Wednesday, August 18, 2010


The story begins online, just like it used to begin in clubs.  Sure, you need music.  But that's just the kindling to start a fire online.

Have you ever built a fire?  If you load up the big logs first, it doesn't take.  You've got to start with very small twigs.  You've got to nurture the flame, blowing air on it or gently using bellows.  Then you lay on increasingly large pieces, not getting to logs until you're just shy of a conflagration.  That's how you build careers today.

1. Focus on the music.  You need at most four songs.  Any more and you confuse the audience.  Less is okay, but you want to encourage a story, you don't want to appear a one hit wonder.

2. As you gain traction, you put out more music.  You don't worry about selling the original music to everybody on the planet, at this point you only focus on your core.

3. You make the music available.  Don't try to monetize it at first, that just slows down the process of building your career.  People can hear it streamed online, and they can download it and trade it.

4. Interact online, and don't talk down to your fans.  Don't tell them you're the next big star.  Hip-hop bluster is passe.  Be thrilled that they're interested in you and your music.  Tell them everything they want to know, and more.  Put up pictures of your girl or boyfriend.  Tell them what you do every day.  If you've got a family, don't hide it, reveal it.  Your goal is to humanize yourself.  Artifice is so seventies.  The Net community is about sussing out the truth.  Give them the truth and your honesty will endear you to them.

5. Don't ask your fans to spread the word.  Don't ask them to be street-teamers.  Don't have a street team!  If they like your music and you treat them well, they will spread the word just like a kid tells his mother about his new best friend.   They won't be able to hold back.  There's no money in it for the fan.  So let him retain his dignity.  Let him believe he's your best friend.

6. Don't alert the mainstream media.  That comes last.  Once you've built something, once you've got a story.  Kind of like Dispatch playing Madison Square Garden.  If your story is not interesting to those who don't care, don't tell it or sell it.  Like I said, I'm not interested in vampire books, but the phenomenon intrigued me.

This is ass-backwards to the way it's been.  In recent scenarios, music has come last.  It's been about image.  It's been about marketing.  So there's no traction, no connection with the consumer/fan.  With looks being everything, "artists" have become models.  Pretty faces with no depth.  And you wonder why the "Hills" stars are more famous than most musicians...  Because musicians don't have that something extra, the music that sets them apart!

You're building a fan club.  You don't want to let everyone in, you don't want everyone to come.  When the nerds are partying, they don't want the athletes crashing, with their beer and belligerence.  You're building a community of nerds.  Nerds will build your band.  If you're not interested in nerds, you'd better be Christina Aguilera, with a big voice and Top Forty airplay.  Nerds need music to get by.  They don't have enough of a social life.  Their life is online.  Nerds come first, then the popular kids, then the general public.  You want people with plenty of time, to sit online and spread the word.  Kids who know the ins and outs of the Web.  This is your audience.  Don't play to the last row, don't play to people who don't care.  Chances are you're a nerd too, if you'd only admit it to yourself...  You're playing music because you have trouble talking, meeting the opposite sex.  Your online nerd-base wants to embrace you...  LET THEM!

And if you're good, the casual user will find out about you and your music in the long run.  Because mainstream media NEEDS a story, and you will have one.  But since the publicity does not come overnight...  Since you drove across the country, stopping in shopping malls and bars before you rocketed to the moon, your original fans will not abandon you, because they've invested time, they've got knowledge no casual fan can have.  They're bonded, they're dedicated.  They will keep you alive after your mainstream fame has dried up.  But they won't stay with you if you switch allegiance, to all those people the nerds decry, in quick order.

But it all comes down to creating something people like.  And what people like most is not slick, not glossy, over-produced songs written by guns-for-hire, but straight from the heart original numbers.  You don't have to create a new genre.  But you do have to be good.  Pick up on a tried and true genre and give it your own twist.  A brother and sister can be the new Carpenters.  Scruffy kids can be the new Beatles.  Don't reinvent the wheel unless you have that ability.  

Clive Davis is right in one regard, you've got to have your hit.  A hit is something that is irresistible, not a track that is driven to the top of the chart by big company money.  Create your hit, and you'll get a fan base.  But, from there, know that you're the leader of the gang.  But the gang is more like a Boy Scout troop or a group of Brownies.  But, Boy Scouts and Brownies desire to break through into adulthood.  You're going to help them, by giving them the tools to show the rest of the world that not only do they matter, they're aligned with the best stuff out there, and they've been dedicated from the very beginning!

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