s just that simple.
It’s not about what radio thinks, it’s not about what you think, it’s about what the consumer thinks, and the consumer pays your bills.
We’re all listeners, we all know what grabs us. Stop asking your friends whether they liked your new music, but how many times they listened to it. If it’s once, you’re toast, sorry.
Forget about radio, forget about filters. You know who your fans are. Do they want to hear the new track again and again?
Taylor Swift has embraced this paradigm, realizing how tough today’s landscape has become, unfortunately she has gone lowest common denominator with “Shake If Off.” You too can do this, if you know Max Martin and the usual suspects, but that does not mean you cannot do it yourself, that you cannot shoot higher. But we can only listen to one song at one time so what you cut has to have the catchiness of “Shake It Off.”
No bitching. This is the story of all media today. Check out the movie business, it’s either a blockbuster or it’s a stiff. If you’re happy with a stiff, be my guest, but you’re not allowed to complain you’ve got no audience, that no one cares.
Stop thinking about them and stop making them. You start with the hit, if you haven’t got one, keep trying to make one. Without one, you’re sunk. If you have a hit, people will want to hear more of your music, so then you can build around the hit. You can release four other tracks that are ear-pleasing but might only be listened to by fans. Then you need another hit. And know in the streaming universe, the album makes no sense. The CD allowed shuffling, the ability to play only the songs you wanted to hear from the collection, streaming doesn’t even force you to buy the LP to begin with! Don’t overload your audience on Spotify and its ilk, it’s too confusing when someone goes to check you out. In other words, put a plethora of material on YouTube, but only the limited, authorized stuff on Spotify. You’re not making albums, you’re creating a body of work. Listeners don’t care if you cut it yesterday or a year ago, or even five years ago. And to force people to wait for years to
overwhelm them with product is a mistake.
I’m not a big Foo Fighters fan but their HBO show is a masterstroke, going with the true Tiffany network to showcase excellence without commercialism. The same show is a stiff on another network, the Foo Fighters are piggybacking on HBO’s cred. And with no ads, HBO is the antithesis of the modern world. People hate the endless selling and commercialism. It burnishes your image to avoid it. But, once again, you must have hits. And, once again, a hit is something that many people want to hear over and over again, it doesn’t matter if it’s played on the radio or not.
The rappers have been doing it forever, dropping in on pop songs. Today’s country is yesterday’s rock and roll. Want to expand your audience? Play with today’s country stars, who can play, and likely are fans of your material. We’re all in it together, and only the biggest of stars can go it alone.
9. NO SHORTCUTS
They leave the audience with a bad taste in their mouth. If your face is everywhere, if you force your music upon them, backlash will begin. Money and connections will get you press, but the truth is in today’s music world it might be working against you. Used to be the press was tied in with radio and MTV, which everybody listened to and watched. Today, your music can be completely ignored. When your face appears in a non-genre-specific publication, trolling for fans, the readers laugh and make fun of you.
10. TAKE A JOKE
We live in hater culture. If you’re going to respond at all, have not only a sense of humility, but a sense of humor. There’s no need to immediately apologize, then you look like one of the TV drug addict nitwits. Stand your ground, but be three-dimensional, wink your eye.
Everywhere I go I quiz people on the new releases. Consensus is the Thom Yorke album is already over. The inane press release wherein they said there were a million downloads, was laughable, they had very few PAID downloads. This is the worst case example, where the press trumps the music.
At least U2 got to perform their song at Apple’s shindig. If only it had been a hit. It was very good, but you never needed to hear it again.
As for Tom Petty, I’m a huge fan, but when he appeared in every publication known to man and exuded grumpiness in the process and came out with an album without one repeatable track, it was just sad.
That’s right, your A&R man said he couldn’t hear a single.
But today your A&R man is your audience. And it’s not their job to listen to your new music. And chances are there is no radio single…radio, radio that counts, doesn’t play your music, your single is for your fans. And your single is a repeatable track. Because no one’s got time for less than great.
And we’re constantly in search of great, which is how Lorde can come out of nowhere, but now, more than ever, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, but what you’ve done for us lately.