Friday, December 17, 2010

Real Band Stories: Case Studies of Successful DIY Bands

Interview with George of ReVerbed

Whats the best way to get people to come to see your gig?
-Play the best venues you can
-give away cd's
-get fans to sell tickets to their friends

How do you keep fans interested?
-New videos, even if just acoustic
-gig enough but not too often
-talk to them, make them feel part of the band

What merch sells the best
-t shirts

Bands that have had success from a DIY approach

Animal Collective: gained a massive following with first three albums, then started Paw Tracks, a self releasing record label. Self released their two most well received albums, and have managed to increase their devoted fan following in the process

Radiohead: Proved the strength of their following by self releasing critically acclaimed “In Rainbows”, and earned an estimated $10 million on initial album sales, even when fans could pay whatever they wanted for it

The Unicorns: Split up in 2004, but because of their huge underground following their first release on their own record label, Caterpillars of the Community, has become a fan's wet dream as only 500 were printed. Post Unicorns projects (namely Islands) have had a following since they started because of their previous work

Kanye West: Wasn't given a chance to be signed by Roc-a-fella records, where he produced many of Jay 's albums among others, because he didn't portray the usual image seen in Hip Hop. He started G.O.O.D records, and released the album “College Dropout” with singles like “Jesus Walks” and owned the charts, delivering a strong foundation of die hard fans that can be seen on the forum on Kanye's website.

Joan Jett: Self released her solo debut on Blackheart Records, after 23 different US labels rejected it. Sold the album out of the producer's truckbed at Gigs, giving her a strong enough following to get labels interested, and release the album.

Merchandising, Marketing, and Keeping Your True Fans Interested

You’ve got the 1000 fans, and now?

I.         Keep them interested in you

Now that you've found your fans through your social network sites and through playing live, learn how to maintain their interest in you and your music:

1.           Anticipation:
If you follow very many bands who have been popular for years, they usually announce upcoming releases of CDs or new songs, months in advance. By announcing your new releases well in advance of the release date, you give fans time to anticipate the new release and a reason to keep your name fresh in mind.

2.           Freebies and Rewards:
Everyone loves getting something for nothing; free mp3s, wallpapers, …or you can create levels of engagement where fans get something in return: for example, you can offer your fans a free download of your latest single in exchange for joining your mailing list. You can give free tickets or discounts in return for their help in promoting you… Give a free concert or a benefit show once in a while. Doing these things will make your fans feel good about supporting you. It gives them the sense that you care about them. One of the best rewards is to make the customer / audience feel as if they are part of something. Membership is its own reward.

3.           Sell unique Merchandise:
Make the most out of your fan connections by selling exclusive bundles and packages through your own storefronts. Create different levels of pricing for different levels of fans. Give your fans a chance to support you at whatever level they want. Selling direct builds and strengthens the emotional connection between you and your fans. A simple thank you for buying gives them the satisfaction of knowing they are supporting you, adding another level of emotional connection.
Try to be as creative as you can, open a contest for example, where they can win a mix CD with an exclusive packaging just for the contest, make a limited-pressing Vinyl of your new release, a good idea can also be asking your fans what they’d like to buy from you, and then making it available,…

II.         Get your fans engaged:

Make them feel a part of the band! Enlist their help for tours, gigs, merchandising, get ideas from them, ask them what they'd like you to do next...involve them and you have them for life.

1.           Ask Your Fans’ Opinion:
Show your fans that you care about their opinion. Whenever you add a link, a video or just for a status update, try to finish your sentence by asking a question. People always love giving their opinions! It is a very good way to incite comments on your page.

2.           Daily update:
Don’t let a day go by without adding a new post to your Fan Page. If you do so, you might lose your fans’ attention. Even if it is just a status update or a video, it is important to add it.

3.           Surprise them:
Don’t bore your fans by always sharing content they would expect to see on your Fan Page, surprise them with something new sometimes! Try to share a rather funny video, or a viral that has taken over the Internet.

III. Continue to expand your network

1.           “Physically”:
Keep on doing as many live gigs as you can, go in new cities, new countries, make your fanbase bigger. Gain exposure in attending music conferences, indie showcases and music festivals.
Play for free if you have to, anywhere, any time. Create an event, an event with a cause and donate the proceeds to a charity, remember live aid, comic relief, get onstage and strut your stuff. This can open up some interesting contacts and opportunities.

