Leadership Music Digital Summit 2012: The Cliff Notes Edition

If you came to Nashville’s Leadership Music Digital Summit this year expecting to walk away with the magic bullet for sucessfully promoting an artist in the social media space, you might have been disappointed.

See, the thing is: nobody has an official Playbook.

The social media landscape is changing so rapidly that what was hot just five years ago (MySpace) is already passé, and new services that weren’t even a blip then (Pinterest) can now play key parts of an integrated marketing plan. And the social web is continuing to change how we consume, share and experience music.

It’s not quite the Wild West – we’re past the stage where we take random shots and hope something hits – but nobody has it down to a neat little packagable, re-creatable formula yet either.

So what did we learn from 5 panels and 3 talks?

Well, we learned that music sales in general might finally be stabilizing and that digital music sales are still on the up-tick.

We learned that while yes, social media is important, Radio remains the number one place where people discover new music (followed by the recommendations of friends) (@npdgroup).

We learned that metrics are critical, but only if you are considering the information and actually using it to inform decisions and create strategy. Trial and error is the only way to evaluate new technologies, but if you’re just experimenting without analyzing, you’re not learning anything.

And we were reminded that Social Media platforms and strategies are not one-size fits all. You have to be aware of both the medium and the audience and adjust your content or promotion accordingly. Where an artist is in his/her career also has to drive the decision making process; an artist who is in an early growth phase is different than an established artist in terms of what will be successful.

The 3 biggest takeaways?

Take a day, fill a room with some of the smartest, most creative people in the industry, and you’re bound to leave with some big ideas. But there were a few things that really struck a chord:

Authenticity has to be at the heart of social interactions

It was probably said best during the interview with Sugarland’s Kristian Bush (@kristianbush), but it was a sentiment that was echoed again and again throughout the day:

Be Authentic

Whether you’re an artist or a team acting on behalf of an artist, be authentic in your interactions: share the stories that you are passionate about, that are relevant, and that are interesting.

Be a story-teller (or hire one) and tell a compelling story.

Do this not just because people can smell marketing-speak a mile away, but more importantly, because it’s the only way to build genuine relationships (this is true in business, as well).

It’s also the only way that social media is substainable over the long haul that’s required to get a real return on your efforts. You can’t fake it or manufacture it forever.

Social Media is a commitment

Though maybe it’s not the way it should be, or the way it will be in 10 years, the fact is that, right now, the music industry is event driven.

The next tour. The next single release. The next album launch.

It’s OK to plan your marketing strategy around these events, but the real win comes when you can fill the gaps with meaningful interactions (what you ate for breakfast on the tour bus probably does not count, nor does repeated reminders to pick up your album that came out 8 months ago) and then do it year after year… after year. Even when it isn’t fun, or convenient, or easy.

In the real world, you don’t build trust without regular communication and you can’t keep a friendship alive if you never call or write.

The online world isn’t any different.

Selling songs/albums might not be the point anymore

These days, you’re more likely to tune into Pandora on your iPhone or Spotify on your desktop than put in a CD while you’re at work or at home.

These subscription services, and to a lesser extent, sites like SoundCloud and YouTube, are changing the way we consume music. When you can subscribe to a service and instantly have every song imaginable available at your finger tips… what’s the point of buying a CD, digital or otherwise?

So if music stops becoming a product – if it instead becomes a vehicle for artist discovery, or artist promotion – how do we continue to compensate artists (and the industry that orbits them) for their work and thus allow them to keep creating?

Sites like KickStarter are probably part of the equation, but there’s also this:

It seems like social media has made us feel like we’re a little closer to our favorite artists and has allowed us to claim a small piece of the Experience of creating music as our own.

So it makes sense that packaging that Experience up as product is where we’ll go next. Concert tickets, apparel, special edition LPs, unique posters, and exclusive artist access have always been secondary to music sales, but they have enormous potential to be real sources of revenue. The artists and organizations who are smart enough to start finding new ways to sell the Experience combined with the music will have real successes here.

And yes, social media can help drive sales of all these things, but you have to first build a real following of legitimate fans in order to do it successfully.

What’s Next

The day closed out with a panel talking about the future of social media. There’s a lot to be excited about: more social platforms and apps are launching every day, each presenting new opportunities to be seen and heard if utilized correctly. Mobile devices and tablets are becoming more and more ubiquitous, and creating a new ways to interact. And all the while, we’re getting better at developing promotions that work, and connect with fans.

But I think the most exciting thing about the future of social media and the music industry is this: we don’t have it all figured out yet.

And that means the some of the biggest successes and the best ideas are still out there just waiting to be discovered.

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