An Open Letter to Independent Record Labels
by Joshua B. Hoe This is an open letter to Independent Record Labels about internet marketing.
In my paid life, I am a freelance writer. In practice this means I am a content marketer for businesses, I spend a great deal of time learning about Search Engine and Social Media Marketing.
In my unpaid life, I am a music blogger. Like many of you in the label game, I blog because of my passion for independent music. I write four times a week on my blog, almost always pushing material for your artists.
My message is simple: Help me help you.
(And I don't just mean me, I mean all music bloggers and music enthusiasts).
Stop With The "Likes" Already
I know a good deal about social media marketing.
Quit it with using your "like" button on Twitter.
"Likes" are the farts of Twitter marketing.
They don't help you, they don't help your bands, and they don't help us.
It is almost like a sad pat on the head, like somehow I should feel encouraged because a label "likes" that I talked about their bands.
Likes add no reach, pass content to no new eyes, and don't even help me with my own followers (most of whom will never see the like).
Twitter marketing is about Retweets, virtually nothing else matters.
Some people have suggested that indy labels "rarely RT" because they withhold RT's for "influencers."
If that is the case, it is TERRIBLE marketing. Let me explain some reasons why.
Reason #1: Fresh Content Energizes Your Followers
Last week, I started a campaign for something I am calling Josh's Digital Bin. Basically, the idea is that I create a digital bin every week that operates like record bins at a record store used to operate.
In other words, it is a place that music enthusiasts can explore and find music they might otherwise not encounter (I even dig around on Soundcloud to find new unsigned artists).
Anyway, in my first digital bin, I embedded the Bandcamp for some songs by Wichita Records Artists "Mothers." I spent the entire week pushing this and the band "Mothers" and never got one RT from Wichita Records.
To my mind, this is insane, I should never be working harder to push your artists than you (as a label) are. You might answer "but nobody really cares about your blog" and maybe that is true. My reach doesn't matter, and here is why - My content can energize your followers.
Do me a favor, take a second and search either "content marketing" or the phrase "content is king" in Google. You will get millions of articles, all by marketing experts explaining why content is really important to getting attention.
Now, Wichita Recordings has approximately 17,000 followers and I have 2,000 (effective reach of 19,000 people). If you Google search the band Mothers in Google News you get about 10 unique stories about the band Mothers, a bunch about another band (Fat White Family), and a bunch of unrelated stuff. If you do a general Google search you get about the same returns.
There are 31 days in January, at best that means you have 10 pieces of content (most of that content is a replication of the press kit for Mothers, so not exactly unique content as far as Google is concerned) for 31 days. In a perfect world, you are pushing that content through social (I have seen no evidence of Wichita Recordings doing this - and I follow them).
My Digital bin piece gives you another excuse to mention Mothers to your followers. You have gone from 10 pieces of content to 11 pieces of content. If some other bloggers, regardless of popularity, write about Mothers, that gives you more days you have an excuse to push new information to your followers (that is btw why they are called "Followers" - they "Follow" you to get new information).
Now, I love Wichita Recordings. They have bands like Waxahatcheee and Cloud Nothings and Girlpool that I absolutely love. These bands all have sizable followings.
Guess what, most of Wichita's 17k followers added them because they want to know about Cloud Nothings or Waxahatchee. Many of them know NOTHING about Mothers. So, when you post content about Mothers, it gives them a reason to try another band on your label.
Remember, and this is really important, ONE new fan matters (potentially a lot).
Think about it, if one of your 17k followers, like me, has 2k followers they help create network effects around your brand and bands. For every person who RT's the content you RT around your bands, that increases your effective and actual reach. And this effect happens across social networks. Twitter can get forwarded to Facebook, Facebook to Snapchat etc.
By Retweeting new content, regardless of who it is from you potentially activate your followers, activate my followers, and activate any additional followers from anyone who RT's the content across any of our reach chains.
Maybe none of this happens. Maybe it only results in a few new sales. But this is important too. One new fan can become a fan for life when it comes to music.
