Making the Move to

Well this is awkward.  Tumblr, I’ve decided that you’re not the ideal platform to be publishing long form writing on industry specific subject matters.  And anyways, the Svbtle network accepted me, and they make me feel special.  Come read my boring TL:DR musings on the future of music technology here:

Facebook For Musicians: A Definitive Guide

Facebook is the largest marketing channel for most musicians and bands.  Surprisingly, it’s also the one they know the least about.  So in this guide, we’re going to breakdown why Facebook is important, how it works, and most importantly, the specific steps you can take to make Facebook work for you and your fans.  

Artists, you can’t be blamed.  Many of you developed your social networking habits on Myspace, Twitter or YouTube.  These platforms are (or were) a lot more straightforward than Facebook.  In most cases you post it, forget it, then maybe check the #s later.  Not only do these inattentive social media habits fail on Facebook, they can actually hurt you in a very quantitative way

Furthermore, Facebook largely ignored music for most of its existence.  By the time Facebook introduced musician/band pages and artists started amassing an audience there, musicians got dropped into an unfamiliar, fully-formed social networking culture - without any sort of learning curve, burdened with the behavioral baggages of outdated social networks.

But Facebook is really not that hard.  And if done right, you have a lot to gain.  By numbers alone, there are more people that regularly sign into Facebook than Twitter + Myspace + YouTube combined.  So it’s really important now more than ever to optimize your Facebook presence.  

EdgeRank: What It Is, Why It Matters

Before we get into actionable tips, we need to familiarize ourselves with the concept of EdgeRank.  

EdgeRank is the name of the algorithm that Facebook uses to determine how often your content appears on a user’s news feed.  This is key.  Most of your fans don’t explicitly visit your artist page, so the only realistic chance of reaching them on Facebook is to appear on their respective news feeds.   This is essentially what counts for “distribution” on Facebook.

EdgeRank’ algorhithm determines what a user will see on their news feed.  It attempts to filter out all the crap that gets shared on Facebook, and tries to predict what any given user will actually want to see.  To any given fan, your musician/band page is competing with thousands of other friends, pages and other objects to grab their news feed real estate.  

So how does EdgeRank determine if your Facebook post is news feed worthy?  One word: ENGAGEMENT.  You need your fans to like, comment and share your Facebook posts.  Anytime one of your fans engages with one of your posts, they’re more likely to see your following posts.  Conversely, if a lot of your fans engage with your status update in the first few moments it’s posted, fans who sign into Facebook later are more likely to see it on their news feed.  So early engagement on a post can be proportionately more important.  

Have you noticed how your most liked posts end up getting the most impressions?  Exactly.  

There’s a lot of ways EdgeRank slices many factors that affect your news feed distribution.  If you’d like to dive into the specifics of EdgeRank, google it and you’ll get a wealth of detailed articles, like thisthis, and this

No matter how facebook slices it, your actionable instruction remains the same: GET MORE ENGAGEMENT!  Get those likes, those comments, those shares.  Make it your main goal with Facebook.  These engagement points build on top of itself, ensuring better and better distribution on news feeds over time as your engagement improves.  It’s something like a credit score for your Facebook page, and the algorithm lends you more impressions the better you perform.  

Now that we’ve established the importance of getting good engagement on Facebook, let’s dive into art of actually doing it.  Here’s how to get Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm to work for you…

Posting to Maximize Engagement: A Checklist

Photos, Photos, Photos: Photos do well on facebook. Always consider a good and relevant image upload to accompany a status update.  This one tactic alone can multiply your distribution, so be generous with the photo uploads.  

  • If possible, orientate a photo in square or portrait alignment (more engagement since it does’t get cropped in people’s news feeds).  But don’t worry too much about it, a good landscape orientated photo is better than no photo at all.

Geo-targeting: Does it make sense to geo target?  You can geo-target posts by city, state, provinces or country.  Geo-targeted posts usually reach a higher percentage of fans in the targeted location.

  • Consider geo-targeting for tour dates, radio support, local appearances, etc.

When In Rome: Are you geo-targeting a post to an international country?  Post in their language.  Seriously, you will get a ridiculously good engagement % from this.  Do it on your very next international tour stop.

