Trent is Only Part Right

Over the past few weeks I’ve been noticing a lot of talk among musician resource and/or tech blogs, about Trent Reznor’s thoughts for new/unknown artists to be heard and market their music. Of course, almost all the headlines read along the lines, “Trent says give away your music for free!” Snipettes of Reznor’s post are cut and pasted into these articles in a way to support whatever point the writer is trying to make. It amazed me to see that so many blogs were focusing so much on the fact that Trent mentions “free music”, yet failed to mention  anything really useful for artists, or anyone in the music industry. I get so tired of these same sites/blogs preaching innovation when they all push for the same thing.

The truth is, Trent Reznor experimented with many ideas before he discovered a great model that is working for him, however this model will not work for every independent musician. NIN is an internationally-known musical brand, with a huge base of true fans who will shell out the money for rarities. Nine Inch Nails music crosses generations and genres, not to mention they have been a top selling recording artist for 15+ years. You can bet that when a new NIN album is released his millions of fans will be going to iTuens/Amazon to download it. Perhaps only his true fans know to visit the web site for freebies and/or physical rarities. The question is; do you, as a relatively unknown artist, have the weight to bring in the amount of fans necessary to move a profitable amount of rare merchandise and/or box sets? Does your audience even care about these rarities? If you’re trying to get noticed it’s a big commitment for a new fan to invest that kind of money. However, a few dollars and not having to take the time to search the p2p sites for your music is another story.

For anyone to claim that musicians can no longer earn money from their recorded/digital music, is ridiculous. I cringe when I hear these words spoken to struggling indie artists, because it’s simply not true. I also noticed this is usually said by people unfamiliar with any real world marketing  or music business experience. All anyone knows for sure is that the old way of doing things just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Trent himself even claims in that very post,

“Here’s a truth: nobody knows what to do right now, me included. The music business model is broken right now. That means every single job position in the music industry has to re-educate itself and learn / discover / adapt a new way. Change can be painful and hard and scary.”

You can still sell your music digitally–online.  It’s mainly a matter of execution and how you present your music.  The sky isn’t falling, as some bloggers would have you believe. For one, digital music sales are on the rise despite all the bad news we hear. Yes, it’s true that there is nothing you can do about piracy, but connecting with your fans on a personal level will help deter this. On a p2p site, you’re just content. On your own web site/profile, you’re a musician. As they say, personality goes a long way.  Unfortunately, there will always be people who find it more important to beat the system than to compensate the artists for their work. You should either embrace this or ignore it, because online piracy is not going anywhere anytime soon.

I believe this is a very exciting time for the music industry and especially for independent musicians. Never before has there been the opportunities to spread your music around at your discretion, as there are today. You definitely should try different models and strategies until you find a way that makes you satisfied, but from someone who has been marketing digital content online for roughly nine years, my suggestions for marketing your music, for both profit and word-of-mouth, I suggest (in no particular order):

  • Yes, give away SOME of your music for free. Pick only a few of your stronger songs and spread them around like a wild fire. You will want to leave most of your music available for purchase only. Wherever possible, be sure your music links to your main web site or digital store of choice. If they like your music, they will want to know more about you and where to get more of it. Show them. You WILL sell more of your music if your fans know where and how to get it.
  • Know your audience. Target only them, no matter how small or large a group they may be. You will get a much bigger response from your targeted audience. If your music is destined for mass appeal, these will be the people that bring it there.
  • Upload your music everywhere! The Internet is HUGE and still growing everyday. So be sure to have a strong presence and your music where your fans are, and UPDATE regularly to keep your name in everyone’s face.  Remember –  no matter how great you are — out of site, out of mind.
  • Itunes and Amazon aren’t the only digital record stores. When I tell musicians about PLUGOLA, sometimes they say, “Well, I already have my music on iTunes”. And I usually respond, “So, you only want to sell your music at one record store?” Just like the days of physical record stores, there are a lot out there and it only makes sense to have your music available at as many as possible.
  • Exchange your site’s link(s) with similar bands and musicians; competition or not. This is a proven, effective method of increasing interested web site visitors, yet so few bands take advantage of it. Trading traffic with same/similar genres wil not only increase your search engine rankings, but if a new surfer isn’t feeling your link partner’s music, they might like yours; and vice-versa. This will help bring in targeted music fans that may have never discovered you otherwise. Not to mention a somewhat steady flow of new potential fans.
  • Make it easy for your fans. Humans are lazy and if it takes too long or requires too many steps to get what we want, we lose interest. Especially if we’re paying for it or helping someone out. If you want them to purchase or share something, do everything you can to take the guess-work out of it. Keep clicks and scrolling to a minimal.
  • Never be deceptive! A huge factor in selling anything online is, trust. This is not a face-to-face transaction, so people only have your word to go by. Some will take the chance, but if you let them down once, it’s probable you lost them forever; at least as a paying fan.
  • Feeder web sites will help a lot. Similar to exchanging links, feeder sites can filter and send a steady flow of targeted traffic to your site or store. A feeder site is basically a separate web site(s) created especially for targeting and attracting potential fans using a different angle, usually based on key words. In other words, if you’re a a ska band, you might put together a simple site (separate from your own web site) called, Discover-Ska.whatever. Here you would display some of your music, maybe a brief bio, text about the music/band, link exchanges and of course obvious links to your main site/store. Perhaps even include other ska bands, making a ska directory of sorts, and they can link to the feeder site, as well. All this can be done relatively easy and on the cheap.
  • Take advantage of all the free online tools available these days. Especially all the social bookmarking services. Every time your band is mentioned, reviewed, interviewed; add the links to the bookmarking services (Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, etc.) This probably will  not help much with SE rankings, but it’s still a good traffic source.
  • Treat your fans/visitors how you would like to be treated. Think yourself as a random surfer who stumbled across your site. Would you come back to this web site again? Would you download your music? Would you pay for it? Never underestimate your fans or potential fans.

Hopefully some of these tips will point you in the right direction in marketing your music online. Throwing spaghetti on the wall, hoping something will stick, is not an effective marketing campaign. So, I highly recommend NOT giving away ALL your music for free if you intend on selling it.

Here’s some additional reading that may also help:

Basic Marketing Principles for Artists
Getting the Most from Tags & Descriptions
How to Create a Release Strategy for the New Music Marketplace

20 Must Read Articles for Musicians Marketing Their Music

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2 Responses to “Trent is Only Part Right”

  1. Amen — most music biz blogs are just echo chambers run by people with no context or critical thinking.

    This, on the other hand, was f’ing excellent. You did a really good job unpacking the message in a less rambling, more actionable way.

    Thank you for taking the time to do it right.

  2. Thank you, Justin. I’m glad I’m not the only one not buying into the hype.

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