By, Bob Lefsetz
It’s all about your core audience.
I know you’ve heard this a zillion times, all that stuff about a thousand true fans, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Sure, first and foremost you need a fan base, but once you have one, IGNORE THE EXTERNAL, IT’S A WASTE OF TIME!
I know, you’re sitting at home wondering how you can be bigger, how your act can break. Maybe you hire a big PR agent, maybe you spam writers, maybe you hire an independent radio promo person, the key is to spread the word. NO!
I’m not saying radio airplay is worthless, but how many people are still listening to terrestrial radio? Only the most passive and laid back. Not the people who work at the station, they’re still passionate, but the old days of the active radio listener are history.
And playlisting… That doesn’t work either. Even if you get on the playlist, unless someone saves the track, Spotify doesn’t boost you, it drops you. And people skip and instead of getting frustrated, adjust your perspective.
Just satiate the core.
And the core always wants more.
Stay in contact, deliver on a regular basis, AND KNOW WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE!
It’s all about the data today, but the record labels are far behind. I’d fire most of the people there and hire data scientists. To find out exactly who is listening to the music, who is a fan. And then I would reach these people and incentivize them. Get them to meet the act, send them swag…
Don’t do a promotion where if the fan gets another person to… That paradigm is history, it’s been burned out over decades on the web. You know, if you get a new customer we give you a perk. I see that and I puke. You’re making me your sales agent? I love CLEAR, but I’m going to sell it to a friend so I get a bonus? What if they find out, they’ll feel ripped-off. No, I must feel so good about CLEAR that I tell people out of the goodness of my heart. If a fan wants to make money, they can be an influencer on social media. That’s not what we’re selling here, what we’re selling here is BELIEF! That’s the essence of a musical career. Which is why those without hits can oftentimes sell more tickets ten years out than those with hits, if the hitmakers can sell a ticket whatsoever. Sans belief, you’ve got nothing.
I’m not saying that press is bad, but I wouldn’t hunt for it, I wouldn’t try to make it happen. Because usually it’s one and done. And people don’t see it and they don’t take action. Like Scott Galloway in the “New York Times,” did you see that full page article? It was flattering, especially as a result of its raw existence. But I’ve yet to talk to anybody who’s seen it who doesn’t know Galloway already. The man got a full page in the physical newspaper! But most people read it online, where everything but the headline story is equal, and oftentimes ignored. So Galloway can feel good about this ink, but it’s not really going to move the needle.
And then there’s those playing the attention game. The tide has turned. Felice’s car got totalled, she needs to buy a new one, she’s just got one rule, NO TESLA! Because of Elon Musk.
And Kanye has become a joke and if you’re always in the news cycle today you’re an object of derision. What is wrong with you that you need all this attention?
And even worse is when we see you ripping off your fans. Making them buy multiple physical albums with different covers. Why? Sure, the hard core will do this, BTS fans will buy anything the band puts out, but the optics are terrible, even if it buys you the number one chart position for a week. And everybody in the business knows it’s just about streams, and they can see how your music truly performs. Stars always debut strongly, but how long does that last, does a track stick out, stay in the Spotify Top 50, the Top 10?
But you get all that publicity for a “Billboard” #1… But what exactly does it buy you? Network TV attention for a slot your audience will never ever see? And as far as incentivizing the looky-loos, the casual fans, to take action… At this point people don’t even bother to stream a track, they’re overloaded with input, they’ve done this too many times, they’ve streamed bad tracks they’re not interested in by “Billboard” #1s… As far as buying a ticket… Have you checked the price of tickets recently? Never mind the parking and the alcohol and… Nobody’s going to a show on a whim. And, if you’re interested in a show, there’s a plethora, one that matches your interests, why go to the show of the unknown?
So you need buzz. And the buzz is created by your core. If you’re gong to blow up and sustain it will be because the core spread the word. And if you’re truly great, it will spread like wildfire, because active fans are searching for greatness 24/7, they’re hungry for it, looking out for it. But there’s very, very, very little that is this great. Let me make it clear. If you play somebody your track and they don’t immediately ask you to play it again, it’s not good enough. Period. Harsh truth, but there you have it. Good is not good enough.
But let’s say you’re not that great, that’s fine, your fans will keep you alive, they’ll give you all their money. A quirk of life is people are drawn to and bond most with that which is not very successful, at first. They can own the act personally. Getting in on the ground floor is a badge of honor. And as long as you don’t push for more attention soon, and ignore the base, your fans will stick by you.
Think about it, there’s plenty of money in having hard core fans. They go to the show, they buy the merch…
And they’re the only ones who can spread the word.
Better to go out for a cheap ticket price than an overpriced one to pay for production. Because if the ticket is cheap, a fan can drag along a friend. People want to do this, there’s such satisfaction in turning someone else on to great music. But if your tickets are expensive, this can’t happen.
Ignore the headlines, they don’t reflect today’s reality. First and foremost, a lot of those acts are nowhere near as big as the hype, once again, the streaming numbers, readily accessible to all, tell the truth.
Everybody’s a journeyman/woman today. If you haven’t heard from a friend about an act whose music you’re unaware of, an act sans a hit, you don’t have friends.
I’ll give you a few examples. Do you know how many times people e-mail me about Larkin Poe? Even better, the Avett Brothers. Neither household names, but they have very strong, relatively large fan bases, their careers have not been built on the penumbra, the hype, but the essence, the music and the live performance. That’s today’s music business.
Don’t compromise your music, don’t make it like everybody else’s, because even if the track is catchy, you won’t make any fans, and you’ll be starting almost at zero the next time around. You want something with edges, something that will hook people.
This is the opposite of the MTV era, where the goal was world domination. Hell, there’s a good chance you’ll be successful and still considered underground, most people won’t know either you or your music. But I’ll tell you a dirty little secret, MOST PEOPLE HAVEN’T EVEN HEARD THE HITS! Or maybe the hit and nothing else from the album or by the act. It’s a false construct, the old dominating act known by everybody. Hell, there are acts people hate because they’ve seen their name too much, irrelevant of the music, which they might not have ever heard.
And in a world of seemingly unlimited choice, we are not corralled into listening to the same stuff, there is no center, whatsoever. There are just a zillion acts, some successful, most not.
And to be successful you must have a fan base. Do not try to jump the line, short circuit the process, appealing to the muckety-mucks to have a hit single. Start at the bottom. Get regular people to like your music. And if they don’t like it, start over. You’re not entitled to a life as a successful musician. No one is stopping you from making music, but if you want to be supported in your endeavor, people must not only like it, but want to be closer to it, get more of it.