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Lack of People Skills Will Stunt Your Music Career

I've been dealing with this realization for quite some time. This is a tough one, especially for someone who isn't naturally outgoing like myself.

The excuses are as numerous as they are easy. "Can't I just play my music?" "They came here for music, I shouldn't have to go around meeting and greeting." "It doesn't matter anyways. If they like my music they'll remember me."

It amounts to wussing out. We know this is what the game is all about. But that doesn't make it any easier.

In last week's post I introduced the concept of the velocity of your fans. Guess what spurred that idea on?

Your music doesn't seek out people's ears. (Although that'd make a sweet music video.) You've got to carry it there. And even then, there's no guarantee people will remember you even if it's amazing music. The world is built around personal connections. Use this truth to spread your music.

Good people skills helps in two ways.
  1. Increases the chance that someone who hears you will like and remember you.
Even seemingly trivial things have a profound effect on how people remember things. You want a fan to be able to say 'Oh yeah, I met ______. They're awesome, really cool to talk with. Here, I'll play you a song." This will increase the chance that someone who hears your music will remember it, like you, and (possibly) become a fan.

  2. Increases the number of people that will hear you.Surprise! For as good as social networking is for contacting people, they're not nearly as effective as face-to-face contact for building relationships. Don't bother friending random people on Myspace, your time is better spent at a concert for a band similar to yours, talking to everyone in line about your band.

In later posts I'll detail little nuggets of knowledge about what "good people skills" exactly are. It's been a difficult process developing these talents, but they're already paid off a million-fold. Social skills are AMAZING to have.

Yes, it's hard if you're not naturally out schmoozing.
But yes, it will get your band results.


You Can't Be An Ass Anymore (Fan Velocity)

You've got your music. But that will only carry you so far.

The real multiplier for your music career's success is the velocity of your fans. Do they rabidly promote your band because they connect with you and love what you stand for? (As much as I dislike them, you can't deny the efficacy of Juggalos for supporting their band.) Or do the people you've touched actively go out of their way to discourage others from listening to your music?

It used to be that there was an invisible wall between the artist and their fans. PR spokesmen, artist managers, burly security guards, tinted limos etc. If you didn't want to talk to the public beyond your music, you would have someone step in for you and create a buffer. You could live in space when you weren't on stage as far as anyone was concerned. Rest assured there was someone out there actively interacting with fans, spreading the gospel of your music.

But the middlemen are disappearing.

Today it's just you and the fan. They can interact with you directly through twitter, myspace, forums, email, carrier pigeon... If they see you before or after a show, they wanna talk to you. The fan *expects* to be able to interact with you. This is part of your job description as an artist. Communicating emotion involves communication.

Why is this? 

Choosing to listen to a band is an identity decision.

When I say "I'm a HUGE fan of Boris", it's an identity statement. Music is all about emotions, philosophy, and stories. When we state our preferences, we're explicitly saying "I identify with the message they are conveying to the world. This band and their music represents how I see the world." We project the person we want to be onto our artists.

As such, we as your fans want to know as much as we can about who we have decided is worthy of membership into our "Personal Identity Club". This is a club for cool people *only*, because we're the president of it!

So if we finally interact with an idol and they look down on us, blow us off, or call us chumps, they're out of our club. Gone. Even worse, any time the former-fan hears the artists name, they're gonna chime in saying "They're a dick! Don't listen to em!".

Even not replying to their messages is a slight. If you don't respond to fans' attempt to connect with you, to them it feels the same as a gorgeous woman who won't return their calls. It hurts.

You can't ignore or hate on your fans anymore. They're the only ones keeping you afloat.

Know your fan velocity. Do everything in your humanly power to maximize it.


Against Virtuosity

When we were a young band and had only four songs, two of them had bass solos. (What can I say? I love me up some soloing: the spontaneity, the intensity, the release.) I always felt like a champ after pulling one off, yet the crowd response was tepid. (Insert joke about bassist) I couldn't figure out why. I executed it perfectly!

You ever meet that kid in high school on debate team? You know the one I'm talking about. He had a giant vocabulary and wasn't afraid to whip it out at the slightest provocation. This loquacious, verbose and obtuse  individual filibustered colleagues with his voluminous repertoire of lexicon in perpetuum.

People thought he was smart. And a dick. With no friends.

What was his goal in hedging his language like this?

The purpose of speaking is communication. Using unnecessarily complicated language obfuscates the message. Don't put big words in sentences just because you can. Likewise, don't put solos or crazy-technical passages in your music unless they're required to convey the message of your song. It's about the music, not how fast you can sweep-pick scales in 17/8.
Confession: I was that kid. Still recovering.


The Grateful Dead's Business Model

Check out this article over at The Atlantic on the business model for the Grateful Dead. Seriously ahead-of-the-times thinking that people are only now starting to recognize.

The takeaways from this articles are (surprise!) stuff I've already said works. Represent. 

   -Reward fans for increasing their devotion to you (capped ticket prices, easy access, notification ahead of other fans) The Dead's cult following isn't a mistake.

   -Be easy to talk to. The Dead had a phone list to directly contact their important fans and were eager to open a dialog.

   -Increasing visibility increases reward (both monetary & intangible, such as fame). They realized you can't control the distribution of bootlegs, so they actively encouraged it. This empowered their fans to actively network with each other and proudly show off their collections/dedication to new possible fans. Not only was the band amazing, they had their fans go around proselytizing their greatness. Now that's a band.


Your First Fans

...are the bands that go on after you and the friends they've brought with them.

There are so few people who actively go out to local shows with unknown artists, it just doesn't happen often enough to reliable. When's the last time you walked past a *real* small venue, heard some music and thought, "Hmm, I'm going to walk in there knowing nothing about the bands and give four hours of my friday night with full attention to everything these bands are doing!"?

Attention is a limited resource. People only have one set of ears. As a musician, you're competing against every act on iTunes. Oh, and you're competing against youTube videos of cute cats, getting boozed with friends, video games loaded with explosions, etc. It's a tough world for a musician.

So who can you count on to start building your music career? Where Everyone playing after you is going to be there for your set, if only just so they get their chance to play. The band's girlfriends at their merch table are bored. The (kinda) close friends who got wrangled into going to see the band are anxiously looking for amusement. Talk to them! They're bored, captive, and probably like the musical genre you play. What more could you ask for?!? (Read this part again and pretend you hear me telepathically yelling).

Go talk with them, schmooze, be charming. Promote.