How often does a band you love come out with new music? If your answer is “typically once a year” you win the prize (which is getting to read the rest of this article). Last night at a happy hour with some clients I had the unique opportunity to chat with Wise Girl (an independent artist) and the CEO of Melody Robot (and freelance ad agency producer) at the same time. It was great. I love picking their brains to see how the two different sides think and bouncing ideas off of them to see how they resonate.
Looking to successful businesses and marketing campaigns can help eschew old music industry models to advance independent music. Lately my big thing is product cycle.
If you’re an avid Apple fan you really look forward to June, September, and January. Why? Because these are typically the big refresh dates for Apple products. If you watch Breaking Bad on TV chances are you look forward to every Sunday night for 13 weeks in a row and then download the series to watch it again in a few months. Or maybe you love to shop at J. Crew and can’t wait for Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer catalogs to show up in your mailbox.
Are you starting to formulate what I’m driving at? At its fastest music generally comes out once per year. You get 10 songs, sometimes as many as 16, and maybe a concert, and then it’s back into hibernation.
Now, for a band like Pearl Jam that has sold nearly 32 million records and has a huge global fan base, you can choose to release an album once a year (or longer) and go on tour for 3 months and know you’ll sell a ton of records. People will punch each other in the face just for the miniscule chance they’ll be able to buy a ticket to see a live performance too. Leading up to that release, they’ll scour the web searching for every tidbit they can about the band. They have the luxury of already having a hungry public in place. But what if you don’t have a huge fan base? What if you need to transition from being “this band I kind of like” to “I cannot wait for their next album!”?
Shouldn’t independent artists be in frequent contact with their fans? Shouldn’t they seem prolific? Wouldn’t scheduling yourself to write and record music be an insanely useful exercise? So why bust your ass to save up $5K, take FOREVER to complete a project, then release it and act surprised that you don’t immediately gain fame and fortune?
Here’s the deal: as a new artist you have a lot of work to do and only about 20 percent of it is actually writing music. You need to garner some attention from current fans, they need to know what you’re doing, hear the results, and get an exclusive look at how you did it. Fans need to be engaged in your work and encouraged to pass it around to their friends due to its raw magnetism. It is NOT good enough to release an album once a year or an EP every 6 months, play a few shows, and then go back to waiting tables while you wait for something to happen or try to shop your 10 songs around.
The game has changed. Consider using a content calendar. Tweet photos, post temp tracks, ask for feedback, populate and maintain a mailing list (I LOVE Mail Chimp). Find ways to engage your fans, solicit new ones, and keep them posted with what you’re doing, what it looks like, how it’s sounding, and building that anticipation for the final product. After all, it works for Apple.