Music Discovery Under Constant Siege

In recent years it’s never been both easier and harder to get your music into the ears of potential new listeners. One question I get asked often from potential clients (perhaps second only to “How do I make money at this?”) is “Why aren’t people listening to my music?” It’s a tricky question to answer.

In the past, you’d have listening parties when you got new albums, or swap mix tapes. Bootleg concert tapes made endless circuits, introducing people to what your music sounded like live and how you interacted with your fans in real time. For a while there were some interesting online renditions of the mix tape, but most of these sites and services met the ax wielded by the short sighted RIAA. More recently, user driven recommendation engines like Blip.fm, Grooveshark, Pandora, Last.fm, Sound Hound and more are coming to the surface. This is all great news for the indie musician out there, but often it comes as a surprise to discover the work it takes to get music listed on or found by these sites. Sites like Blip, while fun, can be especially frustrating for users who have to slog through hundreds of covers of your song to find the original version, and Pandora often frustrates those trying to discover your tunes by directing the listener away from the very music they asked to seed a playlist with.

Musicians (and filmmakers) still flock to MySpace, and television shows such as Glee have found innovative ways to use the MySpace karaoke engine to promote their shows via transmedia and audience participation, but as the perception of MySpace declines, so does your potential fan base. I find this unfortunate – music has always been something MySpace does well, and the player on people’s profiles has always been a fun way to learn what friends were listening to – however, the perception of MySpace as uncool makes it a mixed success for artists.

YouTube and other video channels are now doing some innovative things with music, to be sure, but aren’t doing a lot (yet) to make them discoverable. Unless you take the time and initiative to set up and promote your own channel, there is no great way to sort videos by type of music on many of these video sites. Hopefully, that will change as the need becomes more apparent, especially in light of the new YouTube Vevo live concert series and partnership. The industry still targets these sites as well, though, and many music videos find themselves being taken down eventually, even if they were uploaded with the full consent and knowledge of the musician.

Sometimes it is as a shock to learn that even if you work hard to put your music in the hands of your fans, and are good at it, the “powers that be” will still try to cramp your style, even if you don’t want, need or request their “help”. Witness the case in point of the RIAA and FBI going after sharers of Radiohead’s album In Rainbows – an album the band released under a pay what you can model to fans. Peer to peer is a great way to get your music out there, especially if you know how to leverage your actual files to encourage even pirates to come back and pay, but it becomes a constant battle between fan, RIAA, label and artist, even though it can lead to great ROI. So what does a musician do to avoid all of these potential roadblocks to finding new ears?

1. Be prolific – put your music out there in as many places as you can
2. Link back – use your web site as your hub and make sure every blurb, bio, description, tag and more links back to it and references it in searchable text as well
3. Don’t assume – third party sites rarely have your best interests at heart. They are there for their own ends. Make sure your files and content are hosted on your own web site and fully backed up if you share it elsewhere as well. This will save you endless grief if your data on third party sites gets lost, deleted, censored or otherwise removed or damaged.
4. Be DRM free – encourage sharing, but remember to link back.
5. Have multiple pay points – give fans as many places and as many ways to buy your music and merchandise as you can sustain. Make it easy.
6. Share buttons – make sure all of your blog posts, song uploads and more have easy to find buttons for immediate liking and sharing.
7. Use free tools – those third party web sites may not have your interests at heart, but they do give you great tools to get your music heard. Incorporate these widgets, like buttons and tools to help you reach more people.
8. Paper trail – don’t assume everyone is online 24/7. The concert poster, flyer, and weekly event column are not dead. Make sure you list your web site links and social links somewhere on each piece of print media you generate.
9. Engage – if you can sustain actual engagement online with your fans, that will amplify all of your other efforts to their fullest, even if you can only sustain your real engagement on a limited number of platforms due to time constraints.
10. ROI – ROI is money, folks. If your social strategy isn’t getting you butts in seats at shows, downloads, CD sales, and merch sales – you need to re-evaluate the sites you’ve picked for engagement and more. Remember you are one of thousands of voices online – your ROI tells you if you are doing a good enough job being heard.

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  • Glorybe2

    Two forces are ruining music. The first are the middle men. That we can eliminate. These days a CD can be cut an album cover can be created and the music can be sold by its creators.
    The second force is overwhelming and we can do nothing about it. Oddly it is the same force that enables us to kill off the middlemen. It is technology.
    The printed music industry was a huge and vital industry in 1900. It was often the number one product in a store. And even the actual printing of that sheet music caused large numbers of people to be employed as well as store clerks and mail order companies that supported Tin Pan Alley as well as other areas in which publishers congregated. The radio was murdering live performances. Later the phonograph and movies with sound tracks also butchered the music industry. Worst of all the demand for live musicians was being killed off by the microphone. Big bands gave way to small bands. And in cities where almost all families gathered on the porch to play their own instruments no longer saw the piano in the parlor or the brass and wood winds playing within the families. Gone were the days when almost every home banged out a Souza march after dinner.
    And this year we have another offender. Schools are not funding school bands anymore. The Salvation Army bands are few and far between if they still exist at all. Our brass wind companies all went bust and are now only using the name of the great companies like Olds and Conn. Those instruments are now made in Japan. In essence economies now crush traditional bands as well as instrument manufacturers. The schools get by with tokenism in their band programs with tiny bands and often charge school kids to be in the school bands. The Salvation Army gets by with someone ringing a dinner bell as it is cheaper than a band. As a matter of fact the Salvation Army was once a huge maker of instruments.
    What can we do? Support artists directly. Fight industry orgs tooth and nail like the RIAA. Complain and tell the Salvation Army that you want the street bands back. And above all raise endless hell with your school if band programs are not well funded and taught without charging students. After all, many of our great musicians have fought their way out of poverty with a trumpet in their hand or a clarinet or whatever. Fight for music and fight for your kids. And try like crazy to bankrupt the middlemen.