The hardest part is getting noticed.
There are numerous media competing for the audience's mindspace. And numerous musical enterprises/records as well. So, the plan must center first around getting attention, not getting paid.
In the old days, the major labels controlled a finite landscape. They had what was perceived to be the best music, and they owned both radio and retail, which were the major ways of learning about music. So, there were few companies with few products fighting over little mindspace. Furthermore, you had to buy the product to experience it.
Now we live in a land of abundance. There are tens of thousands of acts and albums emerging/coming to market every year, the majors don't necessarily have the best, and just about all of them can be experienced at the listener's leisure, on the Web. The question is how do you get people to listen?
If you've got a pop confection, the major labels are the place to go. They control the old outlets, which can reach the most people most quickly. The only problem is the old outlets, the mass media, are only interested in the mass market items, and a great percentage of the public isn't even paying attention. So, even if you're the beneficiary of a carpet bomb campaign, a great percentage of America will still be clueless as to who you are, and won't care that they're out of the loop, might even be proud of being out of the loop. So, the question becomes how to reach these people.
You can't reach them by asking them to buy first. Quite the contrary, it's like catching a fish. You've got to drop quality bait and wait.
When there was limited product, quality was less of an issue. Kind of like Trabants were the automobile of choice in Eastern Germany, they were all that was available. But with the fall of the Wall, the higher quality of the Western world's automobiles was embraced, and the Trabant ceased production.
In other words, how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?
The Web is Paree.
But it's worse. It's infinite. And there's no road map. And no guide, not yet, saying what is good.
You can rail against this new world, or try to figure it out.
You establish a beachhead. You try to get people to notice you. And the way you do this is not through endless cross-linking and widgets and all the tools of the helpless, hapless wannabes, but quality music. It's the only way you can get recognized. Unless you take your clothes off. But that still does not sell records. Just ask Tila Tequila.
That's scary. Because although they won't admit it, most acts suck.
Don't think of how you're going to sell your music, but how you're going to get better. Learn how to play your instrument, not how to style your hair. Image is far less important in the new world, where everybody is accessible. You want to be a member of the group, not above or below. You certainly don't want to be below, in the dreaded world of TMZ, where those with a modicum of celebrity are ridiculed. Your identity must take a back seat to your music.
And this music must be freely available.
The tunes themselves are no longer enough to rally around. The tunes are the enticement to your lifestyle, your club. You don't want people to buy your music, you want them to become members of your club.
Everybody wants to belong. And exclusivity is not the key, but quality. Style is trumped by substance. Case in point, the iPod. First and foremost, it is perceived to be the easiest used and highest quality MP3 player. The fact that it looks good is just the sauce. The fact that everybody has one degrades its integrity/likability barely a whit. Because if something is truly great, people don't care that others are on the ride along with them (like the Beatles!) Most people only reject mass groups when quality is perceived to be lousy. Or when style is triumphant. Like the Razr. It looked cool, but it didn't do anything new and different. And now Motorola is in trouble. Apple is not in trouble.
So, make someone a member of your club, and then they'll give you all their money. I.e. the iPhone. Apple loyalists, indoctrinated by their purchase of an iPod or Mac, or both, needed the iPhone as evidence of their club membership. They needed to let everyone know where they were coming from, where they belonged. Just like your fans will buy your t-shirt if they believe you're good. Wearing it makes them feel good, it lets everybody else know they're a member of the group. Most people don't want to be a member of an evanescent group, they want someone who stays. So focus on staying, unless you're in the major label pop category above.
But, you say, Apple charges for their products.
That's apples and oranges. Google doesn't charge to search. And didn't even have a business plan until it had reached a critical mass of users. You need the critical mass first if you're selling software. And, Google and your music are just bits. Whereas iPods and iPhones are physical objects.
Oh, don't get caught up in the mind-set of people paying for your music. They will, but you must entice and hook them first.
So, how do you spread the word?
You don't. Your audience does.
Your audience has tuned out marketing messages. You've just got to get a few diehards to believe, and they'll do the marketing work for you. And for this work, you pay them. Not in dollars, but kind. Free access to your shows. Rehearsal tapes. Their main goal is to feel a part of something. Let them in. And instruct them. Not to force your music on to everybody. That this isn't a job, but a calling, a cause. That could take years to reach fruition.
And what is fruition?
A self-sustaining music career.
Right now, music is almost free. The new modes of acquisition need to be monetized, but until they are, don't focus on selling the music, but everything else. The live show. The merch. If you get really big, destination gigs, cruises. Be inventive. Everybody wants to hang with the club. Furthermore, hard core fans will still buy the CD as a badge of honor.
The key is not to reach everybody instantly, but to keep satisfying your core. Their friends will follow along just to experience what they're dedicating their lives to.
I know this is all very confusing and hard. Because it's the opposite of what you've been told for fifteen years. The opposite of Tommy Mottola style, the opposite of Clive Davis style.
Tommy Mottola was about orchestrating a campaign. But now very few people are paying attention to any campaign. You can't get all the eyeballs you used to.
And Clive Davis eviscerates the honesty of the acts. He calls in professional songwriters, he crafts an image and an identity. All that is left is the song, you're just a cog in the wheel, you can be quickly forgotten. You don't want to be forgotten, but remembered.
It's less about crafting a catchy hit than capturing the ears and minds of your fans. Look at Dispatch. They might not make music memorable to Clive, but most of Clive's charges can't sell out arenas years after they've broken up. Kelly Clarkson can't sell out arenas seeming moments since her last big hit, still in the public eye all the while.
You're in control. It's not about getting the attention of some mover and shaker. Your team is you, all the time. You're convincing the end buyer, middlemen are no longer relevant. Forget radio, forget retail. It's about having a presence on the Web and allowing people to find you. And playing live. But that's actually less efficient than your Web campaign, you reach fewer people playing gigs. The tour is the victory lap. If you can go on the road and charge, if you can put together a whole tour, you're on your way to success, you know you've got something going.
Sure, some people can make it based on the live vibe first and foremost. Then the Web is about the community first, not the music.
But if music is first, it's got to be free and available and a cadre of fans must be motivated to spread the word.
This is not hard. That's what people do, tell others about what they're enjoying.
But their friends know when they're sincere, when they're getting paid, and when they're doing it from the bottom of their heart. Sincerity, believability, credibility, they're key to longevity. There's no longevity in the shenanigans on TV and TMZ. If you want to play there, be my guest. But it's not about music so much as fame. And you're a musician, right?