7 Ways To Increase Your Odds Of Success In The Music Business In 2012

By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)

You’re an artist, you want to succeed, you recorded music.  What do you do next?

Below is a blueprint that, if you apply over the next year to six months, should increase your chances of success.  Some of you may already be doing/have done many of these things, and should start where it makes sense.  Others may need to start at step one.

The goal is to encourage you to measure and track your activity with respect to reaching fans so you can better define what is working, and (equally importantly) stop doing what’s not working.  To do this, you’ll need a Dashboard.  I’d suggest using an excel spreadsheet or Google doc that has weeks across the top, and the categories you’re measuring on the side (the vertical axis). We’ve supplied a sample spreadsheet for you to view/use here. Please do hover over the cells in the sample we’ve created, as there are explanations for many of the elements.

I’d love to see those in the TuneCore community take the plunge and commit to following these steps starting in the new year, and then check back periodically throughout the year to see what’s working (and what’s not). I’m willing to bet we’ll have some success stories.

“Conversion” and “The Funnel”

Conversion means getting someone to do something you want him/her to do – like download a free song, take a poll, buy a song, give you an email address, etc.

Your entire career is about first reaching people and then getting them to “convert” to do the thing you want them to do.

Therefore, you must define your goals before you can “convert them.”

Once you know your specific goals, you can then go out into the world and engage and interact with people, and try things to get them to do what you want.

For example, you might want to start collecting email addresses of people so you can inform them about your shows, new releases, etc..  Maybe you offer a free song in exchange for an email address; anyone who gives you his/her email address has converted.

This type of approach is often referred to as a “funnel” approach.  It means that you – to mix metaphors – cast a wide net with the hope that some percentage of people enter your “funnel,” and that some (always smaller) percentage will do what you want (i.e. ‘like’ you on Facebook).

Eventually, the goal most likely is to get a percentage of these people to buy something from you (a download, a membership, a ticket, merchandise, etc…).

The percentage of people who end up doing the thing you want will be a fraction of those who entered.  Because of this, it’s essential to have a large number of people enter the funnel.  If, for instance, 3% of people who enter the funnel end up converting, it means that you would need 1000 people to enter the funnel just to have 30 people convert.

One of the best means of conversion continues to be email.  That is, the percentage of people who will do what you ask them (come to your site, buy something, etc…) is highest when those people receive an email from you with a request (sometimes called a “A Call To Action;” more people convert via email than when the request comes in the form of a Tweet, a Facebook post, etc…

There are a whole bunch of things that will factor into getting someone to convert – from the music itself, to how you write an email, to what you are offering back to the fan in return for their doing the thing you want.

See below for some specific tactics on how to do this.

Thus, you need goals and a way to track what is and is not working; this will be your “Dashboard.”

Below are seven steps that will help you: (1) get people into the funnel; (2) measure what is working and what isn’t; (3) convert potential fans into customers.

1. Write Some Songs

Enough so that you can start playing live somewhere (this means at least 40 minutes of music – and no, you can’t write one long jam band song).  If you’re struggling with writing your own songs, begin by learning the songs of other artists you admire.  This will help you see what works and what doesn’t and help you begin to discover your own, unique voice.

WHY: The minute you make these songs tangible, you get six legal copyrights that allow you to make money off your art. Know these rights as they drive your income – you can read more about them here.

2. Play Live

Start playing these songs in front of people.  Do this soon.  Do not wait around for some “professional” gig.  Play in front of friends, family, strangers…whomever, wherever.  There’s a big difference between playing songs in your room, and playing in front of people.

WHY: You want to see first hand the reaction to your songs to understand what connects with people and what doesn’t.

This is also your first opportunity to begin measuring.  You will quickly begin discerning which of your songs elicit a response, and which do not.  Likely, the results will surprise you.  Artists often misjudge which of their songs have the greatest appeal (“Satisfaction,” “Single Ladies,” “Maggie May,” “How Soon Is Now,” were originally b-sides).

As part of your Dashboard, you should have a column of songs, performances, and responses.  This will help you see patterns.  It may be that some of the songs that people don’t respond to well at first, begin to elicit positive responses over time; in other words, people need to hear these songs a few times before they connect.  This information will help you create better set lists.

Don’t underestimate the importance of playing live before you record.  You do not need a demo to play in front of friends, to play at parties, to play at open mics, etc.  And these are precisely the types of places you must play prior to trying to get a “professional” gig at a venue.

