Social Media Day: What Does it Mean for You?

I’m not sure what the point of “Social Media Day” is exactly. Do we need a specific day to honor something we do and talk about on a daily basis? In the U.S., holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day are there to commemorate the past and the contributions people made for our country (or more cynically, a reason to take off from school or work and take advantage of retail sales). But to get back on topic, regardless of the significance of Social Media Day, what we do know is that social media is a relatively new and important phenomenon. Vadim Lavrusik at Mashable says that Social Media Day is, “A day that honors the technological and societal advancements that have allowed us to have a dialogue, to connect and to engage not only the creators of media, but perhaps more importantly, one another.” Put that way, it’s hard to argue with him. While people can argue the pros and cons of using social media, let’s just assume as professional musicians and amateurs we are all in the same boat and are big supporters of using social media tools to reach our fan base. Rather than discussing the fact that we have to use social media, what are some of the other things we should consider as we make social media decisions on a day-to-day basis?

Voyno of NewRockstarPhilosophy asks whether social media is killing your band. The point that Voyno makes is that before using social media, as an artist you should know how you want to promote yourself using these tools. For example, Voyno mentions that part of David Bowie’s persona is his more elusive and mysterious character—had he been in his prime during the social media boom, either he would have treated his public persona differently or his social media presence would have been a little more cryptic than the norm. How are you going to approach your personal and artistic brand? Some tend to overshare on services such as Twitter and Facebook. With the constant stream and updates going on, sometimes high profile artists might get a little overzealous and reveal things they should not reveal. With video, celebrities might take things to a whole new level (think Tila Tequila stripping on Ustream or Stephon Marbury explaining the virtues of eating Vaseline). Although you might not be a celebrity yet, as an up-and-coming artist, you should think about how you want to approach real-time chat and video because the way you approach things now will set the groundwork for your career years down the road. As much as it probably pains you to read about Justin Bieber, he and his management team seem to understand social media. He actually personally responds to many of his Twitter followers (despite the large amount of noise that appears in his @ inbox per minute). In my opinion, you should follow the 50/50 rule: your Twitter stream should be 50% personal and 50% business. This combination of business and personal will keep you sounding professional and on point while still appearing human. Also, fans get bored just hearing updates about your next tour or when you’re going to drop your next single. Dry facts make for a boring update, so there’s no reason why you can’t write about your day-to-day activities and musings to spice up the more routine business updates.

If you have a large following of fans all over the world, you may want to send out the same tweet or variations of a certain tweet at different times of the day. Some people follow a lot of other people and will only see your specific tweet if you send it out at the exact time they’re on Twitter. If you want to update your fans that you just released your album, sending out a tweet for different time zones can help to reach your followers around the world who are awake when you’re asleep (click for tweet scheduling services). Be careful about tweeting the same thing too many times because some of your followers may get irritated by constantly getting the same information from you if they do read their entire Twitter stream, so be selective about using this method of tweeting. If you think it can be useful for particularly important tweets, just tweet those important things more than once and at different times of the day. Tweeting the same thing in rapid succession is a definite social media faux pas, so never do that unless it serves some real comedic value.

Now that social media appears to be here to stay instead of a passing fad of the 2000’s, the question surrounding social media should change from “should I?” to “how should I?” Social media etiquette will probably become a hot button issue surrounding newcomers to social media who don’t quite “get it” yet. Your fans will more likely respond to you if you truly care about them. Engaging them in a way that is conversational and fun is obviously better than being distant and cold. So don’t bombard your fans and followers with mundane updates constantly linking to the same music page or website, but strike a balance between personal and professional that will keep them coming back for more.

