NETWORK WITH MUSIC PROFESSIONALS
The jury is back in, and the internet has officially turned the music industry on its head. Labels are scrambling to find new business models to stay profitable while musicians are finding they have a lot more tools at their disposal to manage their own careers. Independent music has discovered that the playing field is a lot more to their liking on the net, and that big gap between musicians and their fans has been closed considerably through social networking sites, blogs and more. Whether you long for the good old days or love this brave new world, you can't exist in music without having a significant online presence.
But - can the internet be the ONLY tool you use in your music career? Plenty of people are making plenty of money telling musicians that they can teach them how to become stars using the power of the web, and you can no doubt rattle off a list of musicians whose careers have been launched on MySpace. Have you ever stopped to think why you can list those names? After all, there are literally millions of musicians trying to peddle their music online...
The reason you know the names of everyone who has made it on MySpace or some other web tool is because they are the exceptions, not the rules. The internet can be an incredibly effective resource for musicians, but you have to use it correctly, and you can't just exist online. Here are two common traps:
Wasting Time: If you devote hours a day to sending out MySpace friend requests or adding new followers on Twitter, you're not alone. It can become a major distraction from the other things you should be doing, like practicing, writing new songs, booking shows, or any number of other activities. Even if you somehow convinced every single virtual "friend" you have to come out to your show once, they won't come back if you can't deliver the goods. The goods are made offline. If you don't have what it takes to keep those virtual friends engaged in what you're doing, they're nothing more than a big number that flashes on your screen. Increasing that number has little correlation to getting closer to achieving your music goals if you're not backing it up with some hard work offline.
Joining The Wrong Conversation: When you're tapped into social networking sites, you'll discover that a lot of people are social networking to debate the best way to use social networking. You'll also find lots of discussions about the meaning of Web 2.0, people vying for attention by critiquing each other to death and lots and lots and LOTS of business buzz words.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this kind of stuff, and if you're interested, you should definitely join the discussion. For instance, if you're in music PR, then being part of the conversation about effective marketing makes sense. But if you don't fall into those camps, be careful about getting so sucked into this net based self examination that you lose sight of why you're there in the first place - to introduce people to your music or music related business. You can learn from people online and make contacts while still being pleasant and without devoting 2 hours of your day to drawing up a wordy missive that challenges step 19 in someone's article about creating an effective Twitter profile.
Mistaking Internet Buzz for a Music Career: Internet buzz can be part of establishing yourself and gaining fans, but it seldom launches sustainable careers on its own. Why? Because internet buzz is difficult to monetize. Just ask Twitter, who hasn't made a dime from its tens of millions of users. The creators of Twitter have won fame and glory, but not the ability to pay their electric bill from their wildly successful creation. The rub is that when they institute changes to try to make Twitter profitable, whatever those changes may be, they will alienate a lot of their users. If you don't have a plan for selling your music to your social networking followers, blog readers and YouTube video viewers, then you are really more like president of your own fan club rather than someone developing a way to make a living in the music industry.
Most people don't enter the music industry solely for the cash, but you do have to make money if you want music to be your day job. You can flip your internet buzz into real world success, but that takes hard work and a plan. I know I said it before, but it's worth repeating: the reason you can list the number of people that have done that successfully is because they are few and far between (and many of them were already established musicians with enough cushion in the bank to experiment a little bit). Don't expect a career to magically fall into your lap simply because you got 800K looks on YouTube. If you cultivate internet buzz, you need to have a strategy and be ready to manage it. Otherwise, well, attention might make you feel good, but try paying your rent your MySpace friend list, Facebook messages or @ replies. Remember, your internet presence is a means to an end, not the end.
In the end, it's up to you just how much the internet can do for your music career. You have to treat it as a tool in your arsenal, not your saving grace. The trick is to find a balance between engaging your fans in a personal way and spending all of your time managing your online life. Despite all of the hype and all of the ruminations about the power of the internet, the music industry is still about one thing - music. Your offline activities have to lead your online ones. If you make good music offline, your online success will come. It rarely works the other way around.