3. Record Some Music

Make the recordings as good as you can make them (in terms of sound quality), but don’t go nuts.  You do not need a “professional” recording at this point.  Rather, in the spirit getting something out there so you can measure and track, it’s far more important that you get a recording done and into the world.

WHY: This will allow you to measure, track, and improve.  You are not going to have the “perfect” recording the first time.

As Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.”  In this era where it’s extremely easy and inexpensive to make a decent quality recording, there is no upside to waiting.  If you release a song, and people don’t react to it, no damage done.  It’s not like the old days where if something doesn’t work your career is over.

Not releasing music puts you at a disadvantage when compared to all those who are out there making connections, gathering information, and — most importantly — refining their work via this feedback so that their next recording is more effective than the current one.

Again, just like the above with respect to measuring the response you gain from performing your songs live, getting these recordings out into the world will provide you with tremendous opportunity to measure and track.  Your Dashboard, obviously, must have several categories that allow you to track responses.

At this point, you also need to contemplate how you will distribute the songs, but that part is easy…TuneCore.

4. Create Your Online Foundation

In order to measure the above, you need people to hear it and respond.

I will focus on how to measure and track your responses online, but it is crucial to note that to truly take off, you need to do things off-line, like play live.

WHY: Although you can reach levels of success with an only on-line strategy, you simply cannot build and grow your fan base to its true potential with an only all-online effort.

This does not mean you need to do everything at once; you can start with an online focus (get a quicker, easier, cheaper, more instantaneous reaction, etc…) and then take that information and use it to build your “real world” strategy at a much lower cost and with less risk (i.e. you know what city your fans are in, so you can gig there, as opposed to just guessing).

At this point, it’s now time to create your online foundation.

You must have your own, owned online presence.  This means you must create some type of web presence that can live in other places AND that you, and you alone, control.  For example, you could pour hours into building a band page on something like MySpace or Facebook, and they either go out of business, get sold and/or arbitrarily (or accidently) delete your page (yes, this does happen).  If you don’t have your own web page, you can lose everything.

My suggestion is that you create a combination blog/home page through something like WordPress (it’s free). WordPress has some great templates that allow you to create a very basic site to do a few basic things:

  1. Stream/sell your music directly from your site
  2. Collect emails
  3. Easily update information with respect to live events, other news
  4. Embed videos
  5. Embed live video streams
  6. Receive comments
  7. Embed your social elements (Twitter/Facebook)
  8. Embed polls
  9. View things like traffic to your site, bounce rate, where people come from/go to before/after visiting your site (all of this can be viewed by using Google’s free Google Analytics tool)

If you go the WordPress route (which is open source, and thus constantly being improved and developed for the community of users), you will be able to find plugins that allow you to implement the above on your page.

DON’T PANIC OR GET OVERWHELMED.  Start with what you understand, you don’t need to throw everything but the kitchen sink in to begin.

For example, upload a photo, a song, and create a simple poll – Do you like this song: Yes, No, Not Sure

To be sure, this is not easy for most people, and will require some trial and error.  The alternative, however, paying someone to build you a site that you can’t update/upgrade/customize is the wrong approach, and will be far more frustrating in the long term.

Your Dashboard, therefore, has some key elements related to your site. Not only traffic, but also how many people are converting to the thing you want.

You are going to need to do things to get people to your webpage – you have to experiment to learn what does and does not work.

You want to use FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube as a way to get people to your webpage, where you then get them to do something.

From these activities, you will — over time — be able to see what tactics have the highest impact with respect to traffic, comments, etc…

5. Create Your Online Solar System

I’m very tired of the word “ecosystem,” and I think solar system is a better metaphor anyway.  If you think of the above-described web presence as the center of your online solar system (your sun, I guess), all of the below elements are planets in its orbit.

WHY: In your orbit, you should/must have a Facebook account, a YouTube Channel, a Twitter account, some form of live streaming account (Ustream is a good one), and, as above, tools like Bandcamp can be value-adding.

The absolute key with respect to all of these planets, is that they must direct people back to your own/owned site.  While having a lot of Twitter/FB/Tumblr/etc. followers/likes is rarely a bad thing, it’s only a good thing if these people can be driven to your site.

Thus conversion is key.

This means that you must provide a reason in your Tweets or Facebook posts to compel people to follow the link from Twitter/FB to your site.  Examples of this abound, but could include things like:

Tweet: For the next hour I’ll be giving away a free song on our site [link to site]

Tweet: Sign up for our email newsletter and get $5 off tix to our next show [link to site]

Facebook Update: We’re playing next week, and want to make sure we perform the song(s) you want to hear. Visit our site [link] and enter your ideal set list.