Bringing Home the Bacon: To Gig or Not to Gig (for Free)

Before you hit Lady Gaga-, Aerosmith-, or Tiesto-status, you might stumble upon many different opportunities to showcase your talents for the rest of the world with a less than optimal monetary return—you’ll be asked to play for free. Many jump at this chance. I’d be thrilled that someone even thought of me and wanted me to play for free! This strategy can serve a genuine purpose if you’re just trying to play a house party with your close friends and want to have a good time or you get the chance of a lifetime to open for your favorite band in front of their fans (who hopefully will love your music as well). With so many artists out there, exposure is key so you think playing for free is part of the game. Many scenarios seem like a genuine opportunity, and some are, but they all come at some cost (literally).

You have to ask yourself what is the opportunity cost of playing this unpaid gig. If I play this gig and don’t get paid, I could have been playing this other gig and making X amount of money at another less-than-exciting venue. I could play this gig over here for free (losing money on gas and other incidental costs), but I will be gaining some much-needed exposure because the headliner caters to the same crowd that I’m targeting. David J. Hahn defines the exposure dichotomy well in his article “When to take an Unpaid Gig” (, describing key ways to evaluate a gig’s worth. He explains that there are two different kinds of exposure: general exposure and specific exposure. General exposure refers to playing in front of a group of people who might or might not care about your music, and the music might even be secondary to their experience (e.g. a random slot at an open mic night or playing at a bar on a Friday). At the open mic night, chances are the only people who really care about what you’re playing are the people you came with (friends and family). At the bar, most are looking to have a few drinks and maybe try out a pickup line or two on the lonely damsel in the corner. Yes you might get lucky and some people will really dig your music, but there’s no way to know for sure before going into the situation. Specific exposure refers to a gig where you’re playing in front of your target audience who are concentrating on your every pickstroke and lyric (or at least equally enthralled by your groove no matter how distorted or muddy). Strategically speaking, a band who gets the opening slot for a national act within the same genre is doing a service to themselves by playing for free because of the potential for picking up many new fans. You could even use the gig for merch and CD sales or rack up the number of fans on your mailing list.

 The best advice for these two scenarios is this: play unpaid gigs of general exposure very rarely, if at all. Play unpaid gigs of specific exposure at certain points, but don’t make it the norm. If you’re a jazz guitarist playing at a nice restaurant, you really shouldn’t be playing for free because once word gets out that you play for free in one place, everyone will want you to play for free. It will turn into a cycle that will get harder and harder to dig yourself out of because you’re already used to saying “yes” to free. A good rule of thumb would be to offer discounts to first-time or loyal customers. If you want to play a bar or restaurant and have a short resume, offer to play at a discount at the beginning until you establish a relationship with the venue. You can then get a recommendation to play at other places. You can take a different route by offering to play five gigs a month, with the last one being free. If you can establish a good relationship with whatever venue you’re trying to play, you can start to get repeat gigs or branch out to other places. I remember playing a local show at my favorite metal club back in high school. We were supposed to sell tickets for the show ourselves. We did well for the club and then later were able to snab an opening slot for a national act! I was ecstatic! Unfortunately our lead singer messed up his end of the ticket sales and lost me money, but that’s beside the point. In conclusion, I’m not against unpaid gigs at all. In some cases, they are extremely tempting, so it’s important to know your goals and how you want to approach your career before you take an unpaid gig. In fact, many national touring acts pay big bucks to get a slot on festival tours because they want the publicity involved in getting in front of thousands of people every day. On a smaller scale, you should be doing the same. You probably should never pay to get a gig unless it makes financial sense in the long-term. If you’re smart about your unpaid gigs, they should eventually lead to paying gigs.

