I was talking with an acclaimed 40-year-old artist recently. This guy has played with some of the greats in the business, performed on the late night talk shows, toured the world and back, and is revered by his peers as a highly skilled musician.
We were discussing social media — specifically Facebook and Twitter. He shared a sentiment I hear often from musicians predating the Internet generation: “I don’t really know what to write about. I don’t know what to twit, or twoot, or tweet about, or whatever it’s called. And what do I say on my Facebook page? Please ‘like’ me? I just don’t feel comfortable doing this.”
He went on to reminisce about coming of age as a musician when he used to hand out flyers for his shows and album releases, the days when he would hit the streets with his staple gun in one hand and a stack of show posters in the other.
Social Media is the new flyering.
Deciding what to say on your social media page is no different than the days of passing out flyers. For those of you who remember, or still do it, passing out flyers or hanging posters was something to be done effectively.
Allow me to share one of my early mistakes concerning promotion. After playing my first few shows as a musician to near–empty houses, I had the bright idea to print up flyers. I decided that if I wanted to really pack the place out, I would need to hand out a lot of flyers.
So as my next show approached, I printed up nearly 5,000 handbills and flyers. My band and I hit the university campus and quickly passed them out to everyone we saw. Anyone who would take a flyer out of our hands, we would give it to them.
We had done it — 5,000 flyers passed out at one of the biggest universities in the state. We were sure to be rock stars on the night of the show.
We were positive that of the 5,000 flyers we passed out, at least 500 people that received them would show up.
They didn’t. We played to the same 20 friends and family that we always played to.
How could that be? We had covered the campus. I even went back and looked at the flyers thinking I must have put the wrong date on them. But I didn’t. The date was right, and it was a professional looking flyer.
I quickly realized that it wasn’t about the number of flyers I was passing out, but how I was passing them out.
Handing someone a flyer without having a conversation with that person is a waste of time. Just saying, “Here’s a flyer to a show,” as the person quickly walks by and grabs it out of your hand isn’t effective. You may as well be saying, “Here, would you mind throwing this away for me?”
I changed my tactics for the next show. Instead of printing 5,000 flyers I only printed 500. I gave strict instructions to my band that in order to hand out a flyer, we must first have at least a three-minute conversation with the person.
So we headed back out to the same university in preparation for our next show. This time with only 500 flyers in hand, we set out to have actual conversations with 500 people. It took us longer to hand out those 500 flyers with three-minute conversations than it did the 5,000 flyers using our ‘shot-gun’ method. We told ourselves, “If we don’t have a three-minute conversation with a person, we won’t hand them a flyer.”
It took discipline and time. We all kept feeling the urge to just give a flyer to anyone who would take it. But we resisted and stuck to our plan. Three-minute conversation equals one flyer.
The next show came around. Instead of the same 20 friends and family we had been drawing, we had 110 people who paid at the door.
Five-thousand flyers with no conversations yielded zero results. 500 flyers and real conversations with people yielded an extra 90 people at our show.
Same band. Same venue. Same flyer handed out at the same location. The only difference was that we engaged people in conversation before handing them flyers. We actually asked them about themselves. We asked what kind of music they liked, or where they were from. What’s the best place to eat lunch? We talked about anything they wanted to talk about. We talked about them, not us.
As we continued to use this as our method for handing out flyers, we began to make actual friends and fans that would stick by us for years to come. In a world where you couldn’t pass through campus without getting handed 15 flyers, we were the ones that wouldn’t hand you a flyer unless we got to know you.
Social Media is the new flyering.
Try creating a Facebook event for your band’s upcoming show. Then invite 5,000 strangers to the event. I guarantee very few of them will show up.
Then, try to actually interact with 100 strangers on Facebook. Spend time commenting on their page when they post something interesting. Ask them about what they like to do. Talk about similar music or travel interests. Really get to know them in a genuine and friendly way. Then, next time you have a show, invite only those 100 people. Not all of them will attend, of course, but many will if you have genuinely engaged them.
Continue this pattern of creating relationships instead of mass-producing advertisements, and you’ll eventually become effective in your own social media network.
Don’t wait until you have something to sell or promote to post. Post regularly, but more often than not, post about others — not about yourself. Post an interesting news story and ask for people’s opinions. Personally send messages to some people asking about their day, their interests, or their thoughts on relevant topics. Then, when it comes time for you to promote a show, they will listen.
Back to my conversation with my 40-year-old musician friend who didn’t know what to tweet about, or what to write on his Facebook page.
He had posted about shows, or his new releases, and was met with very little response.