Facebook Update: Post photos you took from our last show here on FB. We’ll pick our favorites and post them on our site. Come see if yours made the cut [link to site]

In your dashboard you must, therefore, not only measure things like Twitter followers, but also the number of people who come from Twitter/FB/etc. to your site (this is easily discerned via Google Analytics).

You can then measure conversion for things like how many people not only come from these sites like Twitter to yoursSite, but how many provide you with an email, download a song, etc…

6. Connect Your On and Offline Worlds

Peppered throughout, I’ve exhorted you to make sure that you don’t just focus on your online efforts, but rather make sure to keep playing live, and doing whatever else you can come up with offline (i.e. in person) to build and grow your connections with actual people.

WHY: The real key to success is making sure that these offline activities are supported and amplified online.  This could be as simple as offering people a discount on purchases of your merch/music at shows when they give you an email address, to as complex as live streaming your shows so that when you play live, people who aren’t there can watch the shows on your site.

In all cases, measure, measure, measure.  Some of these “straddle” tactics will work, while others won’t, but the only way you’ll know is to try each of them several times, and collect the data.

7. Shift the Burden: Evangelists

The final stage is the most important.  No matter how well you market yourself, no matter how brilliant your songs are, until you shift the burden from you talking about your music, to your fans telling their friends about your music, you will never really take off.

Therefore, you must identify and empower evangelists.

WHY: These passionate fans are the ones who will have the biggest impact in terms of making other people aware of your work.

How do you find these people? You ask (or, even better, they’ll ask you if they can help).  However, you shouldn’t ask (and they won’t) until you’ve reached a certain mass of actual fans.

Recalling the funnel, if only 1% of all of your fans will be so impassioned as to become evangelists for you, you’ll need more than 1000 fans before you can find 10 evangelists. Remember, in order to get these 1000 fans, you may need to compel 10,000 people into your funnel.

Once you’ve identified these people (or they’ve self-identified), you have to provide them with marching orders, and you have to communicate with them, and you have to reward them for their efforts.  Only you and your creativity can come up with what the specifics are, but do remember that what passionate fans want more than anything else is access to the artist that they love.

Again, at a certain point, your Dashboard needs a column to measure the number of evangelists you have.

Summary

None of these elements will come easy.  I’d say that once you have completed steps one through six, you’ll need six months (at least) of consistent work, filled with weekly tactics, offline events, etc., before you will start seeing results.  However, if you put the work in — week after week — whether it’s six months or a year, or longer, you will see results.  You will see forward progress.

This does not mean that you will become a superstar or even that you’ll be able to make your living off your music.  It does, however mean that you’ll be moving forward in a very positive way, and gathering information about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to how your fans relate to your music.

Over time, if you continue this, you will build a real business.  Your fans will want to pay you so that you keep making music, and you will be able to integrate a commerce system that is agreeable to you and your fans.  This may or may not be something so simple (and old-school) as having people buy your music.  It will likely include this, but will also include things like subscription services, merchandise, tickets, etc.

Too often, people rush to this commerce step before they’ve gone through the steps outlined above that are crucial to actually developing a real constituency.  In their rush to sell (really a rush to validate), they misjudge awareness, and then misjudge the result.

That is, because no one buys the music they sell (because no one knows about) they assume the music isn’t good.  Typically, this isn’t the case.  Most of the time, it’s more an issue of skipping the steps outlined above that are required to actually create awareness and a market for your work.

So, I’d love to see if some people are willing to take the plunge, and start creating tactics that they can measure, and — most importantly — commit to doing so over the next six months to a year.  For those of you who do, let’s make public how it’s going.  For those who don’t, I’m curious what you’re doing instead.

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George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.  He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

Related to this article: How To Get Your Song On Commercial Radio

Steve Moakler On The Making Of His Latest Album & Why He’s Been Jumping Out Of Planes

Nashville’s Steve Moakler does not shy away from risk.  To kick-start his Kickstarter campaign that raised more than enough money for his most recent album “Watching Time Run,” Moakler jumped out of a plane.  In addition to being a musician (and a talented one at that) and a daredevil, Moakler is an activist.  Determined to bring about much-needed change and raise awareness about human sex trafficking, Moakler created “Free The Birds Records,” which funds freedom and restoration for those in need of help.  Read on to learn more about his album, the creativity that made this album possible, and how he combines his passion for activism with his music.

