Mark My Words: Lessons Learned From The New, New Music at Podcamp Montreal 2008

Last weekend I attended the inaugural Podcamp Montreal which was a great success and very well attended. The thing I enjoyed most about this Podcamp in comparison to past Podcamps that I have attended in the past in Toronto was that the conversation moved beyond podcasting to embrace social media in general (social media being things like MySpace, FaceBook, Tweeter and the like).

The session that I was most interested in was titled “The New, New Music” and it was hosted by prolific blogger, podcaster and digital marketer Mitch Joel (who was formerly a music journalist) and musician David Usher. I was happy that the session featured an actual musician as my gripe with sessions like this has often been that they are preaching to the converted. You have podcasters telling other podcasters how great podcasting is when who we really should be addressing and getting feedback from are musicians who can benefit the most from podcasting.

(Photo of David Usher courtesy of Eva Blue)

Essentially the session covered the current state of the music industry and how musicians could and should approach this brave new world. One of the things they lead off with was the fact that the latest “single” by Motley Crue sold more on the Xbox than on iTunes. What this demonstrates is that the opportunities for exposure for a musician are changing and evolving and you have to both be aware of these opportunities and be willing to try them. Video games and ring tones were just two examples that were mentioned with respect to this brave new world. And just think of what the impact of being featured on an iPod ad can do for an unknown musician!

One of the things that David Usher was emphatic about was that even though he was a self-professed non-geek two years ago, he is now willing to try almost anything these days from FaceBook, MySpace and perhaps even podcasting to try and get his music out to his fans and potential fans. The key he says is to develop a relationship with your fans by opening up a real conversation with them and social media is a great way to do this. He will post video of himself recording a demo of a song and solicit feedback, using that feedback to better work on the finished product. His fans thus feel more connected with him and that definitely translates into more enthusiasm for what he is doing and presumably that will translate to more ticket and merch sales down the line.

One of the most telling things that he mentioned was the fact that he almost doesn’t even look at CD sales anymore as a barometer for how he is doing. He is more interested in seeing what kind of comments he is receiving on FaceBook and MySpace as well as attendance at his shows as these are a better indicator on how he is being accepted and by whom. The key according to Usher is to continuously experiment. Mitch Joel made the comment that it is better to know what is available out there online, to try them and realize that they may not be for you than to not even be aware or worse be ignorant of the tools available that will allow you to spread your message.

As for making MP3s available to the public, one of the best quotes that I heard was one by Joe Ito which states and I am paraphrasing here “The MP3 is just metadata that gets me to learn more about an artist.” Think about that for a minute because it certainly is a different way at looking at an MP3. By making MP3s available to your fans and potential fans, this is merely a way that will enable them to learn more about you as a musician and if they like what they hear they will be more inclined (I believe) in buying your music and attending your concerts.

The music industry is at a titanic turning point with physical CD sales down but the production and consumption of music at an all time high. The concert industry is healthy (although as David Usher points out there is less money filtering down to the musicians from his experience now than in the past) and there are many more opportunities available to musicians to get their music heard while bypassing the traditional middleman of the past. The industry has to look beyond selling plastic discs and more to engaging fans on multiple fronts. And musicians have to be willing to experiment with all the myriad ways available to get their music out there. Some will work and some will not but if they are not willing to try various forms of social media, they have only themselves to blame for not being heard. Yes it is a lot of work and sometimes can be frustrating but in the end the whole reason for doing it remains the same; you want people to hear your music. How you go about it and the options that are available or multiple and growing by leaps and bounds every day. It is up to you to make the most of them if you are serious about a long term career in music. The choice is up to you.