Music, Audience and Talent: Grow in 2010

There has never been a time more ripe for musicians (and indie filmmakers, artists, photographers, more) to succeed. In this future creative economy, indie music has a bit of a head start. The music industry has been evolving for quite some time now. Filmmakers are feeling the brunt of these changes only now, though artists, photographers and other creatives have been having a combination of self directed, patronage based and word of mouth success for what some could say were centuries.

How can musicians turn this time of evolving tools and shifting attention and consumption methods into success? Real success has to find a balance, combining distribution models, access, audience, discovery and talent. No time has ever been more ready for this explosion than now. Music lovers have been not only demanding, but creating, new ways to discover and access music for years.

Thinking Beyond The Tools

We’ve gone far beyond Napster and P2P sharing in terms of tools. How musicians employ simple tools in their overall strategy will be key to their success. Larger, more established artists like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have been at the forefront, visible in their experimentation with pricing, access and social leverage. But what can a new, unknown artist do to find the same success, at their level, and create a platform for growth, or even *gasp* pay their bills through their art? Not everyone has the advantage of time and audience readily built in at the beginning of their leap into a combined online and offline business model for their creativity.

For the young artists, the indie musicians, the obscure genres, and perhaps all musicians as we move forward; your social presence will become a keystone, holding up the arc of your career. To put all your eggs in one basket would be short sighted, however. The key to success for you in this fluid world is diversity of platform, access, new payment models and listening to where your audience shifts as it grows.

Using Tools Beyond Their “Intended” Purpose

I get asked often since the book if Twitter is the best tool for musicians. My answer is usually that it is, but not alone. In the end it is only another tool, though an effective one. Whether this one tool will be effective for you depends on how you use it, and what other tools and methods you combine it with. For example, some musicians use Twitter to talk to fans about their music and the process, some to broadcast concerts and sales, a few to collaborate and plan shows and albums, some to promote not only themselves but other artists. The most successful strike a balance of these uses, and employ things like lists to create communities of fans and fellow artists.

Relying on one tool, or even over-focusing on tools over goals, won’t get you very far. It’s sometimes hard for a creative to step outside the “maker” box and into the “manager” mindset long enough to think strategy, to make a plan, and to implement a long-reaching series of tactics (in fact, this is often why a musician or filmmaker hires me to help). When you create something, you want to put all of your energy into your art, and it takes time (and mental energy) out of you to do otherwise.

Battle Plans and Mapping Your Future Success

My advice to musicians for the coming year, both new and established, is to take some time out to create a battle plan. Sit down and compose a list of who your audience is, and who you want to reach. What type of people do your songs appeal to? Set up listening posts using free tools like Google and Twitter searches (there are many more out there) to search for your fans and your potential fans using keywords. Monitor your songs title and band name. See who is already talking to you and about you and think of ways to leverage who is listening to them.

Strong Foundation, Balance, Diversity

Make sure you have a website, as well as a MySpace or Facebook fan page. MySpace, Facebook, iMeem, iLike, Last.fm and more are only tools. Tools may fade over time, and to accommodate the quick shifts in technology over coming years, you need to think ahead of the tools. Websites are on the one hand currently passé in favor of blogs, and on the other hand, a great static tool to make sure your fans can always find you as you expand, grow and shift. Websites are also your node for music sales. Music sales tools like Nimbit, Village Produce – heck, even Paypal – shift, change or fade away with time. The more you can afford yourself a permanent platform for music sales, not reliant on other sites, the more your future will remain secure. That said, having outposts on those other sites will also increase your reach – it’s all about balance and diversifying how your fans can find and buy your music.

Focus Past Acquiring Fans

Think outside of the fans. Gone are the days when music was restricted to your fan base. With the film industry and television in turmoil, and more and more filmmakers and series creators turning to the web themselves, the time has never been more ripe to get your music into other mediums like film soundtracks, audio books, multi-media books, podcasts, video games and television shows (or think further out of the box and develop a la carte licensing plans for webisodics and other new media platforms. Make it easy for people to use your stuff. If you want to go way out there and ensure a higher level of loyalty, make it easy for people play with your stuff – use Creative Commons licensing and new copyright methods to allow various levels of change or altering for use in new ways, with credit (and sales or licensing fees) back to you.

Have a Clear Vision

When you are making your battle plan and thinking of innovative new ways to distribute your music and get it out there, take a moment to visualize your success. This is not just kumbaya mumbo jumbo – what a visualization exercise does is allow you to see yourself as the best version of your future, and align your battle plan in a way that lets you reach that goal. All of the time and effort that a cross platform, far reaching, online and offline strategy will require – whether you hire help or use a DIY approach – will prove useless if you don’t know why you are putting in the blood, sweat and tears.

A clear vision of your future, and a good visualization of that future, will allow you to weigh each decision and interaction in light of it’s effect on your success. There are three kinds of success effects that each interaction, each decision, can cause for your future: the foundation effect, the ripple effect and the direct effect. I’ll go into those in the next blog post, as well as into how you mold your decisions on the fly. For now, just know that even the most simple interaction should align with some part of your future vision, in however small a way.

As you go into 2010, remember these key points, which the next few blog posts will go into more detail about:

• Think Beyond Tools
• Think Farther Than a Tool’s Intended Purpose
• Map Your Present and Future With A Battle Plan
• Build a Foundation That Includes Balance, Goals and Diversity
• Look Past Simple Fan “Eyeball” Acquisition
• Inspire People to Use Your Art
• Seek Alternative Methods of Payment, Distribution, Outreach
• Create a Clear Future Vision of Yourself, and Hold Tight to It
• Always Reach Higher

Side Note: Perhaps I will see you at MIDEM 2010 in Cannes, France, where I am conducting a workshop laser focused on Twitter for Music, and where I hope to have side conversations with many of you about all methods of online and offline music success.