Without using the words  “singer/songwriter,” “pop,“ “folk,” or “country,” describe your sound.
Lyrically driven, sincere, moving, accessible, uplifting…

Congrats on the success of your latest album, Watching Time Run!  What was your songwriting process like?
Usually, I’ll stumble upon a groove and chord progression that I like, then that landscape informs the emotion which inspires a melody. Once a mood is set and a feeling is established, I write lyrics. I wrote more than 90 songs during the course of two years. I wrote most of the songs by myself, I wrote others with friends, and a couple with strangers who became friends.

How did you decide which tracks would make it onto the album?
I brought all the songs to my producers and we narrowed it down to the ones that we were the most excited about. We played through some of the tunes with a band and it was pretty clear which ones had the magic happening. From three years of touring, I got a better idea of how strong a song needs to be in order for you to feel like singing it night after night. We tried to pick songs that would stand the test of time and I think we did a good job with that.

How does Nashville influence your music?
Nashville has challenged my idea of what a great song is. I have definitely raised the bar since I got here…I used to think Nashville songwriting was very formula, but now I see it as well-crafted. I love the structure of traditional country songs, and I also love pedal steel.

Do you write songs for any other artists in Nashville (or elsewhere!), or do you just write for yourself?
I write the best songs that I can, and sometimes those are for me to sing, and sometimes they’re for other artists.

You had a pretty unique Kickstarter campaign to raise money for this album. What were some of the ways in which you engaged your fans throughout the campaign?
After the initial video, there was not a whole lot of engagement. I think the whole “jumping out of a plane and needing a parachute” did a lot of talking and sent a pretty strong message. Throughout the campaign I expressed my excitement and gratitude through twitter as people got on board and that was kind of it until we met our goal. After we met the goal and finished the record, there has been a lot of engagement: I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of parachutes at shows, I’ve called over a hundred of them, visited a handful of their houses for dinner and a private show, and I have some Skype concerts I still need to do! It has taken an army to make this record. It has been really cool.

What kind of reaction did you see from the campaign?
The reaction was incredible. We raised over $22,000 and exceeded our goal by $7,000. Couldn’t be happier. I have generous and loyal supporters who believe in me an awful lot. I’m very blessed.

How have you continued to continue to market and promote Watching Time Run since its release?
I have been on and off the road the entire fall season. Other than that, we have a music video that we’re gonna be dropping really soon to pump some out energy back into the record. Not sure what’s next! That’s a good question though (laughs).

With the release of your last album, you created Free the Birds Records.  What was the inspiration behind this?
My heart broke when I first heard about the sex trade about five years ago. I couldn’t believe that young girls were being bought, sold, and stripped of their freedom and innocence. It was too horrific for me to overlook. The seed that was planted never really went away. I realized that most of my listeners are girls between the ages of 14-25, and I thought “Man, if this strikes a chord with me the way it does, I can only imagine how they will react.” I saw an opportunity to use my small platform to make them aware and to invite them to act. More importantly than that, I saw an opportunity for us all to be a part of a bigger story that would have an eternal effect. Through selling birdhouses and t-shirts on helpfreethebirds.com as well as inviting people to donate money at shows, we have raised a few thousand dollars the past eight months. It’s been really exciting.

So what’s next?
For certain you can expect more songs, more birdhouses, and more freedom. It might get a little more country.

Official Steve Moakler Site
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Steve on Twitter
Learn More About Free the Birds
Download Watching Time Run from iTunes

Serendip.me Encourages Music Discovery Through Twitter

Wondering what tunes your friends are listening to and posting about lately?  Serendip.me, an interactive radio developed by Asaf Atzmon and Sagee Ben-Zedeff, pulls music posted by the feeds you follow on Twitter (most often in the form of YouTube videos), and organizes it all together into an easy-to-manage station.

The service, in large part based on music discovery, recommends songs it thinks you might like, music not always in your Twitter feed.  If they hit the nail on the head and you want to follow this person’s music, but don’t want him or her on your Twitter feed, you can just add the person as as a DJ you follow on Serendip.

While you’re listening to your friends’ picks, Serendip lets you tell the DJ that you like his or her song, and if you want to share what you’re playing with your twitter followers you have the option to click the “Airing” button, which adds an #airing hashtag when you retweet.

If you follow a friend on Twitter who has questionable music taste and only posts songs that sound as if they belong on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack (and for you that’s not a good thing), Serendip offers just what you need: a mute button.  Using the ‘mute’ feature doesn’t affect your Twitter set up, it just makes it so you don’t follow that person’s musical selections.

Ready to get your Serendip station up and running?  Join Serendip.me now.