Want to become a professional musician? The path is still hard, but in many ways it’s now easier than ever before. If you learn how to distribute music via sites like TuneCore, and combine a strong online presence with social media audience-building, you may well be on your way to the music career of your dreams.
To prove it, let’s take a look at indie musician Alex Day. This 24-year-old British musician has had three UK Top 40 hits, including one track, 2011’s "Forever Yours," that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for "highest charting single for an unsigned artist."
That’s right. Alex Day is unsigned. He rarely performs live. Instead, he distributes his music and reaches his fans through online publishing and social media.
If you want to follow Alex Day’s path, here’s what you need to know.
The internet reaches more people than touring
Why does Alex Day prefer to connect with his fans online, instead of following the traditional model of touring and building audiences through live performance?
Well, as Alex Day told Techdirt:
"I really don’t feel the need to gig when I can reach my audience online and hit everyone at once, all over the world, and not exclude anybody, which a tour doesn’t do."
Now that musicians can use YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites to connect with "everyone at once," the touring model seems a bit outdated. It’s expensive, it offers very few opportunities to talk to people one-on-one, and it doesn’t scale. Social media, on the other hand, does all of the above and more.
Sharing and connecting with people still takes work
Sites like TuneCore are able to distribute your music to all the major online retailers in seconds. A single tweet can be read and retweeted by thousands of fans. A YouTube video can receive a larger audience than could ever fit in the biggest amphitheater. But that doesn’t mean indie musicians, even those working from home and building their careers online, can take a break.
Here’s what Alex Day told Forbes:
"My biggest asset is raw energy—I’ll keep reaching out to people, pushing the song out, working on music."
One tweet is not enough. One video is not enough. To be an internet musician, you have to be willing to work continuously. You also have to balance the tricky art between connecting and promoting — tip too far into the self-promotion game, and you come off as insincere and spammy. Spend all your time on Facebook chatting with your friends and never mention your new album? You aren’t going to get any sales that way either.
In the end, connecting with people online takes just as much work as touring the country — it’s just done from a laptop instead of in person. (view how technology can improve your health).
Using social media to hit the charts
How did Alex Day get his song "Forever Yours" to hit the #4 spot on iTunes? He developed a plan and rallied his large online audience to help.
Alex Day told all of his online fans that December 17, 2011 would be "Forever Day," the day in which they needed to go online and purchase his album to help it chart. He collaborated with other YouTubers and musicians to release 12 different versions of the song, both to give his audience options and to encourage people to purchase the song more than once. He also told his fans that proceeds would go to the charity World Vision, further incentivizing people to purchase the track.
And it worked. Alex Day’s social media campaign, which specifically told his audience what to do and when, provided incentives for them to contribute, and united his fans in a single goal, got "Forever Yours" to the coveted #4 spot on iTunes. This effort also got him his Guinness World Record.
As Alex Day told The Independent:
"I learned to find ways to keep people excited about the song, to release it at the right time and in the right way."
He also told The Independent that part of the success of "Forever Yours" came from the fact that he made it about the fans, not about himself. He created a project where the song could feel like it was a "group achievement," which in turn propelled his audience to work together and push the song even further up the charts.
How to get started
If you’re an indie musician hoping to follow Alex Day’s path, know that it is going to take a lot of work to build and develop your audience. Learning how to distribute music online is easy; learning how to build a fanbase and connect with people online is harder. However, as Alex Day has proved, there are nearly limitless possibilities.