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SXSWLogo2015

 

Since I’m not attending SXSW myself this year, I thought I’d bring you a real life, in the trenches, on the road, slice of life post about three female artists I met through Madalyn Sklar’s GoGirlsElite and #ggchat.  I’ve met two of them In Real Life, and have watched  two of them perform on ConcertWindow – which feels almost like IRL I’ve read their blog posts and listened to their music, and they are all such positive and energetic women, doing all the right things to market themselves in this crowded place we call indie music.

Meet Rorie Kelly, Mary Bue and Alex Winters. [Full disclosure, Mary Bue is a music marketing client of mine, but Rorie and Alex are not. All three women are also being represented by my friend Stacey Sherman of RSP Entertainment Marketing while they are at SXSW.]

These three talented musicians got together (completely unbeknownst to me) and booked themselves an unofficial showcase gig tomorrow, Thursday March 19, 2015, at 8 PM at the Waterloo Ice House in South Park Meadows.

I love this story because:

  • It’s a bunch of women getting together to make their own gig happencommunity, not competition!
  • It’s social media at its best – helping people meet their business goals. Rorie, Mary and Alex met and got to know each other via the GoGirlsMusic network, which is a great virtual networking tool. The public Thursday Twitter chats at the hashtag #ggchat at 3 and 9 PM EST are well-attended by both male and female indie musicians and are always lively and informative. You’ll note below that they have some mutual male musician friends as well who are also frequent participants in the #ggchat Twitter chat, and helped encourage this group gig at SXSW.
  • They all have great stories in addition to great music. I know some good PR will come from this for some deserving indie artists just trying to get heard above all the SXSW noise.

On to the interview.

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Washington

I got an email recently from an MBA student at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business named Carl Petrillo, asking if he could interview me about my experience as a musician and an entrepreneur (a “musicpreneur”, as my friends Aaron Bethune and Tommy Darker call it.)

Carl is a musician, too, having worked as a pianist, singer, music director, and choral arranger. He also spent time on the cruise ship circuit before he decided to apply to business school. I suspect Carl has actually made more money in the music business than I have, but in an ironic reverse trajectory of my career path, Carl has decided to move from being a musician into the realm of MBA school. Carl remains active in music as the Vice President of Foster Talent, as well as on his own newly-created YouTube channel.

You can watch Carl perform his original song, Coming Along, on YouTube. Carl is a witty songwriter. [French Canadian saxophone players may not want to watch the music video, however.]

Carl interviewed me for a Foster School class called “Marketing 555: Entrepreneurial Marketing.” I kind of like that – Marketing 555. Sounds a bit like a band name. Anyway, I digress.

We met and Carl asked questions, I talked way too fast for an hour, and we did some follow-up by email, and now my thoughts on marketing my own music are enshrined on the Marketing 555 Blog. Ah, the internet. So here’s the first part of the interview and a link to the rest:

“For my interview of an entrepreneur this quarter, I decided to interview a local musician who, armed with an MBA and years of experience in the tech industry, is working to build her band’s brand from scratch. Today, Solveig Whittle is a music marketing consultant, teacher, and one half of the band Solveig & Stevie. I initially stumbled upon Solveig’s writing from an interview she did with musician Molly Lewis and was struck by the quality of the interview questions. Solveig was kind enough to sit down with me, and then follow up over email, to explain how she thinks about her own entrepreneurial venture as a musician.” – Carl Petrillo, MBA Candidate at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business

 [Read the rest of Carl’s interview with me here…]

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Kim Garst

What is authenticity? What does it mean to be genuine with your fans, with your customers? How do you know how much of yourself to share on social media? Why do both corporations and individuals find it difficult, yet rewarding (monetarily and in other ways) to be transparent on social media? How has social media changed the way entities, from musicians to social entrepreneurs to multi-national corporations, market their goods and services and engage in value and monetary transactions? How can we use social media to communicate our values, build trust, build relationships and, ultimately, create loyal fans and customers who buy from us because they share our values?

I recently read two books which stirred a great deal of thought on these questions. One is Kim Garst’s Will The Real You Please Stand Up and the other is The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I was struck with the very different approaches these two women took to discuss the science and art of social media in their books, but also convinced that were they stuck sitting next to each other on a flight from New York to LA, they would find much in common in their approaches to building a thriving brand on social media.

This is a review of Kim Garst’s book, with a few examples from Amanda Palmer’s book thrown in to help illustrate some of the key social media principles Garst espouses (although she has plenty of more corporate case studies in the book).

Whether you are a musician, a corporation, or an individual seeking guidance on how to best use social media to build your brand and your business, Kim Garst’s book is a well-written, vital and accessible resource I know I will be recommending for years to come (and that says a lot in the quickly-changing world of social media).

[A podcast review of Amanda Palmer’s book will be appearing later this month as the focus of an extended interview of me by Connie Rock on the University of Washington’s FlipTheMedia.com].

This is the fundamental premise of Garst’s book, a business primer which blends both good and bad case studies with a methodical and organized approach toward 21st century marketing online. In just ten chapters and an easy-to-read 173 pages, Garst lays out the key traits necessary to craft an authentic presence on social media. Her principles apply as well to individuals interested in crafting their personal brand as they do to Fortune 100 companies. || Read more

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Paula Boggs

I first saw Paula Boggs perform at a local singer-songwriter hangout, the Soulfood Coffeehouse in Redmond, WA. She seemed totally comfortable on stage, despite the fact that she didn’t look or sound much like any of the other performers that night. It didn’t take more than a single Google search on my iPhone to turn up the fact that she was the former Corporate Counsel for Starbucks, along with having served on the Iran-Contra task force during the Reagan administration. I was intrigued.

I’m always interested in what draws someone with many talents and choices from the corporate world into music. I’ve said several times that learning the music business is harder than getting an MBA – even for someone with an MBA. Those of us who executed “Plan B” first, who had successful careers in other fields, might be tempted to find easier ways to fulfillment, like yoga or volunteering for the PTA. Or to simply look at our music as a hobby. You have to be pretty driven to stick with the music thing.

Paula is on her second  album release, coming this March, called “Carnival of Miracles”, so I guess she’s in it to stay.

Paula Boggs Ferris Wheel

Here is my interview with Paula Boggs. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Success

Featured image by scottchan for freedigitalphotos.net

I began teaching a social media certificate class this month to 31 adults in downtown Seattle at the University of Washington’s Continuing Education Program. I’m really enjoying it – the students are enthusiastic and operating all at different levels of social media expertise and experience. Creating material for a three hour class on a weekly basis is no walk in the park, but I love it so far! It’s an exercise in visual, rigorous, accountable, consistent long form weekly content creation.

At the same time, I’ve also been working with some fabulous musicians as a marketing consultant, helping them develop their marketing plans, define their music career business goals, and then execute against those goals.

AND I’ve also been trying to keep up with the fast paced and ever changing worlds of both social media and music. Oh, and then there’s the new set of songs Stevie and I are working on for 2015 release.

I got to thinking a few weeks ago about how to distill down the things I see as vital for musicians – and any small business owner – to attend to as part of their social media for the coming year.

So here is what I would tell you to do in 2015 with your social media if you were my music marketing client:

  • Understand your primary social media business goals. Don’t jump into social media just because you feel you “need to be on social media.” Are you promoting a new album release, an event or tour? Is your primary goal to increase followers or Likes? Or are you trying to get the attention of bloggers, press or industry influencers? Are you trying to win a music contest or raise money via Kickstarter or Pledgemusic or some other platform? Is your goal to promote coupons or discounts to encourage fans to buy your music or merchandise directly from your website? Your goals will help determine both what social media channels to focus on, and what kinds of activities (posts) to engage in. Set some reasonable, concrete, realistic, numerical social media goals for 6 months and for a year from now – goals with numbers and a timeline. It’s easy to get lost, sidetracked and overwhelmed in social media. If you’re not aiming at something, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded.
  • Know who your target market is. What are the basic demographics (age, sex, location, artists they like) for your super fans? If you don’t have a big fan base, research the demographics of bands you consider your competition. I also wrote a blog post on identifying your super fan that includes some great online research tools.

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Margaret Bonus CD Cover

As 2014 winds down, I find myself both excited and bemused to write a final music marketing blog about a Seattle indie artist I first met a few years ago. His newest project, Margaret, hot off the press this month, impresses me both musically as well as promotionally (although I hesitate to use that word, and he would probably cringe at it, too). One of the things that characterizes this artist is a fierce allegiance to the creative much more so than the commercial, but perhaps that is a large part of what makes this music project such a great example to discuss.

Watching the way the marketing and promotion of this album has unfolded since I first heard about the project in April of this year has taught me a lot, and I hope you take something from my analysis.

Good music and creativity are at the heart of successful music marketing. I have never seen that embodied so clearly. The marketing is important, and executing well is important, but without good music, marketing only takes you so far.  First and foremost, I believe that what drove Jason’s project was making good music that was meaningful to him.

What is good music? Ah well, that is a subjective thing. All I can say is, I know it when I hear it. And I know when I don’t. And so do you, and so do fans. Marketing is just the icing – it doesn’t disguise a bad cake, but it sure makes a good one taste better. Now, it is true that music is subjective, and there are many tastes, many genres, and many niches. However, some music is just well written and well-performed, and even if you don’t like the genre, you can appreciate the musicianship. Most importantly, good music moves the audience emotionally. Passion, combined with creativity and craft, make art that is magical.

The second most important thing to get from this article is that being flexible and listening to what your fans want from you will go a long way. If you start with a great live performance, and then get a clear message from your fans to release a CD, do what they say and they will buy it.

There’s a bit more to what Jason did with this project, however, so I’ve outlined below the 10 elements I think were most effective at propelling the project forward at such speed and with such success.

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Solveig Headshot Red Sweater

Last month I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the offices of my friend Omri Mor’s Seattle startup, ZIIBRA. What a great team of highly motivated and creative people (their office Halloween pumpkin-decorating contest was, how do I say this? Inspiringly Awesome). 

While I was there visiting, I also did an interview with their charming community manager, Mia Myklebust, about one of my favorite subjects, music marketing.

Omri founded ZIIBRA in 2011 “with the goal of helping artists turn their creative projects into full-time gigs.” ZIIBRA is a crowd funding or online patronage service that strives to harness the internet to make creating art sustainable. It caters to various types of creative “makers”, from visual artists to musicians to herbalists, perfumers and artisan food producers. 

Here’s the interview I did with Mia Mykelbust at ZIIBRA:

Solveig and Mia on Couch

Solveig Whittle has had a number of different careers from Microsoft to Marketer to Musician. Her many interests and talents have given her a unique perspective on the artistic community and how they go about making a living from their passion.

“I started out as a programmer many years ago and worked at a big company,” Whittle said. “I worked at AT&T and then I kind of got into the business side and worked as a product manager in the high tech area.”

She has now found her way back into marketing, which is really where her heart lies, while at the same time pursing a career as a musician. Her diverse background has given her the tools to start her own successful music career as well as help musicians hoping to break into the industry.

“Think about it as starting a small business,” Whittle says.

“If you’re an artist and you don’t think about it as starting a small business – you can’t fathom that – it’s going to be difficult unless you partner with somebody who can do it.”

Particular early in their careers many musicians will inevitably be doing their own marketing and promotion. Whittle says that though it’s important for artists to have a broad understanding of what going on in these areas of their business, oftentimes artists are more successful when they partner with someone they trust to work on these sides of their career.

[More…]

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Taylor Swift Time Cover

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a blog post called 8 Things Indie Musicians Can Learn From Taylor Swift’s Red Release. That post has become one of the most popular on my blog, so I thought it appropriate to do a follow-up regarding the release of Swift’s newest album, 1989. Plus, analyzing and writing about the dynamic marketing duo of Taylor Swift and Scott Borchetta is downright fun. (If I were a graphic artist I would have a picture here of Borchetta in a Batman outfit and Swift as Robin).

The release of Swift’s 2012 Red album was a remarkable success from a marketing perspective. It propelled Swift from country into the mainstream pop market and made her one of the most powerful artists in the industry with a large and loyal fan base.

