Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's wrong with local music, and how to turn it around.

Before you read this, please understand that it's a critique based on my own observations of the music scene in Columbus Ohio, and what can be done to improve the success rates of the bands here. Columbus has had some talented players, but we've never really been on the radar of the nation. Why?

Columbus Ohio has a major metro area of close to 2 million people. The exact number, according to Wikipedia (consider the source….but still) is 1,836,536 as of the 2010 census.,_Ohio - the link.

That same link also touts that Columbus is the 36th largest radio market. So assuming that the number and genre of radio stations in this market are a good indicator of who likes to listen to what……let's break it down by genre. - shows how many radio stations there are in Columbus Ohio. It looks like we have the following numbers:

1 Christian Contemporary (88.7 fm)
1 Classical (89.7 fm)
2 Public (90.5 fm / 820 am)
1 Country (92.3 fm)
1 Adult Contemporary (94.7fm)
2 Rock (QFM 96 / 99.7 fm)
1 Hot AC (97.1 fm)
1 Top 40 (97.9 fm)
1 Hip Hop / R&B (107.5 fm)
1 News/talk (610 am)
1 Gospel (1580 am)
1 Sports Talk (1460 am)

This list is a little outdated, but the point can be reached regardless.

Ok, so not factoring in the number of college stations, we have 14 radio stations on that list. Not everyone in Columbus listens to radio, some listen to internet radio and some listen to CD's. But for those that do listen to the radio, let's break it into two groups.

Some are going to listen to talk radio, and some are going to listen to music radio. So out of those 14 stations, we have 4 talk radio stations and 10 music stations. This indicates the likelihood that music is being consumed by the masses more than talk……but let's look at some numbers.

Without doing some extensive research, I'm not able to find the exact projected numbers of who listens to what station, but for a quick sampling to help get my point across we'll use the number of "likes" several of the stations have on Facebook. This won't be an exact indicator, because listeners of gospel music may be of an older demographic who haven't embraced Facebook…..but my point doesn't need exact numbers. So we'll use them.

As of 11:00 pm on December 11th, 2011, 99.7 the Blitz had 36,174 "likes" on Facebook……
…..Power 107.5 had 13,915 "likes" on Facebook…..
…..WNCI 97.9 had 48,868 "likes" on Facebook…..
…..QFM 96 had 6,025 "likes" on Facebook…..

Again, these numbers merely indicate how well each station has implemented a social media presence, and not actual listenership…..but in leu of those actual numbers let's use these as an example.

Columbus has 1.8 million people. Of those 1.8 million, there are approximately 14 radio stations competing for listenership. Of those 14 stations, WNCI (according to these inaccurate numbers) is receiving a larger portion of the market share than that of The Blitz or Power 107.5. WNCI are reaching one in 36 people, which indicates that one in 36 people in Columbus are listening to Top 40 radio.

So of the 1.8 million, you can see that it's obviously going to be divided up between various groups of music consumers. So let's look at Rock music, which is my genre of choice to write and perform. If you add the numbers of "likes" from 99.7 the Blitz and QFM 96, you get about 40,000 listeners….

I'll say it again…..I know these aren't actual numbers, but I'm using what I have to make a point…..and that point is that of 1.8 million people, I have about 40,000 people in this city who like the style of music that I play.

So why are we only seeing 50-100 people at shows? Why are they always the same people? What can be done to reach the remaining 39,900 people?

Yet again, this is an exaggerated figure, but then again it's really not. When you think about it, you get an average friday night in Columbus. SEVER, 8lb Pressure, Noise Auction, Curse Icon, and a handful of other great locals with loyal fans could all be playing in various parts of town, so someone who loves all of them has a choice to make……after all, I can only go to one show. So even if there is a regular rotation of about 500-600 music fans that attend shows regularly, because all of the bands in town are playing and fighting for the same audience on a regular basis it makes the music fan have to make a choice………

Unfortunately, sometimes that choice is just to stay home. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but one that I see way too often is a decrease in demand due to an oversaturation of supply.

In other words, if Metallica played the Horseshoe every friday night, some people would go…..but not everyone who would go if they only came to town once every few years……

A band needs to do what they can to get noticed, and I realize that, but playing too often for the same 100 people will make some of those people decide to stay home because they saw you last week. That's a sad reality. But another sad reality that I see are bands not doing much to keep the music fan's attention outside of the music venue. This can cause the fan who saw you one night to forget all about you in two weeks. Then, even if they liked you, you have to re-remind them of who you are and what you do to see if they still like you.

