As a music artist, you need to identify your demographic, target your strengths, and develop and execute a plan to gain traction with your online music marketing
Two years ago, singer/songwriter Michael Shoup started 12South Music to help his artist friends with music publishing. Today, 12South Music creates websites, videos, and marketing plans tailored to the artist based on genre, demographics, and all the things that make a music artist unique. I spoke with Michael to get some insights and specific examples of what he means when he talks about a holistic approach to online music marketing.
You operate under the assertion that artists should look at their online presence as a holistic entity. What do you mean by that exactly?
I’m sure you guys get this, when people call you up and they want CDs – they know they want CDs, but that’s about as far as it’s been thought through. We had people come to us when we first opened business saying, “I’ve been told by my manager or by this person or another that I need a website, and it needs to have a tour page and a photos page, and all of this other kind of stuff.”
While that’s all great, and I think all that information is good to have, I think people don’t think critically enough about it. I know I didn’t when I was first starting out as an artist. I was like, “Yeah, I need to have this giant footprint on the Internet, even though I only have two songs and no fans.” So we try to go about it in almost a backwards way and honestly, talk people out of hiring us to do stuff for them to start with, if that makes sense.
You want them to wait to talk to you until they have something going on and enough artifacts and songs and things to talk about so they can have success with online music marketing?
Well, it’s more that I talk people down from this large amount of development to a smaller starting point because that’s going to serve them best. I want to have somebody succeed, and once they succeed, they can come back and we can help them succeed some more and build on top the platform we’ve helped establish for them.
For example, I’ll have people come to me that have a single or a record ready, and they want to release it out to the world, and they’re like, “We’re going to release this tomorrow and it’s going to be fantastic and we just need a website to promote it on.” And I go, “Whoa, hold on a sec. You have a record finished, and you haven’t promoted it at all and you want a website to put it on?” Let’s take a couple of steps back, let’s make a six-month marketing plan for how we’re going to start building momentum for this record before we release it. Then let’s release little pieces of it and get you guys fans of each little piece before we actually come out and say, “BOOM! Here’s the record!” It’s hard to see that path when you’re excited about the fact that you just recorded a record.
Let’s say I’m a new artist, I’ve got a few songs, I’m trying to build a name for myself, where do I start? I mean, a website is one of the first things I should have online, right? Is that a given for any artist at this point?
Yes, though I would say “website” as a broad term. I don’t think the first thing you need to do is hire somebody like us and blow out something enormous. I think the first thing you need is a presence online, whether or not it’s a website. We sometimes help people put together a Tumblr profile, or a single page where a single or a video lives and we can track email addresses. For somebody who’s just starting out with a digital recording, I would say the first step is figuring out who your fans are. And there are some interesting ways you can do that, from simply posting something up on Facebook and asking your friends – which sometimes works, but not really – to services where you can get your music played on digital radio stations to folks who are fans of other artists. You can get feedback from them, this was played on a Tim McGraw station and they liked it or it was played on a Five For Fighting station and they didn’t like it. You can start to build a decent demographic profile of who likes and doesn’t like you music from doing things like that. Then you can establish a digital direction you can take to get your music to the right ears.
Would you say it’s a combination of figuring out who your fans are, where they’re likely to be, and playing to your strengths so you’re in a comfort zone where you can produce content that’s going to resonate?
Precisely. I like to think about it as “un-marketing.” If you’re a new artist on Facebook and all you do is sit around saying, “Hey, come listen to my track!” and you’re just pushing and pushing, your friends and potential friends are going to hate it because you’re shouting all the time. The idea is to make your stuff available and put it in the periphery of those people you already know are going to enjoy it.
I hear you, but a lot of times when I’m hearing or reading this sort of advice, it all sounds great, but trying to figure out how to implement it is the real trick.
Sure. Well, I can give you an actual digital PR scheme that worked really well.
I’d love to hear it.
