Musicians: Solve Your Obscurity Problem & The Rest Will Follow

image from www.google.comGuest post by James Aviaz (@jamesaviaz), blogger and Marketing Manager for Songtrust at Downtown Music.

Current thinking suggests that being an independent artist ‘sucks’ – paltry payouts from streaming services, your music as a loss leader, decline of album sales, EVERYTHING.

In a conversation between Arial Hyatt and Seth Godin, the bespectacled marketing guru sees things James-aviazthrough a far more optimistic lens. He believes this is the best time ever for indies. 

The biggest challenge for any artist to solve is the ‘obscurity problem’ – an idea coined by Tim O’Reilly in response to piracy. Godin posits that once people know you – i.e. you are no longer obscure – the financial side of your business will follow along.

“If everyone knows your song, someone’s going to show up and say: come do a live gig.” says Godin. “Someone’s going to show up and say: please sign this guitar. Someone’s going to show up and say: please endorse this brand of mouthwash.”

Godin’s insight offers artists great hope. Rather than whining about the difficulties of the current music business, it asks each artist to embrace the incredible opportunities for connection with fans.

Digital tools are an immense ally in creating and keeping these connections. And while ‘marketing’ and ‘social media’ are dirty words to most creatives, your success of using tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, comes down to two steps:

  • Make lots of cool shit
  • Tell lots of people about it

Sounds easy, yes? WRONG. There’s an undeniable art to effectively using digital to enliven – rather than irritate – your fan base. But if you can be genuine, creative, and consistent with your marketing efforts, you’ll hastily be absolved of any obscurity problem.


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  1. Accepting the idea that “obscurity” is the problem, instead of unfair levels of compensation means accepting a winner-take-all model of the music industry where a handful of stars collect the spoils. And it eliminates the possibility of sustainable careers for artists working in niche genres who have no hope or ambition of mass-audience success. That’s bad for art.

  2. Obscurity is one problem, and effectively the more pertinent one in comparison to compensation in the current state of things.
    You know what’s bad for art? Commerce.
    But they manage to be decent bedfellows a lot of the time.
    If you love what you do, regardless of if your market is niche or mainstream and massive, you’ll create art rather than excuses or rationalizing why specific groups are victims while others victors.

  3. You’re not the first person to suggest that artists who attempt systemic critiques of industry models, or bother to think about why they’re struggling while others reap the benefits of their creativity must not “love what they do”. You should know that most artists find that pretty condescending.

  4. I’m an artist.
    I’m making a living because I love what I do, and work hard to do it.
    I also embrace technology and all the information that comes with it regarding how to monetize what I do.
    I’m not concerned if people find what I say condescending, most people already feel incredibly entitled to begin with, artists especially.
    If you want to make pure art, I think that’s an incredible endeavor, and one we need to see more of, but no one owes you a dime for it.
    If you want to indulge in pure commerce and peddle some wares, that’s fine too. If you can find a market for your work, “art” or not I implore you to do so. However, again, no one owes you anything for just showing up.
    I know, I sound condescending, but it was someone telling me the same thing that has shaped a successful career so far.

  5. Agreed, but let it also be known that you can make a living as an “obscure” artist. Don’t sell yourself short in hopes of making it big enough to endorse a brand of mouthwash.

  6. As a music lover, somehow, I feel the spirit of collaboration present in hip hop today is somewhat missing in other styles of music. Please invite other artist friends and acquaintances for cameos on your music, spread the word about them and ask them to spread the word about you as well. It does not always have to be a duet. A backup vocal by a distinctive voice will do. Or a guitar solo. Or a cool artwork by an artist friend.
    DIY is fine on the distribution and marketing side of things with all the services you can outsource, but music is a collaborative thing at heart.

  7. Three things about this article (and most articles on hypebot) are incredibly stupid.
    1) the obscurity problem has always been there. Just cause some digital guru says it in a slightly different way is nothing new. I wish I could get paid for incredibly obvious observations that are not new!
    2. Making it a choice between fighting people who unfairly compensate artists and using digital tools to get your music out there. WHY CAN”T YOU DO BOTH? I do it all the time and make a decent living.
    3. A company like songtrust which is in the business of collecting royalties for artists should be in the business of protecting artists rights, NOT APOLOGIZING FOR PEOPLE WHO EXPOIT ARTISTS WITHOUT COMPENSATION (PIRACY). But then again when you are a business like songtrust you are essentially asking musicians to use a service they don’t need to collect their royalties. Do you really care about artists rights anyway. We artists at the Trichordist would love to hear your response.

