D.I.Y. Music — When Artists Become The Product
This guest post is by (@wgruger) William Gruger.
People who think they're writers start blogs, photographers or fashionistas start Tumblrs, and people who think they're film makers make YouTube accounts.
For prospective musicians, however, there exists not just a smattering of sites, but an entire online industry dedicated to earning money and exposure.
There has been endless press about how ReverbNation, TuneCore, SoundCloud, Kickstarter, etc., have innovated the landscape by crafting the tools to turn musicians into efficient and effective music businessmen, allowing everyday people to become full time musicians, or so it seems.
However, this new type of exposure doesn't necessarily lead to fans opening their wallets and, it certainly doesn't mean it's worth it for artists to invest any amount of money into online marketing.
Anna Rose Beck, a folk singer/songwriter from North Carolina who first started with YouTube videos, was able to garner an audience and begin gigging in the area after heavily investing in a mix of these online tools. Her web efforts were effective in helping build an audience, but less so when it came to covering her first album's production costs (the album is set to be released this April).
Despite raising over $2,100 with a Kickstarter campaign, her Myspace and ReverbNation exposure failed to lift her out of the red.
"Relatively nobody knows who I am, but if I'm going to start charging people online then absolutely nobody is ever going to know who I am." she says.
Devin Fry, a musician from Austin, Texas agrees. "You have to make convincing music, and lots of it, and talk about it, and give it away. If you're a D.I.Y. musicmaker or bandleader and you're worried about the lost revenue of someone downloading your songs for free, you're ignoring the bigger picture."
Devin and his band Salesman play what Denver Thread describes as "What would've happened if Jeffrey Lee Pierce hadn't died, and instead invested in a little voice coaching? Or – maybe a lot of voice coaching."
"I'm fed up with band self-starter programs, as you succinctly call them. Because they come at you trying to sell you shit you don't need, promising to 'increase your fan base,'" Fry says. "Insidiously enough, they're targeting modest, broke, D.I.Y. musicmakers and bandleaders, people exactly like me."
Indeed, ReverbNation claims that a budding musician will accrue more fans with "an arsenal of free viral marketing tools for Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and your homepage." As if a broadened fan base weren't enough, musicians can profit directly by using the Reverb Store to hawk "T-shirts, CDs, downloads, hats and ringtones directly to fans on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and your home page or blog."
The way these companies phrase their offerings sound completely absurd.
TuneCore sports even loftier promises that you'll be able to, "Join Nine Inch Nails, Drake, Keith Richard, Jay-Z and tens of thousands more musicians just like you to get heard, shared and discovered."
People are all aware of the marvelously positive impact digital distribution has had for tens of thousands of musicians trying to get their material out there. Never before have music consumers had a better chance to discover artists and niches of flavor that appeal the most, but also never has the amount of noise and clutter been so high. The idea that an internet tool will provide hopeful musicians with the same marketing power as these major label signed artists is extremely over-ambitious.
"I've wasted my time creating Salesman accounts at ReverbNation, Myspace, TuneCore, iLike, etc," continues Fry, "and I've learned that my promotions time is better spent outside flyering. Talking to people and setting meetings with people I want to work with."
The bigger picture is gaining exposure, not trying to monetize every move with overcomplicated and cost ineffective online merchandise stores. While it may be true that "being a musician requires so much more motivation than it used to ... motivation to be a self-promoter and an entrepreneur and to actually market for yourself" as Anna puts it, it doesn't mean that musicians should buy into what are often lofty – and false – promises.
"Baseline: it's important for a band to have an online presence that looks and sounds the way you want it," says Fry, "something that gives the flavor of what to expect at a live show. If your show is badass like it should be, you only need one such supplement."
And musicians can certainly supplement their online shows for free. Hell, the guys from Oddfuture did it with just a Tumblr and YouTube, which are both free to use. Sure, D.I.Y. platforms can certainly increase a musician's chances of being discovered, but on a mass scale, turning page views and video hits into sustainable income simply is not a reality.
Are we simply spinning our wheels with trying to make an industry out of manufacturing musicians?