One of the biggest missed opportunities that I see at local shows is the mailing list. Some bands are building an email list, but most don't bother. This doesn't make sense to me. The email list is the one sure fire way of getting direct contact info for anyone who likes your band so that when you do play a rare show in Columbus, you can let them know directly about it and they'll be stoked to come!

But just because you emailed them doesn't make them stoked to come. You have to connect with that music fan through your Facebook or twitter account. When you email them welcoming them to your mailing list, you should be sure to indicate that they can come talk to you on your Facebook or twitter page! Then, when you get to your social media page, don't just spam it with your shows. This will cause them to look once, then lose interest. Engage them in conversation, while reminding them on occasion of your music! Aaron Snyder does this VERY Well. He's on Facebook asking ridiculous questions and making ridiculous quotes, and his responses are very high! Meanwhile, he's a local celebrity with a lot of adoring followers. He's coupling his social media presence with a strong scene presence, but the key is that he doesn't ignore the social media presence. He gets people talking to him on Facebook, and since they are paying attention to his feed, his posts show up more often on their news feed. Then they see his show posts, and feel more connected to the musician, therefore they are more likely to give him a chance.

So you start focusing on connecting with your base through social media, solidifying them as loyal followers of your musical persona. This creates a celebrity presence associated with you, and gets people talking about you outside of the social media realm. Meanwhile, you start playing fewer shows locally, because you've already got a small but loyal following who like your music! This is a great opportunity to play out of town and collect a larger mailing list, and start engaging more people using social media, so that when you return to their town they will be interested in coming out even if it's been a few months…….

But by this point, you're playing out of town gigs at the same interval that you're playing your home town….but here's the kicker. Now your shows are a rarity, and now you're keeping the fans interested. So now, when you come back to town, your show is the one that's in demand! Your show is the hot ticket for the night, and you'll likely pull a larger crowd than the other locals who are oversaturating themselves!

Meanwhile, you're treating the out of town shows the same as the hometown shows, building the demand through Facebook and starving them for your attention. When you return to their town, they are rabid to see you!

Lather Rinse Repeat. Remember, there are approximately 40,000 targetable music fans in this scene for a guy like me! Fight to keep the attention of the small portion of those that you reach!

Now, you're getting a larger buzz built about you, and hopefully generating some revenue from your music and merch sales, coupled with your pay from your gigs. So off to the bar with that money to buy everyone a round, right?


Your band is now a business. You need to put every dime that the business is earning back into the business for it to survive! Case in point, what if you're out of town and your van gets broken into. All your gear gets stolen. You can't afford new gear, the band breaks up, and you go off to live a normal life for the rest of your existence.

But what happened to the money you earned in the band? You spent it on booze? Man, I bet you wish you still had that money to buy new gear with!

Another scenario, you need to record a new CD but can't afford it…..even if your band is pulling in a few hundred each month. If you're using the band money for payroll to the band members, who are then buying beer or paying bills, ect….you're shooting your business in the foot and setting yourselves up for a fall. (OK, sure, paying bills is important, but try to retain something for the band's expenses).

So let's say that you've got a loyal following in Columbus, and in Dayton, and in Cincinnati, and in Detroit, and in Cleveland, and in Pittsburgh…….and now it's time for your once-every-6-months gig in Columbus. You book the gig, and you take some of the money from the band fund to put into advertising. You hit up the social networks to build the buzz about the show, but you also buy a radio ad and put it in heavy rotation the week of the show. If you weren't retaining your band fund, you couldn't use it later to build your presence. But if you are, you now have it available to use in such ways!

Or maybe you've recorded a new CD and you want to advertise it on the local radio station? So you buy a 60 second ad, and play the hook of your song in it, with a call to action to go to iTunes to buy the track or to your web site to download a free copy of that track (your web site will be designed to get them interested in buying the rest of it, but even if they only download the freebie……they could like it and become a fan, then come to your shows and buy your t-shirts/concert tickets/CD…ect).

Also bear in mind that this money can be used to reach the rest of the 40,000 potential music fans in my demographic of Rock music! This can be done through the tactics above, as well as some other marketing tactics that you'd have to pay for. But now that you have the revenue stream coming in from your merchandise and from your live gigs, you'll have that revenue stream available to invest in growing your marketshare!

I hope anyone reading this takes the right message from it. There is no bashing of anyone meant to be read into this, but I see a lot of potential being wasted. There are a lot of things the local scene could be doing differently which could put us on the map.

I welcome your comments.

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