A musicians’ intro to digital media

On 2nd July 2010 I did a presentation to some Wales-based musicians about digital media, online and music business. The host was the Welsh Music Foundation (thanks to them) and our venue was Chapter in Cardiff.

It was an introduction to digital/social media with some practical tips and points for discussion.

Here are some notes which summarise my presentation and our discussion. These are mainly aimed at the musicians who attended but you might get benefit from this if you’re a musician who earns from your music.

Definitions

What do we mean by digital media?
“the creative convergence of digital arts, science, technology and business for human expression, communication, social interaction and education”
from Digital Media Alliance Florida / Wikipedia

I’ve purposefully used the umbrella term digital media, which covers social media, social networking and categories like live streaming. An expert may quibble with my definitions here but let’s say we’ll err on the side of the practical.

A useful metaphor is:
People having conversations online

This takes place with text, video, photo, audio, slides and other images. Because of the public nature of these conversations it’s important to note that it is:
People having multi-way conversations online

Examples of digital media

Technologies include:

Blogs, e.g. WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr
Social network services, e.g. Facebook, Myspace
Wikis, e.g. PBWorks
Link sharing, e.g. Delicious
Collaboration tools, e.g. Basecamp, Google Docs (a very important use of digital media)
RSS (allows you to subscribe to multiple blogs and other time-based feeds and read them all in one place)
Live streaming, e.g. Ustream.tv
Streaming/hosting services like YouTube for video and Flickr for photos

History of media and media revolutions

Printing press
Telegraph
Telephone
Photography
Film
Radio
Television
Internet and web

The main point here is to think about how society, culture and business changed as a result of these new technologies being widely adopted.

Characteristics of digital media

It is easier to form groups online, according to shared interests, campaigns, fans and so on, with all kinds of fascinating outcomes.
Recommended book: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky – about the ease of forming groups online

People like to remix, re-use, re-create, re-version their culture, not just music. Go to YouTube and look at fan videos as just one example. Some musicians release their music under a licence which allows this to happen legitimately, within the normal legal framework of copyright.
Recommended book: Remix by Lawrence Lessig – about the culture of the remix and challenges to our traditional ideas of copyright

“Every company is a media company”
Rick Burnes, former NYTimes.com editor

Online tools every musician should know about

YouTube

I call it the most popular online music discovery service – because it can stream music in video form. Are you on it? If not, why not? There may be a legitimate case for not being on YouTube but you need to at least consider its potential reach.

When I mentioned this at the session several people complained about YouTube’s royalty rates. While true YouTube doesn’t pay much, the main advantage could be in people discovering your music and raising revenue from other sources. Video embedding is a key feature which helps bloggers to introduce their readers to your music.

Ideas: music videos, interviews, tour diaries, live performance footage

Flip have many affordable portable video cameras.

Your blog

A blog is a set of posts organised by time. Every artist and band online should probably have some sort of blog, even if it’s just a news feed of your latest gigs, releases and media appearances.

The way musicians express themselves through a blog varies wildly. Some like to post diary entries and reveal things about their life and work to various degrees, others do not. Both are fine. Some have elaborately designed blogs and others choose minimal design. Either way or something in between is fine. Be yourself. But don’t ignore it – having a blog is like having your own media channel that you control. This is pretty much vital.

Your website

A musician’s website and blog should be on the same domain – in most cases.

Adding a blog post or news item to your website should be painless. If updating your current website is a chore it may be worth spending some money to make it smoother. You’ll enjoy it, which is how things should be.

My favourite website software is WordPress. It was originally conceived as blogging software but has been extended and adapted to run full websites. Many websites around the world now run on WordPress.

Two main ways of running WordPress
wordpress.com
You get a free blog with the name yourbandname.wordpress.com
You can choose different themes.
You can pay fees for extra services, e.g. to have it redirected to yourbandname.com seamlessly

wordpress.org
WordPress is open source so you can download the software for free, run it on your own hosting and publicise yourbandname.com
You have total control over its behaviour and appearance. You can choose different themes or design your own. You can extend its functionality by installing plug-ins. In practice you’d probably ask a designer with the technical knowhow to install it and design/build the theme.

Other people’s blogs

Being featured on blogs can be a key way of growing buzz around your band. Use Hype Machine and Google Blog Search to find blogs already featuring similar artists or your genre. Start reading them and get in touch if you have something relevant.

Facebook

There are three kinds of presence on Facebook.
– individual user profile
– page
– group

The page is Facebook’s offering for brands, companies and organisations. Usually the page is the correct one for a band, artist, label or venue.

Do not get an individual user profile for a band. Facebook may take a dim view of a non-person having a user profile. Even if you’re a solo artist, it pre-supposes a two-way friend relationship which exists in the offline world. So consider having a profile for friends and a page for fans.

In general Facebook’s customers are its advertisers and you play in their garden and by their rules. Be careful about how much time you invest and be sure to evaluate if you are getting value back.

Myspace

In general its value for reaching fans is diminished because attention has gone elsewhere. It’s worth having a page for your music and photos because agents and other music industry people are in the habit of using it. Most bands should not spend too much time on it. Certain genres are stronger on Myspace than others. Know your genre!

Twitter

Some artists are good on Twitter and can use it to update fans.

It’s far more proven as an excellent place to keep up with news, including music industry news.

Don’t necessarily believe what anyone says about it – try it yourself.

Email lists

People still use email. Its value is diminishing, again because of fragmented attention. But it may be worth running one.

Make sure anything in the email address is also on your blog or elsewhere online. People want to search for it and link to it. Don’t limit the audience to the mailing list!

Recommendations: Your Mailing List Provider and MailChimp (both slightly different)

Don’t send email to people who haven’t opted in. Never spam people. Never ever.

