If the internet was one small step for man, the boom of social media was a giant leap for mankind. Next year, the children born in 2000 will become adults and we will officially live in a time where even grown ups do not remember a time before social media. The world has changed so fast in the last seventeen years, but music – like so many other industries – has struggled to keep up.
In the dark ages before the first boom of social media (pre-2005), every musician had cast the widest net possible with any and all marketing in hopes of finding an audience. Some artists had mail-in fan clubs, while others may have maintained very simple websites, but really there was no easy or affordable way for musicians to maintain constant contact with their fans. All alternative music was marketed to all alternative fans, regardless of their genre preference. All pop stars had to have a single on radio or else they were never going to make it as pop stars. This is not to say there was no middle ground between tiny artists and massively successful ones, but it was much harder to reach.
Then, almost overnight, everyone was given a voice and the ability to share it online without paying a single penny to do so. MySpace lead the revolution, followed by Facebook and Twitter. Everyone was everywhere all the time saying everything that came to their mind, in addition to promoting shows, songs, videos, merchandise, and a wide array of brand-related content. Most marketing was still targeting the widest audience possible, but now there was more of it.
As more and more people adopted social media, the way artists interacted with their audience began to evolve. Promotion became less about having a constant onslaught of messaging and more about engagement. For the first time in history it was possible to write a song, record it at your home, upload it, and get feedback from someone on the other side of the planet within a matter of hours (if not less). Establishing a connection with fans that went beyond the typical creator-consumer relationship was now easy for anyone to do, and from that moment a new age of music business began to emerge.
In 2017, artists hoping to make a career in music no longer need mass marketing to be successful. The music business itself has seen a boom in the number of artists and professionals entering its ranks, but the way most do business has actually gotten smaller. There are hundreds of artists in the United States alone working as career musicians today that most reading this now don’t know by name. They are musicians and singers from all walks of life who have forged meaningful relationships with a particular market that is big enough to support their career. Some may still aspire to be top 40 names, but many are comfortable further developing the relationships they do have and whatever new followers may come through that effort.
Take pop rock act The Maine, for example. The band came into the national spotlight just before the MySpace bubble burst and found an indie deal because of their devout online following. The group played the label game for several released, but in recent years took their releases – not to mention practically every other aspect of their business – into their own hands. They do some mass marketing whenever something big is coming down the pipelines, but their day to day messaging is focused around engaging with the community of supporters they have already developed. Through constant interaction their fan base has become something akin to a family, with fans around the world becoming friends through their shared devotion to the the band, and the value of making that kind of impact on people’s lives cannot be quantified.
Should you always be marketing yourself to new listeners? Of course. That said, when it comes to the modern music business the artists who are able to make lasting careers tend to be those that forge a meaningful relationship with their fans through constant contact and recognition. You should aspire to constantly be building your following while also strengthening its foundation at the same time. There is no greater marketing tool than fans who feel invested in the trajectory of your career. When they feel like every success for you is a success for them, you have something words cannot describe. That’s the kind of thing that changes lives.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the host of the Inside Music podcast. You should follow him on Twitter.