The Six Truths of Social Media I Wish Every Artist Knew
Artists are having to do more than ever before. It’s no longer enough to be an exceptional writer or performer. Successful musicians need to be talented social media strategists, savvy publicists, persistent pluggers and extraordinary content creators. We’re living in what some have dubbed ‘the attention economy’. Artists are competing for the attention of their fans within saturated newsfeeds on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. The task of continuously creating and sharing content that is personal yet promotional, engaging yet brand aware, can seem difficult, daunting and never-ending. Our Music Marketing & Promotion course covers everything from brand building, press and PR, playlist pitching and of course, social media. We provide artists and businesses with a comprehensive range of innovative skills to build and implement superb social media strategies that are both time efficient, and results driven. But before you enrol for the next Music Marketing & Promotion course, I want to outline six truths of social media that I wish every artist knew.
Truth One: Connection Converts
In early music industry business models, the artist and the fan were separated by ‘the machine’ – labels, radio, TV, stores – fans would only vaguely connect with their favourite artists by purchasing a product. Even the primitive fan clubs of the 80s and 90s were far from authentic. A sticker through the post every month was hardly ‘meaningful engagement’. The fan was an observer; a mere consumer. Today, social media has brought artist and fan together. When used skilfully, social media affords the fan an opportunity to become a participant in the artists life, rather than just a faceless buyer of their wares. And it’s this connection that leads to revenue, and a viable career.
"When used skilfully, social media affords the fan an opportunity to become a participant in the artists life, rather than just a faceless buyer of their wares"
Truth Two: Listeners Aren’t the Same as Fans
I would cautiously suggest that most artists want their music to be heard, they want to share their art with the world, and they want to monetise their talent in doing so. Let’s consider this very common scenario. A new artist releases a handful of singles over a six-month period. With their incredible music, and their adept Spotify pitching technique (which you too can acquire on our Music Marketing & Promotion course) they make it on to some impressive editorial playlists. Within a year they accrue millions of streams, and 500k monthly listeners on the platform. Top work! So why did only 30 people buy a ticket to their headline show? Because you’re confusing listeners with fans. Listeners are consumers of your product. They may love your song, or they may have listened once and moved on. They may have actively searched for you, but it’s much more likely they passively discovered you… it was an accident! It’s fans, rather than listeners, that attend shows, buy merchandise, stream consistently, enter competitions, purchase experience packages and so on. Once you’ve acquired listeners, you need to nurture a relationship with them. Today, this is primarily done on social media. Turn the listener of the song, into a fan of the artist… it’s the route to revenue, growth and sustainability.
"Turn the listener of the song, into a fan of the artist… it’s the route to revenue, growth and sustainability."
Truth Three: You Must Humanise to Monetise
You’ve probably heard artists on various TV talent shows say things like:
‘music is everything to me’, ‘I only live for music’, ‘music is all I think about’, ‘without music I’d be nothing’. I completely understand what they are trying to say, and yes, passion is to be applauded! But I worry that such statements could hold an artist back. I began my career as a writer for one of the biggest music magazines in the world. I met and interviewed countless artists and I would always be looking for the angle, the hook - the story. Whilst commitment and dedication to music is something to be proud of, some journalists could interpret these comments as ‘I’m one-dimensional’ or ‘I don’t have any other interests’.
The reality is that even the most focused and zealous artists, have something else they care about, aside from their latest record. Everyone cares about more than just one thing – a film they’ve just watched, a book they couldn’t put down, a strong opinion on a recent news event, a cause or charity that they feel personally connected to, their family and friends… no-one is solely about music!
If you only talk about music in interviews, if your Instagram profile is a wall of song covers, if all you share on Facebook is links to your new single, you aren’t encouraging the listener to become a fan of you, the artist. You need to show who you are, because when you humanise, you monetise.
"Over twenty years of artist management and marketing consultancy, I’ve seen the dramatic effect on engagement and connection when artists get honest; when they discuss their flaws, frustrations and fears, rather than a manufactured perception of perfection."
People can listen to your music on Spotify. They can watch your videos on YouTube. When they choose to follow you on social media, they’re looking for something else. They want to find out who you are, not just see or listen to what you do. Of course, there has to be a distinction made between the private you, and the public you. I’m not suggesting you set up a live webcam in your front room, but sharing more than your music, and showcasing your personality, is essential. After all, your brand is as much your story, as your creative output. If you don’t allow your audience to know your story, your brand proposition is dead, and the fan journey ends prematurely.
Perfect performance videos are nice for ‘listeners’ but ‘fans’ also want to see what happens on the tour bus, get a glimpse of the green room, and watch the soundcheck! They want to know what you’re watching on Netflix, what your gym routine is, what your new dog is called… not just your tour dates. I’ve found that meaningful fan engagement is much like making friends. Author and philosopher, Alain De Botton writes:
“There is something at the heart of many friendships that seems important to identify and – in a way – to get good at: vulnerability. It’s too easy to assume that what makes us likeable are our strengths, our accomplishments, the things we’re proud of. Certainly, this impresses, but it isn’t what draws others to us. We get close to someone the more they – and we – find ourselves able gracefully to depart from the official story of what human beings are like, and can start to show the awkward truths which underlie the cheerful facade.”
