By George Howard
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.
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).
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 doneand 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you go to WordPress.com 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.
You want to use FaceBook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube as a way to get people to your webpage, where you then get them to do something.
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.