What You Need to Know from the San Francisco Musician and Promoter Workshop

by Kara Murphy on February 4, 2010

Zambaleta on 19th and Florida in the Mission, SF

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit dubious when I initially heard about the first installment, via Twitter, of this San Francisco-based event back in November. How many seminars, workshops, and online tutorials are already out there promoting their take on the best practices in social media for musicians and managers? However, a closer look at the list of instructors, not to mention the partners including SonicLiving and the premier music technology event in the Bay Area, SF MusicTech Summit, revealed that the San Francisco Musician & Promoter Workshop promised to transcend your atypical music industry-related gathering.

Corey Denis - founder of Not Shocking, LLC

Corey Denis, Ali Watkins, Marisol Segal, and Jessica Zollman all have an extensive background in the music business and a strong online presence, individually, as well. So it’s only fitting that they would join forces to impart their knowledge gained from their unique experiences working for the likes of SPIN Magazine, Noise Pop Industries, IODA, and Capitol Records – just to name a few – to the vast array musicians and aspiring promoters residing in the Bay Area. Corey is also a contributing writer for The San Francisco Appeal and recently scribed a must-read article for any musician or fan: Help Your Favorite Local Bands Make Money Without Spending A Dime. To paraphrase, these women know their s*&t!

From Left: Jessica Zollman and Ali Watkins

The first meet-up was held at JamBase’s offices in the SOMA district. To say it was a resounding success is a bit of an understatement. The standing-room-only crowd got a thorough overview of the basics involved with artist promotion on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, not to mention the absolute necessity of creating one’s very own website. While it may seem like an exercise in futility to cover concepts that are seemingly obvious to anyone who has online access, the fact of the matter is some artists don’t pay nearly enough attention to the minute details and, as a result, risk getting derailed early on in their quest for a successful career. Some of the more pertinent points from the first session were recapped at the end of the second workshop; therefore, I’ll cover them accordingly in this post.

Last week, on a rainy Monday night, I made my way to the Mission where Zambaleta, a newly formed nonprofit dedicated to teaching music to people of all ages and economic backgrounds, served as their location for the evening. Notably absent was Marisol Segal. In her place stood Dustin Shey of TheOwlMag and Helena Price who runs PR/Technology efforts for Porto Franco Records, also the sponsor for the evening’s workshop. After a brief introduction, we were given three options for what we wanted to learn more about in the first forty-five minutes: Facebook and Twitter; Case Studies and PayPal; or WordPress and Tumblr. I opted for the latter discussion.

Helena Price and Dustin Shey

WordPress & Tumblr

One of the core concepts that reverberated throughout the first workshop back in November is that, yes, it is nice to have a MySpace page in place featuring a playlist of songs, YouTube videos, and other applicable media. However, it is 2010 and if you don’t have your own website that contains every facet of pertinent information your fans crave, then you are way behind the curve. Creating a site from scratch can be frustrating, expensive, and time consuming. This is why Dustin and Helena think WordPress, with its massive library of expertly designed themes and plug-ins, is the ideal platform for creating a professional-grade site in a timely, cost-effective manner.

This is one of many examples I've found that deftly illustrates how way too many artists rely solely on MySpace for their main Web presence.

Of course, just because you’re using WordPress doesn’t mean you want your URL to read, for example, http://spinningplatters.wordpress.com. By 1) creating an account at wordpress.org 2) purchasing a domain name through GoDaddy and 3) acquiring a hosting plan from basically any other service but GoDaddy (I personally recommend BlueHost.com) which comes out to roughly $150 for a one-year period, you’ll be set up and ready to create what you want your fans to think of as your “final destination.”

You’ve picked a theme (or, perhaps, had a Web-savvy friend and/or professional design a personalized version) and set up a hosting plan. Now what? As I mentioned above, your site should contain every bit of relevant information for your audience to easily navigate through. It should be your centrifugal resource for breaking news, photos, streaming music, tour dates, etc. Don’t send fans off to Facebook or MySpace to watch videos or find out where you’re performing next; it should all be contained within your site. Instead of sending them to Flickr to view your latest photos, install the plug-in.

The Ruby Suns make great music. Unfortunately, their main Website sends fans away to other sites to find what they're really looking for.

One of the best examples of what you can potentially do with a site built on WordPress’ platform came from a fellow attendee whose website, Blame Sally, contains all the necessary components to keep fans informed and engaged. Also, if you run into problems, WordPress forums contain virtually every solution to any obstacle a user could possibly encounter.

This is a great example of what an artist's site should look like. Everything a fan wants to find is easily accessible from one main source.

When it comes to updating your site, don’t come off as so professional that you strip the fun out of your content. Many fans of an artist don’t have the means to travel or live out the same dream. By providing updates that showcase a more “human” element to life on the road or in the studio, an artist will give followers the opportunity to live vicariously through said adventures and in turn, generate a heightened interest in the music. However, updating a blog can be tedious for those who want to give quick, media-rich updates with a bit more context than Twitter allows. Enter Tumblr.

