It’s #TCVideoFridays and this week we’re featuring some new TuneCore releases. Let’s kick off the weekend with some good music!
By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)
Too often I see artists playing over and over again with diminishing returns. They’ve essentially worn their friends out, and haven’t done the thing that is most essential to the success of any band: shifted the burden of promotion from themselves to their fans.
Without doing this, all bands (or products) eventually fail. There is a ceiling quickly hit when the creator of/company behind a song/product does not shift the burden of promotion from themselves to the fans. They can do all the advertising, marketing, promotion their budgets can withstand, and—for some period of time—will see some impact from this. However, bands/businesses don’t ever break through the ceiling in earnest until some group of these initial fans (call them “early adopters”) begin turning their friends on to the band/business. We call this word of mouth.
The promise of social media has always been that this word of mouth marketing can be accelerated via technology. Obviously, as is proven by anything that “goes viral,” it can happen. Something “going viral” is just an extreme example of fans sharing and spreading the object of their fan-dom to their friends (via their social networks, typically) at a heightened rate.
It’s not possible to manufacture something that goes viral. Viral-ness, by its very nature, is no longer being promoted by the creator of the product/song/etc., and, therefore, the creator is not in control. If we could manufacture viral products at will, we’d do it every time. Additionally, if we could do it, it wouldn’t come as such a surprise (I’m looking at you Double Rainbow) when something explodes virally.
Part of the nature of something spreading in a viral manner is that it’s unexpected. This unexpected quality aligns closely with a key element of something going viral: it must be remarkable. Pulling that word apart you get its root: remark. We must always remember, that as is stated in The Cluetrain, “markets are conversations,” and conversations require topics of interest; topics that are remark-able.
All of this leads to the concept that at its core, social media succeeds only if: 1. You shift the burden of promotion from the creator/business of the product to the fan. 2. Your product/business/band/service is remarkable; if it’s not, people will not share it.
Once this is understood, you can begin articulating strategies that—while not guaranteeing what you do will “go viral”—will increase your odds of being spread by fans.
In his still-relevant book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, borrowing from Robin Dunbar, articulates the idea that the maximum number of authentic social relationships any person can maintain is 150. If you look around at the various clubs in your area, you’ll likely find that many of them tend to have a capacity of somewhere around 150 people (could be 200, could be 100, but you get the idea). This is why it’s not surprising that a band who does not shift the burden of promotion from themselves to their fans will have a painful downward trajectory of playing in these 150-capacity clubs for some period of time, until their friends get fatigued and stop coming.
To avoid this plight, bands need, what Gladwell terms, “weak ties” to bridge the gap between one social group and into another. “Weak ties” are people that introduce an idea/business/band to an entirely new circle. Consider, for example, that you’ve been on a job hunt for some period of time. You’ve talked to all your friends, and none of them have provided you with any leads. This is because all your friends are within the same circle, and basically share the same information/contact base. One day you board a plane, and strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. You tell this person that you’re looking for a job in a certain field, and, much to your surprise/delight, this person says something along the lines of, “You know, I have a friend who is working in that industry; I should connect you.” This is the power of the “weak tie.” It introduces you into an entire new community.
Using this thinking, bands can strategize to increase their odds of breaking out of their circle of 150.
Here’s an example. There is a very fine band by the name of Guster. As they were emerging in the late 90s/early 2000s, they were a student band at Tufts University in Medford, MA. Prior to holiday breaks, they would gather their fans and arm each fan with several copies of their recent releases. They’d give these fans the following mandate: When you return home for the holidays, and you meet up with your hometown friends, who are also returning from college, give them copies of our release to take back with them to their colleges after the holidays. In doing so, Guster was able to utilize “weak ties” to build a network of fans throughout numerous universities. This is, of course, the very definition of social networking—long before either the term or the internet architecture (i.e. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) were invented.
This method worked for Guster not just because they shifted the burden of promotion from themselves to their fans, but also because their music was (and is) remarkable. They, like all bands, had to start by playing in front of their friends, but, because the music was (is) remarkable, the fans wanted to spread the word. Guster, understanding this, created an architecture of participation that enabled and empowered these people to do so. Note, Guster did not have to give incentive for these fans to spread the word; rather, the fans wanted to spread the word because they were passionate about the music. The sharing of something they loved, was reward enough. Guster just gave them tools and direction.
It’s also important to note that Guster’s gambit worked because there was something physical/tangible about it. While the Internet and digitization allow us to share things more rapidly (and more cost effectively), there is an important element of physicality that is lacking. This tangible item is often referred to as a “social object;” something that can be held, looked at, shared, put on a wall, talked about, explained…something that can be remarked on.
