In my 2 ½ years with Fame Wizard, I have encountered many artists. Many of these artists are really stuck in, how can I best describe it, an “analog era.” No, not that they only want to record on analog tape, or prefer analog sound to digital. I am referring to artists that are out of touch with today’s digital music industry, and still stuck in the previous era of the music business that was dependent on big labels for success. Make no mistake; making it in the music business is difficult. It is competitive, but IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN! The major difference today vs. the pre-digital revolution era is that you do not need to rely on a label, big management, or outside investor to have a profitable and fulfilling career today. There a ton of resources out there independent artists can utilize as tools to engage, build, and monetize on a fan base. The difficulty is how do you use them? How do you stand out on these platforms? The music industry is a flooded market today and you need to know how to use these tools better than all the other artists who are out there using them. But it doesn’t stop there. You must also keep your pulse on the music business to be aware of any new social media platforms, cutting edge tools, and business trends that are on the horizon. It probably wouldn’t be that bad of a business move to be one the first artists to use the next social media platform before it becomes a staple and everyone else has jumped onto the bandwagon.
I came across a really cool article on CNN Money that discuss the world of the DIY artist, and shared some new and exciting platforms that I wasn’t aware of. If you are an emerging or independent artist and still do not know that you can make a viable living with your music outside of having a major record deal, you need to really rethink if this is the career you want to follow. Make note, getting signed by a label does not mean you made it! It does not even mean your album will get released. If you keep track of how today’s music business works, and the evolution of the DIY artists, you will know that there are a few key factors in the sustainability and profitability of a music career. The sustainability of any business, music or not, relies on a core consumer base, a successful and clever marketing campaign, and a steady flow of capital to invest in the growth of your business. The music industry is no different. You need fans (your consumers); you need a great marketing and branding strategy, and capital to invest in the continued growth of your business (in music it can be streams of revenue, or crowd funding like launching a Kickstarter campaign). Take a look at the prototypical DIY artists who basically re-designed the blueprint for an indie/DIY artists; Amanda Palmer. In 2012, Amanda Palmer raised over one million dollars from her fan base to fund the self-release of her debut album, “Theater of Evil.” Note that “Theatre of Evil” made it to number 10 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
The struggle that many musicians face today is that many of us are not natural born salesman or business savvy. We are musicians right? We spent many years working on our musical chops and trying to write the next hit. But, having a great song does not translate into a hit! For every successful promoter like Amanda Palmer or Wiz Khalifa, you have 10 more that hurl at the thought of taking PR photos, being on social media, or “selling” their music to their fans. In this article here from CNN Money, I was introduced to 2 fantastic new platforms. Shoutabl and CASH Music. Shoutabl, according to this article from fastcompany.com was “created by Travis Donovan and Travis Morrison, two former Huffington Post executives, to provide musicians with easy, out-of-the-box solutions for creating your own website, setting up a commerce platform for merchandise, and connecting with fans and other artists via a built-in social network. Shoutabl is currently in invite-only beta, but will open to the public later this year.” CASH MUSIC, which stands for Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders, is according is a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon founded by Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses, and Donita Sparks of L7. It is an organization that is run by Co-Executive directors, Jesse von Doom & Maggie Vail. CASH Music takes what they describe as an “open source” approach to music production and distribution. The key element to their company is they work directly with musicians and labels to help design the tools they build. According to CASH Music’s website, their goal is “to provide a way for audiences and creators to exchange creative perspectives and ideas.”
Both companies have their own strategy to solve the problems that musicians face in today’s music paradigm. One of the key problems is that musicians become overwhelmed and confused by all the different social media sites that are used today by musicians. According to Shoutabl co-founder Travis Donovan, “These days when you start a band, you’re just inundated with all of these places you feel you need to be. It’s so fragmented, it’s so disconnected, and artists have moved away from the idea that they’re a valuable destination, that they can curate a community around themselves without handing over that community to Twitter or Facebook, who really don’t care about your financial interests.” Donovan’s partner Travis Morrison adds to this statement, and explains “my example is always Tune-Yards. She’s the most interesting American musician working, and her website is like an image with links to her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Her front page should be the most interesting website in American music. It’s not right.”
