Epic fail music promotions?

As part of setting up the Green Eyed Records platform, I’ve been looking in live music events promotions and I’m constantly amazed at what I have found to date. I recently searched for an artist I knew was playing as a support act in a major city venue. Even with the date and the venue name, it took a fair while to find the support info. Aside from the actual name of the artist there was ZERO INFORMATION, that’s right, absolutely NOTHING! There was no bio info, links to social media, artist photo no video, just NOTHING!

I don’t claim to be the world’s greater music promoter, but this is really basic stuff. Ok, I thought, there’s nothing on the two support acts, lets look for the main act information. Yes, in this instance there is a photo and a link to one track of audio, BUT no social media, website or any other links. On searching on this headline artist, I finally found their YouTube channel which had 16 subscribers.

Post covid 19, I would have thought that promoters would be doing their very best to attract audiences and support artists. Even though this evening of three acts has a knockdown ticket price of just 6 quid, this basic lack of attention is not going to help attract an audience. The promo video for the venue on YouTube from the owner released in August 2020 has just 126 views, no likes and no comments! No wonder live music is struggling to attract audiences, when music venue owners don’t pay attention to basic marketing. To be fair the FB page is significantly better, but this is still IMO an epic music promotion fail as they are missing a whole load of opportunities here…

Too harsh? You decide…

The Quick and the Dead

In my non musical life (the one that pays the bills I work globally teaching about behavioural patterns and strategic thinking. I’m a problem solver and my problem solving head is constantly amazed at how many artists spectacularly fail to spot really good opportunities.

Sometimes such individuals are natural procrastinators and simply can’t make a decision. I have lost track of the number of people who are going to write a book or record an album. They are always “going to” but mostly never manage to achieve their desired goal. Often they fail either to prioritise and/or connect to those people who will most assist in their pursuit.

There’s a story about two people walking along a road and spotting a hundred dollar bill.

One person says “I saw it first”

The other says “I picked it up first!”

I have many brilliant examples of these two different mindsets in action. In the last week I offered three artists the chance to be part of a new musical project. One simply didn’t reply even though they had read the communication, the other acknowledged the post, but never followed up and the last one followed up immediately and will now be part of the project which will also lead to some paid work.

In my business days my old boss used to talk about “The quick and the dead” In other words some people look for and seize opportunities as and when they come up and others remain dead to such opportunities. Of course each person needs to decide what works best for them, BUT some people don’t even get to an enquiry level to see what might be possible.

My own experience in life is that its smart to only align with the most talented people of like minds. I’m increasingly working this way and in the week ahead I have three very productive meetings planned with some very smart brains where there will be all manner of good opportunities through collaboration.

Reach, risk and reward in music promotion

A good friend of mine recently started a thread on social media about how Spotify had greatly affected online music sales generation and how many people now didn’t expect to pay for music. In recent months this has been a recurring discussion I have had with artists. One now-retired artist from the folk circuit commented that at live gigs she always could count on selling 19 CDs as well as getting the usual fee. Suddenly with the advent of streaming and online downloads, that number dropped by half overnight.

Reach in music promotion 

Mediums like Spotify, YouTube and social media mean that artists have access or reach too far greater audiences than ever before. This is the good news. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of material online is at an all-time high and it is literally and metaphorically tough to be heard.  In little over 12 months’ time, Spotify will be out of contract with all three major record companies, so it will be interesting to see what happens with that platform. The challenge is to manage the benefits of using these platforms for extended reach, at the same time maintaining some commercial financial viability. 

My own view is that to have successful reach in music promotion you need to be working on many fronts. Yes, social media is vital, BUT let’s remind ourselves that the customer for FB and similar outlets are the advertisers, NOT the consumer and increasingly these platforms are looking to maximise profits above all other considerations.  A good up to date website is essential and of course, you need to remain on the radar in people’s awareness, without bombarding people with information. Platforms like Bandcamp are worth exploring and many artists are now moving from Spotify where there’s poor financial reward to Bandcamp. 

The advent of talent shows IMO fuel the aspiration of being an instant star and it seems increasingly the quality of the music is dumbed down. Of course, this is my 100% biased view and in recent years I have realised that my idea of what is “awesome” in music is not somebody doing a competent cover of a classic song, but rather the creation of some original material that captures my attention.

“Reach” does not only mean connecting to a mass audience but also connecting to individuals in a way that provokes a response. Some of my favourite artists and songs were not the ones where I immediately loved. When I first saw and heard Tom Waits playing “Small Change” on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 19702s I thought “WTF is this?” Artists have to balance the benefits of having their music available on a mass scale with the short, medium and long-term financial rewards. Its fine “to play the long game” in music promotion, but the weekly bills still need paying. I’m lucky to supplement all my music from other work, which affords me a freedom to steer my own path in what I do. 

