Posted: Feb 21, 2023
**Guest post written by Jack Sutherland, 20 Year Web Development & Music Marketing Lead and Founder of Band Pioneer.
"The Internet has drastically transformed the music industry over the past 20 years. The tools we record it with, the strategies we use to promote it, and even the distribution of profit has all been revamped due to the Internet. And this transformation has opened up a lot of new opportunities for bands and solo artists to control their own destinies.
I remember 1997 like it was yesterday. My band Hillside Groove was growing in popularity in Charlotte, NC’s emerging music scene. Our local fan base was growing, every show was drawing a larger crowd than the prior show, and we had just recorded a pretty decent sounding demo tape. We only had enough money to record on an analog 4-track recorder, in a makeshift music studio, but that was good enough for our underground hybrid sound of funk, rock, and hip-hop. Things were going well, and we were convinced we were the next 311. But there was one major problem… Nobody outside of podunk Charlotte, NC knew who we were!
In the 90’s record company executives could be found scouting bands in Nashville, LA or NY. The grunge scene in Seattle was hot as well. But they were nowhere to be found in the hole-in-the-wall Charlotte clubs we were playing in. There just wasn’t an easy way to get our music out to the masses. Any path to fame would require us to make trips across the country to whatever grungy night club would have us. We’d have to scrape pennies together, sleep in roach motels, and hope to God we got noticed by someone relevant, or invited to open for a larger band. Needless to say, Hillside Groove never made it out of Charlotte’s underground music scene. And this was an extremely common story for musicians in the 90’s, before the Internet came and changed everything.
About 10 years later, in 2007, a 12 year old boy from Stratford, Ontario, started uploading videos of himself to a new video streaming service, that we all now know as YouTube. He uploaded videos of himself singing songs by various pop artists at the time, including songs by Alicia Keys, Lil Bow Wow, Ne-yo and Sarah McLachlan. The videos started getting a lot of views, and eventually caught the attention of Scooter Braun, the Executive Director of Marketing for So So Def Records. Braun would go on to sign and promote that 12 year old kid. 14 years and 8 Grammy Award nominations later, that kid has now sold over 150 million records. He has a net worth of nearly 300 million dollars. You’ve probably heard of him. His name is Justin Bieber.
Getting discovered as a musician on YouTube today isn’t all that unusual. But in 2007 YouTube was only 2 years old. Music online was a new frontier. Record label scouts had just begun looking for talent on MySpace, the social media predecessor to Facebook, that was originally designed for bands. But most artists were still doing what my 1997 band was doing, and trying to get noticed by the luck of the draw. But that was all changing fast!
10 years after Bieber started dropping videos on YouTube, a 19 year old artist by the name of Lil Nas X, dropped out of college to pursue a career in music.Cheap demo tapes and cross-country roach motel stays had nothing to do with his strategy. Instead, he bought a $30 beat online, recorded lyrics over it and called the song “Old Town Road”. To promote it, he choreographed a short and catchy video, specifically designed to be optimized for TikTok. A few months later it was on the Billboard 100 Charts, and Lil Nas X was signed by Columbia Records. He now has a net worth of 7 million dollars!
I recently published an article on my blog, Band Pioneer, about some of the lesser known artists that made a name for themselves using TikTok. Names like Jack Stauber, Beach Bunny and Powfu. Social media has become a powerful and necessary tool for musicians today. It can make you a sensation overnight, and it can also spiral out of control and tear you down just as fast. If you’re pursuing a career in music, it’s important to have a social media marketing plan in place before you start.
Promotion and fan outreach aren’t the only things the Internet has changed in the Music Industry. Those demo tapes of my band Hillside Groove that I mentioned earlier are now archaic relics. But in the 90s those tapes were how the public listened to music, and how artists distributed it.
CDs quickly replaced cassette, with superior sound and functionality. But recording digitally in the 90’s wasn’t very easy yet. Analog recording on cassette tapes however, was something we were all masters at. And as a result my friends and I all had tapes everywhere. In cases and scattered all over the floors of our cars and bedrooms. And of course we all had that one friend that was a “Phish-Head” (a nickname for a fanatic of the band Phish), who went everywhere with a case full of tapes of live Phish concerts. And then there was that DJ friend, constantly handing out his latest mixtapes. Likewise my band Hillside Groove always had demo tapes on us. We carried polished versions with 8-10 of our best songs to sell at shows, and the 3-4 track version to hand out for free to anyone that may help promote us. But those days are long gone.
Today it’s all done digitally, without anything physical to carry around. If you want your fans to be able to hear your music, you have to be on the streaming services they listen to. And that means getting your music on popular streaming platforms, namely Spotify and Apple Music. The most common way to do this is by using an aggregator or distribution service, which independent artists can use to submit their music to streaming platforms. There are dozens of these services. At Band Pioneer we have an article comparing CD Baby and DistroKid, the most popular aggregators.
While there are advantages and disadvantages to the changes the Internet has brought to the Music Industry, I think most people would agree with me that the positives outweigh the negatives. In the 90’s and earlier, musicians didn’t have much control over their success. It was a long and arduous road to get noticed, and it often just happened by chance. Luck is still a factor, but the record labels no longer dictate who will make it. The public now determines who the next stars will be, by how many times they stream a song, and how they respond to social media algorithms. The playing field has been leveled for independent artists all over the world to be heard. And that means there’s never been a better time for you to control your destiny as a musician. "
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