Stale Bread, Stale Music: The Bandwagon Effect & When Music Gets Old

I love discovering new genres of music that I haven’t really listened to too much yet, so even if some of the music in that genre is repetitive it still sounds new and exciting. What happens if everyone else is in on this same music discovery? Do we get rapid innovation by artists as the style changes or do we get a flood of artists all playing pretty much the same thing? Most music genres are not exempt from this problem. Sometimes too many people get driven to a particular style, more and more bands mimic the innovators of that style, and suddenly there are too many subpar and generic rip-offs of your favorite artists that lead to the whole genre becoming outdated. If it doesn’t become outdated, then it is mocked until one day the music passes for the fad of a previous generation. Everybody remembers what 80’s hair metal was like and how 90’s grunge rebelled against the excess of the preceding generation. I was either not alive or not old enough to enjoy both those music generations, but I think I’ve watched enough VH1 nostalgia shows to get the gist. In the post-boy band era that we are in right now, we might not have the same mainstream music fads, but music genres are still not immune to the bandwagon effect. Now with the presence of online forums and blog commenting, we get an “elite” group of music enthusiasts who are ready to pounce on any new artists within a genre that’s becoming stale and overdone. Even if in the minority, those who criticize the overhyped and overextended artists of the genres they care about foresee the same demise of a music generation that happened in the 80’s and 90’s. Every good thing must come to an end.

Two of my favorite genres have recently been struck by the bandwagon effect: metal and dubstep. Over the past decade, the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM), pioneered by such groove metal and hardcore acts as Pantera and Biohazard in the 90’s, welcomed my generation’s new heavy metal titans—including Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and Unearth among others. The mix of metal and hardcore (dubbed metalcore) brought on many imitation acts that decided to copy the style of the increasingly mainstream metal acts. What became of this: the breakdown. The breakdown is defined in one post on UrbanDictionary as, “A style of guitar riff used in Hardcore (punk) music that consists of a single note being chugged slowly for maximum heaviness and brutality.” The breakdown quickly became the cliché of many of the new metal and hardcore acts, resulting in a backlash by metal fans tired of the same old chugga-chugga guitar riffs used as an excuse to start a mosh pit. These fans wanted something they liked to listen to at home too without getting bored! Of course the naysayers are usually the most vocal bunch of the metalheads, so it’s possible that the mainstream metal fans still love the breakdown as much as I do. Either way, when something in music becomes overused to the point of mediocrity (and boredom), I tend to only enjoy it when the music is done well or the clichéd aspects of it are at least done in a tasteful and artistic way. I still swear by the breakdowns in many of my favorite metal acts when they’re actually delivering the goods (reference to old school Judas Priest song intended).

The “wobble” bass sound used in a lot of the dubstep music these days is falling victim to the same overuse and scrutiny as metalcore’s breakdown, although the dubstep scene has not been as saturated as the metal scene since the genre itself has only been around for a little over a decade. The wobble sound, which actually sounds a lot like “womp womp womp wa-womp” (try saying it out loud), was only popularized in the last few years by such dubstep artists as Benga, Skream, and Rusko, with heavy play in the U.K. underground electronica scene. The movement has reached the States, and now everyone and their brother (and sister) are remixing the latest pop or electronic track to make it sound dubstep-y. To be honest, I can’t get enough of it, but really it comes down to being tasteful. This is a lesson for artists who are not currently part of a popular music movement. If you cling to something good, something that’s gaining rapid popularity, there’s a good chance it actually is as good as everyone thinks it is. But maybe it’s too good! Something as wicked as the wobble might get played out to the point that we all become tired, jaded, cynical versions of our past selves. Ok.. that might be a stretch for some, but it is a warning that we should only pepper in the greatest sounds and effects in our music rather than pouring on the whole bottle of ketchup. Don’t let the lid fall off. Moderation in music is the key to perfection. I just hope my favorite genres are not ruined by their excesses.


These are not the best metal and hardcore breakdowns, but it gives you a good idea about the transition from fast guitar riff to slow chugga-chugga riffs:


The dubstep wobble starts early in this one:

Music Technology and the Pureness Aesthetic

Due to the proliferation of digital and web technologies in the music realm, there seems to be a convergence of issues surrounding the “pureness” of music and whether we are losing the aesthetic that once made music so special (i.e. if it’s any less special than it ever was).  Digital recording software like Pro Tools, and even the ubiquitous Garageband, allows users to quickly edit their music to mask imperfections, pitch-correct their voices, and make rhythmic patterns so perfect that they reach the point of being completely robotic. Some technologies, like UJAM, the recent runner-up in the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York City, allows users to sing or play a musical part into a mic and turn it into a song with a complete band in whatever style they choose. The software detects the key and plays matching chords along with your recorded music part. Not only does the software lower the bar for music production, but it also blurs the line between what is original and what is a pre-defined algorithm for music creation.

