By, Wendy Day
You’re an artist, so you understand this: you took hours, days, possibly even weeks or months to create the perfect song. It’s your best ever. Ever! You post it online and it gets no reaction, or little reaction, or reaction only from your friends and family. Basically, it tanks. You blame the marketing and promotion (lack of budget; mistakes made; misunderstanding of your fanbase; etc) because there’s no way it could be that the song isn’t great. It’s your best ever! Ever!
And besides, that song you slapped together in 5 minutes got more views, more reaction, more “likes,” and/or shared amongst people more than the one you poured your heart and soul into. Dammit!
You just learned the #1 lesson that took me over 30 grand and 2 years of my life getting my MBA to learn: consumers pick what they like and want. It’s the basis of marketing, consumerism, and capitalism–a game you are playing if you are trying to make money with your music. While all music (or art) should be from a place of passion, and should be the best art or music you can make, without someone willing to exchange money for it, it’s just a creation. Once a fan embraces it, and trades money for it, it becomes commerce. If you are doing this to survive and make a living, you can’t ignore the importance of commerce. You need to make money with your music (or art) to live. Or get a job.
Successful artists make music that they know their fans will buy. So either Drake, Rhianna, and Beyonce are the luckiest artists alive, or they know something about delivering the music their fans are willing to part with money to hear. They can talk about the ‘outpouring from their souls’ all day in interviews, but the reality is that they’ve learned the business side of the music industry, and fully understand marketing and promotions. They chose to become famous and successful. You don’t get to the top by accident or solely with luck. You deliver what the fans want and then you spread it to as many potential fans as possible. And then you hope for a little luck along the way.
I read a great article today at medium.com. It was written by Isaac Morehouse, the Founder and CEO of a company called Praxis, about a discovery he made while spending time with his young son while his son built levels at Mario Maker on WiiU (I’ve cut & pasted the full article below, but here’s the link in case you absolutely need to go there right now: http://bit.ly/29oUVN6). Apparently, Mario Maker allows non-game designers to build levels that other gamers can play and enjoy, and their levels get up-voted and stay live in the game as long as others like and play them.
This fun-loving kid found that other gamers liked and played certain levels that he had built, but not others. And, much to his surprise, some of the more popular levels were the levels that took him less time to build or were the levels that he felt weren’t as exciting. He quickly discovered that his “success” at creating game levels wasn’t based on what HE liked, but was totally based on what others liked. He did what any self-respecting artist would do, he tried to rig the system. He did a deal with other like-minded level builders, and they agreed to follow, like, and up vote, each others’ creations to keep them in the game. He built his own tribe; started his own movement. They tried to force success (which may or may not work in the long run, but certainly is not the path of least resistance when trying to build success).
The lesson here is not to force your vision of success on your fans but to GIVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANT by letting the consumer decide what’s best for them.
So this is where you decide, are you creating music because it’s inside of you and you have to let it out? Or are you creating music because you want to make your living with music? Yes, you have to decide right now. I’ll wait.
If the answer is that you want to make music for yourself and find other like-minded individuals who will buy it, that’s awesome! I need you to do one thing first, and this is the best life advice anyone could ever give you: go get a job to support yourself and make music in your spare time (but really commit to making music when you aren’t working and use the income from your job to propel your career forward). The income is essential because you won’t starve while you create, and no one can tell you what to do (not a label, not an investor, not anyone). You will have complete control over your music (and life) while you find like-minded fans who embrace the music you create.
If the answer is that you want to be famous and make music for the masses, you will need to be open-minded and experiment with different sounds and styles until you find what’s good for you and what resonates with the largest amount of potential fans. You will need to deliver what the fans embrace. This is the principle of supply and demand. You give the people what they want–what attracts the majority of people. They buy or stream your music, attend your shows, share with and bring in other paying fans and your career grows. This is what labels are looking to sign and what investors are looking to invest money in. You will need one or the other (a label or an investor) to help market and promote your music. But that’s a different article for another day.
