Tom Friedman, author and foreign-affairs columnist for the New York Times, doesn’t write much about music. But his piece “The New Untouchables” is a column well worth reading for those looking for a way forward in the music business. It may sound obvious, but the truth is that many of the fundamental techniques used for success in the “non-music” business world are the same techniques that can be applied to folks looking for success in the “music” business world.

Check this out, from Friedman’s piece:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive.

It’s not hard to see the connection between lawyers and musicians, here, is it? Imagining new opportunities, new ways to recruit work, and inventing smarter ways to do old jobs is a great plan off attack for business folks AND musicians.

Bruce Houghton from Hypebot initiated a great discussion on his blog a few weeks back about his ideas that “there have always been skills beyond just making music that, if not required, certainly made success more likely.” It’s an opinion that I share, too.

I definitely would not frame any musician in the “untouchable” camp (brands are only as good as the trust their fans have in them), but generating leverage by doing as much as you can yourself (with the help of a good team, if possible), analyzing data to do it smarter, and figuring out ways to creatively attract new fans is great advice for any musician interested in building a more sustainable career.

Anyone that has been following music business trends for the past few years is likely familiar with the high profile direct to fan campaigns (campaigns that focus on the monetization of an artist’s fan base directly) that Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Imogen Heap, and others have been involved with recently. As Mike Masnick put it in his 2009 NARM Keynote, the recipe for effective direct to fan campaigns can be boiled down to: Connecting with Fans (CwF) + Providing a Reason to Buy (RtB) = $$$. Makes sense, right? The difficulties arise when you consider that there are 5 million bands on MySpace, all of which are vying for the consumer’s attention. It’s easy for NIN and Radiohead to connect with fans, the skeptics’ note, as they have had years of major label support and hundreds of thousands of existing followers to work with. How can a developing artist in this climate differentiate themselves from all the other bands out there?

The answer can be slightly more nuanced than Masnick’s formula above, and to me, is based on a four key elements: 1) setting up an effective offer page on your site that is tailored to your marketing goals and where you are in your marketing cycle, 2) expanding your digital touch points through creative fan acquisition techniques, 3) integrating your online and offline marketing towards the same goal, and lastly, 4) once you’ve created your groundswell of support and fans, integrating effective 3rd party digital and physical marketing, sales, and distribution (such as Tunecore) outlets into the mix. Let’s illustrate these elements with two examples.

Example 1: Fanfarlo

Creating an Effective Offer Page Tailored to Acquisition

Although they were supported by NME in their hometown of London (who have called their release “a carefully orchestrated treat”), and have some high profile fans in the members of Sigur Rós, Fanfarlo found that they were having a tough time breaking into the US market. Fanfarlo’s music is undeniably great (aside: the first step, of course, in any marketing campaign is to have great music. Without this, any DTF marketing campaign will fail), and as such, the plan for breaking Fanfarlo relied a lot on getting as many folks to experience their music as possible, with the end goal of gaining enough interest to pack the Mercury Lounge in NYC (300 capacity).

The band initiated their acquisition-based campaign by looking at what assets and connections they could leverage. Fanfarlo developed a low-cost video, dug up some unreleased tracks, and recorded new acoustic versions. Of particular note, the band’s management reached out to Sigur Rós, who agreed to mention Fanfarlo in one of their emails to their fans.

Prior to any outreach from Sigur Rós, the band knew it was crucial for them to create an offer on their site that would make their music as accessible as possible, while at the same time create a degree of urgency. Again, as monetization was not the driving force behind their campaign at this stage in their marketing process, Fanfarlo decided the best course of action for building up their base was to provide curious potential fans with the opportunity to purchase their record for $1.00 (for a limited time), in exchange for an email address (which provided the band with permission to engage with these fans directly at a later date). They band adjusted their site accordingly, employing best practices with SEO and Web IA, and created an offer page dedicated to highlighting their music and making it easy to purchase via one click off the offer page. This was the result:

Along with the redesigned offer page on their site, the band adjusted all of their social media pages (visibility on MySpace, Wikipedia, Facebook, Last.fm, iLike, YouTube) with appropriate offer copy/images, and links to the offer on their proper site. Once all the backend was done and Fanfarlo was ready for the traffic, Sigur Rós hyped the band in an email to their fans and Fanfarlo essentially had an “offer you can’t refuse” waiting for them. In exchange, the band built up their email list, created a viral buzz on their new record, and not only had enough interest to pack the Mercury Lounge in NYC, they had to upgrade to the larger Bowery Ballroom!

Example 2: The Lights Out

Expanding Your Digital Touch Points through Social Media & Integrating Your Online and Offline Marketing

All marketing campaigns are different, and not everyone has the luxury of having support from major bands like Sigur Rós. But no matter where you are at in your career, core marketing principals hold true, particularly when it comes to effectively using social media to engage your fans and building up your base. The best example of social media campaigns are creative ideas that leverage the viral nature of social media to engage fans and effect change in not only the digital world, but in a band’s physical campaign as well (which of course is still incredibly important to any overall marketing campaign).

