Not All Music Artists Are Big Fat Lip-Synching Social Media Babies

This post is by marketing thought leader David Meerman Scott of WebInkNow.

SFMTS musician A few weeks ago I spoke at the San Francisco MusicTech Summit, an event that brings together smart people at the intersection of music and technology.

I spoke on a panel called Engaging Your Community. And later in the day I sat in the Artists Panel to see what they had to say.

I was amazed at how utterly different the discussions about social media were at these two panels. The artists were so resistant. In fact, I asked a question of the artists, which began: "With respect, the vibe here is of a bunch of big babies…"

It seemed to me that the artists pined for the good old days where radio, Billboard Magazine, major labels, and CDs were the rule and "stealing music" on the Web wasn't yet a pain in the ass.

I got news for artists. We're not going back to the good old days.

But why complain in the first place? My gosh, for the first time in history it is easy to reach fans. My sense is that artists are okay with that. But many of the artists I spoke with with were so damned egotistical. The fact that fans can reach them is an issue!

I was amazed that many on the artist panel advocated ghost written social media entries. Well, okay. They must lip-synch at their live shows.

As I looked around the standing-room and sitting-on-the floor only audience, my sense was that many were not agreeing with these artists.

SFMTS attendees

In a stunning twist, the entire Summit is available for free audio download on It's amazing to me that what so many artists hate (free downloads) are exactly what they want in an event like this! Kudos to Brian Zisk, Summit Executive Producer, for making the content available.

Engaging Your Community

My panel included:
Meredith Chin – Facebook
David Meerman Scott – Marketing Strategist
Mike More –
Chris Vinson – Bandzoogle
Moderator: Brenden Mulligan – Sonicbids

We talked about what an exciting time it is to be an artists. Now you can reach fans directly. Full audio of the Engaging Your Community panel is available.

Here is a video I did with Meredith Chin about how artists can use Facebook to build a fan base. Meredith works with many artists. She cites Joe Purdy and Javier Dunn as two non-superstar artists who have done a good job on Facebook.

Joe and Javier are not big fat lip-synching social media babies.

See? Artists like Joe Purdy and Javier Dunn engage with fans.

The big babies speak


The artist panel included:

Del The Funky Homosapien – Hip Hop Artist
Evan Lowenstein – Evan and Jaron / StageIt
Raul Malo – Recording Artist
Dan Lebowitz – Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO)
Moderator: Tamara Conniff – The Comet

Full audio of the Artist Panel is available.

The tone was set for the panel by the moderator, Tamara Conniff, who was formerly the chief editor of Billboard. Her first question was: "What's too much? The artist used to be shrouded in mystery. But some of that has been lost with too much engagement in social media. How do you keep the artist to fan romance alive."

I reject the entire question! But I wasn't on the panel, so I couldn't say that.

This is the sort of big media "woe is us" kind of question that people who worked at a place like Billboard ask about social media. All this pesky interaction! All those bloggers who are not real journalists! All the time it takes to be on Twitter!

The recurring theme on the panel was: "Who cares what I had for breakfast." This lament came up so often from the big babies.

Most of the artists seemed to miss the point that social media is much more than Twitter and breakfast. Now you can reach your fans directly without your label babysitting you!! Facebook, YouTube, and blogs and other forms of media are good, aren’t they?

Lip-synching your way into social media

I was disappointed that many on the panel advocate that artists use third party people and companies to handle social media. Ugh.

Isn't ghost writing your Twitter feed the same as lip-synching at your live show?

Here are some choice (paraphrased) comments I wrote down:

Dan Lebowitz (Lebo) – Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO)

I want to focus on writing music. I could spend my entire week on social media.

Raul Malo – solo artist.

Social media has opened up some negatives. There should be a certain mystery. I don’t want to know everything that my wife does. There should be a fine line. An artist should communicate through the music and the live show. We need to maintain a balance.

Del The Funky Homosapien

You need other people to handle things like Twitter.

Evan Lowenstein – Evan and Jaron / StageIt

We need to pull back like Colonel Tom Parker did with Elvis and help the artist leave the audience wanting more. There is a romance that needs to be between fans and the artist. Getting too close can make the romance sour. Artists should not be talking about the weather. We create experiences for fans.

I ask my question at 48:20 – With respect, the vibe here is a bunch of big babies. Since 1995 we have the Web to communicate. There are three billion people on the Web and a half a billion on Facebook alone. Do you listen to people?

Got a few whoops from the audience. The answers were interesting.

Special commentary for any artists reading this

I had some side conversations with artists who said: "You don’t understand!"

Oh, but I do.

We're in the same fundamental business, you music artists and me. We make our living in the exact same way. You create content and do live gigs for a living. I create content and do live gigs for a living.

You create music content and choose to self-publish or publish with indie or major labels.
I create text content and choose to self-publish or publish with indie or major publishers.

You can choose to open your music up and make it free (or clamp down and say "no").
I can choose to open my content up and make it free (or clamp down and say "no").

