Advice for Bluegrass Bands: Be an Effective Self-Publicist
My wife and I have been traveling to bluegrass festivals up and down the East Coast, with occasional forays into the Midwest, for about a dozen years now. As we’ve come to know and value increasing numbers of musicians, there’s one plaint we hear with increasing frequency: “My agent (or publicist) doesn’t do anything for me.”
I can think of many possible responses to this comment. One question worth asking, which is probably not asked frequently enough, is, “Are you sure you’re as good as you think you are?” Meaning, are you good enough to deserve increased attention, more frequent gigs, and higher fees in this intensely competitive and highly crowded field? Perhaps most importantly, how do you use the resources available to you to maximize your opportunities?
The entire world of music is constantly changing. Technology has only sped up the process. Since Mozart, making a living in music has been as much a business venture as an artistic one. Last weekend, I spent some time chatting with the father in a family band. This band has been on the road for about 10 years, and has begun reaping the benefit of the hard work it has expended. He said, “I decided that the only way we were going to succeed is to move from seeing ourselves as making music to comitting to being in the music business.” From the days of getting royalty to become your patron, through emerging technologies ranging from wax cylinders to streaming, nothing has stayed the same for long. And the pace of change is increasing in this electronic era.
There’s good news, though. We live in a period where you can do more than ever to take control of building your music career. No longer must you be signed by a major label to get your music out into the public. You don’t need to surround yourself with a highly paid staff to assure that you get noticed. But you do need to allocate your work priorities and time differently, paying greater attention to your career than the artist who says, “It’s all about the music.” Believe me, that’s no longer true — if it ever was.
So, to that end, I want to write briefly today about two outlets for your work that should be integrated into an effective whole: Facebook and YouTube.
Facebook takes little time and can yield huge benefits. There are two kinds of Facebook pages: your personal page and a business or professional page. I’ve noticed that these days, most bands have business pages, but they are often not a useful source of information or entertainment. Their greatest advantage is that they don’t have limited membership. Their disadvantage is that Facebook wants to charge you extra to make sure that a wider audience sees them. Since using Facebook is mostly an any-idiot venture (look how much bad stuff is up there), it behooves you to see that your band page is kept up to date with information like who’s playing in and with your band (this week as well as permanently), what your future dates are, and other information. I’ve found that the share button is the most important button on Facebook. Asking your friends and followers to share your posts reaps real rewards. Regular visitors to your page share information with their friends, who share them further, thus spreading the word.
Perhaps it’s useful to you to have two personal Facebook pages. One should be kept relatively private, used to communicate with family and real-life friends. There are buttons on Facebook giving you that choice. The other “personal” Facebook page should be available to your fans, and you should be active on it. I’ve noticed that many artists use Facebook as a billboard. “Next weekend The HardCore Rejects will be in Sloppy Valley for a big show. C’mon out.” I’ve noticed that Eric Gibson is creeping up on the 5,000-person limit on his personal page, while the Gibson Brothers professional band page has nearly 13,000 likes. Several years ago, Eric was quite reluctant to become a member of Facebook, but once he joined, he showed a natural talent at using his page to let people see a personal, likable person they want to be associated with.
Recently I chatted with Eric about his FB page. He said, “Using Facebook requires a balancing act between being self-disclosing and protecting the privacy of your loved ones. But, writing widely about my son Kelley’s story has been helpful for Kelley and therapeutic for me. Disclosing anything about yourself on FB can be a double-edged sword.”
Indeed, effective users of Facebook pages reveal elements of themselves, without allowing politics or other divisive material to be on their pages. Then you should ask your fans to share.
YouTube has become an indispensable tool for musicians. Many record labels help bands by releasing slick, professional “official” YouTube videos. Since people don’t sit and watch videos on television anymore, YouTube has become a much more effective tool than waiting to become part of a playlist on MTV, which doesn’t much play “M” any more. I’ve noticed, with my own small YouTube channel, that when a band places a video of mine on its social media outlets and webpage, it tends to get much wider play. Over the lifetime of my YouTube channel, my videos have had over 5,000,000 views, with 694,000 coming in 2015. When a band features a video of mine, their popularity rises, more people see them, and they gain fans.
Since bands make most of their money these days from performance, recordings — almost regardless of quality — help a band; but good recordings help more. Even hand-held, brief phone recordings on Facebook, though they have a short active life, generate hundreds or thousands of plays.
The Infamous Stringdusters have become masters of using brief, handheld videos, which they shoot on their bus or in the green room. Those videos help create a vision of who they are. When bands seek to retain control of their YouTube presence — controlling what videos people put up — they end up hurting, rather than protecting themselves, because circulation and awareness are such important factors.
Keeping your Facebook page up to date, revealing some elements of your personal life and experience, sharing interesting things about yourself from others who’ve tagged you, picking up videos of your band and embedding them into your pages, and responding to the comments of your friends, fans, and followers can only help you build your popularity. Even just frequently clicking the “like” button lets people know you’re aware of them and grateful. All this doesn’t need to take huge amounts of time and represents no outlay of dollars. It will pay huge benefits. Do yourself a favor and start taking charge of your online life.