Utilizing Soundcloud to Drive iTunes Sales

[Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Janelle Rogers, the founder of  Green Light Go Publicity, a music PR firm which helps up-and-coming musicians reach their audience.]

 

There’s no doubt that convincing fans and music listeners to buy music in 2017 can be an uphill battle. For nearly 20 years the music consumer has been conditioned into downloading music for free. Services like Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud have made it even easier, while making it legal.

You may think the only way to get your music heard is to give it all away for free.

Not so fast.

Like any legitimate business model, you should be looking at how you can market your product to drive sales. A single can be your product to market while iTunes provides the vehicle to drive sales.

How do you do that? Let’s dive into a simple five step strategy to market your music on Soundcloud to drive sales on iTunes.

1. Create a Sales Goal

Before you start marketing your music, you should set a realistic sales goal of what you hope to achieve. Note, I said realistic. If you only have 30 Soundcloud followers and 100 Facebook followers, chances of you selling 1,000 downloads of your album on iTunes within two months are fairly unrealistic. In that case you need to make a compromise, either extend the timeline to where you can realistically sell 1,000 downloads or decrease the amount of sales to reflect your current followers.

2. Offer a Track for Free

If you want people to buy your music, you need to give them a sample of your music to try out. It’s the equivalent of going to your local market, trying that new crunchy snack at the sample table and then buying the entire bag because you can’t get enough.

Determine one single you can give for free off your new album and set a limited time frame to download it. You’re offering a single for a limited time for three reasons. It allows listeners a chance to really hear your music and decide if they want to hear more. The limited time creates incentive to download before it goes away and it keeps fans from solely relying on free music.

Lastly, by only offering one single it gives incentive to purchase more music if they are interested or at the very least streaming from Spotify where you’ll be paid for each listen. If you were to give away your entire album, you’re essentially giving away the entire bag of chips without asking for anything in return.

3. Post iTunes Pre-sale or Sale Link

Next, you need to make it easy for fans to know where to buy your music on iTunes. Post your iTunes pre-sale link or sale link on your Soundcloud profile, any public tracks from the album, and your Facebook and Twitter profiles. You should also include the release date so fans know when it’s available.

4. Alert Soundcloud Followers of New Music

Soundcloud made notification changes in 2014, which make it difficult to communicate when you have a new song available. In the past, when you uploaded a song, your followers would receive an email notification with a link to the new song. Currently, Soundcloud offers no bulk email notification option to alert fans of new music. Without your fans receiving notifications of your new music, what can you do?

First, you’ll unfortunately have to take the time to privately Soundcloud message every follower on your list individually to notify them of a new song available. That’s the good news if you only have 37 fans. It’s very bad news, if you have 10,000. This would be a very time intensive process if you did this every time you released a new single. You need a notification process that is both efficient and in your control. The best way to do this is to also notify your Soundcloud followers of your email list with a direct link to sign up and receive notifications when you release new music.

If you don’t have an email list, that should be your first priority for two reasons. One, you control how your fans are notified and you also don’t risk losing fan contacts on a platform who owns the contact information or controls how information can be sent.

Lastly, keeping your iTunes objective in mind, you should also include that iTunes pre-sale link and call to action in your individual messages and newsletter announcements.

5. Increase Soundcloud Following to Increase Sales

In order to increase sales outside of your base, you also need to increase your following. The best way to utilize this within Soundcloud is to follow those who would be interested in your music and are current Soundcloud users. If you also factor in users who repost tracks regularly, no more than 2-3 times daily, you have the opportunity to grow your base exponentially.

First, think about bands who are similar to you on Soundcloud and follow them. Then take a look at their followers and start following those who fit the parameters in the above paragraph. Soundcloud does limit how many you can follow in one day, so I recommend keeping it to ten per day, which will also make it more manageable as you engage with those who follow you and comment on your tracks.

This brings me to engagement. You should also be engaging with those you follow or who follow you, by liking tracks they post (If you like them) and commenting. This is especially true if you are following a band or someone else in the music industry.

This is also the one area where I suggest NOT sending your iTunes link, keeping in mind you should have it included in your song description. You are building a fan relationship when increasing listeners so you need to make sure the listener experience is a good one. Once you have built that relationship, then you can repeat the above process by releasing another single to support the album and including the iTunes link when you privately message.

This method is the first step in increasing sales for your music. In this day and age, however, you need to be creative and adapt to a constantly changing industry. Album sales are just a portion of revenue for a band. You should always look at how you can build your audience and create an experience they want to be part of, so they will in turn support your every endeavor.

The Business of Making a Record (Part III)

[Editors NoteThis is the final installment in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you need to catch up. In this final piece, he guides first-time music makers as they navigate the world of defining their promotion and release strategy, as well as defining what success means to them. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]

 

Ok. The champagne’s been popped. You’ve listened to your album on repeat since receiving the master, ordered your physical packages, and now you’re ready; ready to share your masterpiece with the world. Before we get to the grit of “Now what?”, let me start by talking about the last part of the previous sentence.

A large part of your success as an artist rests in the tenacity of your belief – the belief you are creating something of worth. When I say “masterpiece, I mean masterpiece. You have, in whatever large or small way, created something that is uniquely you.

Remember that at every turn.

When you’ve spent hours sending your record to hundreds of blogs for review, and one blogger bites – remember that. When the “likes” on the debut of your “sneak peek” for the first single don’t stack up to “industry standards” – remember that.

We don’t create for praise. We create because we know no other way. It is the life of an artist. In this self-assured approach, do not mistake arrogance for quiet confidence; this is never a good look and will only lead to complications. Now, let’s get to the meat.