You can tour and play your music live.
I can tour and give live speeches.

You can choose to engage your fans in social media (or not).
I can choose to engage in social media (or not).

By the way, that crap about Twitter and breakfast? Amanda Palmer made $11,000 on Twitter in 2 hours.

Amanda Palmer is not a big fat lip-synching social media baby.

We're lucky to be able to engage. Why does it seem such a problem?

Bonus for Grateful Dead fans

Meyer Sound At the Summit, I connected with my friend Jay Blakesberg who did the photos for my book with Brian Halligan Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.

I also met Betty Cantor, the Dead's live recording engineer for many years (of "Betty Board" fame). It was a particular thrill to meet John Meyer, CEO of Meyer Sound Laboratories, who worked on the Dead's stunning live sound system during the band's heyday. Here I am with John (who is holding our book).

PS > If you are an artist, you must read Bob Lefsetz, the best music writer on the planet.

David Meerman Scott's book "The New Rules of Marketing & PR" spent six months on the BusinessWeek bestseller list. His book Marketing "Lessons from the Grateful Dead" (released August 2010) is getting buzz around the world and his new book "Real-Time Marketing & PR" achieved #2 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list upon release in November 2010.

More: Read our exclusive Interview with David.

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  1. “What’s too much?”
    …This is the sort of big media “woe is us” kind of question that people who worked at a place like Billboard ask about social media.”
    Really? Personally, as a music fan, I think it’s a completely reasonable question – it seems to be about finding a happy medium. I can’t tell you the amount of artists I’ve unfollowed because of their verbal diarrhea, their inane rubbish, their complete breaking down of the “4th wall”. As I type, Social Media deity Amanda Palmer has just been tweeting about HER SMEAR TEST. I don’t want to hear about that! For some of us, it’s just about the music, and revealing too much about the person behind it spoils the illusion.

  2. Great great great article David. I can’t say enough. As an artist and someone who works in the online space in the music industry this article talks specifically to the paradigm shift that needs to happen in artists minds before the music industry can even begin to move away from “woe is us now how can we still make money?”

  3. I’m feeling it on both sides of this debate … yes, the ability to reach out directly to fans through social media holds huge potential for independent musicians. And it’s something we should be thankful for.
    But it’s also an overwhelming prospect to have to regularly “engage” with hundreds of fans on a one to one basis, whilst juggling all the other aspects of today’s “new music” career.
    David compares his experience as a writer with that of a musician:
    “You create content and do live gigs for a living. I create content and do live gigs for a living.”
    But the process of “creating content” that he mentions does not happen “in the exact same way.” Aside from the time taken for the initial inspiration and crafting of the piece, there are numerous additional aspects associated with musical performance, and the musical career in general.
    I’m sure I need not go into details here – hopefully you get my drift.
    But I do accept that artists are going to have to overcome their resistance, as David points out.

  4. Most musicians got into music because they wanted to make music. Connecting with fans is not something that has been a big motivator for them. On the other hand, there are some people who are better at connecting with fans than actually making music, and sometimes do they do better than the pure musicians.
    Making music and connecting with fans are not the same skill set and not every musician is good at both.
    The connecting with fans is actually a service business, not an arts business. if you listen to them, talk to them, become friends with them, etc., they may come to your shows because they feel connected to you, not because of your music. There is a need for that. Being an online friend is a valuable service. But it isn’t a career in music. In fact, if you are a good online friend, you don’t even have to make music. You’re providing a service which is probably more important to your fans than your music.

  5. It is clear that musicians have not figured out why and how to use social media to be an advantageous vehicle for their careers. Connecting with fans isn’t the only reason for using it. Try connecting with other bands. How about listening for opportunities to play events in your local community? The possibilities are endless.
    Sure, even in David Meerman Scott’s world, there’s some “what’s too much?” being asked. That is highly relative. The thing is, in his space, most people have accepted they need to do it to compete and it’s done. Many musicians are trying to do what they did to MySpace and making it a pointless place to be. The world is changing and people are getting smarter. The technology is more sophisticated and faster. Artists need to concede and learn to adapt.

  6. I would purport that the verbal diarrhea was the reason for the fall of MySpace, among other things. People assume the same will happen to the other networks like Twitter, but that will be disappointing, because there’s so much in the way of opportunity now.
    It would be nice if artists did more listening than talking. They would find solutions to their problems and actually get a sense what their audience wants to hear from them.

  7. Hi Suzanne,
    I would say that if it not just about connecting with fans when it comes to social media. When I use social media, I find work opportunities and connect with other likeminded individuals (like yourself) that I could see myself collaborating with in the future. It seems that is the hardest value to get people to understand. I guess that is part of the reason I got in the business of teaching it, because there’s a huge void in the space for it.

  8. Hey Suzanne. Yeah, musicians didn’t get in because they love the business side. But the reality is that to be successful, you need to take care of business and that includes engaging with fans.

