Facebook, We Have a Problem

HME - RAW DEAL
Facebook drives a hard bargain and a Raw Deal for rockabilly band  Hillbilly Moon Explosion

Engaging fans has always been at the heart of a musician’s success and social media platforms are proving to be both a virtue and a burden.  The ability to promote shows, music and merch through social media has proven to be a long hard slog for some independent musicians.  For a while, Myspace was the preferred choice as it allowed musicians to “control” their own image and conversations, not to mention it was easier than maintaining a website. But now, in the never-ending struggle to follow fans, musicians have invested their time and resources into Facebook.

The multi-billion dollar company, who has seen its share of criticisms regarding privacy and format changes, has attracted thousands of bands to their platform.  With Facebook’s policy, “always free and always will be,”  one would think that the social media platform  would be the saving grace of independent musicians everywhere. But certain independent bands like Hillbilly Moon Explosion are experiencing frustrating issues with Facebook as they begin to grow.

So much for the “it’s free and always will be” claim.        –Oliver Baroni, Hillbilly Moon Explosion

As the band’s Facebook page neared 14,000 likes, their admin began to receive messages from Facebook saying  that they weren’t reaching all their fans.  In response, HME  posted the following on their Facebook page:

Here’s the problem: Facebook tells us admins how many of our 14’000 fans we’ve reached with each post – often no more than 20%! You want to reach more people? Maybe even ALL of the fans who clicked ‘like’ in the hope of being updated about a band they really dig? Well, PAY! So much for the “it’s free and always will be” claim…

HME’s post was accompanied by a screen shot of a Facebook “Promote” window, which reads “Get more people who like your page to see this post.”  Just below the message there’s a dropdown box where an admin can select the amount they want to pay in order to get a further reach.  Like a lot of people, I had always been under the assumption that when you post on Facebook everyone who likes your band sees your post.  Apparently, that’s not always the case.

Hillbilly Moon Explosion’s Oliver Baroni wrote to me from his sick bed (the band is in on hiatus while Oliver recuperates) about how Facebook has made HME a victim of their own success.  Oliver wrote:

Well people who apparently are in the know claim, the stats haven’t changed much. It always was that only roughly 20% of your fans see your posts, due to the algorithm “worker-outer” that decides for you which topics you want to see in your feed and which not. The difference being that now an admin can actually see how many fans are reached per post. We usually hit something around the 25% mark. Rare items, such as this gallery reached over 40%. But this is probably due to the fact, that we continually added photos to the gallery and reposted over a period of a couple of days.

But Oliver’s issues with Facebook doesn’t stop there.  He also wrote about the glitches and bugs that have started plaguing HME’s account:

You used to add a couple of photos to a gallery and those shots would appear in your newsfeed. Not anymore. So we now re-post individual pictures or re-post the whole gallery to give it visibility. Nuisance. And then sometimes posts magically disappear from your feed. This one, for instance –  It’s still around, but not on our timeline.

And as if the band didn’t have enough obstacles with Oliver’s illness and Facebook sticking up the works, HME is also trying to promote their new and aptly named album Raw Deal.”

As Facebook continues to “modify” its offering to users by offering up the most “eyeballs” to the highest bidder, it will be interesting to see if they can hold onto the independent musician. From my perspective, social media platforms should be an even playing field, where megastars can mingle with independent musicians. Instead, new media looks as if its becoming another capitalist-based proving ground where the artist with the most money wins.

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Buying In to Sell Out

For bands, making money from music alone is not enough. Sometimes it's all about the merch. (Photos from Kings Road Merch and Indiemerch.)

Taking more notes from Mr. PJ Bond who, as of this writing, is playing his music around the United Kingdom, a musician can not live on music alone.  A lot of the money generated for independent bands and musicians doesn’t come from the sale of their music, but from their merchandise.  Getting from one show to the next means keeping a tight rein on expenses and shilling t-shirts, stickers and posters out of a well-worn suitcase after the show.

Although selling merchandise face-to-face is the most efficient way to turn money into food or gas, it’s impossible for one person or band group to manage a “merch booth” while performing.  Keeping an eye out to make sure money and inventory doesn’t disappear can be handled by a manager but most bands and musicians barely make enough money to keep the tires from falling off the tour van so musicians turn to the internet for solutions.  While a dedicated website is a great way to get information to fans, it can be cumbersome when it comes to selling merchandise.  Also, “official” band merchandise is difficult to keep “official”, in that more popular bands have their name and image re-sold “unofficially” through sites that have no link with the bands, therefore the bands do not receive compensation for money generated on their name.

Online retailers are numerous but some specialize in catering to musicians and bands specifically.  In an effort to find out which merch retailers are used  I have subscribed to some independent bands whose music I like.  Metal/Punk band Valient Thorr uses indiemerch.com. From their website:Indiemerchndising prides itself on relationships and quality… with the industry’s most advanced manufacturing capabilities and distribution services.”  The site is subdivided into the indiemerchstore section which allows a band to sell their merchandise through a web-based secure interface (indiemechstore.com)and another section specializes in manufacturing the merchandise whether its t-shirts, pants or hats (indiemerchandising.com ).

Indiemerch.com also offers a value add service by allowing bands to customize the look of their site in order to brand their retail page alongside their merchandise.  From the band-specific page a band can place links to their official website, latest blog updates, and the site automatically lists the best sellers.  Here’s a look at Valient Thorr’s indiemerch page.

A more popular indy band, Social Distortion, uses Kings Road Merchwhich offers similar services but has a larger distribution network throughout the world. (Social Distortion’s kings road merch page.)  King’s Road Merch offers merchandise production, tour supply, design, online stores, and retail distribution but doesn’t allow the same page customization as indiemerch.

There are countless merchandise sites that perform similar services but may not cater specifically to musicians such as: grindstore.com; zazzle.com; cafepress.com; rockabilia.com; scrappyapparel.com; bandwagonmerch.com; bandwear.com

Still there’s many other sites that cater to musicians merch needs and if you know of any that need adding to this post or to my research please send it along.