It was a shiny day in London, and I was having a coffee with a fellow musician. I realized that the biggest part of the conversation was his ranting about the ‘bad situation in independent local music scene’.
“There’s so much knowledge out there, I don’t disagree with you, but it’s scattered all around the web. Impossible to find the really credible resources!”
And then it hit me:
“Why don’t we stop whining and do something creative instead?”
Our First London Music Conference With Andrew Dubber
A week after, the first conversation with a famous music expert was a reality.
Darker Music Talks took place in London on a rainy Monday of January, with around 20 UK musicians asking questions to Andrew Dubber for about an hour.
The first bridge between serious knowledge keepers and passionate independent musicians revealed something promising: musicians can be really conversational about their music career when the chance is provided.
Especially when this person has tons of actionable knowledge they could benefit from, or advocates a refreshing, modern mindset.
For those who are not familiar with Andrew Dubber:
He is Reader in Music Industries Innovation at Birmingham City University, a public speaker, the founder of New Music Strategies and an adviser to Bandcamp and Planzai. He’s also the author of 20 Things You Need To Know About Music Online and Music In The Digital Age.
I’d describe him as a legend in the independent music scene and a charismatic speaker. That’s why I could see a lot of happy faces at the end of the event.
What Lessons Can Andrew Dubber Teach Us?
There is a strong tendency nowadays, and it has a lot to do with the way people consume information. We prefer distilled knowledge instead of long essays with too much in depth information.
I tend to prefer the second one by the way, because it alters your understanding of already existing stereotypes.
This conversation with Andrew contained valuable nuggets of wisdom that could sum up the proper mindset of a musician in the digital age.
1. Being Social As A Musician
“There is just one thing you need to understand about music online: ‘This is a conversation’. And it seems like a really oversimplified way of looking at the Internet, but it just human beings talking to each other.”
Key Words: Be human.
In 1999, C. Locke, D. Searls, D. Weinberger and R. Levine published the Cluetrain Manifesto, which contained 95 theses about online conversation. They were difficult to digest at that time, but now things are obvious.
Thesis no. 3: “Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.”
Today, we see how these simplistic words have conquered the online word. This is what you should deeply understand, whether you’re a marketer of a coffee brand or a musician.
Talk like you would talk in the physical world. Understand that you’re not talking to profiles or bots. There’s an alive human being behind each conversation.
Announcements and ‘screaming’ via press releases and ads is dead. Brand humanization is not merely a trend, it’s the consequent result of understanding how the Internet works.
2. Make Yourself Interesting
“In an online space there is the conversation and there is the things about which the conversation is taking place. You can either be talking to people, or you can be the thing about which they talk. But the easiest thing to do is make things people have conversations about. They’re called ‘social objects’. “
Key Words: Social objects.
This is the fancy way to say ‘be interesting’.
Jyri Engestrom has coined the term, and it has to do with the fundamental understanding that people talk every day about stuff, but they only pick stuff that make them sound interesting individuals.
Talking about the weather is not a topic that enhances your image, but some novelty that you recently discovered is worth talking about.
In general, this is the mindset behind virality. Think in reverse and spot something that people will be interested in talking about or some trend that the masses have not had enough of yet and you could ride while they’re hot.
Then make it real and give to people the chance to ‘discover’ it.
There’s a catch though. The aforementioned are seasonal tricks.
Most importantly, be originally interesting and show your real self. People cannot be fooled by imitators. Building an interesting character heavily depending on others’ creations will not take you a long way.
Being the social object because you’re an innovator is the path to fame after death.
3. Keep Your Fans Engaged And Interested
“Give them a reason to come back. Give them something that will encourage their engagement and will make them want to stay on the mailing list.”
Key Words: Keep them in the loop.
I figured it out with my own band, after being inactive for many months on social media: if you disappear from the public eye for a long time, don’t expect to be remembered.
It’s simple. Life goes faster, so does information consumption. The human brain cannot keep up with everything we encounter in our daily lives. We only remember information that is either on top of mind or integral part of our habitual living.
Short attention spans are satisfied with short and sweet posts that contain strong visual elements and bits of information without the fluff.
On the other hand, our favorite bands don’t have to be on top of mind, because they achieved something stronger: they’re a habit of our lives because we chose to.
The latter is the ultimate goal, longevity in other words. It cannot be achieved, though, without mastering the first step, which is to keep people in the loop and engage with them in a meaningful way. Once you break this barrier of disbelief against you, you can say you got yourself a real fan, not just ephemeral audience.
4. You Can’t Stop Music Piracy, So Don’t Sweat It
“In independent music, your problem is not piracy. Your problem is obscurity. You want people to have conversations about you. You want people to have things of yours they can share.”
Key Words: Don’t restrict.
