Don’t Confuse Technology with Marketing

Or: Don’t Confuse Supply with Demand

The use of music marketing technology is not in and of itself an act of music marketing

In my own errant quest to get people to hear my music (and pay me for it), I’ve made an understandable but large mistake. I thought that by using the millions of digital music distribution tools out there, one of them would “stick”, and I’d somehow move forward.

Typical thought process: “If I put my music on MySpace, Reverb Nation, Facebook, etc., then set up my own site and embed my music download widgets everywhere, put it on iTunes and Rhapsody, etc. with Tunecore, blah blah blah, then something’s gotta happen.” Well, I was wrong. Putting a shingle out there with your name on it may be called “marketing”, but it’s so passive that it doesn’t really even qualify.

Why I Could Not Sell My Music

I became more interested in the means of delivery than the process of actively winning someone over with my music. It’s easy to find the details of technology interesting and consuming when the daunting tasks of real success are terrifying. 

This train of thought was spawned tonight by a musician who asked what I thought of Audiolife, a company I hadn’t heard of but which offers another turnkey solution for indie musicians to create embedded widgets of their music and merchandise. 

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees

With sites like Nimbit, Musicane, and from the looks of it, Audiolife, you can have some great technology that allows any crappy musician to have some incredible tools to conduct all sorts of online “business”. And since my interest in music marketing has morphed primarily into the tech side of things, I can really appreciate these turnkey, embeddable solutions that people are putting out. Each empowers artists like never before, in different ways. From my very brief scan of Audiolife’s site, they look to be similar. They’ve extended the functionality ever further, but still depend on artists to actually sell things to make their money. They operate on a commission basis, meaning if artists aren’t selling music and merchandise, then Audiolife doesn’t make any money.

If We’re All Starring in Our Own TV Shows, Who’s at Home to Watch Us?

My general “feeling” is that the entire model is a losing enterprise.  In my narrow experience, no one wants to pay for music anymore, and no one cares about the merchandise of some unknown artist. Especially in today’s era of American Idol and Facebook, where everyone wants to and can be a celebrity in their own way. A company like Audiolife may be able to stay in business by taking a tiny piece of a tiny piece from the millions of amateur musicians out there. But for these amateur musicians, whether they choose Audiolife, Nimbit, or Santa Clause isn’t going to change the lack of demand for their “products”.

The Question to Now Ask Yourself

Can you can create demand sufficient enough to warrant the time and energy in setting up an online merch widget?

Update: Revenue Model Abandoned?

I just went to Musicane‘s website, and noted that they now have generic banner ads on their site. Which tells me that their revenue model isn’t working. The ads are for auto insurance and checking your credit scores. This smells of desperation. I can relate. But encouraging people to leave their site isn’t going to improve their business. In my opinion…

14 thoughts on “Don’t Confuse Technology with Marketing”

  1. I agree that it’s easy to get lost in all this technology – just because it’s out there doesn’t mean anyone’s listening.

    I mentioned in a post last week something that I feel many are forgetting – that all these tools, from MySpace to the newest whiz bang social network, are not really tools for discovery as so much as they are tools for a bridge between the artist and the fan. Once that bridge is built (usually after a listen live or from suggestion of a friend) it’s the artist’s job to build value in whatever they are selling – and to understand what kinds of products the fan will be willing to put money down for.

    I am getting tired of seeing the same technologies emerge, some of these things are becoming redundant!

  2. People still have the notion that since the music industry is “dying”, it’s because people aren’t buying music anymore. In fact, total music purchases have been steadily increasing over the past 4 years, up to 1.5 billion transactions in 2008. So, people are still paying for music whether you want to believe it or not. It sounds cliche by now, but the music industry isn’t dying, it’s just changing. The “dying” music industry is a result of industry execs that failed to realize this change.

    Obviously by using Audiolife it doesn’t mean that you’ll have a million fans and a million dollars overnight. That’s not the purpose of it. Your demand comes from your music. Once you start to develop a following, this is where tools like Audiolife will come into play. As far as I know, artists still need to sell music/merch in order to make money. If there was a way for artists to watch tv all day and receive a weekly check, wouldn’t everybody be using it by now?

