Companies Come and Go

As I’ve been thinking about leaving Patreon, an email from Derek Sivers popped into my inbox and alleviated all doubts if I was doing the right thing (emphasis below is mine):

“Don’t be dependent on any company. They come and go.

Think long-term. You’re going to be creating stuff, making fans, and building relationships for the rest of your life — much longer than these companies will last.

It’s so important and easy to have your own website. Instead of sending your fans to some company’s site, send them to yours. Get everyone’s direct contact information, so you don’t have to go through any one company to reach them.”

Sure, have your music on a few sites, but don’t let that be the ONLY place where people can find you. Have a home base.

Cut the shit that “no one visits websites anymore.” That’s because you all stopped updating your sites in 2004 and told everyone “check us out on Facebook,” which means now you can only reach 12.6% of your audience unless you enter your credit card information. How’s that working out?

Fuck Off with Your Partners

Recently I signed up for an email from a media outlet. Since I do a bunch of email marketing, I like to see what some of these companies are up to, and how they work.

The first email was a bunch of links to their stories. Headlines. Big photos. Yawn. Okay.

The second email was from their partner. As in, they put together an email campaign on behalf of an advertiser and sent it to me.

The email was a give away that was 100% useless to me. Like, it was practically for tampons, which – as a dude – I literally have no use for.

The company assumed I was into “tampons” (I’m avoiding mentioning the actual give away, email me if you want the details), and just blasted it out.

They could have written a series of articles about tampons, menstruation, recent stories about feminine hygiene products being withheld from women in prison. Then, over the course of several emails they could track who clicked on those links to those stories, and safely assumed, “hey! I think these people are possibly interested in feminine hygiene products!”

Then they could build a smaller but better-targeted segment and get better opens and clicks for their client.

Instead, they sent an “email blast” and I unsubscribed. I’m sure they’re not losing sleep over me leaving, but they sure ain’t doing their “partners” any favors.

 

Valuable to Whom?

Erin Bartram’s post, ‘The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind‘ hit me square between my vision orbs.

“But your work is so valuable,” people say.  “It would be a shame not to find a way to publish it.”

Valuable to whom? To whom would the value of my labor accrue? And not to be too petty, but if it were so valuable, then why wouldn’t anyone pay me a stable living wage to do it?”

If it’s so valuable (or, “if I’m so smart”) then why can’t I pay rent with the knowledge/ wisdom/experience? If I had a week’s salary every time I asked this question after failing to land yet another job, well, I’d be pretty well off.

For each automated rejection email in my inbox, or every time I don’t even get an interview, or I’m told “oh, we’re not hiring for that position anymore” (after being told the company wants to fly me to their office for a few days), well… I just double down on my personal projects (like Skull Toaster) and go for a run.

Could Patreon become a Facebook?

Patreon will always need to grow to keep making money, and to do that, they’ll need more people visiting their site.

I’ve been using Patreon since late 2014 for Skull Toaster (you can see it here), and it’s served me well. I am thankful beyond measure that I have the support that I do from the audience I love.

But something that Jason Kottke mentions in his recent interview with Nieman Lab really struck me:

That’s the other thing I really didn’t like about (Patreon); I wanted to keep control over my membership experience. I didn’t want to outsource it to Patreon if in three years they do some sort of Facebook-esque thing and start hosting more and more content on their site so that it becomes more about them and less about the creators. I could just see that happening, and I didn’t want to go anywhere near it.

To get people to support your work via Patreon you have to tell people to visit your Patron page. You do this via social media, in videos, your email list, in messages to friends.

Posting content on your Patreon page a good way to get people to your Patreon. If you make a public post titled “Here are my five favorite music videos from January 2018,” that will get you more clicks than “go check out my Patreon.” That’s just how the internet works.

More clicks increase the chances of getting more support. Not because your fans hate you and aren’t enticed by your pleas to “check out my Patreon,” but because your fans are busy watching Netflix, Instagram Stories, replying to FB messages, and answering texts and emails till 1:30 am.

You have to post stuff that will get noticed, and cut through the clutter of social media in 2018.

The downside, though, is that putting more of your content on Patreon gives you less control. It becomes Patreon’s content in a way, surrounded by their branding. Their colors. Their photo format (they already have the worst blogging interface, uggg).

I think Kottke could be onto something here.