Say More With Less: Shorter posts generally do well, so keep it snappy.  Exceptions: heartfelt, substantial, personal, emotional, soul-baring or narrative (story-telling) posts.

  • Avoid being too self-promotional.  Promote it gently. 
  • Be funny!  Be surprising!  Be authentic! Show personality!  Dance on the line of what’s acceptable or not.  If you can elicit a guttural response, you’re more like to get engagement. (good example, George Takei:

Mind the Time: If possible, spread out updates over time. Avoid overlapping peaks between 2 posts.  I would wait at least 2 hours between posts, preferably longer.  The lifespan of any given status update is a lot longer than a typical tweet, since EdgeRank can surface a post several hours and days after its publish time.  By giving any given status update enough time to engage, you avoid cannibalizing your own engagement per successive post.  

  • Use the scheduler to queue up posts if necessary.  

Interact With Fans: Spend a few moments after posting interacting with fans who leave comments on your status update.  Like their comments, and respond to them in your own comment box.  As your fans see likes and comments coming from your page, they’re a lot more likely to leave a comment themselves, hoping that you might see their comment.  And comments especially are EdgeRank gold!  Plus, it’s an easy and quick way to make your fans’ day.  

  • Questions can work well.  Try ending any given status update with a Q that directly relates to your post.  It can help jump start the commenting.  

Celebrate:  Holidays are the ultimate zeitgeist moments; they are a great opportunity to engage with your fans.  Put up holiday-themed posts on the day of, including unofficial ones like Valentines day, Mother’s/Father’s day, Halloween, etc.

Say It With a Lyric:  Are you a lyrical musician?  Spell out your own lyrics in a status update, especially if it’s relevant to whatever else you’re pushing in the status update (links, videos, pics, etc.).  Your lyrics are akin to a secret code language with your fans, especially if they’ve already emotionally connected with your words in song.  Fans like that.

  •  Format lyrics to imply that they are indeed lyrics. And make it easy on the eyes, make it flow like the cadence of the song.  The quicker the fan can recognize the lyrics, the quicker they will “like” the post.

In-Line Previews:  Are links properly displaying in-line preview?  You can adjust the image and description in the in-line preview before you post.  Make edits as necessary. 

Pins + Highlights:  Pin or Highlight important posts

  • Pinning moves a post to the top wall.  To pin a post, click the pencil icon that shows up when you mouse to the upper right-hand corner.
  • Highlighting expands a post across the full width of the wall. To highlight a post, click the star icon that appears when you move your mouse to the upper right-hand corner of any post.

Milestones: Don’t forget to use Milestone posts for key moments from your life.  Milestones are distributed wider, get more engagement, and are automatically expanded.  

  • Post milestones by clicking into that middle thread on the wall.
  • You can create milestones in your timeline after-the-fact. Tell a story of your career on facebook: Create milestones for album releases, chart accomplishments, signing to mgmt or labels, first sell-out crowds, etc.

Avoid Sloppy Auto-Posting Apps: Avoid auto-posting features, plug-ins and apps that don’t properly inline preview content to links.  E.G.: Tumblr, Twitter, etc.  

  • Exception: Instagram.   One of the few auto-posting apps that properly auto-posts to FB, and gets good engagement.
  • If you’re a frequent Twitterer, do NOT have Facebook auto-post your tweets.  The Facebook audience and algorithm have less patience for frequent updates.  And if fans start choosing to receive less updates from you (which they can do with one click), your EdgeRank will suffer.  

The Psychology of Click-throughs: Oftentimes your main objective in posting a given status update is to get click-throughs on a link.  In this situation, you still want to write to maximize engagement because that gets you distribution.  But you need to mind the goal of getting click-throughs as well.  To that end, write a message that gives your fans a really good, direct reason to click through.  Think like a fan, make them want it.  Think of how the most trafficked bloggers use headlines to lure their audience to click through: oftentimes they’ll tease you into clicking through to the full article.  They’ll appeal to your sense of surprise, novelty or exclusivity.  For example, a lot of them use the tactic of priming your curiosity, holding back key info to compel you to click-through to satisfy your itch (E.G. “Watch the surprising technique this ninja cat uses to survive a 100 story fall <link>”).  