So, I said, “Make it about pizza. Everybody loves pizza. Ask people in your network where their favorite places to eat pizza are. Ask them who has the best pizza anywhere in the nation.”
And he did.
Typically, this was a guy who would get 5 or 6 comments when he would post something like, “I have a show Friday. Come see me. I’ll be at Joe’s Bar.” But the day he posted, “Who makes the best pizza, anywhere in the nation? What’s the best pizza joint?” Dozens and dozens of people responded. He started fun and friendly banter with fans about who actually had the best pizza.
He did this similar type of posting for the next few months. He’d post about almost anything, except himself. He’d ask people’s opinions or share a funny story, and he’d engage his network friends in an online conversation about the topic at hand.
When it finally did come time for him to promote a show, he did it with grace, and in a conversational style. It wasn’t, “Come see me Friday at Joe’s Bar.” It was more like, “Friday is the opening of that new Will Ferrell movie. Anybody going to see it? I can’t. I’ll be at Joe’s Bar playing. But if you do go see it, stop by Joe’s after and let me know what you thought. But don’t tell me how the movie ends!”
In a matter of months he has doubled his crowds at his shows. He made it about them, not about him.
Social media isn’t about music, it’s about pizza. Don’t hand out flyers en masse. Ask people where is the best place to get a slice of pizza. Then, after a friendly conversation, give them a flyer. You’ll get far better results.
Use social media to engage your current and future fans
Use social media for two primary purposes: to engage your current fan base, and to reach a new audience.
Social media is scary to some because it’s so impersonal, but if you treat it like a dialogue, it can be quite enjoyable for the fans. Include them in your creative process. Ask their opinions. Be transparent. Mystery isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or used to be. Don’t be afraid to share your shortcomings as well as your victories.
Of course you should use social media apps to let your fans know about shows, new releases, and events, but if that’s all you use it for, they won’t hang around long. Get them involved.
Ultimately you will know your music is on the right track when people are telling other people about it, naturally and without prompting. Use social media to monitor this. If you post a new song or video, are people telling their friends?
Let’s say you post a new video on Facebook. One hundred of your friends/fans view it but not a single one of them shares it with their friends. If that’s the case, then it’s pretty safe to say that your music, and video, just didn’t move them emotionally enough to spread it around.
Use social media to gauge whether or not your music is moving people. If it’s not, get back to the drawing board and write more songs.
In order for you to succeed, your art should move people emotionally. When people are moved, they will tell others naturally. But if your music isn’t moving them, no amount of promotion or social media expertise is going to help.
Q: Taylor from Jackson, MS asks: Can you upload cover songs to sites such as YouTube?
A: In the time it will take me to write the answer to this, the laws will have likely changed. The laws (and more importantly enforcement of these laws) have been ever evolving in recent years.
The short answer is: Sometimes.
Keep in mind, there’s a difference between uploading the original recording of the song, and uploading your performance of the song.
Technically, you need a license from the copyright holder to sync picture to music.
It’s up to the copyright holder to determine if it’s copyright infringement and whether to leave it up or pull it down.
I encourage posting a disclaimer saying that you did not write the song, who did write it, and any other information that may show credit to the artist or composer.
Some copyright holders are more aggressive about removing protected material, while others appreciate the exposure and are more willing to let it slide.
My advice: There are hundreds of articles on the topic online. And like I say, the topic is ever-evolving. So do your homework, not only on the topic, but on the song in question.
Keep in touch
Mystery is certainly becoming a thing of the past with artists. Even those who choose the more mysterious route are up against the challenges of the Internet, where anyone with a cell phone can post pictures and information instantly.
Treat your fans like your friends. Not necessarily like your best friend, who you might tell about your bad case of explosive diarrhea. Not the friend who knows how bad your feet stink, or the friend you’d ask to be the best man in your wedding. Instead, treat your fans like the friend you’d go to a baseball game with, or meet out at the bar for a casual drink from time to time.
Staying in touch with your fans through social media is important. You should draw them in at least once every day. As with anything in your career, maintain a good balance. Don’t rely completely on social networking to obtain new fans, but don’t ignore it either.
Social media a great way to introduce new people to your music, but nothing can replace the experience of a live show and the passion fans feel when hearing you perform in person. But you’ve got to let them know you are alive and playing out, so use your social networking sites to keep them updated.
If you do not engage them, you may be traveling eight hours to play a show to an empty room. You would have been better off staying at home and using those eight hours to increase your fan base close to home.
