Music Industry Professionals

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The Secrets to Success? It Totally Depends on the Artist...
The good news is also the bad news for up-and-coming bands in the current landscape. In the dust of total disruptive chaos, a myriad of do-it-yourself options exist. In turn, artists enjoy immense freedom over their creative output, direction, and distribution.

Then again, the options are absolutely dizzying, the media landscape totally fragmented, and the money extremely difficult to court. That either spells hopeless confusion and bad odds, or a steep and tricky challenge, depending on the perspective.

But truisms are emerging, including a belief that slower, organic growth strategies are the better path towards success. In a panel moderated by Digital Music News at the New Music Seminar in Chicago on Tuesday, panelists laughed at a recent list of pie-in-the-sky promotional recommendations recently published by Billboard.

Ariel Hyatt (Ariel Publicity, Cyber PR) led the charge, waving the outlandish list (also at in front of the assembled artists and industry executives. "This list is hilarious," Hyatt shared while rattling off suggestions that include a "Performance on the Oprah Winfrey Show," "Performance on Conan," "Synch Placement in a TV Ad for Apple," "Starring Role in Reality Show on VH1," and "Synch Placement In High-Rotation TV Ad for Nike," among others.

But why not think big, and swing big? Big-name artists like Kanye West have access to these opportunities, and so do super-lucky, developing artists. But even if the rare, high-profile promotional opportunity presents itself, Ariel and others urged caution - at least for developing acts. "These are major career moves that happen at the end of the spectrum, and if they happen at the beginning, you still have to remember that you're an independent artist at the beginning of your career," said Corey Denis, vice president of Reapandsow.

But dialing back to mega-artists like Kanye, these types of opportunities are more easily available - though West now represents a tricky and controversial example. Either way, established and successful artists are fortunate enough to be able to weigh a number of big-blast options, a luxury not enjoyed by the up-from-obscurity indie artist.

Then again, even superstars are playing on a different field, one that rewards - and demands - authenticity. "One of the reasons why Kanye's blog is so successful is that it's totally authentic," remarked Bryan Calhoun, an executive at SoundExchange who also consults the likes of Kanye, Ludacris, Drake, and Young Jeezy. "Whatever is posted on the blog, it's him," Calhoun continued, something glaringly obvious to anyone following the rants.

Calhoun noted that authenticity is also critical to the rest of the Kanye presence, and core to partnerships with companies like Mozes ( and FanManager ( Additionally, Calhoun urged caution on direct solicitations, even when the pitch is cleverly nestled into a string of other promotional messages. "People bought the [advertised] ringtones, but we did have about 5-10 percent opt out of the list," Calhoun shared, while also noting that conversions from Kanye's direct solicitation were much higher than those sent from Island Def Jam (IDJ).

The rest of the discussion included some incredibly creative ideas, proving that the marketing canvass is truly for the taking. The list included a limited-edition, superfan-targeted vinyl release by the Mountain Goats, a successful SecondLife growth strategy by Jeff Krantz, and an innovative digital-turned-physical street team concept by Santa Barbara-based Rebelution. "We sent out thousands of packages to core fans for the album release and in tour markets," said Dean Raissen, founder of Raise Up Music.

In turn, the street team send back pictures of promotional activities, and the most active promoters were rewarded. Just recently, the band scored a third-place album debut on the iTunes Store.

Report by publisher Paul Resnikoff in Chicago.

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