music morsels September 2006 

FEATURE ARTICLE - THE INTERNET - A musician’s best friend...or is it?

by Mark E. Waterbury

To say that this is the era of the internet in the music business is a massive understatement. More and more, musicians, bands and music business professionals are relying on the internet to market their product and grow their fan base. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the world is literally at your fingertips with the Internet. Everything depends on how you use the Internet and what light you shed on it. The Internet can also be your worst enemy if you let it become that. Some musicians are doing that without really realizing it. There could be nothing more damaging than taking a potentially valuable avenue and converting it into a detriment.

There are a multitude of ways to market your music on the web today. You can of course have your own web site and page where you can post gig info, connect with your fans, and sell your CDs and merchandise. There are dedicated CD selling sites such as CD Baby and as many sites where fans can download your music for a fee. And of course there is that burgeoning Internet entity that people either praise or curse; Myspace, plus all of the similar sites. Like anything on the Internet, Myspace and other similar sites can be a valuable tool if you use it properly. You can reach out to fans, let them hear your music, post your concert dates, and, in general, connect with people. Too many bands and musicians seem to be using Myspace as a popularity contest based almost entirely on numbers, however. Some people spend hours on end just trying to sign up as many Myspace friends as they can, while not really connecting with the people they have signed up. Or they buy into the many friendbot softwares available which will automatically add up to 500 friends per hour - not very credible. While indiscriminately adding anyone who requests to be a friend including the explosion of strippers plying the site (a good indicator may be a string of requests from different girls who are all 22 years old from the same town), they may be missing out on real fans who requested the friendship because they are truly interested in the band. These are people you really need to communicate with. Also, you can find many of the business entities you need are here as well including clubs, agents, indie labels, publications, publicists and producers. If you just disregard them as anonymous friends while you are try to get thousands of friends because you think it looks impressive, you are missing the true networking opportunities provided for free on these sites. They may be looking for someone to play their club, potential new label signees, or new CDs to review.

The main focus of the internet is obviously communication. It is amazing how many people do not use that aspect to the fullest extent. You may have the coolest looking web site around with stunning graphics and a colorful layout, but that is not going to help much if you don’t keep it updated. I can’t believe how many times I have gone to band web sites and discover very outdated information. With web sites, you need to post anything pertinent immediately, such as new gigs, CD reviews, or anything generally newsworthy. If you don’t have anything happening, the least you can do is regularly post a letter to your fans to thank them for their loyalty and let them know what you are up to. These are the kinds of grass roots efforts that help strengthen the bond of loyalty between a band and their fans, and fan loyalty is one of the most vital factors in increasing your popularity. If you have a web designer or if your label or publicist is handling your web site for you, make sure you keep in constant communication with them about updates and news items as well.

The main communication facet with the internet is email. It can be used to send press releases, announce new CDs, tour dates, connect with your fans, and communicate with business entities crucial to your career. Once again, this method only works if you use it to your fullest extent. Many publications and clubs nowadays request communication only through email if you are trying to get gigs or coverage. Email is a no-brainer; it is there, you need to use it. It is a less intrusive way to communicate with people than the telephone, for example. You can use the two in combination. If you are trying to reach someone by phone and you get their answering machine, when you leave your message tell them that you are going to email them as well, and let them know the address you will be sending it from. When you send the email, address the person you are contacting in the subject header, followed by a sentence that will get their attention without sounding too much like a sales pitch. "Used car" type sales pitches tend to get blown off as junk email and sent to the spam file. You need to make sure you actually get through to the people and not discarded or emailing is not going to help you anyway.

