Agile Marketing For DIY Musicians

Agile-processBy Musician and Marketing Consultant Solveig Whittle (@shadesofsolveig).

Agile Marketing is a term that takes its inspiration from Agile Development, a methodology ”defined” in 2001 by a group of programmers in order to apply a set of alternative (and hopefully more productive) values to traditional software development. Many software development projects large and small had, by this time, become unwieldy and nightmarish processes (see the concept of Edward Yourdon’s ”Death March” software project management) when Agile Development became the new trend, and eventually, the new norm in software development.

Of course, it didn’t take long before product managers and other marketing types realized that the same concepts which were helping their brethren across the cubicle pods over in developer-land could also be applied to the world of marketing. As a former software marketer, the idea of Agile Marketing fascinates me, as does the idea of applying it to the world of indie music marketing. This article outlines how Agile Marketing values can be used by indie musicians to guide and prioritize their online and social media marketing activities.

For many indie musicians, business people and marketers, the idea of the Death March resonates today. We struggle with finding time for both artistic creativity and promotion, we sift through unending and various advice on how to promote our music best on our websites and via social media, and we suffer insomnia as we attempt to master our social media content creation process – should we blog? YouTube? Vine? Pay for ads on Facebook or promoted posts?

The values of Agile Marketing are outlined by Jim Ewel (a very smart marketing guy and a former colleague of mine at Microsoft) as follows:

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  • Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
  • Individuals and interactions over target markets
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

Agile Marketing offers less a blueprint for online content strategy (although some have applied the idea this way), and more a set of over-arching values to guide us in the process of online marketing. Here are some practical ideas on how to apply the values of Agile Marketing to the process of indie music marketing, whether as a DIY musician or an indie label:

  • Responding to change over following a plan: Write a plan but don’t stick to it. I firmly believe that writing down a business plan is an important exercise for any musician or band. It doesn’t need to be a 20 page plan, but a one-page, bullet-point Word document or a 10-slide Powerpoint that address the key questions of a band or artist’s goals, elevator pitch or tagline, customer profile, and budget is critical to make sure everyone is on the same page. I recommend Don Harrison’s Oath of the Indie Musician on the subject of no-nonsense business plans for musicians. That said, I think it should be as short a plan as possible. The “five year plan” is as outdated for musicians as it is for businesses. Writing a plan means defining and committing to your goals and values, a necessary step for accomplishing anything. That said, recognize that tactics will change, and flexibility is key. Don’t allow any “guru” to dictate your priorities, define your goals, or write your online marketing plan, because what works for your band will be unique.
  • Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns: Try a lot of things in the beginning and pay attention to what works. Set up an account on ReverbNation, try Soundcloud, experiment with Facebook ads, set up your band website, get an email list going, start a newsletter and maybe a blog. Over time, it should become apparent where fans are responding to your presence and your music. Sometimes, this is as much an experiment about what online channels you are good at working it is about understanding where your fans hang out. Both are important. For example, I happen to like Twitter more than Facebook, so over time, that’s where I have put most of my social media energy, however, that continues to evolve as I experiment with other social media platforms.
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions: Invest in learning some basic social media analytics tools. Know and use the listening tools of your target social media channels. For Twitter, I use Hootsuite, but there are a lot of other free and low-cost tools out there. Check the Google Analytics on your website, or use the built-in tools provided if you use a platform like Bandzoogle or HostBaby. Look at the open and click rates for your email newsletter provided by your mailing list manager (I use MailChimp). Yes, it takes some time to learn, but the insight gained from even just the most basic analytics report can change your whole point of view about where you are spending your time. For example, I found out that Facebook is a major traffic source for my website when I examined my Google Analytics, something I would never have guessed since I don’t even have a fan page.
  • Numerous small experiments over a few large bets: Don’t put all your time or money into one promotional vehicle. It’s always difficult to decide where to put your money when you don’t have much of it. Some basic do’s and don’ts: Make a physical CD, but don’t press a thousand unless you have a big tour planned. Do create something in paper (like a one-sheet) that can be used to promote your band at gigs. Do have a clipboard for email list signup. Don’t invest in thousands of dollars of branded merchandise without doing some surveys or experiments to see what your fans like. Do consider that Facebook ads are relatively cheap, and A/B ad testing can yield important information. Chris Robley at CD Baby has a great case study of a simple A/B ad test done for just $30 on Facebook.
  • Individuals and interactions over target markets: Focus on growing your tribe. Your tribe are the people, the actual individuals, who love your music so much they are willing to forward a link to it to their friends. They are the strangers who walk up to you after a gig and ask to buy a CD. They are the people who ask when you are performing next, and then write the date down when you tell them. They are the people you met in some capacity other than music who buy your CD after listening online. These are the people who should be on your mailing list. They are real people who deserve acknowledgement, even if it’s just a simple “thank you.” I loved Ariel Hyatt’s recent blog post and presentation on The Distribution Loop: Turning Fans Into Evangelists. What many people don’t get about social media is that it is not a broadcast medium for promoting a sales message, it is a vehicle for creating relationships and dialog. Your tribe must have not only people who download or buy your music, but also music industry contacts, peers, and other professionals. Relationships in every business are about mutual benefit. Create relationships, and over time, the promotion will take care of itself.
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy: Work with other musicians whenever possible. Being available for collaboration with other musicians is important from both a creative and a business/marketing perspective. Staying focused on one’s own goals is important, but balancing that with an openness to working with others is critical for personal, musical and marketing growth. I have learned so much from other musicians I have worked with – from watching Chris Seth Jackson cover Baby’s Got Back as a metal song to watching my friend Aury Moore successfully blow past her Kickstarter goals through her artful design of premiums and savvy use of Facebook. It’s a journey for everyone who wants to succeed in the music business, and supporting other musicians with something as simple as a thoughtful comment on their Soundcloud track or sharing a link on how to copyright your music is good karma that will come back around.

Agile Marketing is more a philosophy than a set of instructions. It can seem amorphous and squishy, but it has a concrete philosophy behind it that meshes well with current online and social media marketing ideas. By focusing on flexibility, openness, and collaboration, musicians can guide their expenditures of time and money for maximum effectiveness.

What do you think of Agile Marketing for musicians? Do you already apply some of these principles in your online music marketing?


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  1. Excellent piece, especially the points about not following a rigid plan, and mainly focusing on individuals and interactions over target markets. Most artists intend to “blast” the top music blogs and festivals/etc, but they certainly don’t intend to take the effort to start a conversation with any individuals who may have influence in those areas. It’s just not on the agenda, because they want to leap from the ground to the mountain peak.
    Thanks for the piece!

  2. Yes, and this is something a band manager could certainly use. Unfortunately, most musicians will not take the time to read this because they are not marketers, they are musicians! I don’t mean to sound harsh, but point out the need for managers, promoters, and business minded people who are there to assist musicians. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. By focusing on strengths, musicians can get further ahead faster. I should also mention, that it usually helps to also have a business minded band member!
    3000 records

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