Hello everyone. For this month, I decided instead of an album review or talking about a concert I thought that I might perhaps offer some help to the community at large by addressing one of the things I see as a major common weakness: poor brand management. “Wait what,” I hear you say, “why are you teaching me an Intro to Business course here? I just want some dank bleep bloops, bro!” And that’s fine, because at the end of the day is not a man entitled to the bleep from his bloops? But for those of you who are interested in getting senpai to notice you, and by senpai I mean potential fans and friends, then I have some broad and functional advice for you in terms of making sure that what music you have is available to the most people and you can start being that cool kid who wears pastel colored 80’s and 90’s era windbreaker jackets, clear Wayfarer glasses, a geeky Snapback and patterned leggings that all the convention-goers want to throw their parents’ money at. Or whatever it is YOU deem as commercial success, I guess.
I’m going to start out by detailing what I view as the four most important steps to success, which are sometimes also some of the hardest truths to accept:
Step 1: Be Friendly
Wheaton’s Law isn’t just some funny internet adage. It doesn’t matter how good of a musician you are, you still need to interact with humans in order to get your music out there. If you’re a huge jerk, nobody’s going to interact with you and the best you’ll have to hope for is random plays on Soundcloud from related tags pulling your music in once someone’s music starts going to that shuffle mode. Given that one of the best ways to network in meatspace is by going to shows and having pleasant conversations with people between sets or at the merch booth, it really just behooves you in general to be a decent human being.
Step 2: Be Humble
As kind of a subset of Step 1, you may be pleasant to talk to and you may be a great musician but if you try to put down others’ music in order to make yours look better, you’re doin’ it wrong. At best, a lack of humility will make you look cocky, which is endearing to some and a huge turnoff for most. At worst, you’ll end up embarrassing yourself and losing any possible credibility. If you don’t like someone’s music, be able to articulate why – just saying “Wow this sounds like Baby’s First LSDJ” is not okay. Saying “I think there’s a better way to do this thing this person was trying to do and here’s how” is probably okay, as long as you’re not doing it in a way that makes you sound like an elitist know-it-all. Consider doing a remix of that person’s song – that’s a pretty great way of saying to someone “Hey, I like what you’re doing here, but I think I could do it another way” and maybe strike up a conversation and teach them a thing or two in the process. And who knows, it might even *gasp* make you a friend?!
Step 3: Be Persistent
What I do NOT mean by this is that you should be constantly harassing everyone on every social media platform and in real life to listen to your music and/or collab with you, nor should you be constantly trying to leverage any connection with anyone who is even remotely established in the scene for your own gain. This is literally The Worst Kind of Person (TM) and you should very much strive not to be this person. What being persistent DOES mean however is that you should continue trying to make music and get your name out there even when it seems like it isn’t working. You should always be looking for new places to perform, new things to do with your music making process, new friends to talk to to not only help hone your craft but to help facilitate finding new places to perform and new ways to innovate on your process. While it’s definitely important to take time to yourself and crank out your work, whether that be redesigning your website or making an album, remember again that if you’re the only one who hears your work, you’re…well, you’re the only one who hears your work.
Step 4: Be Good At What You Do
Okay, so I’m gonna say something a little controversial here – the biggest part of getting your name out there is making sure that you’re actually good at what you do. I’m not saying you shouldn’t put your name out there if you’re not a virtuoso or anything like that, but what I mean is that that whole thing about first impressions being the most important isn’t a lie, especially on the internet, and nobody’s going to come back for a second listen if you’re just sort of…
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be cataloging your work while you’re getting good to revisit later – and it’s also not to say that once you get better that you should go back and nuke all your old work. (As anyone who’s been around can tell you, there are some diehard fans that love your old stuff.) But what I do mean is that you always want to have your best face out to the public – make sure that whatever you’re putting out there is something that you WANT people to hear, not just “Hey I have an album full of WIPs I’m never going to finish so here you go.” (That only works if you’re already EXTREMELY well known and people are just hungry to hear more of your music but you haven’t got anything new to put out and need something to keep the masses off your back.) Be sure that what you’ve got out there on the vast space of the Internet is what you’d want someone to hear if someone Googled your band name because someone else told them you might be a good fit for their next show/videogame/bar mitzvah.
