I had a discussion today with one of my promoters in the virtual world of Second Life. Yes, I’m still doing the geeky thing of giving live performances via my Shoutcast radio stream to groups of 10 – 100 people, several times each week. It’s great for keeping myself rehearsed for “real life” performances, and it has helped me to share the music I have felt so driven to write down, record, rehearse, and develop into my art. If you’re interested in hearing one of these live shows, you can find more information about it HERE.
I digress. . . during this discussion with Terrance Popstar (his virtual name), my word-of-mouth promoter, he was sharing some of his experiences in conversing with others about music. It seems that while some people are more than willing to watch a YouTube video rather than just standing around in the glorified chat room atmosphere of Second Life, some get quite irritated by a promoter that drops in to promote. I’m so thankful to have him on my team. It’s not a job that I would do well at all. While I enjoy sharing my music with people that enjoy it, I dread forcing my music at people that don’t want it.
One of the responses Terrance was sharing with me roused my attention more than the others. He said that when he asked the group of SL patrons if they had ever heard of “SaraMarie Philly, a musician on the grid” that he promotes for, one of the people replied, “If her music is any good, she will gain attention without you having to go around promoting.”
Just typing out that sentence again makes me cringe. This person could not be more ill-informed. There are many, many musicians out there that have great music and writing skills that will never have the opportunity to share their music with the people. Think about your favorite artist or band from when you were in your teenage years….you know, the CD (or cassette….or 8 track….or record) that you played over and over and over again…because the music made you feel a certain way. It spoke to you. It became part of who you are today. That music probably found it’s way into your hands through a great deal of promoting, performing, word of mouth, and money that was behind it. It was probably a group signed to a major label, with the money to make sure that the artist was promoted adequately. Because without that promotion, it would be highly unlikely that you would stumble upon that band or artist.
Unfortunately, the “rags to riches” stories just don’t happen so much anymore. Things were different 50 years ago, before digital marketing and distribution became over 60% of the market. Dolly Parton is a good example of the last “rags to riches” story from that era. Her family was poor when she was growing up, but they noticed her talent for singing and got her into radio at a very young age. Yes, Dolly Parton was a child star. It wasn’t until much later that she became the star with big boobs, and later yet that her song “I Will Always Love You” ended up in the hands of Whitney Houston for the movie The Bodyguard, which earned her more money in royalties than any of her own performances ever did. But….back to the truthful fact. People did NOT just “discover” her because she was a good singer. Her parents promoted her, she was signed to a small label by the time she was 9 years old, and that label promoted her. That’s what labels do. And honestly, even though Dolly Parton claims to have been “dirt poor”, she grew up on a tobacco farm. None of us can really be sure whether tobacco farming was profitable or not at that time, although tobacco products were certainly on an economic rise. It is reasonable to say that while they may have been dirty from farming, they may not have been as poor as she let on. It does however make a great story for promoting the young budding singing star.
Let’s flash back….or forward….to NOW. Artists are not usually just “discovered”. Even the acts that you would think are just discovered via YouTube or Second Life or radio programs are really not handed the golden ticket that you think. In the mind of the public, there are talent-scouters all over the place, and if a good musician should happen to be heard by one of them, they will be handed a business card, signed to a label, and given a lot of money to create music. It doesn’t really work that way anymore. Music labels are looking for acts that already have a following. They are looking for acts that have the money to pay for the recording and production of their albums on the front end and purchase all of their own equipment or already own their own sound system. Basically, they are looking for acts that have done the hard work of promoting themselves so that when the label signs them, their work is a little easier. It makes sense from the label’s standpoint. You may be thinking, “Why do you need a label? Just release independently and promote yourself. People will notice.” In a perfect world, this would be great. You would release your CD and have your discs replicated, and then send them out to Target and Walmart and all of those other places that people frequent……scrreeech….oh wait, those places only allow music that is released through a major label to be on their shelves. Really? Yeah, really. Not just “a label”, but a MAJOR label. Meaning…..more money for promotion.
Still thinking that maybe an artist can get “discovered” by just putting themselves out there with no promotion? Let’s look at Beyonce Knowles, for example. Her father took classes in music business and started managing Beyonce’s music group Destiny’s Child when it was just in it’s beginning stages. How many dads, upon seeing their little tween girls singing and dancing around with their friends would take this kind of financial risk to try to turn them into superstars? One with lots of money, and the willingness to promote his butt off.
Taylor Swift is another great example of how most music success happens these days. Her father was willing to co-invest millions of dollars into the label that signed her, making her at the top of their promotion priorities. Don’t believe everything you read in a musician’s Wikipedia profile. One of the thing they tell us at seminars and music conferences is that we need to have a compelling story. Some promoters even encourage people to make things up, or stretch the truth a little. An example? I tell people I grew up on a rabbit farm. It’s true…we had a big barn full of rabbits that I raised to show for 4-H. About 50-60 rabbits at one point. But reading the sentence, “I grew up on a rabbit farm” makes it sound like that was my family’s main source of income, which it was not. Both of my parents had full-time jobs. Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas Tree farm. Her father also happened to be a very successful stockbroker.
You may point to the band “Karmin”, who got “discovered” on YouTube. Let me first point out that YouTube is NOT the automatic-success-for-the-talented story that you think it is. After the basics of having good recording equipment to make a video that is worth watching, there is also the issue of promotion. You think that there is no promotion that goes into YouTube? You just put up a video and people flock to it and watch it? Consider this. . . YouTube sells advertising. So, people that pay that fee to be advertised get listed at the top of the search results, sometimes with a pretty box around their video, and get more views than people that don’t pay that advertising money. Also, the more views a video has, the higher it will appear….so if you are uploading a video with 0 views, it will show up at the bottom of the search query, not at the top. And that’s for people that happen to search for it. The way that YouTube videos become viral is that the uploaders promote the video to their friends, and it spreads by word of mouth.
There IS an element of needing to be “good” in the music business to share your product, but please don’t think that just because someone hasn’t been “discovered”, isn’t “famous” or doesn’t have a huge “following” that their music is of any less quality than those that have the three aforementioned attributes. And if you’re ever standing around in Second Life and my promoter happens to drop in, try to be nice to him, please.