Five Huge Takeaways from New Music Seminar

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This week’s New Music Seminar was an absolute overload of information for attendees, a large percentage of whom were aspiring artists.

The tips were flowing strong, and those taking notes probably have a year’s worth of information to sift through.  In some ways, “you had to be there,” but there were some important themes that should not be missed – by artists, labels, marketing teams, managers, and everyone in-between.

Here are five to ponder…

(1) DYI is not DTF, and DIY has its limitations.

DIY – or ‘do it yourself’ marketing for the uninitiated – was widely viewed as an early startup approach during the sessions.  ReverbNation CEO Mike Doernberg called pure DIY “crap,” though at the earliest stages it can help an artist get some initial traction.  “The DIY problem is that people think it’s DIY for life – it’s not… you cannot do it yourself,” said Steven Van Zandt.  “All the best records ever made were made by an army of people.”

By contrast, DTF, or direct-to-fan, is highly related but ultimately something different.  The marketing team surrounding Amanda Palmer, for example, is going direct-to-fan.  But Amanda is not doing it all by herself.

(2) Consider Consolidation.

When looking for a direct-to-fan partner, consider the advantages of putting multiple services under one roof.  The reason is that different platforms and initiatives are frequently interrelated, and harder to analyze independently.  For example, a package that includes analytics, store distribution and email management can provide lots of coordinated intelligence that would be harder to understand independently.

So, the one-off widget can be isolating.  Then again, more developed teams and labels can easily ‘roll their own’ and do the analysis and strategy by themselves.  But someone is coordinating and analyzing the bigger picture, not swimming in the flotsam and jetsam of disparate partners and services.

(3) Control Is Good: Think More Data, Better Cuts, More Flexible Pricing.

Artists have more control than ever over transactions with their fans.  But, the preferred transactions are ones that give artists the most data, the best percentages and the greatest pricing flexibility.  So, while artists are wise to put their content on iTunes, the better sale happens on the artist site.

(4) Quality Is the Beginning of the Conversation…

You’ve heard this one before, though it was the source of considerable discussion at the event.  Amidst all the marketing tips, platforms, and strategies, the assumption throughout is that the music is something people really want to listen to.

There was a wide range of opinion on the matter.  The definition of quality is incredibly subjective, though the real judges are fans.  Either fans are reacting and nodding their heads, or they are not.  And once the judgement is made that the music is great, fans become evangelists as a rule.

But what resonates?  Just Blaze urged artists to focus on originality, while making sure all the creative juices are still accessible to audiences.  He also urged artists to “focus on one lane,” and build on their strongest genres or styles.

Steven Van Zandt told artists to focus a lot more on their creative process and musical chops.  That means putting activities like arranging, composing, and performing before recording and instant-uploading.  Little Steven also urged artists to dig into the roots of their music – 50s and 60s for rock n’ roll, early 80s for hip-hop – and to work out the kinks at a smaller venue.  “The closer you get to the roots, the better your expression will be,” Van Zandt said.

(5) Consider “FQ,” or the “F*&k-ability Quotient”

So who won the NMS band competition?  Hotspur, a group of great-looking guys with lots of sex appeal.  Or, as Kelly Cutrone referred to it, “FQ” for or the “F*&k-ability Quotient”.  “Hotspur has FQ in spades,” Cutrone quipped to the delight of the crowd.

Sounds hilarious, but Cutrone correctly noted that some of the most successful acts in history – from the Rolling Stones to the Jonas Brothers – appealed to girls based on great looks and on-stage charisma.  So what was that about quality again?