There are as many ways to market an album as there are to record a song. Some grand and proven, others outside-of-the-box and risky. The only way you “fail” in this pursuit is by not truly planning out your approach. Throwing something in the air and praying a stranger knows to look up is foolish.

In the same respect, a scattered, unplanned marketing strategy will only lead to an annoyed audience and wasted opportunity.

What is within my reach?

Start here. Don’t compare your album rollout to anyone else’s. New duo Levv is probably not going to have the same access or promotional reach as say Macklemore or Sia. Creativity is key.

With so many avenues of approach at our fingertips, it can be daunting for a new artist to decide the path that best suites her or him. This process is extremely important to your success. A well-thought out plan of attack is almost as important as the product you have created. Here are a few ideas that may help jumpstart your upcoming album release.

Find the “comeback”.

When people suggest social media is the best way to begin promoting your release, don’t assume you already know this little gem of information because you’ve posted a Soundcloud link of a song to your Facebook wall. The world of social media is a much more complicated arena than the occasional “Get ready for our latest single!” status/tweet, or a picture post from the studio. You have to create the “comeback.”

What about your music brings people back to your page – pulls their finger to the “like” button – and what has them waiting for what’s next? People enjoy having something to look forward to. This can come in the form of revealing different pieces of your artwork, teasing songs from the album through video or audio posts, playing one song from the record live in the weeks leading up to the release, doing a pre-release on iTunes or Bandcamp, making a new song available each week as the release date approaches – the possibilities are limitless. It just takes some imagination and hard work.

Press: The ask.

For an independent artist this may be the most difficult part of the equation. If I’ve learned anything from my time in the industry, it’s this: the ask will get you further than the fear. If your goal is blog supremacy, then roll up your sleeves, and get to work. This is not for the easily winded.

Step 1: Compile a list of your favorite music blogs and publications. Begin following the sites and make a habit of regular visits. Be invested in the platforms you hope invest in you.

Step 2: Pick your most commercially viable or best song (TIP: send out an email to friends and family with a private playlist of the album, and have them vote on their favorites) and formulate a personal email to EACH of these outlets. Yes, personal – yes each. No blogger or music content editor with any clout is going to waste time reading, or listening for that matter, to a mass email talking about a song /record from an unproven, unknown artist when their inbox is full of known acts looking for the same spot (and usually sent from a reputable publicist).

This is work, my friends. You can’t decide one day that all you need to do is send out an email to 200 of your favorite online outlets and expect the rest to just fall in to place. Start this process early – long before your rollout is to begin.

The day after…

You’ve come to a crucial point that few talk about, but everyone experiences. I call it “the day after.” The album has been released, and you’ve spent an ungodly amount of time promoting and planning only to find yourself a month in and feeling as though all your hard work is already forgotten. Stop right there.

I am a firm believer in defining your OWN idea of success. Those in the arts, or most human beings for that matter, get caught up in numbers. Societal bars that dictate whether or not we are successes or failures. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The easiest way to avoid following the lemmings to this destructive cliff is two-fold.

Redefine what success looks like within your reality, and never assume quality work doesn’t require hard work when it’s finally time to release it.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you refused to carry the weight of living up to expectations that were never yours to begin with. All you’re in control of is the quality of your work and how much time you’re willing to put into making it a success. Before one album or song is sold or streamed, decide what your goals for the record are according to where you are in the journey. Build your brand and career with the knowledge that it may take some time before the work reflects the prize.

This business is a killer. It’s sleepless nights and dive bars – working two jobs mixed with moments of creation.  Remain true to what you feel makes you great – different from the pack. When you discover your unique point of view, create with intent. Be the best at what you do, work hard, and people will take notice.

For all the advice and careful planning one can give or receive, there is no perfect guidebook to the world of creative arts. It is a place for the dreamer; a road of self-discovery that will lead to triumph and loss – failures and success. Resolve to create because you must, and the rest will fall into place.

Thank you for allowing me to talk a little about my thoughts on making a record through the lens of my personal experience. These are challenging times for artists, but remember, we are the pulse of each generation. Without art, music, or words, we are left to brave the world in silence. So play loud my friends, because whether or not they know it, they need us.

Industry Interview: Jake Schneider of Madison House Inc.

No matter what genres of music you love to make or listen to, it’s nearly impossible to have missed the unprecedented rise of electronic dance music in popular culture over the past decade. Derived from electronic and house genres, EDM has become a mainstay on college campuses, at major music festivals, and in clubs and venues across America. In fact, for a lot of us, the soaring popularity of this specific subgenre seems to have come out of thin air. Of course, any independent artist dedicating their lives to the grind can trust that there was a lot more behind it.

Enter Jake Schneider, Partner and Director of Agency Development at Madison House Inc., a Boulder, CO-based booking and management company. Jake is the booking agent for some of the most successful and cutting-edge acts in electronic music, including BASSNECTAR, Keys N Krates, Paper Diamond, Lotus and more. At just 33-years old, he’s got over ten years of industry experience that also includes event coordination and booking, as well as DJing.

Given his unique perspective on the rise of this genre, and keeping in mind how much advice he has to offer TuneCore producers and artists, we interviewed Jake to get his side of the story from the middle of America:

You began booking electronic artists at an interesting time in the genre’s history. What kind of opportunities did you see in midwestern markets that weren’t being capitalized on?

Jake Schneider: Uh-oh. This is a long answer so bear with me here!

