One of the biggest problems that we face in the music industry is the echo chamber of our scene relationships. While on the one hand I am all about talking with your friends about your projects bringing them value and encouraging them to come support your shows, I think there is also a huge population willfully ignorant of the fact that this isn’t actually getting anywhere because random people don’t care. You’d be surprised how deep these echo chambers go, in fact I would argue entire genres and scenes are poisoned by them. This is not me trying to be an asshole or trying to rain on your parade, it’s great and extremely valuable that there are active online communities for the music we like. It’s great and really exciting to me that we can have all the weirdos be united. Yet, even though we are all weirdos getting united, we also need to remember that we are still weirdos and we should not get lost up our own asses – a surprisingly dramatic threat in this business.
So how do you know you are in an echo chamber? Well first and foremost it happens when a ton of your friends comment on your stuff online but random people don’t seem to be interested. If people aren’t discovering you organically but instead only finding out about your band because you added them on Facebook that means you might not have the traction you think you do. Now I’m not trying to attack people who row their band by adding friends on Facebook, I think this is a GREAT strategy if done correctly, but that’s not what I’m on about here. What I’m on about is the people who have three Facebook friends in Houston who are going to come to their show and then think that a ton of people in Houston are interested. Odds are, in a lot of underground communities those three people are among the only people in a region with even a slight interest in your band, and that’s okay.
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Another reality of the echo chamber is that because our personal pages are much more effective for promoting our bands, brands and products than our band Facebook pages it becomes so much easier to just market to your friends. This is one reason that Instagram is really important, because bands tend to perform better their than individuals on the platform. The way Facebook contributes to the echo chamber though is that suddenly all your Facebook friends are going and liking your page for no other reason than the lexicon of Facebook, the suggestion that you are ‘friends’ kind of obliges them to do it. Well guess what. If your number of Facebook fans of your band is less than the number of combined Facebook friends your band has, you probably haven’t broken out of the echo chamber. That doesn’t mean there aren’t randoms supporting you, nor does it mean no one actually cares and is just being nice, but it means that that’s still a major factor.
You will know that you have broken out of the echo chamber when, at your local shows, you don’t know 20 people there or only know them because they are fans of your band. That’s not a huge ask, but it’s a step few bands actually manage to make. There are so few bands who can legitimately pull twenty strangers in their hometown. It’s a weird think to figure out too because so many people are interconnected in underground music scenes, but there are definitely people you don’t know who should be checking your band out who live near you. If you can win their hearts over then people might start to be giving a shit and making people give a shit is the hardest thing. Otherwise you’re just finding yourself stuck in an echo chamber of a few hundred people spread out all over the country who want to support you but live too far away or don’t really care as much as they might front on the internet. I’m not trying to be a grumpy bastard. That’s just how it goes.
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I guess what I’m trying to say in my own very bitter fashion is that no matter what you might think or want, all music is moving a lot less than you think. Seriously. Take whatever number you thought was low and halve it, and that’s probably a closer figure. There are big labels selling records that presell fifty copies, bands moving a few thousand units who get to the top forty and no reason that any of this is going to become any easier. People are routinely surprised by this because ‘all my friends on Facebook said they would buy my record’ Well, when the rubber hits the road that’s rarely the case. I’ve been guilty of it, and a lot of people who I know are honest with me have been guilty of it. It’s difficult to want to spend money on something you can get for free online. It’s difficult to put your spare money that you could be spending on other stuff for another black shirt. I get it, and a lot of people in your community probably want to deny this, but that’s just where it’s at, and that is okay.
Now I still think it’s possible to make a living as a musician and I still think its possible to do a lot of cool stuff when you’re in bands. I should know. I love so much of this because of the crazy and weird opportunities that it can provide. Don’t get me wrong about that at all. I just want you to embrace realism and embrace what the industry is actually going to be capable of doing and that just because people on Facebook say they like what you are doing it doesn’t mean that you are going to actually see concrete growth, not for a while at least. Practice extreme self awareness, embrace the cold realities of your band and realize that this is going to allow us all to grow.