The goal of any artist is to get their music to the people. The beginning of the recording days was simple. The artist made a recording, typically financed by record company money. The record company then provided marketing support, distribution and if the act had a hit song - the record company would send them out on the road “in support” of the album, in hopes of selling additional singles. Not any longer. Most new artists struggle for years to get noticed by a major label, spend most of those years on the road, and produce their albums on their own. The digital age has made it easier than ever, but not without pitfalls. Illegal downloads, sharing of music, and the cost of production have all taken the profits down steadily in the last two decades. It caused quite a stir when U2 arranged for the formation’s entire album to be auto-downloaded onto every iPhone, with an Apple music subscription. Many people were upset by the band’s album taking up space in their catalog without permission. Truth is that it was brilliantly evil. At any event, people were talking about this case. However, it has now made them the subject of hatred and jokes by non-fans. That being said, U2’s last tour sold out. The goal was attained. The goal that many strive for. So, the real issue is how does an artist adapt to the new music consumption trends, without devaluing themselves to a point where it becomes a losing gig.
So, how does an artist get music out and still make money?
Well to do so, one must understand the potential customers and their habits. Streaming custom channels has become the most frequent way of listening to music. One of the best ways to get the music heard is on a random streaming service, such as Pandora, for example. Using these types of services, customers submit their station types. In doing so, they will hear the artist that they selected, plus other artists, who are similar. Getting added to this rotation can have millions of people passive listening to the music. Pandora accepts submissions through the artist section, as the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) tool allows uploads and marketing, as any marketing to drive traffic and buzz can help.
However, playing live has become the new go-to for making a connection to the fans. It is the most direct marketing plan available. Potential fans can listen live, buy hard copies and merchandise. If a band cannot afford hundreds of physical copies of a CD, a download card for sale can also be a genius way to sell on site. Most people, except for collectors of vinyl, prefer a digital copy. Each card is given a specific, one-time use code, and is given to fans as they purchase the downloads on site. They can be business card sized with a link to type in, or for a more polished look - a scannable QR (Quick Response) code that takes them to the code entry box, where the download can be obtained. This is also a great opportunity to place additional marketing online, while the download is completing. A better size for the card would be about the size of a standard photo. Many people prefer to collect autographs when they make the purchase. It adds additional value to the item, either physically or intrinsically. Selling merchandise personally, if it is practical, or at least making an appearance at the merchandise area, can make a gauge difference in sales too. Fans tend to purchase more when the opportunity to get autographs and chat is available to them. There is a give and take, almost a symbiotic relationship between the fan and the artist. The opportunity to meet and speak to your favorite artist onsite could make a difference between selling light and selling out. There have been bands scrambling to restock merchandise mid-tour while others carry boxes home. In some cases, being available makes a difference.
For better or worse, the selection of venue and type of a gig can also contribute to how your music is valued. There are so many artists scrambling to play as many gigs as possible, without considering where and for whom they are playing. It is difficult to believe that quality is always preferable to quantity. Many artists and promotion firms are led to believe that playing any gig is better than no gig. There are a few things to consider in this prospect. How a venue is perceived by the public is very important. Chances are that if the artist is opening for a reputable band or popular headliner, it is less of a consideration. If the show is privately produced and specifically free or paid to play a gig, it is extremely important to know the customer base, the area and the general impressions created by playing in the specific venue. There have been more than a few bands that ended up playing gigs in places that resembled something directly out of the 80’s movie roadhouse with a fence surrounding the stage to protect the musicians from flying objects. Playing in a place like this not only sets the standards very low for a fan’s perception, but it can also be dangerous. If the place is notorious for bar fights, chances are the largest purchasing fan base, are not going to be there, for instance. Add to that the possibility that promotion may not be adequate and funds spent to get to and do the show may be better spent on a different type of exposure opportunities.
So, the big question is, if a band gives their music away, or do free shows, can they still make a connection with fans and make money?
The short answer is yes, but not to the degree of the previous example. The first trick is to give away the SECOND best song, for THE best song (the one you feel will be most likely to be a hit single). While the high-volume drop worked for U2 (to use the aforementioned example), it is important to remember that they were multi-platinum selling artists with a huge fan base to begin with. The logic in giving the second-best song away is simple. As an artist you want to lead the fan to the site to purchase something, anything, to add to your income. If you give away the best song, instead of baiting them with the other, there is a lower chance that they will purchase anything at all.
The most important takeaway from all this is everything lies in moderation. Giving away too much product, or time can make an artist less valuable. Knowing how to progressively adapt to the fickle and ever-changing means music consumption by fans is the key to take an artist from the fringe to the mainstream. Nowadays, it is important for every artist to properly assess the specific characteristics of their career and of the opportunities that they are being presented with, as only talking careful and calculated decisions can lead to positive career progress, considering the essence of the music industry nowadays.