Being in a band has never easier thanks to social media, right? All a band needs for success these days is a page on Facebook and a Twitter profile and they’ll be headlining Wembley in no time, right? Erm, no. One digital comms bod – and guitar playing future rock god – explains why, when it comes to social media, it’s a long way to the top…if you wanna rock and roll.
by Dave Musson
Ah, social media. The sure-fire tool for a band to go in the blink of an eye from unknown to unable to walk down the street without being mobbed. Upload a couple of songs, watch it go viral and then ditch the day job for a life of sex, drugs and rock n roll.
That’s what some people might think, but it’s really not that easy.
Sure, there are examples of it happening – Arctic Monkeys shot to fame in the mid-noughties thanks in no small part to their following on MySpace (yes Myspace, remember that?) and social media is also, essentially, to blame for Justin Bieber. But, speaking as a member of unsigned Birmingham rock band The Crimson Star (linkto: www.thecrimsonstarmusic.com), social media is neither a silver bullet to solve every problem facing upcoming bands nor is it a golden ticket to stardom.
Why so? Well, there are a few factors involved.
Firstly, there is a lot of competition out there. And I mean a lot. The fact that Reverbnation, a social network aimed specifically at bands, has enough acts on it to create charts for different genres of music for every city, underlines this – especially when a lot of bands aren’t even on Reverbnation.
Then there’s the problem of algorithms; Facebook is a go-to platform for unsigned bands – unsurprising because it’s free to join, its functionality and offering as a PR platform is pretty good and you can almost guarantee that most people who see you play a gig will be on Facebook. They can like you with a click, but there is then a good chance they’ll never see anything from you again. We all know what a pain Facebook’s demands for money to show your content to all of your fans is; if a big organisation such as a local council can’t afford to promote all of its posts, imagine how tough it is for an unsigned band – especially given that a lot of establish bands can still struggle for cash.
Numbers can be a pain too; there seems to be massive importance placed on bands having huge followings on social media (which, of course, can be paid for), rather than looking at the content that band puts out and whether or not the band bothers to engage with its fans. In my day job as social media lead for the University of Warwick, I stress to people that having a small but engaged following is, in many ways, far better than having huge follower numbers, yet the moment I switch to band mode I feel forced to chase numbers, even though I know it is flawed.
Ultimately though, there is one massive problem with bands and social media; generally speaking, bands –signed and unsigned - are rubbish at using social media channels.
Signed bands are, on the whole, rubbish at social media because they have no real need to do it well. Most signed bands can build a huge following on social media just by the fact that people have already heard of them and therefore will seek them out and follow them.
Take one of my favourite bands, Foo Fighters, as an example. Unsurprisingly they have millions of fans on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/foofighters) and not far short of two million followers on Twitter (https://twitter.com/foofighters). Their content is ok, but it’s all a bit corporate and not overly engaging. This is a pattern you’ll see across many signed bands:
“Buy our album”, “come to our tour”, “watch our video” etc.
Let’s face it, if you weren’t a fan of a band pushing this stuff out, you’d find it a little dull – in fact, there are plenty of bands I love who I find too dull to follow on social media.
There are some exceptions:
- I love how Pearl Jam uses Instagram (http://instagram.com/pearljamofficial) to show off their famously lengthy setlists that change nightly, custom posters that are designed for each gig they play and some ace video footage.
- Rock duo ’68 brilliantly split a video for one of their songs into two separate clips that had by played in synch to be heard properly (http://www.theprp.com/2014/06/19/news/68-release-two-videos-that-require-manual-synchronization-for-new-single-track-two/)
- Jordan Buckley from the band Every Time I Die is so awesome at social media I wrote an entire blog post about him earlier this year. (linkto: http://davetwopointoh.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/be-yourself-why-a-guitarist-youve-never-heard-of-from-a-band-youve-probably-also-never-heard-of-is-my-social-media-hero/)
Unsigned bands are rubbish at social media for different reasons. Either they hardly ever update profiles, or update one account and have that auto post everywhere else, or they post endless amounts of pointless drivel without actually doing the band part – ie playing gigs and recording songs – all of which is summed up hilariously and accurately in this video.
