As it has been said many times before, the best marketing tool is at your fingertips. The internet is one of the best promotional outlets available today, and it has created a semi-level playing field for everyone. However, this does not mean that anyone can successfully market and distribute a product online, be it soap or juice or music.
Music marketers have their work cut out for them if they want to get their product noticed. In fact, promotion duties often land in the laps of artists these days, and many of them barely have the time to write, record and perform, let alone come up with a marketing plan and execute on it.
Here are the main challenges facing music marketers on the internet today.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. There is quite a bit of noise on the internet, and busy people don’t necessarily have the time or desire to check out every new thing that pops up in an ad on a sidebar.
The internet has shone the light on some of the darker corners of the music industry (i.e. artists that never got any kind of attention before), and while that is good, there is no denying that sites like YouTube are now inundated with new artists, old artists, and everything in between. Even hobbyists and armatures have a chance at their 15 minutes in the spotlight.
Marketers have to find a way to stand out from the crowd. That has never not been the case – and it is the marketer’s job to figure out how to cut through the noise – but there is an even greater need today to discern how to capture the attention of potential fans and buyers.
2. The Value Conundrum
Business on the internet has essentially created a culture where entrepreneurs are advised to look for ways to connect with people that have an urgent problem or need and solve it for them.
It may sound opportunistic, but in the right hands it can be a beautiful thing. Serving a niche audience, adding value to them and creating products to address their biggest struggles is a wonderful way to build a community.
The challenge with music is that it doesn’t inherently solve any problem in particular. Sure, music can be healing, stress-relieving, entertaining, uplifting or intellectually engaging, but that doesn’t automatically make it a value-add in the eyes of the consumer. A new music release has to address a specific market; otherwise, it’s likely to get lost among the many other releases that get pushed out every single week.
Music marketers have to find an angle for the music they are promoting. They have to look for ways to make it valuable to the consumer.
3. Technology and Moving Targets
When you have the likes of Jack Conte from Pomplamoose saying things like YouTube used to be a great platform, but now it’s time for artists to move onto Kickstarter, it can’t help but stir up the notion that technological determinism is involved in a musician’s ultimate success.
In my opinion, that’s a bit of a slippery slope, because it basically means that marketers have to be using the right technology to make a music release a success, regardless of other factors like the quality of the product, the genre of the music, the musicians involved with the project, the popularity of the artist or the band, journalistic coverage or media attention, and so on.
There is certainly something to be said for being on the right platform. For example, marketing one’s music on Myspace today would mostly be an uphill battle, especially compared to its hay day. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any opportunities to be had on Myspace, but you could probably still get more attention for your music on Facebook (even with its pay-for-exposure model) than Myspace these days.
Be it PledgeMusic, RocketHub, Kickstarter, Google+ Hangouts, Livestream or other social networks, tools, apps and crowdfunding platforms, you can probably find examples of musicians that have initiated successful campaigns. However, in most instances you will also find that it wasn’t necessarily the tool that made the campaign or artist a success.
One tool may have some advantages over another, and one may be set up to do things the other cannot, but without fan interest and clout, there’s no way simply picking the right app or site could instantly propel you to success.
With the proliferation of digital downloads, piracy and peer-to-peer file sharing, music releases don’t generally bring in a lot of revenue on their own anymore.
Big deal. All the money is made on the road, right? Well, not necessarily.
Certainly there are some bands that command a hefty paycheck any time they hit the stage, but it’s safe to assume that most independent or developing artists and bands aren’t making more than $50 to $200 on any given night; sometimes a piece, but most of the time total. Some bands happily and willingly play for free too.
Realistically, how much money can a marketer spend on paid advertising, be it online or off? Music marketers don’t necessarily have a huge margin to work with on any given release. Furthermore, how does a marketer navigate the value conundrum (also see point #2)? Advertising isn’t terribly effective unless you address an urgent need (you can also create an urgent need, but that’s not going to come easy).
Artists and marketers can always put in a bit of sweat equity – and there are plenty of great ways to market without a big budget – but compared to other industries that might have a tendency to sink tens-of-thousands if not millions of dollars into advertising, there isn’t necessarily as big of an anticipated return with music releases.
5. Attention Span
Music has to be heard for someone to like it, and then they have to like it to buy it. It’s a three-step process. However, it can take many repeated listens for someone to like a song, and it’s pretty challenging to manufacture that kind of outcome.
I think we can all agree that – no matter where you go out in the public – you are most likely to hear mainstream radio over other outlets or curators. Sure, some stores or malls may have their own proprietary playlists. Some may choose an eccentric internet radio channel or independent station for their car, residence or place of business. But the majority are playing top 40 hits over, and over, and over again.
What do people hear? Top 40. What do people like? Maybe not top 40, but they like a song or two enough to want to check it out. So what do they buy? Top 40. It’s easy to find, and it’s inexpensive besides.
How does an artist or band get heard enough for someone to want to buy their music? A marketer has to come up with a plan to address this problem if they want to make a music release a success.
Conclusion: Music Marketers
For every disadvantage or downside, there is always an equal counterpart advantage or upside. There are a lot of free marketing channels like social media that allow artists and marketers to get their music out there. There are plenty of inexpensive guerilla marketing tactics that can be used to drive more eyes to a product.
Nevertheless, there are substantial challenges for music marketers to overcome in today’s online space.
What do you think? Are there any other major challenges that you are aware of? How would you go about marketing music online? Let us know in the comments below!
Author: David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a touring schedule with multiple bands.