And here is the kicker.
It takes the exact same amount of time to Retweet as it does to like.
I would love to hear the argument, from a sales or marketing perspective, that supports "liking" blog posts instead of "retweeting" blog posts.
I agree I am not an "influencer" heck I may even be someone you don't like - but who cares, I am producing free marketing content for you TODAY. You can hate me, I am just some idiot blogger, I get it, but I am a tool you can use to promote your bands.
Not asking for a link or an invitation to your club, I am asking you to act in your own best interest for our mutual benefit (and the benefit of your bands).
Use it. Start a wave every day and ride it, a wave of content.
Reason #2: Social Proof
Why do restaurants highlight both positive and negative reviews from every Tom, Dick, Sally, and Harry who post on Yelp.
People don't trust brands to truly represent their interests. They know brands have a economic interest in promoting their artists that does not necessarily coincide with the quality of the bands.
The whole reason Indy Labels exist is because TONS of music fans DON"T TRUST major labels.
So, why are independent labels acting like major labels when it comes to social media (only RT chosen content etc)?
I honestly cannot figure it out.
Look, every single time you RT someone who is saying one of your bands is good, it offers social proof to other people considering buying an album or thinking about going to a show.
I have already gotten messages from 5 people asking about Protomartyr's live show (Hardly Art) after writing a blog post about seeing them last week.
How many times did Hardly Art RT (or like) my posts?
I even alerted them to the article coming out a day in advance.
Why does a nationally successful restaurant RT that Tom Z loved the fries but Hardly Art won't even wink in the direction of social proof for a band they just sent on a national tour?
When Hardly Art RT's my content, it tells all 18,000 of their followers and my 2.000 followers that someone outside of Hardly Art thinks it is worth the ticket price to go see Protomartyr. When I say Protomartyr's album is in my top 20 of 2015 - again, it offers social proof that people should purchase it.
How many articles have been written saying how great Protomartyr is live this month? No matter what the answer is (about 5) how does it hurt Hardly Art to RT these stories?
Most of these articles just give bare bones details of when and where they will be playing and what time the show starts, bloggers actually make arguments for why it is worth going to see a band (social proof).
How much time would it take to RT links to all of those articles ONCE - maybe a minute.
What if 10 whole bloggers write a new article. Again, one minute.
This is not time-consuming or hard work (more on this in a second).
Of course, that is not what I would recommend, but it is better than what labels are doing now.
I have nothing personal against Hardly Art, I love Hardly Art (Protomartyr, Shannon and the Clams). I am trying to help.
But, What About My Preferred Influencers?
When they write content, they are great for you.
New media is not like old media.
If they didn't publish an article about one of your bands today, but I did. You should RT me.
They will still have their large following, you will still have your large following. People read them because they have good taste and write well. How does RT my content change that?
Your brand is about growing your engagement, use whatever content is available to energize your followers and my followers - hopefully they energize their followers and we all work together.
Bottom line, if you aren't promoting your band with content, you are wasting opportunities.
I also get that this might be about gate keeping. Maybe you got into this so you could hang out with the "cool kids."
I came from a different tradition - The Clash, Minor Threat, Fugazi - where it was about collaborating, sharing, keeping prices low, and trying to get people to see bands.
But, I get it, that is fine.
Not asking for you to invite us to your club. I am asking you to liberally use your RT button.
That is it.
If you don't want to talk to me, that is fine. Sometimes I will like your bands, sometimes I won't.
Again, trying to get you to act in your own self-interest to our mutual benefit.
What I Would Actually Recommend
Look, I get it, I used to manage bands. You have decades of experience marketing bands by sending press packs to clubs and helping the clubs do local promotion.
This is a new world, you have to do more work now. You have to be smart about social.
* Brand monitoring is pretty easy, every single platform provides free tools for monitoring.
Do Twitter @ searches and name searches for every band you represent every day.
Do Twitter @ searches and name searches for your label every day.
Do web searches for your bands and label every day.
Do Facebook searches following the same guidelines.