Driving traffic to Patreon is good for Patreon because it can lead to more supporters which puts money into Patreon’s pockets (as it should! They do a great job). But when (not if) Patreon flips the script (which they tried in December 2017), you’ll be left with a bunch of your content sitting on their servers – just like so many of us have already done with Twitter and Instagram and Facebook.

Seriously – if you’re not sending 100s of clicks a month to Patreon, you’re not much help to Patreon.

As Derek Sivers recently wrote in ‘Use the Internet, Not Companies,’

“It’s so important and easy to have your own website. Instead of sending your fans to some company’s site, send them to yours. Get everyone’s direct contact information, so you don’t have to go through any one company to reach them.”

Jason Kottke mentions Memberful, which allows you to set up subscriptions right on his own website. “If you go to my site and sign up for a membership, you never actually go to Memberful’s site,” said Jason, “it’s all done with JavaScript overlays and stuff on kottke.org”

Driving traffic to your own website should be an artists number one priority. Your website is where people get the latest, most accurate information about what you’re doing (or where you’re playing). Or buy merch, or join your email list.

As we should have learned from the MySpace days, directing your fans to a 3rd party site (like Facebook, etc.) for something as sacred as your original content can be a risky move when that 3rd party site makes big changes, disappears, or starts charging you to reach your fans.

 

What Would I Even Put in an Email Newsletter?

When friends complain that only 12% of their fans are even seeing their social media posts, I like to mention EMAIL NEWSLETTERS.

Well, “newsletters” is a silly phrase, but hear me out.

The usual come back is, “I don’t even know what I’d put in an email newsletter.”

Which is a total lie.

For years you’ve been providing social media networks with your content for free, willy-nilly. You, and 324328 other bands and labels and distros and brands. All those behind the scenes photos, updates from the road, show reports, new product announcements.

Yeah, that’s the stuff you put into a newsletter. Then you start “sharing” less of that on social media.

And instead of telling your fans on social media, “join my email newsletter for updates!” (because that’s about as exciting as a local insurance company pitch), you instead say things that media outlets say:

Subscribe for behind the scenes photos of recording, touring, and/or writing.

Subscribe for a “first look” at our limited edition vinyl.

Subscribe to see the new places I explore and find out how you can be cool like me, too.

See? Now instead of giving Twitter and Facebook and Instagram your exclusive content (for free), and being asked to pay for the privilege of letting your fans see it, well, you keep it for yourself and email it directly to your fans.

Oh yeah – those 2,340,982 fans you got on social media. The 0.8% of them that you’re reaching on a good day. Yeah, those 2,340,982 people aren’t suddenly going to join your email list. That’s okay. It’s a process. Work on getting five people to your list. Then 10.

It sounds lame and boring, but have you considered those 5 or 10 or 25 people are TRUE FUCKING FANS? They stepped away from social media for eight god damned seconds to sign up for YOUR email list.

In 2018? That’s impressive.

Plus it’s a start from getting away from the stranglehold that social media has on you reaching your fans.

Seriously – it’s a new year. Sign up for MailChimp and start a damn email list like it’s 1997 again.

P.S. Yes, I recommend MailChimp because I’ve been using it hardcore since 2012 and have sent over 1,300 campaigns using their service (my own and for clients), and it’s always been positive.

Reclaiming My Time From Twitter

At some point, I pulled out my phone and checked Twitter whenever there was a down moment. Standing in line, in a waiting room, while shopping, during dinner, on and on.

NOTE: Yes, post title a nod to Representative Maxine Waters

Then the need for checking social media was several times an hour, no matter what. It wasn’t just about boredom, it was about “keeping up.” Keep up with the news, with conversations from an hour ago, keeping up with… everything!

But what happens when you stop? As Seth Clifford wrote in 2016 (which seems like a decade ago):

“Simply put, I took the time I was spending on mindlessly scrolling through floods of information that was unrelated to most of what I wanted to know about and applied it elsewhere. I’ve been reading a ton, chewing through books. Life’s been pretty busy, and I’ve been working a lot. And getting back to things like making the time to play guitar even just for a few minutes a day to relax and stay sharp, which I’d really been neglecting.”

Imagine the combined hours in a week we spend on social media, and if we used that time to read an actual book? Or practice an instrument? Or call a friend?

That’s not to say that social media is evil. It’s not black and white, on or off. Learning about a social injustice is great, but then following that injustice until 3 am, watching every clip, reading every post, and arguing with “people” with five followers is not a good use of time.

Reading books, calling representatives, donating to a cause – those are good things.

