The Independent Musician As A Brand

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You guys know J.K. Rowling, right? She’s the incredibly successful author of the Harry Potter book series. How about Zoe Sugg? No? Well, she’s the 24-year-old who just sold more books in her first week of sales than Rowling. How she got to that point is what gives me hope that independent musicians can achieve success without signing financially crippling contracts with major labels.

Zoe started a blog a few years ago, mostly about fashion and beauty tailored to a younger audience, while she apprenticed at an interior design firm. She amassed a nice little audience, then moved to vlogging on YouTube. That’s when things went wild and she began her ascension to Internet stardom, eventually leading to her massively popular book, Girl Online. While I’m sure she’s had help from others along the way (including a two-book deal from Penguin), hers is one of many stories of a nobody gaining fame and success thanks (at least partially…maybe mostly?) to today’s digital environment.

When we first created the MVP for MusicBox, our mission was clear; help independent artists to market themselves efficiently and effectively. As I’ve immersed myself in the music industry, both past and present, I’ve come to realize just how strong of an impact we can have on one of the largest, most influential, and oldest industries around. (That’s startup speak for “the music industry is fucked and needs our help or it’s gonna burn to the ground“.) And me thinks we can get there the same way we (collectively) did with startups.

We all know software is eating the world, and easy access to affordable online tools and resources make starting things pretty damn easy nowadays. Seemingly nonstop advances in technology have allowed new, small, scrappy companies to destroy the old-guard way of doing things. Uber and transportation, Seamless and food delivery/consumption, Square and point-of-sale transactions, Buffer and content sharing, WordPress and content management, Wix/Squarespace and website building, and so on and so on. It’s about time this same look translates to music.

What we’ve had so far are improvements on the old, shitty system of major label ownership. iTunes came out (post-piracy era) and offered a legitimate digital music marketplace…while also forcing the issue of unbundling albums and selling singles (and effectively ending the existence of CDs). Then came Spotify and its ilk, with killer streaming products that forced all listeners to ask, “Why bother owning physical music anymore?”. That has now morphed into “Why would I pay for music when I can get it free in so many ways?”. Welcome to the Something for Nothing economy. Good for the consumer, not so good for artists.

We’ve been left wondering if this grand streaming experiment will work out for the actual creators of this much-consumed content. That’s what was ringing through my head as I finally watched Artifact this weekend. The music industry is in a huge state of flux right now and the time is absolutely ripe for musicians to begin taking it upon themselves to build their brands without relying on “the system” to provide a (yes, shitty) safety net. Check out the two soundbytes from the documentary below:

You hear that? That’s both sides of the proverbial coin calling out marketing as the fundamental factor for why labels still hold the power. That doesn’t have to be the case any longer. MusicBox is just one of many killer resources for the modern day DIY artist to take back ownership of his/her content, brand, and audience. From listener acquisition to fan engagement to viral marketing to data analytics – there is nothing stopping artists from running their operations like a scrappy startup other than themselves.

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