Passion Pit is a perfect example of how giving away self-produced and released music can lead to big things. Lead Vocalist Michael Angelakos took songs he wrote for his girlfriend, burned them to CD, started passing them out around campus and next thing you know? Sold out tours, major labels, and glowing Pitchfork reviews. But what can you do as a beginning musician to follow in their footsteps?
- Step 1: Have good music
It may sound ridiculously obvious, but this is sometimes a major factor musicians overlook in the marketing process. Why spend money on a tour van or radio promotion if no one will even show your music to their Facebook friends first? You could literally spend $50,000 on marketing and have it go to waste if your music isn’t up to the top quality standards in terms of production, songwriting and mixing/mastering.
If you are just starting out, and don’t have the ability to hire a producer or engineer at a professional studio, there are plenty of programs that will allow you to, after alot of trial and error, get close to professional quality sound. I use Logic Pro, some Pro Tools, and Ableton Live for production. A full on tutorial of how to produce music with these programs is another article entirely.
- Give it away for free on “the Internet”
If I have never heard of your band before, I am probably not going to buy your music. Especially if there isn’t even a free iTunes preview available. This is because there are plenty of bands that I already like giving away music for free, and in the age of Mediafire and Hype Machine, I can download any album I want in about 4 seconds. So if a potential fan shows up to your website, has to turn off your FLASH AUTOPLAY WEBSITE (caps because seriously everyone hates these sites), and then gets propositioned to enter their credit card information, odds are they aren’t going down to the car to get their wallet. And that is a catastrophic failure on your part. Give your music away for free, at least initially. Get people excited and interested in your sound and what you are doing. Think about the old adage “Fake it till you make it”, and how that relates to music — you will make significantly more money down the road using long-tail economics — so stop thinking linearly and start thinking exponentially. Consider this:
Chris Anderson wrote a very profound book called The Long Tail: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More that explains how the internet changed the way we do business on a global scale. A good example is what happened to SEARS, the department store. It all started back before most farmers could afford an automobile, let alone the fuel to drive into town every day. Sears had the novel idea of passing out catalogs to each farmhouse, that not only sold things, but sold EVERYTHING. Wristwatches, thread, lightbulbs, kerosene lanterns, you name it, you could order it right out of the catalog. This is because Sears invested in the initial infrastructure of large warehouses and trucks to ship things from all over the world to Good Lord, Iowa. This was great initially, and gave the masses things from far away lands they only dreamed about.
Yet as time wore on, the farmers started showing up to Church with the same wristwatch from the same catalog. Consumers demanded product differentiation. They now wanted specialized, niche markets. Competitors and new nation-spanning highways gave people the freedom of choice and customization, which in turn led to Sears’ downfall, and subsequently it is now market share leader in washing machines. So, what does this have to do with music?
Back when there were only a few channels for wristwatch distribution, the same held true for music. There were only a few channels on the local radio, and only a certain number of CD’s could fit on the shelves in the record store. The major labels owned the only distribution infrastructure that could physically get your music to the major metropolitan areas, and if you didn’t fit their style or genre, you were condemned to play coffee shops and Bar Mitzvahs for the rest of your career.
Along comes the Internet. Whoa, wasn’t there a record store here last week? The new paradigm of music distribution allows for infinitely reducible niche markets in music. Nowadays, the New Age Polka enthusiast can not only find their favorite artist’s music, but automatically and instantaneously receive recommendations of other New Age Polka artists they may like as well. As an old friend used to say, “there’s a seat for every ass in the house”. If you make good music, you will find fans, regardless of how obscure it may be.
- Get 1,000 true fans
I went to a music conference in 2011 that was basically a big waste of time, but I did come away with one new idea of what being a musician will be like in the coming years. Consider this article, written in 2000, about the then current state of the music industry.
In that year, Eminem, Britney Spears, and N Sync all helped paint a picture of a music industry that was still expanding — a record-breaking 312 million CD’s were sold — that’s an 8 % increase. The warning signs were there — as most of the article debates whether or not Napster will have a long-term effect on major labels. But statements like “People do like CD’s. They continue to buy about 900 million CD’s every year in this country. I don’t think people are going to change their behavior dramatically,” offer a glimpse into the prevalent shortsightedness that was going around at the time.
What happened next was a result of that year. Based on 2000’s growth projections, the industry kept expanding while the actual sales started to dip. Labels started losing alot of money fast, and could no longer give out big advances. Thus, the days of the mega-stars like Britney Spears are now over.
Yet there is still a booming music industry out there, with billions of dollars in annual global revenue. So how will it be distributed in the coming years? We will start to see the expansion of the musical middle class. No, you probably won’t make $10 Million dollars per album like they did in the year 2000, but your chances of making an honorable $40,000 per year are very high if you can attract at least 1,000 fans that will spend $40 on your brand per year. Think about it — that’s basically a T Shirt, a ticket sale, and a ringtone. The best way to attract fans is to be real with them, and to be honest. The idea of being a reclusive, mysterious musician that hides in the studio for weeks doesn’t really mesh well with the age of blogging and Youtube. Talk to people online. Share stories and information. Comment on people’s pictures. Post videos of your new song idea and ask for input. Over 50% of the entire internet’s traffic runs through YouTube. That is a HUGE resource.
Make customized merch that only your most loyal fans can access, and even think about VIP concerts and events. It may sound strange, but sometimes it feels like the internet has only increased the distance between people in real life — be someone people can always rely on as a digital friend, and I promise, they will always support your musical endeavors.