To Do What, Exactly? (Part II)

There was some feedback on one of my last posts that made me feel to explain my point a bit more in-depth.

A legitimate argument was “Touting the process has at least one value for fans: gossip. Even if they’re the nerds everybody else is laughing about. After all, celebrity mags are no more than a collection of illustrated tweets.” And this is true. The point is, what’s the next step in the process of generating revenue? Gossip in and of itself is not monetizable. The problem of a marketer has always been, is and will always be: How do you convert attention into action? Shouting “Hey!” to make people turn their heads is easy, but then what? It’s action that generates revenue. People who buy stuff. If gossip just happens inside a silo it’s no big help, it may even be counterproductive. Trade, be it with physical goods or imphysical ideas, is based on imbalance, on one person having something the other wants to have. When everybody has the same level and quality of information, there’s no (re-)action. Evolution and progress (and also regress) happen at the fringes, not in the center, and a silo is a rectangular shaped fraction of the center with no fringes at all.

The entire point is in terms of marketing, gossip is only a means, not an end. Celebrities know this, thus they’re attending parties to have photos taken, getting them into a dozen magazines every week which in return raises their value as a product. They’re (in most cases) aware they’re the product they want and need to sell themselves.

This is different with most bands I know personally. Musicians tend to think that their product is whatever kind of merchandise which speaks for itself. But it doesn’t. Facts never ever speaks for themselves. As Seth Godin says in “All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories”, it’s a huge difference whether you say “right-wing fundamentalist” or “person with deeply held beliefs”. As I wrote in the original post, it’s way easier for bands to tout the process of making a record (because it’s hardly comparable) than advertising the final product (which is easily comparable), but it’s the result that earns them money partially refinances their investments. If there’s no story about this product that may spread, the product itself won’t spread too. What happens is that within the silo of the before and after fans, they reach 100% market saturation. But outside the silo nothing changes. This is a critical point often ignored. It’s not enough to say “here’s the album we’ve been talking about a month ago…yes…the last update…remember? You liked our status back then…what we’ve been doing in the meantime?…Y’know….er…stuff..” or “Here’s the shirt. Questions? Look at the photo. Front. Back. See? Read the description. Comes in all sizes from S to XXL. Fine. Now, please, click the “BUY” button. Thank you.” This is a heap of crap in mammoth dimension. Why would anyone need to buy this? It’s a piece of black cloth with white paint on it. It’s not a desirable, somewhat fashionable item making the buyer feel better or leveraging their social status. No, it’s a commodity, and commodities are cheap in every aspect.

There is, as with all disasters, one upside. Limitation creates predictability, and predictability minimizes risk. What’s more, limitation creates urgency as well. So when bands know there are 200 fans, they can ask each of them to invest a tenner for new music, giving the band one week of studio time. Delivery by download. Or when each fan invests 20 bucks, they can get a souvenir, which could be a signed Digipak with awesome design (emphasis on “awesome design”, which means created by an artist, not “someone who knows Photoshop”). When making shirts, they can only have 100 printed in the first batch and sell them for 5 bucks more than the second (of course you want every fan to have a shirt, but some want it more than others, and they are willing to pay extra for the temporal luxury of exclusiveness). If that sounds to commercial, it might be better to not start swimming in this pond at all.

In the end, the question comes down to whether it’s a serious shot at making it your profession or just doing it as a hobby. The former requires a tough posture, especially towards yourself, and the latter brings up the question if you want the hobby to be self-sustainable or a bottomless pit.

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