Neither one of these paths are right or wrong, they are just two different paths. I’m sorry if you incorrectly believed that you’re a genius and that your talent was enough for you to become a Star. Very few people are born with a gift that allows everything they do to be consumer friendly and embraced by the masses. Most people have to learn how to hone and sharpen their gift to make it consumer ready. I have a steady hand and can paint or cut a straight line, but I’d need medical school to learn to sharpen that cutting-a-straight-line thingy into a career as a surgeon, or I’d need tons of practice at the art of sign painting to paint signs for a living (not to mention a customer base to purchase my signs–I can’t imagine selling a bunch of “Exit” signs to someone looking for “Sale” signage).
This article isn’t about selling out or being something you are not. That rarely works. Authenticity matters more than anything. But this article IS about letting your potential fans choose your music that they like best and making more of that. This article IS about choosing now which path you want to pursue so you don’t waste anymore time. And this article IS about learning from others and analyzing what works and what doesn’t work. You can blame everyone and everything around you for your lack of success, or you can try new things–with those new things being what the bulk of your fans and followers are embracing to see if it brings large amounts of other fans into your world.
As much as I hate some of the current successful music, I can’t argue that it’s successful. And mostly that’s because fans are embracing it, regardless of our personal opinions. Either make music for the masses or your group of like-minded fans. But don’t get angry when one doesn’t become the other. That just means you already chose, sub-consciously. Again, I’m not saying to sell out and make trash music. You still have to make great music, it just has to be what the masses of your potential fans think is great (test different sounds, styles, and topics to see what that is)
But wait, that’s not all. Maybe people not only buy what they like, but also what they understand. What if you deliver the music that you like, to them, once you’ve interacted and engaged with them and you’ve explained why you made a certain song or focused on how your music makes them feel? What if you not only focused on the sound they like, but found the people who might understand your music and targeted them directly? So not only would people be finding you from current fans sharing your music but they’d also discover your music from places they congregate listening to similar music–like the gym, or the club, or in the Mall, or the barbershop, or on Pandora or the radio, or a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music. This is why we give away Mixtapes in rap. A large portion of our market can be found looking for and listening to new music on DatPiff, Spinrilla, Live Mixtapes, and MyMixtapes.
And an even larger portion of our potential market can be found outside of the Internet, forcing us to come offline and move around our region in the real world (please notice I said “region,” and not “city.” That wasn’t a typo–you need to go as wide, geographically, as you can afford and actually interact with people. Meet and greet them…like a politician who wants a vote for your music). What if we bring the music they want to hear to the places where they spend time? That, is marketing and promotions.
If a child can grasp this concept in one night from analyzing and reacting to a frustrating situation, why can’t we? Artists….?
Here’s the original article:
My Kid Learned More from Mario Maker than I Did from a Marketing Major By Isaac Morehouse, CEO and Founder of Praxis (via Medium)
I’m not kidding. I just watched my kid grasp basic marketing truths that took me years in the professional world to get. (I might be a bit daft, but that’s another story).
I didn’t end up graduating with a major in marketing, but it was my major for several semesters of useless university. The only things I remember from those classes are the words “target market” with no real context.
That’s just it. I needed a lived context.
So my son builds these levels on the WiiU game Mario Maker. He’s posted some of his favorites to the network so others can play them and, if they like them, give them a star. He checked in the other night only to find two of his favorite creations had been removed from the network because they did not get enough stars in a given time span.
Here comes the pain. And the learning.
I watched him go through all the stages of grief. “That can’t be right?!”…”How dare they!!”…”Maybe if I tweak it and change the name I can re-upload it?”…”It’s hopeless. What’s the point of building levels”…and finally, after a long grieving process lasting almost minutes, acceptance.
Unaware of how enthralled I was with watching this unfold (because I pretended to still be reading) he repeated the entire situation to me, making a point to vent his frustration because of how hard he worked.
“The worst part is, that’s the level I worked on the longest and it was my favorite! Some of my other levels are just silly and were easy to build, and they have more stars than this one. I wonder why?”
Big Important Marketing Lesson #1: The labor theory is bunk
Karl Marx and a lot of other confused social scientists with bad beards (Adam Smith gets a pass on this one…no beard) like to claim that value is derived from the cost of production — the amount and difficulty of the labor that goes into it. This is clearly false, and my son now knows it.
