Trent Reznor: What To Do As A New / Unknown Artist

This post on Trent Reznor's NIN blog is a must read from an artist who has helped re-write the rules of modern music marketing. I've added bold type to some passages for emphasis.

Trentreznor "I posted a message on Twitter yesterday stating I thought The Beastie Boys and TopSpin Media "got it right" regarding how to sell music in this day and age. Here's a link to their store: illcommunication.beastieboys.com]

Shortly thereafter, I got some responses from people stating the usual "yeah, if you're an established artist – what if you're just trying to get heard?" argument. In an interview I did recently this topic came up and I'll reiterate what I said here.

If you are an unknown / lesser-known artist trying to get noticed / established:

* Establish your goals. What are you trying to do / accomplish? If you are looking for mainstream super-success (think Lady GaGa, Coldplay, U2, Justin Timberlake) – your best bet in my opinion is to look at major labels and prepare to share all revenue streams / creative control / music ownership. To reach that kind of critical mass these days your need old-school marketing muscle and that only comes from major labels. Good luck with that one.

If you're forging your own path, read on.

* Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.

To clarify:
Partner with a TopSpin or similar or build your own website, but what you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people's email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them somethingYOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters… whatever.

Don't have a TopSpin as a partner? Use Amazon for your transactions and fulfillment. [www.amazon.com]

Use TuneCore to get your music everywhere. [www.tunecore.com]

Have a realistic idea of what you can expect to make from these and budget your recording appropriately.
The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact – it sucks as the musician BUT THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (for now). So… have the public get what they want FROM YOU instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process (plus build your database).

The Beastie Boys' site offers everything you could possibly want in the formats you would want it in – available right from them, right now. The prices they are charging are more than you should be charging – they are established and you are not. Think this through.

The database you are amassing should not be abused, but used to inform people that are interested in what you do when you have something going on – like a few shows, or a tour, or a new record, or a webcast, etc.

Have your MySpace page, but get a site outside MySpace – it's dying and reads as cheap / generic. Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE AND EASY TO FIND AND HEAR MUSIC (but don't autoplay). Constantly update your site with content – pictures, blogs, whatever. Give people a reason to return to your site all the time. Put up a bulletin board and start a community. Engage your fans (with caution!) Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. Get a Twitter account. Be interesting. Be real. Submit your music to blogs that may be interested. NEVER CHASE TRENDS. Utilize the multitude of tools available to you for very little cost of any – Flickr / YouTube / Vimeo / SoundCloud / Twitter etc.

If you don't know anything about new media or how people communicate these days, none of this will work. The role of an independent musician these days requires a mastery of first hand use of these tools. If you don't get it – find someone who does to do this for you. If you are waiting around for the phone to ring or that A & R guy to show up at your gig – good luck, you're going to be waiting a while.

Hope this helps, and I'll scour responses for intelligent comments I can respond to.


TopSpin Media info:

** quick update:
Thanks for the insightful comments already – when I get a moment (and a reliable internet connection) I'll respond to some of your very valid points. Please keep in mind – these were just some thoughts I quickly wrote down and posted and not meant to be a complete guide by any means. I've neglected to get into publishing and some other things. I'll update pretty soon.

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  1. one thing that i believe is very important is location–but that question is still very open-ended… where are the best places, in each country, to have new music heard?
    we’ve been playing LA (just supported W.I.G. a while back at air conditioned) and we’re finding that LA is a difficult market due to everyone always pushing their own material–where are the people that just want to get out and see good music?
    so as a band, we’ve been talking a lot about finding the right market to excel in–is somewhere in pennsylvania better because people there love to go out and see bands or is it better in LA where the majors are located and you can reach the big names, although the audience has millions of choices each night and is difficult to actually attract?

  2. Using Twitter and a Facebook artist fan page as your principal means of communication to build your direct-to-fan network along with a well thought out, stripped down Artist website and MySpace profile both white labeled with Topspin’s platform geared for immediate impact, exposure and sales of all kind, cover all the bases except one – generating live music bookings. Artists are too busy trying to get into clubs that won’t pay them or give them the real shot at exposure they need, that they miss their greatest potential source of live music revenue –THEIR FANS. There are thousands, maybe millions of house, dorm, frat and college parties, private concerts, after parties and live music worthy events every year that would love to book a band if they knew how easy and cheap it really is. Debuting in beta by the end of July and covering this extensive need for fan generated bookings will be LiveMusicMachine.Com. Artists, their managers or booking agents, using LMM’s portable widget, will be able to create and market a presence virtually anywhere on the Internet, including MySpace, Facebook and YouTube enabling anyone at anytime to easily book an artist for any type of live music connection they want. Please check out the 4 minute video demo. http://vimeo.com/5294439 All comments, suggestions and requests for information can be directed to me at musicbizguy@yahoo.com.

  3. I hear you there. I hear many of the people I have performed with, speaking of how they HAVE TO make a certain amount of money or they won’t do it. I am not concerned with getting paid…ever. I flew from my home in Northern California, to Minneapolis to play a free show once. 400+ people were in the audience, and so many people were thanking me and such. That was a great payoff there. Since then, I have worked with a couple of the artists on tracks, production, and more. Just that free night has paid off far beyond the cost of a round trip ticket and the minimal fares for hotel and food.

  4. if you need help with these tools, check out StrategicBlend.com, I was clueless and they totally rocked out and optimized my site with social network tools, email lists, and improved sales.

  5. I love this article by Trent. A lot of great points have been touched on. It’s still extremely hard to break in though. At the end of the day, networking and relationships is probably one of the biggest things an artist must do and I didn’t realize it until I moved to Los Angeles. Even then though, so much more hustle must go into it. I’m a Rapper/Producer that has worked with Mick Jagger, Anna Vissi, Glen Ballard, etc and still I’m trying as hard as ever. If an artist really wants to break, independent or mainstream patience will have to be exercised often. Even after things have been set in place.
    p.s. Trent, holla at me. I really wanna work together

  6. Im going through some important stages as I begin my career. I am certainly building a community, hostin open mikes, playing with my band, recording friends and local bands at my home studio. Also trying to leverage the internet with my blog, website, soundcloud and twitter. Facebook I have been avoiding because I feel like its a becoming evil. My question is, how necessary is Facebook? I’ve heard labels and clubs won’t care about you if you don’t have a certain amount of likes, could that really be true?
    Also, when is it too early to sell Tee’s etc.? I mean, it could come off as pretentious selling a Teeshirt as a technical nobody. Who would really want it? Maybe I’m over thinking it but maybe its still too early.
    Also, I’m releasing an EP next month and I could not agree more that IT WILL BE FREE… (name your own price, in case you wanna donate). Though, for my next release, what can I charge for?
    I’ve thought a lot about other services and goods I could offer, like an instructional video course about home recording or vocal/guitar lessons, though sometimes I’m not sure that would later taint my career as a musician, like people wouldn’t know my identity. I guess I feel like I need multiple sources of income to really do music full time, though I need to put myself out there in the right way, not wanting to look desperate.
    With so much to think about I just try and stay positive and keep my end goal in mind: playing on stage to thousands of people and sharing my music with the world. Not that I’m that amazing or special, there are many capable, but few strong willed enough, and its just what I do and feel called to do.
    Thank you for the advice. I will use the advice about talking to a camera in a video, making videos and gathering e-mail addresses for potential future customers.

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