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Name: Adam Bernard
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Artists, You’re Obsessing Over The Wrong Numbers
Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I received an email the other day that spoke to a phenomenon that’s going on in music that I find flat out ridiculous. The email was an offer to artists to increase their Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and even YouTube views, for a fee. Leaving aside the obvious fact that paid for followers have zero interest in your work, many people think these numbers are important in determining an artist’s value. They're wrong.

Social networking is a powerful tool in many ways, but artist evaluation happens to be something it simply does not work well for. Back in the dark ages, before social networking, artists, and many fans, obsessed over sales numbers. From an artist standpoint this made sense. Sales equal money in an artist’s pocket, and continued support from the label. Now everyone is obsessed over internet popularity, yet there are examples this year of artists who weren’t on major social networking sites who are doing far better than those who spend all day trying to increase their followers, likes, and views.

Imagine this scene - a label owner is handed a demo of girl with an incredible voice, but zero internet presence. No Twitter account, no Facebook fan page, and no songs on YouTube, or Soundcloud. If you listen to what a lot of folks tell you about needing X amount of followers or views, you’d assume the demo was, at best, enjoyed, but thrown away. In reality, that demo was Amanda Mair’s, who was signed by Labrador Records and released an album earlier this year to massive critical praise. How did this happen? Mair recorded a few songs to send to relatives. The person she recorded them with played the songs for Labrador Records owner Johan Angergård. Mair and Angergård met, and she was quickly signed.

Here’s another scene to picture - a tall, personable, New York City emcee starts generating a nice buzz for himself in the streets. He forgoes the social networking route, however, not signing up for Twitter, and only reluctantly putting up a Facebook fan page. He even includes a line in one of his songs about not being on every social networking site because he’d rather get through a meal undisturbed. Those obsessed with the new numbers of the internet would say he’s shooting himself in the foot. Most of those people, however, are still talking, while the artist in question, Homeboy Sandman, signed to Stones Throw Records, and has released three EPs on the label.

There are still people who believe internet popularity will get an artist signed. They point to artists like Kreayshawn. Kreayshawn, however, although she blew up on the internet, did so because she released a song that connected with people, and she had an image that labels felt was sellable. The internet was where she was discovered, but it wasn’t the reason she was signed.

Artistry is still what’s most important, but if you want some numbers to obsess over, consider the following:

Album sales - Are you “moving units?” Selling a hundred albums will always be better than having a thousand “likes” on Facebook. The albums make you money. The “likes” create a false sense of popularity, especially if they aren’t leading to sales.

Show attendance - I know this one can be tricky, but after enough shows you should have an idea of the size of the crowd you draw. Those are the people who matter. They’re the ones taking the time to go to your shows, and use their money to get in, and possibly buy merch. Some guy just spent a chunk of change to buy 5,000 Twitter followers, you’re making money because you have 500 real fans. He may have ten times the followers you have, but you’re making more money off of your art. We all see who the winner is here, right?

Fan interactions - How many people do you have face to face conversations with before/after a performance? These are the people who are connecting with your music, and will support you. One great fan interaction is worth more than a thousand YouTube views from people who’ve never visited your website.

Online support - I know, you’re thinking “didn’t you just say internet numbers are the wrong numbers to be obsessing over?” Yes, I did, but this is an entirely different kind of internet number. Online support involves the people who are actively promoting your work. These are the people who are talking about you and posting your links all over the web. These are the online followers who matter. To put it in perspective, Katy Perry has over 24 million Twitter followers. The sales of her most recent album, Teenage Dream, are in the neighborhood of one tenth that number. Essentially, 21 million of her followers are meaningless. OK, that may be an overly harsh assessment of them as people, but they don’t purchase her work, so they aren’t really supporting her. This is why so many online numbers are flawed. They only measure whether someone clicked a button, not whether or not they actually support someone.

So before you spend another minute trying to find ways to get new online followers, talk to the ones you already have, and after you’ve done that, work on your music, because that’s what’s getting you your real fans, and what's really going to get you noticed.

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 2:25 PM  
1 Comments:
  • At 8:40 PM, Blogger DJCynic said…

    I think that artists sometimes confuse cause and effect.

    Incorrect: "I have a billion followers on Twitter, this now means I'm really popular."

    Correct: "I've become so popular that I now have a billion fans on Twitter."

    This is what causes cats to try and jack up views for a youtube video.

     
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