Climbing Aboard a Sinking Ship

Run into any burning buildings lately, even though you're not a firefighter?

So why are you so worried about getting your song on the radio, getting your band signed, winning that battle of the bands?

Every week, I get e-mail that asks how emerging musicians can accomplish any or all of those tasks. Any one of them feels good, but none of them will really help you grow your audience.

Thom Yorke's making headlines this week after telling the writers of a new school textbook that musicians shouldn't "tie themselves to a sinking ship" of a music industry. He gives it a matter of months, though I reckon we'll watch the hulking corpse of the mainstream recording industry stumble around for a few more decades.

As an emerging artist, does it even make sense to try to "get signed?" Does it even make sense to try to get your song on the radio? Will any of these old school milestones help you grow the kind of audience that's ready to give you their direct emotional and financial support?

The saddest part about the death of the music industry, in my mind, is the ecosystem of marketers trying to coax musicians into the late-1980s dream of "getting discovered by a hitmaker" through some magic showcase, radio show, or press campaign that costs just a few thousand dollars. Music business scams have been around for decades, but smart musicians have started to debunk the myths. By understanding that you don't need to be discovered by anyone but your true fans, you won't have to worry about wasting money. You'll also be able to tell the scammers from the real champions of independent music among us.

Don't pay money to submit your song to hundreds of radio stations, unless you're working with someone like Liz Koch. If you're an indie rock or Americana artist, Liz knows how to get your record into that music meeting. The point isn't even to get on the air, though that's nice. The point is to connect you to the tastemakers who can get you a foothold with the handful of audience members who can sustain you in that market.

Don't pay money to send your press release to media outlets, unless you're working with someone like Ariel Hyatt. Ariel's team will tell you who's likely to connect with your music, and who can connect you with your perfect audience. They're also going to tell you not to waste your cash on outlets that just don't have the time to wade through glossy PR material.

Don't pay money to book your band at a showcase, unless you're attending one of Tom Jackson's events. You're not playing to folks who might sign you, you're playing to skilled stage performance coaches who will kick your ass until you learn how to mesmerize your audience.

The traditional music industry really is dying. In its place, there's a network of music lovers ready to become your audience and a smaller network of ethical experts ready to help you learn how to meet them. They're also the folks who are courageous enough to tell you when you need to work on your craft. Listen to them, get better, and get focused on growing your audience.