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#GuideTo: Promotion, Fans, & Branding - What I Learned at Winter Music Conference 2016, Days 1&a


Miami's Winter Music Conference (WMC) is a well-known week of seminars, panels, workshops, and parties geared towards electronic music artists, as well as anyone involved in the electronic music industry. The 31st annual WMC is being held this week from March 21-24 in Miami's gorgeous South Beach. I'm attending the event and am excited to provide updates on the happenings here at the Shelborne Wyndham Grand.

Beginning at noon on Monday, WMC kicked off four days of in-depth discussion panels. The first two days have focused on the business aspects of the industry, with more production-related seminars occuring on Wednesday and Thursday. Panelists on days one and two of WMC ranged from well-established music industry lawyers, A&R reps, and label owners to prominent producers and vocalists (many of whom were involved in the establishment of the early house and electronic music scene). After having attended all seminars possible these past two days (some sessions overlapped), I've received extremely insightful information about the "inside" of the electronic music industry.

Panels focused on everything from tips on making money producing electronic music to discussing the role of record labels in the industry today, while reviewing the legal aspects of publishing and record deals. However, the common theme in all panels was certainly on the shifting dynamics within the industry. As we all well know, the last decade's introduction of new and inexpensive production and DJ technology has resulted in a saturated electronic music market. With innovations such as the auto-sync capabilities offered in DJ controllers to the inexpensive digital production equipment available to anyone with a computer, countless artists are now trying to get a piece of this multi-billion dollar industry.

With so many producers, remixers, vocalists, record labels, promoters, and managers involved in the industry, how can new and upcoming artists stand out? The simple answer to this question is: "It's tough." However, if you truly love electronic music and are willing to work hard to make it your career, you can persevere and make it happen.

The best collective advice from all panelists on getting noticed as an electronic artist is to "build your brand." Of course, this saying seems pretty cliché nowadays. Whether active in the music industry, attempting to be the next all-star chef, or creating a new business, the rise of social media has everyone working 24-7 on "building their brand." However, this concept is incredibly important for electronic artists to understand and shouldn't be disregarded.

Before I dive more into branding, let's take a step back... not too many years ago, the music industry was centered around record labels. However, the labels' role has drastically shifted in today's industry and is no longer as relevant as it was during the days of The Beatles, or even much more recently. Getting "signed" was seen as the ultimate achievement for any aspiring artist, especially in the relatively underground house and electronic music scene. The big corporate record labels would make "kings and queens" of their artists, while reaping the benefits of a massive percentage of their artists' gold and platinum record sales.

With the saturation of countless producers, vocalists, and DJs in the electronic music scene today, the price of music is decreasing drastically and record sales have dropped. Think of the last time you actually paid for a song! In today's market, artists are often giving their music away while listeners also pirate big-label albums. In addition, streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music collect a subscription fee in exchange for unlimited listening while artists and labels make a trivial revenue stream from plays, if anything at all (Spotify is currently in a jam after having avoided paying their artists royalities since their foundation).

As a result, record labels now seem to have one sole purpose and responsibility: to act as a marketing company for their artists while earning a profit through the artist's alternative revenue streams. What does this mean? Well, without money coming in from record sales, artists now make the majority of their money touring, selling merchandise, collecting mechanical royalities, and potentially earning performance royalities (ie. if an artist is registered with a Performing Rights Organization [P.R.O.], such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. More on this in the next post!). In the current music scene, when a record label enters into a deal with an artist, they typically agree to a 50-50 split on certain revenue streams, depending on what the label is supporting the artist with (ie. does the label promote the artist's tour? Then they get half of all revenue). Similarly, a "360-deal" is also fairly common. In a 360-deal, labels essentially have a right to all of an artist's revenue streams. This means the artist is required to pay them part of their income from touring, music royalities, merchandising, etc. As discussed during the legal panel, artists should proceed cautiously and consult an attorney before entering into either agreement. If a label is going to take a piece of an artist's touring income, the label needs to be contributing to that tour based on pre-discussed terms (ie. the label will provide X amount of promotion by X date for the artist's upcoming tour). All of these items should be drawn up in a contract between the artist and label before proceeding. If a label ends up not meeting the specific terms of the contract, then they legally don't deserve the right to a share of the artist's revenue.

So, now we're full circle. How does an artist actually get signed to a label? Again, the key is "building a brand." According to panelists, labels today likely won't even consider listening to a demo submitted to them unless they can confirm that the artist already has a following (ie. Soundcloud plays and likes) and established brand (ie. already booked for numerous gigs). Therefore, it's up to the artist to develop their sound and image while promoting their music and getting their music heard. Easier said than done...

So what specific steps are actually involved with developing a brand? Panelists offered many suggestions. First, establish a personal connection with fans (buying Twitter and Facebook banner ads doesn't get you to the top anymore). Promote your music by sending personalized messages to other artists and DJs within your genre, industry professionals, and fans within your music's demographics. Update them on your new music and invite them to listen. Offer free copies of your music to play at their gigs, and don't forget to check and support their music as well. Ask for mentorships and critiques from industry professionals. Be genuine!

Another great way to build your brand and increase awareness of your music is through merchandising. As I already mentioned, this is a big source of revenue for a great majority of electronic music producers today. Sell your own eye-catching logo, name, and/or design on a variety of merchandise and you might find the perfect way to make some extra cash while using a timeless "word-of-mouth" marketing technique. Just be sure to trademark your logo and secure the rights to sell your gear at all of your live shows, in addition to setting up an online store.

Numerous panelists also discussed the importance of YouTube in today's electronic music world and in developing your brand. Apparently, YouTube is the #1 music streaming service today, even over Soundcloud (which is currently dealing with some financial setbacks, though the company claims otherwise). Create regular, unique, and engaging content on YouTube promoting your music and image, and you just might have the perfect material to attract a larger fanbase (and to make some extra cash!).

Finally, as you work on creating your brand, it's important to get to know your fans on a personal level based on their demographics. Facebook, Soundcloud, and Instagram, have made it easy to collect data on your listeners and fans. With a few clicks, you can discover where they are located, what brand's they're interested in, and what other music they like. How can you use this information? As one panelist and a major festival promoter suggested, if you find that your fanbase is located in Austin Texas and they all drink a specific beer, throw a party in Austin while encouraging their favorite beer company to provide the beverages.

At the end of the day, I attended a panel with Terri B!, vocalist on numerous Avicii, David Guetta, and Laidback Luke original tracks and remixes. This incredibly talented and humble vocalist shared priceless information on her experiences working in the music industry, including much of the information I've already shared above. Most importantly, she emphasized the importance of honing your craft. While so many electronic musicians today focus entirely on technical aspects of their music, as well as developing their social presence, it's also important to remember the music. Take the time to study theory, play an instrument, learn music history, study old records, learn song structure and arrangements, and always be true to your emotions and sound when creating your own style of electronic music. I once heard an important quote from a music teacher: "When developing your sound, always look ahead, never to the side."

I hope this provides some useful information related to what I've learned at WMC thus far. Another article regarding my experience at WMC during days three and four will be posted in the next few days, so stay tuned!

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