The music we are most exposed to is that which is deemed worthy by big companies with big reach. Unfortunately, these companies are more interested in making a profit than creating uplifting, inspiring music, encouraging audiences like ourselves to accept that the formulaic songs they churn out at breathtaking speed is, indeed, good music.
How is that for a cynical beginning to a review?
Things have thankfully been changing, increasingly so, with the heartening, steady emergence of independent music. For those who, like me, are not really part of the music scene, scouring the internet for good independent music is a lot of work, more than we have the time for. And so it is quite the pleasant surprise when we come across a quality album produced by an independent band.
Any independent artist can tell you that coming across their art is anything but luck. It is the result of a lot of hard work and sweat, of meticulous planning, constant follow-up, and countless closed doors. As an independent book writer, I know how difficult it is to be heard amidst the noise and static clogging the internet. And because of the nature of the venture, not many independent artists can afford much with regards to marketing, especially when first starting out.
An independent artist has many avenues available to him with regards to marketing. There is of course trial and error while making use of the same creativity from which their art is born to share it with others. Once a wall is hit, the artist can turn to a seemingly endless amount of information and advice available online. An artist can also find a group of colleagues in the same situation as him and, through consultation and mutual support, help one another slowly climb the ladder out of the darkness that is being an unknown artist.
Why, then, would anyone shell out money to buy a book about this topic? I myself was pondering the question, all the more when beginning one’s foray into independent publishing, one does not have a lot of money to spare.
I have read a few such books and did not find much in them that was useful. I found that they were filled with a lot of anecdotes, most of which did not correspond to my situation, or were not applicable to the niche market I was reaching out to. Furthermore, I felt like I was being fed promises that were over the top; that someone was trying to sell me smoke and mirrors.
A good marketing book guides you through the process of understanding your art from the perspective of the audience, of translating your art into a short presentation – visual, text, both, or other – that reaches straight into their hearts and pulls at it, impelling them to pick up your book. But it also gives you an overarching vision of the marketing effort, a vision that allows the independent artist to not just try the next best thing they find, but rather, to understand the path they are on and take the next step because they have analysed their situation and take this step as a conscious step.
This is where Your Band is a Virus! The Ultimate Marketing Guide for Serious, Independent Musicians and Bands, Expanded Edition by James Moore comes in. Moore is in the perfect position to write such a book: he is the CEO of Independent Music Promotions, a company dedicated to only working with music with depth worldwide, a long term strategy the company’s website say is based on the concept of “be the change you’d like to see in the world.”
The online world is changing just as quickly as the real world; one would that a book, a seemingly static document, would become easily outdated within months of being published. This is why, after publishing it initially in 2010, author Moore published an expanded, updated version that to me, indicates that he really is always learning, as he states on his company’s website. As an individual promoting music with an attitude of learning, he is naturally adapting to the newest developments on the internet.
Your Band is a Virus! takes you through various aspects of marketing, one at a time, starting with a discussion on the types of marketing that exist, explaining the importance of and how to build a good website, examining how you can get your art online, reviewing the ways you can engage in behind-the-scenes marketing (I didn’t even know such a thing existed!), delving into the all-important topic of branding, and many others. While the title implies that this is a book for musicians, it is quite handy for any independent artist, including (but not limited to) writers.
Moore is very honest; he does not promise a magic formula that will bring sudden, untold riches to an independent artist. This realism is balanced with seemingly boundless optimism as he introduces the independent artist to the world of marketing, mapping it out in such a way that he will be able to work it strategically. In an engaging, frill-free language, he provides a guide into what an independent artist can do, and the promise that with a lot of hard, consistent work (sometimes over years!), he can achieve significant recognition.
The premise of the book, and the inspiration for the title, is to consider one’s art as a virus that can be “caught.” The trick is to understand through what mechanism this “infection” occurs, and to take full advantage of them. Some of these methods are easier than others; but they all have in common consistency, commitment, and financial investment.
What I appreciate the most about this book is that the author uses plain and simple English to simply get to the point. He doesn’t try to impress readers through the use of big, fancy words; he also does not waste his (or the reader’s) time recounting anecdote after anecdote. He also is not trying to sell anything, nor is he using his book as a way to sell the services of his company. And yet, he still manages to fill out a little under 200 pages. Sometimes I felt like I was sitting in his office with Moore, and that he was, quite simply, looking outside of the window and reflecting on what he, as CEO of Independent Music Promotions, has learned over the years in a self-effaced kind of way. And the gist of it is that is you want to sell your art, you need to consider it as a business, and pursue it just as systematically as you would starting, say, a cupcake business.
Another thing Moore is very honest and upfront about – something that really resonated with me – was how we should remember why we started in the first place. The world has warped our understanding of what success in the music business is. By the same token, it has warped our understanding of what success in the writing world is. But being a rock star does not mean that an artist is good; and similarly, bring a best-selling author does not an excellent writer make. Staying true to our initial intentions, and accepting that it is going to take a lot of hard work to get recognition, and refusing to go down a path of creating subpar art that is easier to produce and sells more quickly, are key.
It’s of course easier said than done. Moore explains how the music industry has created the unrealistic expectation of becoming a superstar, and that the rag to riches story of some best-selling artists compel independent artists to believe that all they need to do is produce good music and post it online to be the next best thing. I also feel that in a materialistic world of immediate satisfaction, the idea of hard work over a certain time is becoming quickly foreign. Everything has to be given immediately to a generation that feels it is entitled to it.
When one’s purpose in creating art becomes monetary, one is more susceptible to fall prey to certain social forces that encourage us to exchange quality for saleability. In the case of writing, one will accept to add certain societal phenomenon to our books which we do not wish to promote, but that sell – things like backbiting, drama, sex, violence. It also suggests that books in the digital age should be both more shocking in content to attract attention, as well as fluffy, so as not to overwhelm the masses used to texting. Many writers I know forget within a few years why they started writing in the first place, suddenly finding themselves with their names on a well selling book they are not proud of.
Moore believes that independent artists should continue producing art for the very reason they started, and not “sell out.” However, he also balances that view out with the more pragmatic need to make a living from our art. But instead of promising pipe dreams, he provides us with a blue print of what we can do. And just like building a skyscraper from a blue print comes on step at a time, so is becoming a recognized independent artist. Moore provides a solid understanding of a fast changing online world allowing an independent artist to gain a foothold in it. The expanded version of the book includes also includes a special series of interviews with people in the industry who are in the know, as well as profiles of 2009’s Sonicbids competition winners. Both provide the reader with insight into the most essential ingredients for success in the business: hard, consistent work.
I do hope this book comes into the hands of many an independent artist whose ambition is to share quality art that inspires, uplifts, or increases awareness about important issues. The world is in its awkward, transitory adolescent phase; just like negative social forces act on teenagers, there are many such forces acting on the world, including on its arts. Hopefully well intentioned independent artists will gain insight from this book, and listeners will be able to more easily find them.