Digital Strategy Model for Musicians – The Kitchen Sink Model
I was recently asked to deliver a workshop on Digital Strategies for Artists at Acces2018 – the Music in Africa industry conference, held in Nairobi. In terms of guiding East African artists towards good digital strategies, I have been wanting to come up with something more ‘big picture’ for a while, rather than the segmented treatment of looking at how to handle Facebook or Distribution or Marketing as separate entities. To actually have a model which would help guide an artist formulate their own useful digital strategies.
Like Business or Content strategies, Digital Strategies change as an artist grows and as the industry and channels change – with everything being a variable – I had the feeling a ‘model’ would be more useful.
This pyramid model is my latest iteration – called the ‘Kitchen Sink Model’ because washing up bowls were what I found in a Nairobi supermarket to build the physical model for the workshop at #acces2018, but also because it IS everything and the kitchen sink!(header image shows the actual model)
The coloured smaller pyramids each represent a ‘stage’ in the artists’ career, what’s needed, what works and what outcomes can be expected. The foundation stone is ‘Identity’ – who am I, what do I bring to the table, what am I saying and if you notice, income can only be expected after all 5 foundational steps are completed and some targeted outreach has been done. For many musicians in East Africa, this debunks the local beliefs that money will come if there is a musical product – the reality is that it for the majority it takes a lot more than that. I’m hoping that the model will help artists to flow through in a way which will deliver on goals, that it will reinforce the greater complexity and encourage less time wasting on just pushing socials (although that is still very important) but to work towards getting proper foundations in place which will facilitate monetizing their products. This model is based on knowledge collected from emerging artists in the East African music scene, and suitable for use by artists who are still trying to build a sustainable money flow from their music career.
The reasoning behind this model is to put some sequencing and guidance into the work a musician/artist needs to do for themselves to grow their digital footprint (online presence) to a size which supports and facilitates income generation. The model works from the foundation of identity on the bottom left and each colourway represents a stage in development of the digital footprint. In theory that should help artists determine next steps and strategies for growth.
The small red pyramid is the starting point. If an artist has an identity and some product, then that’s the time to open social channels and let people know they are there. But the model shows that its far from the time they can expect income and far from what’s needed to put product out for distribution.
The slightly larger purple/red pyramid describes the point at which the artist is formalizing his brand in the industry. Creating professional brand assets, such as an EPK, thinking about communication strategies and being more focused in social media posting to help tell the brand and musical story. At this point, there may or may not be growth in terms of fans, but time spent on this phase helps create brand authenticity, history and depth which will benefit hugely as the digital footprint grows.
The yellow/purple/red pyramid is really the point at which the artist moves towards taking the industry seriously. Creates product which is at ‘sellable’ quality, writes press releases and thinks in terms of marketing campaigns rather than just ‘dropping’ a track when its ready. I think the key thing to notice here, that while this is a professional approach it doesn’t actually lead to money, instead it leads to growing fans and better engagement from them.
The final ‘whole’ pyramid, demonstrates the pieces of the puzzle which are required to get an artist to the point of earning money from the musical product. With all the parts of the pyramid in place, an artist would likely have a decent sized digital footprint and have all the brand assets, products and engagement need to launch products onto the market. Notice that rights management comes before digital distribution and is foundational.
The model as a whole should help artists to devise their own next strategy, and limit wasting their efforts by jumping ahead before foundations are properly in place.
Digital Strategy Model Overview
Identity is the cornerstone of an artist, who they are, what they bring to the table, what is their point of view, their USP, their brand. Without understanding this, it becomes hard to market an artist, hard to know who their audiences might be, hard to figure out where their musical products fit in the industry. At the beginning of an artists career, identity/brand might be fluid and changing/growing alongside the musical product development and honing their musical craft. Having an identity which is authentic and can be articulated is a key foundational aspect of the artists’ career path.
Musical product might refer to songs written, lyrics, musical compositions, performances or productions which are part of developing a catalogue of work. These might be stored online or offline. The artists may or may not be performing. The artist may or may not have fully developed styles and product or be evolving their craft. The key thing here is describing the stage where there is product but it’s not yet ready for distribution, or if it is ready for distribution the digital footprint of the artist is not yet grown sufficiently to support product distribution.
Social channels, whichever ones are appropriate for the artists region and target audience. Often this will be Facebook and Instagram, but an artist ought to be aware of where his target audiences hang out online. At the beginning of a career, an artist does best to go looking for his audience rather than expecting the audience to find the artist. As the model suggests it’s best to open social channels once there is some notion of brand identity and musical product of some kind.
EPK (Electronic Press Kit), professional images which align with the brand, a compelling bio (brand story), links to music, links to social channels, contacts, events listing, discography and video of live performance if applicable. These assets are key to getting bookings, editorials, interviews, media interest and collaborations. The quality of an artists brand assets signal to the industry that the artist is serious and professional.
