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Digital Music in a
Changing Digital World

Article by David Nevue - The Music Biz Academy - July 8th, 2002

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Internet Music Promotion 101

Will digital technology ever truly "level the playing field" for independent musicians? Or will the disparity we see today between struggling musicians and the corporate music industry continue for the foreseeable future? Does it even really matter? Here are some of my thoughts adapted from a recent interview I gave on this topic...

With digital technology lowering the costs of music production and distribution, there are an increasing number of records released, making product differentiation (promotion) more important than ever before. What is the best way for indie musicians to use digital technology to promote their products?

From my experience, the single best place to promote independent music via the web is MP3.com. MP3.com is the #1 digital music destination on the Internet for music fans. If you want to promote your music to the biggest crowd, you go where the people hang out. In this case, that's MP3.com.

There you can create digital CDs of your music, which you can then market and sell to visitors to MP3.com. In my case, these CDs are simply digital versions of my retail albums. However, within the next month or so I will begin releasing MP3.com-only discs as well.

My recommendation is to upload as much quality music as you can to MP3.com, combining them into a variety of CDs. The more music you have to promote, the more songs you can place on the charts, which brings you CD sales and exposure. You also need to be taking part in MP3.com auctions when you can, as the song-plays (and CD Sales) you gain directly influence your chart positions.

See my article '
How to Promote Your Music on MP3.com for (Almost) Nothing' for more information on how to use the MP3 Promo Auctions to successfully promote your music and create a 'brand' for yourself on MP3.com

College radio has traditionally been a "gateway" to new music, but Internet and satellite radio are growing in popularity. What role do you see for Internet and satellite radio for the promotion of indie music, now and in the future?

My feeling is that satellite radio is just one more extension of the corporate commercial radio industry. So, I suspect opportunities there for independent music are going to be limited in the near future. There will be a much wider variety of music available for listeners, but this will probably remain fairly controlled.

If there is going to be an opportunity for promotion of independent music via radio in the near future, it's going to be through Internet radio. The only problem right now is that there isn't any real centralization - by that I mean, if you ask 10 different people where they go on the web to listen to Internet radio, you'll probably get 10 different answers. That makes it hard to know exactly where to plug your music in so it can be heard with the maximum impact and exposure.

To put it another way, when you think 'MP3' or 'Music Downloads', you generally think 'MP3.com'. When you think 'Internet radio' though, what comes to mind? It's different for everyone. For me, it's Live365.com, but for you, it might be something else. Therein lies the problem.

In addition, the music industry is doing everything it can to feed Internet radio to the general public via MusicNet, Rhapsody, PressPlay and other corporate radio gateways. This is good marketing from their point of view, because if they can feed ready-made music to the masses, without they listener having to actually go out and look for it, they can maintain control over what the public is listening to.

This is, to some extent, why there is no 'centralization' yet for independent music on Internet radio. The radio-listening audience is using the pre-installed corporate tools that come with their computers to listen to radio online. Since that satisfies many of them, they feel no need to seek out other Internet radio broadcasters.

Streaming and downloadable audio allow indie musicians to offer consumers "samples" of their music, which consumers want to hear before purchasing new music. What is the best way for indie musicians to promote their music via samples without forfeiting potential sales?

As an unknown artist, you really need to give your prospective fan an appetite for your music. To do that, my strategy has always been to let my fans listen to and stream entire songs. Note, I don't let usually them *download* songs, but they can listen online, streaming the music as much as they want.

I think the idea of giving someone just a 30 second clip to get a feel for your music is ridiculous. Can you really get a feel for a song in 30 seconds? I know that as a listener, it doesn't whet my appetite at all. In fact, it frustrates me. If I see a 30 second clip of a song, I don't even bother to listen.

I know some musicians are concerned that by putting up an entire song they are giving away too much for free, but I strongly disagree. I am convinced that if a fan loves your music they will buy it. They won't be satisfied to just listen to it online. There is a certain pride people have in ownership. They want something 'real' in their hands that they can take with them wherever they want, and sharing it with their friends. People are very emotional about the music they love. If you connect with your fans emotionally, they will buy your music.

So, getting back to your question, if you want people to buy your music, create something they can connect with emotionally. Then, let them listen to it - let them fall in love with it.