Again, it’s not either / or, but a healthy mix of both.

Already Doing the Work

No one hired Fred Armisen or Carrie Brownstein to do ‘Portlandia,’ but the momentum of what they were doing led to eight seasons. Watch this video: http://new.livestream.com/92Y/Portlandia

Fred and Carrie became friends in 2003 and started doing a video series called ‘Thunder Ant’ in 2005. Yes, they had some connections between the two of them, but ‘Portlandia’ didn’t air on TV until 2011.

(Also of note: neither had those connections from just sitting on their asses.)

Fred and Carrie didn’t wait for someone to pick them to make a funny show. They picked themselves.

Fred and Carrie did this for four years before the idea was even brought to IFC. By that time they had an audience, they had characters; they were already doing the work.

Already doing the work.

As Frank Chimero is quoted in this blog post (in 2011):”Daft Punk got to record the Tron soundtrack because they’d already recorded the Tron soundtrack.” How true is that?

My friend Tom Mullen started Washed Up Emo in 2007, writing about his love for bands like Jimmy Eat World, Cap’n Jazz, Mineral and more. In 2011 he started a podcast (over 100 episodes since). And a DJ night. And he wrote a book called ‘Anthology of Emo‘ and it’s amazing.

What work are you doing, without a creative director, a producer, a boss, or a client?

What projects have you started? What are you teaching yourself on your own? What audience are you already leading by just doing what you do every day?

We Know Everything Now

Hearing and reading a lot more conversations that pertain to leaving social media, or at least lessening the habitual checking-in. The magnetic pull of “likes,” as well as the “fear of missing out” on something that happened 12 seconds ago.

“Is the never-ending psychic tinnitus of social media worth suffering through in the ever-dwindling hope that you’ll be exposed to something enriching, thanks to algorithms that favor paid advertising and “growth hacking?” The answer–for me, at least–is increasingly no.”
Escaping the Social Media Morass and Rediscovering Delight,’ by Tenebrous Kate

There is still value in “getting the word out,” of course, for both projects and worthy causes, but the problem is noise. Everyone is getting the word out. Everyone knows someone who has a GoFundMe. Every town has some asshole that got caught doing horrible things.

In 1998 or so I remember this interaction with a friend. I started telling a story, and before I got too far along they said, “yeah, I know, I read your Xanga.”

Now in 2018, 20 years later, we know what our friends are eating in real time. Or we can watch a video from the show they’re at right this second. That immediacy can be overwhelming at times.

What do we do with that information? We take in the videos, the cute filters, the badly lit and even worse sounding concert footage, and then… then what?

We know so much now, and yet we know so little.

Look In Lots of Places

The JUMPSUIT (“An experiment in counter-fashion brought to you by the members of The Rational Dress Society”) bewilders me, but it’s the best sort of bewilderment.

I’m not much of a “fashion” person but checking out how other industries operate is always a good thing. Sure, I know what a band’s website is supposed to look like, or a label, or a festival (I’ve been visiting them and building them since 2001 afterall), but fashion stuff? No idea.

As I mentioned, just keep copying. Copying is how I built my first band website back in the 90s (which I think it was for The Overdrives or Muckraker; PA PUNK REPRESENT). Those sites weren’t great, of course, but recently I set up Zao’s website, copying the general theme of how many one-page band websites are done these days.

(link, Kottke)

 

Just Keep Copying

Tweet via Austin Kleon

I’ve been telling people over the years that they better start an email list. Social media is on a collision course for the sun (or a Nazi takeover, whichever happens first), so better to get ahead of that disaster with an exit plan. To me, that’s an email list.

Everyone has an email address. If everyone has social media, they had to use an email address to sign up for the account. Every. Has. An. Email. Address.

That doesn’t mean everyone has a tidy email inbox, but that’s their own fault. They probably follow 234234 social media accounts, too. Lost souls.

When discussing email lists, after the initial “ewwww, how boring” faces, the subject turns to “well, what would I even send out?”

Well, copy somebody’s style, even if you’re not copying their emails. What do the cool brands bands and labels send out to their social media feeds? Ummm, cool photos. Some quirky copy. Probably mentions of places they’ll be, or things they have to sell. Congrats, you’re now an email marketer.

Now, the first email you send out will suck compared to the tenth, but you have to start at number one, so just get it over with. Sign up for a Mailchimp account, make some mistakes, and before you know it you’ll have your own style.