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How does a musician break out of their 'social circle' with free distribution?

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I have a friend who has been making amazing music all his life. It's sort of annoying how talented he is. He has dozens if not hundreds of songs recorded, and he has a large social circle (probably about 50% other musicians) who listen to his work constantly.

What he struggles with is breaking outside of that circle. It has grown into a sort of ecosystem where, even though everybody shares everything, nothing gains much traction outside of the group. He's working on a few things, like getting his entire catalogue online for easy access to take advantage of the long tail, and I plan to recommend booking more live shows. But does anyone have any other advice for reaching new fans? Are there music communities and forums he should be joining? Are there wacky ideas you've seen work? Any advice is much appreciated, and will be passed along to him!
initiated May 21, 2011 in Connecting with Fans by Leigh Beadon (2,650 points)   5 14 22

8 Responses

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This question has a couple of dependencies, but it's very interesting nonetheless.

Firstly, it is essential to consider why this person has stayed inside this one circle. Secondly, it is important to consider the motivation for wanting to break out of this circle. Is it because of a desire to reach more ears? Is it because of a need to feel 'successful'? (the latter is often an important reason why new acts sign to majors, instead of smaller labels where they would have more freedom)

So the specific how / plan of action really depends on the style of music and personality of your friend. I see two roads:

- Expanding the circle. The least agressive way and most comfortable is to simply keep building. Ways in which this could be done is for instance by giving house concerts and doing gigs where people come in for free if they bring a member of the opposite sex (or if they're wearing matching hats, whatever) - the goal is to keep adding new people to the circle. Then you need to connect with those new people. Facebook and Twitter are a HUGE help with this; make sure to mention them at least 2 times when doing a gig; have them in the ID3 tags of digital audio; on all the artist pages; on physical copies, etc. This is a very personal route to take, so you have to connect quite intimately with fans (not literally, unless you're into that).

- The deep end. This is a different approach and it can be compared to 'cold calls' in sales. Basically, you're going for an audience that doesn't know you yet; at all. The biggest challenge seems to get your music heard / get discovered, but I think the real challenge lies in retention: keeping the attention of people who hear the music and "kind of" like it. Key to getting discovered is making / doing something worth talking about like Die Antwoord a few years ago or Fulkultur. This depends heavily on setting up social media monitors and Google Alerts so that you catch every single person who talks about you on the web, so that you can respond to them, connect with them and retain! That is just the first step; then it's a matter of utilizing the opportunities that arise.

Both ways are a lot of (very hard) work, but the latter is probably more intensive. Hope this helps and if you could provide more info, I'm willing to help/answer more.

response added May 25, 2011 by Bas Grasmayer (410 points)   1 1 4
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It could very much depend on the type of music.  If it's a specific area/genre, then seeking out forums where those types of fans gather is an obvious place to start.

Some other ideas might be to try to promote the music for other fields: for example, offer the music up to be used in podcasts/videos.

Also, depending on the guy, there are various marketing things that can be done -- some of which may seem gimmicky, but that's why it really depends on your friend.  Are there any more details you can share?
response added May 24, 2011 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
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Most of my friends are musicians, and I spend a lot of time chatting with them about what works and what does not.  (for the most part, they speak from experience, while I regurgitate ideas I read on techdirt)

For expanding a social circle, one friend stumbled upon a technique that works remarkably well.  I dont know if there is a proper name for it, but for a live show, the single ticket price is $10 (steep, since the average in Toronto is $5, but not unreasonable) and each additional ticket adds $1 to the price.

So, one ticket costs $10, two tickets costs $11 (or $5.50 each! yea!) 3 tickets are $12 ($4 each), 4 tickets are $13, etc.  There is no maximum.  if someone comes up and buys 100 tickets for $109, so be it.

What this does is create a strong incentive for fans to drag other people to the shows with them, because for them, the show gets cheaper the more people they bring.  the circle of fans grows.

It's also a cheap date option, bringing along a significant other doesn't break the bank, it's only a dollar more, what is there to even think about?


Of course, this is a scalper friendly technique, so there is a point where this method would start to work against you, but for emerging artists, it seems to work very well.
response added Oct 14, 2011 by Kyle Clements (2,460 points)   3 9 17
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A really low-tech approach but still rather effective method of getting your music heard is to go to open mic nights.  Tell your friend not to be afraid to venture outside of genre specific venues - offer to play for free at coffee shops, restaurants, etc...  Also, volunteer your performance for community events.  The goodwill generated from one free performance can lead to dozens of paid gigs.
response added Oct 12, 2011 by Douglas Vaughn (650 points)   1 1 4
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If we're talking about free-licensed music, then put it on a sharing site (, Jamendo, etc), and tag it appropriately.

I regularly search these sites looking for new music to sync with video projects I'm working on. If the music is good, the video get exposure, and the work is _credited_ (I'm assuming By or By-SA license here, either of which insists on this but is compatible with my video work), then people will be able to back-track and find your music.

Alternatively, people may simply share the music on the sharing site or through social-networks, and you may get new fans directly.

There are a few review sites for free culture works, though I think there need to be more of them.

response added Oct 13, 2011 by Terry Hancock (1,000 points)   3 4 10
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He could be doing something wrong in terms of marketing himself or his music. If he is just putting up music on some anonymous untrafficked site and then sending it to the same people over and over again, it is unlikely that something will ever come of that, unless one of them is in a power position to make something happen. I don't know this group but they could all just be aspiring musicians looking for a break - if so then that is a good group to have at your disposal for specific purposes, but it is very unlikely that any breaks will come his way from that group. He needs to be always growing his social circle, and looking for new ways to market & expose people to his stuff. It all depends on what his goals are and who the audience is - so I can't really get that specific here.

The other thing which is a bit harder to swallow is that its possible his music isn't as good as YOU think it is. All that really matters is what people respond to. If you respond to his music, that's great, and if he has a group of 50 people, or 100 people, or whatever it is that respond to his music, then thats great - that would suggest that he has some potential, BUT, that may also be the extent of his abilities and that may fall short of his expectations or dreams. You said this guy is a friend, so might it be possible that you have some bias about him and his musical talent? It doesn't matter how many songs he has - quantity does not beat out quality.

I would first try to get some professional advice on the quality of his stuff, to see if he really is at that level or not, and then I would focus on growing his group of PROFESSIONAL contacts.
response added Oct 17, 2011 by joseph bielski (140 points)   1 1 1
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This is a great question and something we're hoping to solve at StereoGrid. We help artists freely distribute their music to well-known music websites and bloggers who can expose the music to new audiences. 

response added Oct 17, 2011 by Andrew Zarick (140 points)   1 1 1
0 like 0 dislike  He can offer a sampler there for free and gain email addresses in return.
response added Oct 20, 2011 by Katey Laurel (280 points)   2 2 3

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