The old way: The people who bought your album, or liked what they heard on the radio, booked tickets and came to your show. Perhaps they bought a t-shirt. Simple, right?
The new way: Bands build a community of gig goers via social networks, even live streaming shows. Fans share the experience of concerts with other fans through forums, blogging, filming and sharing, which in turn leads to more fans and bigger gigs.
Examples: Arctic Monkeys, Ed Sheeran, Insane Clown Posse, Everything Everything, Lana Del Rey.
In 2010 around 7.7 million people illegally downloaded music in Britain, according to research by the BPI, the British record industry’s trade association. As a result, 1.2 billion tracks were pirated or shared, costing the industry a reported £219m.
Because of that, and YouTube, Spotify and Apple taking bites out of every play or download, the UK music industry made £14.23 from record sales in 2011 (if you don’t include Adele or X-Factor alumni). Okay, that last stat is a lie.
But you get the idea: it’s very hard to make money selling singles and albums. As Madonna and others have proved by signing contracts based largely on performance revenues rather than album sales, the buck is in the gig. “When you’re not making millions from singles sales or album sales, people are still paying £18, £20, £30 to come see a band play live,” says Cast’s John Power. “Even at the moment when nobody’s got money.” “Social network chatter, whether positive or negative, keeps artists in fans’ consciousness, and keeps them coming to gigs,” adds Benji from Pledgemusic.
The Arctic Monkeys were among the first bands to get this. Before they were even signed, Sheffield’s finest built a big following on MySpace and Bebo. “There’s so much confusion about how the Arctic Monkeys got their music out there in the first place,” says Johnny Bradshaw, who became the Monkeys’ product manager when they eventually signed, complete with fan base, to Domino. “The truth is they handed out 50 CD-Rs at the early shows to a small group of fans. As the fans started file sharing them it spread over the internet. It was word of mouth.” The more people heard, the bigger the gigs got. So much so they were selling out The Astoria in London whilst still unsigned.
Odd Future’s success followed internationally much in the same way, and today artists from Ed Sheeran to Lana Del Rey have sold out gigs thanks to building online buzz long before signing on the dotted line of a record contract. Alternatively you could invite potential fans to see the gig free of charge, by live streaming it. U2 has streamed gigs over YouTube and art-rockers Everything Everything streamed their gig, plus bonus extras, in HD via a free iOS app in 2010.
You don’t need to have media-approved cool or, to be fair, decent music to find success this way. Iffy rap-rockers Insane Clown Posse have used social networking to create an entire loyal army of gig-going fans. The band have always had an excellent online presence: giving away free material, blogging and arranging fan events. They even have their own social networking site, Juggalobook.com, where you have homies not friends, you “whoop whoop” instead of “like”, and users appear to talk about sex even more than the online average. It’s not for everyone, but the result is thousands of “Juggalos” building excitement about the next ICP gig.