PR Lessons from the Music Industry

Drink Up Buttercup playing thier acoustic set at CMJ's Happy Hour at Brooklyn Brewery

Last week I had the opportunity to attend CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.  I was able to sit in on the panel called “Being Your Own Label: Taking DIY to the Next Level”, which focused on how today’s struggling musicians often have to be thier own label and rely on their own means for marketing and publcity.  The moderator was Chris Schlarb (Founder/CEO of Dubshot Records) with a panel of the digi savvy: Gian Caterine (CFO Tunecore Inc), John Lavallo (Music Attorney, The Takeout Group), Yancey Strickler (Cofounder, Kickstarter), and Peter Van Ness (President

I was outnumbered since a majority of the audience in the room were independent artists searching for help in promoting themselves.  I am fairly sure I was the only person in the room interested in doing the “dirty work” that musicians didn’t want to do.  I have always been a firm believer that if you are in marketing or public relations, you need to follow the course of the music industry to see where the future of media and consumer behavior is headed.

Here are some key concepts to understand about the independent musician today that also apply to a smart business sense:

  1. Napster did not kill music business, music business killed music business. You are your own worst enemy. Be smart about the business choices you make and keep the customers in mind.
  2. With modern technology, an artist can do their own production and sound recording at home. Technology is making things much easier.  When it comes to PR, it’s best to limit outsourcing as much as possible – be a Renaissance man, learn to do it yourself, design and technology is not scary.
  3. One should not get into music to be rich, you will not make money.  Be an artist if your ultimate goal is to express yourself. If you are a working artist today, you will constantly be working uphill.  If you are in public relations, you are working as much as the media and as often as people communicate – which is always.
  4. The Internet, great as it may be, will not solve all problems.
  5. There will be no more huge rock stars/You will not always get your press release in the New York Times.
  6. There are separate skills for being a musician and other skills for running a business. Learn how to balance both or find some one else to do it.  Pay attention to that which you excel in.
  7. Often, gaining national exposure is too much “noise” for the consumer/listener. Consumers no longer want to be “pushed at” – they would much rather search on their own.  It’s a PR practitioner’s job to find that audience who had a vested interest in what you are promoting.
  8. Too many profiles on too many social networking sites devalues yourself.
  9. It is more important than ever to connect with your fans.  Your fans are the ones sharing your music with others/Your customers are most important; thier perception of the company/organization is the most important one.
  10. Fans are less likely to purchase CDs; but they will pay for live performances – the initial product if you will.  If you have faith that the product/service/organization you are working for has quality, you must work to make sure the initial message/product does not get lost.

4 thoughts on “PR Lessons from the Music Industry

  1. The industry is constantly’s important to move with the current, but also to have a strong idea of where you want to end up. Artist & Bands need to have a killer live performance in order to establish real fans who will follow them on their musical journey.

    1. Agreed. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think at the panel Yancey said an artist can survive if they have only 1,000 true fans.

  2. Good points. All are very straight forward and partly obvious, but I’d recommend anyone who want to survive in this business nowadays to keep such concepts in mind all the time, and know if some of them don’t work anymore.

    “There will be no more huge rock stars” – I love that. It’s like remembering that you will die someday and living at your best.

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