I “met” Michael Lewin virtually (online) last year on one of the indie artist Grammy® Facebook pages. He sent me his CD, “Beau Soir,” in the mail, and honestly, I really loved it. I didn’t think I would. It was all classical piano pieces, and all Debussy, at that. We communicated briefly via Facebook, a medium in which he was unfailingly polite and sincere.
This year, Michael released a companion Debussy album, “Starry Night”, also on the Sono Luminus label. It’s a good thing he has a label to help market his music, because I think Michael is one of the least self-promotional, yet most talented artists I know.
Although Michael and I have never met in person, and I cannot say I am at all, even remotely, any kind of expert in classical music, I find Michael’s music pretty amazing.
It never fails to surprise me how much of a person is expressed in their music, regardless of the genre or format. I can hear Michael’s reserved and polite, almost formal personality, and his highly precise musical technique. I am not a pianist, but I can hear the perfectionism when he plays. It’s not surprising, given his education at Julliard, and the time he spent studying piano in France at Debussy’s boyhood conservatory in his hometown of St-Germain-en-Laye. Michael Lewin has devoted his life to the piano, and he demonstrates a level of musicianship that most of us can only aspire to.
Juxtaposed with that intensity and focus on technique, I can also hear the love Michael has for the pieces he plays. One cannot help but be moved by the passion he expresses while playing, and he has a loyal and growing global following as a result.
Those moments when you are suddenly overtaken and swept away by the power and beauty of music, and life is given meaning once again…
— Michael Lewin (@Lewinpiano) October 1, 2015
Michael also had a featured performance of a Chopin Nocturne on the Grammy-winning No.1 Billboard New Age Album “Winds of Samsara,” by Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman.
This fall has seen further well-deserved success and visibility for “Starry Night.” The album has been featured on the front page of Apple Music, MusicWeb International awarded it September 2015’s Recording of the Month, and Rhapsody named “Starry Night” one of the Top 10 Classical Albums of the Month.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Michael. I’ve put a link to his website and social media channels at the bottom of this post so you can watch and listen to him play, follow him on social media, and find out when he’s coming to a town near you to perform. In addition to being a fantastic pianist, he’s a super nice human being.
What factors cause a band with regional popularity to suddenly break onto the national scene?
Night Riots is a California-based rock band that has gotten a lot of buzz recently, and this article is all about how and why from a marketing perspective.
Disclaimer: I don’t have any personal or professional connection to Night Riots; I’m just interested in profiling them as a marketing case study in indie music success.
I’m a member of a public Facebook Group called The Music Biz Weekly Music Marketing Mind that currently has over 1250 members. If you’re a musician or otherwise in the music business, I can recommend this group as a great place to share and get ideas about music marketing.
A few weeks ago, one of our Facebook group’s members, Diane Phillips, posed a question to the group about Night Riots. This stimulated some lively commentary from myself and others, because goodness know that we Music Musketeers, er, Marketeers, er… Marketers cannot refrain from giving our opinions when asked (and even sometimes even when not asked). I say that with great humility and affection.
I thought it would be useful to summarize what I learned from my research and other peoples’ comments about Night Riots’ recent success. Perhaps you will see elements of yourself, if you are a musician, or your clients, if you are a music marketing consultant, and find something that you can run with to further your own success.
Blah blah blah personal branding blah blah blah purpose blah blah blah cause marketing…
I hear several related refrains oft repeated in the world of social media gurus:
- “Purpose” is important if you are going to do social media
- “Cause marketing” (eg. The Ice Bucket Challenge) is the best way to get attention in a crowded social media world drowning in selfies
- The millennial generation wants to know what principles a brand stands for before they will buy a product with that brand
- “Storytelling” is the heart of marketing today
- Being “genuine” is critical in getting your message across because trust is everything in social media and marketing
When my friend, social media practitioner and public speaker, Russell Sparkman, guest lectures in my social media class, he emphasizes the important of Purpose (which from now on in this post, I will refer to with a capital letter) with his succinctly worded foundational principle for social media and content marketing:
As Russell says, “the path to engaging content happens when you connect the dots between:
- The share-worthiness of meaningful content,
- The share-worthiness of content that offers “utility purpose,”
- Increased consumer expectations that brands must address social issues,
- And consumer acceptance of brands talking about the good work they do.”
