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Social Media is a Game Changer for Indie Artists

With apps, bands have an easier path to stardom — & failure

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It used to be that the music was what people were interested in. Now with videos and social media, the trend is for artists to make themselves accessible all the time to their fans.
- Bryan Olesen, Vota

With the uprising of Internet music downloads over the past few decades, the music industry has never been more accessible to independent bands looking to make and leave their marks on a waiting world eager to hear what they have to offer.

A statistic released by the Nielsen polling company in 2012 illustrates just how prevalent downloads have become in determining how artists fare in the industry today. According to Nielsen data, more than half of all music purchased in 2012 (55.9%) was done via downloads, a trend that has given independent artists the opportunity to be discovered without the benefit of a major recording deal with a major record company.

Because of this trend, more and more bands and artists like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black have been able to buck the formulaic trend and make a name for themselves through self-promotion campaigns launched online featuring their material.

However, for every artist that makes it big, thousands more labor to be discovered. And since, obviously, not all acts are equal, the log jam of new music created by players of varying skill levels sometimes makes it hard for the best of the best to rise above the rest.

Artists Face Some New Challenges

Singer-songwriter Bryan Olesen has split time between top Christian bands Casting Pearls, Vota, and News Boys for more than two decades. His current group, Vota, continues to find new and creative ways to forge ahead in an industry that has become both highly accessible and fiercely challenging for artists in recent years.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Olesen says of how independent bands go about getting discovered today. “It used to be that the music was what people were interested in. Now with videos and social media, the trend is for artists to make themselves accessible all the time to their fans.

“It doesn’t take much to record and release an album anymore. It used to be you had to save enough money to go into a studio to get out to the masses and draw the attention of the powers that be. That’s not necessary anymore. But with the floodgates open and so much music out there, it’s harder to find the good stuff.”

Different World for Musicians

Artists looking to make a living making music are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, Olesen said. In his case, he has taken a worship leader position at his church to make ends meet for himself and his family. This frees him to focus entirely on making music without having to rely on music sales to pay the bills each month. For those without a second income, however, the road to success can be lean and inhibitive.

“The payouts for song downloads are small,” he said. “I read that to make minimum wage, an artist has to have 5 to 7 million streams (views) per month. So artists must find more creative ways to stand out from the sea of artists out there.”

In fact, self-promotion and wearing multiple hats have become standard fare for many artists looking to break through commercially, he said. Using apps like Bandcamp, Bands In Town, and Indie Shuffle can help keep them in the public eye from one day to the next. With said apps, artists can promote, distribute, or advertise upcoming gigs to communities eager for new acts to discover.

How the Road to Stardom Has Changed

The road to stardom has changed drastically through the years, said Kent Theesen, a former radio disc jockey both in the US and abroad in the 1980s and 1990s.

“In those days, you did a lot of door-knocking,” he said. “In today’s world, you go on Spotify or YouTube and roll through the tunes.”

For some artists, getting discovered happens overnight, Theesen said. For others, the pursuit may never come to fruition.

“The singers of Boston and Journey and Justin Bieber were discovered on YouTube,” he said. “In other cases, you can spend hours listing to music online and go, ‘Why haven’t these guys been discovered?’ It’s amazing what’s out there.”

Creating a Bond With Fans is Crucial

What hasn’t changed in the industry over time is the connection fans seek when they discover new acts that pique their curiosity, Theesen said. Being accessible to the fans is just as vital today as ever. Personal touch never goes out of style.

“When artists do shows, they need to meet and greet all their fans,” he said. “Be humble and kind. When you’re a newbie out there, you need to meet or greet every one of your fans before they leave. Keep your name out there.

“Do your homework and know which apps people are using right now. That’s important. You’ve got to know the best ones to go with.”

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Social Media is a Game Changer for Indie Artists



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