The Lights Out is a Boston-based band working to raise their hometown visibility and acquire new fans to positively impact their touring base throughout the Northeast. On the heels of an oppressive heat wave in Boston in mid August, the band initiated a Slush Puppie “flash mob” online marketing campaign. The band found the appropriate location for the event via polling their Twitter followers:

Once the location was chosen, the band set up a Facebook event, which allowed them to update the status of the Slush Mob, get an idea on who was coming, and communicate directly with those that expressed interest.

The band then set up a Twitter hashtag (#), which organized all messaging around the event into a single live channel on Twitter search. The hashtag use also had the all-important added benefit of becoming a “viral generator” for the event, piquing the interest of the band’s follower’s fans, and influencing activity at a level outside of what the band could do with their fanbase directly.

Once the existing fans were engaged in the event, Boston-based bloggers picked up on it, the market’s alternative weekly featured info on the event, and popular Boston-based event and social media Twitterers did the same.

The band continued Tweeting from the event and after, and shared photos of the turnout using Twitpic:

So, what did all this mean to the band’s stated goal of raising their visibility and acquiring new fans?

The data:

• 20% increase in unique web site visitors

• 24 times increase in daily twitter followers

• 3,352 impressions from media coverage

• 66,160 impressions from Tweets and Retweets

• 195 impressions from Twitpics

• Approximate Total: 70,000 impressions

New fans also direct-messaged the band, telling them how much they enjoyed the idea/their music and expressing interest in attending future gigs. And because this social media campaign included an offline component, new fans were able to bond with the band in a more personal way.

Again, all marketing campaigns are different, and should be employed in a way that focuses on the strengths and opportunities of the respective band. The specific tools will certainly continue to change as we move forward, but the principle of determining your core goal and engaging / developing your fan base to reach this goal will not. What’s particularly exciting to me is that artists have the option to market and distribute their music directly, with less gatekeeper involvement, than ever before. We’re in the early stages of direct to fan campaigns, but I think it is undeniable that there is a tremendous amount of growth potential in the segment – and is an area that artists, managers and others (forward thinking, artist-serviced based companies, for example) have to look at very closely.

Of course giving away a free record is nothing new – huge bands who’ve had major label support throughout their careers (Radiohead, Prince, Nine Inch Nails, etc) have the luxury of releasing free music to their massive fanbases with the understanding that doing so will fill the seats in the stadiums when they are on tour. But how does a band capitalize on free music when they don’t have this built in community, when they are not a household name?

Although Mercury Rev was signed to Columbia for their first two records, the bulk of their material was released by then-independent V2 (Richard Branson’s post-Virgin label). The band has fluttered close to mainstream success (1998’s Deserter Songs is a masterpiece), but has remained an indie favorite playing mostly mid-sized venues in the US.

Indie Label Yep Rock (who signed Mercury Rev for their latest, Snowflake Midnight) has put together a great plan to leverage free music to build up the bands fanbase, and draw interest to their new release. Promotion for the new record draws folks back to their Website (not their Myspace!), where the band is giving away Snowflake Midnight’s companion release Strange Attractor, another full length record. Folks that sign up for the Mercury Rev mailing list get a link to download Strange Attractor as a high quality DRM-free mp3 that can be played on any device. The free release became available on the same day as their paid release hit the stores.

I think this is good marketing: they’re providing a value add for old fans, giving new fans a reason to get on board, and most importantly, collecting a ton of email addresses that they can use down the line to announce tour dates, sell merch, sell tickets etc. And the fact that they are providing music that people can own outright, share, play at parties etc is huge. The fans are part of the action, and are playing a part in making the release of the proper record a true event (via word of mouth). There is SO much music out there, that it is easy for folks to get distracted. Bands need to take special care in keeping their existing fanbase interested, providing incentives for potential new fans, and above all continuing to build their community.

www.artistshousemusic.org, a non-profit online musician’s resource funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation, interviewed several Berkleemusic authors and instructors last fall. Take a look at the player below to watch some great clips with George Howard (Artists Management / Music Industry Entrepreneurship), Don Gorder (Legal Aspects of the Music Industry), Rick Peckham (Guitar Chords 101 + 201) Matt Marvuglio (Basic Improvisation / Basic Ear Training 1 – interviewed by Berkleemusic’s Dean of Continuing Education Debbie Cavalier!), Jeff Dorenfeld (Concert Touring) and myself (Music Marketing 201).

I think these videos do a good job of illustrating the deep background and knowledge of the faculty teaching here at the online school.

Check them out: