Technology reporter Jolie O’Dell established herself as an industry expert with her work in publications like Mashable and ReadWriteWeb. She currently writes for VentureBeat and serves as a panel moderator for the SF MusicTech Summit, an annual conference bringing together technologists and music enthusiasts in San Francisco. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on how independent musicians can best leverage technology.
What are some of your favorite apps/services for musicians?
I like tools like Moontoast Impulse, which helps you embed and sell your album on Facebook. I like tools like StageIt, which allows musicians to create webcam concerts so they can promote them to fans and make a little money on the side. Then there are monitoring tools that are really great like Next BigSound. It’s an amazing and really simple interface for bands to understand what effect they have on the Internet. I don’t know if you’ve checked out the other social media analytics tools, but they’re so big and complicated. Next Big Sound is the closest you’re going to get to a simple, color-coded, push-this-button-find-out-where-you’re-most-popular thing for bands to use.
How can bands create brand awareness online?
The best way to do new fan acquisition is to get the fans that you already have – people who really love you – to talk about you, and network with other bands that have a similar following online to mention you. And if you can build those relationships and get the help that you need from people who are willing to help you, that can help a lot if you don’t already have a following. What is your biggest takeaway from moderating the SF MusicTech panel in terms of the future of the music industry? My takeaway is that we have so far to go. We still have so much learning that needs to happen between the nerds who build technology and the musicians who have to use it. I’d really love for there to be more events like SF MusicTech where you can bring everyone together and move past the hostility and the misunderstandings,and work together to build tools that actually do work. I would actually like to see more musicians working on technology products, and I would like to see more technologists interfacing with musicians in a real way beyond just being fans. The best tools that I’ve seen for musicians are made by musicians.
So do you think the music industry is moving in the right direction?
You know, everybody’s going on and on about the death of music labels, but honestly I don’t see that happening. I think that’s a real “cool kids” thing to say. I think labels are adapting and evolving just like everybody has had to evolve and adapt, and I think there are very smart people who work at labels who understand where we’re headed and want to help us get there. They want digital music to be more interesting and more accessible. They want musicians, and themselves, to be financially successful during that process, and I think we’ve moved beyond this knee-jerk reaction to online piracy.
Is major label distribution still relevant with advances in sharing technology?
I think it’s becoming less and less vogue whether you’re on MTV or in a big box store, because that’s not where people are really going for music. Maybe it’s just my perspective or the perspective of people I know, but the people I know are not watching MTV and they’re not going to buy music at FYE. They’re buying music from iTunes and they’re getting information about music from their friends, from YouTube, from blogs… and it’s a completely different world. And the only way to get into there is to be present, be active and have fans who are really vocal about you. It’s not a winner-take-all kind of thing. You don’t have to be number one on the charts to have a really big, successful release.
What is your biggest advice for an independent musician?
My biggest piece of advice would be to learn what you can give away and learn what you can sell. And then don’t leave any money on the table and don’t be stingy. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword, right? Everybody wants to get your music for free, and unless you’re really, really obscure, they can probably easily get your music for free. So give some things for free. Give them demo tapes. Give them a video of your band. Give them everything you can, and then find things that they are willing to buy and sell the hell out of them. Be okay giving free stuff away because you’ll have a wider audience to sell to. Build long-term relationships with people who will buy your [music and merch] over and over again.
Interview by Keane Li | Photo by Ken Yeung