In local digital marketing guru Kevin Carr’s new book, The Musician’s Guide to Digital Marketing, he begins with a contemporary myth: “Fate was written in the stars for the yearning YouTuber. Her life abruptly changed after a viral video, which led to placement on a prominent Spotify playlist, which led to a meeting with a record executive. She was an overnight sensation with millions of fans and followers. Royalty checks flowed like the salmon of Capistrano … .”
It sounds like a dream come true for every yearning musician, but as Carr wrote in his book, “If you believe in these fairy tales—occasionally referred to as the ‘American Idol fantasy’—then this book is not for you. Drop the power chords and play the Powerball instead, because winning the lotto is more likely.”
Carr’s book isn’t for the dreamers. It’s for the DIYers, and what it contains is practical, actionable digital marketing strategies to help performers create a brand, a logo, and an electronic press kit (EPK), as well as to consider search engine optimization (SEO), create memorable artist photos, and develop an effective website.
The book—available at amazon.com and the basis for an upcoming Cuesta College Community Programs class in the fall called Digital Marketing for Musicians—clearly and succinctly shows performers how to rule the interwebs. But why digital only and no hard copies?
“I thought this would be more appropriate for a book on digital marketing,” Carr said via email. “It also allows me to keep it relatively updated every year or so, which I will plan to do.”
Carr knows how difficult it is for bands to gain a foothold online. He’s a musician himself. He self-deprecatingly describes himself as a “lousy drummer,” mainly because his uncle is master drummer Steve Hilstein, former owner of SLO’s The Drum Circuit and current owner of Music Motive.
“My primary instrument is guitar, actually, but everyone plays guitar,” Carr joked. “I thought drums might read a little more interesting. At Musicians Institute of Hollywood, I completed the Music Business program back in 2005 while the music business was knee-deep in the aftermath of Napster and file sharing. Fascinating time to be there, to say the least. The internships that came from that program were the most useful: a record label and an artist management agency. These opportunities revealed to me the inner workings of the traditional music biz, which of course was ripe for disruption.”
Carr became interested in the business side of music in high school, where his KDC Promotions “booked and promoted local concerts in the early-aughts here in South County of SLO—for churches, community centers, rec halls, etc. I even booked a few national acts. This is what led me to attend the Musicians Institute.”
So what made him decide there was a need for this book?
“Is there a need? I suppose we will see,” he said. “My own experience as a musician and a digital marketer has led me to believe so. Most musicians are DIY in all aspects, not just in the ways they write, record, and perform their music. I guess I wanted to provide something that was both affordable and actionable. I know what it’s like to piece a small budget together and to try and use every free tool at your disposal. I also didn’t see any books that really got into the weeds of digital marketing: audience building, ad campaigns, conversions, etc. Most marketing materials, even ones made for musicians, like to speak in broad terms. With my book, I didn’t just want to get into the weeds, I wanted to whack the hell out of them.”
Practical information and clear writing is definitely the book’s hallmark. If you don’t know what an EPK is or what SEO means, Carr’s book explains it all clearly.
“Starting a band is the easiest thing in the world, but launching a career in music is much harder,” Carr explained. “Musicians need to be informed of what is expected of them, in terms of self-promotion. There is a toll, mentally, physically, and financially. When I was playing in The Function, we never uttered the phrase ‘ad budget.’ We cared about the studio budget, gas money, merch, gear. But if I could do it all over again, I would’ve approached it all with a campaign mindset. You don’t record an album and hope for the best. You create a campaign budget and include a line item for Facebook ads. It sounds lame and perhaps un-artistic, but it’s the reality of building an audience in our day and age.”
Carr’s book clearly anticipates the coming pitfalls. For instance, in section two about building fans with content, he offers a word of warning about online content that doesn’t get the hoped for interaction: “In your moment(s) of despair, it is important to remember two things: Underperforming content is not a failure but an opportunity to learn what your audience wants, and your audience is not rejecting or ignoring you, they are rejecting and ignoring your content.”
He foresees and empathizes all in one.
“Anyone who has posted a status update on Facebook—and only received a handful of likes—can relate,” he noted. “So much of our world is digital, so it’s no surprise that underwhelming engagement on a meaningful post can drive us to despair. This happens all the time to content creators, but perhaps tenfold. We craft blogs, make videos, perform live, … and when it’s over we can feel devastated when social media moves on without properly considering our art. Sometimes this is due to the algorithm, other times it is due to the content itself, most of the time it is a mix of both. The goal is to reach a ‘nothing is precious’ mindset. Learn what you can, re-use what you can, and try again. Easier said than done, I know.
“What I’m sharing in the book is years of frontline digital campaign and brand development experience,” he concluded. “They are not so much secrets, but earned badges. If anything, sharing this knowledge helps me justify all my years of corporate marketing, which is just something I sort of fell into. I’ve always dreamed of finding a way to merge my digital marketing career and my passion for music, and I think this is the realization of that dream.” Δ
Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at [email protected]