Risk in music promotion

Any kind of promotion requires some form of time and money investment and that’s “the risk” factor.

Personally, I have always sought to invest in the best I can afford in musical gear, studio expertise, musical education and music promotion. I pay all band members for rehearsal and studio time as well as live gigs regardless of whether the venue pays. The “risk” in music promotion is always a calculated risk and it’s never gonna pay off 100%, but for the most part, the risks have been totally worthwhile. Also, such risks will change over a period of time. These days I have what I consider to be an excellent process of writing and recording and access to many superb musicians across the two bands I record and play live with. “The Caravan of Dreams” are increasingly far removed from the ukulele world and I can’t imagine them ever playing any uke based events, as the music is more diverse and for a different audience. 

There are a significant number of time and money investments involved and I’m lucky to be able to bankroll these activities from my standing as an international presenter, writer and coach. My background in business taught me a lot about rick v reward and the importance of working with like minds. It’s also essential to disassociate from people who have wildly opposing agendas. The music business is like any other business in that the success depends on good strategic thinking, planning and great quality control. The Brexit factor has also thrown a wildcard into proceedings producing massive uncertainty for artists and to date, I see very little to be optimistic about by this potential change. 

Crowdfunding?

There seems to be a new trend for Kickstarter initiatives and crowdfunding. This can work, BUT there are also some potential problem issues. It seems that some artists now want to reply 100% on the public paying for their recording time. This can be problematic if backers stump up funds only then to discover the promised material is endlessly delayed or fails to manifest at all. Many people don’t appreciate that there is little recourse from the “middlemen” in such transactions and the risk is 100% with the investor. Its great to get fan support, but in recent years these kinds of requests for financial support seem to have gone into overdrive and I’m seeing the cracks starting to appear in some instances of using this medium. 

Reward in music promotion

The rewards in music promotion are not just financial. As the old joke goes

“What to earn £2m in music? Start out with £1m” 

A professional musician friend once asked his class of students “How much annual income do you need as a musician?” Now break this down into fees for paying gigs and other revenue sources. The key is to maintain predictable reliable income and like any business that takes time and energy. The idea of a record contract and “being signed” may seem attractive, but as with all business transactions there are pros and cons to consider…

Record Contracts?

“One of the biggest wake-up calls of my career was when I saw a record contract. I said, ‘Wait – you sell it for $18.98 and I make 80 cents? And I have to pay you back the money you lent me to make it and then you own it?’

Trent Reznor

“I had knockback after knockback before I got anywhere. After I got my first record deal I thought that was it, then Gut Records went into liquidation. I was 20. I had no idea what that meant. I had a few days to get myself out of that contract or my work would be owned by someone else.

Jessie J

Record contracts like any other business contract can vary massively and its always smart to read the small print. In the “music business” a label will want a return on its investment and it will deem how an artist is investable. This means to a large extent they will dictate how they want to market the artist to maximise profits. That’s BUSINESS.

Some people have a very romantic idea of this type of relationship and I even heard of a new artist over the moon with signing to a new independent label where the owners didn’t take a salary. personally, this would worry me as it suggests they have not really factored in the time v money aspect of running a label and unless they are all multi-millionaires that don’t need income, then its well-meaning but not business savvy.

Here’s a link to a great article on the ins and ous of record contracts and what the terms mean – https://www.soundonsound.com/music-business/recording-contracts-explained

A personal view

Personally, I love writing, recording and playing music live. I don’t have to rely on generating income from these activities, but I do have to be mindful of time and money implications. The rewards to date in terms of meeting, playing and recording with musicians have been fantastic. Highlights include playing a major guitar festival overseas, hearing many tracks placed on BBC introducing, running an album launch to a packed house and learning from some amazing professional artists.

There have been some financial rewards but I have had a policy of always reinvesting back into the bands and in equipment and studio time. I’m “playing the long game” and am able to do so as I’m not “a professional musician” ie somebody whose primary source of income is from music. 

Having spoken to friends who are professional musicians, I’m not sure if I would want to go down that route as it massively biases what I can afford to do and how I do it. That said its clear to me that many of the existing platforms for music promotion massively disadvantage the performing artist. Live venues, promoters and the public alike all seem to want to pay less and less and the dreaded term “playing for exposure” seems to appear all too often in conversations. I’m working on a new platform called “Music for The Head and Heart” that is my attempt to redress some of these issues, but its a lot of work behind the scenes and is a fair bit of time and money investment.  The promotion will be mostly for those on the platform.

I have also realised that you never please everyone. When I set up “The Original Ukulele Songs Platform” its a free promotion service to artists and most were quite appreciative. Inevitably there are a few characters that insist its all for personal self-promotion and I have realised its a waste of time engaging with such folks and better to focus on working with like minds and people with good manners. 