The first time I put out a record I was still in a 9-to-5 job, so I didn’t have all this time to tour and play shows and that kind of thing. So I started to think about how I could get my content out there. I decided I was going to do video covers and see if I could find people who would dig the videos and then maybe look back at my stuff. But I didn’t just cover whatever I wanted to, I decided to find some of the top songs in my genre that were doing well, cover those, come up with my own arrangements, and post them on my blog. My blog at the time was on Tumblr, and Tumblr is a fantastic resource to be able to find people of specific demographics because it’s a network of blogs that people post on based on hashtags, and all those hashtags are searchable.
So let’s say I post a cover of me doing a Lord Huron song. That day, or possibly the day before, I’m going to go and follow as many Lord Huron fans as I can. Just follow them, so that once they see that they have a new follower, they’re pretty likely to come click back on my blog. And the first piece of content they’re going to see is my cover of a Lord Huron song. So your return rate on that is going to be decently high because you’re already targeting somebody that you know likes this group. They may not like your cover of it, and that’s fine, but you’re going to make way more fans than if you’re just out there shouting. So I did that for probably three months, and every time I did it I ended up with 400-600 fans and a couple thousand at the end of a couple of months.
So you picked different artists and applied the same formula to them over these months?
Exactly, and the beautiful thing about that is once I had maybe 3,000 people following my music blog, I used interactive techniques to start talking directly to them instead of putting out this content. So I started a campaign called “Song A Week” and I said “I want to know your ideas now, I don’t want to just cover songs by artists that you like, I want to know what your ideas might be. Then once a week, I’m going to take one of these ideas, write a song about it, record it, put a video up about it, and then it’s yours, you can have it for free.” So I tried to get connected to those people I had just brought over to the website.
Did you figured this out as it went along? Like you had the initial plan, and once you got the fans you asked, “What can I do next?”
Well, I’m telling you about the success story. I’m not telling you about all the other things I tried that didn’t work. I’m a big experimenter, and the beauty of 12South Music as a company is that 90 percent of the folks who work here are artists as well. So we take ourselves as out own guinea pigs. We experiment on our own careers, on the careers of our friends, to see what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work, and then we implement those strategies into online music marketing plans for clients.
Do you see any absolutes you need for online music promotion? Some sort of baseline that as an artist, you’re not going to get anywhere without?
For me that’s some version of a dot com. Some version of a standalone “this is where I live on the Internet.” I even hate to say this, but even if it’s forwarding off to something else like ReverbNation or Facebook. Again, not my favorite thing in the world, but I think you need a calling card like that. That has to lead to where you establish your hub on the Internet.
It also has to start with some kind of material, clearly. Do you think it imperative to have songs online, images? Apart from a hub online, what’s the next minimum requirement?
Content, and you would think that would be music, but it doesn’t actually have to be, and that’s the weird world that we’re in. I’ve seen bands go out and play shows and not release digital music and just live off their live show, and even have an online presence that is images and video and not contain their music. It’s weird, and you need the right demographic to make that happen, but the concept of leaving your fans wanting more can work to your benefit.
Is there an artist that comes to mind who exemplifies a different approach that succeeded?
Elizabeth Huett was on Dancing With the Stars for a good long time and then became popular as one of Taylor Swift’s backup singers. When she went to do a solo project, she ended up landing a publishing deal and figured, “Alright, I’m going to be writing for a long time, I might not have too much material to put out there, but I need to keep things moving, I can’t lose momentum from having been out with Taylor all this time.” Well, Liz is fantastic with Twitter and she had great traction on Twitter. We wanted to make a hub that would make her fans feel close to her and allow Liz to deliver new content, so we built a single page, which is responsive. At the bottom there’s this little box called “Talk to Liz.” All anyone has to do is fill it out and click a button and it will connect to Twitter for them and tweet out a message to Liz, and 9 times out of 10, she replies directly back to them. That’s not going to work for everybody, but it’s a really unique way for her to stay connected on her phone wherever she is with her fans who want to connect directly with her.
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