What makes Tumblr valuable to artists, besides its ease of set-up and use, is that the microblogging service (which is a step above Twitter in terms of context and one below full blogging in terms of time consumption to update/detail) has an extensive network of artists at varying stages of their careers that have benefited from the community support and accessible features it offers. Find out more about Why Musicians Love Tumblr. While Posterous is another option, Helena and Dustin stressed that Tumblr has the largest, most dedicated network of musicians in its class.

Targeting Your Audience with Facebook

While it’s pertinent for musicians to have a “final destination” in place, Facebook shouldn’t be ignored. Through your WordPress site, you can install plug-ins like TweetMeme that will enable your fans to automatically share your updates on their Twitter timeline via Facebook – a convenient way they can help you virally spread the word. The most effective feature, however, is the targeted ads, which were explained in full detail by Corey Denis, when all the attendees reconvened in the main room.

With Facebook ads, you can increase your presence on their vast network by tailoring your campaign to reach more dedicated fans by targeting specific groups of people. For example, if your band is playing a show in Oakland, you can tailor your ad to reach people who work for companies like MOG, Gracenote, and Pandora. It’s also recommended to select the option that enables you to target users on their birthdays since that is when they are most likely to log in throughout the day to check well wishes, etc.

Narrowing your parameters to a specific demographic enables you to keep costs low…you can spend $10/day, maximum, and extend a campaign for up to a week by going the pay-per-click route (on average, you’ll spend about $0.52 per new fan). Never pay for impressions or banner ads, they are not the cost-effective option. Facebook gives you detailed statistics to keep track of your campaign’s progress. Finally, don’t advertise unless you have relevant news to share.

The Pyramid of Profitability

A concept that was revisited in full detail was the pyramid that illustrates the four different levels of fans plus how many a band needs to attract in order to have a sustainable career.

Work your way from the bottom up and you could have a successful career.

The bottom level contains millions of “Potential” fans that haven’t heard of your band yet. Once they do, therein lies the possibility of converting them into “Passive” (they’ll spend $2 – $5/year on a few of your songs) or, preferably, “Active” (they’ll attend your shows and purchase your albums) fans. A band like The Mountain Goats has been able to make the kind of music they desire and thrive due to their legion of “Super” fans. These are the people who will gladly spend an excess of $500/year on merchandise, shows, albums, and other collectibles. If your band has at least 1,000 fans at this level, you have a career.

How do you reach the millions of “Potential” fans out there that are constantly on a quest to discover new music? The most basic answer is to perform anywhere – don’t be snooty. At the early stages of a career, a musician shouldn’t be discerning about the venue to the point of turning opportunities away; the main goal is to expose your music to as many people as possible. Play anywhere. This reminds me of the time I stood in line for a shuttle at last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival and witnessed a one-man-act perform across the street in front of thousands of potential fans. He got their attention in an innovative yet simple way.

Another recommended method for outreach is to pick one or two social networks out of the hundreds that exist, thoroughly learn their inner workings, and become famous. Whether it’s Tumblr, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, or Facebook, figure out where the audience you want to connect with is hanging out the most and engage with them accordingly. This is where you’ll find the “Potential” fans to convert. Bandcamp, thesixtyone, and ReverbNation are three highly recommended sites to submit music as they are tailored specifically for the benefit of emerging independent artists.

Finally, get innovative with your promotion. One group who has garnered a strong online presence across multiple platforms with a unique approach to rewarding their fans is Get Busy Committee. Check out how they did it here. Playing to a small crowd? Buy a few pizzas for them and they’ll talk about it to all their friends. The idea behind exponential growth is to get people talking about you in any capacity.

It’s a Lot to Digest, Isn’t It?

The fact of the matter is, my recap doesn’t even begin to fully encapsulate the breadth of knowledge offered in this workshop series. I merely covered one of three segments offered for one evening alone. Nowadays, it is mandatory that artists pay as much attention to their business as the music they are creating. Of course, in an ever-evolving medium like the Internet, it can be quite the challenge to keep up-to-date on all the new tools and technologies introduced. Competing to stay relevant alongside hundreds of thousands of artists is daunting as well. Digital strategists like Corey and her consultancy are a recommended service as well as attending conferences and workshops that give you the tools to excel in an ever-evolving industry.

For more information on the instructors and forthcoming events for the San Francisco Musician & Promoter Workshop, visit their site. The next workshop will take place tentatively in April and focus on one of the most important aspects of any business, video. Even though working with this medium is an integral part of my full-time job as a Digital Marketing Manager for a tech publisher, I’m certain I’ll walk away with a newly acquired knowledge that I’ll benefit from. For all artists, promoters, and professionals working with social media, I highly recommend you follow @musicworkshopsf on Twitter and stay informed.

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