Another understatement about the internet is the research value. You can search for clubs and festivals to perform at, both print and webzines to get reviewed in, businesses to work with, indie labels to pitch to, and film and TV projects to try to get your music placed in. In your research, you can also find out info about business people who you may be trying to work with such as managers, publicists and agents; conversely, they can find out about musicians as well. When doing internet research of this type, one aspect to keep in mind is very simple - DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ! One of the negative facets of the internet is that it is a breeding ground for people who release anger, hostility, and out-and-out lies. You may stumble across a post that says the booker you want to work with is a thief. The booker may come across a post saying you are a flake. Someone who has too much time on their hands and not enough brain cells to know what to do with it may have started all this. Of course, you need to investigate something that could be a reason not to work with a particular person or group, but too many people automatically take what they read as gospel. For some reason, they think that if they read it on the internet, then it must be true, when in most cases the opposite is true. You may have just read one person’s opinion, and if you search further, you may find a multitude of people who don’t think the same way. Or that one person may just have some ill-perceived personal vendetta against whoever you are considering working with. Then there are those people who just get their jollies by typing derogatory remarks on the internet about whoever they feel like. The internet is a ready made avenue for people like that to vent, not caring if it harms others or not. Some web sites and pages are even dedicated to this. So you need to look deeper into any negative statement on the internet before making decisions. If it is a potential business associate, confront them directly about the statement if you feel it is necessary. They may be able to shed some light on why someone would say something about them. You can also send out email queries to various lists to see what others may say about the musicians or professionals you may want to work with. Also be mindful of internet scams. There are people who are out to bilk anyone they can from their money, including musicians. You do have to research especially anything that sounds too good to be true to make sure it is legitimate.

In keeping with our advice in last month’s issue about having thick skin, you need not worry too much about negativity put on the web about you, unless it is an actual untruth and not an opinion. If someone says your band sucks, that is their opinion and there is not much you can do about that except making sure you don’t suck, letting everyone you can know that you don’t suck, and hoping they will stick up for you and post positive statements in the internet. If someone says something that is truly libelous and factually untrue that could cause problems for your music career, then you can take action. You can contact them directly or if necessary, their web administrator and ISP to request the material be removed. In most cases, they will comply or else they can be held legally accountable. In extreme cases, you may have to take legal action. When this type of situation does arise, you need to keep making sure that you are putting as many good posts as possible about yourself on the internet, so when people research you, they will see more positive remarks. This is something your fans and your professional team can help you with.

Along with negative untruths, there are also what could be called in oxymoron terms positive untruths or just blatant exaggerations. This is when people over inflate themselves to make them look bigger and better than what in reality they are. This is fairly common in business pitches from both the musician and the professional sides of the music industry, and you have to sift through this as well. Professionals are a bit more careful about this, as their credibility can be easy to check. You should definitely check credentials of any professional you want to bring aboard anyway, to make sure they are being above board with you. Once again, remember to research any negativities when you do that. Musicians are a little more frequently guilty of puffing up their worth. They may have opened for a national act at one time, and claim they are a now a nationally known touring band. They could have contributed a song or two on several albums, and then claim that they have a library of dozens of CDs that they personally recorded. First of all, for any musicians that do that, it is not a good idea. Honesty does count for something in this business whether you think so or not. If you say “I opened for this band” or “I recorded with this act” people are still going to take notice; name dropping is common and should be used properly. If you say that “I recorded this album” as if it is your own, and someone finds out in fact you contributed only one song, that makes you look dishonest. When you lie or exaggerate to try to make yourself look better, people are more likely to think you are trying to hide the fact that you are not that good when you over inflate yourself. It is easy to overinflate on the internet because people often get so impressed by reading credentials. You really need to stick with honesty, humility, and doing the best you can to create and perform good and enjoyable music. People who BS too much are eventually exposed and will then find it hard to get work so it is just simply not worth it.

Of course those of you who read this respect the internet as a resource, as we are a webzine. Like any tool, the internet can be your best friend or worst enemy depending on how you use it. The main two ideals are communication and research, but you have to use them to their fullest extent and use common sense with it. Don’t believe everything you see, keep your web sites updated, and keep in touch with your fans and professional team. If you utilize the internet properly, you can create an edge for yourself in today’s highly competitive music markets.
Division of Serge Entertainment Group