The calluses on Sean Gaughan's palms are thick, like chunks of jerky; a result of pounding out the beat on his drum at weekend gig after weekend gig, in bar after bar and town after town along Colorado's Front Range. His Honda Pilot takes a pounding from these gigs too, and its trunk bears witness to the damage created from constantly loading and unloading PA's, amps, drums, props, lighting and signage. A box of CDs for sale typically rides shotgun from show-to-show.
G's day job running a window cleaning company affords him the opportunity to chase his musical dreams amongst the dusty suburbs, and continue performing for the fans that love his band, Big Paddy. Ultimately, however, the day job prevents him from diving in 100 percent with his music career, which is where his true talent really lies. In order to feed his family he needs to work full time outside of the music industry, simply because playing live music in this millennium doesn't pay the bills like it used to.
"Many nightclubs and bars have adopted a policy to forgo paying bands in favor of offering them exposure," says Gaughan. "We don't typically accept those types of arrangements unless the exposure is huge, but a lot of starving musicians do. And they don't realize the damage it causes those of us who prefer to get paid for their work, especially since most of us cover all of our own expenses."
So how does an unknown musician, or band get noticed in a day and age when the music landscape has fractured? Future stars and chart-topping recording artists are now chosen through lame reality game shows like American Idol, X-Factor and the Voice; record companies, in an effort to compete with AI, are selling sex and bubblegum pop, all mashed up like a meatball sundae; and Macklemore has killed the radio star.
Fortunately, there are easy-to-use (as in, if you can use Facebook and iTunes. . .) technology tools available to help musicians promote their work and generate revenue. The problem is, there are too many of them to choose from. How does someone like Gaughan, who doesn't have time to study emerging technology trends, know which platform is going to be the most effective in distributing and displaying his content?
After spending years advising musicians and the last couple years taking a deep dive on the technology available to them, I've put together a simple recipe for success below that most aspiring artists can master without giving up the day job:
1. Engage two, or three audio platforms: there are a number of audio-based platforms that bands can use to present and promote their content, including: MySpace, Spotify, ReverbNation, Soundcloud, iTunes, Pandora, Bandcamp and more. Here are two platforms designed to assist up-and-coming bands:
•Soundcloud: its player looks great on FB and is easy to use, the company recently added an Instagram partnership, its UX suits creators and its API allows for experimentation. The Soundcloud mobile app features a record button to capture live sounds, allowing for further exploration. Here's an example of what the embeddable player looks like externally:
•Bandcamp: according to the site, "fans have given artists $51 million using Bandcamp, and $2.4 million in the last 30 days alone." Revenue, revenue, revenue. That speaks volumes for today's artists. Not enough people know about Bandcamp yet, but they will soon as the user experience is top-notch for bands and their fans. Check it out!
2. Own The Facebook:
•Pick the right platform and abuse it with content shares, but stop with the 100% promotional posts. Go for a 33 percent strategy in posting content: 1/3 promotions, 1/3 fan engagement (eg. Free CD Fridays), 1/3 curating of music the band, or musician is a fan of. Keep it simple.
•Facebook Ads/Sponsored Posts: these are cheap and they reach a totally random audience, which is not a negative where music is involved. Unlike software companies for example, which need to reach a narrow audience, bands can strike gold with fans from diverse populations.
3. Experiment: because sometimes you have to take a flyer, there are technology options out there for bands to experiment with. The tool I'm most excited about right now is a mobile app called Lively.
Lively allows iOS, Android, Windows 8 users the ability to search, download, and enjoy live shows shortly after they have been performed -- as in, the next day. On the back end, the company's proprietary Lively Audio Manager can be used to capture content and upload it to Lively's servers, which then send the content to the users' devices. Ultimately, it's a system that is called on to capture, distribute, and play content in a way that is easy to use and of the highest quality. And best of all, Lively represents another possible revenue stream for artists, as videos sell for $9.99 and audio tracks sell for $4.99 (not sure how much of that goes to the artist). Blues Traveler recently uploaded a live show from The Hamilton in Washington DC that is definitely worth the price to download.
Lively is currently accepting applications from artists who want to take advantage of its content manager here.
Becoming the next Macklemore is a pipe dream for most bands, and truthfully more exposure than they might want, or need to achieve their goals. Maybe a band's goal is to play and fill the Showbox in Seattle, rather than the Tacomadome, or the Fox Theatre in Boulder, rather than Denver's Pepsi Center? Regardless of stated goals, bands have the opportunity to make a living in lieu of a contract from a record label. If we have learned anything from Macklemore's route to the top of the charts it is this -- bands only need record companies for distribution these days.