It’s all well and good to tell people the kind of person they shouldn’t be and who they should strive to be, but without any actual advice on how to do so this article is basically as good as useless to anyone. In my years of writing for this blog as well as my own education, I’ve come across a number of things I view as essential marketing tips and tricks for not only getting your name out there but also organically growing your social network (hashtagbuzzwordbuzzword). These range from extremely easy to accomplish to requiring at least moderate technical knowhow, but I’ll try and list them from what I view as easiest to hardest.
I KNOW ADAM SEATS: Viral Marketing
Some of you may know that I became sort of a meme a while back in the East Coast convention scene – throughout my life I’ve just been very good at being friendly and have my hands in many, many pies, and as a result what happens is that people that I know end up knowing other people but don’t know that they know me, only to find out that fact much, much later and be surprised by it. In order to help stop that from happening, I handed out buttons to people that I know personally that merely said “I KNOW ADAM SEATS” – but I failed to learn from Nintendo’s oft repeated mistake and completely underestimated the demand for these buttons. This led to a number of my friends posting their own homemade buttons or art on their own newsfeeds, which then led to other people either having no idea who I was aside from “that guy from those memes” or just assuming that I wasn’t a real person at all. After this, I commissioned more buttons and started handing them out, but at this point there were people that I definitely hand not personally talked to about this phenomena that knew about it and asked me for buttons, and at that point I knew it had grown beyond my control – word of mouth had taken what I assumed would just be a dumb in-joke for my friends and spread it out far beyond my own sphere of influence. People have literally gone up to my mother at her job and upon seeing her button remarked that they knew me personally.
I share this story because at its core what I did was learn how viral marketing worked. By creating something that resonated with my target audience enough to get them talking about it, I ended up spreading my brand to places I had no idea it would go. (Hopefully you’ll have something a little more substantial to get spread around than the power of friendship like I did- what is this anyway, Yu-Gi-Oh?) In chiptune, word of mouth is basically your only form of getting your name out there until you get big enough to start getting work doing music for games or movies. This blog is literally a word of mouth machine – we consume music we think is good and regurgitate it out to the masses for consumption like some sort of large bird feeding its young. (Note to self, never make that analogy again.) With the limited scope that chiptune exists in outside of just being lumped in as “game music,” sharing music with your friends is crucial as it can be impossible to find music without knowing exactly where to look for it. And then they tell two friends, and they tell two friends…you get the picture.
Finding Venues & Knowing Your Audience
Think for a moment: have you ever seen Cannibal Corpse play a papal inauguration? Have you ever seen Cyndi Lauper play The Gathering of the Juggalos? I hope not. If you’re trying to play music live where you live, you should think about what options you have available to you and who can help you get things set up. It can be a monumental effort to build an entire music scene from scratch (and that’s really a topic for another one of these help articles), but suffice it to say that you may have to do a little bit of legwork to get your first few live shows down. For the kind of music this scene generally tends to put out – i.e. peppy electropop or heavy synth stuff – consider looking for local house show venues that have had those kinds of shows in the past. Look for places that nerds gather – sure, your local indie used game store is a good and logical choice, but think outside of that too. Are there small bars in the area where geeky acts have performed before? Does your town have a group of people who get together for Game Jams? Have there been any listings on Meetup.com in your area for electronic music enthusiasts? Does a college in your area have any geeky clubs that might want to host a concert? By aiming small and gaining a core, dedicated following, you can set your sights a little higher: maybe to an anime or comic book convention in your area or opening for a touring band at a bar? Work your way up incrementally, learn who likes your music and find ways to go places that they go – for example, if you find that many of your fans are furries, consider trying to perform at Anthrocon or other furry conventions. If you find that your music appeals more to hardware purists, try to shoot for meetups where you can show off your sweet setup.
Managing Your Web Presence
So you’ve got your music. You’ve been talking to people at shows, people like your live act and you think everything’s going pretty well – but then someone comes up and tells you that they’d heard about you but couldn’t find you online! Oh no! But you spent so much time on your Ello page! And you’ve been writing music for years now – sure, every song has been released under a different artist name, but the fact that OTHER people don’t know they’re all you isn’t YOUR problem, is it?