It’s more about how you use social networking as opposed to how often. Engage your fans. If all you’re doing is posting, “Hey, I’ve got a show. Come on out,” you’re not going to get very good results. Communicate with your social network in ways you would communicate in person. Talk about their interests as much as your own. Over time you’ll develop real fans. Fans that know you care about them, and in return they’ll care about you
Q: Lauren from New York, NY asks: How often should an artist tweet on Twitter in order to expand a fan base?
A: It’s more about what you tweet than how often. However, you can’t go six months without tweeting and expect it to work. My recommendation is at least daily, but on days that are more active, tweet more frequently. If you’re on tour, at a performance, or in the studio you should give more regular updates, but make them fun. Engage your audience. Ask their opinions. Get them involved.
At the same time, we don’t really care to know when you check your mailbox or feed your cat. Still, on off days, give us something to look forward to, something to talk about, something to make us want more.
My suggestion is make your tweets as much about your fans as about you. Sure, they want to know about you and your music, but ask for their input and you’ve just strengthened the bond even more.
I’ve heard a lot of musicians say, “My life is actually kind of boring. I’m not sure what to tweet about.”
I won’t argue with you there. Most musicians’ lives are more humdrum than their fans would probably believe.
So, instead of tweeting, “I’m bored and watching ‘I Love Lucy’ re-runs,” tweet, “My favorite old TV show is ‘I Love Lucy’. What’s your favorite?”
Instead of tweeting, “Drinking coffee,” tweet “Which is better, coffee, tea, or beer? I’m drinking Starbucks now but thinking I may need to switch beverages.”
Instead of tweeting, “Going to bed now,” tweet, “Going to bed, but putting the tape recorder on the nightstand. I’m feeling inspired to wake up and capture an idea. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Tweet regularly, but not too regularly. One of my favorite quotes is by a famed author who was asked, “How many words should a book have?” He responded with, “Not a single word more than you need.” Tweets should be the same. Tweet regularly, but not more than you need.
YouTube is the new MTV
At one time, MTV was the new radio. The great thing is, anyone can be on YouTube, but tomorrow there will be a new YouTube.
The point is: make a video. People listen with their eyes. Ever since The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, people have been fascinated and motivated by seeing their favorite band on TV.
I remember the days when a cheap video was $100,000. Now you can do a video for free. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that people want to see you. They don’t. People want to be moved. They want to be able to see themselves in your video. They want to see and feel something different. Just because your girlfriend thinks you’re hot, don’t think the rest of the world cares. It’s pointless to make a video unless you really put some creative time and effort into it.
Get others involved. Yes, you can make a video for free, but recruit the help of creative friends. Find an aspiring video editor or director in your area. Likely you can find someone who will be willing to take on the project for free. Getting others involved will perhaps help you to interpret your song in a brand new light. Be open to the ideas of creative people and put together a video that people will want to show their friends, even if they don’t know your band.
I’ve always admired the indie band I Was Totally Destroying It and their ability to get creative videos done locally for very little or no money. They build a good team of creative people around them, and it becomes a fun group project for all involved. Take a moment to research some of their videos online, keeping in mind that most were done for little or no money. (Cousin Rick likes the “Control” and “My Internal Din” videos). You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a great video.
There are millions of videos on the Internet. What’s going to set your video apart from the others? You should spend as much time putting together a creative video as you did creating and recording the song itself.
As the world’s attention span is getting shorter and shorter, it becomes more and more important to capture attention quickly with a great video.
Q: Gavin from Daytona Beach, FL asks: Should I have a promotional video or MTV style video?
A: Both. Use your promotional video for the industry: booking, labels, or anyone you’re interested in doing business with. Save your professional “MTV style” video for the fans.
Q: Jasper from Kernersville, NC asks: What is a good setting/background for a promo picture? Do we smile or look like a tough rocker?
A: I heard a great journalist once say, “Anytime a photographer wants to take your promotional picture outside, beware. What that really means is ‘I have this really cool scenic backdrop I’d like to photograph. Maybe I’ll stick a band in front of it.’”
Make your promo picture about you, about the band. The setting, scenery, or backgrounds aren’t important. Well, they’re important only if you screw it up and take a picture on railroad tracks, or in front of the roll-up door to your practice unit. Your promo picture should be about you and your style. If the first thing someone notices when they see your promo picture is the background, then you’ve taken a bad promo picture.
To smile or not to smile – the age-old question of cool rock bands. My advice is to express the personality of your band in your picture. Is your music dark and mysterious? Then make a picture that reflects that. Is your music happy pop music? Then don’t be afraid to crack a friendly smile.
Faking your personality in a promotional picture will be painfully obvious to the viewer. Let your personality, and the personality of your music, be captured in the photo.
Q: Maria from Portland, OR asks: Is MySpace dead?