by Dan Bolles
There's hardly an aspect of our modern existence that remains untouched by the evolution of the Internet. No longer merely a global porn network, the web is redefining the way we communicate with each other and share information, the way we consume and the way we do business. Whether the on-line onslaught is a blessing or a curse is open for debate. But regardless of where you stand on the proliferation of the 'net, one thing remains clear: it ain't goin' away.
One particular aspect modern Western life likely irrevocably changed is the music industry. The so-called "death" of the music biz has been discussed ad nauseum, so I won't belabor the point here. However, the way the business works now is markedly different from any point in history and continues to evolve and improve(?) with increasing rapidity. In my line of work, I'm reminded of it several times per day.
I still receive "outdated" modes of promotion like one sheets, glossy photos and — gasp! — actual CDs. But, more and more, the way bands, labels and promotions companies spread their gospel is through electronic methods. Downloadable albums, photos and press kits, links to "special" press websites and MySpace pages — I never realized my MS profile would have professional applications! — are almost par for the course these days. And it's not just the means of delivery that's changing. The promotional content is changing as well.
Rarely will you see a band boast about how many CD units they've moved, since very few bands have success with actual discs anymore. Instead, they'll point to the number of MySpace hits they've accrued, or how many Last FM plays they've had. Chart success is now essentially social networking success. And in many ways, building a fan base is easier now than it ever has been.
Or at least that's the commonly accepted/practiced wisdom.
The real truth is that while there are more avenues open to fledgling artists than ever before, the apparent ease of self-promotion has empowered an enormous glut of artists all vying for what is essentially the same slice of the same old pie. Major labels, thought to be a dying breed, have recognized this fact and are adjusting their strategies accordingly. For more on this — and a thorough debunking of the Arctic Monkeys/MySpace myth — check out this article by Adam Webb in UK's Guardian Unlimited.
So then, what's a struggling indie band to do? Answer: Research.
Though the methods of promotions are changing, most of the principles remain the same. Assuming your band doesn't suck, you just need to do your homework. Actually, not sucking isn't even a prerequisite. Just look at Arctic Monkeys. Zing!
Here's a good place to start. This e-book link was sent to me by NEK MC Thirtyseven of Wombaticus Rex and contains some very insightful — and up to date — information on dealing with the changing face of the music industry as an artist or promoter. And it's free! Written by Andrew Dubber of UK-based independent music advocates/strategists New Music Strategies, the book weighs in at 96 pages and is, pound for electronic pound, one of the most helpful guides to modern promotion I've seen. Dubber runs the gamut, challenging popular misconceptions of independent music marketing strategy and offering sensible solutions to common biz roadblocks. Think of it as Indie Band 101. Check it out. You just might learn something.