Lots of debate against piracy, whether it’s wrong or right to copy and spread other people’s art on digital media, whether copyrights are helping or restricting etc.
There’s not much debate to be done on this topic, I reckon.
Andrew put it in a brilliant way; you should not care about piracy when you haven’t built awareness. Restricting the audience from sharing your work is plain nonsense for the digital age.
Personally, I see it as a blessing. Having fans to evangelize your work and spread it around the world is something everyone would wish for, and this should be the goal in the first place.
How can you make money if you don’t sell your music and let others pirate it?
5. Give Your Fans A Real Reason To Buy Your Music
“There is nothing you can do to stop somebody having what you make for nothing. That’s not the problem you wanna solve. What you wanna solve is ‘How can I be that meaningful that they want to give me money for something they already own?’ “
Key Words: Meaningful incentives.
This was a question asked when the session started: “How do you make people pay for your music?”
Andrew’s answer was disarming: “You can’t force them to.”
As Mike Masnick highlighter in his keynote talk about Trent Reznor’s model, it’s all about CwF + RtB (Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy).
The latter is the incentive you provide to the audience to pay for what you do, and I don’t strictly mean your recorded music. In fact, recorded music will not be a great revenue stream in the future. We already see happening, and it’s not pure randomness.
The future audience, the ‘digital natives’, will either pay for digital goods because either they have a connection with the brand, in other words because they volunteer to pay (this is what’s happening with Kickstarter) or because it’s a service that saves them time, organizes their lives and/or gives them something first.
I don’t see recorded music anywhere near this mindset. Stop forcing people to pay for your songs, let them spread them and give them incentives to pay if they want.
6. Let Your Fans Help Mould Your Music Career
“I want my face to appear to the page of the band that I like. It’s like I’m actually involved in this process with this person that is making this music that I love. That’s a completely different dynamic and a much more personal and gratifying connection.”
Key Word: Personalization.
Personalization is going big and is here to stay. Recently Bandcamp launched the ‘Fan pages’, where you can make your own profile and concentrate the favorite music you’ve found around the platform, connect with other individuals and share your tastes with the world. They infused the ‘social’ element.
Not random either. We are in the ‘We’ era, as described in the book “Pendulum” by M. Drew and R. Williams. There is a need to say out loud what we stand for and what groups of people we belong to.
Having our face in the music page of our favorite band, showing that we participated in the Y cause and making public that we supported the Z crowdfunded campaign is a characteristic of our nature that will exaggerate in the next years.
Don’t forget that: in an era where big numbers are considered to be a success and reaching new people with the click of a button is costless, being a human and talking face to face with people enjoys a new, unique meaning.
We have the need to feel like humans again and know that others feel likewise as well.
7. Own Your Own Data
“Anything you put up on Facebook is not your thing, it’s Facebook’s thing, they own it. Personally, I would use Facebook to direct people away from Facebook.”
Key Words: Own your data.
No, it’s not wise. It’s common sense.
You cannot really build something and surrender it to a third-party to build their own business. Well, you can, it might bring some interesting results and boost your audience.
But maintaining this mindset will never help you build a real following and business for yourself. You need to own the data you create and collect.
Facebook shuts down tomorrow, what will you do? Right, all the data (which you don’t own anyways) will vanish.
This is the juice of Andrew’s point: Facebook is merely a communication tool and a service to drive more audience to your own website. It’s not a replacement.
Email is an evergreen means of communication. Yeah, lots of ups and downs in the meaning it has for people, but it is an integral part of our lives and will never fade away.
It’s simple. Start building your mailing list today and own your data (Shaun Letang: You can see our guide about building a mailing list here. I also suggest you build your own music website rather then relying fully on social media platforms. Social platforms should be used to drive traffic to your website, and should themselves be diversified).
Bonus 8th Tip For Music Industry Success
“There is actually a formula for music business success on the Internet. Step one is: Be F**king Amazing.”
This is the cornerstone of success. No matter big marketing budget you have or interesting discussions you start, simply put, the essence is one: your art needs to be amazing.
Cliche, for sure.
I know you’ll counter-argue that art is something subjective and there are always fans for any kind of music. And that’s absolutely true, this is the magic of artistic creations.
Do you want to know the difference between making art and making a career in art? In order to make a sustainable career in music, you first need to be able to reach a respective volume of audience. This happens by offering music that is already accepted by the broader audience, or by teaching the audience how to love your eccentric and unique kind of music.
The second one is more difficult. Both tasks entail a mutual element: Be amazing.
I hope you enjoyed some of what Andrew had to say about music in the digital age. You can read up a lot more about him on his official website.
About Tommy Daker, The Author
I’m Tommy Darker, the writing alter ego of an imaginative independent musician. I started ‘Think Beyond The Band’ because I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and I like helping other fellow musicians that struggle with the same problems.
Photo Credit: Andreas.