Music Promotion Websites Need A F*&#kn Clue

Cartoon of a waiter

Looks great, tastes like cardboard

You Know The Drill

Amazing new service for promoting your band!  Leverages social networking!  You’ll get more new fans than you can shake a stick at!  You’re mailing list will virtually explode thanks to our unique, targeted, laser like, service!  Just think of all the downloads you’ll sell when you connect with thousands of potential fans! Thanks to our proprietary algorithm designed by a former musician, we are able to deliver the promise of the internet right to the doorstep of your practice pad.  You’ll literally wet your pants when you see how our super powerful platform of bullshit introduces your money to our bank account without any actual demonstration of benefit to your career.

The Trap

We all want to put our music into the ears of people who will like it and there are a dizzying number of services that promise to do just that.  Some of these are even effective.  Many are not.  But the lure is so great, and there are so many of us to be lured, that it’s all the rage these days to come up with yet another “platform” for connecting with fans.  There are so many now that it’s hard to keep track of them all let alone figure out which actually work.

Yet there is that nagging feeling as you read the “features” and “how it works” pages of product after product maybe this is the one.  It sounds a little like online dating and that’s pretty much what it is.

The Hook

Where 99% of these services fall flat is reasonable proof.  They’ve all got a free or cheap version that is supposed to show you that you can’t live without this service and the features that you can’t access until you pay.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this business model.  The problem I see is that the upfront hook tends to be pretty thin and relies way too much on the upsell.  I work with several bands and try out a lot of stuff.  Now and then I’ll even be intrigued enough to pay to see behind the curtain.  The problems I see most are a) the product ends up being a time suck, and doesn’t live up to the marketing hype and make my life any easier or b) product is actually pretty cool but the amount of money I’d have to spend to take advantage of the features is fucking preposterous.

And sometimes, as was the case of a “JV style social cross-recommendation” product I messed with recently, you get inside and realize that it’s just dead.  Nobody is actively participating.  Which pretty much yanks the rug out from ‘social’ anything.

The Reality

What this all boils down to is pretty much what we all know in our gut: the only magic bullet for spreading your music is hard work.  There are some decent tools to help streamline the process, but the things that I’ve found most effective are strategic mashups of standard Internet Marketing (IM) practices and the free stuff we all know and love.  The thing is, we musicians’s have the same problem as these services that I’m long windily bashing here: there are tons of us and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd without some serious up front proof.

The Cure

Right off the bat, to all these promotion and marketing service websites out there, you bastards gotta pony up some better proof and come up with a business model that makes sense.  Paid services needs to be on the order of cents per month or dollars per 1000 fans you hook us up with.   As musicians we have it nailed into our skulls all day that to be successful in Music Biz 2.0 we have to give our music to our fans for free and then when they love us they will be willing to buy our merch and come to our shows.  I think that’s awesome and I’m behind that idea 100%.  That, after all, is the essence of the playing field leveler that has the trad music monopolies on the ropes.

The thing music promotion services need to buck up and swallow is: we do it and so should you.  Wait wait.  What?  Build an infrastructure to hook up bands with fans and then give it away?  Yup.  At least at first.  In a nutshell, it goes like this.  Your service and all of it’s features is free until you’ve gained me 1000 real fans, signed up to my mailing list.  Then it’s something extremely affordable to the average strapped musician ass like $20 – flat fee – for the next 1000 fans, and so on.  Here’s the beauty of this idea.  If punk band ‘Poop Rooster’ has a decent recording of their music and the music isn’t half bad, there are enough people in the world to find 1000 of them who dig Poop Rooster’s message enough to plunk down their email address in exchange for some free music.  If a service can’t make the claim that their promotional platform is so good that they’ll give you 1000 fans for free, then why the fuck are they wasting our time.

The Take Away

Back in our corner, we really don’t need to wait for it to happen.  We can use the skills and tools of IM – the very same techniques that the websites I’m bitching about above use and sell watered down versions of – to put our music in welcoming ears.

Consider this.  If you go to the forums for the book ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferriss, one of the most repeated pleas for help are from people who can’t seem to come up with an idea for a product.  As a musician or a band, you’ve got products out the ass – live shows, videos, downloads, CDs, single songs, T-shirts, edible underwear etc. and a few times a week you lock yourself in a room and work on coming up with more.  A lot of professional IM skeezers would kill for a product line like that and aren’t half as inventive.

Do yourself a favor.  Educate yourself on the details of Internet Marketing.  Be careful and don’t get sucked into the same “we’ll do it all for you” hucksterism that we’re trying to escape from, and make sure you don’t limit your research to “for musicians”.  It will literally give you the chills to be reading about techniques for generating traffic or building mailing lists, or building customer loyalty or whatever it may be and suddenly realize how you could apply that to your music.  Even if you end up thinking “fuck that, my mind doesn’t work that way” at least you’ll be in a better position to evaluate the next ‘mind blowing’ promotion service that comes along trying to slice your bread (and keep some for themselves.)

DIY baby!  Rock On.

(Ok, your turn.  Found a service, tool or technique that’s working for you?  Leave a comment and tell us your experience!    -d)

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