I've been reading a book by Cory Doctorow called "Information Doesn't Want to Be Free" which argues that copyright and creative success in the digital age are changing dramatically. I agree with this sentiment and it's not only because this book is wonderfully argued, but because I have been doing it with my own creative endeavors for the past year. Selling art isn't what it was 20 years ago and because most people expect music to be freely streamed or torrented, making a living as an artist has changed dramatically.
Exactly one year ago I made the choice to start releasing my music. It needed to happen for several reasons. First, I was finding that I was creatively stymied in my work environment and needed a way to express myself. Second, I hadn't ever released my own original compositions to the world, only a few DJ mixes, with one being featured prominently on a British radio show back in 2006. (I don't have a link). Third and lastly, recording and releasing my own music was something I have wanted to do since I was 8 years old and now was a great time to do it. Why? Because there are so many great distribution channels and ways of reaching people all over the world and that is fantastic way to get your products (in my case music) to people.
But I had to put some limitations on my work first. Each piece of music had to be composed, recorded, and released all within a one week time period. Also within that time period I needed to create an album cover, copy describing the track, and put together any other marketing components. The example I took was a methodology based on scrum and kanban. My weeks generally ranged from Monday as my start date to Sunday as my release date. The limitations worked wonders for my creative output and I found a musical voice for my project quickly and was able to expand on it with each new subsequent release. Although this started as a project that was primarily dance music focused, it quickly turned into a more elaborate electronic music project that was starting to showcase my composition skills. Skills that have felt hampered by not creating or releasing anything for the past few years finally felt a bit of release. My happiness levels shot through the roof. What I found was that by adopting this system and adhering to the process helped me get things done. I was able to release music consistently and started to slowly build an online audience which I will get to next.
Another limitation that I placed on myself was not telling any of my close friends about it which meant I had to build an audience organically through social media and other methods. This has proved much more difficult than I would like, but in the past year alone, I have connected with a multiple amount of people all over the world who simply enjoyed the music I was making. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to do this and it's something that I want to continue to do. However, without a large marketing budget, it is much more difficult. That aside, I will continue pushing forward over the next year.
What started as a project that was going to help me showcase my skills and release some creative tension quickly snowballed into more creative work and bigger ideas that needed to be acted upon. I had to make a choice as to whether or not I should release music as a single musical project, or as a boutique record label with the possibility of adding more artists further down the road. I chose the latter based on the idea that it could offer me more freedom and the opportunity of working with other great artists in the future. Once that choice was made, I operated the entire project from the perspective of a business day in and day out with the ultimate goal of releasing an albums worth of material by sometime in late summer '14 (which was accomplished). To help market my eventual album release, I contacted a few electronic music blogs until I found one (BeatsandBeyond) that would let me submit my new material and have it posted. Doing it this way really helped clarify my thinking as to how I would interact with customers (fans who liked my music) and release more music down the line. I also went into this knowing full well that there was a huge probability that no one would actually make a purchase of any music. The fact remains that people just aren't purchasing music like they used to and that is fine by me. It is a commodity that is for the most part free (torrents and streaming) and it is harder to swim against the stream then anything.
How has everything fared in the year since my first song release? Here are the numbers: I average about 100 - 150 plays a week on Soundcloud when I am not promoting anything. The majority of my fans and followers came from Soundcloud as well and I found that talking with and regularly updating them with new music and news was the best way to keep a relationship going. It should also be noted that when one of my tracks went up on their trending section, I found myself gaining on average about 1000 plays per week for that track over the next six weeks or so. It was a fantastic way to get my music heard. People still love music and that is exciting to know. Advertising on Reddit was a small success (seeing as how I didn't have much capital to pour into the two campaigns I did) and I was able to convert new fans based on them clicking the advert, sending them to Bandcamp and getting them to listen to the music. From there these fans could decide to support me by paying or download my releases by giving me their email address. There is a bit more power in Reddit then most people may realize and using it for future campaigns will be a must. My click through rate was a bit under 0.6% (this metric is an average for all Reddit music campaigns). I didn't sell a whole lot of albums but I did make a little money (not a lot but a fair amount to justify the work that was being done) and that was enough for me to continue on. Lastly, and most importantly, a year ago I had zero fans or support and now my Soundcloud followers (whom I consider fans) fluctuates around 600 (give or take a few). People seem to stop following ever once in a while. That is fine by me as I would rather the label builds up a solid fan base of people who really enjoy what is being released.
Now that I have written through my thoughts and experiences of the past year, I should probably explain what I am expecting over the next. The plan is to continue creating and releasing music. And with that it should be added that each fan relationship should be carefully cultivated. I would rather have 100 people love the products (music) we are releasing (and pay for it) than 1000 people who don't care one way or another. Building and maintaining that audience is going to be priority number one. I'm sure by now you are asking "didn't you say that people don't want to pay for music?". In fact I did and I will follow that up by saying I am going to be experimenting with new methods of building an audience by stepping into new territory. Licensing music and creating music/sounds for specific media platforms are examples that are already currently being looked into and implementation will begin over the next few months. But I would also like to add a few more services slowly as well such as sonic branding, strategy and intelligence for companies looking to add music to their campaigns, and finally a tool I built to help discover information about artists. It is still in it's minimal viable product stage, but you can check it out for yourself here: MusicGenius. (I have a plan with what I want to do with it. I just wanted to make sure I could build it first). If that seems like a lot to handle then you are right. But just know that I will slowly be building out these new methods. And the hope is to build a company with the revenue to not only build a bigger customer and fan base, but hire employees who are just as passionate as I am and can fill in the roles that will be needed. If you think that sounds less like a record label and more like a marketing and tech company then you are correct. The future music incubators will have to be a cross between marketing and technology since those are the best ways to reach out and have conversations with people. And instead of relying on the old adage "Content is King", they will instead have to be focusing on the new one, "Conversation is King." Marketing and technology make it easy for people to communicate with one another and for brands to communicate with people. Building an audience will take more than content, it will take starting the conversation.
I've had some other projects that I have worked on throughout the past year. But my focus is now going to be on building this business into a viable record label and business. And that won't be easy at all. Like I said, my main focus with it is going to be building an audience for the music that will be released. I am super proud of everything that has been accomplished since the release of my first track a year ago, but now it's time to up my game. I've connected with some pretty cool people all over the world. And in the second year creating more great music, as well as fun and new ways for people to experience it, will be my main mission. Now it's time to take that mission to the next level.
Check out my latest release here:
And go here too: