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.

LINK: Mashable.com – “How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect With Fans”

For everything you need to know about social media

In his MASHABLE.com article, Greg Rollett  discusses how musicians are using social media to connect with fans and raise money for projects.

His article can be found here:

MASHABLE: How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect With Fans

Wrapping Up the Cloud (Pt. 5 – Finale)

Flatpicking acoustic guitar guru Tony Rice can be found in The Cloud at the music streaming service Grooveshark.

With the enormous amount of musical data floating around the Internet and the seemingly unlimited number of ways to distribute it, I begrudgingly admit that I only have a  limited amount of time and space to dedicate to the subject, therefore I am wrapping up my multi-part series on Music in The Cloud.  Constraints aside, this post will look at some of the other portions of The Cloud that help musicians promote their music.

The Swedish music streaming company Spotify has become a major player in the music industry in just four short years.  As a “freemiuim” service Spotify allows registered users to search through and play millions of selected music tracks from a range of major and independent record labels.  Commercial advertisements are frequently interjected into the music stream for the free portion of the service, but listeners who upgrade to the premium (paid) service lose the ads and gain access to higher bit rate streams and mobile phone apps.

The way that Spotify benefits the independent musician is that it pays royalties to artists and/or labels for every time they play their song.  Because all the music played on Spotify is tracked – all participating labels and artists have access to reporting from Spotify allowing the artist the ability to see where and how their popularity is growing.  Spotify actually encourages independent artists to use artist aggregators in order to license their music so that it can be  played on music streaming sites.  For instance, Tunecore is one of many digital music distributors (or aggregators) that enters into agreements with music labels and artists. For a fee, Tunecore will distribute and stream digital copies of single tracks or entire albums to retail outlets like iTunes and amazon.com or music streaming sites like Spotify. Some of the other benefits Tunecore claims to offer musicians (from Tunecore’s website):

  • Musicians retain 100% of royalties and maintain all rights to their music
  • Songs can be made available on music video games like Rock Band
  • Physical on-demand distribution at Amazon
  • A streaming music player for the musicians’ webpage that plays the artists’ own music
  • Physical distribution, licensing and endorsement deals
  • Free digital cover art or physical CD art

Music streaming sites are usually heavily embedded with social media features as well.  Grooveshark, another music streaming service, allows users to sign in with their Facebook, twitter or Google plus account. As users listen to songs, they can post comments and the link to the music on their social media page of preference.  This has huge benefits for musicians when building a fanbase.  For artists, the task of gaining exposure through “word-of-mouth” promotion is transformed online with these types of embedded social media applications.

I’m sure this will not be the last post regarding music in The Cloud, but I want to open the blog to another range of topics. And besides, it’s been too long since I mentioned Valient Thorr.

Till next time…

A Break in The Cloud (A Valient Ramble Regarding SOPA)

"There’s a big difference between censorship & piracy," Valient Himself puts SOPA into his perspective.

I am taking a break from my multi-part series on “how The Cloud assists musicians” in order to discuss SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act that is currently being debated in the US.   As a gesture that the US Justice Department means serious business about online piracy, a large online file sharing site called Megaupload was shut down yesterday by a co-ordinated medley of 8 countries including New Zealand.  FBI agents who structured the case against Megaupload call it an international crime ring — a racketeering enterprise.  The US charges that the website made $175 million from pirated movies and music since 2005 and cost copyright holders nearly half a billion dollars more.  With that in mind, how does this affect the little guy,  the indy band struggling to “make it” on downloads, touring the US and t-shirt sales?

Valient Thorr‘s lead singer Valient Himself manages the band’s twitter page and he posted a multi-tweet “ramble” on what SOPA and the Megaupload shutdown means to his band.  Below I have pieced together Valient Himself’s 12 tweet monologue with expletives censored.

From Valient Thorr’s Twitter page (Jan 20, 2012):

  • I wanna ramble for a sec here- don’t wanna clog feeds too much, so hopefully you won’t unfollow, but I wanna address something:
  • there’s a big difference between censorship & piracy. I’ve been against SOPA & PIPA from the beginning, but not because they may take away
  • my ability to download free movies or music. That (hopefully) is NOT why MOST artists are against it. We are against it b/c the bills are
  • written SO poorly as to allow corpos & the gov’t to BLOCK or CENSOR our sites & therefore our thoughts & freedom much like in China, etc.
  • Downloading flicks & jams that are not free is illegal, & REALLY takes bread out of all artist’s (big & SMALL) pockets (read: mouths).
  • I’m still against SOPA & PIPA & I think the MPAA & RIAA are f****** up. But if Megaupload goes down, that’s not censorship. They were pirates
  • Everyone is guilty of illegal downloading. Me including. Since Napster was invented. But its out of hand. There are still tons of sites up.
  • I’ll not shed a tear for megaupload. The point of this ramble is this: SOPA & PIPA were written poorly. Most in gov’t couldn’t tell you why
  • If they were purely anti-piracy they may not have been that bad. But they were full of flaws that would have endangered our freedom.
  • But piracy endangers plenty as well. Many artists have spoken out about this. Gillionaires may not care, but hundredaires can’t afford rent!
  • Just wanted our Anonymous friends to know that while we’re mostly on their side, All stories aren’t black & white.
  • Thanx for reading… sorry for the ramble. Hope yall dig that. now back to your regular scheduled horse****. #peace

Valient Himself has never been more outspoken or elegant in his opinions and because we are witnessing a milestone in online privacy/piracy/speech, I would be remiss to neglect devoting some time and space to the issue here on Project Bandwidth.   I tend to agree mostly with Valient Himself’s opinion.  Poorly written legislation can have a chilling effect on free speech.  Perhaps a more contemplative piece of legislation will replace SOPA in the future, but even with SOPA not officially “on the books”  the long arm of US law has already managed to take down an internet monolith like Megaupload.  Imagine what the US could do with SOPA in full effect.

Next time we head back to The CLOUD.

Happy New Year from The Cloud (Pt. Two)

While the SOPA opera continues to play-out in Washington DC, I have become more aware of so-called “music piracy.”  It’s obvious to me that if  bands do not want their music downloaded illegally, they have an option: don’t release any music. No albums. No singles.  Just play live shows.  Unfortunately there is the off-chance that some one could illegally record the live show and upload the recording to the internet for all to “steal.”  Personally, I think bands should be flattered if someone goes to the trouble of recording their shows, but that is going down a long and winding path; I’m here to discuss The Cloud.

I recently discovered that Soundcloud uses a flash video format for embedding audio files onto web pages.  The benefit of the format is that it allows listeners to play the soundclip but it prevents them from downloading it.  Musicians also have the option to “unlock” the audio clip in order to allow people to download it.  As part of the embedded audio/video file, Soundcloud  shows the audio wave form (a graphical representation of sound) while the audio clip is playing.  Here’s a link to an example of Souncloud at work:  Geneva punk grrl duo The Chikitas have embedded the audio clips on the music page of their website.

Many radio stations simultaneously stream their broadcast signal on their dedicated web sites.  If a band is lucky enough to get the station to play their song, then they have successfully had one-play on the web.  Not very significant or user friendly for the fan.  An online alternative, Last.FM is a music recommendation service that uses a process called scrobbling to identify music that a registered user likes and makes playlists and recommendations for the user based on the scrobbling data.  Here’s how Last.FM describes scrobblin

  • Scrobbling is a little note The Scrobbler sends to Last.fm to let us know what song you’re playing.
  • Scrobbling helps us tell you what songs you play most often, which songs you like the most, how much you’ve played an artist over a certain amount of time, which of your friends have similar tastes… all kinds of stuff. By focusing on the music you already play we can help you discover more music.
  • The Scrobbler automatically fills your library and updates it with what you’ve been listening to on your computer or iPod.

Essentially you build your own radio “station” by adding recommendations to your playlist.  If a musician wants to upload his or her music they simply play it on their ipod or computer and it automatically uploads to Last.FM.  Sorry SOPA.

In the United States there is a similar service called Pandora where a registered user can play musical selections similar to song suggestions entered by a user.  The user provides positive or negative feedback for songs chosen by the service, which are taken into account for future selections. While listening, users have the option to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. But Pandora does not allow users to upload their music like Last.FM and play of a single artist is limited.  Pandora provides similar music, not a play-on-demand service.

There is still a lot of more information about The Cloud.  In part three, I will be taking a look at a build-your own social networking site and more.

 

Happy New Year from The Cloud (Pt. One)

Image

Taking time out over the holidays to visit friends and family in the US, I managed to have a few conversations with different musicians and what I’ve quickly learned is that there are a lot of choices available when it comes to getting their music out there. In lieu of radio airplay which can be unheard of for certain styles of music, the “cloud” is the de facto place that hosts music. Because this post could get excruciatingly long, I am going to break it up into different parts.  Welcome to part one.

I was going to reserve an entire post for itunes and I may revisit it later, but one can not talk about hosting music in the cloud without talking about itunes’s contribution.  Whereas music was once bought, sold and traded as a tangible formats (CD’s, tapes, vinyl records), now a single song takes up virtual space on a server  in Silicon Valley and can be downloaded in an instant.  But in order to be a partner with itunes musicians must enter into agreement that shares rights with Apple on all downloads and meet stringent requirements (like a 20 album catalog!)  But I don’t want to turn this into a itunes post.  My goal is to cover just a few of the other cloud hosting spots for music.

Youtube is also another good source for musicians to post their music. ( I’ve created a page that has some of my favorite videos here.)  Although some bands can’t afford to produce a music video they can simply post a picture of the band or of their album cover (or even a video of the song being played on a turntable) while the song plays.

Soundcloud not only allows musicians to upload their music but record directly onto their “cloud.” The sounds canthen be shared private publicly or posted to social network platforms.  Musicians can also join groups within the website and communicate with other musicians or fans.

Bandcamp is quickly becoming a favorite among artists.  It is a site that allows bands to truly “own” their space.  Bands can create the look of their page, upload their music and videos, host comments, etc.  Bandcamp also doesn’t have awkward ads and links that clutter up the artists’ page.  The website earns a 15% commission on all sales from the artists’ sites.

And with that, I’ll end part one.  Next time, more cloud.

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.