My own band is OK at social media – I’d like to think we perhaps do it better than some of our local peers. We get the most engagement and value from our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thecrimsonstarmusic), we have sporadic success with Twitter (www.twitter.com/tcsmusic), we use YouTube (www.youtube.com/thecrimsonstarmusic) as a reliable hub for our videos, we post (I think) interesting content on Instagram (www.instagram.com/tcsmusic) but to a pitifully small audience and we’ve dipped our toes into Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/tcsmusic), using it mainly as a neat way of scrapbooking stuff on the web about us. We are fortunate that the band member who manages our social media pages – that’s me in case you hadn’t guessed – also ‘does’ social media as his day job, and I appreciate it might not be as natural a communication channel for other bands.
Being engaged with band-related social media as both a creator and consumer, I feel like I have a decent idea about what works and what doesn’t. With that in mind, and using some examples of some of the things The Crimson Star has tried, here are my 11 ways unsigned (and a few signed) bands can be better at social media.
Update regularly: This is a no-brainer for everyone doing social media, but especially for all those unsigned bands out there vying to boost their profile. Case in point; in preparation for this post I browsed through the list of ‘musician’ pages that I have liked on my personal Facebook account and genuinely didn’t remember ever connecting with most of those listed, as they update so infrequently. I try to update The Crimson Star’s Facebook and Twitter accounts daily.
2. Be relevant to each platform and don’t auto-post: A difficult one, as most people in bands probably want to spend their time actually playing/writing music rather than updating social media, and there are so many tools that will allow to post everywhere at once with the click of a button. The main problem with this is approach is that is looks crap and it could also suggest that you don’t have a grasp of how each platform works. Instead, make the effort to modify your posts to each of your networks. It will at least give the perception that you a competent e-marketer of your band and will give people a reason to follow you across different platforms – thereby helping grow your networks across the web.
3. Visuals are great: Another one lifted from ‘social media 101’ but people love visual content. Share photos of the band, make posters for your gigs, make your own memes (do this sparingly though) and post ‘bootleg’ videos of you playing live. Your followers will love them. Here’s a few things The Crimson Star has done…
The band photo
A homemade gig poster
A bootleg video of us playing live that was enough to convince Planet Rock radio to let us open the live music stage at this year’s Bike4Life Festival. You can see it here: http://youtu.be/LUano_YitmE?list=PLZxZszCpDuvRssIlscAzkgz7K_PgMsYpp
4. Mailing lists and street teams: Having a mailing list is vital; if someone likes you enough to give you their data, they are far more likely to come to a gig, buy your CD and share your new video. Have a sign up box on your website and use your social accounts to plug it every now and then (as well as having a paper version to gather names at your gigs of course). Creating a ‘street team’ is another interesting concept; earlier this year I created a private Facebook group called The Crimson Star street team. It has around 20 members, all of whom are friends I know like the band and with whom I checked that they were happy to help us out before creating the group. Every so often – probably averaging around once a month – I’ll ask them to share a photo/link for us on their personal profiles, which massively boosts the organic reach of our Facebook content and almost plays the Facebook algorithm at its own game. The street team members are then rewarded with exclusive links to new material or new videos, as well as the odd free gig ticket. I’m careful to not ask too much of the group, as I don’t want to take the biscuit, but they seem happy to help and I’m so grateful for it. It’s also ace to have friends who have been with us since our first gig feel part of our journey as we continue to grow.
5. Use #hashtags to build excitement: Who says you can’t create your own hashtags? No-one! Last December, The Crimson Star hosted its first charity Christmas gig, raising money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital. We built excitement for the gig for a couple of weeks by doing our own version of the 12 Days of Christmas, which we tagged #12daysofcrimsmas (boom, boom!). For the 12 days leading up to the show we posted something daily – this included details about the other bands on the bill, information about the charity we were supporting and a photo of the mince pies (topped with actual crimson stars) my mum baked to give to the first 50 people through the door. The hashtag went on everything so people could pull all the updates together if they wanted.