  • Check out Yahoo’s featured homepage stories.  They use the teasing curiosity tactic on almost every story they feature.  
  • When sharing interviews with media, pull a context-less quote.  One that your fans would want to read through to figure out the context.

Good Musician/Band Facebook Pages:

These are but a few random examples.  Would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.  

Facebook Feedback Fun:

I’ve re-hashed the above advice to countless artists and managers over the years, and oftentimes the last question they’ll ask me is what sort of engagement #’s they should be aiming for.  That’s easy: better than what you were doing before!

On a per status update basis, you should pay attention to all the obvious stats: likes, comments, shares and impressions.  You want to aim for better stats than what you’re used to seeing.  Over longer periods of time, check your Insights and pay attention to the “Talking About This” graph.  The “Talking About This” stat measures how many of your fans liked, commented or shared your posts — the exact raw materials needed to produce higher EdgeRank and distribution.  

Engagement can be unpredictable, so embrace that failure will happen.  You might create the perfect post and still bomb.  That’s okay, it’s a great opportunity to think through why it failed, and cognitively earn your way to your own conclusions. 

And last but not least, have fun with it!  Strategic Facebooking doesn’t need to be a sinister machiavellian, manipulative, marketing scheme.  Most of your fans actually want to hear from you and interact with you, and by employing the above tips, you are doing your part to reach them halfway.  As an added bonus, Facebook gives you real-time feedback on how well your posts are performing.  You’ll be surprised by the wisdom you gain into human psychology from observing your own FB engagement over time.  Personally, I find it intellectually stimulating.  Every status update is a creative, collaborative endeavor: put a little bit of yourself out there, and see how your fans respond.

Almost like dropping a new song.  

When iTunes Becomes Obsolete

<Note: Hypebot re-posted this entry and it was one of their most read posts ever!  Cool! >

The above chart is sourced straight from the RIAA year end sales report.  It is released every March, and it is the reason you read about the year-over-year triumphs of digital downloads in the face of plummeting CD sales.  It is the reason everyone knows that the physical format is dead, the music industry was slow to respond to P2P, and the industry-wide contraction was their price to pay… yada yada yada, I’m not here to beat that dead horse (yet).     

It’s not the #s that interest me; they’re all predictable data points continuing a decade long trend.  No, I’m more interested in the format of the chart.  Ever since about 2004, the RIAA has formatted their year end sales summary in the same binary digital / physical layout.  

It’s a false dichotomy. Digital downloads share a lot more in common with physical media than the music industry might hope for.  And that’s bad news for the major labels in general.  Here’s why:

1.) “Units” Are Becoming Obsolete  Even if it’s delivered over TCP/IP, the selling and downloading of song files is a vestigial consumer behavior leftover from the physical media era.  Consumers are still transitioning out of the idea of “owning” their music, and downloads happened to be that natural and convenient next step in the “digital” age.

But the clouds are forming, and the storm is bound to rain (apologies for the blatant metaphor).  Between Youtube, blogs and Spotify, you can already find just about any song you could possibly want to hear.  Anecdotally I hear more and more kids who can’t be bothered to download anymore - the gratification is so much more instant on YouTube.  Increasingly, the main value of buying or pirating an MP3 these days is that it’s a mode of cataloguing a personal music library (and sloppy one at that).  Even this distinction is eroding under the increasing maturation of cloud music.  

And so it follows that…

2.) Digital downloads will plateau in 3-5 years  It’s easy to ignore the impending free fall that’s going to happen in the record industry.  After all, digital download revenues continues to see double digit year-over-year growth.  In fact, in the next year or two, we should see digital download revenues top CD revenues for the first time.  At about which time we should expect the industry press echo chamber to renew the hopeful charge that people can and will continue to buy music.

But again, both pirated and legal downloads will continue to drown under the clouds.  Given the quickening advance of the clouds and the generational turnover of music’s primary consumer (i.e. young people), my guess is that the legal digital download market will peak soon after it laps the CD in overall revenues.  

When digital downloads peaks, that’s when the recorded music industry will truly trip into a free fall of diminishing returns.  And sure, the subscription model has yet to hit its hockey stick, and we haven’t seen the full potential of digital performance royalties (i.e. internet radio).  But even if overall streaming revenues match “moving units” revenue, the transactional structure of those models are fundamentally worse for the record industry, because….