Electronic music, like every genre, has been so cyclical in its nature. There are some legends in the electronic world hailing from places like Detroit or Chicago that have been doing this since I was in diapers. That’s actually pretty disgusting to imagine me in diapers, but I want people to know that I don’t think myself or any of my artists “reinvented” the wheel or anything here.

One of the main factors to the success of many of our clients in the midwest was the fact that there wasn’t any larger scale outlets or ways to bridge electronic music with my generation on a live touring level in the late 90’s early 00’s. I mean yes there were raves around that time, more so prior to that, and even more so in specific pockets of America, however that scene had cooled off a bit. If that wasn’t part of your world, you and the rest of the Midwestern masses maybe knew about “dance music”, and had listened to some of the big European artists like Paul Oakenfold, or enjoyed singles like “Sandstorm” by Darude, etc, but it was tough because there really wasn’t a radio format that was pushing it. It wasn’t as accessible as it was in Europe and other places around the globe. I’m from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) and went to the University of Iowa and everyone that I knew just hilariously lumped dance music together and called it “techno”.

Then, it all changed for me in 2000, when I was a freshman in college, had my own PC that could burn CD’s (SICK!!!!!), Napster was JUST blowing up and I’m in a dorm with KILLER download speeds and just shredding through music to play and experiment with. I would say 2000 or 2001 was the “wild wild west” of music with the ability to so freely obtain albums and tracks from any artist, from anywhere in the world so quickly. I started listening to some dance music, but really as I began working with SCOPE Productions at the University of Iowa, where I was the Talent Buyer and Director of Operations, booking concerts for the University, my musical tastes were quickly broadening. Soon I was booking concerts that need to cater to an entire student population with different musical agendas  as well as servicing the people in Iowa City, IA and the surrounding areas who wanted to see big name marquee artists. The school was essentially the main hub for the majority of concerts that could accommodate over 300-400 people because all of those venues were on-campus. That was a pretty crazy experience.

I DO remember though exactly when I first realized that electronic music had a ton going on in the background and would continue to grow, especially in the midwest where it hadn’t recently been prevalent outside of certain markets and straightforward “dance clubs” – I was DJ’ing  four to five nights a week at a huge Big Ten bar (Go Hawkeyes) called “One-Eyed Jake’s” (my name was Jake so that was always fun explaining to drunk bachelorette parties that “both of my eyes are fine” and that “no, I cannot play ‘Yeah’ by Usher for the THIRD time tonight because I just played it two songs ago, and I’m sorry that the bachelorette is crying because she likes that song, but she missed it and can you please tell your friends to stop throwing bachelorette party penis straws at me.”). ANYWAYS, that got pretty unruly, and I would occasionally fill in at it’s sister club, The Summit, where there was a taste for those “four on the floor” dance tracks and if I were to DJ there I had to play some of that stuff, but at the end of the day I was much more of a Hip-Hop, R&B and Dancehall guy spinning records at those types speeds which were obviously a bit slower than the Tiesto tracks that a couple of my buddies were interweaving into their sets.

Towards the end of my tenure in Iowa City at one of our SCOPE meetings, a buddy of mine, Josh, who was working with us at the organization, had taken the time to burn me some music with The Disco Biscuits and LTJ Bukem. I didn’t know what the hell I was listening to, but I knew that there was a fan base, and it was being driven pretty heavily from the East Coast, and that The Disco Biscuits were classified as a “jam band”, but had electronic leaning sounds, and eventually learned that LTJ Bukem was a Drum & Bass electronic artist. I didn’t know what the hell to do with DnB, where to put it, and what it meant until I made the transition to the Boulder/Denver area in 2005.

I had been hired as a Booking Agent, by an amazing outfit of people running a boutique booking agency and management company, amongst many other artist services, called Madison House. The roster was very jam-band heavy then, and one of the first acts that they let me work on was called LOTUS, but unlike other improvisational jammy acts, their albums, were significantly different. The electronic aspect of the album stuck out to me more. I thought to myself, “Whoa, this is a band playing dope dance music with a bunch of ridiculously gifted musicians”. I started to go out in Denver and Boulder more and realize that there was a full on crossing over of jam bands, hip-hop and electronic music.

jake-schneider-edm

Then after seeing them up at JazzAspen, I picked up a band, Pnuma Trio, who were a super young threesome of kids inspired by electronic artists and other similar bands, one being, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and was fascinated with their love of these various worlds. The thing about all these bands is that they had Grateful Dead-esque followings where people would record the sets, look at the setlists every night on one of dozens of message boards and because those set lists were different every night, and the fans were so passionate about the music and the LIVE SHOW, you had kids touring across the country to see them night-after-night, like many did with The Dead, Phish, Dave Matthews Band, etc.

Because of this ability to sell “hard tickets”, it meant they packed venues, and because they packed venues, promoters starting catching on and understanding that this was a whole new untapped world and when the “multi-genre” festivals started popping up all over the US, more and more acts like these were included in the lineups. On top of that the traditional “jam” festivals started booking more straightforward DJ’s and producers, many of whom were influential for this new “jam-tronica” sound being utilized by the bands of this newer generation. It just started snowballing. Bands like, The Disco Biscuits, began throwing their own festival called Camp Bisco. It was a hybrid of anything and everything Jam, Electronic, Indie, Hip-Hop, etc. DJ’s and producers were being flown in from across the globe to the US for the first time ever (or maybe for the first time in a long while) to be a part of these events. More and more began to pop up and I realized we had a whole new scene of fans willing to dig into all of these genres.