  3. Technology has allowed “amateur musicians” to actually build a fan base for themselves and CD Baby’s numbers show that indie artists continue to sell despite a drop in overall sales in the music industry.

  4. You make excellent points. The main problem with the independent artist is that most of them believe that simply putting their music “out there” will drive fans and build a fan base. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the real world works. There are three keys to success in building a music career are Marketing, economic delivery and re-marketing.

    Nimbit believes in a direct to fan approach to sales and marketing. We’ve built all our catalog management and store tools around making sure the FAN has a great user experience and access as much of the artist’s catalog as possible through one store. More importantly, the artist now knows who has purchased from their store and has the information to re-market to their fan. We believe in revolving as much traffic as possible around the artist’s store. Download card programs redeem in the artist store. Free tracks can be made available through the artist store. The point is that once you’ve captured a fan, you know who they are and you train them to go to your store for everything.

    The most under exploited tool that an artist has is their fan base. (No matter what size it is.) Artists need to ask their direct fan base to spread the word. You need to have a plan that involves making it easy for your fans to help you. Weather that’s a download card to help “spread the word.” (Nimbit puts “Tell A Friend” download cards into manufactured CDs) Or simply putting a free track up with a referral link. The important part is that you keep the experience consistent and drive the potential fan to a place that has info about you and a way to buy. Social networks are great to virally spread anything! E-mail, texting, your call circle, etc…. There are many ways to get the word out. The point is it has to start somewhere and you need to be able to capture the folks who dig your music. If you care about your fan, your fan will care about you. Your live shows are your best commercial. Your fans are your network. Use Nimbit, use You-Tube, use MySpace, use Facebook, use Reverb Nation as a vehicle for your promotion, not the promotion itself.

    Then it’s all about re-marketing. Bring them back for a “thank you” track. Get more music up. Offer packages. Get a rabid fan to place your store on their site. As long as it’s all on the same network, you get to know who buys and who is helping you. In addition to the direct to fan marketing we so believe in, we also encourage our artists to make their music available at the largest online e-Tailers. For discovery as well as the comfort factor some customers have with iTunes.

    In general, our artists sell about 35% of their music at eTailers. 65% are selling through Nimbit storefronts directly to their fans. We have found that fans LOVE to pay for music! They are much happier to buy directly from the artist as they realize the direct connection. Furthermore, we find that fans will pay a premium for pre-release CDs with bonus digital downloads. Free download cards that drive the fan to your storefront also generate successful sales.

    In the end, you want to get paid. Keeping your distribution as direct as possible and under one roof makes it easy and affordable. Building your fan base through your network of storefronts can bring you a steady income. A great show builds a bigger base. There is no stopping viral growth if you can manage the incoming sales. That’s what we help artists and labels do.

  5. Phil, it sure sounds good on paper…and it seems that Nimbit is well aware of the gap between distribution and marketing. I like that you offer ways to help artists bridge this gap, via Tell-A-Friend, bonus downloads, etc.

    I’d love to hear some statistics on this stuff. I don’t know that you’re willing to make public your stats, but, for example, can you give some figures on earnings per account, or downloads per avg. user, etc. Since I exist in a vacuum of speculation I don’t know if we’re talking about 35% of $10 or 35% of $1,000.

    Also, what are the demographics of your users these days? The whole “viral marketing” concept doesn’t seem that prevalent among my peers, but perhaps if I were 18 years old then things would be different?

  6. Nice article Brian.

    I can relate to the problem at hand. I am an indie musician and have become a social network junkie in the process while writing for my music marketing blog. The main key I have found that has earned us some more album sales is really taking more of a social approach to it.

    I remember hearing someone using social networks and comparing it to a party. Your social skills are tested even online. You must conversate and engage a conversation, not just sending emails telling people to check out your music, which is what most people online on Myspace do. Even with that though, Brian is right, Music is a tough sell.

