Wednesday, September 3, 2014

There's More To Music Than Social Media

Amanda Palmer TED talk image
So much of an artist's promotion and visibility is built around social media these days that it's easy to believe that it's almost more important than the music itself. Sometimes it's possible to be a social celebrity without making any meaningful penetration with your music however, as this excerpt from the New Masters chapter of my Music 4.0: A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age guidebook illustrates.

"If you’re in the music business there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Amanda Palmer, although there’s an even better chance that you’ve not heard her music. Palmer represents a conundrum in social media where she’s become a huge presence in the music industry thanks to her extremely effective social media and crowdfunding campaigns, yet that hasn’t helped to spread her music much beyond a small, yet avid following.

Palmer rose to a low-level of prominence as half of the duo Dresden Dolls before going solo in 2008. Her cult following grew from there thanks to her extremely hands-on relationship with her fans. In an interview with Techdirt in 2012, she gave her secret:
"I've been tending this bamboo forest of fans for years and years, ever since leaving Roadrunner Records in 2009. Every person I talk to at a signing, every exchange I have online (sometimes dozens a day), every random music video or art gallery link sent to me by a fan that I curiously follow, every strange bed I've crashed on...all of that real human connecting has led to this moment, where I came back around, asking for direct help with a record. Asking EVERYBODY...And they help because...they KNOW me."
Palmer’s notoriety again grew thanks to reports of big merch sales through Twitter campaigns (like $19,000 worth of T-shirts in less than a day), to where it reached a peak with a massively successful Kickstarter campaign in which she raised $1.2 million (the goal was $100,000) from nearly 25 thousand fans in 31 days for the marketing of an album/art book/gallery tour. This was followed shortly thereafter by a riveting TED talk where she described her fan-first business model.

Considering the exposure that Palmer has garnered from the mainstream media thanks to these events, her music still hasn’t gained much traction and she remains very much a niche artist, though one with a fanatical following. Only three of her videos have barely cracked 1 million views, she has less than a million Twitter followers, and just over 200,000 Facebook Likes. 

While these are really great numbers for an indie artist, Palmer hasn’t managed to transcend that narrow category despite generally positive and vast exposure and a supercharged fanbase. Amanda Palmer proves that no matter what your social media connections are, star and superstar success still depends on your music. In order to gain a mass audience, it must connect with the masses.

There’s More To Music Than Social Media Summary
  • Social prominence won’t automatically cause people to like your music
  • But it can cause people to notice you
  • Caring deeply about your fans builds an avid fanbase
  • An avid fanbase is essential for crowdfunding"
To read more excerpts from Music 4.0 and my other books, go to the excerpts page at


Stephen said...

Bobby, I think you characterized Amanda well when you described how she cultivated her cult fanbase, but to criticize her because her music hasn't reached a greater audience isn't really fair. There are a lot of genres that don't appeal to a mass audience... jazz or fusion for example, but that doesn't mean that they are a lesser artform than say Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga because they don't appeal to a larger demographic. Amanda has simply taken advantage of the 1000 true fan theory that you describe in your book ( She's a lot like Ani DiFranco. At the height of her career she was one of the highest paid women in rock not because she sold more records, but because she was on her own label and made 100% of the profit from a lot less people. But those people were much more fanatic. Amanda's music isn't as disposable to the fans she's cultivating. Love her or hate her, what she's doing works for her.

Bobby Owsinski said...

I think you missed the point. There's no criticism of AP here. It's just an illustration that sometimes even with a lot of social visibility it still doesn't guarantee that your music will break through.

This is a book excerpt and it's easy to take one section out of content with the rest of the chapter.


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