My first published article! It appears (in much shorter form) in SONGWRITERS Magazine (Volume 16 – Reference Edition 2012/2013).
I was invited to submit it based on my experiences of winning the first ever Canadian Social Media Challenge this past winter, which was hosted by the Songwriter’s Association of Canada.
Here is the full-length version:
Last December I arrived home from the bubbling energy burst of my first European tour, when I heard SAC was hosting the first ever Canadian Social Media Blogging Challenge. The challenge, based on the book “Music Success in Nine Weeks” by Arial Hyatt, offers a structured way to explore social media and other online activities (in particular, blogging) to engage audiences and grow careers as independent artists. The challenge sounded like the perfect antidote to my post-tour blahs and something to keep me busy over the winter months, so I signed up and cracked open the book to Chapter One: Setting Goals.
An amazing thing happened: as I worked through the weekly assignments I discovered I became more active and interested in clarifying the direction of my career. Instead of grumbly waiting for someone to swoop in and discover me, I knuckled down and got to it myself. Nine weeks later – after delving into a variety of topics such as how to better use Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and the trusty homepage – I concluded that marketing with social media was… fun! And also effective as a series of tools to help build a solid, professional foundation for my music.
For this issue of Songwriter’s Magazine, Lily Cheng (who was also one of my fellow blogging buddies) asked me to jot down a few things I learned by doing the challenge. Here are ten of them for your enjoyment, in no particular order.
(1) People love a good story. Talking about what moves you to curiosity about the world is much more engaging than hearing that you just released a new album. Everybody has just released a new album. You, on the other hand, are the only one with cool insights on how to make homemade soap using the flowers you picked by the side of the road. The fact that you made the soap in your tour van while driving to a festival in Kamloops is what makes the story gold. [Woah, that would be neat.]
(2) People also love a good picture. Simple tip: add visuals to your posts wherever possible. But not clip art. That’s just lazy. Check out wikipedia for interesting archival photos. Do word searches on google and see what comes up. Having said that, it is REALLY important that you make sure not to steal someone’s work. You hate it when someone downloads your songs from fileshare, right? Same goes for visual artists. Make it a habit to ensure the image is available for use under a Creative Commons license. [For more info: check out creativecommons.org] Better yet, create your own images, photographs, videos and add those instead.
[Ed. note: Er… um… yeah. I’m breaking my own rule here by not posting any photos in this blog entry. But I’m trying to evoke the feel of print media here.]
(3) When posting an update on your blog or website, remember that some of your readers will be new to you and your music. Every entry you post will be the first thing that someone somewhere somehow stumbled upon while cruising about the web. You don’t have to rehash the minutiae of your birth place and musical upbringing, but it can be a good idea to provide some context for your post. I’m fond of including a one or two sentence summary along with links to previous posts at the bottom of each entry. This helps to familiarize your reader, and discourages them from bouncing away because they are confused.
(4) On the other hand, sometimes brevity is best.
(5) There will be technical difficulties. This will usually happen on the day of an important deadline, ie: your internet will cack out at the exact moment you need to upload one final image before sending out a newsletter to your mailing list about tonight’s last minute show you just got invited to play. Moments like this, I have learned, can provide the perfect opportunity to dig your teeth into larger existential questions of human frailty and frustration. They are also good times to refill your coffee mug and have a quick stretch on the porch.
(6) Your website is your home. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are your local cafes. They are excellent and necessary platforms, and great places to run into fans and friends. But cafes come and go, whereas at the end of the day with any luck your house is still standing. So don’t forget to spend time making your website awesome. Remember, too, to invite people to visit by creating posts on your website, then linking back to them from your status updates and tweets.
(7) Similarly, don’t be shy to ask people who take pictures and videos of you at your shows if you can have digital copies of the files to post on your youtube channel, eg, separate from their posts. As long as you give a person proper credit, they will likely be delighted to be included by name on your team!
(8) Speaking of feeling part of the team, take a moment to remember what it felt like when you fell in love with a favourite artist. You wanted to be connected; you wanted to be involved. Now that you are the artist that people are falling for, enjoy the interactive nature of online media! Let people connect. That’s the social in Social Media.
(9) Oh boy, this is a long list. Did I mention that it can be good to be succinct? For example, there is nothing cheesy about the 15-second pitch. (“Hi, I play [genre of music]. I sound like a cross between [well-known artist] and [well-known artist.]”) Some people feel boxed in by the “sounds like…” stuff, but it goes back to the idea of providing context. Please be more creative than my example, but keep it short and evocative. If you’re not sure what you sound like or what your strengths are as an artist, ask your friends and fans to help you out.
(10) Finally, and perhaps my favourite discovery while doing this blogging challenge: social media can give you an amazing sense of empowerment as an artist. You don’t have to wait for Billboard to write an article about you. If you have something to share, you can put it out there yourself. Create your own narrative as an artist, and maybe one day Billboard will pick up on the buzz. Maybe not. But regardless, you will still be actively engaged in doing your work. This is especially a good lesson for me because I admit that I am an approval junkie. I want people to like me… nay, love me and my music. Who doesn’t? But this desire for approval sometimes causes me to be passive: the hope that a “musical authority” will lift me up and validate my work. The brilliance of social media, and in particular blogging is that it gives you the ability to define your legitimacy as an artist on your own terms.
If you’d like to read more about the challenge, including my forays into the philosophical, check out my weekly entries from the challenge right here on my blog.
Pop by my website for a visit too: www.karynellis.com.
Karyn Ellis moved from Parkdale (Toronto, Ontario) to the foothills of Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia in the winter of 2011. Now she lives by a river and two creeks writing playful, bittersweet indie-folk songs about every day wonders, beauty and hope.