There Is More To Your Band Than How Many Followers You Have Online

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After writing about music for five years there are only a few things I would say I know to be absolutely true about the industry. The first is that everyone who makes it has given everything that they have to pursue whatever ambition lead them to consider the music industry as a career. The second, and perhaps most often emphasized, is that almost no one working in music ever has free time. The movers and shakers of this business rarely rest, and having an opportunity to share your latest creation with these influential people is something hundreds, if not thousands of artists strive for every day, but only a few ever manage to accomplish. There is only a finite amount of time any one person can dedicate to music discovery, after all, and the demand for that person’s attention during that time is always extremely high.

When presented with the challenge of figuring out what information can be relayed about any one artist or work to convince bloggers or other industry professionals to consider something new, most artist fall back on the once tried and true formula of sharing whatever digital accomplishment that have accumulated in recent years. Whether it’s the hundreds of ‘Likes’ a recent interview garnered for a small  blog, the fact they have 30,000 followers on Twitter, or the news that their video has garnered over 250,000 plays on YouTube, artists LOVE to tell industry professionals about their supposed buzz online. What they rarely consider, however, is just what – if anything – these numbers actually mean in the business world. Do 30,000 Twitter followers means more or less than the fact an artist can generate a lot of plays on YouTube? Likewise, does ten thousand streams for your latest song on Soundcloud mean more or less than the fact someone at Noisey or Pitchfork said your album was good? 

Numbers and reputable press quotes may grab the attention of younger professionals, but industry lifers know that no amount of digital attention can match an artist who has a proven ability to draw on the road. Follows, Likes, streams, and all related digital numerations might make artists and the people who back them feel good inside, and there is not a doubt in my mind that large social media numbers helps certain people feel more confident about themselves, but your career will go nowhere unless artists can convert those meaningless numbers to actual, paying consumers of their art. It is possible to make money off streaming numbers, yes, but artists who reach success on a national level (or beyond) need more than YouTube plays to create a sustainable career. They need ticket sales and merch sales, coupled with whatever music they are actually able to sell. 

If we all wake up tomorrow in a world without the internet the music industry will not die, and that is something artists should keep in mind when creating press kits. You and the music you create are more than internet hype, or at least you should be if you have any intention of making a career in this industry, and you need to learn to present yourself to others without relying on the crutch of digital popularity to do so. Every writer I know, and by writer I mean everyone who does more when posting online about music than copy/paste press releases, lives for the day when they stumble across the next big band. They all want to hear that one great song no one else with influence has heard, and then work with the creator of said song to share their art with the world. What none of them want, or at least no one that I have spoken to, is to speak with last week’s viral sensation. People don’t write about bands with strong digital numbers unless they have other, real world accomplishments as well. 50,000 Twitter followers only matter if you can guarantee your next tour of 300 capacity venues will sell out every night. If you’re unable to do that, you’re either unaware of how analytics work or you do not actually have a large following of dedicated fans. Either way, the industry will eventually catch on and they will not have any further interest in working with you.

There is no reason to exclude your digital accomplishments from your press kit, but they should not be the first details shared about your art with the world. Press and industry professionals need to know who you are, where you come from, what type of road experience you have, and what you are trying to accomplish with your music. Are you out to have a good time, or are you trying to write a song that will change the world? These things matter, and they are a hell of a lot more interesting than reading through a bunch of numbers associated with networks that will be irrelevant five or ten years from now.

If you want to stand out from the increasingly cluttered world of underground music, do yourself a favor and embrace what already makes you unique. Leverage who you are and what it is you are creating in order to gain the attention of those in a position to help further your professional efforts. Digital support will follow, and by the time your numbers are high enough to warrant sharing with others you will already have a wealth of actual professional accomplishments to share.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.