Brent Baxter and Johnny Dwinell discuss the one simple question every artist should ask before spending a dime on anything artistically related. Excerpted from The CLIMB podcast, episode #76: “This One Question Will Save You Thousands.”
The CLIMB is a show produced by Brent Baxter (award-winning hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, and more) and Johnny Dwinell (owner of Daredevil Production) that’s dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists like you create leverage in the music business.
Johnny Dwinell: Y’all are familiar with the biggest advertising event of the year? You’ve heard about this, even laymen who aren’t even in the entertainment industry get news on this. What’s the biggie on TV?
Brent Baxter: The Super Bowl, baby.
JD: Yeah, The Super Bowl. They’re charging, what, $5 million for a 30-second spot? Why do they get that?
BB: Because they get eyeballs.
JD: A billion people are watching that spot, and it’s such a big deal, it’s so hyped. We watch it as much for the commercials as we watch for the game.
BB: Oh yeah, there’s never a chance use the bathroom. Half the people go to the bathroom during the game so they can get back in time for the next set of commercials.
JD: That’s right. So when the viewership is up, you get to charge lots of money. When the eyeballs are down and people aren’t watching – when there’s no traffic – you’re screwed. You’re not making the money, but the overhead is still the same. So here’s another question: Why do you think they invented the Jack and Bob radio formats – Jack FM and Bob FM? Bob, I think, is for pop and Jack FM is for rock. So what doesn’t Jack FM have?
BB: They don’t have DJs, do they? It’s pre-packaged, it’s cheaper, right?
JD: They don’t have DJs. It’s less expensive. There’s no talent charge, because radio is on its way down on the bell curve, it’s a technology that’s going out of style, and the bean counters come in at this point and are responsible for managing the decline and making sure the radio stations still make money while they’re going down. So how do we figure out a way to broadcast, charge for advertising, and not pay a DJ? I got it … we’ll say we’ve got 1,000 songs in our rotation, because they’re spinning a lot more songs than major-market country radio now, which is spinning, I think about 25 songs a week. They’re spinning those 25 songs 2,016 times, and that’s why you keep hearing the same songs over and over and over again.
So it all starts to make sense – and Jack’s been around for over a decade, so this isn’t a new development, it’s been going down for a while. So if not radio, now what am I going to spend my money on?
BB: A video.
JD: I always wanted to make a video! Awesome.
BB: I’m gonna find some train tracks and I’m gonna walk down ’em. I’m gonna find a field and I’m gonna stand in it.
JD: Yeah, I’m gonna film that, and I’m gonna lip-sync, and it’s gonna be cool. These are all fantastic artistic ideas… Where’s the traffic coming from?
BB: Well, Johnny, there are like 8.5 trillion people on YouTube, so if I could just get one percent of them…
JD: Oh brilliant! Okay, let’s back up. Why is a music video so attractive to you? Because a lot of the artists who made you want to become an artist made videos, and they spent a lot of money on music videos, right? But they were doing that back in the 1980s on MTV and BET, on CMT and GAC. Where was the traffic coming from then?
BB: My couch in college.
JD: Everybody’s houses, right? Everybody was watching those channels – there were millions of people watching those channels. And what didn’t the consumer have? And I’m gonna get back to your point that you just made on YouTube, because it’s a really important point – but when you were watching MTV, you were making a choice to watch the channel, but how many more choices did you have after that?
BB: I ate what they were dishing up.
JD: That’s right. Now if you go to CMT online, you’ve chosen to go to CMT’s website, what choices do you have there?
BB: Probably what they’re dishing up.
JD: Yeah, but you have more to choose from. Like I’m going to CMT online, and I want to see the new Tim McGraw video. It’s easy. If you were watching CMT back in the day when they were spinning music videos, and you wanted to see the new Tim McGraw video… well, you knew they were gonna spin it, but you didn’t know when. So what did you do?
BB: I waited for the top 20 countdown with Lance Bass, or something.
