A lot of artists are ready to take the next step in their musical career, with that career there are a number of factors you need to know before you can rise and take over the world with your music. One of those things is SoundScan.
What is SoundScan?
SoundScan signs up stores and has a tracking system that is operated by ACNielsen (sounds familiar?) Nielsen tracks your music and music video sold in retail in America and Canada. Billboard uses these numbers for their charts that you can check regularly on their website.
How does it work?
Any song, video or album or any music product carries an UPC or EAN and a ISRC (barcode). This code is needed to track your music in sales with this system. Their sales numbers get collected weekly so it gets updated very often. Which is a good thing because sales don’t stand still. It is not used or royalty payments, but instead tracks song data for use in the charts.
Is this just for Physical sales?
No, it isn’t just for physical sales. It also counts the music that sells in digital stores (like iTunes), but since 2014 they also include streaming into their tracking list. This makes it really easy, because everything comes from one source.
Are these numbers accurate?
In theory all the digital sales (streams and digital downloads) are completely correct. Because when labels and artists license digital rights to the seller, they need to report their sales to SoundScan. Digital is completely covered as you can’t really make up the streams or downloads that are shown.
There are a lot of independent stores that aren’t signed up to SoundScan. If they are not signed up, there is no way in knowing how much of your CDs or vinyl gets sold in that store. Which means there is a blind spot in the industry sales on physical music. Unless you want to contact every store one by one, this is the most accurate sales list you’ll get for in America and Canada.
Many artists are turning to labels in the hope they’ll become the superstars they dream of. But sometimes going for a label isn’t the best option. That’s what singer-songwriter Milow thought before he jumpstarted his career. He made the very wise decision to go DIY on everything. This is not only smart, this is also very positive for your career.
Milow is pretty small compared to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. They started off DIY with the knowledge of how powerful the internet can be.
Distribution: You can use an online distributor to distribute your music to the digital and physical stores. This means that you maintain your rights as a musician and get a lot more income than in a label deal with royalties.
Direct to Fan: You can also build a very close relationship with your fans. Just like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis believed that the power of the internet would be strong enough to build a fanbase. They connected to the fans through YouTube and Tumblr, which was their ‘label’ they used to do their marketing.
Crowdfunding: This is connected to the last point above. If you’re willing to give your fans an exclusive view of what you’re doing, you can invite them to your crowdfunding website. Just don’t forget that crowdfunding (like Kickstarter, GoFundMe…) isn’t a charity. It’s a pre-sale of the actual work you’re going to deliver.
Marketing: This can be a good and a bad thing. You have everything in hand if you do it DIY. In other words, you decide what you put out there and have full control of what you want to do. But this also means you have to invest into your own brand. Bear in mind that labels will see this as an ‘advance’ and would ask for the money back at one point.
Making cover songs can help your career. Milow made a cover of ‘Ayo Technology’ by 50 Cent in 2008 on his acoustic guitar with a videoclip along with it. The Belgian artist got his international breakthrough and got in the top charts in like Finland, Italy, Germany and even Canada.
Music Rights: With a label they’ll ask you to sign a contract where you have to part ways with your music (giving a piece of your music rights to them). They do this so they can distribute your music etc. You don’t have to do this when you go DIY.
Funding (for recordings, videoclips…): If you are signed to a label, they will have a budget to promote you or to record your songs. You don’t have this when you go DIY. But then again, this is an opportunity to be very creative with your crowdfunding page.
Marketing: DIY is a great way to go, but it doesn’t mean that marketing will be any easier. A label has the right connections to get your music to new potential fans. But, the thing about labels is that they won’t (most of the times) sign an artist that doesn’t already have an existing fanbase. If you look at the majors doing marketing campaigns, it doesn’t really feel human and feels more like a well oiled machine.
Is DIY Right for Me?
Labels are there to make it easier, but it’s really a choice you have to think about.
Do you want to invest hours and hours into thinking of strategies to get your music to your old and new potential fans, and probably invest tons of your own money?
Or do you want to get stuck in advances and probably get no royalties for the first years of your career?
This doesn’t mean that all labels work the same way, but you have to be careful what you sign in regards of your music.
Cutting through the noise has always been a problem when trying to promote and market your music. The questions has always been how to influence the public and get your music out there and seen by them. When it comes to marketing in the streaming age, we have to re-evaluate how we market music.
Let’s Fix Music Marketing
The biggest problem with marketing now is that what we have always considered to be the best practices for marketing music no longer apply to streaming.
The way unit sales and fans work together has drastically changed. We never had to understand fans in the way that we do now.
Before streaming, 1 fan meant 1 sale / one-off transaction. The economic value of each fan was the same.
After streaming, 1 fan can mean multiple plays over a long period of time. The economic value of each fan is variable.
With this in mind, our marketing objectives need to change. Previously, the objective was to simply “get more fans”. Now the objective needs to be “get more fans and keep them engaged.”
The best way to do this is to create long term commitments that are focused on audience development and engagement. You can create different engagement points for fans that build interest over time. This can be anything from single releases, live sessions, videos, appearances, album releases etc. Remember that varied content is key in driving engagement.
Don’t write off traditional marketing strategies altogether though, it still works as a great tool for discovery, but try to place more emphasis on engagement.
Artist Marketing in the Streaming Age
Playlisting is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal when marketing in the streaming age. Adding a song to a playlist will help others to discover it and could persuade them to add it to their own playlists. Music needs to be nurtured if it is to survive and this works even better if you can create a narrative around a playlist.
Take the time to understand yourself as an artist. This may sound strange, but once you fully understand what you stand for and what you are trying to achieve you will find it easier to know where to promote yourself. Get to know your fans too, know your demographic and what they’re into and move forward from there.
Think long term. Always think about what you can do next once you are done with your current release / event etc. What will you do after your album has been released? You can create interactive videos that come months after the album has been released etc. Look at each project individually and come up with creative ways to communicate what you have to offer. You need to have the building blocks that create a story for your fans to follow, but don’t bombard them. Do you best to plan ahead and have a trick up your sleeve, think of what you can be doing in 6 months time.
Traditional media and printed press always want to focus around a release and this thinking needs to change. We can already see this taking place with digital media with this article discussing Shakira’s new music video. Don’t get me wrong, traditional plans that are built around a release are still needed. After all, the major labels have helped to build a hit-based society, and so that is what audiences expect.
Content needs to feed on to each other. If you announce a tour without any new material you will get much less engagement and press coverage than you would if you also had new music to accompany it.
Streaming provides a wealth of data and a sizeable audience that cannot be ignored. Data allows you to discover new fan bases and what they are in to. You can also find where they are located what other artist they are into. This can be very useful information when looking to plan a tour. Everyone, no matter how big or small, has something to gain from understanding data. Be prepared to change your approach based on what you see in your data too. Spotify Artists can be a great place to start.
Traditional vs New Marketing
Traditional marketing tactics are not completely dead, you simply need to incorporate them with new ideas. Marketing in the streaming age has changed and the objective has shifted. Learn to adapt to stay ahead and cut through the noise above your competitors.
To do this, communicate better with your audience and learn to work as a team. Focus on serving your fans for a long term reward, it is an investment in your future. Don’t stand in the way of your releases, share them when they’re ready and plan what you can do to maximise them and to follow up. Don’t lose the momentum you build.