    The main reason I have some faith in the Music 2.0 model is that digital sales are still increasing. The avenues are changing by the minute whether selling digitally, licensing your music or even offering some subscription based method of distribution. The hard part for indie artists is trying to find the profitable avenue.

    The main question you mentioned is really key:
    sufficient demand= time and effort. That balance has to coexist for any business to run profitably. I write for a music marketing blog and I have found it being too cliche for people just saying use social networks and the money rolls in. It really comes down to planning.

    I have restructured my train of thought towards creating daily goals and setting some specific numbers and starting from scratch. As musicians with digital distribution, the internet plays a massive role.

    We have to be content providers, keyword specialists for targeted sales, active on social networks, and essentially be our own marketing and R&D department while finding a social life away from the computer.

    Look forward to hearing some more aritcles, hopefully soon we will both be talking about our revitalized music marketing sales.

  7. I’m pleased to see that several people are challenging the notion that music doesn’t sell anymore.

    I wonder if companies like CD Baby and Tunecore thrive because there are 1,000,000 artists selling 1 download each, or if it’s more like 100 artists selling 10,000 downloads each, or what? I tend to suspect the former. How democratized are the dividends these days?

    Does death of the “industry” mean that there’s more money to distribute to the indie folks?

  8. What’s key is how you give away your music and where. You have to have some control over the experience and it really should loop back to a buying opportunity. (Marketing 101) Did you ever notice how Tide will put FREE samples on everyones front door to introduce a “New Improved Super Formula” that’s the same old Tide? Sells more soap… So actively giving away your music through your store gives you some element of control.

    People pay for music AND the at Nimbit, the age range has NOT shown any specifics on willingness to pay for music…believe it or not. For example, a non-touring artist with a song that accompanied a viral net cartoon sold like crazy to an audience of teenagers. Subsequent releases of complete albums have sold as well. What we have seen is that giving away music drives new fans. New fans drive sales.

    Our users range the entire musical gamut. From The Mile After to Tom Rush to Steve Songs to Cindy Morgan. ie: young killer MySpace band to Folk Legend to Kid’s Music to Contemporary Christian. They each appeal to, as well as support , their growing fan-base. Mario has the right idea. Technology is not a replacement for marketing its a tool for marketing. You need to be able to easily collect and track how your campaign is going. Again, that’s why we have built our platform around a set of highly placeable and flexible storefronts. You need to know who bought your music and a way to enhance that buying relationship.

    I merged my previous company Artist Development Associates into Nimbit five years ago. ADA had supported independent artists since 1994. All the sales trends we can track all the way back a decade point to a growing middle class of artists. More artists are selling more product directly to fans each year. About 50% of the artists on our platform are selling their music. 20% of our artists are making significantly more than $100 a month. 5% of our artist’s are selling over $1000.

    What is even more encouraging is how new styles are developing because there is now an infrastructure to support their development. I was blown away last year at SXSW. The diversity of influences seems to be in hyper drive and I attribute that to these artists creating meaningful income outside of the mainstream music industry. “Viral Marketing” is a label now used as a catch-all for online marketing. Really successful marketing needs to be economical. If you see a great band, the moment you tell another person in a call or email, you are part of a viral marketing campaign. When a friend forwards an MP3 (illegally) it’s viral marketing. I have to say that most of the music I’ve bought over the past couple of years was introduced to me by a friend through an MP3.

    I’m not just the President, I still gig 2-3 nights a week. I still tour. I’m in an original funk band right now. Totally under the Radar. I can’t support my family from the income (heck, I’m just the drummer) but I make a couple of grand a month gigging to a growing fan-base. Fans buy at shows and buy online at the site. We try to make a recording or put out a live album once a year. We keep fresh tracks for free and once in a while we’ll put an album up for free and get fans to push it out to new faces.