Artists, even in an era of digitized files, must understand that fans crave the physical experience. No one can hang an mp3 on their dorm room wall—as an external manifestation of their internal values—in the way you could hang a vinyl jacket on a wall. And remember, the person hanging this vinyl jacket on the wall wants more than anything for someone to ask about it, and thus give them the opportunity to remark upon something they are passionate about…markets are conversations. This provides them the opportunity to be an evangelist—to turn someone on—for something they love.
Can this happen online? Of course. Music, films, books, businesses spread online at a pace that no one could have conceived even fifteen years ago. However, in order to increase your odds, it’s essential you understand how these things occur. They occur when you shift the burden of promotion from yourself to your fans; you provide them with an architecture of participation; and your work is remarkable.
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
TuneCore’s Karina Alvarez had a chance to talk to hip hop recording artist ScHoolboy Q, back from SXSW and now in the studio working on his next album. Read on to find out about the writing and collaboration processes behind his latest album, Habits & Contradictions, his favorite part about being an artist, and why it’s important to hang around the people who doubt you.
Karina Alvarez: Let’s talk about Habits & Contradictions, had you been writing the songs for that for a long time? Or did you write that material specifically for that album?
ScHoolboy Q: The songs specifically for that album, but I actually redid the album like 3 or 4 times. I’d been working on it for about a whole year, but the last song I did-—it took like 2, 3 months. I had to redo it cause I just wasn’t feelin’ it.
K: There are 18 tracks on the album so you must have had a lot of un-used tracks!
S: There are so many unused tracks it’s just ridiculous, but I wouldn’t want them all out there because there’s a reason why they didn’t make it. I’m pretty sure the fans would like it them, but you know me as an artist, I critique my music more than anything. I really didn’t want people to hear ‘em!
K: You said you’ve been writing for a long time, about the record. Do you sit down and just flow? Or do you come up with your songs over a longer period of time? What’s the process behind your songs?
S: Sometimes I go in the studio and nail it right on the money—“1969”, and “Hands on the Wheel,” I wrote hella fast. “Oxy Music” was done within like 2 hours. Other times I sit with a song and it’ll take me forever! I’ve gotta find the right feeling. Sometimes it sounds natural.
K: It’s cool that Dom Kennedy uses TuneCore and others on the release—it’s sort of within the family….you’ve got a lot of guest appearances on your album. Was that a natural collaboration? Were you friends with these artists in advance or did you bring them on for the record?
S: I wasn’t gonna have nobody on there, not even Kendrick [Lamar], I was just gonna have Ab Soul on there for “Druggys Wit Hoes Again” because he was next to drop in line with the Black Hippy Camp. But my management heard the records and just said I needed some features on there. So I decided to go with the people I know.
K: Can you tell me about some of the things you did in advance of H&C to market and promote it? And some of the things you’re doing now?
S: We didn’t do s***! We just released music. Good music speaks for itself. I mean I wasn’t even played on satellite radio until after my project dropped, so for me to hit the billboards just says that our music is speaking for itself. People appreciate it so they go out and buy it.
K: As far as social media, what do you use Twitter for? Is it for announcements or is it more for connecting with fans?
S: Connecting with fans. Most of my Twitter followers support me. We have a different type of fan base. It’s not more radio based or hit record based. It’s more a body of work. So everybody that’s following us usually f*** with us. We don’t have a major outlet. If you found out about us that means you know what’s goin on. So we keep in contact with the fans through Twitter. I think most of my career came off Twitter! Givin’ out free music, leaking it straight through Twitter, not even sending it through my website.
K: If they want the music, they have to follow you!
K: And were you just down at SXSW?
S: Yea, I just did 12 shows over 6 days.
K: Wipe you out?
S: Yeah my voice is done. And my voice won’t get better cause I keep goin’ to the studio. I’ve been to the studio every day since I’ve been back. I haven’t given my voice a chance to rest yet.
K: Well let me first ask you about SXSW. Was it the first time you were there? Did you enjoy it?
S: Naw this was my 3rd time. But this was the most fun I’ve had. Every other time I’ve gone it was more as a hype man following the crew around. But now it was more about me and what I had going. And as I was walking down the street people were stopping me. You gotta talk to like 30 million people. It can get a little irritating sometimes but for the most part it helps you and your brand.
K: You said you were down there playing 12 live shows. What about live appearances? Do you have a bunch scheduled?