And all the while during this time, you’ve got a whole West Coast scene, with underground parties, raves, beach “gatherings”, etc and along comes Burning Man. So many acts came out of that movement. I’m talking less about the Vegas or Los Angeles rave artists and more about these underground and grassroots DJ/producers were had cult-like followings. Burning Man also attracted some of the more free-spirited jam artists as well so there was some cross-pollination there also. One of the larger and lovable bands on our roster is The String Cheese Incident, who has been a Madison House client since day one. They did an amazing job creating awesome music and a touring fanbase, but even they interweaved electronic music throughout their sets. There was some collaboration and friendship between them and an act that I signed, Bassnectar, whose live show was unprecedented. If you asked any of his fans if it was “techno”, you might get spanked. He was playing and melding all different genres of music like Breaks, some DnB at times, later Dubstep, but could not be pigeon-holed into any such genre. He had long hair like some guy out of a metal band and he was head-banging for most of the set. This wasn’t what people thought was “TECHNO” coming from Los Angeles or Las Vegas, this was a completely different beast.

The midwest had a ton of different festivals and music fans, and because not all of the fans were raised in this rave era, they were just blown away that this type of music could be executed onstage. Moe’s Summer Camp is an excellent example of crossing the bridges between live music and electronic music. Ian Goldberg from Jay Goldberg Events was watching the trends closely and booking the stuff that these kids wanted to see! There were fledgling promoters that are now BIG promoters who took a risk on this stuff and the kids just couldn’t get enough. They wanted a “LIVE” show and they were getting it with these bands and the DJ’s and producers that were affiliated with them. These DJ’s started adopting the touring mentalities of the bands and next thing you know you have Bassnectar or The Glitch Mob going on tour and kids doing EVERY date on it. And it grew at a healthy rate. It wasn’t overnight. There were SO MANY cities to service that hadn’t been paid attention to, and now was the time to give them love. Those European “mega-club” DJ’s who were getting paid crazy money to fly to Ibiza once a week weren’t coming across the pond to play in places like Bloomington, IN or Madison, WI – two amazing college towns and just a SMALL fraction of the midwest in general. It spread like wild-fire and the adding of festivals continue to perpetuate it.

When developing, some of these acts could be touring for 8 weeks and giving THREE of those weeks to the midwest if they wanted to. So many college towns, so many underserviced markets. It was realizing and paying attention to the fans in these secondary and tertiary markets and cities that helped propel electronic music in the Midwest. As soon as this stuff started coming to the Midwest, kids just ate it up. They were hungry for a change of pace. The record industry was becoming stale and it was all about the LIVE SHOW and now there were electronic bands and DJ’s that had an actual LIVE SHOW. It wasn’t just a little guy onstage amidst pyro drinking champagne – it was something completely different.

Explain the importance of any artist’s live performance in your opinion, and how you feel that’s evolved in the past 10 years.

When it comes to electronic music, if you want to be a producer and have no live show or stage presence, then that’s what you should be. But if you are going to become an artist with a live show aspect, then the sound needs to be better each and every time you come back to a city or venue. It was to the point where there became sort of an “arms race” with production and technological improvements and this mentality that the more bass and subs, lights, LED panels, etc. that you had, the better. That was sustainable for a bit, but the music had to get better and progress and stay with the times. The amount of genres within electronic music is nearly comical, but again they’re cyclical, so you need to stay relevant and one of the ways of doing that is by delivering sets that the fans are NOT going to forget.

From a professional perspective, what are some of the challenges you face today when trying to coordinate/curate/book the perfect event experience?

I think one of the toughest challenges we face is the fact that for many straightforward band’s, fans have become accustomed to a very stale experience in shitty under-serviced venues, stale arenas, or awkward amphitheatres. There has got to be more than that to stick out, which is why you are seeing so many artists (and festivals of course) focus on the experiential stuff. How do you get the consumer to forget the fact that they are in a venue named after a mega corporation? There are so many ways to do it, be it production like I’ve talked about already, video content, ancillary performers, dancers, the list goes on.

At first it was a struggle with promoters to understand the need to spend extra on these types of things, but as they saw the artists grow and the fanbase engage more, they were more likely to increase the experiential or production budgets for the shows in the future. There’s too many bands out there right now and at the end of the day most of them are just a name in a venue’s strip ad on the back page of your local newspaper.

How do you become MORE than that?

You get your artist to help promote the show. There’s this saying that “promoters don’t promote any more”. That’s true sometimes, but it’s complete nonsense other times, however in this digital age it’s on the artist very much so to get the word out too. If I am working with acts like that, who are capturing the audience, and that artist starts selling loads of tickets, you better believe that all of the promoters around are going to want to help with the next show, and are going to either meet your needs for transforming the venue, creating a room within a room, or spending the extra money to bring in the correct support artists to compliment the show.

What do you consider to be some underrated advice for newer electronic artists who are looking to connect with fans among all the static?

Pay your dues. If you make music that people like, keep doing it, but figure out where it all came from. Just because you have a single, doesn’t entitle you to endless success. Keep the creativity juices flowing and study what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past because there are lessons learned from the stories of EVERY major artist ranging from Jimi Hendrix to The Beatles to DJ AM!

Similarly, what are common mistakes you see artists in this space making on a daily basis?

Not paying their dues. Lacking humility. Take it down a notch, too. You’re only 22!! Remember, there are other artists who have a 15-passenger van filled with 8 stinky band members playing rock clubs each and every night, splitting their money. You have got it good!

At what point do you suggest an indie DJ/producer begin to seek a booking agent? What booking abilities should they work on before then?

