Ariel Hyatt is the go-to-gal for any artist looking to conquer the ever-elusive digital world. Her New York-based PR firm helps connect artists with blogs, podcasts, Internet radio and social networking sites, although it wasn’t always this way. Ariel Publicity began as a traditional PR firm pitching bands to newspapers (gasp!), magazines, TV and radio, but the firm went completely digital in 2006 with the realization that these mediums were slowly becoming obsolete. Today Ariel’s company is just as much about teaching artists how to market themselves online as it is about doing it for them. She can be found all over the Internet— her bi-weekly YouTube series Sound Advice has over 20,000 subscribers, she’s a contributing blogger to New Music Ideas and Music Think Tank, and her book Music Success In Nine Weeks can be found on right here on Amazon. She also hosts various workshops for artists and music industry professionals and has spoken on countless panels at highly-respected music festivals such as SXSW, the BMI Music Panel Series and NARAS.
OurStage caught up with Ariel to talk about efficient ways to market a band, and the importance of Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. Check out the Q&A below!
OS: When an artist approaches you and asks, “I’ve got great music, now what?” what is the first thing you say to them?
AH: You know it’s a really interesting question. The first part of that is “Now what?” I think the first thing to ask an artist is, “Well, what’s your vision?” For some people, they want notoriety for their music, for others they just want the satisfaction of releasing an album and knowing it’s out in the world. Of course, because I’m a social media girl and my whole thing is helping artists promote themselves, the thing I’m going to say is, “Well, now what? Now you should build a community around you and build a community around your music and begin to fully pimp yourself out as much as possible so that people can find out about you and run into you. In my opinion you want to put yourself in harm’s way, as it were, because when you’re in harm’s way you’re going to meet as many people as possible who can help support your career.” So, if you’re asking me “Now what?” my thinking is, “have you looked at the different vehicles online where you can begin to get the word out about your music by building yourself a community?”
OS: What is the first step an artist should take in creating their online presence and brand?
AH: The first thing that we always want artists to do is to make sure they have their own dedicated homepage on their own customized URL, so in other words, band name dot com. I see so many bands that use MySpace or Facebook as their homepage, and there have been recent studies that have shown the artists who create home bases that are not hosted by other people, like MySpace or Facebook, those are the ones that actually stand a chance making more money off their music and doing better than their counterparts. So the first thing we look for is “Do you have a Web site?” and if so, “How up-to-date is it?” and “Is that web site interconnected to your other web presences like your Facebook, your MySpace, your Twitter account etc.?” Those three are the big three and we want to make sure that artists are connecting themselves properly on those web sites.
OS: How important is it for artists to obtain and understand analytics? How can artists use them to their utmost advantage?
AH: I’m about to give a big presentation at SXSW on analytics. I think that there’s a problem when the word analytics comes up and that problem is, it’s very easy to put the cart before the horse. In my humble opinion, you can’t use analytics unless you actually have something to analyze. So the first step is, “Are you making enough noise online?” and “Are your fans and communities making enough noise online?” so that there’s actually something to analyze. So before you even get to analytics, which of course is crucial and important, you have to first ask yourself, “Am I using social media tactics properly? Am I on Twitter? Are people twittering about me? Are people on Facebook joining my community? Are they on my Web site? Is there online chatter?” That’s the first thing you want to create.
Of course after you do create that chatter, you do want to look at your analytics. I love simply using Google Analytics, which is free and easy to install. Another site that I really adore is RockDex and they will monitor analytics for free for artists. Those are two really good sites to get started on. Then after you get a grip on what you’re analyzing, the next step is to figure out how to take the information you’re analyzing — the data — and use it to your benefit. That’s where a whole other kind of conversation comes into place. So, if someone’s talking about you, what are they saying? How do you thank them for saying it? How do you get into a two-way conversation with them as opposed to either remaining silent or out of the conversation or remaining passive? If someone does take the time to talk about you online it’s a compliment and should be rewarded with at least an acknowledgment and, even better, with a strategy. That’s why you want to hire social media firms or good online managers to help you understand how to take the chatter and turn it into something more than that.
OS: What is the one social networking site that an artist should not live without?
AH: Oh that’s such a good question! I mean obviously Facebook. Everyone’s on Facebook. Facebook is wonderful. Obviously, we all started on MySpace. I found only a couple artists who don’t have a presence on MySpace, but I would say if you‘re really brand new to the Internet and you honestly don’t have a MySpace page, you have to have your music uploaded there, and you really do have to have a Facebook page. At least a personal page and then you should begin to look into getting a fan page. For those of you who are total newbies and don’t have a Facebook page, get on over there and sign up. I don’t think there’s anyone left in the free world that doesn’t have a Facebook page [Laughs], but just in case…
OS: There have been a lot of complaints about how busy MySpace is with all the flash and ads. Would you still say it’s a necessary evil in the business?
AH: One hundred percent! Of course less and less real conversations are happening there, but everyone knows that player and that is not going to go away — if you look it’s still the second most trafficked site of the social media sites. What we say at my company is create your page there and use it to feed everything else. So, put your Twitter link on it, put your Facebook link on it. Show people that when they come to you, they can easily get to the other sites through it. It’s pretty much a portal page at this point.
OS: Your latest episode of Sound Advice TV spoke about the idea of subscription services. What’s the best way for an artist to implement a subscription or continuum service, like Ari Hest’s or Matthew Ebel’s, and make it successful?