    Bottom line: New music is being created. There is money in it. My band makes more and more money each year. Opportunities come, and we make the best of them. We funnel our fans through our main site using NimbitSkin and through MySpace and Facebook with the NimbitOMT. We track our direct sales vs. our iTunes sales the Nimbit dash. We sell 4:1 direct sales vs. iTunes. People are still paying for music and like to buy the music from the band. Fans are still going out to shows. As the recession kicks in, I believe there is no better time to sell direct and no better time to hit the clubs.

    I’m really enjoying this thread. Thanks to everyone for contributing!

  9. I think @evolvor is on the right track talking about the bridge. We at Artists House have been calling it the Straddle. Basically, ANYTHING online is only half the equation. You need to be doing things offline as well. You need to create social objects around which people (i.e. fans) can gather – these are things that they share between themselves because of a shared interest – Mobile video, exclusive tracks, etc. You are catering to your core fans and giving them the tools to market your music for you. Concentrate on the core, and the rest will follow.

  10. Just to touch on the ‘music industry dying’ myth. The big labels may say that, but what they mean is that the record industry (CD sales) is in freefall. The music industry is thriving, with more transactions (thanks Gabriel), more tickets sales at more concerts and more choice and consumption than ever before. People are willing to pay for music in many formats if you make it convenient and well-priced.

    As for the tools that make every artist think they are their own marketing machine, I agree, and it’s a very good point you have raised here. Seeing endless numbers of widgets doesn’t add value or substance to your brand. the only way these widgets (and the time used to create them) will pay off is by adding authenticity and an interaction with the fanbase. Connecting with Long Tail fans or converting borderline ones will be a wiser use of time than to reciprocate the technologies with a different name across all your social networks.

    Lee Jarvis

  11. Wow, this was a really enlightening article to read, and the responses as well were well-written with much insight. As part of a new music company aimed at supporting independent artists, the new approach to technology outlined by every participant in this thread is right on par. There has indeed been a disconnect between the artist and the fan over the years, and the internet has finally produced a landscape to bridge that gap. The problem is both the digital divide and the lack of willing artist participants. What my company ( has so far witness is an unwillingness of the participating original bands to put forth effort in marketing to fans. They all heard the site’s pitch about directly connecting artist and fan in an social-networking online environment in exchange for direct fan support, and jumped right on. Unfortunately, what has so far failed to catch on is the artist as an active participant in the artist-fan relationship. MyBandStock provides the platform for communicating directly with fans, offering them incentives for buying stock in their projects, and an outlet for supplying content and media to the online environment, but still without setting aside time and energy to educate its existing and potential fan base, their numbers are going nowhere. They might blame this on site inefficiency, when in actuality, it’s exhibit A of confusing technology with marketing.

    I hope, with the rest of you, that people stop blaming the “failing” music industry or fruitless technology, and start evolving with the future of the music industry.


  12. Regarding money making potential from sites like AudioLife, you may not be aware of what’s happening in the music biz, and many other retail businesses. To understand how amazing this is or can be, you need to read “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson.

    Of course few Garage Bands will rise up to achieve a million or more fans, thus one band generating millions in revenue. That’s not the point. The point is that there are hundreds of thousands of local bands that have a following of a hundred people. Even Jr. High rock bands can sell a few t-shirts and CDs to their friends. It happens every day.

    Thus, AudioLife and others use technology to capture the few dollars from the many. Record labels captured the many dollars from the few, and now that less are paying for their main revenue stream (the music) their model is in trouble.

    What AudioLife is really doing is allowing tens of thousands of bands to have a legitimate music and merchandise infrastructure for no upfront cost and very little effort. Any band, even your nephew’s silly little Guitar Hero neighborhood gang can get a logo, make a t-shirt and be the envy of their gradeschool. The model is beautiful. They are really creating tens of thousands of “one hit wonders”. Do we need/want that? Probably not, but you wouldn’t think that if you were the up-n-coming dreamers, trying to make it. You want to believe and AudioLife assists in the dream.

    Of course many have tried and it remains to be seen if AudioLife, other competitors, or even the record companies will be able to build a profitable business through these fast changing times. But… there is no question that this is the wave of the future.

Comments are closed.