Moving Forward as a Musician During a Global Pandemic and How To Be More Strategic in Your Attempt to Capitalize on a Captive Audience
By: Amanda Alexandrakis, Founder of Music Promotion, Inc.
Before I begin, I believe that we need to acknowledge that the music industry and musicians who perform live regularly are being hit extremely hard financially in this pandemic and livelihoods have been devastated. This article is not being written to make light of the situation nor pretend it doesn’t exist. This is written from a marketing perspective in order to help struggling artists find ways to continue on while live shows are paused.
Earlier this year, when word of the pandemic spread that it was going have a major impact across the globe, everyone in the music business was really starting to wonder how we were going to be affected by Covid-19. It was evident early on that live shows were going to be hit hard but nobody knew how hard nor for how long. Some artists/bands chose to delay releases while other projects were already being promoted so for those, there was no turning back; their only choice was to ride the wave. For projects not yet released, they had some decisions to make about when and if they wanted to release during a global epidemic.
I won’t lie, I was worried about what was to come and was concerned about my business, just like everyone else. However, after giving myself a minute to get my thoughts together, I jumped in and made the best of it. Just like any disruption, there is always going to be an opportunity. It turns out, the world didn’t end. Projects that were active when the virus hit were able to take advantage of a captive audience across the globe looking for entertainment online while populations were on lockdown. Opportunities that didn’t exist before suddenly presented themselves and, for those able to see this and make necessary changes, they were able to take advantage of the situation.
Radio stations were still running and actually saw a jump in listeners. Brands were embracing content (if it was quality) to put on their social media, and we saw engagement on social media go up. Videos being played a bit more, people watching more online shows, and even the age of digital showcases arrived.
Roughly six months later, those opportunities still exist and we are looking at a new landscape within the music business. Sadly, live shows have been hit the hardest but the digital world has been quick to embrace much-needed content and entertainment. Brands that would usually put their noses up to using content from independent bands were suddenly grateful to be able to use their content on their websites and social media. People I’ve been working with for years over the phone suddenly wanted to hold a video chat. While I was hesitant, I found that it’s now my favorite way to do meetings. People were forced to think differently and in doing so, things have shifted, and not all in a bad way.
Should I delay my release until after the pandemic is over?
If you are one of the many musicians who planned to release a single or an album in 2020/2021, this question has likely presented itself to you at some point. The answer is not as simple as a yes or no but there are factors to take into consideration that can help you decide what to do. This article is a resource to help you accomplish those goals, and to help you make some decisions.
Firstly, get in the right frame of mind. Being strategic requires the ability to plan ahead with a clear vision and (flexible) plan on a specific goal or objective. What does this mean exactly? It means that you need to sit down and determine WHAT your goal is. Then you need to figure out what you need to do to support that goal and then you need to take action. When you start thinking strategically, you will find that the answer tends to present itself. There is no ‘one size fits all approach.’
Secondly, there are arguments for both delaying and moving ahead. The answer lies in your personal situation and your overall plan. If you were already going to release and you were not an artist who regularly toured, there is likely nothing stopping you. There is an audience out there and you can promote yourself online. If you are an artist that depends on touring, you can try to replace income using online platforms. It’s not easy, but it’s being done.
We can’t tour, what do we do now?
Things are a bit more optimistic for artists who do not rely on tours for income. For those who are already digitally savvy and were actively building their digital profiles prior to the pandemic, it is very possible that they have seen a bump in their activity. While the general population was spending more time at home, many choose to pass the time on the internet, which translates to opportunities for anyone who wants to promote themselves. The trick is to differentiate yourself and bring value to your music and project.
SUBSCRIPTION SITES FOR FANS:
Many bands have been able to transition by embracing subscription services like Patreon, SubscribeStar, or Bandzoogle.) If you already have a fan base, you can use these platforms to engage and interact with your fans while charging a monthly fee. Offer exclusive shows, engagement opportunities, new materials, sell merch, etc. The possibilities are endless. It is a wonderful way to leverage your base and continue to engage while helping to bring funds in the door. It takes effort, but so does touring so get to it!