AH: You know this goes back to the first question, the whole problem with getting attention in this new fandangled music industry is unless you have fans to sell subscriptions to, you shouldn’t really start a subscription site. I do strongly believe in the subscription model and I think that its’ feasible and viable, but Matthew Ebel is a great example because he has thousands of fans on Twitter, hundreds of people coming to his Ustream every week before he even attempted a subscription site. I see artists saying, “Oh, we’ll just make a subscription site!” and they’re forgetting the fundamentals. Unless you have enough people talking about you that want to subscribe, I would not spend a lot of money setting up a full subscription site. However, that being said, there are some inexpensive platforms that you can use. You can use Ning and make it private, so they pay you first, and you can set up a closed subscription site there. But the truth of the matter is I wouldn’t recommend spending a whole lot of money building a subscription service site unless of course you know you’ll be able to sell subscriptions.
OS: Matthew Ebel is definitely a great example, I was looking at his subscription site and he has a $500/year option called “The Entourage” available for five people per year. Currently all of these slots are filled up, which I think is incredible that people would be willing to pay $500 to basically get all your music and have the opportunity to hang out with you.
AH: You know if you think about it, two tickets to a Rolling Stones concert in premium seating is $500. [Laughs] We spend this type of money on our FAVORITE artists, like if you want to go see (now I’ve never done this), Celine Dion in Vegas I’m sure it’s $500 for two people. So you have to think about what you are really asking your fans for and what they are accustomed to paying. Yeah, it may seem that $500 is a complete and utter fortune, but maybe it’s not. Maybe for some people it’s just a night out.
OS: [Laughs] Very true. Now, with all the different ways to connect with fans on the Internet, how important is mobile marketing for artists?
AH: I think it’s really, really important. I think there are obviously some major stumbling blocks with mobile marketing because it’s cost prohibitive, but I love it — the reason why I love it is because it’s the screen so far that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of spam on it. So you’re inbox is cluttered with a whole bunch of spammy messages. I read a horrendous statistic a few weeks ago that in 2009, 81% of all emails that were sent were spam. So obviously people are shutting down in email and shutting down in social media because there’s been so much chatter about it. It’s like, where are people actually really focused? I would say they’re focused on their cell phones, text messaging especially. I think if you can get a system into place using Mozes or Broadtexter those are two free services where you can start. It’s absolutely critical to begin to think about a mobile strategy, especially if you’re a younger band.
OS: Do you think developing an iPhone app has any value for a band?
AH: You know it’s funny, someone just asked me about that the other day. Again, if you build it they will come. I don’t see the point of having an iPhone app if you don’t have thousands and thousands of people already following you and interested in you. I think bands spend a lot of money on unnecessary things like iPhone apps. How many fans do you really have? How many people are on your text-messaging list? How many of those fans actually have smartphones? If you’re just adding yet another app into the iPhone library, there’s tens of thousands of apps there, what’s going to make people want to download your app and actively use it? You first have to ask yourself the question, “What’s the offering that we’re putting forth?” Of course I think it’s necessary to have it, but the question is are you ready for it? I would say most bands aren’t.
OS: Also, if an artist has an extensive online presence, is it necessary for them to have a street team?
AH: I still think that it’s important, especially at live shows. There’s a live element to all of this online stuff that we forget about when we are busy marketing ourselves, and that element is how many of these people do we actually know and how many of these people have we actually met? When you’re at a show and you see a band, but you’re not the kind of person who walk to the back to the merch table to sign-up, how important is it to you to have someone walk up and say “Hey, do you like this band? Can I tell you a little bit about them? Give you a postcard with their information? Sign you up for the mailing list? Give you a free mp3?” That’s a really effective way of capturing more and more fans in an active manner. I think having a street team, especially at live events to help capture as many names and addresses and comments as possible is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
I interviewed a band called Making April last year who had, I think they’re on hiatus right now, but they had sold a ton of albums on iTunes and they met a lot of fans by street teaming themselves. They went to shows where other artists who were similar or compared to them were playing and they would literally walk up to the people and be like, “Hey, I’m in a band, I sound like this, here’s my information!” It was a very effective way of garnering new fans, of course extremely time consuming, but very effective.
OS: Sort of going along with that, in Week 8 of Sound Advice Vol. 3 you mention the importance of “being memorable” in a live networking situation. What is the single, best way to make an impression on someone?
AH: Listen to them. I think the sad part about how we all learn to market ourselves is we’re not listening. Major labels did not listen to the fans. They force-fed them through the radio and through marketing techniques that no longer work. The really smart bands listen to their fans. People like to feel understood and listened to. If people come up and say, “HEY, check me out I’m really great!!” and you’re force-feeding them your message people go numb on you. If you listen to them you can learn so much about who you’re talking to. So I think there’s a lot of skill in asking the right questions and listening.
OS: The latest series about the idea of 1,000 True Fans has brought up a lot of discussion on whether this only applies to solo acts or duos. Do you believe the theory pertains to bands of three or more?
AH: Absolutely. It’s funny, a lot of people absolutely hate the “1,000 true fans” theory. Without a core fan base, who are you? I think you’re nothing. [Laughs] Yes, I do believe it works for bigger bands. Obviously when there are more pieces of the pie to divide up, you have to have more than 1,000 fans because you have to divide the income between more band members, but I do believe in the theory that every band or artist need a core constituency or they’re never going to succeed.