It’s great if an act can be garnering a scene for themselves in the region they call home. There is no “steadfast” rule, but being able to sell 500+ tickets to a show in your hometown, or being able to add worth when added to a bill with one of my acts because you’ll help the show sell better, and being able to sell 100-200 tickets in some surrounding cities – all of this can create the basis for needing and attracting an agent. There are anomalies though. Maybe one of your promoter partners has someone in their market that isn’t doing a bunch of business yet, but is making crazy music. I’ve picked up acts on that level before. It’s a slow build, but it can be done.

Quick: What are some of the biggest pet peeves of booking agents in your space and how can folks avoid being ‘that artist’?

Oh wow, this is an interesting one. My attention isn’t to come across mean about any with this, but in no certain order:

  • I don’t use my CD player and everyone knows that CD’s don’t really fit properly in anyone’s pockets. They’re just a pain-in-the-ass.
  • Stop making up your own “sub-genres” of music. It’s insane how often I get something like “I’ve created some new tunes and it’s kind of got that World-Step vibe”. Ugh.
  • Be humble and don’t cause problems for the bands that you’re supporting. We’ve had acts that were supporting a band that complaining about their green rooms and other trivial things. If you create a disturbance then you’re not doing it right.
  • Same goes with the staff at venues. BE NICE. These people are busting their asses for you and are naturally going to be crabby at times. And you’ll probably have to work with them again. We don’t want bad feedback on you.

TuneCore Social: Revisiting Our Interview With I Fight Dragons

With the recent launch of our brand new social media marketing tool, TuneCore Social, we’re re-sharing some of our favorite articles/interviews in which TuneCore Artists and members of the music industry dive into the importance of social, what kind of habits to avoid, and how to make it work for your music career. Remember – if you’ve got an active distribution, you can start using TuneCore Social today totally free!

For the second installment of our “Getting Social” Series, we interviewed Brian Mazzaferri of Chicago’s I Fight Dragons. The band has been together for over 6-years, playing catchy pop rock tunes that incorporate chiptune music from Nintendo Game Boy/NES. After only two years, I Fight Dragons had the honor of being signed to Atlantic Records, but in 2012, they fought to get out of their deal in order to regain control of their music and revenue.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, they released The Near Future (distributed by TuneCore) in December of 2014. TuneCore was honored to be able to help them continue their musical journey after they departed from the label system. While I Fight Dragons has garnered attention from sync placements in TV shows (including credit for writing the theme song for ABC’s The Goldbergs) and commercials, the band has always maintained an attentive and effective social media strategy. Building large communities on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, maintaining a blog and regularly engaging with their fans through all of these channels, we felt they were perfect candidates for sharing advice on how independents can best utilize social media.

Read our interview below with lead vocalist Brian Mazzaferri, who fills us in on the band’s musical journey and how their social presence has played a role in it.

Congrats on the release of The Near Future! Where do you feel the band has grown the most over the past 6+ years?

Brian Mazzaferri: Thank you!  We’re definitely psyched that it’s finally out; we’ve been working on it for the past 2 years, and it’s a bit surreal to talk about it as something that actually exists out in the world.

Growth-wise, I feel like our main focus has been in our arrangements.  Back when we started, we sort of just threw chiptune on top of what we were already playing, but over the years we’ve learned more and more about chiptune, and also grown as instrumentalists and a band.  These days, the four of us speak a common musical language and it’s always a blast to work on arrangements.

On a practical level, it’s been really cool to see that we’ve had a pretty regular fanbase-growth level over the 6 years. We haven’t exactly had any “big breaks” where we picked up our fans, just a bunch of small and medium sized breaks that we always tried to keep pushing with.

You guys went from local to being signed to Atlantic in just 2 years. Tell us about how you initially went about grabbing the attention of listeners and press outlets.

Yeah, that was a crazy time.  I think we were obviously helped by the fact that our music fit really well with the zeitgeist of the early 2010s, with geek becoming chic and nerd becoming cool. A band that played rock music mixed with retro video game sound cards fit right in, which is not to be underestimated when it comes to labels and folks trying to guess the next big thing.

Beyond that, we also just worked our butts off non-stop – hustling, playing local shows, networking with other local bands, and trying anything and everything to connect with people who might like our music and create meaningful moments and relationships.

It was a lot of constantly trying new platforms and tools too, we had early success on sites like thesixtyone.com (which used to be a ridiculously awesome rpg-style music discovery site), jamlegend.com (which was a really cool online free guitar-hero type game), and others.  We did a lot on MySpace (which was important at the time), and a fair amount on Twitter in its infancy, as well as of course more and more on Facebook as time went on.  We did battle of the bands competitions in Chicago, and played any and every collaborative event we could find.  We used platforms like TAXI and SonicBids to get placements too.  I don’t think the exact path we followed is totally relevant today, but I do think the key philosophy of constantly trying new things and learning as you go is still applicable.

Twitter is a platform that has progressed almost parallel to I Fight Dragons’ career. How has the band utilized its relationship with fans on Twitter? What have you found to be beneficial from your early days through 2015?

It has indeed. Back in 2009 when we started to use Twitter it seemed like a brand new frontier, and it was a huge part of how we grew back then, how we found and connected with more people who might like our music and made new friends along the way.

The best advice we ever got in the early days was actually from Leah Jones, a marketing wizard in Chicago who actually did some social media consulting / coaching with bands back in the day.  She taught us to use social media as a conversation tool, and not as a promotion tool.  Especially with Twitter, it’s not about pushing your message out to the world, it’s about finding the conversations that are already happening out there and joining them in meaningful ways where you actually have something to contribute.