LIVE STREAM SHOWS FOR TIPS:
This seems to have been a more “controversial” road lately (I got some push back when asking musicians what their favorite platform was when asking for tips because it opens up discussions about music being undervalued). While this is a valid argument, the truth is that it can work for you if you need to get some money in the door immediately. If you feel comfortable asking for tips, then streaming on social media platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or Twitter (which is powered by Periscope) may work for you if you have existing followers. Posting Paypal or Venmo links online while doing a live show feed is common but there are also platforms like StageIt (that doesn’t record shows so the experience is a one time only experience for fans and allows fans to send monetary support and offers you the options to sell tickets and/or receive tips.) These platforms are good for irregular or one-off shows. Street Jelly is an online busking platform that may be an option as well.
LIVE STREAM SHOWS
There are other platforms that are a bit more technical in nature and would be better for monetizing streams. If you are in this for a long haul, already have polished live shows, and will be performing regular (perhaps more sophisticated) shows in order to capitalize on streams, then platforms like Twitch or Caffeine may be good options. This is a great way to build an audience and although it takes some effort, it’s a very strong solution for building your fan base long term and you can replace your income as your audience builds. There is a learning curve but it can be very rewarding. A live stream production software program is needed. (Open Broadcaster Software [OBS] is free on their website.) OBS can be used on many platforms including Facebook Live, Twitter, Twitch, Caffeine, StageIt, etc.) There are other options to choose from; you will need to jump in and see what works best for you.
These options are not necessarily exclusive so you can develop a hybrid campaign including all of the above if it makes sense for you. A word of advice is to perhaps take on one thing at a time as there is a steep learning curve if you are not familiar with the platforms.
Should I still engage in a marketing/radio promotion/publicity campaign?
With the risk of sounding self-serving, my answer is that in most cases, yes. Digital media has always been an incredible tool. Imagine if the virus happened 15 years ago? Considering the circumstances, we are fortunate that it happened in an age where we can communicate in so many different ways. Take advantage of technology and keep moving forward. The world is not stopping and those who can keep moving forward will have an advantage when things get to a ‘new normal’. There is no magic wand to make this easy but when has the music business ever been easy?
What are the pitfalls I should avoid?
At the beginning of the pandemic, it didn’t take long for artists to start taking advantage of the tools at hand. All of a sudden, I noticed a ton of Facebook Live videos. Some were just talking about this and that, others pulled out their acoustic guitars with overgrown hair and wrinkled clothing with a tip link prominently listed, some did shows in front of messy living rooms or whatever seemed to be convenient at the moment. One could argue it was a sign of the times but it’s important to stay polished. While this may work for some artists, social media plays an important role and you are putting yourself out there for the world to see. If you are going to go live, put some thought into the performance and remember, what you put online can last forever. Make a good impression. Keep your focus on the music and continue to be professional.
Don’t engage in spam. Messages started showing up in my Facebook inbox asking me to listen to a song and either responding with feedback or write a review. While I understand the mentality, it is not a good idea to take up people’s times with favors like this because you are on downtime. The truth is that many of these attempts were very misguided. The motivation was there, the execution was poorly planned in most of these cases. Don’t assume people have that kind of time on their hands to do you a favor. Also, choose your favors wisely.
Okay, so you weren’t that active online prior to the pandemic. It’s not too late! While the general population was spending more time at home, many chose to pass the time on the internet, which translates to more opportunities for anyone wanting to promote themselves.
The reality is that live shows are not opening up (at least) until 2021. In the meantime, digital content is integral. If you don’t know how to edit video footage, now is a great time to learn! Bands who were already able to produce quality content had a big advantage lately and I see no slow down in this trend.
Keep moving forward. There is a captive audience out there who needs entertainment. Is it easy? No. Nothing worthwhile is easy but there is an opportunity out there, so go out (indoors) and get it!