If you take nothing else away from this article, I am begging you to please pay attention to this next paragraph. They don’t call it the World Wide Unconnected Series Of Pages – webpages need to connect to each other, and if you exist in multiple places on the internet they all need to link back to each other, because people who listen to your music exist in multiple parts of the web too. I would say an average artist would have the following: One place where your music lives, one to two social media pages, and maybe a personal blog or website. More prolific artists may have a professional website which functions as a resume with links to everywhere their music has been featured, anyone they’ve performed with, multiple social media pages, and probably one or two more places where they upload their music en masse for purchase. Every single major social media network gives you the option to list multiple places to link back to – for example, on Facebook you can list your personal website, your Twitter, your email, and now they even allow you to embed links to your Bandcamp page. Bandcamp lets you include links to basically any of your sites you would want to, as does Soundcloud. Twitter gives you one website link and a tiny freeform link area. Making your own website, of course, lets you link to as many of these things as you’d like – and you should like to do many of them! If you have to prioritize what you link to though, prioritize the place where you keep most of your music and your most active social media account, unless you have a personal website in which case you should prioritize linking to that because your landing page should be links to everything else you have (as you know, every site has easily recognizable logos that have been turned into buttons you can embed on your site, so USE THEM).
It’s all well and good to have your music up for purchase on Bandcamp and to start raking in those sweet sweet royalties from plays on Spotify, but what about merch? Physical objects! Physical objects that people can wear and touch and use in meatspace around other people, functioning as free advertising for you as well as giving them a sense of joy from having a nice object to display to their friends? You don’t need to be afraid of merch – and in fact, you don’t even need to sell it! Consider getting stickers with your performer name printed, maybe with a simple logo you’ve designed, that you can leave around places you perform. In fact, you should pretty much be giving out stickers or vinyl decals with everything you do – they’re extremely inexpensive to produce and even if you’re paying out of pocket for them, they’re a decent investment as people who stick them to their stuff have basically created guaranteed conversation starters about you if someone sees it. As for physical music merchandise, you don’t just have to sell CDs these days. Several artists, such as Professor Shyguy and Danimal Cannon, have opted to sell USB drives lodged in Game Boy cartridges – and you can find bulk of unpopular Game Boy games at basically any used game store which you can hollow out and slap a USB in. Many artists have started issuing their albums on cassette tape again and including a download code with it, but due to the cost in this process I would probably recommend against it unless you’ve got access to the materials yourself or have some serious money to sink into it AND know that that merch will move. Clothing, of course, can vary wildly in quality and price – while you could just do something lazy like putting your merch up on Redbubble or something, I’d strongly recommend reaching out to someone who specializes in merch for chiptune people. (For example, Pixie Druid does all the merch here at ChipWIN and has serviced chip artists all up and down the East Coast.) Not to mention, by sourcing your merch through someone in the scene, you’re also helping the scene grow, which leads us back to good networking practices.
Examples Of Good Online Brand Management
~*~Disclaimer: None of the people I have mentioned asked to be in this article, nor did they pay me or did I tell them ahead of time.~*~
I’d like to close this out with what I consider a few good examples of online brand management so you can see what I’m talking about and what you might be able to emulate.
- chipocrite.com: Chipocrite’s homepage, straightforward and to the point URL, easy to read font and color choice, links to Facebook and Twitter right on the home page with an embedded link to an album on Bandcamp. While the more casual/bloggy portions of the website appear to be neglected, these are now all posted to social media, which is where most people would consume that information anyway. Most of his life is wrapped up in the game he’s been working on for the last few years though, so I don’t begrudge him.
- disasterpeace.com: An extremely aesthetically pleasing landing page for everything Disasterpeace. Makes use of integrating everything Bandcamp can do as an embedded link in addition to providing links to other media and his own personal blog. In a perfect world, everyone’s music portfolio and social media presence would be this well organized.
- inversephase.com: Clean, readable and extremely thorough. While his other sites could use a little bit better link redundancy, the thoroughness of this page means that anyone who just goes looking for him online is going to get to where they can consume his media.
- stemagemusic.com: Okay okay, so Stemage isn’t straight up chiptune, but his site is extremely well put together. Most recent release embedded as the first thing you see, all other media links also immediately visible as well as having internal site links to see his portfolio. All of his sites link back to either his main website or the Metroid Metal site, which has its own set of links. There are a few 404s from older albums not being where they were, but for the most part it’s basically what anyone could hope for from an artist site.
So there you go. Next time, I’ll go into how to get into growing your own local scene.