Even if you know this from a (rare) good economics teacher, you probably don’t really know it in your gut and know how to plan around it until you’ve experienced it. Some of my favorite, most labor intensive blog posts get no love, while some silly Haiku I tap into my phone in a few seconds might get…well, a little more love at least (I guess my example isn’t that dramatic after all, since my readership isn’t that huge…Hi mom!).
This is an important lesson. Sure, content is king. Yes, build a better mousetrap. The problem is that what you think great content and better mousetraps look like mightn’t be the same as what customers think.
There are two potential solutions: the product solution and the marketing solution (best used in tandem). The product solution is to learn from what people do like and make products more like that. The marketing solution is to learn what feelings people want to experience when using your product and do a better job of attaching those feelings to it, finding the niche of people who will “get it”, and getting the word out to them.
My son, a very stubborn and independent creative type not keen on compromising his design, immediately went with the marketing solution.
Big Important Marketing Lesson #2: 1,000 true fans, social proof, list building…
This is really a lot of lessons piled into one, but it all happened so fast it was like a single epiphany for my son. It took me a long time to understand the value of building a “tribe” of loyal fans or customers (Hi mom!). It took me a long time to see the value of capturing leads, doing personal one-on-one outreach to influencers and early adopters, and touting the real stories of happy customers to help draw in the more risk-averse with social proof.
My son had the epiphany less than ten minutes after his teary explosions during the second and fourth stages of grief. Here’s how it went down.
He jumped onto some sort of chatroom type thing in the game and posted a question asking if anyone else had been frustrated by having a level removed for too few stars. In minutes he was conversing with three or four others. He checked out their profiles and levels. He followed them. They followed him. Then they somehow came up with an agreement. They would give each other the name of their newest levels and all play each others and give them a star, ensuring three quick stars, pushing it nearer the top of the newly added levels, raising the profile and keeping it from getting removed.
It was late and I was going to bed. He doesn’t like to be the last one up, so he begged me to wait a few minutes while he dutifully played and starred some of their levels. He double checked and verified that his new coalition had done the same for him.
He went out and talked with people, built a tribe around a shared frustration, collaborated to find a solution, and engaged in what MBA douchebags might call “synergistic strategic partnerships” (I don’t know if MBA’s would actually say that, but I imagine they would and this is my article). He added them to his followers so that there could be accountability, followup, and future collaboration.
As a dad one of my solemn duties is to always think my kid too quickly plays the victim and doesn’t take things into his own hands. It’s the kind of self-righteous worry a parent feels entitled to. Except this time he robbed me of the opportunity to start waxing about how in my day we had to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and mustached plumbers didn’t get any stars from anybody.
After a brief moment of feeling a victim of the system and being angry with idiot consumers who don’t appreciate good product, he saw his frustration as an opportunity. Surely someone else felt the same? Surely there was a way to work around it? And he did.
He realized that intentions don’t matter, value creation does. But value creation is not just in the product, but the feeling people have about it, the reasons they have to care, the connection you build with them. Now even before building a level he preps his loyal allies to reduce the risk and boost the ratings when it is released to the network. This is what authors do with their emails lists (sign up for mine here, I have another book coming out and you can be one of the early reviewers…you too mom!).
Teachers Aren’t Very Good Teachers
My kid isn’t some kind of special genius. The world we live in is the most resource, information, and opportunity rich in human history. If kids freely engage the world and follow their curiosity and intrinsic goals they will encounter a more diverse range of ideas and experiences than we can imagine. When I try to directly teach my kids this stuff they scoff or sigh or roll their eyes or play dead hoping I’ll go for help so they can finally escape my words of wisdom.
In fact, unless we actively work to suppress it our kids urge to learn, experiment, innovate, create, and adapt will blossom. That suppression often takes well-meaning forms like direct, mandated instruction from adult “experts” who know almost nothing about Mario Maker or other contexts kids actually care about. It takes the form of classrooms and textbooks and tests and pressure to careerify interests. It takes the form of parental worry that if their kid doesn’t learn the same bunch of arbitrary, mostly useless facts they were forced to memorize at the same age they did everything will fall apart and society will crumble.
Relax. Your kid is going to be fine. Even if they play a lot of video games.