With Shoutabl, Travis Donovan and Travis Morrison aim to apply some of the effective digital strategies they picked up while working for the Huffington Post. They want to assist the many musicians who do not have the natural entrepreneurial zeal that is needed to build a sustainable career in today’s music paradigm. Their goal with Shoutabl is to have a platform that will allow the users who are social media and technology illiterate the ability to compete with the musicians that are digital savvy. Shoutabl is built on a foundation is to help these social media illiterate musicians the ability to assemble a customizable website that can host content from that musicians’ various social media accounts. Their new platform also aims to have a built-in blogging setup. They are also attempting to offer a simple way to push content back out through those same accounts, as well as serving media that is hosted on sites like YouTube, SoundCloud, and many more.
I am particularly excited about Shoutabl and think it can be an effective tool for many musicians who struggle with social media. My high hopes for it lay behind the basis of who developed it, and their experience in the music industry. Shoutabl developers Donovan and Morrison have legitimate experience and knowledge from a musician’s standpoint. They have many years experience promoting and marketing their own music careers. Travis Donovan was a member of the Phoenix metalcore band “Not Quite Bernadette.” While Travis Morrison was the frontman for the punk-influenced Washington, D.C. band “Dismemberment Plan.” In the heyday of the Dismemberment Plan’s music career, Morrison was using various types of technology to assist in the management of their music career. He says they were using online promotion and mailing lists “just as email was becoming legit.” It is pretty obvious to me that Shoutabl was developed through the struggles that he faced building a career then, while the music industry was evolving into the industry it is today. Travis Morrison says, “There’s this huge pile of B-plus products for artists’ needs. I hate doing it, and I’m a power user. It’s exhausting! I mean God forbid you actually try to set up a WordPress instance!” He is alluding to the many different outlets available for the DIY musician that is difficult to learn to use. Sites and resources that don’t provide a complete solution for marketing one’s music, and that don’t have an easy learning curve. As noted in CNN MONEY, “Bands can host tracks on SoundCloud, sell them through BandCamp, communicate with fans on Twitter, and advertise live appearances on Facebook. Bouncing between sites that solve only part of a problem is a hassle many artistic types just don’t want to deal with.”
The world of helping musicians who are social media and tech illiterate become assimilated online and operate a music career in the digital era is growing field. According to Maggie Vail, the former VP of indie label Kill Rock Stars, “There seems to be a whole set of expectations, and a whole set of businesses, built around that concept.” Vail believed so deeply in the need to help un-savvy musicians learn how to operate in the digital era, that she left Kill Rock stars to help run CASH Music, where she is now the co-executive Director. Vail realized the struggle many musicians face today, and believes the CASH Music can assist musicians in helping then understand some of the most fundamental aspects of technology. Things like keeping track of digital and physical sales, email lists, among many other resources and tools DIY artists need to be able to understand today. She also wants to offer them educational tools to help those artists be able to implement the use of these tools, and not get lost in the digital world. Although many musicians still struggle with many of these factors, Vail admits that, “the technology isn’t difficult. There’s no real reason why someone connecting your PayPal account to an Amazon S3 should be taking 15% of your money. That’s a manager’s cut.”
Shoutabl is working on the ability to have its own unique social media aspect to it that relates to artists exclusively. The focus of their social engagement feature is to assist artists to be more independent and be able to network with other artists. It appears that Shoutabl is working toward being able to have an online equivalent to a music scene, which in the past musicians could only do with artists in their geographic area. Shoutabl’s Morrison says, “artists are becoming more business-independent, but they don’t want to be on their own culturally, they don’t want to be on their own socially.” Shoutabl hopes to not only be able to allow artists to connect with each other in the ways that they currently do via Facebook, Reverbnation, and SoundCloud, but to also have the ability to allow the artists to combine their resources and promote one another. Musicians that have a mutual connection with each other can push out content, like info, show dates, release dates, blogs, etc. from each others bands to fellow acts that are associated with those bands. There is also an advertising system built into the platform that allows bands to feature ads on each other’s pages. According to CNN Money, this is “the digital version of someone onstage telling the audience to check out their friend’s upcoming show, a way to magnify the scope of a marketing campaign while maintaining an organic sense of community.” With the ability to sell merch on Shoutabl, the developers feel that this creates an easy way for musicians to monetize on their music, in a way that other platforms cannot. The goal is to empower the musicians who were not born with those innate gifts of marketing, business, PR, or self-promotion skills, without them actually having to learn those critical skills to survive.
Shoutabl’s Travis Donovan says, “artists aren’t Internet experts, but we kind of are. A lot of what we are doing is taking strategies that we know, that are proven to work really well at pushing out content, and we’re trying to ease bands and artists into these best practices. We’re trying to kind of subtly teach them best practices or just to do them for them so they don’t have to think about it.”