Mostly, just being a human and interacting in real, honest ways provides the most meaningful return.

With 52K Facebook fans, what kind of content helps fans feel connected with I Fight Dragons?

It’s funny, we’ve never particularly had a growth spurt on Facebook, it’s always just been a slow and steady climb.  I’d say we’ve gotten somewhere in the realm of 10,000 fans per year for the past 4 years or so, and it’s not that we post any specific kind of content; although I will say we do try to do things we think our fans will find interesting, and to post them on a regular basis.  Just showing up regularly and trying to add something seems to work for us.

I will say that social media, and Facebook specifically, seems to work best for us when it’s bridging the gap between what’s happening in the real world and the digital.  When we post to Facebook just for the sake of posting to Facebook, it’s usually a lot less effective than when we’re out doing something in the world and we then connect that through the digital world as well.

Also, it’s a given these days, but responding to every message or post on your own wall has always been an important thing to us.  If a fan takes the time to reach out to us, we take the time to reach back, even if it’s just to say thanks.

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Some artists choose to hone in one particular social platform. Explain why I Fight Dragons chooses to make themselves available across the board and how you keep it organized.

I think people should do as many platforms as they feel like they can handle effectively, and no more than that.  For some people, they’re just Twitter people, it’s their natural ecosystem, and that’s all they need.  Others are 100% YouTube, or 100% Tumblr, or even Instagram.  We’ve always used a fairly diverse mix, but in actuality the only ones we really use on a daily basis are Facebook and Twitter (and our own blog).

Not unlike artists, it’s common to see fans who are loyal to just one social channel. Do you notice differences in the way your fans choose to interact on Facebook vs. Twitter?

Absolutely.  Twitter is like a big cocktail party, with tons of different conversations going on around different topics, hashtags, groups, etc.  It’s very casual, and very easy to join in a conversation.  Facebook is much more connected to a real person, and people tend to resent intrusion much more.  I think that’s a good reason to make yourself available on multiple platforms, even if it’s just to have a place for people that are on that platform to reach out and tag/message you.

Having landed some great sync placements in TV shows, commercials and even a WWE Pay-Per-View, do you find fans heading to I Fight Dragons’ social channels in the early stages of discovery?

I’d say that social is very typically a part of how new fans find out about IFD, pretty close behind hearing about us from a friend, which is the main way that I think almost everyone hears about new music these days.  In some ways your Google search has become your new homepage, because people will just Google your band name and see what pops up, and often that leads them to our Facebook or Twitter feed.

You guys aren’t afraid to get in front of the camera and chat with your fans. How do you think YouTube can benefit independent artists beyond just music videos?

I think that being willing to just go on camera is essential these days.  We actually don’t use YouTube as well as we could, folks like Kina Grannis, Hoodie Allen, Watsky, and more have built insane touring bases through true dedication to YouTube. It’s such a personal channel that offers a deep connection far more powerful than others since people can actually see you and feel like they’re hanging out with you.

A lot of times if you look at those artists profiles, they have a TON of video content that is much more causal, not necessarily a produced music video. Maybe it’s a casual cover song video, or even just a video blog, and I feel like that type of stuff really helps deepen the connection between artist and fan; but obviously it takes much more effort to make a video (even a casual one) than it does to post a tweet, so it takes a lot more time and energy commitment, especially if you want to make sure all of your videos are good (which should of course be the goal).

TuneCore was psyched to distribute The Near Future. Tell us a bit about your departure from the label system and what kind of role social media played in the release and marketing of the new album.

We were psyched to be using TuneCore!  We did our time in the label system and learned a ton, but ultimately it wasn’t working out for us.  The way that system is structured, it’s sort of all-or-nothing, because you give away all of the income from your album sales in exchange for the label fronting the money to record the album in the first place.  This is extreme, a lot of folks don’t realize that artists actually have to buy their own CDs from the label in order to sell them at shows, and even at wholesale pricing they’re generally paying $7 or $8 for each copy of their own album.

Especially with Kickstarter entering the fray a few years back. It’s more possible than ever for a band to find other ways to raise the recording costs, and then start having a steady stream of income from album sales as you continue to play out, make more music, and grow.  It’s so much more organic, and you don’t have to start from scratch every time.  Plus pressing up your own CDs for $1 apiece makes it much more feasible to actually make money at live shows.

The truth is, we never really got any marketing spend from the label anyway, nor any radio promotion, so we were essentially doing all of our own promotion via social media even when we were on a label.  Labels are understaffed these days, and the big acts tend to get all of the staff’s time.

Long story short, we’ve always sort of been a “we’ll do it ourselves” kind of band, and social media is the natural promotional vehicle for that mindset.

I Fight Dragons is a great example of an indie band doing social right. What advice can you offer likeminded artists who are hoping to utilize social in advancing their careers?

First of all, thank you!  I can honestly say that I’m constantly wrestling with how to use social better, how to get more out of it, and how to work it more seamlessly into my life.  It’s constantly evolving, and I don’t think it’s something you can ever solve 100%.

I know it can be a tough balance when you have to choose between time spent working on music and time spent working on social, but I think they’re both important.  I think the difference between doing music purely as a hobby and approaching it as a career is largely in how much time you’re willing to devote to the career aspects of hustling, networking, marketing, and promoting yourself.  Finding that balance is never easy, since if you go too far into the career side it’s easy to get burned out and forget why you’re doing all that work in the first place.

