In the 90s it was all about getting your music into big box stores like Best Buy, Tower Records, and Circuit City. Distribution wins! But those stores didn’t really care about your music or your label or your scene. Sure, you sold a bunch of CDs through them in the 90s, but where does that leave you today? Who bought those albums?
Then the iTunes store comes along in 2003. Quick! Get your music on there, just like every other band and label. Upload your music, adjust your meta-data, sit back, and sell to people in parts of the world that you’ll never visit.
Again, iTunes doesn’t really care about your music – they just need to sell iPhones and watches at enormous profit. You’re a reference number in a database that gets cut a check every month. And for all those digital sales, Apple has a record of everyone who bought your album. That’d be nice list to see, right? Too bad.
Now we have streaming. And Apple Music! None of them really care about your band, either. They’re all busy are bolstering algorithms to suggest new music selections, all in the hopes of converting people to $10/mo subscribers. They’ve got lots of data (emails, listening habits, favorite albums) but none for you!
I got an email not too long ago from Ken MODE. Their singer emailed everyone who bought their last album on BandCamp, saying they had a new album out, and linked to their new album pre-order.
Imagine that, huh? Someone bought your old album, and when you had a new one available you sent them an email. Not just a Tweet (which gets lost in the noise of cat photos and political turmoil), not just a Facebook update (which might not even reach your fans because Facebook wants your $$$), but an email delivered to someone’s inbox.
It’s like when you had a show in your small town – you gave a flyer to your friends who were at your last show. You put up fliers in places where your friends would see them, like at record shops, and cafes.
So, you know who your ardent fans are, right? Point them to your own digital sales store (you can set one up using Big Cartel or Limited Run, or just use BandCamp). Sell direct to to your fan, then you’ll have their email address. Then the next time you have a release you’ll know who to reach contact (and not just a few dozen music blogs who are all copying and pasting 20 press releases every hour).
Of course that doesn’t mean stop uploading to iTunes and everywhere else (yet). I get it. But start selling direct to your biggest fans. Get their mailing address, then reward those fans after the sale with a free-shirt in the mail, or a sticker pack or something. In order to delight the people who love what you do, you have to make sure you can discover who those people are in the first place – and Apple, Spotify, and BestBuy sure ain’t going to help you build your email list.
Seth Werkheiser is the quiz master of metal trivia at Skulltoaster. He’s also the founder of some music sites you may have heard of, including Noise Creep (2009) + Buzzgrinder (2001). He’s anti-Facebook, anti-clickbait, and anti-growth hacking. You should most definitely follow him on Twitter. Yes, right now.