A friend of mine sent me a link to Louis Pattison’s Thursday post on the Guardian Unlimited Arts blog. In it, Pattison claims that mp3 bloggers are killing the independent artists and businesses they claim to promote by giving their music away for free.
As my friend said, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…”
MP3 blogs, if you’ve missed the phenomenon, are regularly updated websites that talk about music and link to songs that their readers can download and listen to. Typically, the mp3 blog keeps itself to a particular subgenre of music, usually from the independent music end of the spectrum, rather than the more mainstream major label stuff.
Think of them as advocates, rather than pirates.
An mp3 blogger is essentially an opinion leader in the same way a music columnist or critic might be, only with three important differences:
1) Audience size and focus.
Some mp3 bloggers have audiences in the tens of thousands. Most have more modest readerships nowhere near the kind of numbers that would appeal to broadcasters, but still significant. More importantly, they tend to be read by people who are not just ‘Put Dire Straits on while we have dinner’ music consumers, but active fans seeking out new and interesting sounds in a particular area.
They don’t target music consumers in general, but music consumers who are already strongly predisposed towards a particular niche. This is a good thing.
2) It’s always a positive review
MP3 bloggers, unlike record reviewers, are highly unlikely to write about anything they don’t absolutely love. They are advocates: people who want you to enjoy, understand and appreciate the music that they are passionate about. There is no reason for them to fill space by talking about anything remotely mediocre.
3) They’re approachable
Most mp3 bloggers receive promo tracks all the time. Even so, they tend to be far more likely to engage in direct communication. For the most part, they’re happy to receive new music — as long as it’s relevant to them and their audience.
While you might want to prevent anyone from downloading your music without paying for it (though I suggest a rethink), this is probably outweighed by the opportunity of connecting with an established community of relevant music enthusiasts, and giving them the opportunity to become fans.
Assuming that sounds like something you’d like to do, I suggest the following simple strategy.
1) Go to the (wonderful) Hype Machine.
2) Search for an artist that inhabits similar territory to your music.
3) Contact the blogger who is writing about that artist.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, your music resembles that of Modern Life Is War. So you search on Modern Life is War on the Hype Machine. There, you find a couple of blogs that have discussed that band recently.
You notice that one blog is in German, and another is in English. If you’re like me, and your German is limited, you might want to call in a multi-lingual friend to talk to the German blogger, and focus your own attention on a blog called ‘Can You See The Sunset from the Southside?‘, which is clearly an established, thoughtful and interesting blog with a decent readership of like-minded music lovers.
Eric, who writes ‘Can You See The Sunset‘ supplies his email address on his website. If his readership was also your ideal target audience, you may wish to drop him a note along these lines:
Hi. I noticed that you liked the Modern Life Is War album. Great band. I’m in a band that makes music not unlike that, and I wondered if you’d be open to being sent a couple of mp3 tracks to listen to — and, if you like them, to give away on your site. Here’s our website. Here’s our MySpace… (etc. etc. — you get the idea).
Then rinse and repeat. Go back to the Hype Machine and find another related artist.
If you’re successful, then there will be a bunch of people who have established themselves as arbiters of good taste talking positively about your music to a bunch of people predisposed to liking it, and who trust the opinion of that blogger. They may even follow a link back to your site.
And my experience of the people who read and download from mp3 blogs is that they tend to be people who buy more music, rather than less, as a result of that online engagement. They may not buy everything they download and like, but they buy far more of that stuff than they buy of music they never got to hear about in the first place.
Oh, and by the way… I’m going to be making an announcement here on Monday. I’m involved in some new and interesting stuff, and I thought you’d like to know about it. Can’t say anything yet, but I’ll talk to you then.