Chicken Little Rides Again!
by Jilla Webb
The sky is falling, the sky is falling! With each new era in history, new forms of communication delivery have taken on the oligarchy, and at every point, it was believed the world would most certainly end because of the new technology. New forms of communication continually trample out the old to make way for the latest and exciting innovation. When the printing press was invented there were many who thought it would be the beginning of the breakdown of civilization as they knew it. How could ordinary people possibly handle information that was no longer kept a secret? When the railroad replaced the horse as the way communication and goods were exchanged, information could suddenly travel much faster than previously thought possible. With each new invention, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and television, it changed the way and speed that we communicated with one another and with the world.
In this digital age, it is happening again. We are living through the next part of history and watching communication history being re-written. The question is, how will we handle the speed and amount all of this information that we have access to today? How do we, mere mortal musicians, make our way through the enormous amounts of data being produced and stored every single minute around the globe? How do you as an artist break through all of this digital noise and find your people? How do you know where they are, who they are, what kind of music and merchandise they like, and what’s the best way to get their attention? The answers to every one of your questions are out there, but you have to know how to get the answers and how to interpret the data. All of this technology at our disposal should have made life easier for us, by giving us more time to do other creative things, like write music; but has it? Are you more or less stressed out with the increased amount of information that you’re supposed to know how to handle? Sometimes having too much information is just as bad as not enough.
Indeed, in some ways, the internet has made our lives much more comfortable because it has relieved us from the tyranny of place. When I was a kid and wanted to get the new “Heart” record, I had to find the phone book, dial my rotary landline and ask if they had the record in the store. If they did, I’d ask if they would hold it for me till I could drive the 30 miles (one-way) to go pick it up. If they didn’t, I’d have to try to earn extra for gas money and drive to the next biggest town with a record store and hope they had one. If I were fortunate, I would be sitting by the radio at the precise moment the radio station played the song I needed to learn! Then, if I was standing by with my trusty cassette tape player, I might be able to record it (along with dogs barking and my mom coming into my room to ask me something) and have the song to bring to the next band rehearsal. By the way, I couldn’t just Google “record stores in neighboring towns,” some real live person actually had to know about one and tell me where it was! So in this way, I’d say fingertip information has definitely made our lives much more convenient and excellent. We can write, post, and research information, like store location and hours, at any time of the day or night. Much like I’m writing this blog from about 30,000 ft in a plane on my way to Portland. But with all of this information out there, is it causing a de-evolution back into non-tech interactions out of frustration? And are we, as humans, really built to handle, sort and remember all of this information?
So, the internet, is it really the great equalizer for artists? Even though there are many more resources online for artists and non-artists alike, how do aspiring young musicians in rural areas without real live professional guidance or music industry role models wade through the endless amount of information that’s out there? I grew up in small-town American, and I often say if I had had access to all of this information as a kid, my life would have been very different. However, I don’t know if that’s a true statement. There is so much misinformation and just plain wrong advice out there, I’m not sure that without real professional help I would have been able to avoid the potholes along the way anyway. I believe you still have to be in a large music center to really take advantage of everything the internet has to offer. And for all of technology’s benefits, keep in mind, nothing yet can replace real face-to-face networking. You have to physically be in the place where the opportunities are happening to walk through those doors.
It’s been said that the new economy comes down to network delivery systems, but if artists don’t know how to build those systems and don’t know how to mine and analyze the analytics from big data about their customer (fan), how will they ever know how or who to target this online delivery system toward? The speed at which people are getting things done and the rate at which things change is unbelievable. If you delay for any reason, opportunities may pass you by. The internet enables us to do incredible amounts of analysis, communication, and product delivery but not if you don’t get things out there immediately and continuously. So what is your plan for learning all things that will be most important for you for your future? Should you focus on coding, encryption technology, business, marketing, graphic design, your instrument, songwriting, research and statistical analysis of big data, communication skills, or all of the above?
The determining factor on who makes it in the music business in the future will likely have a great deal to do with being able to use big data effectively. You still have to have a great product, design, marketing, communication but none of that will matter if you don’t know what to do with it. If you don’t know about what to do with big data, you’re not much different than me all those years ago, not knowing how to find another record store. If you don’t know about information and knowledge management, you won’t know about or be able to reach your fans in different cities. You need to know, not guess, and have a business plan for content distribution and engaging with your fans.
So the answer to what you have to know these days it, all of it. More than ever you need to be in the business of music. You must be both a business person and artist. As a developing artist in today’s music industry, you’ll need to combine grassroots efforts like playing in lots of small towns, getting on all the local broadcasts, engaging directly with your fans in person and online, but only after you’ve correctly analyzed your data and know which markets to target. You might want to take a cue from news media or organizations like Amazon. They are in the business of digital audience building an online network delivery systems. These organizations need to create a tone that resonates with fans, and that is engaging and will translate into sales. It’s becoming the same business model as you, the independent musician will need in today’s digital market place. In an age where things like media and songs can be written from algorithms by a computer, it is your brand, your personality, your personal communication style and delivery that will make you unique and make you rise above the digital noise.
Try these three things for fan engagement.
- Ask them; out of these two projects, which would you like me to do first?
- Collaborate on a song with some of them to perform in their city on your next tour.
- Hold online marketing meetings with fans from the city you’re about to play. See if they can assist you in filling the venue and getting the word out. They know more, personally, about their area than you do. They may have some great ideas.