Some thoughts about business models

Record business is not the music business

“Disruption” – technology companies like it, record companies don’t necessarily like it

In the 1980s certain parts of the record industry were extremely concerned about home taping – imperfect analogue copies. Now we have perfect digital copies. What now?

Copying is not the same as stealing – they are covered by different laws.

Throughout history, forms of copyright infringement have become licensed uses, e.g. public performance, radio. What we now think of as illegal may become licensed. Whether or not this is true, people WILL copy your music. They might use filesharing networks, they might use the web or they might use memory sticks. But only if your music is good enough.

What could you do if you knew 1,000,000 people had shared your music?

Some will still buy the CD or the vinyl. Some will attend your gigs and buy your merchandise.
Some will buy the digital files because they value the convenience or because they want to pay out of gratitude.

“Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”
Tim O’Reilly, technologist and publisher

Examples of perfect digital copies in other industries

Software companies make their source code available for free under open source licences and sell what can’t be copied – services, consultancy, customisation, support, advertising/sponsorship and premium paid features. Examples are IBM, Mozilla, Red Hat and Automattic/WordPress. You could go into competition with any of these companies using their own software.

Consultants and experts are blogging their advice for free. Again, you could go into competition with any of them using their own material and (what were formerly known as) trade secrets. But often these consultants and experts are accruing MORE reputation and MORE work through the ease of access and widespread distribution of their advice.

Despite copying of films, cinema has large screens, good sound and the experience – all of which are uncopyable. Compare watching a laugh-out-loud comedy at home to being in a big audience at the cinema. Recently cinema has been adding 3D to the large screen experience of many films.

2009 poll: people who admitted unlicensed downloading spend an average of £77 a year on music – £33 more than those who claimed NOT to download.
Poll by Ipsos Mori for Demos think tank

Kevin Kelly says “A creator needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.” (Discuss…)

The problem(s) with viral

I’ve long had a problem with the word “viral” when used in phrases like “viral marketing”, “viral video” and related contexts. I haven’t always been able to explain exactly why in a succinct way.

Judging from his blog and the work he does, Kevin Marks is a guy who understands the web. He absolutely nails it with this blog post about the scammy connotations of viral. He suggests we retain the word “viral” but use it solely for “exploitatative applications that violate trust to reproduce against the interests of their hosts”. Love it. It’s worth reading in full, as well as this earlier post How not to be viral.

Marks’ emphasis here is on companies who create software, citing the photo sharing service Flickr as a good example of somewhere that supports “fruitful social interactions”.

Our emphasis is slightly different. In my experience the word “viral” is also used for funny videos and other online content that spreads rapidly.

For marketers discovering YouTube and other services, as methods for spreading a “brand message”, the word viral can be seductive because it implies a smaller investment of effort. (Let the viral do the work and go home early!) But of all the viral videos you can name, how many can you associate with a specific company or product? It makes a good straw poll for colleagues whenever they mention the dreaded word.

Viral videos often merely advertise themselves. That is, you remember the video but seldom remember the company. It comes back to another one of my bugbears, which is the over-emphasis on hit count or view count as metrics of success. We’ve never met a client whose sole aim was to notch up a million video views, it might help the ego but it just isn’t an objective in and of itself.

At Native, we recognise the value of good marketing – but what we do seldom intersects with interruption advertising or one-way broadcast videos and the like.

That’s because we hold that good marketing is far more than spreading a brand message. Good marketing is being aware of what people are saying about you, helping customers with problems, meeting them on their terms, making a quality product or service – and providing or supporting spaces where customers can talk to each other. These principles apply offline. Now online we have some great opportunities and tools to do these things in new ways.

Another benefit of online is allowing niche conversations about all the subjects that relate to you and your business. These take place in text, images, audio, graphic visualisations and yes, videos.

“Viral” annoys me because it’s too much of an abstraction of the real human beings you’re trying to deal with. These people become prospects, targets, vectors, hosts. This is actually how I feel I’m being categorised when I watch TV advertising now. It’s too general and it alienates me. Besides, people don’t really talk like that. The same goes for viral videos. Actually the videos that spread most effectively are the ones that have no product or company behind them, like the “free hugs” movement. People are not stupid, they’ll assess your motives and share the videos that smell genuine.

Incidentally, often the memorable and useful videos I find online are straight-to-camera, lo-fidelity, quick, unpolished recordings, not slick adverts. This is a guideline, not a rule, but if it’s a social media conversation people are coming to expect videos that are like blog posts, not brochures.

All this is about as far from a single-message viral video as you could hope to get.

Why Business Needs To Get Social (via Forbes)

Check out Joshua-Michele Ross’ insightful article for Forbes magazine, Why Business Needs To Get Social.

In passing, he mentions the impressive 3.5 million fans which Coca-Cola has gathered on their Facebook page. In fact, that page was started by two fans, unofficially and independently, before Coca-Cola caught on.

Overall though, as Ross highlights, we should get accustomed to the word “social”.

If the last 100 years was about gaining efficiency and innovation through scale and tight control of resources and communications, the next 100 will be about finding more fluid, open models of collaboration and cooperation. Playing on this new field has different rules. It requires shifting our concept of business from a legalistic model to a social one.

It’s a bold claim but there’s something very appealing about this prediction.

Why Every Company Is A Media Company (via Mashable)

Check out this intriguing post Why Every Company Is A Media Company (from Mashable blog) about a small restaurant which dominates at least one Google search query – by having a website with some interesting, relevant, “human” content.

If you’re using businessy or corporate speak on your site, it’s a good opportunity to reconsider. People are mostly immune to that. People like real voices!