JD: There you go. You’d see a bunch of new artists, but you weren’t choosing – the program directors were choosing what you were watching. You could choose to watch or not to watch, but your choices ended there. You were the consumer, and they took you on the ride.
But now, we have artists making videos, and they want to get them on CMT – great, but who’s watching? They’re not playing music videos on CMT any more, for the most part, so you’re gonna be relegated to CMT online, or MTV online, or BET online – just pick your genre, they’ve got a music channel for it. So when you get to CMT online, where’s the traffic coming from?
BB: It’s coming from people who know what they want to watch.
JD: And do they want to watch you?
BB: They don’t even know I exist.
JD: Exactly. So you’re not gonna get enough views on CMT that are significant enough to be worth making that video. That doesn’t make any sense, right?
So to your point on YouTube – and this is a conversation I had with an artist – he was like, “There are a billion people every day who visit YouTube.” Right, that’s an accurate number, a billion people a day. Great, so there’s traffic on YouTube, but how do they know about you? Because people on YouTube have a choice. They’re going to find what they’re aware of. YouTube is not a channel, it’s a billion channels.
BB: Let’s put this way… how many country music fans and tourists come to Nashville in the course of the year? Thousands and thousands and thousands. How many of them show up to your apartment waiting for you to sing them a song? They don’t know you’re there.
JD: So do you see what I’m saying here? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you’ve got a precious amount of dollars, and you need to spend them in a way that’s going to get some traffic. If you spend money on a CD doing 10 songs because that was your dream, I say God bless, if your dream was just to put out a CD, then you’re going to accomplish that, and you will have realized your dream. And that will be it. But most people, when they say “my dream’s always been to put out a CD,” what they’re really saying is, “I want a career. My dream is to make a living being an artist.” Okay, don’t put out a CD yet. Spend money recording two songs and then spend the rest of it marketing those two songs and getting them in front of new eyeballs. Find traffic for those songs, pay for Google AdWords to drive traffic to your site.
The biggest mistake artists make with social media is they don’t think of it as a growth tool. This is less about your money and more about your time – “I’m gonna put this video up on my Instagram account.” Awesome, where’s the traffic coming from? “Well, I’ve got a couple hundred followers.” Great – they’re gonna love to see that video. But where’s the new traffic coming from?
If you’re a country artist, and you have a rootsy, old-school country mentality, maybe people who follow Chris Stapleton would love your music too. So go out and follow them, and when they come back and they follow you, start a relationship with them. We already know you’ve got a common subject to talk about, Chris Stapleton, right? Create a relationship, give them a free download, and get that traffic.
Maybe spend money on PR – if you have some kind of news that’s more than just “we’re releasing a CD,” because there are a thousand people doing that every day. Like with (Daredevil Production artist) Bailey James, we created a relationship with The Jason Foundation, which is a youth suicide prevention organization. It made sense to her and her family in very personal ways outside of business, but in a business sense, it gives us more news. We’re more newsworthy now, she’s now associated with the same team as the Charlie Daniels Band and Rascal Flatts, who are advocates for that, and all the NCAA football coaches who are advocates for JFI, and 50 state attorneys general who work with JFI.
So where’s the traffic coming from? Ask this one question before you make a move, and don’t make a move until you get the answer. Not what you believe the answer is – double check it. “I believe this is the case!” Okay, good. Go look it up and make sure.
Listen to the podcast (Episode #76).
The CLIMB is a show produced by Brent Baxter (award-winning hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, and more) and Johnny Dwinell (owner of Daredevil Production) that’s dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists like you create leverage in the music business because that’s what you’re gonna need. You’re gonna need some leverage, you’re gonna need an audience, and you’re gonna need a reason for people to stand up and salute you. It’s not just about your talent – you’ve got to bring the business, and that’s why we call it The CLIMB, it’s an acronym that stands for “creating leverage in the music business.” Hear this entire podcast and more at theclimbshow.com.
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