2.           Online presence:
Keep all your sites updated, include blogs, video blogs, podcasts and videocasts.
Announce every song, every CD, decent chart position, contest win, top sales on releases, announce anything and everything to stay in the public’s eye. Write a review of every gig and get feedback from local VIPs, fans, whom ever matters and include the best quotes.
i.           Create work for your fans:
Instead of blogging every minute and answering every question, let your fans to comment on a particular song, and let them read each other’s comments instead of asking you questions.  Give away a free track and encourage fans to share it, make them post comments on your last EP on specialised websites,…
Create a fan club online and get them to spread your banners, links and provide content for them to spread.

ii.           Place a facebook store link wherever you can:
You should always be thinking about where fans discover you, but also where you want them to go and why.  Which platform offers you the best options for sales, engagement and discovery.

iii.           Newsletter:

Create an online newsletter, with interesting content to the receiver. This is an invaluable way to keep fans informed on gigs, news, gossip, new releases and other great info. Send out your newsletter about once a month. You can give your fans insider, behind the scenes, back stage with the band info and videos.

Examples of use of all the most known platforms:

Facebook: Build a Fanpage with music, pictures and videos (live extracts or clips). Everybody is on Facebook so try to make everybody « like » you !

Twitter: At least once a week keep your fans informed of your current recording sessions, your live tours or your thoughts on whatever you want (but keep it coherent with your image).

Youtube: This is the place to try to make a buzz. Let’s have a brilliant idea and post the video. Try something funny, keep on surprising your fans!

Blog: A bit like Facebook and Twitter for music, pictures, video and informations. But you can also see a blog like a diary where everybody can leave comments. Everybody like to read someone else diaries... !

Myspace: Today myspace act as a business card for bands because when you are searching for infos on a band you know exactly where it is on myspace. The community is decreasing on myspace but leave a nice look of your pages and some songs/videos.

Personal website : Make it easy to navigate. Infos must be available in 3 clicksmax (people are lazy). Most important is the look and feel correlated with your image. Tag it to make it easily accessible on Google.

Podcast: If you have time you can try to make a mix of one of your songs and other artists’ songs too, and post this as a podcast on your blog or website.

Reality !!! Don’t forget the good old posters and flyers for promoting your concerts.

Getting Established, Creating a Fan Base

So you've started a band. As out there as some bands are, you're most likely going to want fans. Here are some simple things you can do to build a fan base.

Be Sociable – It's never not worth it to create connections and chat to people at a venue. Whether they be audience members, people in other bands, or promoters, be as polite and charismatic as humanly possible to get them on your side and help push your band

Free CDs – If someone enjoyed your set, they aren't going to say no to a free CD!  With internet file sharing, there's no limit to the amount of promotion that can come from giving people your music.

Gig Your Ass Off – Tour, and play gigs in as many towns as you possibly can. Get as many people to hear your music as possible. Don't gig too much in the same area and time period though- It can decrease audience numbers drastically and not help your relationships with a venue, its a bit like cheating on them.

Open For A Band With A Following – Make nice with other local bands and get an opening slot for an established act thats stylistically similar to your band- This way, the crowd that have come to see them will be more appreciative of your music. If the first gig goes well, then it will lead to others, in different venues and towns if you're lucky.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

1000 True Fans Explained

For the purpose of creating a foundation for our discussion of how to handle your DIY music business, we will be loosely operating on the model of “1000 True Fans,” which generally speaking, is a concept that if a band/artist has 1000 “true fans,” they can potentially make a living as a musician and nothing else.  We would like to say a few words of clarification and caution about this.

Firstly, we are not saying 1000 True Fans is the “best” model for everyone.  It is impossible to say that there is one best model, really, because bands vary greatly in genre as well as in personal and business goals, and along with that, so too do their audiences vary.  What works well for one band might not be the best for another.  1000 True Fans, though, is an approach which seems to be very prevalent, and there is a good deal of data to support its validity, at least having a good success rate among many independent bands.  In the cases of most DIY bands, we can find no model better than 1000 True Fans, so we therefore will be assuming use of it as our foundation.

Secondly, 1000 True Fans and the suggestions we will make here on the blog are not a “recipe for success”: the blog is not a “How to be successful in 10 easy steps” programme.  It may help many people, and may well work for you, but your success lies greatly in your own hands; it requires a great deal of work and dedication on your end, even after which you may not see the desired results.  At the end of the day, it takes a great deal of creative talent, dedication to your craft and your business, and let’s face it, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people, in order to be successful in the music industry.  We are not trying to be cynical or pessimistic, just trying to give a kind reminder to keep your feet firmly planted in reality.  Being a successful musician is something you have to really want and be dedicated to in order to even stand a chance at survival.

Those things said, let’s get down to what the concept of 1000 True Fans is really about.