The definition of music itself is murkier now. Mash-ups, whether a fad or not, have altered the way we view music in the “Youtube Generation” (so maybe that means we have Generation X --> Generation Y --> Generation Youtube?). Regardless of the definition of the mash-up and its origins, we know that DJs have been sampling long before Youtube, mixing classics with new electro beats and redefining mainstream music for the foreseeable future. This too puts the “pureness” of music into question, for better or worse. To top it all off, the compression of purely analog sounds created by instruments and voice is compressed into a digital format that we play on our computers, iPods, or god forbid on our CD players. In addition to the technologies that make it easier to record music, the pureness of our music is further compromised by the limitations of the sonic spectrum inherent in digital music. Both the creation and final result of that creation are altered by digital technology.

Have we lost the pureness of music? The electric sounds of Jimi Hendrix and the tonal qualities of a Miles Davis solo will never be captured in the same way again. We can still throw on an old record, but it’s not the norm and, for most, it’s not the way people live their musical lives. But whose to say that music is no longer pure? Everything is derivative. Mash-ups are the definition of derivative, but classic rock is a more subtle derivation and combination of blues and country. The actual soundwave is a different story, though. Digital technology limits the sonic spectrum because it approximates the shape of an analog signal and is therefore not a derivative with a life of its own—it is a limited version of a pure analog sound. But who REALLY cares that much? Teenagers certainly will take the convenience of an iPod over carrying around a clunky record player and an adult’s hearing drops off quickly (they too are going to lose any semblance of a fuller spectrum of frequencies).

Despite the semblance of pureness that still remains in the music of the past, we should also recognize transformational shifts in media that make improving digital technologies for music a necessity. New media is now multimedia. Having a great song is not the only piece of the pie anymore, it’s just the icing on the cake. A visually stunning or satirically entertaining video to match your song is equally important nowadays (in the Youtube Generation). Not everyone can simultaneously produce a top-notch video as well as a hit song. If you can leverage digital technologies that make it easier for you to make a somewhat professional quality song and video, you have a lot better chance at catching those eyeballs on the Interwebs.

If I can use software like UJAM’s to correct my voice and add a complete rock band behind it, and then use iMovie to create an amateur yet engaging video, why should I be deprived of such ease and convenience? If it sucks, the better mash-up artists, DJs, and real rock groups will still trump me. If I create something entertaining, maybe I’ll get those Youtube hits, but I’m still not replacing the true artist who creates completely original content. The kind of artists we all go to see in concert. The kind of people we feel somewhat removed from due to their “celebrity”. The paparazzi are not sitting outside of the house of the creator of LOLcats or any other video emerging from an Internet meme. I still think we have real artists making pure music, but lines are being crossed and some are jumping over them and reaching the other side. Now it’s just possible for anyone with some creativity and some virality to make it happen.


Note: UJAM is currently COMING SOON. 

Man vs. Machine: Has The Way We Choose Our Music Changed?

I was buying CDs in the store for years before we entered the digital age of music distribution. I might be a dinosaur though because I still, on occasion, visit the store to purchase a full-length CD (usually the ones that I want to listen to all the way through). The satisfaction of struggling to peel back that horrible tape from the CD’s case is priceless.. followed by the satisfaction of plopping that same CD into my computer to rip onto iTunes and then conveniently place on my iPod for consumption. I rarely go back to consult the CD’s liner notes or artwork, so why I even bother with this whole buying-it-in-the-store charade, I am not sure. Maybe it’s for the occasional bonus DVD that record labels use to try to lure fans into buying the real thing—in all honesty it’s probably more an act of nostalgia than anything (young people can have nostalgia too, right?). Rather than extrapolate as to why I do what I do, I’d rather investigate a more interesting question: has music discovery changed for me now that I live in a mostly online music world? Are my motivations for listening to a particular artist radically different than they were when I found new music in the past?