Conclusion

The “Reach, risk and reward in music promotion” depends massively upon whether you earn your living solely from music or not. I see a parallel with authors where many imagine they will make a good living from writing, but few reach that level. In these tougher economic times, predictable income is for many a real priority and life as a working musician is from what I see not an easy option.  That said, it’s a fascinating inspiring journey and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Me in Lagoa ahead of playing The Lagoa Guitar Festival in 2016

 

Working on the BIG project

Since May this year I’ve been working on what I call “The BIG project” and its now starting to take shape.

I set up The Original Ukulele Songs platform as a beta tester for something much bigger. OUS will continue on FB and in the background but its obvious to me that the ukulele or any other niche musical interest is too limiting in terms of reaching a much wider musical public. My primary interest has always been about “music” rather than which instrument is being used to play it and the bigger project won’t be limited to any specific instrument or musical style.

Unlike OUS, the bigger platform will be by invitation and recommendation only. There will be an online artist presence as well as an educational element and live playing opportunities. This means a lot of organisation which in turn means extensive time and financial committments. The OUS platform has highlighted some useful considerations for what happens with the new project, especially in terms of technology and time management.

I’m also keen to engage with artists where there is good reciprication in terms of support and this is why we are looking at a different model for the bigger platform. I say “we” because I have enlisted a number of people who will assist with this initiative. These are mostly performers and video tech folks as I need good musical and technical support to make this all happen.

More news will be forthcoming later this year and as with all sucessful projects its of course all about the attention to detail. 

The excessive use of superlatives and exaggerations online

I’m increasingly noticing a trend where advertisers, posters, promoters and artists are engaging in excessive use of superlatives and exaggerations online

A superlative has been described as  

“The form of an adjective or adverb that expresses that the thing or person being described has more of the particular quality than anything or anyone else of the same type”

In communications the adjective is listed first, followed by the comparative adjective and then the superlative adjective:

Big – bigger – biggest.
Brave – braver – bravest.
Bright – brighter – brightest.

Of course with The Advertising Standards Authority advertisers can be held to account for deliberately misleading the public with claims.  CAP advice in relating to ASA is

“Superlative claims may be either fully superlative, for example, “Superior Cleaning Compared To An Ordinary Toothbrush” (Colgate-Palmolive, 18 July 2001) and “Greater cleaning efficiency” (Argos Ltd, 21 April 2004) or top-parity claims, for example, “Nothing washes whiter than X”. Either way, marketers will be expected to substantiate the truthfulness and accuracy of a superlative claim and will need to hold documentary evidence”

Donald Trump

Of course some misleading claims are easy to  spot when people makes claims about “size”. The most recent USA presidential inauguration  claim is a great example of this and the USA president continues to use exaggerations and superlatives on an almost daily basis on Twitter. As The Washington Times noted

“Nothing is ever merely “good,” or “fortunate.” No appointment is merely “outstanding.” Everything is “fantastic,” or “terrific,” and every man or woman he appoints to a government position, even if just two shades above mediocre, is “tremendous.” The Donald never met a superlative he didn’t like, himself as the ultimate superlative most of all”

Aside from any political considerations, in my view this is not a smart way to go as after a while there’s just way too much noise and usually people tune out…

Exaggerations online 

On social media in particular there seems an increasing tendency to use terms like “awesome” and “unique” There’s of course nothing wrong with such terms and some experiences can indeed be awesome and unique, BUT when almost everything is described in this way the effect is to dilute l impact for the reader. This dilution effect is even more when the terms are used repeatedly in the same paragraph of copy. In my experience this can happen for a number of reasons.

Sometimes the person writing copy or posting has a limited favorite vocabulary and doesn’t fully appreciate the effect of repeatedly posting the same terms. In other instances the individual is so excited in what they are describing they forget to think about how its being perceived by a third party. 

The changing face of marketing and less is often more

The world of marketing is changing at some rate. Traditional exaggerated claims are increasingly viewed with caution by customers and of course social media feedback has led to a new form of scrutiny. Similarly claims that suggest massive priced drops like “Normal price is X, but now the price is Y (huge discount) and “Last few items available!” often don’t have the same impact as in days gone by. My own view is that businesses need to be more transparent in their dealings and increasingly focus on what they have to offer is genuinely unique.  Some businesses adopt a scatter gun approach to marketing, so customers become overwhelmed with choice.

Often the business owner or promoter can be so personally invested in their business or event, that they can’t resist this unhelpful level of hype. Sometimes it can create short term attention, BUT its never great for developing long term marketing trust with clients.  Often the person writing copy is far too hyperactive and tries to be all things to all people. More often than not they lose customer confidence by this approach and would do far better by pacing how they market and focus more specifically on USPs.