As I said before, the idea of 1000 True Fans is that all a musician needs to make a living is 1000 true fans.  To define what we mean by “true fan,” let’s look to the original article
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
Clearly this description makes it sound like one must rely heavily on a wide array of merchandise.  While unique merchandise definitely is one thing that will help your business (this will be discussed in a future entry), it may be possible to survive on selling just your basic CDs and t-shirts.  Let’s take a quick look at some figures. (These are real market figured kindly offered by George of the band Reverbed and his manager)

Say the cost to produce 500 CDs with basic jewel cases and minimal booklets is about £400.  Say it costs about £1000 to produce 200 t-shirts.  And say you order this merchandise in those quantities (500 CDs at a time, 200 shirts at a time).  To get 1000 CDs and 1000 t-shirts made, your startup costs will be approximately £1400.  If you sell 1000 CDs for £5 each and 1000 shirts for £10, after your expenses are recouped you make a net profit of £13,600.  That’s slightly higher than the amount one would make working a 40 hour week for a minimum wage of £5.93.

To look at it another way, say you make roughly £13,600 at your current job.  What would you need to make from your music business instead to yield the same income?  If each fan spends £15 a year on a CD and shirt, it would take a little over 900 fans to support you financially instead of your day job!  Add to that other merch options and the fact that your “true fans” will spend a good deal more than £15 a year on you and your music, and suddenly the number of fans you need to be successful starts to look feasible!

It should be noted here that the type of “success” this model aims for is not “superstardom.”  Rather, it is a middle class of neither ultra-wealthy on the one hand, nor poverty on the other.  It is about making an income just large enough to support one’s self, and to sustain that income year after year.  We stated once before that the purpose of this blog was not to help one gain superstardom with a major record deal, but rather to simply be able to support yourself as an independent musician.  This model certainly does seem to be a way of achieving that.

So the numbers make sense, and the model seems feasible: If you have 1000 true fans, it is very possible to make a living as a musician.  The real question then becomes, how do you get those fans to begin with?  And furthermore, once you get those fans, how do you keep them interested and buying your music and merchandise year after year?  These questions will each be addressed in turn in the next two entries.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Welcome In!

Hi there, and welcome to the blog!  We are The DIYers.


James, Nadine, & Val
(don't worry, you can click for bigger versions)
We are students of Popular Music and Sound Technology at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.  You might guess from our being students of pop music that after university we intend to work, in one way or another, within the music industry -- and you would be correct.  More specifically, we are songwriters hoping to make a living in our discipline.

If you’ve found yourself here at our blog, you’re probably just like us: we are performing songwriters wanting to make a living by doing our craft (and only our craft).  But in a world where CD sales are declining and major record labels are signing fewer and fewer acts, with less and less money to go around, many of us find ourselves asking, “…What do I do?”  You have the talent, you have the band, you have the repertoire.  But what’s the next step?  How do you get your music and band established, and eventually get to a point where you can make a living on it?  The purpose of this blog is to address this question and hopefully come up with some answers.

To try to gain some sort of success with your music, you can essentially take one of two approaches: 1. You can try to write the biggest hit possible and focus all your efforts on gaining attention from major labels and ultimately obtaining a major record deal; or 2. You can handle your band’s affairs internally, self-producing records and self-promoting.  We call this approach “DIY” (Do It Yourself).  If your aim is Option 1, this blog is not for you.  But don’t’ be discouraged, I’m sure there are plenty of resources out there for you.  This just isn’t one of them.  If, however, you wish to take a DIY approach to your music as a business, then read on.

(One side-note: There are two types of DIYers: There are some who avoid seeking major label attention on principle: under the idea that they can maintain more artistic freedom, or retain rights to their work.  Others operate by a DIY model by default: they would prefer a record deal, but do not feel that seeking one is particularly viable in today’s volatile music industry.  While these two groups come from two very different ideologies or aesthetics, the model and road ahead of them is the same.)

This model which we will be loosely operating on is one that is familiar to just about every band who has become successful by a purely DIY approach – if you read any music blogs, you will probably have seen it called “1000 True Fans.”   The idea behind this business model is to establish a fan base which consists of a sufficient number of “true fans” – fans that buy all of your releases and spend a certain amount on your merch (we’ll get into specifics in the next section).   Once you have established this core following, if you do a good enough job of keeping those fans, you can essentially make a decent enough income to quite your day job and survive solely on your music.

The first thing we will do on this blog will be to properly characterize the “1000 True Fans” model.  With that to set the foundation, we will move on to discuss how exactly you get your music heard and start to cultivate fans.  From there we will discuss how to keep those fans, and get them to buy your music and merch.  We will then take a more in-depth look at ideas for merchandising and marketing your act, and ways of staying in touch with – and in the minds of -- your fans.  Lastly, we will look at examples of, and interviews with, bands who have already achieved success from a DIY approach, to see how our hypothetical programme works in real life.

We are excited to undertake this endeavour, and hope that if you’ve come here for some answers, we will be able to provide a helping hand.  But further than that, this is a forum for discussion.  If you have questions or comments, if you'd like to put in your two cents, contribute a case study we haven't referenced, give comment from your own experience in the industry, or nudge a conversation in a certain direction, please feel free to utilise the Comment section.