If Joshua Bell and Hillary Hahn play the Bach Double in a forest, do they really make a sound? You’d be right to point out that this parallel requires either the tragic hearing loss of two of the world’s most renowned living violinists or two extraordinary pairs of noise-cancelling headphones to match the image of the falling tree. Regardless, until the day that squirrels develop a love of Baroque music, no one would care if two musical titans joined forces one day in the middle of the woods. Likewise, spending all of one’s time in a practice room (or bedroom) perfecting a craft that never gets exposed to the public is unlikely to result in the sudden appearance of an audience somewhere down the line. If you’re the type of artist whose aspirations end at your own door, then by all means don’t let me kill your vibe (though you should definitely start looking for a day job). However, if your goals are of the more professional variety, there aren’t many valid excuses for you to not begin cultivating an audience while you are still in school. I strongly recommend the following three platforms during those fragile years when your self-conscious psyche is still whispering that you’re an amateur and you should wait until you're more mature. These platforms are free. They are simple to setup; and that voice in your head is a bastard who wants nothing more than to see you in a nursing home one day reminiscing about what might have been.
*Note from the Author: Just this week, it was announced that Soundcloud is in quite a bit of financial trouble. Without getting into a complete tangent on the music tech industry, I will temper what you are about to read with the following statement: I still recommend Soundcloud because it is currently a very popular platform that may very well fix its current problems (it is still a young company). However, I'd also recommend taking all the advice listed below and duplicating it on another streaming site, such as Reverbnation. It's always good to have a contingency plan. Now, carry on.
You should have a Soundcloud because, at some point, you’re going to want to put on a concert somewhere; and there is a good chance that a booking agent will ask you if you have any recordings that they can listen to online. Better yet, let’s say you’re playing a concert somewhere in Middle America, and a very enthusiastic audience member comes up to you afterwards and asks if you have any music online so that they can share your music with their friends. I won’t say that it is the pinnacle of amateurism to not be able to quickly point these hypothetical people towards recordings, but it is certainly close to it.
There was a time when you might have to drop hundreds of dollars building a personal website in order to have a suitable answer to these questions. Luckily, today there is Soundcloud; where it couldn’t be simpler to create an account, upload a picture of yourself, and populate the page with recital recordings, prescreening recordings, etc. Because that annoying voice in your head will likely act up during this process, I even recommend having a close friend there to help you choose what goes online. It’s true that we’re all our own worst critics, though things are rarely as terrible as they seem to our own ears. Having an accountabilibuddy to help you out is kosher. A time will come when you will likely need a personal site in order to present yourself as a professional; but for someone who is at the very beginning of a career in music, Soundcloud is an excellent starting point. It is free. You can choose to hide recordings later on as you progress artistically, and it is a platform that is used by roughly 200 million people.
At Open G we use our Soundcloud to debut new recordings (check out the Schubert from our upcoming release), podcasts (in addition to iTunes), and other recordings that we like but that haven’t made it onto a record yet.
My personal Soundcloud is possibly a better illustration of what I just described. Those recordings are pretty much all from my undergraduate recitals. No, I don’t expect to get any Grammys for them. However, I’ve been able to point to this page on more than one occasion when I’ve met another musician that I want to connect with and add to my network and they ask if I’m online.
Let’s be honest. You probably already have a Youtube account. The question is are you actually using it as a place to post your own content, or do you content yourself (homographs, baby) to simply browse the work of others? If your goal as a creative person is to one day have a group of people that like you and will help support your lifestyle, your answer should be the former.
What should you upload to your YouTube account? Well, since YouTube is the world’s largest single source for music streaming, you should start with those same tracks that you uploaded to your Soundcloud page. Do you have any videos of yourself performing? Upload those, too. In the same way that some music schools ask that you send in a video as part of your prescreening, some booking agents will want to see you perform before deciding if you are a good fit for their venue/festival/etc.