  9. Catherine – that’s a pretty darned egotistical statement. I doubt that you meant to insult, but do give some thought to what you say.
    Yes, what we do does not happen in the same way. I give you that. But to imply that your art is in some way more demanding “numerous additional aspects” than mine is simply not true.
    I regularly hold the attention of 1,000 or 5,000 people for an hour or two with no trouble at all, They want more. After, many wait in line for an hour to get a book signed or a photo taken.
    It may look easy to give a live speech compared to music performance, but I’ve worked my ass off for 20 years to be able to do what I do well.
    And writing a bestselling book? Don’t even get me started.

  10. Hi David,
    Thank you so much for contributing to the SF MusicTech Summit. Your insights both at the summit, and in your book, are fabulous.
    That said, I do not see the slant of this blog post to be productive. Having just listened to the audio of the panel you write about, I did not hear anyone being “Big Fat Lip-Synching Social Media Babies.” In fact, I heard a well thought out discussion by four successful, respected, and honored musicians, moderated by one of the sharpest reporters in the space.
    Between the one participant who talked about building his nework by personally interacting with fans for hours after each and every show, to another who was sitting at the the Summit table talking with interested folks for over 40 minutes after the panel, to a third who is buidling a platform for artists to interact directly with their fans, to the fourth who has a manager wife through whom most of his social media engagement flows, between the millions of records sold, the numerous awards, and with each artist out there over a dozen years successfully performing as professional musicians, there was a level of experience and understanding which was extremely valuable, and which we all very much appreciate their taking the time and effort to share.
    So what I’m getting at is that while we were absolutely thrilled to have you sharing your knowledge as an honored participant, and always appreciate when folks provide considered analysis (thank you so much for taking the time to write up your thoughts), I do believe that there are more appropriate ways of making your point (which in this case, I don’t believe the session deserved, though we do own our own opinions, and insults) than by classifying those honored and esteemed guests with inappropriate names.
    Noone there was a baby, noone there was crying, and they have all built careers by creating incredible music, and connecting directly (somehow) with their fans.
    As my wife commented last night (regarding the past) after watching an incredible routine in an old movie with many dozens of dancers, something which would never be done today:
    “Noone was distracted by social networking, they just worked on their art.”
    There must be some balance, as if the art fails, who cares if the marketing succeeds. These folks are experts at their arts.
    Marketers market, performers performs, and networkers network, but calling folks innapropriate names is more a reflection on the person (and note that I used the word person instead of “Big Fat Cry Baby”) doing the name calling, than on those who came out and shared their thoughts and expertise to a very appreciative audience.
    In any case, all the best, apologies to some amazing musicians who came out and shared their interesting thoughts and opinions (and didn’t deserve to be called names in return), thank you for coming to the SF MusicTech Summit and sharing your thoughts and opinions (both to David, the artists who participated, and everyone else) and have a very happy holiday season everyone.
    Best wishes to all, and thanks…
    Brian Zisk

  11. Brian.
    You are right. It was childish of me to use inappropriate names to describe the musicians on the panel. Without thinking through the feelings of others, I did that to get people to take notice of my alternative perceptions of what was said on the panel.
    Like me, the panelists donated their valuable time and did not deserve to be called names. For that, I apologize to you and the people on the panel. I’ll leave this comment on my own blog too, where the original post was written.

  12. @David
    I’m sorry you took my comment as “egotistical” and insulting. That was certainly not my intention. In no way do I denigrate your profession, and have no doubt that you work hard at what you .
    As I mentioned; “there are numerous additional aspects associated with musical performance, and the musical career in general.”
    I was thinking of what is involved on a practical level, particularly in terms of demands on one’s time, rather than making any value judgements about which art is “more demanding”.
    A singer-songwriter; for example, will have to write the lyrics to a song, much as you might write a poem. Then they would also have to compose the melody. They would have to work out the arrangement of the song if they were recording or performing it live. They would have to rehearse the song, solo, and usually with other musicians. These rehearsals would be in addition to a daily routine of practicing their vocals and instrument. As well as their songwriting.
    Many singer-songwriters who release their own music these days have a home studio, and have to learn how to record and mix their own material. They have to learn software, production techniques etc. And on top of all this they now need to learn how to develop social media networking skills, and do their own PR and marketing.
    And of course they have to fit all this in with the day job.
    Only sayin’.

  13. Thanks for the clarification, Catherine.
    Take a quick look at this video of me performing (you don’t need to see much to get the idea).
    To create this performance first required interviewing several hundred people over the course of a year to get data and stories. Then I wrote a book (which took another year) to generate interest in my ideas and to build an audience so that I can draw 1,000 people to a room to hear me live.
    I had to write and memorize the talk. This also required managing many software packages to create the visuals for the presentation that you see behind me.
    I delivered the early versions of the talk as rehearsal and then spoke to small (non-paying) live audiences to get audience feedback. I then tweaked the presentation and rehearsed about 100 more times so that it was completely natural.
    Just sayin’

  14. The best part about this whole article is the fact that they used Joe Purdy’s Facebook page as an example and his manager does all his tweeting, website, facebooking for him.

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