Music discovery is different depending on a person’s favorite styles and how easy it is to find music that is relevant to them, whether it’s in the store or online. In the past, most retailers limited their selection to the “hits”, leaving the average music consumer with a fairly limited selection of what society deemed good music (i.e. what is popular or what record labels thought should be popular and available for the mainstream). However, before online distribution, there still were ways to discover new and exotic forms of music. The more adventurous type would go explore their favorite independent record store or even a second-hand music shop. Nowadays, instead of going to Walmart or browsing the top songs on iTunes, we might leave the mainstream by creating a specialized online radio station catered to our tastes or read the blog on our favorite niche music site for the latest obscure (insert name of new underground music genre) band. The average person might still be confined to the hits, although maybe with some occasional exploration away from popular music if they happen to stumble across something new on their social networks or Youtube. I’m not quite sure whether the way I discover music is different as a consequence of the ease of finding new music online, or because my musical tastes have diverged to the point where I need more than one mechanism to discover new music.

I still find myself looking for recommendations from friends for music or searching for artists I already know about. Whether I find out what my friends are listening to via social networks or by talking to them in person, the source of the recommendation is essentially the same. What has changed is that sometimes I try to fill the void in my music catalog by referring to online recommendation engines. Music recommendation has now transferred from human to algorithm. It’s a pretty powerful concept that we now delegate music discovery to the various filters of the algorithms we employ. The Genius Bar on iTunes or sites like provide possible solutions to the music discovery problem, but they are imperfect in realizing the actual essence of a song that makes me return to listen to it frequently. I don’t think it’s just a question of getting the metadata to be specific enough, because I don’t think metadata can truly grasp the emotion someone feels when listening to a song.. at least not yet. I find that for the genres of music my friends and I both enjoy, a song they recommend will probably get me the emotional response I am looking for more often than a song I find from an algorithm-based music discovery engine. The mechanistic tendencies of music discovery engines are useful when I don’t mind a search-and-discard method of finding music (i.e. browsing through dozens and dozens of titles until I find one that I decide is worthy of a download or full stream). Frankly, I’ll probably check out a link from a friend or someone I follow on Twitter before I click on a machine-recommended song. In that way, the way I choose music hasn’t changed that much at all.  

We Might Not Be Able to Fly, But Soon We’ll Be Living in the Clouds

Our social lives are already being played out via the social networks. Our blogs are the extension of that life, when we can’t seem to fit all of our ideas, opinions, and rants into a 140-character snippet on Twitter or an appropriate length status update on Facebook. We’re watching everything float up into “the cloud.” Every industry is flirting with moving what was once their hard-drive based media into the cloud, where everything will be immediately accessible from any computer or mobile device—heck, even Microsoft is in for the ride (see Microsoft SharePoint)! The music vertical is no exception to this, and why should it be, music is the soundtrack to our lives (at least it is for the most engaged of music lovers).

The emergence of radio streaming applications such as Pandora and Spotify signal the dream of easy access to playlists tailored to your specification and the availability of endless amounts of music. If customizable radio stations aren’t your thing, and you really just want to play your own music rather than search for new tracks, that doesn’t mean the cloud isn’t for you. MP3tunes is a perfect example of the convenience of the cloud: sync all your music and video with your designated “locker” on their site and it will be available for your use on any device, be it your iPhone or Android, your computer, or whatever future device you might have. That’s the beauty of it: ANY future device you might have. Their Open Music API allows for any manufacturer or developer to write an interface for use with MP3tunes. Michael Robertson, founder of MP3tunes, joyfully explained on This Week in Startups that their iPhone app was not even written by them—their users wrote it for them (of course they had to wait to get past the Apple gatekeepers and their approval process). The battle between open and closed systems might temporarily hinder the ideal of cloud-based technologies, but we have made serious progress. We are not yet free from the limitations of corporate interests, though those same corporate interests might have propelled us to the source of many innovations in the first place. What a conundrum, but I digress.

