Understand what the brand is...
The focus of your marketing should be creating your own brand.
Music used to be a major form of entertainment, as the access was easy and ticket prices were way cheaper than today. Today the major acts tickets are very expensive, and, in between them and the local clubs/bars and some traditional festivals, where usually musicians are not paid enough, there is not too much in between.
The 60-70-80s generations used to go frequently to music concerts; today the dance clubs are the places where the young go. Yes, there is lot of music out there, but it’s not the same thing, as people do not go to dance clubs like they used to go to the local music scenes venues- rather more like the discos from the 80’s. There is a higher need for music today, but music became part of a larger picture. It became also part of the package that creates an image to sell a product. It follows us everywhere, given the easy access to it, but more like a background and a constant noise. Sometimes it can be a moral and emotional support in a world where the isolation and lack of direct contact are increasing steady.
“Things have changed,” said Dylan in his song, and he was right. One major change is in the pace of life. I remember I used to spend hours between the speakers of my turntable listening to Zeppelin, Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Yes and so many others; today I would not have this time, both for objective and subjective reasons. Now I have to provide- family, society - and that takes time. Before I had more time and music was the thing, the essence: listen, enjoy, dream, admire, and play.
Most of the people listen today in cars between news, on mobile devices, on headphones, while they’re doing something else. Overall, they listen for the same or larger amount of time, however, their main focus is not anymore so much on music, as music complements our everyday life and became part of the general picture. Of course, we develop preferences; probably a more accurate statement is we’re guided to develop preferences.
For musicians, music changed in the sense that it became a regular business, where the most part of the folks are basically running a small business, very few make millions, and some others live on minimum wage or less. Meanwhile, the big guys – major record labels - are riding on these small businesses, as they can pick and invest in the most original, talented and successful. They make money because they can invest major funds, unlike the musicians don’t usually have unlimited funds to promote themselves.
Think at your expense: you pay the internet provider for your web hosting, you either pay or put a lot of time (and time is money!) into making your website, going into forums and get involved in discussions, so you get more hits, more exposure and get noticed more, you post videos and Google advertises over it, and eventually pays you just a few cents- and by the way, YouTube doesn’t even spend a cent for video/music production).
To make things even worse, the Internet companies actually took on the function of delivering the music - streaming, sales - and they charge actually a disproportionate percentage of the income generated by the sales of music. They didn’t invest anything on the creation side, but, as they control the delivery, they took every possible advantage. They have developed the digital product delivery to a science, everybody is used to it, because people are used to the convenience of it actually.
In the end, these Internet companies are cutting various deals with the major labels that have the large catalogues, so they can impose different contracts than the small labels or independent musicians; they are the major players and they find ways to split the sales and obviously this is how it becomes harder for the little guy. The little guy lacks the power to negotiate and finance promotion on a large scale.
All of these business aspects are actually keeping you away from making music, and they are the new reality; being a musician usually is not enough anymore, you have to be business oriented. That is the only way you can take control of your professional life.
And now the good news: you can actually do it. It takes a long time, you will not be paid like the big guys in the beginning, it requires patience, a methodical approach, focus, a realistic expectation, but it can be done. I read like you did so many articles that states the odds are against you. I don’t think so, but I agree that it is difficult for most musicians to be good at promotion/marketing, and so they will definitely loose in the grand scheme of things. Eventually they have to adapt, either learn or find people that believe in them and help them building the brand.
So what do you do? Where do you start? Well, first gather information as much as possible. Information is power. Look around you to learn the ropes, and study what the successful guys/business did, and get even further and be innovative. Learn as much as you can about building a brand and start doing it.
You know what you want to do and think you’re ready for it: you want to do music! Years ago, the most amount of work had to be put in preparing yourself, improving the technique of playing, keep on writing songs and became better … and yes, promote your music. How are things today? Many forms have changed, but the essence is the same: you got to be good at your chosen instrument; your songs have to be good too! The promotion today however is different, as the market changed and it has no borders (that’s the internet thing). It takes a higher toll, the effort is higher, but the opportunities are also larger, due to this thing called Internet. I really don’t know for how long, as it seems that more and more are trying to control it for their own good...
How exactly ”you got to be good” translates in today’s market? Well, you have to create a brand, and the brand is your name! The brand is the central things in all the marketing activity you do, because in order to sell big, you have to be a brand! What else is Led Zeppelin or Eminem or Beyoncé or U2? We can argue as much as you want, but one thing is clear: you know what you buy when you buy Zeppelin or U2 or Daft Punk! They established themselves in the music scene with a certain way of doing the songs, have a certain sound, and, if you’re a fan, you expect the new releases and you buy them. Maybe some of the releases may not meet the expectations, but that doesn’t count too much in the grand scheme of things.
Just think for a moment and try to imagine yourself being a player in Metallica: you have to practice, to be in shape, to attend press conferences, to travel, to eat properly, to go in the studio, to make a video or two for each album, to play gigs all over the world, to spend time with the family, to oversee your financials, to keep an active presence in social media, and many others!
It’s not that easy when you’re alone, because you don’t have the financial means of the big record labels, and so you have to try to do as much as possible at the teams managing the major acts do! Yes, Metallica is a huge brand, but you know something? They were small like you in the beginning!
If you envision where you want to be and what it takes, then you can checkmark the box for the first step. I do believe the first step is to know what you want, and behave and live as you’re there. What are the other people doing? Exactly the same; they work and study for many years to become a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist, and in the end they will be what they wanted to be, with some at the top, and others making a decent living. Think of the years needed to get there, and the amount of effort and money.
I don’t think music is any different; it is however harder, because, unlike a doctor or other jobs, in music you can’t cheat. There is something interesting about us, humans, as we recognize without being able to explain why, when something we hear conveys sincere emotion and moves us.
So, if you’re convinced that you have the talent and are willing to do the work, you can afford to dream for a short period of time, and, while you dream, define exactly where you want to get. Then stop dreaming once you know it! If what you want is the glitter, you’re in the wrong business; I recommend better the fashion industry! If what you want is to make a living out of music, that is possible, but you have to be talented, hardworking, stubborn and very creative.
If you understand the brand idea and want to create it, be ready for a very long ride! Yes, you definitely need to be talented and willing to work extra hard! The secret is to understand that the beauty of it all is in the trip itself, and not where you’re headed! That makes it fun and exciting!
Let’s analyze the idea of the brand. You need to have a message, a mission if you want. It basically means you need to define what you’re doing as an artist, what you do to your fans, and establish a clear identity. That should be both a musical and a marketing mission. And once you have that, then you need to start to build on it, every day and hour by hour.
Your music is the foundation of your identity. You have to have that. Then, you have to have the image. This image is a work in progress, and needs to address the how, when, where, and to whom you want to communicate your message. The moment you establish yourself as a brand, your fans/customers know exactly what to expect from your music (including the surprises). Yes, it is like a promise, in fact the idea of the brand is the promise to your fans.
How to clearly define your brand, how to develop it and what strategy you should use is the subject of some other blogs. What is important for now is to understand that, by building yourself as a brand, your fans will follow you, trust you that you deliver and are willing to pay more for that. And it doesn’t matter what the level of it is: local, national or international.