I have a new favorite YouTube video (see above), in which a guy named Peter Malkin sits in front of a camera, and in 4:46, mentions over 125 websites that bands are using to promote, market, and manage their music:
“To expose your music to fans, go to these sites….to get your music distributed digitally, check out these sites…if you are cool with giving your music out for free, go to these sites…”
And the strongest point of the video comes in the last 20 seconds. He says, “What might be just as effective as everything mentioned in this video…would be to go out and actually interact with human beings, meet people in person, get their instantaneous reaction live, and one by one, build fans the old fashion way, direct human interaction.”
The fact is that most of the sites he mentioned in that video won’t even exist a year from now. They are only part of a mirage about being able to move your band forward online, and that mirage is enough to make me sick.
Bands need to stop thinking that websites and viral campaigns will “get their band to the next level.” That way of thinking is ludicrous. Working bands need to be aware that the most important thing you can do is to make personal connections.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of tools online that can be important and useful for your band: being able to connect with fans through Facebook or Twitter, organize e-mail lists with resources like Mail Chimp, collect fan data through Reverb Nation, distribute digitally through CD Baby. But these tools are best used after you have made an intimate connection with a fan, not before.
You can sign up for all the “fan gathering” websites you want. You can hire marketing teams to blast “viral” content across the vast ocean that is the internet. It may even get you some buzz, but the real question is, will it get you some fans? There is a big difference. Buzz goes away. Fans don’t.
The difference is that fans have formed a relationship to you that goes deeper than music alone. And those relationships have to be built on a small scale.
As a result, if someone gave me the choice of exposing my music to 1,000 people on the internet, or playing a gig in front of 100 people, I would easily choose the gig in front of 100 people.
Why? With those 100 people, I have a chance to engage them in a real situation while I am on stage performing for them. I also have the chance to chat with them over a drink after the show. I also have a chance to talk to them about what our band did the night before when our van broke down. I have a chance to share stories, experiences, and connect with those 100 people, as opposed to 1,000 people hitting a play button on a screen and reading a bio.
Closer relationships are just as valuable when it comes to your peers. Say you are a band from Chicago and you want to grow your fan base in St. Louis. Naturally you will want to play some gigs in St. Louis with bands that have a decent draw in that city.
You can do one of two things. Either start using “gig trading” websites, googling “bands from St. Louis”, searching facebook band pages, and so on to reach out to bands digitally, and hope one of them gets your band a gig in St. Louis, or look at your local venue listings, see which bands from St. Louis are playing in Chicago over the next month (that fit your genre of course), buy a ticket to those shows, and then meet the band in person.
By doing the latter, you are communicating a lot to the St. Louis band who you went to see live. First, you cared enough to buy a ticket and check them out. That will mean so much to them. Second, they can now put a real face, not just an e-mail, to you as a person. Third, it makes pitching your band and dates much easier than if you were doing it cold without ever having met them. Being able to start and email with “I had an awesome time at your show last weekend, it was great to hang out with you guys” can pretty much guarantee they will take time to really consider your pitch.
So remember, we are people, not technology. We make music, not products. We have mouths and ears, not keyboards and screens. So get off your damn computer, play some music, and connect with some real fans.