How are the leading tech companies reacting to cloud-based technology in music? Well, Apple acquired LaLa, a service that stores your music on cloud servers, so now we know they want to get into the cloud game (UPDATE: LaLa is shutting down so maybe we're not SO close). The question is who and when others will follow—Google and maybe even Facebook will enter the cloud music terrain in the near future. Technological limitations still exist: we are still not free from the potentially fleeting problems of bad Internet connections and limited bandwidth, but with time those problems will be rectified. You must pay for extra space on MP3tunes if you want to have extra storage for your music and videos, so we are not living in a utopia of unlimited bandwidth yet. Internet connection provides another technical problem with cloud technology, though LaLa has a partial solution to that problem. One unique and vital feature of the LaLa technology is that it keeps the last few hundred songs you listened to in a cache in case you lose Internet connection in a remote or underground location (i.e. subways, tunnels, between mountains, etc.). As technology rapidly improves, these problems will be in the past and we can all live happily in the cloud.

In the cloud, convenience and speed is the name of the game. I don’t know who can argue with that; I’m certainly not willing to experiment with dial-up or getting rid of my very organized iPod. Robertson explains that with music, unlike with videos and other media, you will want to listen to the same thing 100 times. If your music lives in the cloud, you can essentially listen to all your music, whether you are in your car or about to go to bed, from any device you have. Now I’m just waiting for the cochlear implant that gives me access to the Internet and the U.S. Library of Congress read and played aloud to me. 

Oversaturation: Clogging the Arteries of the Music Industry

Has the music industry reached the point of oversaturation? Is the web the saturated fat of the music industry, clogging us up and making it harder to trim the fat? How do we separate the good from the bad? The viral and the 24-hour news cycle versus the timeless pieces of rock n’ roll media? It’s not just the web, though. Oversaturation spills over into the music industry everywhere: too many bands on tour during a rough economy, too many artists online fighting for a piece of the viral pie, more bands selling more music to their music-pirating audience, and a glut of copy-cat artists on Youtube and other streaming sites. Consumers are the new producers, so how do we cut out the excess noise that threatens music as a “profession” (in the traditional sense). Is there a breaking point, a recovery, or do we just completely alter our perspective of the music industry and throw the saturated fat analogy out the window? Perhaps my analogy is backwards. The people consuming the music are not the ones who are going to die from oversaturation in the market. The consumer can pick and choose what they want, cut the fat off, and throw away the excess. It’s more likely that the artists will suffer as creation becomes devalued and more artists fill up the music industry, dividing up the parts so thin that it becomes harder and harder to make a living from music.

I have to admit, I am playing the devil’s advocate a bit in my assessment (fancy word for rant..). I do enjoy everything viral, and I am finding more than enough good music to overcome the heaping piles of subpar music floating around the interwebs. Despite the excess “noise”, it is no harder for me to find a good song than before, if not much easier. I guess when it comes to music I am just a hopeless romantic, clinging onto the notion that my favorite bands are swimming in riches. If I value their music so much, I feel like they should be justly rewarded. Instead, many of my favorite artists are the starving poet types, hoping their passion for music will translate into paying the gas bills to tour cross-country and maybe even put a meal or two on their plate. Because the economy is so tough and the record industry is pretty much tanking, the only solution is oversaturation. You have to make the money somewhere, so everyone goes on tour all year long to try to make ends meet and sell some merch, where the profit margins are better than CD or iTunes sales. The problem is that the average music fan can only go to so many concerts. Being forced to choose from many great concerts is not a major complaint I hear from many music fans, but it makes competition between bands tougher when they are all trying to vie for position (market share, if you will).