S: Yeah I have a tour that’s about to start, The Groovy Tour. It’s gonna start April 20th to the end of May (tour dates on Facebook), and then in May I’ve got another tour.
K: You’re comin’ to New York.—where else are you gonna be?
S: I’m gonna be in New York City. I’m gonna be all over the east coast—DC, Providence , Connecticut, even the Midwest, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle…
K: Do you have certain cities where you find you’re connecting with the fans more?
S: I mean it’s been mad love everywhere, but New York and Minneapolis are kinda crazy. Especially Minneapolis, I was expecting nobody, it was like 10 people at the meet and greet. So I’m like “this s*** ‘bout to be a disaster.” I’m thinkin’ like 70 people are gonna show up this show maybe, and that s*** was packed out. They told me I brought more people than Wiz did, his first time out there. So that was a little motivation.
K: What is your favorite part of being an artist? Is it the writing, the recording? The performing? Or even say like shooting a video? Do you have something that you like the best?
S: Being able to wake up and have control of my own destiny. Waking up every morning and knowing I don’t have to go to work and knowing I’m in control of whether I’m gonna make some money. That’s the best part about being an artist.
C: That’s like TuneCore, we always say “Be an artist but also be your own industry. Be Your Own Startup.” That’s what the artist can be now.
S: Exactly. That’s my whole thing, cause the passion is there and the love for music. But I also have to support a family. So I have to do what I have to do, and I’m in control of that.
K: In your background, how much did mixtapes play a part in terms of people gaining awareness of your music?
S: Oh they played a big part, that’s the reason I’m here now. That’s the reason I’m in the studio working on my album cause the past projects I dropped were so strong. And with my next album, it’s time for fans to get the full, developed me. The last two projects, I don’t really call them mixtapes, they were more like albums cause we were selling them. But technically, I think the debut album is coming out now.
K: So you made quite a debut before the debut! Do you have some advice for up and comers? Something that helped you get to where you achieved your success?
K: People telling you that you’re not gonna be able to do it—you need to hang around the people that doubt you. They’re the people that you actually need. Cause the people that doubt you are the people who keep you going.
S:Keep going, don’t let nobody stop you from doing what you’re doing. And keep going hard cause you’re in control of your own destiny when you come into this music industry. And if you ain’t ready mentally, then you need to go out and get a job, cause this s*** is stressful. If you’re not ready for it mentally and you can’t take criticism than you don’t need to be in it.
K: I really appreciate that sentiment. You need people that are gonna be honest with you to take you further. To give you inspiration.
S: Yeah even if they laugh at you. My closest homie and I used to talk all the time about me rapping. He was just keepin’ it real, he didn’t even know I was a rapper. He was just crackin’ jokes. And now he’s asking to come to my shows, he’s asking me to put him on the list before I even know about my shows. Now when we go out I pay for everything!
K: Anything that you want to promote or let us know that we should be looking forward to?
S: H&C right now, Habits and Contradictions on iTunes, gotta get that. So everybody that supported it, like it, comment. Kendrick’s got a new CD out, Jay Rock’s record, Ab Soul is comin’ up next. He’s got some crazy, crazy records. He’s already played me some of it. He’s gonna kill it next.
It’s time to show off the TuneCore Artists that were featured in the top digital music stores over the past month.
Jenny Scheinman – eMusic “New This Week” Feature 3/6
Mikal Cronin – eMusic “SXSW Must See” 3/6
Brandon Green – Free On iTunes 3/6
Tyrone Wells – iTunes Singer/Songwriter Page 3/14
Allen Stone – iTunes R&B/Soul Page 3/14
Torreblanca – iTunes U.S. Latino “Canción de la Semana” 3/20
BJ The Chicago Kid – iTunes R&B/Soul 3/27
Chromatics – iTunes Electronic Page 3/27
Check out our new Pinterest page for the full roundup of TuneCore Artists featured in March, and click to follow us!
Fanzy, a growing Facebook app, encourages fans to spread the word about brands, by rewarding them when they promote. This app can be used by any kind of brand, TV show, film, or sports team, but we think it’s a particularly useful tool for artists, since it helps them promote their music while growing and giving back to their fan base. The app is centered around promotions and rewards for those promotions. In order to receive awards, fans unlock badges when they complete certain promotional opportunities, determined by the brand. Examples of promotions might be sharing a band’s new video, tweeting about a new album, or inviting other people to become fans. The more the fans promote, the more points they rack up, and the more they’re rewarded. It’s up to the brand to come up with the rewards.
So bands, check out Fanzy to see if it’s a good fit in expanding your social media reach and connecting with (and giving back to) your fans!