Every day, for all of your profiles and all of your bands.
* Stop making it hard for people to contact you, supporters are the lifeblood of your brand. Stop acting annoyed that people care.
* Every single time you see a story in the news for your bands - summarize the headlines and post them across your social media platforms. In a perfect world, you will do this multiple times every day.
* Every single time you see a mention of your bands on Twitter, RT the story (as long as it is positive). EVERY TIME. And cross-post on all your platforms. Help us help you. In a perfect world, you will do this multiple times every day.
* Forget the Like Button - it does nothing for anyone, if you want to ALSO hit like, fine hit like. But stop using it as a go-to. Nobody cares about likes on Twitter.
I know you are used to "likes" being an important metric, it is not on Twitter (it can be on Facebook).
* Make sure at least some members of every band have a Twitter account they actually pay attention to. Make sure part of the band marketing info includes Twitter and FB info (at the very least).
* Always Tweet and FB all important band information - new releases, singles, tour dates, band birthdays, whatever. Content, Content, Content. Don't be a passive marketer.
* Invest the $10 a month in a Buffer or Hoot Suite account, when you see a story that promotes your band with free content, Buffer it so it posts multiple times every day.
Say you have three pieces of information on a particular day that you want to get out to your followers, set up your Buffer to tweet that information throughout the day for you.
Virtually all of this can be done by working an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.
Wrapping It Up
If I sound passionate or strident, it is because I am tired of watching myself and other bloggers work hard to help you and have you drop the ball.
We are both working for the same thing, to get more people to your bands shows and to help your bands sell more albums.
Stop patting us on the heads and start treating all of us as valuable partners. We provide you free marketing content, use it to maximize your social marketing.
Help us help you :).
Sure, it also helps us, but what in the world is wrong with that if we are helping you?
Obviously, I am very passionate about independent music, I write this in the spirit of sharing my experience. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask (at any time).
I love labels almost as much as I love bands, this is entirely a passion project for me.
Here are some of the labels and publications I currently follow:
@hardlyart @selfishagenda @Iheartnoise @DetroitMusicMag @brightonsfinest @LoudAndQuietMag @kaninerecords @DeadOceans @transgressiveHQ @Frenchkissing @heavenlyrecs @GhostBoxRecords @Bird_Records @the_shift_music @StMarieRecords @deathwaltzrecs @LunarisRecords @anton_maiof @WRWTFWW @strangedisc @GialloDisco @ShippingRecords @SpunOutSounds @PopNoireRecords @PilotEleven @MusicMagazine @alexrossmusic @SonicBoomNation @EasyStRecords @jigsawrecords @lostsoundtapes @GonerRecords @ELSERENORECORDS @oxtailrecs @daisrecords @orangemilkrecs @MANICURERECORDS @70x7Records @HarshRiddims @WharfCatRecords @aethericrecords @EssentiallyPop @sixsoundmagazin @HausuMountain @OcelotRecords @LF_Records @practicerecords @Record_Labels @recordlabel_ar @SwitchBitchRecs @T3Hrecords @astrolizardrecs @ZeroLimitRecord @ZeroLimitRecord @AltPress @hopelessrecords @WolfrageRecords @FearlessRecords @riserecords @eggHuntRecords @northernspyrecs @silberspy @epitaphrecords @ultrarecords @SpinninRecords @RevealedRec @championrecords @championrecords @purenoiserecs @rfcrecords @topshelfrecords @rfcrecords @nosleeprecords @TheVinylFactory @EasyRiderRecord @IronManRecords @IronManRecords @_miasmah @imprec @_type @sargenthouse @PatientSounds @PatientSounds @FAUXDISCX @gringorecs @MuteAnt_Sounds @DonGiovanniRecs @maxrnr @AltTentacles @SoundHub @themodernfolk @OngakubakaRcrds @WakeTheDeaf @fat_wreck @wichitarecs
Many more, you get the idea.
How many of these send out artist related tweets on a daily or even weekly basis? IMHO not very many.