Independent musicians benefit from online exposure

Social media enables authentic connections between artists and fans, marketing manager says

Neil Bearse of the School of Business says independent artists can benefit from online tools like Twitter and YouTube.
Neil Bearse of the School of Business says independent artists can benefit from online tools like Twitter and YouTube.

With the recent disabling of peer-to-peer file sharing program Limewire, countless music lovers were left searching for other ways to get their tunes for free.

Many major record companies have positioned themselves as enemies of the internet, but in independent music circles, the internet is providing marketing opportunities that would otherwise be unimaginable.

Neil Bearse is the Manager of web-based marketing for Queen’s School of Business. He also works with such artists as Black Lab, David Usher and Ingrid Michaelson to market their music online. Bearse said he began working with independent artists in 2005, promoting their music to podcasters and bloggers.

“Podcasts weren’t allowed to play music that was licensed,” he said. “There were a lot of podcasters who were playing music recorded by their cousin that wasn’t very good.”

Bearse said he reached out to independent musicians, introducing them to the huge market of people — podcasters — who would be willing to play their music. He said because the amateur nature of podcasting from five years ago no longer exists, he has now turned to other forms of online media.

“We’ve moved on now to try to make authentic connections between artists and their fans on Twitter and YouTube,” Bearse said, adding that these connections are what help the artists become lucrative.

“People won’t steal from friends,” he said. “So how do you create a relationship between artists and fans so when an album comes out people are willing to download it from iTunes or go to a concert?”

Robert Jacques, Sci ’12, said while he does download music for free, he tries to support his favourite bands in other ways, including attending concerts.

“As far as downloading indie music goes, I do feel guilty for not supporting the band when I download,” he admits, “However, if I like the band enough, I’ll go to the show and maybe even buy the CD, so I guess it helps spread the word for the band in some cases as well.”

This gray area is one that many students inhabit--while acknowledging that illegal downloading is harmful for bands, they also point out that they are far more likely to listen to a wider variety of music when they don’t have to pay for it, and this has benefits for musicians.

“With the ability to access millions of different songs at the touch of a button comes free publicity and popularity spanning from word of mouth,” Alanna Fata, ArtSci ’13 said. “That being said, every musician starts with the dream of selling CDs and writing their own liner notes, and this is something that is slowly deteriorating as online sharing becomes increasingly popular.”

Kelsey Taylor, also ArtSci ’13, feels that that musicians benefit from downloading.

“It’s an excellent marketing tool,” she said. “People would not necessarily purchase [music] if they had never heard it before.” Bearse agreed that the Internet is a perfect marketing tool for artists. He said one of his artists, Ingrid Michaelson, now has over 55,000 followers on twitter. While driving through Georgia, Michaelson expressed a desire to watch Home Alone, and had the DVD delivered to her by a fan, Bearse added.

Bearse cites British singer Imogen Heap, whom he does not represent, as an artist who uses social media effectively. He said Heap video-blogged the creation of her album Ellipse on YouTube for all of her fans to see.

“She’s got a really great model to follow,” he said. “She’s got videos of herself making the album at three in the morning, trying to figure out a particular bridge or particular song. She used these tools to make the [process] completely transparent.”

Heap’s album reached number four on the Canadian Albums Chart, and hit number one on the Billboard Top Electronic Albums list, among others.

Bearse said he agrees with the concept of “1000 True Fans,” the theory that an artist needs 1000 dedicated fans to catapult them to fame.

In 2007, Bearse helped organize an online campaign called “Bum Rush the Charts” to help promote Black Lab, a podcast staple at the time. The online campaign aimed to get enough people to download Black Lab’s single “Mine Again” to get the song to number one on the iTunes chart. The song didn’t hit number one, but it did make it onto the chart.

Bearse said because of social media, a wider variety of artists are able to make a living from their music than ever before.

“The industry doesn’t make the money it used to make, but a lot of that money before wasn’t going into the hands of the artists,” he said, adding that it used to be easier for record companies to control what people listened to by promoting a single artist on every music channel. “Now the difference is that particularly for most musicians that aren’t your big name rock stars like U2, there’s now the possibility for artists to make money making music.”

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