Methods, means and styles of communication are essential ways to build an authentic digital footprint. What’s said in an email and how it’s said can be just as important as who the emails are going out to. Setting up mailing lists for fans, industry & press, early in career, and sending out appropriate regular newsletters are just as useful to growing followers and engagement as working social media channels. Contacting the right people at the wrong time or in the wrong way can end in a lost lead. Real world interactions which are off-brand can impact negatively online. Having even an informal communication strategy can safeguard and help grow an artist.
What people are engaging with online might have reduced to soundbites but they still love stories. Dropping links, tracks or event posters get little in the way of engagement on social channels (unless an artist already has thousands of followers). Changing the way information is delivered, building stories by dropping information over time helps engagement. For most artists this will mean letting their audiences in on the journey rather than necessarily crafting great words. A bit of live video in rehearsal, a picture on the way to an event, backstage photo’s; things which bring the audience closer the world of the artist.
In the UK a band might perform many years before making a record. In East Africa, electronic producers tend to produce many tracks (often shared on soundcloud), which helps them to build significant audiences, before they are ready to formally release a track. It’s become very cheap and accessible to produce a track for release, the barrier to entry being so low, doesn’t mean every product ought to be released or that any of them will make the artist any money. Having ‘releasable’ product is stepping into the phase where the artist can start to research when, where and how the releases can take place and start to learn the processes involved in releasing tracks.
Press releases, public/digital/tv appearances, courting the attention of the industry are essential parts of an artist’s digital footprint – they add specific detail and weight to what the world can read about the artist and their musical products. The ‘weight’ comes (if the words are positive) because someone else with credibility is saying (or repeating) them. This kind of content, outside social media, can significantly alter the size of an artists digital footprint and can directly lead to having sufficient 3rd party links for an artist wikipedia entry or for google to show the artist profile on the search RHS.
Marketing a product in the commercial world is typically done in a campaign format. Has a timeline, specific goals for a target audience and a set of assets or activations to achieve them. What an artist can take from this is the research which points to the optimum length of a campaign being around 60 days to get best results. This causes a rethink of how to drop a track or an event, to allow sufficient time before and after and not just a few days before. It’s not like there needs to be learning around how to do digital marketing but more that the timeframes need expanding and there ought to be planning with assets and goals rather than adhoc.
The interesting thing here is that even though there is monetizable product in this part of the model, all that grows are followers and engagement. Something which is often a puzzle, “I have so many fans, they love me, so why don’t I have money?” Having monetizable product is not by itself entering into the business side of the music business. The final section of the model should show why.
IP (intellectual property) is the big thing of the 21st century, in the music industry, it’s been the key to how artists can collect on new methods of consuming music (such as streaming). Essentially it’s micropayments for use of an artists intellectual property, composition, production, lyrics, performance. Sorting out what rights an artist holds and who is going to collect these payments, for East African artists can be a tricky and confusing process. Many are looking outside the region now for reliable solutions to collections. What is important is that these relationships with CMO’s are made in advance of distribution.
Digital Distribution is the process of getting an artists music out onto international (and local) music platforms, like Spotify or iTunes for either sales, downloads, streaming or other methods. There are many digital distributors out there, and a number of alternative music platforms in Africa which provide a more local offering, so an artist needs to look carefully at his audiences, in order to make good decisions to deliver the music where it will be most valued. What doesn’t generally come with Digital Distribution or any of the platforms the music ends up on, is publicity – getting a track distributed to music platforms, is just a starting point, getting people to listen or buy when it’s up, is a much tougher goal.
Once an artist has built an audience on social media, shared some musical product and taken steps to get music onto music platforms for streaming or sales, there needs to be significant pushing to turn that into actual sales or plays. Rarely does it happen passively. Part of understanding how best to do this comes from the data collected from social channel insights and from distribution analytics which should help to actively target audiences. But also to identify bloggers and influencers who already speak to those audiences.
Musicians in 2018 have multiple revenue streams, many of which initially might be quite small. Until such time as the one ‘track’ breaks, an artist needs to ensure that all his revenue streams are working and that the data from those is helping to inform strategic direction. The audience always decides.
Notice that there is no mention in this model of managers, social media helpers, record labels, hiring a team or needing investors. This is a model for artists to use as independents working alone (or as a band) to grow a decent digital footprint but also to use as a guide to drive digital strategies which will help grow an artist to the point of being a professional in the industry with the potential to earn money from their musical product.
In conclusion, I am putting this model out there for industry critique, not as a finished product. I am currently working on the expansion of the model (where the 2 red arrows are), to help arrange some of the variables involved in an established musicians’ career. I will be happy to receive comment or questions here.