December 1, 2013
The technology trap - Mouthzoff column
This is my fifth column for Mouthzoff magazine. It was published in August. The topic is one that many Indies find confusing and upsetting: technology. If it's all so easy and helpful, why isn't it working for me?
Last edition's column was about the fan-artist relationship and finished up by noting that once you have started to build a fan base, it takes a special effort and facilities to manage them. The great news is that this is one area where technology can very cheaply and simply help - but it only provides half of the answer. The most critical ingredient still has to come from the artist.
Let's start by looking at fan management tools. To set things up properly you're going to need 4 basic tools:
These each represent one basic function that should not be mixed up with the others.
1) Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, are great for keeping fans up to date with what you're doing. These connections are not deep and they are not persuasive, but they're a great way to just remind people that you're there and inspire them to check out other things. This is where you build a reputation as an artist, thinker, party animal, whatever, and you have to be consistent. Make sure every post fits with your artistic "brand".
Remember that, on average, only one in 10 of your Facebook friends will see any particular post, and only 1 in 10 of these will do anything with or about it. Social media are NOT very effective for selling things. There are exceptions to this, like Amanda Palmer, who organizes every fan interaction via her Twitter, but they are rare and have a different focus.
2) Email management facilities are essential. You can use Mailchimp; or Reverbnation or Bandcamp's email services; or you can keep an email list in a database on your laptop, but you need to use email for less frequent but deeper connections. This is where you send out special offers or gifts, ask for specific feedback, mention tips, tricks and suggestions, and generally engage with your fans on a more direct and intimate level.
There are two major differences between social media and email. First, fan who has given you their email address is much more committed than someone who has just liked your Facebook page. Second, everyone on the email list will get your email - most people won't see your social media posts.
3) A gig guide is an essential, enduring point of reference for fans who want to see you. Hostbaby provides one as a standalone page and Reverbnation integrates one into your main page and into the email system.
This is the way to leave info there for people who are interested enough to come looking for it. They want to know when you'll next be somewhere they can catch up with you.
4) An online shop is the most efficient way to sell your stuff direct to your fans. You should release your music through iTunes and so on, but if you do you'll be paying someone else to manage your distribution and sales. With your own shop you get to keep all of the income, less transaction fees from your bank or other provider.
So, for example when iTunes sells your MP3 for 99c, you get 70c. If you used CD Baby to distribute your recordings, they get 70c and you get 63c. But if you sell that same MP3 via your own shop for 80c you get to keep all 80c.
The lesson? The Internet era has seen a massive increase in the technologies available to help Indies build a career. Trouble is, these technologies are easy to find and hard to use well. There are strengths and weaknesses to each of them and it takes time and effort to understand the nuances of, for example, the difference between CD Baby's distribution payment model and Tunecore's - but that's a topic for another column.