That said, I think that the worlds of art and marketing are bleeding together more and more, and there’s a sense in which a band or an artist’s career is becoming a sort of narrative art form in and of itself.

On a purely practical level, I find habit and regularity to be my absolute best weapon in the battle to stay on top of all your social channels.  Establishing daily habits and brute forcing them feels really hard and annoying at first, but soon enough it just becomes part of your routine, and your mental energy is free to work on more creative endeavors.

How To Tap Into the College Music Market

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post from our friends at IndieU, an online music platform that connects independent musicians to colleges and college students across the nation. Learn more about what IndieU has to offer independent artists at the bottom of this article!]

 

Radiohead. Queen. Vampire Weekend. John Legend. These are just a handful of the high-profile stars that launched their music careers in college, sprouting from DIY hopefuls to industry heavyweights thanks to the thriving local fan base universities supply.

College followers are important for a number of reasons: they’re enthusiastic as ever, hungry for music discovery, and have a growing appetite to go against the Top 40 grain. Most importantly, they’ve become steadily averse to record execs hand-selecting what they listen to, and are increasingly turning to friends to unearth new music finds. They’re also an important foundation for building credibility before focusing on a national stage.

In recent years, the internet has made tapping into these markets even easier for rising acts. Just look to the meteoric ascent of Chance the Rapper, whose young, fervent hometown of Chicago helped him make history as one of the most successful independent artists to date.

So what’s the secret? That’s a question IndieU has made its mission as a one-stop platform for up-and-coming musicians. Below, we share our tricks of the trade for making it big on campus.

Make a website and stream your music

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First and foremost, set up a website where people can access your music, bio, and social media in one spot. Have a photographer friend take professional-looking pictures and feature sections for an about page, music, concert dates, contact information, and merch if you’ve got it. Add in a toolbar with all of your links, making sure to include your SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, or wherever else you post your music. As the industry shifts away from record sales, it’s important to be on streaming sites, especially as a lesser-known act. You have to get people on board with your sound before they’ll shell out money for it.

Get On Social Media

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Social media, social media, social media, and did we mention social media? This one’s kind of a no-brainer, but if you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like, you’re passing up hundreds of thousands of possible followers. Think of it like those pedigree charts you glazed over during biology class: a student stumbles across your page, likes it, it pops up in the newsfeed of one of their friends, they like it, and so on. Soon, you’ve amassed a substantial audience rife with local fans to attend your nearby concerts. Make sure to post often to keep them engaged, and don’t be afraid to show a little personality.

Play Local Shows

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This brings us to our next point: play often and play local. College offers an unlimited number of opportunities to score gigs, whether it be at a student group event, an off-campus party, or nearby coffee shops and bars looking to fill live slots. The more you perform, the more exposure you’ll rake in. This is a great way to both save up money for a tour and build a reputation for can’t-miss live sets when you finally hit the road.

Network On Campus

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Networking isn’t just for the corporate crowd, it’s key to making it in the music industry. Start by forming relationships with your college radio, newspapers, and student group leaders: Spread your music and your story. Then target local publications and stations, especially if you’re near a big city, and reference back to the concerts and coverage you’ve already accomplished. That way, you have a résumé that gives you credibility.

Don’t Get Defeated

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No matter how talented you are, catching a big break isn’t going to happen overnight. Music is a tough business to be in, and it takes patience, luck, and a hell of a lot of hard work. But if you stay positive and put in the time, there’s no reason you can’t make it happen.


About IndieU: IndieU is an online music platform that connects independent musicians to colleges and college students across the nation, with the ability for users to follow the music tastes of their friends, create playlists, and stream/download thousands of independent songs for free. With over 50 student representatives in 20 schools across the nation, IndieU helps artists grow a strong localized college fan base while providing students with everything they need to know about their local music scene. With hundreds of articles to browse through, as well as a recently launched interactive digital magazine, new music discovery is endless. In the coming months, IndieU will be launching an event creation tool in which students can create their own events, book local artists to perform, and share in the revenues generated by ticket sales. Learn more on IndieU.com.

Top 10 Keys to Success For Independent Hip Hop Artists

[Editors NoteThis blog was written by Hao Nguyen and it originally appeared on Stop The Breaks, a digital marketing and promotion platform focused on showcasing independent hip-hop artists.]

The independent route is a tough, long grind, no doubt about it.

People look at the top independent hip hop artists in the game today like Tech N9ne, Nipsey Hussle and Currensy and see how they’re balling out of control, but they don’t understand just how much work these artists put into building their lifestyle.

Tech and his business partner Travis O’Guin have been building Strange Music, Inc. from the ground up for close to 20 years. Nipsey got dropped by Epic Records before starting his independent grind. Spitta was hustling and learning about the rap game from No Limit and Cash Money since 2002.

It’s never easy and takes a special type of person to succeed in the independent music industry. Someone who has the entrepreneurial spirit combined with the gritty fortitude to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

As a digital platform focused on showcasing independent hip-hop artists from all over the world, Stop The Breaks has had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of artists about their grind and really get an understanding of what creates success in this industry.

Here are our top 10 keys to success for independent artists. Or as Future would put it “I got the keys, the keys, the keys.”

1. Understand effective marketing

In its simplest form, marketing is raising the profile of a brand and its products or services in the public’s mind. So in that case, I would say all independent artists understand the basics of marketing their music – yes, even those rappers spamming SoundCloud links are doing some form of marketing.

But notice that I wrote “understand effective marketing,” which makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.

