Monday, August 1, 2011

Calling in an airstrike on the Lemonade Stand

Hey Comrades!

It's summertime, and the lemonade stands are proliferating. Actually, I've yet to see one, but don't take my theme away, bro!

Social media, the internet, and the continued upheaval in the recording industry have created a unique universe in which the independent musician operates. However, like any new sky, there's a lot of trial and error involved before one can harness the maximum potential of the stars - or, in this case, fans.

A few years ago, when I was doing the band thing, I learned that the group I was in had booked a gig where we were selling tickets. No biggie, except...We were basically expecting our families to show up, and not many other people. "I have to sell my own mom a ten dollar ticket to see me play a few songs?" I wasn't thrilled about that, to say the least.

At the end of the night, after the sound guy had been paid, each band member got just under forty bucks...and I had six people come to see me at ten bucks a ticket.

"It's like a big lemonade stand!" I exclaimed disgustedly. And ever since I said that, I've noticed how many of these stands are out there. Some of them sell Mary Kay, some of them sell Avon (American cosmetic companies based on a pyramid marketing scheme), some sell a low volume of CD's, some charge a cover, but they have one thing in common: They have our friends standing in line.

With the advent of social media, we can really bombard fans incessantly, and demand even more of their time and money.

This is an unpalatable situation to me. I'm a musician because I want to rock the world, not because I want to impose on my friends to buy my CD.

I'm not exactly sure how to blow the lemonade stand to a fiery afterlife with a Justin Bieber soundtrack (sounds like hell to me!), but here's a few thoughts I've had on the subject. And, to be clear I'm not preaching, I'm not claiming to adhere to these rules all the time - think of them as a reading of my to-do list!

1. Never lose sight of the value of people's time and money: If they're listening, if they're paying, I'd better make sure I'm giving them something of value.

2. Monetize traffic, not friends: Successful websites make their money off traffic. They're free to access, and due to the sheer number of eyeballs, they can command a hefty premium from advertisers, not surfers. (The downside of this is more ads, but YOU try running YouTube's servers!) How can we apply this to music? I'm fascinated by sponsors, personally. It seems like sports does this a heck of a lot better than rockers. OK Go is doing some neat things in this field.

3. Quantity vs. Quality: In line with point 2, perhaps we should strive to lower the barriers to our music, and get as many people as possible listening! It's hard enough to get out there, and get a gig booked. It seems counter-intuitive to charge people for every single thing once they get there. A cover charge, drinks, merch, and the new CD can be quite a hefty bill. No wonder turnout can be low when the umpteenth facebook invite comes through to say "Hey, check out my band!" Sure, we've gotta make a buck, and I'm starting to eye the model of no covers, cheap CD's, and normally priced merch as a way to go. People can hear us, and spend as much, or as little, as they like. We get more fans, which is what we're after if we use the traffic model of success. This is something to ponder, and figure out what works best for you. I'd be curious to hear your ideas and experiences.

4. Treat the edge like VIP. Street music, or busking, gives us a term called the edge. So does U2, for that matter. People are reluctant to stop to watch a busker if there's nobody else there. As soon as several folks start watching the show, magically, people feel inclined to stop and watch. It's psychological, giving a cover of anonymity, and practical, so they don't have to pay you if they don't want to. I look back in utter shame when I asked a brother and sister to put a dollar in the jar when they stopped to watch me do a few magic tricks one day when I was busking. They should have waited for an edge! SO, the first two hundred fans of ours are really our edge, our front line soldiers, and our most powerful advertisers: word of mouth folks. I vote we treat 'em like VIP! Yeah, yeah, I've sold stuff to the Revolution's edge, and I feel pretty mixed about this. But I do make sure they get something free, be it an extra CD, a few stickers, etc.

So, this is how I'm calling in an airstrike to the Lemonade Stand. Please radio in if you've got any ideas, too!

Vive la revolution!

- Josh

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