We are also facing oversaturation due to speed and simplicity. The idea that consumers are the new producers (ala Youtube mash-ups and remixing) makes filling up the music space that much easier. Anyone with a computer and some spare time can test out their chops by remixing the latest Top 40 hit and posting it online. With so much extra media surrounding an original production, are we getting sick of a certain piece of music quicker or is the constant iteration prolonging the attention we can give to an artist’s original work? Frankly, I can’t decide. But hey, even with low barriers to entry and shrinking production budgets, I think many artists are still churning out some quality product. Let us just hope that technology improves at the same rate that music sales decline, and maybe we will always have enough artists making high quality music with good production values at increasingly lower costs. That way oversaturation will only be an after-thought to the music experience. As a music consumer, and omnivore, I’ll have my steak and eat it too.

Sobering Statistics, Innovation, and the Future of the Music Industry

The rise of digital technology and uninhibited downloading has put the music industry in a precarious situation as conventional revenue streams have dwindled over the last decade. A study by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), in conjunction with Digital Music News, has confirmed this sobering reality. Recorded music sales have dropped 7.2% in 2009, radio advertising dropped 12%, and sales of musical instruments and music-related video games have dropped as well (15.4% and 47%, respectively). Reforming the record industry, as we know it, to conform to these relatively new realities might be a pipe dream (probably because the idea of a record industry is outdated in and of itself). The “record industry” is an antiquated term, in part because of its deference to the record as a main source of income. With the rapid improvement of digital technology, in terms of increased bandwidth, cheaper equipment, and the influx of social media tools, the music industry now must decide on monetization schemes that benefit both the artist and the consumer. Consumers now believe that we are living in the era of “free”—the question for the music industry is how to adapt.

Although the statistics listed above provide a grim look at the state of the music industry, there is still a glimmer of hope in the uncertainty of the digital age. The concert business has gained 4% in 2009 and publishing and performance rights increased a slight amount as well. It seems logical that downloading music cannot replace the live performance—the conventional rock concert experience will not disappear along with the record sales. At the same time, digital technology does allow for live video streaming of concert events with increasingly superior sound and picture quality. Back in October 2009, U2 played to 96,000 people at the Rose Bowl Arena in Pasadena, California, but many more were watching at home and sharing part of the experience in real-time. Youtube streamed the concert live to nearly 10 million people, making it the largest streaming event ever broadcast over the video-sharing site. With millions of eyeballs on this one event, the music industry will surely see the potential for cashing in by replicating such events in the future. Although it would be very hard for sites like Youtube to convince users to commit to a pay-per-view model, at the very least, advertising to such large groups of people will provide alternate revenue streams for the music industry. The music industry, rather than pursuing the losing battle of preserving intellectual property rights, should embrace change by monetizing it. Recognizing the lure of high quality video streaming and other innovative digital technology will help shed the baggage associated with the industry’s fight against illegal downloading and refocus its mission on new revenue models.

Unfortunately for artists, we live in a time of what Chris Anderson calls the Long Tail, where “the future of business is selling less of more.” Music streaming sites like Spotify and Rhapsody obtain revenue by earning fractions of a cent from online streams. The idea is that a large number of streams convert to substantial revenue, but the artist, on the other hand, only sees a small profit even for a considerable number of streams. The artist, just like the suits of the industry, needs to find its own path. Take the Long Tail in your own hands by grabbing as many eyeballs from the many (and free) social media tools available on the web. Extract value from those resources and convert that into real profit that’s for you, the artist. Whether it’s merch sales, exclusive content for select fans, raising money to record an album (e.g. Sellaband), or any other monetary possibilities, the web brings transaction costs down to zero (or close to it). Now there’s no excuse! Maybe some of the bigger bands are not making the same kind of crazy money they used to, but at least with digital technology, many more of the smaller ones have a fighting chance for a modest income if the right tools are employed. Use the technology that took away the profits to create them in a completely new way.

