As previously mentioned, after a spate of final shows Trent Reznor is putting NIN on “indefinite hiatus.” Today he announced the exact dates and sites of the ten “Wave Goodbye” outings: They begin at the end of August with four nights in New York City before stops in Chicago and Los Angeles, and you’ll find them at the bottom of this post. But before he goes off into the sunset or whatever, Trent decided to impart some wisdom to all the younger acts who’ve yet to amass hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Pay attention, class.
I posted a message on Twitter yesterday stating I thought The Beastie Boys and TopSpin Media “got it right” regarding how to sell music in this day and age. Here’s a link to their store:[illcommunication.beastieboys.com]
Shortly thereafter, I got some responses from people stating the usual “yeah, if you’re an established artist – what if you’re just trying to get heard?” argument. In an interview I did recently this topic came up and I’ll reiterate what I said here.
If you are an unknown / lesser-known artist trying to get noticed / established:
* Establish your goals. What are you trying to do / accomplish? If you are looking for mainstream super-success (think Lady GaGa, Coldplay, U2, Justin Timberlake) – your best bet in my opinion is to look at major labels and prepare to share all revenue streams / creative control / music ownership. To reach that kind of critical mass these days your need old-school marketing muscle and that only comes from major labels. Good luck with that one.
If you’re forging your own path, read on.
* Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.
Parter with a TopSpin or similar or build your own website, but what you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters… whatever.
Don’t have a TopSpin as a partner? Use Amazon for your transactions and fulfillment. [www.amazon.com]
Use TuneCore to get your music everywhere. [www.tunecore.com]
Have a realistic idea of what you can expect to make from these and budget your recording appropriately.
The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact – it sucks as the musician BUT THAT’S THE WAY IT IS (for now). So… have the public get what they want FROM YOU instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process (plus build your database).
The Beastie Boys’ site offers everything you could possibly want in the formats you would want it in – available right from them, right now. The prices they are charging are more than you should be charging – they are established and you are not. Think this through.
The database you are amassing should not be abused, but used to inform people that are interested in what you do when you have something going on – like a few shows, or a tour, or a new record, or a webcast, etc.
Have your MySpace page, but get a site outside MySpace – it’s dying and reads as cheap / generic. Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE AND EASY TO FIND AND HEAR MUSIC (but don’t autoplay). Constantly update your site with content – pictures, blogs, whatever. Give people a reason to return to your site all the time. Put up a bulletin board and start a community. Engage your fans (with caution!) Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. Get a Twitter account. Be interesting. Be real. Submit your music to blogs that may be interested. NEVER CHASE TRENDS. Utilize the multitude of tools available to you for very little cost of any – Flickr / YouTube / Vimeo / SoundCloud / Twitter etc.
If you don’t know anything about new media or how people communicate these days, none of this will work. The role of an independent musician these days requires a mastery of first hand use of these tools. If you don’t get it – find someone who does to do this for you. If you are waiting around for the phone to ring or that A & R guy to show up at your gig – good luck, you’re going to be waiting a while.
Hope this helps, and I’ll scour responses for intelligent comments I can respond to.
TopSpin Media info:
This was written on a bumpy Euro-bus ride across the wilderness – may ramble a bit but I think the point gets across.
Thanks for the insightful comments already – when I get a moment (and a reliable internet connection) I’ll respond to some of your very valid points. Please keep in mind – these were just some thoughts I quickly wrote down and posted and not meant to be a complete guide by any means. I’ve neglected to get into publishing and some other things. I’ll update pretty soon.
Here’s a message from Ian Rogers of TopSpin
Here’s a few responses – more to come when I get time.
This looks excellent to me. I have not used it but it appears to be great. This would cover your digital distribution of files and the collecting / amassing of your database. Looks like you’d still need someplace to handle fulfillment of merchandise / physical goods (like the Amazon link above).
This is where you offer tracks or albums for a user-determined price. I hate this concept, and here’s why.
Some have argued that giving music away free devalues music. I disagree. Asking people what they think music is worth devalues music. Don’t believe me? Write and record something you really believe is great and release it to the public as a “pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth” model and then let’s talk. Read a BB entry from a “fan” rationalizing why your whole album is worth 50 cents because he only likes 5 songs on it. Trust me on this one – you will be disappointed, disheartened and find yourself resenting a faction of your audience. This is your art! This is your life! It has a value and you the artist are not putting that power in the hands of the audience – doing so creates a dangerous perception issue. If the FEE you are charging is zero, you are not empowering the fan to say this is only worth an insultingly low monetary value. Don’t be misled by Radiohead’s In Rainbows stunt. That works one time for one band once – and you are not Radiohead.
Why put something on iTunes for a price fans can get it from your site for free? Won’t it piss people off?
Do it and don’t worry about it. Lots of people apparently shop at iTunes exclusively and that’s where they get their music. They are generally not the people that would be mad to discover they could have gotten the same record (at a better bit-rate) for free elsewhere. We put The Slip up at nin.com for free at all fidelities and STILL sold a fairly large amount of copies at iTunes for $9.99. At the time iTunes did not allow variable pricing (I don’t know what the deal is now).
My Flash comments
I don’t hate Flash, just go easy on it and avoid anything that takes time to load – ESPECIALLY your front page.
Managers / booking agents / small labels
Any or all of these may be good for you – or not. Here’s a truth: nobody knows what to do right now, me included. The music business model is broken right now. That means every single job position in the music industry has to re-educate itself and learn / discover / adapt a new way. Change can be painful and hard and scary. If any of these entities we’re discussing are interested in you, ask them about their strategies IN DETAIL. None of them know for sure what to do. Some of them have an idea of how to negotiate these waters. Most of them don’t. If you are young and use the internet, you know more about your audience than they do – for sure. This is a revolution and you can be a part of it. The old guard is dying, if you have good ideas – try them.
Bottom line – before getting involved with anyone else, ask yourself what it is they can clearly bring to your table and is it worth their cut. Do they know what they’re talking about, and does their strategies match yours?
I have not gotten into the basics which I believe are self-evident: believe in what you do, do the best work you can, work hard, practice, practice more, find your voice, hone in on it, take chances, play live (if applicable), practice more, keep believing in yourself and prepare for the long haul.
If none of Professor Reznor’s advice works for your band, you can always try to break out on the local news.