  8. Did anyone else lol?
    OBSCURITY is the problem?
    Big revaluation there. Geezus.
    And no I did not watch the vid cuz the screen shot is scary.

  9. Payback?
    That’s weak, son. Especially considering whoever you’re referring to was a single writer on a post I can’t even identify.
    Attack the post, attack the writer, everyone here is used to that and often at a higher level than you bring to the game.
    But don’t attack everybody here for things that most of us don’t do. It makes you look like a dick.

  10. David,
    Songtrust, like the Trichordist, is working towards the ethical treatment of all songwriters by providing inexpensive access to the same royalty collection networks that established songwriters have had for decades. Whether it’s collecting royalties from 18 downloads by a new artist in the UK or 180 mil YouTube streams from an artist on top of the charts, we think every songwriter should get paid their fair share and are actively working to make that a reality.
    This is a time of immense change in music – and the publishing business is no difference. Only a week ago, the UK’s PRS for Music announced a huge shift in its payouts from digital services for writers at all levels, a system which previously favored established songwriters with active music publishing representation. (http://blog.songtrust.com/music-publishing-news/prs-moves-to-transactional-royalty-calculations-for-online-music-services/)
    Never has a product like Songtrust been more needed to help artists navigate these changes and secure what they’re owed.
    In my role with Songtrust, I’ve worked with a bunch of young artists and felt Seth Godin’s concept of the ‘obscurity problem’ could inspire them. Though not new, this idea resonated with me and I wanted to share it with Hypebot’s community.
    Digital marketing offers artists an immense opportunity to absolve themselves of this obscurity problem. As highlighted in the NY Times: “Only a year ago, the charts were dominated by stars who had come out of the old machine of radio and major-label promotion: Katy Perry, Rihanna, Adele, Maroon 5. This year’s biggest hits — “Call Me Maybe,” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and Fun.’s “We Are Young” — started in left field and were helped along by YouTube and Twitter before coming to the mainstream media.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/business/media/how-call-me-maybe-and-social-media-are-upending-music.html)
    By solving their obscurity problem, young artists can have a positive impact on their publishing earnings. With increased exposure of their music, an artist can become attractive to radio programmers (public performance royalties), internet listeners (downloads, interactive mechanical and non-interactive streaming royalties), and music supervisors (sync license fees / back-end public performance royalties).
    I think that’s something we can all agree is a good thing.
    Marketing Manager
    Note: at no stage does this post apologize nor excuse for piracy. My mention of ‘piracy’ was to attribute the source of the original ‘obscurity problem’ concept.

  11. oh…i just need to tell everyone on facebook and twitter over and over again? well why didn’t someone say so!?
    fffuuuuu… this is most most offensively stupid article i think i’ve ever read

  12. I guess that SXSW post is still stinging?
    Which I don’t really understand, you had to have known there would be some attention given to what you were doing being that you’ve gotten more press for yourself and your bands via the Emily White letter than anything else in recent years.
    Seeing how divisive that was, it would seem obvious that anything you would be doing industry related after that would be highly scrutinized.
    I guess the part I’m really trying to wrap my head around is that you did it, you made the money, you got to SXSW and you played because as you said “we were invited, dumb ass. we enjoy playing. but we are not gonna pay to play”
    You did it. You won.
    As you said, there are townies there that like you, you put on free shows. I’m assuming you enjoyed yourself and the fans did too.
    Was that the point? or was it about creating a platform to talk more about all the things you cover on your blog?

  13. Finally found that post, thanks to Gaetano for clarifying.
    Hypebot i.e. Bruce Houghton did not suggest that you were greedy. He didn’t seem to understand exactly why you needed to do that but it was the commenters that were giving you a hard time.
    How do you survive in this industry with such a thin skin and such a long memory of slights that were barely even slights? It was actually a positive post overall and fair questions which you answered in a dick-like fashion.
    We tend to support things like that overall especially when artists clue us in to what we’re missing. I know I’ve learned a lot from just pointing out that I didn’t understand something and have built positive relations with people who have responded like intelligent adults.
    Oh well, I guess you have your fans and the rest of us can go fuck ourselves. If that’s the world you want to live in, don’t be surprised if random attacks occur in the future.

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