When I first started playing in a band the only number I remember worrying about was the number of people who would say "Attack + Defend" when asked who they were coming to see at the door at the Barfly in Cardiff. We'd get £1 of the £4 ticket for everyone who did. We made sixty odd quid at our first gig in January 2004, supporting a local band called 'Desensitzied'. We were absolutely buzzing!! As a result, we were offered a headline (!) gig 6 weeks later. I had never felt so proud. To be fair, we put the effort in with regards to flyering, postering and inviting friends. I would flyer anyone and everyone in those days. I used to look at the listings in Buzz, find appropriate and inappropriate gigs and go and stand outside waiting for the crowd to come out so I could give them all one of my photocopied back and white flyers. I was temping at Cardiff Council so I rinsed the photocopier in Llanrumney Housing office when everyone had left. Bad form! Mum, if you’re reading, don’t worry, it was 13 years ago, they won’t arrest me for this retrospectively.
I once handed out about 500 of these flyers at an NME tour show in Cardiff Uni for a gig we were doing in Floyds Bar (capacity 30 - I think we had about 13 in). We made a sandwich board to advertise our gigs and left it at the end of Queens Street until it got confiscated. My best guerrilla marketing tactic and the one I am most proud of was putting flyers in all of the NME and Q magazines in W. H. Smiths.
I find it quite overwhelming how much has changed since then. There are way more things to count now. Constants remain: how many records you sell, how many people came to your gig. But now we have so many numbers to care about! Twitter followers, RTs & favs / Facebook page & post likes / Instagram hearts / Soundcloud plays / Youtube hits / Mailchimp opens / Spotify page likes etc etc. Every single statistic tells you how popular you aren’t. This isn't meant to be a 'remember the good old days before the internet' nostalgia fest, but, from my own experience, it was more fun when there wasn't quite so many ways of measuring your success in real time. I'm excited about the future of music and technology and think that we're about to hit upon a time of more opportunities than ever for musicians. Doesn't mean it isn't really stressful putting music online though! Now when I put up a new song, I can’t help but sit there all day laptop open, phone in hand. When I'm not looking at the stats on my laptop, I'm looking on my phone. Or I'm dual screening and looking at both at the same time.
My band Islet spent the first 3 or 4 years of our existence without any social media at all. Looking back, it was rather nice. Now I feel like there is something to ‘do’ all the time. I should be posting about this or that. There are lots of positives as well though as it is nice to have direct conversations with audience and other artists. I think it is more the pressure of it being ‘promo’ that makes it difficult to navigate.
Recently, I've noticed more artists and bands are going for a really professional marketing style, drilling it day in day out. Others, like us, are more haphazard. Overall, I think I have more experience of slowly going off my favourite artists owing to their social media presence than I have falling more in love with them. Is that just me? There has definitely been a marked increase in how many Facebook sponsored posts people are doing. Are they working? I have only ever done 2 and they were for gigs I was putting on, last ditch efforts to get more people to come. I've decided I'm not going to do a sponsored FB post ever again because I don't like seeing them (and I think there are much better ways of spending money) so therefore I don't want to add to that noise.
How to cut through the noise? Stop adding to it...?
It’s easy to get into a tizz with social media. I’ve even got myself in a tizz about how to tweet. I have access to 4 Twitter accounts and I have recently taken to using Shape as my own but it has never felt right. It feels wrong tweeting opinions from Shape as myself as 'Shape' isn't me. It is a record label so maybe it shouldn't have a real voice. Also, it represents more people than just me (Lee, Emma, all of the acts we have released etc) so from now on I will be tweeting as @farmhandle. Join me over there. I feel I need to untangle myself from Shape to help work out where it is going to go next.