Why It’s So Hard to Get New Fans For Your Music

Even if you lived for 900 years and never slept, you still couldn’t listen to all the music uploaded to Soundcloud this year.

In the last 60 seconds, the Internet acquired 15 hours of music on Soundcloud [1], 72 hours of video on YouTube, 1400 new blog posts, 216,000 new Instagram photos, and 277,000 new tweets. Facebook users shared an additional 2,460,000 pieces of content [2].

An overwhelming amount of content exists online, and it’s growing and accelerating at an astonishing pace. A few months from now, YouTube users will upload 73 hours of video every minute. And in an even shorter interval, we’ll reach 74. At that point, your new music video will make up only .0006% of the total video uploaded in that minute.

In other words, we’re drowning in content.

This matters for artists because without fans — without attention — we can’t survive. We have to find ways to cut through the noise and reach fans who can support our work.

The strongest tool for reaching new fans is through recorded music. Your record may not earn money through sales, but it can bring new listeners who come to your shows, buy your merchandise, or support you on Patreon. Even when music is free, there are ways to earn a sustainable living as an artist.

But for how long?

The real cost of creating “free” music

Artists can survive only so long as they can acquire new fans and keep their current ones. And acquiring those fans is getting more and more expensive.

Creating music is not free. Competing for attention — against the vast torrent of content uploaded every second — is not free. Promoting your music is not free. Yet for your music to serve any marketing purpose at all, someone must hear it.

Your costs are expressed in several ways. You have to invest in writing, recording, and mixing your songs. You have to spend to promote your music — whether in time spent building relationships and emailing blogs, or in money spent on paid placement. And you have the sustained cost of staying top-of-mind in between releases so you can keep the fans you’ve already earned: social media posts, teasers, short videos, press releases, interviews, giveaways, and so on.

The problem begins when the cost to create and promote your music outstrips the money you can possibly hope to recoup. As the competing noise across the Internet grows louder and louder, it costs more to reach new listeners.

That’s because each channel online can only handle so much information. The average Facebook user in early 2014 had more than 1,500 posts eligible to show up in their timeline each day. Since Facebook earns revenue from advertising, they are always trying to figure out how to pack more and more information in to every second a user spends on their site — decreasing the impact of individual posts. When you share your music video today, you’re reaching only a fraction of the people you’d have reached two years ago. And that reach will continue deteriorating each year as even greater volumes of information flow through the social networks.

Historically, increasing amounts of content have been matched by increasing hours of consumption. Whereas an American in the 1920’s spent around 2 hours a day consuming content, the average American now spends 10 hours per day. In Latin America, people consume media for up to 13 hours per day. And if you count multi-tasking, like watching a Snapchat story with Netflix in the background, then millennials in America consume 18 hours of media every single day.

If we haven’t yet reached our limit, we soon will. We have stretched consumption to its breaking point. But the same is not true of content creation.

So here’s the problem: as the competition for attention online grows, so does the cost to reach individual listeners. But the revenue you earn from each listener stays the same. This equation might balance for you today — but what about next year, or the next year?

Competing for attention

There are several ways to earn money without relying on music sales. These include live performances, physical goods, paid exclusives, and patronage (among others). Fans will pay money to support artists they love. In fact, a Nielsen study estimated the music industry could add up to $2.6 billion in annual revenue by giving fans better access to desirable exclusives.

However, to make any money at all, you’ve got to have fans.

This, I believe, is the biggest problem facing artists. How can you compete successfully for the attention of potential fans? How can you get new people to listen to your music — enough that you can earn a sustainable living without suffocating under the costs of promoting your music in the first place?

I don’t have the answer — no one does, though everyone is searching for it. But every industry that uses free content for marketing faces the same problem as artists — the cost to create and promote content increases, but received revenue does not.

By examining how innovative companies across different industries are solving this problem, we can gain insight into how we can improve as artists.

That’s what I’ll be discussing in the next post on CareersInMusic. Stay tuned.

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