Create A Marketing Plan With Purpose
In working with artists to create a marketing plan that is personalized to their music and where they are at in their musical career, I think all of these “outbound” marketing reasons around social media effectiveness are great. But there are also very clear practical reasons to be clear about your Purpose before launching into the frenzy of ANY PR, promotion, or marketing of any kind for your newest release, for a single, or for your music video.
To be clear, this post is NOT about Purpose in a religious sense, although that may be related for some people. It is, however, all about something transcendent. Also, I will note up front that I am very aware that the items I am talking about spell POT. OK, enough 9th (6th?) grade jokes.
A lot has been written about the recently announced Apple Music as a streaming music service for consumers, but one thing I have been curious about as an indie musician is the new Connect service. How does it work? What impact will it have on me and you as indie and DIY artists? Should we make the effort to “claim” our Connect artist profile pages? Is Apple going to save the music industry or has it replaced Google as the new 500 lb gorilla villain?
A Powerful New Direct-To-Fan Platform
Benji Rogers of PledgeMusic recently wrote:
“Previously one of the biggest impediments to artists letting their fans know about external offers was the fact that iTunes and services like it owned all of the fan data. Therefore, they owned that connection. Using Apple Music’s Connect feature, artists can let their fans know in real-time what they are working on, link out to their pre-order pages and gather their fan data into a destination that they actually use and control. Artists can post ticket links, bundles and exclusive content to those who want to see it and, consequently, control the conversation.”
Rogers concludes his post with the prediction that “The platform that becomes the thinnest skin between the artist and fan and fosters a meaningful two-way communication between them, becomes a bright part of the artist’s and industry’s future, no matter what.”
So is Connect the best thing to come along for DIY artists, or is it just another Ping, or worse – MySpace? What do we know and what should we make of it?
YouTube is the number one search engine for music, so having at least one or two music videos up there seems like a no brainer, check-the-box item for an indie musician.
And once in a while, a music video from an unknown artist goes viral, giving them a huge boost in visibility.
As indie artists, we all feel the pressure to produce a stellar music video (or two), and we look with no small amount of envy at those artists who seem to get discovered overnight via their viral music video. But how is it done? Can you make a music video that is more likely to go viral?
I’m less interested in the viral videos by popular stars like Taylor Swift (Bad Blood) or Sia (Elastic Heart, Big Girls Cry), because those are undoubtedly supported by large online marketing efforts. I’m more interested in music videos made by relatively unknown artists with small to zero marketing budgets which nonetheless seem to have caught on and propelled those musicians’ careers forward in a significant way.
So let’s look at three recent examples.
Grant Maloy Smith is an Americana indie artist who lives in Rhode Island. I first met him as a member of the online indie Grammy® community this past fall. I was impressed with how he seemed to know everyone. Online pictures of him kept popping up collaborating with other musicians I knew, like Jody Quine and Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman, performing live or playing on their songs in the studio. For a guy based on the East Coast, he sure seemed to show up at LA recording sessions a lot!
I finally met Grant in person in February of this year at The Soiree, a showcase of indie Grammy artists at the House of Blues in LA, where he and I played backup for one of our mutual friends, nominee Paul Avgerinos. Grant was just as much fun in person as he is online.
I’m always interested in artists who
- Write and perform their own original music
- Collaborate with other artists often and outside both their own genre and immediate geographical area
- Have retained a sense of humor, and more importantly, a sense of purpose and vision for their music, in an industry that seems very opaque and anonymous
- Have had careers in other fields, where they have acquired strong business and social skills which they apply to their music careers
- Have over ten thousand Twitter followers
I think you’ll enjoy this interview with Grant, and learn some practical tips as well.
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 happen – community, 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.
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
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
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.
Here is my interview with Paula Boggs. I think you’ll enjoy it.