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Takin’ it to the Streets

A story posted recently by blogger Jonathan Welsh of Driver’s Seat has me thinking about how creative people always find ways to overcome apparent obstacles. Welsh’s article tells the story of a new Jeep campaign that features Grammy-winning singer Lenny Kravitz. There’s nothing revolutionary about a celebrity shilling for a car company, but there’s a small twist to this scenario. Kravitz, you see, isn’t just pitching someone else’s product, he’s introducing a new song of his own – debuting it on a car commercial. It’s an interesting way to get paid (by Jeep) to build awareness and enthusiasm for his upcoming album, and, it’s a commentary on how the music industry has changed in the past few years.

I think Kravitz has it right. With the incredible pace of change in the music business these days, just cutting a record and putting it into stores isn’t enough. Musicians have had to get clever to get attention. Many have found ways to leverage the Internet, the very platform that forever changed their industry by facilitating file sharing, for their benefit. As you would expect, they create Facebook fan pages, Tweet messages to their followers, and post event photos on their websites. These things are the price of admission today. But many are doing something more – something special. They are finding ways to really connect on a more personal level with their fans (who are also, of course, their customers).

The iconic ‘70s rock band KISS, for example, let fans choose the locations for a recent American tour by voting via the KISS website. If you voted for Gene and the boys to come to your town, wouldn’t you be sure to show up and bring some friends? Other bands post early versions of songs in development or potential cover art and run online focus groups to get fan’s input.

 The band Radiohead beat the file-sharing public at their own game when they released their album In Rainbows in 2007 as a free download – asking only that fans pay what they thought it was worth. It turns out; their fans liked it well enough to pay approximately the same price that it would have commanded had it been sold through conventional channels. And, the band got to keep a much bigger portion of the money. More importantly, taking this approach created a deeper connection and built trust between the band and the people who love them.

In what may be the ultimate meeting of band and fans, Cincinnati folk-pop group Over the Rhine just released The Long Surrender, which was completely financed by fans via a social-media appeal. That’s right, fans of the band fronted the money (interest free, by the way) to produce the album. Wouldn’t you love it if your customers would do that for you? Those who chose to contribute got an advance copy of the album and their names were listed on the band’s website along with a sincere thank you. Even better, they got to feel like they were part of the artistic process – almost a part of the band.

Tricks like these help create the one-on-one connections that keep music lovers engaged (and therefore buying more music). Smart musicians are not waiting for the public to find them; they are taking their art to the masses in big ways – and reaping the rewards.

What you sell may not be as sexy (or “sexy,” if you’re not a fan) as Lady Gaga’s “bubble dress,” which got her millions of hits on the Internet, but a lot of these same lessons from the music business still apply. So, connect with your customers. Put yourself out there in new and creative ways. Heed the Doobie Brothers and start “Takin’ it to the Streets.”

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