5 Things Every Artist MUST Do For Promotion

1. Facebook Fan Page: Having a social network presence on the web might be an obvious concept for most bands by now, but many artists are still not utilizing the web to its full potential. As of March 2010, Facebook has amassed 41% of all social traffic on the web. This means you should not only be engaging on Myspace, where many bands send their fans to listen to their latest tracks, but also on Facebook where your fans can post, link, and share your content to their own growing network. Imagine if just one of your friends posts a link to your latest video or song; since the average Facebook user has about 130 friends, the connections you can make as an artist are exponential. The more friends a fan of yours has, the greater the potential reach. Now that Facebook has changed their term for pages from “Become a Fan” to “Like”, it will lower the bar for attracting people to interact with your fan page (since many have deemed it less of a commitment to “like” something than to become a full-fledged fan from the get-go). Most of your fans that “like” your fan page will have your posts in their news feed as well.

2. Twitter: Although Facebook attracts the most social traffic compared to any other site on the web, Twitter has its own advantages in spreading your artist “brand” online. Many people on Twitter feel that it is perfectly acceptable to follow a person that they do not know personally—in fact, it is a social norm and is practically encouraged. This lowers the barrier to entry to communicate with strangers. Many people will be more than happy to interact with you as a band/artist or as an individual (or both!). Because the social norms on Twitter are different than on Facebook, an artist can interact with potential fans in ways that might not be as socially acceptable on Facebook or other networks. Another great advantage to Twitter is the constant stream of information and link-sharing. People might find constant updates on Facebook to be clutter on their news feed because they like to preserve that feed for information involving friends and family. On Twitter, tweeting often is the norm and can open you up to a more diverse audience than just “friends” or “friends of friends.”

3. Artist Website: It is not enough to just be on social networks. It is important to be on the social networks because that is where everyone goes to interact frequently, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your own website as well! Having your own website means you are in control of your career and, by default, you will appear more professional. In addition, attracting fans to sign up to an email mailing list or fan club on your own website seems a lot less like spam than if you hassled them on their social networks constantly. On your own website you can clearly lay out the incentives and perks of joining a fan club or signing up for a mailing list (think free downloads, exclusive merch, and meet-and-greets). Since it is your own website, you are not constrained by the limitations of a particular social network.

4. Live Video Streaming: Live video streaming sites such as Ustream have gained massive popularity in the last couple years. Many celebrities, artists, and other online personalities use live video streaming to connect with their fanbase in more intimate ways than Youtube videos or posts on their website. Not only can your fans watch you talk to them or play music live, but they can also interact with you via chat. Fans will get a lot more excited about getting a response to one of their questions in real-time than waiting days for an email or response to a blog post. Interacting with your fans online through video (whether it is performing or just chatting) will help fill the gaps between your live concerts and releasing studio-quality material.

5. MERCH MERCH MERCH!: Money will NOT come from music sales… PERIOD! Mashable posted a very sobering infographic (link and image posted below) about how many plays, downloads, or CD sales an artist needs to make minimum wage (and that’s assuming that the artist is only one person and not a five-piece band!). An artist would need 12,399 iTunes sales per month at $0.99 per track or 4,549,020 plays per month on Spotify to make minimum wage. If you want to sell self-pressed CDs, then you would need to sell 143 CDs per month at $9.99 per album—not an easy feat these days. My recommendation: sell merch at your shows and put a tip jar out (maybe some people who don’t want your merch will chip in for your band because they know they will be downloading your music for free online anyway). Merch is where the money is at these days. Printing out custom shirts for a particular tour or concert date will give your fans something that feels rare and increases their incentive to make a purchase. If you don’t have the money to buy your first bulk supply of merch, then use online services such as CafePress or Printfection. Although they take a large chunk of your profits right off the top, you can make your own custom merch without any of the upfront costs. When you have more funds, then you can start printing your own merch to have online and offline.