[This article is written by guest contributor Jason Schellhardt, writer for the live entertainment concierge service Rukkus.]
Few things in the music industry are more romanticized than the image of the battle-tested road warrior. The old rock and roll narrative suggests that being a musician means going out on tour for months at a time, hitting any and every market along the way.
This used to be the most effective way to build a fanbase outside of your local scene, but like most other things in the music industry, the internet has changed that. Booking cross-country tours no longer makes sense for newer independent artists.
The advantages of social media have been well documented as it pertains to independent musicians. It has provided an unprecedented connection between artists, fans, media, labels and so on. Artists can record a track at home, post it on their SoundCloud account and share it via Twitter or Facebook without any other means of production or distribution.
While this has been a major coup for the independent artist, there is another major advantage to new media that is often overlooked. While it is great to know who is listening to your music or following your band, it is just as important to know where these people are.
Brett is a D.C.-based indie-pop band with a unique perspective on this issue. Though Brett is a fairly new band, all of its members have had experience touring the country in previous projects. They have seen the pros and cons to the lengthy, expensive traditional tour and the more cost-effective, targeted approach.
In an interview with DMVicious last year, guitarist Kevin Bayly and vocalist Mick Coogan explained how traditional tour schedules have become somewhat counterproductive for new artists.
“The whole concept of promoting your band by hopping in a van and touring the country is ridiculous. It’s backwards now. It used to be that way,” said Bayly. “We did that when we were younger, that’s how you had to get out there and meet people. Now it’s all online. It’s cheaper and you end up playing quality shows instead of Duluth, MN, on a Tuesday.”
“For the next year we plan on hitting [D.C.], New York City and Los Angeles. Those are the most important markets for us,” added Coogan.
By paying careful attention to the band’s online presence, Brett has pared down its most important markets and focused its attention squarely on audiences that have shown that they are receptive to the band.
The pros to this approach far outweigh the cons for a newer band looking to establish itself. Once a band has built a following online and in its targeted markets, national tours make a lot more sense. But, until then it is most often a massive drain on the band’s resources.
Here are a few geo-specific strategies to help you target your band’s prefered markets:
1. Build a strong social media presence and pay attention to every single one of your followers. This one sounds like a no brainer, but it is an invaluable resource. Figure out where your followers are located and if there is any obvious trend among them. If you notice a handful of fans in the same region, you are probably onto something.
2. Maintain your website and monitor the analytic data. Similar to the social media idea, using Google Analytics, or similar tools, to monitor your web traffic can tell you where each view is coming from. Many young bands forego their own websites in favor of maintaining their Facebook and Twitter accounts, but they are all equally important.
3. Keep track of any media coverage you may get. Another major factor in your band’s web presence is the amount of coverage you are getting from online media. Keep track of any blog or website that posts your music and find out if they target a specific geographic location. You can set up a Google Alert to make this easy to track.
4. Develop relationships with media in areas you intend to target. In addition to the last item, you should seek out blogs that are prominent in certain markets and try to arrange coverage for your band. This step would be most helpful once you have established a couple of areas you intend to target.
5. Pay attention to similar artists. Imitation is an age old tradition in the music industry. Find a more established band that is similar to your own, and look at the markets where they have had success. Chances are, you could find some success there as well.
Every band is different, and what works for some may not work for others, but this geo-specific strategy is a great jumping off point for any band looking to expand its audience beyond the hometown crowd.
If nothing else, this strategy will keep you from burning a ton of money and playing empty rooms in “Duluth, MN, on a Tuesday.”
What do you think about touring? Is it still essential for young bands? How have your ideas on touring changed over time?