You can market your music by hitting up everyone on your Twitter feed with a link to your new single, or, you can effectively market your music by creating a solid marketing strategy and executing it regularly.

2. Relentless work ethic

There’s a saying: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” You’re not going to be successful at anything in this world without hard work and dedication, shout out to Money Mayweather.

Look at all our case studies on successful artists – whether it’s superstars like Kanye West and Drake or independent grinders like Yo Gotti – and the one constant factor is that they put in the long hours above everything else.

How do you think Curren$y drops some many projects in one year (8 so far in 2016 and counting)? How do you think Gucci manages to flood the streets even when locked up? How do you think Fetty Wap scored a number one album and five top 40 hit singles?

It’s all about hard work guys. But not just about the music.

In addition to putting in the long hours working on your craft; you also have to put in the hours distributing and promoting the music, fine-tuning your live performances, engaging with fans online and offline, and constantly educating yourself on the business side of things.

Which brings us to…

3. Music industry knowledge

Like Rap Coalition founder and music industry veteran, Wendy Day, said: “I think the most important trait is seeking out the knowledge and experience to do this properly. You either hire the right people who have the knowledge and connections to help you succeed as an artist or you learn how to do this yourself.”

Educating yourself thoroughly on the music business will make a huge difference in your success as an artist. Make sure you understand the fundamentals of music publishing and licensing your content, especially if you’re looking to set up your own independent record label.

4. Strong team around you

To Wendy’s point above, if you don’t have the experience or time to learn about the music business, then you need to make sure you build yourself a strong team to address your weaknesses.

Just because you’re an independent artist doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. There are only so many hours in the day and you have to be smart on which tasks you dedicate your time to and which tasks you delegate.

Depending on what you’re missing in your arsenal, consider hiring a manager, marketing director or promoter, tour manager, graphic designer, lawyer and accountant. It doesn’t have to be right away, but you should definitely have a plan to slowly build up your team as you hit new levels in your recording career.

5. Effective social media presence

How many rappers do you know who are really active on Twitter or Facebook, but all they’re doing is spamming their followers with music links? There’s no genuine engagement with fans, no real interaction with followers, just blindly spamming link after link hoping they’re going to be the next big thing.

Don’t do this. Trust me, it’ll do more harm than good.

It’s good to be active on as many social media networks as possible, but only if you can manage them properly and engage with the fans regularly, otherwise don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s better to be active and effective on 3 platforms, rather than on all them and not using them properly.

6. Produce regular content for fans

We’re currently living in a super connected world where consumers are conditioned for instant gratification and trained to get everything, right away. As an artist, you have to try your best to fulfill these consumer needs.

There are only a few major artists out there who can get away with disappearing for months on end and coming back to commercial success. Kanye, Eminem, Drake and Kendrick, just to name a few.

Everybody else needs to be continually creating and distributing content to stay in touch with fans. When I say content, I don’t just mean music. It can be social media updates, email newsletters, tour videos, blog posts, guest articles, whatever you need to engage with your fans.

7. Investing in building their brand

Investing the time and money to build up your brand now is the most important thing you can do for a long-term career in the rap game. Other artists can copy your ideas, fashion, music, and believe me, they will. The only thing they can’t copy is your brand.

Think about the most successful independent artists in the game and how they communicate their brand to their fans. Currensy has his Jet Life movement, Tech N9ne with his insane live shows and Technicians following, Chance The Rapper and his positive, Chicago music.

Everything you put out contributes to building your brand, whether it’s positive or negative. Your new logo has just as much impact on your overall brand as how you perform on tour. It’s a long term investment but it’ll definitely pay dividends if you put in the effort now.

8. Focused promotion campaigns

Marketing is your overall strategy of raising awareness of your music and brand to your target audience; promotion campaigns are more tactical and focused.

For example, releasing an album would be one promo campaign. To ensure you get the most out of your promotion budget, your campaigns need to be planned out and precise. Consider the best distribution channels for this project – will it be online, offline or both? Which platform will you be using – Bandcamp, SoundCloud, iTunes, etc.?

Which publications and blogs are you going to be targeting? It’s better to pick out 10 to 15 to send out personalized press releases rather than spamming 1,000 people with a generic message.

Once you have everything in order, hit the launch button.

9. High quality product

Let’s keep this one short and sweet. To be a successful independent hip-hop artist, you need to have dope music. I don’t mean Grammy-award winning, critically acclaimed music – I just mean music that will build you a fanbase. You need to make music that people want to listen to, otherwise, it’s not going to work, period.

10. Create realistic goals

Being ambitious is one thing, having realistic goals is another. It’s great if you have ambitions to be the biggest rapper in the world, making the most money, winning awards, selling out stadiums, but having pragmatic, achievable goals is a much better way to approach your recording career.

Let’s take a look at J. Cole. He went from posting songs online to standing outside JAY Z’s building, wanting to produce for the legend. Cole dropped mixtape after mixtape and it was only after Hov heard “Lights Please” that he decided to sign the rapper to Roc Nation.

From there, he released a number one album, went platinum just last year, and is now selling out stadiums across the world with his very own HBO documentary and record label, Dreamville Records, financed by Interscope.

Having goals is the best way to not drive yourself crazy, thinking that your career is going nowhere. Start off small – e.g. you want to perform in front of 25 people for the first time in your career, you want to drop a mixtape, you want to collaborate with an artist you like, etc.

Create a list of realistic, achievable goals, then tick them off as you accomplish them. Keep grinding, keep working, keep putting out dope product, keep engaging with your fans and your dreams will come.