The best thing that’s ever happened to the music business is the internet, the laptop, and the cell phone. (See if you can guess where this might be going.) The worst thing that’s ever happened to the music business is the internet, the laptop, and the cellphone. This doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure out why. You can reach more people than ever before, far more quickly than ever before. Why, back in the day, we had to…. (insert tedious story here).
That’s right, there’s only one thing more annoying than an old-timer reciting stories of why they had it harder, and that’s a newbie not understanding how good they have it. You just need to know the whys and hows. Everything old is new again. Yes, hard-copy cd sales have all but disappeared. That means you have to rely on touring to make the bulk of your income. That’s exactly the way it was before the record industry took off, almost 100 years ago. You slogged from hall to hall, making enough to get to the next one. Barely.
Album sales became the big source of income, which was great, as one could tour less. But there were only radio stations, so managers had to work to get records played on local stations, usually by going the illegal “payola” route, where disc jockeys were bribed to get a new band in rotation. If you got lucky, you took off, and you’d hit the road touring in support of a record. Your chances of success were no better or no worse, it’s just the income came from a different source.
Now, it’s a double-edged sword. You can get your music out there easily, but the royalties stink. In the big picture, don’t worry about it, and stop whining. Statistically, most all acoustic musicians who aren’t super-stars get so few streaming plays that you’re lucky to make pennies. And that’s for some really good, established names. One Grammy-nominated band I presented a year or two ago was lamenting that the only place to sell music was at the shows. They checked their iTunes balance that showed that in the past month, only three tunes were purchased. It turns out that I had purchased them for promotional purposes. You do it for the added exposure, the easy access to tunes and videos for promoting shows. The algorithms that most services use are helpful in letting new fans find your work.
That’s the new reality. You need to get people to your shows. Period, as that’s the only way to survive on performing. And until you “make it big”, it may not be enough for a steady income.Does it make sense now why so many of your teachers and musical heroes also teach online lessons? Cash flow, man. This acoustic strings world is growing rapidly, but it’s still a niche, and you have to understand niche marketing.
How does social media hurt or help this? It absolutely helps with exposure, helps keep fans on top of your schedule, but more importantly, and so few people get this right, it can establish a bond with a community that can forge better attendance down the road, and at future locations as well.
First, you need two accounts, one for you personally, and one for you as a musician. Keep the personal account private, and only for personal friends. Don’t mix the two. Someone who you meet at a fiddle camp, or on the road may become a friendly acquaintance, but they know you as a musician. There’s a reason for this, and it comes down to professionalism. On your personal account, private to everyone but your friends, post whatever you want. Every musician I know only posts upbeat, benign things anyway, but the need to separate will become clear.
Another golden rule of human behavior: Everyone wants to feel appreciated. The fastest way into someone’s heart is to make sure they are appreciated, and in a very public way. At each concert, I’ll get a quick “thanks” from the performers, but many aren’t really good at explaining how appreciated the audience is. I have a bunch of stories explaining how some did a fantastic job at this, and yes, that includes some really seasoned world-tourers. They made each and everyone feel special.
How does this apply to social media? You’ll need to post a few times in the weeks leading up to a tour about where you’ll be appearing. Just list all the venues, no need to single anyone out yet. One week before the tour starts, make a separate post for each venue. No need to go into details, just a quick, “Hey Mapleville, can’t wait to see you at Bob’s Discount Croissant Parlor in one week!” That gives the venue something to share on their page.
Figure on one post before the show, one post right after the show, for every show. That would overwhelm your private account, so there’s another reason why you keep the two separate. They’re quick hits, the pre-show maybe being a picture of the venue, or all the stuff being unloaded. One sentence is plenty, a quick “Hello Mapleville, here we are loading into Bob’s and we’re looking forward to lots of fun!” The after-show post can be the day after, though one band would occasionally take a cellphone shot of the audience from the stage with a big “Thanks Mapleville” as the writing. One band did something I found really special, where they would take a couple of pictures of local landmarks either on the way in to the show, or on the way out, and post a tiny little travelogue for each town. For us, it was a band photo down by the beach, followed with one shot from the town green. I received a bunch of comments from our regular audience members thinking that was really nice of them to acknowledge the town.
Instagram is no different, treat that with pointed, pertinent travel shots that highlight something about each town, and each venue. Nothing dramatic, no need to go overboard with compliments, just let the locals know you enjoyed your stay and appreciated everything done for you.
Also, do your own posting, answer your own messages. I tried messaging one band about a question I was going to use in the PR campaign, and got a generic response about how it’s all on the website. Well, it wasn’t, not what I wanted. It was clear that some admin was doing the message-return job, and the lack of a personal touch showed. Venues have to know what they’re getting, so make sure you communicate.
A quick “don’t.” DO NOT EVER go on about “your favorite venue.” Treat all venues and all towns equally, regardless of how much success or fun you had. There was one musician who posted prominently and frequently on Facebook about a gig coming up at one local venue, going on about how it was her favorite ever, that nothing could compare, and so on. Now, I know that artists make on average 3-4 times with me than they would at this other cool little cultish place. So, it was sort of fitting that a day or two after all these posts, she asked me for a gig. Hmmm. Not sure about that, especially since we can share audiences at times. And especially since because she was at our place before, some of our regulars who follow her on Facebook probably read that. I can tell, because Facebook tells me so. Social media is a powerful tool, so treat it with the respect that any business would treat any P.R. campaign.
There is a lot more to it, but only so much space here, but use it wisely.