Over twenty years of artist management and marketing consultancy, I’ve seen the dramatic effect on engagement and connection when artists get honest; when they discuss their flaws, frustrations and fears, rather than a manufactured perception of perfection. Again, humanise to monetise.
Truth Four: New Fans Are Fickle Fans
If you’re a new artist releasing your debut single, you may start to acquire listeners. You may even start to engage with them on social media. You may be masterfully winning at connecting, converting, humanising and monetising – and that’s wonderful! But if you then take a few weeks off to write and record your next song, plus another month to record an astonishing new music video, and you haven’t maintained a near daily dialogue on social media throughout, you’ll be starting from zero with each and every release. Those new fans will not be there when you return. New fans are fickle fans.
The ‘expectancy loop’ theory, suggests a new fan will return to your profile once, possibly twice, and if they don’t see something fresh and engaging, they won’t be back. That’s why it’s important to have songs and content ready – have a six-month strategy. Otherwise, all of the money, time, love, sweat and tears, that go into each campaign will get you absolutely no-where. Consistent releases, engaging and regular content, and no pauses – if you keep those fickle fans engaged over multiple releases, some will move through the ‘fan conversion funnel’ and eventually end up as ‘super fans’. As you progress through your career and your super-fan-base grows, so too does their loyalty. Blondie took 16 years off and returned with a global number 1 hit. That’s the loyalty decades of fan engagement can yield. But in the early days, a week of absence is a lifetime.
Truth Five: It Shouldn’t Take Over Your Life
If the thought of posting on social media every day presents itself as an unsurmountable challenge, or becomes a colossal time drain, something needs to change. There’s no single technique that will make the process of content creation and fan engagement on social media entirely effortless, and nor should it be! Engaging with your fans is important – it actually warrants your focus, care and attention! But there are ways to make it easier. We present a range of innovative approaches to social media management on our Music Marketing & Promotion course, that could dramatically change the way you work.
Here are a few simple strategies you could start with. Firstly, ‘long form to short form’. Look ahead at your schedule. Maybe next week you have a recording session? Or perhaps a live show? Use such events as an opportunity to gather content. Rather than asking a friend to film a few clips of the performance – document it all! Your morning routine, the rehearsal, the journey to the venue, the sound check, any backstage preparations, your pre-show ritual, the show itself, the after-show party, the reaction of fans… it’s a goldmine of content. This could be made into a long form piece of content for YouTube, as well as potentially hundreds of short form clips for social media. Extract the maximum amount of content from every occasion!
"Artists should recognise that both what they say, and the way in which they say it, are crucial to engage authentically."
An artist’s personal posts must come from the artist themselves! Authenticity is so important, and all content needs to be in the artist’s voice and reflect their values. One of the activities I sometimes ask artists to consider (during consultancy or in the Music Marketing & Promotion course) is to list five core values that sit at the heart of their brand and then to list five characteristics of their brand’s voice – that is the manner or tone that they will communicate their values to the audience. Artists should recognise that both what they say, and the way in which they say it, are crucial to engage authentically. But this places a lot of pressure on the individual artist to always have content ready – it’s down to them! Another technique I’ve used is to create a ‘personal evergreen content vault’. Here’s an example – I start managing a new 5-piece band. I begin immediately to build a collection of personal content that is not time specific, that can be dipped in to when the band want to take a few days off from posting. I ask each band member to send me a picture of them holding their favourite record, along with a sentence of why it means so much to them. I ask them to do the same for their guilty pleasure and the book they’ve just finished. I get them to film a brief video of them cooking their ‘signature dish’! I do tongue-in-cheek one-minute interviews with the singer’s hairdresser, the guitarists mum, the tour bus driver… I start rapidly building a body of posts that we can utilise when needed, taking the pressure off later.
Truth Six: If It’s Genuinely Important, It’s Worth More Than 80 characters
"Artists must be allowed the space, time and respect to write about important issues; subjects that clearly warrant our collective thought, reflection and action. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be reduced to the remit of a cursory social media post. "
If you as an artist, or an artist you work with, has something important to say, a unique perspective to share, a particular topic that they feel needs to be highlighted, consider whether it’s potentially bigger (in significance as well as character count) than a social media post affords. In recent years, some critically important issues in our industry, and in society generally, have been brought to my attention via in-depth blog posts shared on social media or via outlets such as The Huffington Post, written by artists. One such piece was Chloe Howl’s powerful account of sexual harassment. Artists must be allowed the space, time and respect to write about important issues; subjects that clearly warrant our collective thought, reflection and action. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be reduced to the remit of a cursory social media post.
Matt Errington is Director at SMB: The School of Music Business, tutor for the Music Marketing & Promotion course, and a global music industry consultant. He is also an Expert Board Member for JUMP: European Music Market Accelerator.