6. Think about branding: Having great songs is one thing, but to stand out from the crowd upcoming bands need to have a strong image and be able to build a brand for themselves. You can do this fairly easily on social media just by ensuring the look and feel of your web presence is consistent. If you look at The Crimson Star’s website and then find us on social media, you’ll notice that we use the same band photo as a header image and the same profile avatar on our social accounts – this is not a coincidence!
7. Get your fans and followers involved: The Crimson Star has just released its new EP - which you can get your hands on here (http://thecrimsonstar.bandcamp.com/album/no-ordinary-love) by the way –and, as well having three cool songs on it, we’re really proud of the artwork. Why? Because we used social media to crowd source it. We asked our networks to send us pictures of hearts (NB the EP is called No Ordinary Love) either using the hashtag #loveTCS, by posting to our Facebook page or via email, and we used the best ones to create the collage artwork. We weren’t sure what to expect but the result was incredible. We had enough contributions to make a front and back cover:
As well as one of our fans sending us this AMAZING drawing that was so great, we used it as the inside page of the EP and are now talking with the artist behind it about her potentially working on a t-shirt design for us:
As a thank you, we’ve given a free, signed copy of the EP to everyone who sent us a heart that was used, and gave a free mp3 of one of the new songs to those who entered something that we didn’t use. Not only do we now have some very different looking artwork, we’ve also got an extra story to tell when promoting the new release to the media. Win, win.
8. Promote: While you shouldn’t just be pure salespeople on social media, there’s no getting away from the fact that they offer great platforms to push things. If you’ve got a gig or a release to plug, use social media! As long as you offer other, interesting content in between gigs/album releases you’ll find a good balance that will keep your followers engaged.
9. Advertise: OK, so quietly brushing aside the fact that bands are rightly unhappy at realising the only way their content can be seen by all of their followers is to pay for it, Facebook advertising is actually not too bad. The beauty is that you have total control of the budget, so you can ensure any ads you take out are affordable. Also they can be targeted to a specific audience and/or area, making them a great way to plug an upcoming gig. The Crimson Star recently played its first ever acoustic gig and spent £10 to push a post promoting the gig on Facebook. The result was a healthy turnout at the gig, many of whom purchased merchandise that covered the cost of the advertising outlay. Most unsigned bands are expected to promote their gigs and taking out an ad on Facebook is a cheap way of reaching a relevant audience.
10. Be your own superfan: Being in an unsigned band is not just about playing music, you have to be prepared to promote yourself too, so really go for it and be your own superfan. Talk about your band on your personal accounts and link to them where you can – also, sharing your band’s content on your personal account is a great way to help boost the organic reach of your content. It also means your friends don’t have the excuse of not knowing you’re in band or that you have a gig coming up; I’m sure plenty of my connections on social media get fed up of me plugging the band when we’re in busy mode but, frankly, I don’t care!
11. Keep going!: Persevere with using social media to promote your band and good things will happen – whether that’s more people at your shows, more downloads of your music or even a crowd-sourced piece of artwork, it’s worth putting the effort into doing social media well. Think of your band as a business that has adoring and loyal customers and then market the band in a fitting way and interact with your fans online too.
So there you have it – social media for bands…easy! Oh, and don’t forget while you’re doing all your great stuff on social to tick off those other items on the to-do list. You know, make a great website with a working webstore, build lists of press contacts and send them press releases, get your songs to radio stations, print out gig posters, flyers and mailing list sign up sheets and get them out there, play gigs, sell tickets, talk to people who come and watch you, sell them your merchandise, write amazing songs, look super cool, inspire millions, break hearts and take over the world.
Dave Musson plays guitar in The Crimson Star when he is not being the strategic lead for social media at the University of Warwick.