Do yourself a favor, and don’t stop there. I’ve met few people in my life that don’t have a unique personality to some extent. Maybe those personalities are not all likable, but the fact remains that they exist. You can scoff at this fact all you want, but certain individuals have found ways to make livings through their Youtube channels because they regularly upload engaging content that displays their unique personalities and generally some skill or knowledge base that others find helpful. I highly recommend (I’m currently in this process, myself) asking yourself if there is some coherent angle that you might pursue to regularly post new content to your channel that doesn’t require months of score study and preparation. Do you consider yourself a good teacher who might upload vitamin-sized lessons to your channel every week or two? Do you like ranting about things in a way that is amusing to others? Your channel has built in analytics that can help you to gauge if your videos are getting people’s attention, so by all means experiment. The key is to develop a singular voice for yourself and to post consistently so that people have a reason to come back to your channel and see what you’re up to. If you’re faithful to this tactic and are able to build an audience of subscribers, you might be surprised at how your audience can help you throughout your musical career. As an added bonus, a portion of ad revenue from your channel might even help you pay the rent each month.
We’ve got some work to do here, but the primary goal for our YouTube channel is to give behind the scenes looks at the creative process of our artists. It will also be used to debut new recordings and as a hub for super classy music videos for our favorite tracks on record. The latter will be more fully realized by the new year.
Currently, my channel is setup as a promotional tool to show to other musicians with whom I’m interested in collaborating. I’ve been reading a lot this past week about Youtube strategy and am currently hashing out a plan for regularly uploading original content (because of my own career goals, many of these uploads will be covers of other songs in different styles). Stay tuned.
I also recommend reading this article because it speaks at length about making personal connections with your fans and the ways in which that can help you in your career. It's about having a blog, but the same techniques can be applied to a YouTube channel. Read it when you're finished with this post.
I’ll admit that I’m pretty late to the game on this one, myself (both in terms of my work for Open G and in my own personal career). Call it the naive ignorance of a millenial, but until recently I had written off email as antiquated in a world dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Do I need to mention the overwhelming amount of spam that each of us gets on a daily basis from scholarship websites or schools that don’t realize we’ve been enrolled somewhere else for the better part of two years?
Here’s the thing, though: for people not living under a high-tech rock, email is still one of the most effective ways of getting in touch with another human being. Better yet, you don’t really have to trick any back-end system in order to get your message in front of the eyes of someone who cares about what you’re doing with your life and your music. If you rely solely on sites like Facebook and Google to drive awareness, you sacrifice nearly all of your control to their ever-changing algorithms. Those sites have tremendous value, but do yourself a favor and take back some control of your online presence by starting a mailing list and a newsletter.
Personally, and at Open G, I use a service called MailChimp, which has thus far been extremely intuitive throughout the setup process. At Open G, our plan is to send out a newsletter each month (starting next month) recapping a few of the cool things that we did during the previous month, as well as outlining the things on next month’s agenda that have us excited. Another nice attribute of MailChimp is that it has some pretty sweet data analytics tools so that you can see statistically how effective your email campaigns are in driving Internet traffic, and you can adjust your behavior accordingly. There’s an information box on the homepage of this very website if you are interested in joining Open G’s mailing list (again, we’re talking one email a month and you can opt out any time).
The best musician newsletter that I’m currently subscribed to is that of Scott Sawyer, a wicked guitarist and an even cooler guy who I’m always proud to say was one of my teachers at East Carolina. Scott offers a wealth of interesting content (and occasional free downloads) to his subscribers each month in addition to his performance calendar and information about projects that he is currently working on in the studio or with his students. I highly recommend subscribing to that here and using it as an example for your own trip down the email rabbit hole.
I really can’t stress enough the importance of getting your work online so that other people can discover you. I know the excuses because, at one point or another, I’ve used them all. I’m also interested in hearing what internet outlets you use that aren’t in my Big Three! See that comment box down below? Use it to let me (and whoever else reads this blog) know what you use, how you use it, and why you like or dislike it. Feel free to share links to your own pages or to articles that talk about the pros and cons of a site. As always, thanks for reading; and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.