3.) When Plays Replace Products, Labels Lose Leverage  With the recent successes of Spotify, you’re starting to find more stories like thisthis and this, that attempt to calculate the amount of subscription plays it takes to equal a download purchase.  The most optimistic scenario has a paid subscriber listening to an artist’s song anywhere from 25-60 times to equal the takeaway from 1 paid download.  With only 1.3 million paying subscribers in 2011, most subscription listens come from free users, who need to play a song anywhere from 80-300 times to equal the takeaway from 1 paid download.

Sure, these numbers are in the realm of possibility for any given addictive song, but that’s not the point.  CDs and paid downloads meant you had your fans pay up front, thereby guaranteeing an inflated threshold per piece of “sold” content.  This transactional dynamic is inherent when you’re moving units, physical OR digital.  

When we get to a sophisticated access/subscription model, artists and right holders aren’t charging their fans directly for a discrete product, but instead pandering for their plays.  

This is a significant shift, and undermines much of how labels have been operating over the decades.  Labels are in the business of selling product directly to consumers. The digital download is an extension of that.  But when the imperative is plays, the leverage and interests of right holders changes.  The threshold value of any piece of recorded content, lowers.  The play becomes conceptualized as currency, and other connected actions from fans — like social media favors, emails, and perhaps most importantly, as traffic bait for direct-to-fan products — are suddenly a lot more attractive objectives for any given song launch.

Point being, right holders will be less interested in guarding their songs for sale when selling is not the point. 

And So…

All this is not to say that the music industry as a whole is doomed.  My ultimate point is that when recorded content becomes un-productized, it ups the viability of other types of direct-to-fan products. 

Currently, “direct-to-fan” in the music industry primarily means they’re going to email fans to buy the next album.  That’s a superficial application of direct-to-fan.

I want to save my hypothesis on what the next “music industry” product will become for future posts, but I think it helps to think about some of the more creative tiers of support you’re starting to see from artist Kickstarter projects.  Think tiered, high margin products that emphasize some sort of direct, relationship-based access to artist.  These are the types of authentic “experiences” you can sell online, without worrying about piracy (short of cloning the artist).  It’s this sort of fan based patronage that may fund a veritable renaissance of artistic creativity in the 21st century.

Or not.  Either way, we’ll find out when iTunes becomes obsolete.  

Trackswell, Meet World

My name is Bryan, and for the past few years, I’ve bullied my way into the intersection of music and web tech.  This is probably a captain obvious level statement, but I believe the music business will be a web business in the very near future.  I hope to shape that future, and record my thoughts along the way in this here blog.

Thus, Trackswell.  

A little bit about my unqualifications:

* Knowing very little about the internet, I took the plunge into the now defunct internet television station called Music Plus TV in 2006.  We had a little studio, and streamed MTV style music shows through an Internet Explorer plugin on our homepage.  I was paid $10 an hour, and it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

* In 2007, Ustream launched.  Having messed with a very primitive version of live video streaming at Music Plus TV, I immediately hopped on that bandwagon.  I badgered the founders of Ustream for months on end, until they finally gave me a job at the end of 2007.  I got to organize some of the biggest music based broadcasts during the infancy of live streaming.  Good times.  Also, I got to work in the trenches with two precocious teenagers, Matt and Mazy, who would eventually found the company I currently work at.

* In 2009, I decided I wanted to learn more about the music industry, so I took a job at Sparkart, which is a web boutique for the entertainment industry.  Objectively speaking, Sparkart was a terrifying hellhole of an employment stint, one that managed to further corrode the already drippingly acidic remnants of my soul.  But I got to see how major artists made (and mostly, lose) money online. And my time there afforded me the opportunity to endlessly pontificate on how I would do things differently.  

* About 6 months ago, I joined a very young startup called  Founded in part by Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni, we currently make viral music sharing facebook apps for artists.  That’s the beginning at least.  The long term vision is the BE the music industry.  

But at the end of the day, my formal employment history is but a supplement to my obsession with the music tech industry.  How artists support themselves in the future… is something I think about a lot.  My greatest ambition is to enable the creation of music on a mass scale… especially in a world where content is practically free (as it should be?).

So anyhow, here’s to getting the first post out of the way…