One other thing. Just because you give a fan access to streaming entire songs, that doesn't mean you have to give them access to streaming your entire albums. Give them three or four songs from your album. If they want more, that is incentive to buy.

What are the best and necessary off-line techniques to complement on-line promotion of independent music?

Your web site is your virtual business card. So, your goal is to drive traffic to your web site. To do this, put up banners at gigs, hand out business cards (a very inexpensive means of promotion), and take down names and email addresses at your shows. Use those email addresses to create a 'virtual' relationship with your fans. Finally, while you are performing, have people placed in the audience go around and hand out cards, flyers, and sell CDs. The biggest mistake some bands make is being too timid with promotion at gigs. They do their show, then afterwards go sit at a table and wait for people to come to them. WRONG! Go to the audience! If you've got CDs to sell, you should have someone in the audience taking them around and selling them while you play. It's sort of like a pro or semipro baseball game - the vendors don't wait for you to come to them, they go out into the stands and bring their goodies to you! Take the same approach with your audience. Get four or five people and tell them you'll pay them a buck for every CD they sell then send them out to work the crowd. It's quick money for them, quick sales for you.

There is a lot of speculation that digital technology will fundamentally change well-established business models in the recording industry. What new model(s) do you think will be used successfully? For example, will we move toward a model of licensing?

I honestly don't know. It's all up in the air right now, and it's hard to tell where things are going to end up. The majors are in financial trouble, and they are looking to find ways to re-invent themselves. Check out
this article for a recent analysis.

My gut tells me we are going to see more and more corporate rock stars, like Britney Spears for example. She doesn't just sell music, does she? That's what it's come down to. The industry seeks to create pop 'icons' like Britney that allow it to cash in on licensing opportunities.

In the mean time, there are major pop stars jumping ship and starting their own 'independent' record labels. Plus, we are now seeing a generation of Internet savvy kids who are not satisfied with being force-fed music.

So, there's this big tug-of-war going on. It's impossible right now to predict how the chips will fall.

In my opinion, part of the business model shift is a movement toward community, including customization and personalization. Do you think digital technology is empowering community -- making relationships more intimate -- between artists and their fans? If so, how?

I do think there is much more community between the fans themselves (just look at the number of chat rooms), but between artists and fans? Well, I don't know. I don't think there's anything 'real' between most 'popular' artists and their fans. But as independent artists, I think it's one advantage we do have over popular artists is that we do (or at least, we should) communicate with our fans. We have to establish and cultivate those relationships. In doing so, our fans feel like they 'know' us, like they have a special relationship with us. That keeps them coming back, buying our music and sharing it with their friends and loved ones.

Finally, how true is the hype that digital technology will "level the playing field" between indie musicians and the majors? Or will the same disparity continue but just in new ways?

It's safe to say the playing field is *more* level than it was, but there is still a wide disparity between indies and the majors. To put it another way, If you were standing on the edge of a chasm that's 1000 miles across, well, now it's only 900 miles across. That's still a pretty big jump.

Any Additional Thoughts?

Here's my advice to any independent musician: rethink your personal definition of 'success'. You don't need to be recognized by the majors to be a talented artist who makes good music that people love. Stop spending your energy chasing after a recording contract with a big label! How many signed artists do you know that are really happy once they've signed? I am hard pressed to think of one. Too many indie artists are worried about 'getting signed.' Instead, they should find creative ways to introduce their music to friends, neighbors, and their community. Make an musical impact in your local community. Create some noise in your local music scene! THAT is something you have much more control over.

I've been promoting my music on the Internet since 1995. I'm now doing music full time. I didn't need a record label to accomplish that. I did it on my own, by the grace of God, and in fact, I really don't care if my music ever is 'discovered' by a major record label. What I do care about is the fans who listen to my music every day, how it touches their lives, and how it brings them joy. I get such encouragement from my fans, email from people I've never met from all around the world. And now I'm able to work from home, write my music, and spend more time with my wife and beautiful little boy.

That is my definition of success.


David Nevue is the founder of The Music Biz Academy. He is also a professional pianist, recording artist, full-time Internet musician, and author of the book, "How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet."

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