javascript:; Trent Reznor: What to do as a new / unsigned artist ~ we ARE the music industry

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Trent Reznor: What to do as a new / unsigned artist

In September 2009 Trent Reznor writing on the NIN forums outlined his thoughts on what unsigned bands should do if they're hankering after success in the internet age. We're using this to inform the different avenues and outlets we'll be looking into in the coming weeks. We'll also take a look at the different distribution methods and guerilla marketing techniques.

Here's what he had to say:

I posted a message on Twitter yesterday stating I thought The Beastie Boys and TopSpin Media "got it right" regarding how to sell music in this day and age. Here's a link to their store:


Shortly thereafter, I got some responses from people stating the usual "yeah, if you're an established artist - what if you're just trying to get heard?" argument. In an interview I did recently this topic came up and I'll reiterate what I said here.

If you are an unknown / lesser-known artist trying to get noticed / established:

* Establish your goals. What are you trying to do / accomplish? If you are looking for mainstream super-success (think Lady GaGa, Coldplay, U2, Justin Timberlake) - your best bet in my opinion is to look at major labels and prepare to share all revenue streams / creative control / music ownership. To reach that kind of critical mass these days your need old-school marketing muscle and that only comes from major labels. Good luck with that one.

If you're forging your own path, read on.

* Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.

To clarify:

Parter with a TopSpin or similar or build your own website, but what you NEED to do is this - give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people's email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special - make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters... whatever.

Don't have a TopSpin as a partner? Use Amazon for your transactions and fulfillment. []

Use TuneCore to get your music everywhere. []

Have a realistic idea of what you can expect to make from these and budget your recording appropriately.
The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact - it sucks as the musician BUT THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (for now). So... have the public get what they want FROM YOU instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process (plus build your database).

The Beastie Boys' site offers everything you could possibly want in the formats you would want it in - available right from them, right now. The prices they are charging are more than you should be charging - they are established and you are not. Think this through.

The database you are amassing should not be abused, but used to inform people that are interested in what you do when you have something going on - like a few shows, or a tour, or a new record, or a webcast, etc.

Have your MySpace page, but get a site outside MySpace - it's dying and reads as cheap / generic. Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE AND EASY TO FIND AND HEAR MUSIC (but don't autoplay). Constantly update your site with content - pictures, blogs, whatever. Give people a reason to return to your site all the time. Put up a bulletin board and start a community. Engage your fans (with caution!) Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. Get a Twitter account. Be interesting. Be real. Submit your music to blogs that may be interested. NEVER CHASE TRENDS. Utilize the multitude of tools available to you for very little cost of any - Flickr / YouTube / Vimeo / SoundCloud / Twitter etc.

If you don't know anything about new media or how people communicate these days, none of this will work. The role of an independent musician these days requires a mastery of first hand use of these tools. If you don't get it - find someone who does to do this for you. If you are waiting around for the phone to ring or that A & R guy to show up at your gig - good luck, you're going to be waiting a while.

Hope this helps, and I'll scour responses for intelligent comments I can respond to.


TopSpin Media info:
Regardless of what you think of Trent Reznor or Nine Inch Nails' music you can't really deny his ideas.  As he points out:

nobody knows what to do right now, me included. The music business model is broken right now. That means every single job position in the music industry has to re-educate itself and learn / discover / adapt a new way. Change can be painful and hard and scary. If any of these entities we're discussing are interested in you, ask them about their strategies IN DETAIL. None of them know for sure what to do. Some of them have an idea of how to negotiate these waters. Most of them don't. If you are young and use the internet, you know more about your audience than they do - for sure. This is a revolution and you can be a part of it. The old guard is dying, if you have good ideas - try them.

He's even put these ideas into action with his new band "How to destroy Angels" - giving away a free MP3 whilst still selling some physical product. 

When we look at his website it pretty much demonstrates his philosophy.  I'm not actually too keen on the look of his site - if this were a new artist it probably wouldn't stir me to listen to the music - based on the graphics alone - and there's no incentive for return visits (we'll look at other blogs that do this well later), but  what it does do well is navigation.

Let's just take a quick overview of the site.

Home page: 

A very simple graphic very little text, shows you pretty much everything you need to know - what it is (6 track EP), that it's free and that it's out now.  On the run up to the release the page was simply a collection of teaser videos and a box to sign up for future updates.  We'll talk about the importance of pre-hype and release dates in a later post.

Below the most important information is a simple graphic as well as a button to click in order to get the free EP.  When you click on the button it requests your email adress and then sends a link to your inbox.  This in itself is the most important information that you, as an artist,  will need to collect.

Finally there is a link to further information - page 2 of the site.

How to Destroy Angels Page 2

A quick overview of Page 2 shows the following
  • Branding - A recognisable logo (something we'll pick up on later also)
  • Repeat of the artwork with tracklisting and release details include forthcoming Vinyl and the date that the CD is in the shops
  • Links to Merchandise
  • A video of the song.
  • Social Networking links (Vimeo, Youtube, Myspace, Twitter and Facebook)
Another thing to take note of is that there is both a planned Vinyl release as well as a physical CD release to go along with the free downloads.

But how successful is it? 

Graphically it leaves me somewhat cold.  It simply isn't to my taste.  I did download the music, i didn't buy the CD single.  Because of the graphics there simply wasn't anything to tempt me to buy merchandise. 

I always feel the "need" to buy merchandise should come from the sense that the band itself has a lifestyle component.  That is some element which relates to your lifestyle aspirations - a good example of that is the dayglow wear  that arose as part of the ill-fated Nu Rave scene.  

Trash Fashion's somewhat ironic take on Nu Rave:

Also, look at this beautiful vinyl from J Dilla:

Or the Bento Box from Ghostly Media

All highly desirable items or at least if not to your taste - items which are readily identifiable.  They have distinctive branding.

There are some notable omissions from the site - the seemingly ubiqutous Digg / Facebook / "like" buttons are missing.  I suspect this was a choice not to make  the site too busy or that Trent thought that the value gained from these networking buttons was minimal.

The key successes of the website lie in it's design element - it is very, very easy to use.  It tells you all the information you need to know and to a certain degree invites further questions about the artist.  There are the all too important social network links and overall it's fairly tastefully done.

By Jez with 1 comment


That was a great read...I hope that you don't mind that I have reposted a rather large chunk of this with a link to yr blog. I have also added you to my blog list...hope to see much more from you as you have certainly started w/ a BANG!
If of course you object to my reposting please let me know and I shall delete it ASAP.

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