This year’s 1989 album also did not disappoint. Swift topped even her own record (no pun intended) with 1.29 million copies of 1989 sold in its first week (as compared to 1.21 million copies of Red in its first week after release). While selling 80,000 more units in Week 1 doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment, remember that overall, the music industry has shown a significant decline in sales in recent years. Until the release of 1989, 2014 looked to be the first year no single artist album would go platinum (sell over a million copies).  Sales of CDs for the first half of 2014 were down 19 percent from the year before, to 56 million, and even digital downloads declined by 14 percent in the first six months of 2014 (RIAA figures). 1989 comprised 22% of the entire US album sales the week of its release. In a declining industry, this was no small accomplishment.

As I did with my first article, it’s important to consider what the marketing goals were likely to have been for this release. In 2012, I proposed the marketing goals for Red were to expand Swift’s fan base beyond the country demographic into a broader demographic. I think the goals for 1989 were different: in this case, to maximize total net profits for the release. I mean, isn’t everyone already a Taylor Swift fan? Do we really need more Taylor Swift fans? (See Saturday night’s perceptive fake ad for Swiftamine for proof of her expanded demographic.) OK, just kidding. Sort of.

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taylor-swift-1989-album-target

During a recent Twitter exchange regarding the Taylor Swift/Spotify/streaming debate, I was labeled as  having “become a professional problem identifier.” I was exhorted to instead “Be a problem solver.”

Many more knowledgeable and successful than I have certainly already waded into the fray. Even Dave Grohl! Why bother to add my perspective?  Because every time I hear the argument that musicians should just “get over it,” or “stop complaining about streaming” I realize that many of us are not on the same page. We don’t even agree what the problem really is. I subscribe to the philosophy that solutions are built on consensus and common understanding, not on forcing a solution that doesn’t fit, or a model that only benefits one or two key players in the industry at the expense of the others.

It seems to me that there are a lot of things that get all confused up in this debate, and the refrain I keep hearing that musicians should just shut up and “focus on making great music” ignores the reality of how screwed up the music industry is and how hard it is – even if you’re a great musician with great material – to make a living at music.

I’m not a famous musician, or a tech entrepreneur, or someone with years of experience managing bands or running a record label. I’m just a musician, an anonymous musician who, like most of the musicians I know, doesn’t make a fulltime living as a recording artist. Oh, and fifteen years ago I was the VP of marketing at a startup whose product was distributed software as a service, bringing Microsoft Office to corporate desktops as, essentially, a streaming product.  I do care more about the long term future of musicians and the music industry than going public with my music tech company and cashing out (something I also know a bit about). And I am an engineer by training. I  have a sensitive radar for arguments that don’t square with my version of reality.

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Ricky Key and Wouter Kellerman

In fall of 2014, I interviewed New Age artists Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman about how they marketed their newest collaboration, Winds of Samsara. The album debuted in July at No. 1 on the Billboard New Age Chart, and then spent the following 12 weeks in the Top 10.

****** UPDATE!! February 8, 2015 – Kellerman and Kej WON a Grammy for Best New Age Album at the 57th Grammys. Congratulations! It couldn’t have gone to two nicer musicians and a harder working team. ******

Ricky, Wouter and their team are a hybrid indie artist marketing model: neither the artist nor the label does 100% of the marketing. Most of the marketing strategy, however, is planned and driven by the artists and their managers, with similarities to how Macklemore (Ben Haggerty), Ryan Lewis and Zach Quillen drove the charting success of The Heist in 2013.

Ricky and Wouter signed this project with a label, but they recognized from the start that their label wasn’t going to do everything needed to promote the album. The artists themselves needed to pitch in, especially with social media promotion. That is the powerful story here – all the incredible networking and promotion this team did for the album, in addition to using key industry resources at their label to help strategically promote the album in distribution and on the radio.

I’ve seen first hand on social media how Ricky, his wife Varsha Kej, Wouter, and Wouter’s manager, Tholsi Pillay, persistently promote Winds of Samsara. All four fluidly mix the creative with business. In addition to being Wouter’s manager, Tholsi played keyboards and synth on the album, and Varsha is Ricky’s manager as well as a sitar player. 

I wanted to hear more about how this marketing dynamo planned and executed their marketing, and what has gone into debuting and maintaining Winds of Samsara’s Billboard chart status over the past weeks and months. I also wanted to know what kind of promotional team they have behind them (distributor, PR, etc.)

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