The power of data for indie musicians

The power of data for indie musicians[This article was written by Dave Kusek, founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music book, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.]

In the music industry, musicians create music in isolation and then release it to the public. They spend weeks or months writing, rehearsing, recording, mixing and mastering. After all that work and effort up front, you don’t know how well the album will perform until after the fact – after you invested all that time and money into the music. The sales data starts rolling in and then you find out if it was all worth it.

If you look at it this way, the music industry really seems like a grand game of dice. It’s really an exercise in hope marketing. There’s no testing and no feedback during the creation process and in the end, artists spend their entire career on hoping people will like their music. Of course, labels have a pretty good idea what the audience wants, but even major label artists have flop albums.

Today, musicians don’t need to be stuck in this model. The internet pretty much gives you a direct connection to your fans and access to a huge community of music listeners. You can get feedback pretty much instantaneously online and I’m going to run down some strategies to do so in this article.

If you’d like to improve your music and give your fans exactly what they want, Alex Mitchell, Co-founder and CEO of Audiokite, will be joining me for a free webinar on Thursday, April 9 at 1PM EST. He’ll be taking your through the platform and show you how real indie musicians are using Audiokite to take their music to the next level. You can join the webinar live or signup to watch the replay – it’s all free.

1. Survey your fans

If you have an email list, you already have a great way to get direct feedback from your fans. You can easily send a short surveys to learn more about what your fans like using Google Forms. Just login to Google, create a new form, add in some questions, and email your fans the link.

As far as what to ask your fans, the sky’s the limit. You could gather general information on your fans. What is their favorite genre of music, what other musicians do they like, how often do they go to concerts, and what kinds of emails do they like getting from musicians? This will give you valuable insight into their likes and dislikes and give you some ideas for promoting your music, possible collaborations, and gigs. For example, if a lot of your fans like to go to shows at least once a week, maybe you should be focusing more on your gigging.

You could also ask your fans direct questions about your music. Send them two songs and ask them to vote on their favorite or do a cover song in two different genres and ask them which they preferred. You could even send your email subscribers private, unlisted videos to get feedback before you even release it to the public.

If you’re not getting as many survey responses as you’d like, you could tie it into a contest. Everyone who answers the survey could be entered to win a free t shirt, signed CD, or VIP pass. It won’t cost you much, but this added incentive will get you more results.

2. The A/B Test

Unless you’re really well-versed in analytics, sometimes it can be difficult to gather real insight from all that raw data. Instead, choose something specific you want to experiment with and set up an A/B test.  Basically you’re just going to create 2 different versions of something, release them both to your fans, and see which performs better.

This is a great way to test what kinds of songs resonate most with your audience. Try releasing two songs at exactly the same time, be it originals or a covers. Put them both on your website, give them the same amount of promotion, and see which gets the most listens and which had the most fans listening all the way to the end.

You can also use this same strategy with your emails. Pretty much every email service out there has some A/B testing functionality. First you want to choose the element of your email that you want to test. You could test whether a different subject line affects your open rates or whether your fans respond better to a picture-heavy email or if they prefer plain text.

Next, you’re going to create two different emails. In order to get the most out of an A/B test, make sure you’re only changing one element. Using the example above, your emails would have the same message, just different subject lines. When you send your A/B test, half of your list will get one version and half will get the other version. Go in and look at your email analytics to see which one performed better.

A/B testing is really a continuous process. In other words, you want to be constantly testing new subject lines, new content, and new offers to try to out-perform your winners.

3. Use Audiokite

The examples above are great, and your fans can be a very valuable resource for feedback, but if you want even more information, you’re going to have to look into the wider world of music fans. You can actually get better feedback on your lyrics, your mix, and your overall sound from people who aren’t already familiar with you and your music.

In the past, only the major labels had access to this kind of surveying, but services like Audiokite are opening the doors for indie musicians to gain valuable insight about their music. Audiokite will play your music for hundreds of people and gather their thoughts in an easy to understand report that you can use to improve your sound and even get some promotion and monetization ideas.

From an Audiokite report you can learn whether your song appeals more towards men or women, how new listeners react to it, whether or not they would seek you out after hearing your music for the first time, what elements of the song and the mix need more work, and much more. A lot of artists will upload works in progress to Audiokite and get feedback before they even release it, giving them the opportunity to improve.

As you can see, data and feedback can be extremely valuable to indie musicians, but we really just scratched the surface in this article. We will dive into even more great strategies in a FREE webinar with Alex Mitchell from Audiokite. He’ll be taking you through the platform and showing you how best to use Audiokite to improve your music and your career. I hope you’ll join us in the free webinar, but if you can’t make it, sign up to watch the replay.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can create a plan for success for your band or career, check out the New Artist Model, the alternative online business school for independent musicians, songwriters, producers, managers and new businesses.

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