Thursday, 18 August 2016

Lousy Marketing Strategy

"The devil makes work for idle hands" is a well known English saying. The idea behind it is that bored people will sometimes do dumb things just because they are bored. In my normal experience of life I have a lot of time to get bored and sometimes I do and then crazy ideas come into my head. Most, of course, simply fly away again to the nether world from which they sprung. But some get to work in my active mind and try and flesh themselves out into things I might actually do. Today's blog is about one of of these things that made it.

I often muse about my music and its reception. I imagine I am not unusual in this respect, one of the now probably several millions of people in the richer nations of the world who make music and put it online for others to hear. I also imagine that probably well over 90% of these people get virtually no listeners or downloads just like me. Last year I had 907 downloads of my albums and 2405 listens to my tracks (of which only 344 were listens to a whole track). Its not a lot. So an idea came into my head from whichever dark pits these things ascend: what if you put the exact same music up that virtually no one listens to but pretend that its by someone else? Maybe someone much more attractive than a middle-aged Englishman with a penchant for being philosophical and random? So I did.

Now I wonder what you are expecting me to tell you happened? It went like this. I created a fake Facebook page for someone who doesn't exist. The person was a 25 year old female electronic musician from Berlin. She had pictures of herself (which I borrowed from online and altered so they couldn't be found in a Google search) and her studio equipment (but not together) and very soon after the creation of the page she had music online to download for free. (I did not want to cheat anyone out of any money. No harm, no foul.) She joined some Facebook music groups and took part in discussions. She posted her music into the many music groups on Facebook. The response was, perhaps, as you might expect. This fictional artist got 2400 plays in 10 days, the same amount it took me one year to get. The 200 free downloads you get on Bandcamp were exhausted in the same time. The music I had used as "her's" wasn't even the music I considered my best. It was merely some secondary tracks all from this year which when they were on my account garnered next to no attention at all. These same tracks are now amongst my top listened to and downloaded tracks. But not because of them or because of me. Because the person they were thought to come from was a good looking young woman with a bubbly personality.

What should I make of this? The electronic music world is overwhelmingly full of the same kind of person: males. Many of these males just want to chat about their gear all day. To pose as a female is immediately to stand out and I admit I did this on purpose. I wanted to be a magnet that the unwary or unsuspecting would not be able to resist. In fact, I could be considerably richer now because several potential purchasers contacted the Facebook account I set up to offer my fake artist money. Some wanted to send me money direct, others wanted me to offer my album on "pay what you want" terms. Others wanted to do collaborations. A couple wanted me to make videos with them or go for photo shoots to help my profile. I refused all offers. The account attracted hundreds of friend requests most of which I turned down. I added some just to aid plausibility. The thought strikes me that I could have carried this on for months if not years and made money from it. But that wasn't my intention. I just wanted, in a curious and non-malicious way, to find out how popular my music would be if people didn't think it was me that was doing it. The answer, you might think, would be damaging to my self-esteem. When its by me its not very popular. When its by a young woman it is much more so. But its the same music!

Maybe you are shouting at the screen now. So far, so obvious. Young women are more popular than middle-aged guys. What's the drama? Well "the drama" is that I am a middle-aged guy and the only way that is going to change is that I will soon enough become an old guy. I have learnt that people do not appreciate my music based on what it is but they base it on all kinds of other stuff like who made it, what they look like and, as I discovered in the many discussions I had, what they use. This basically means that whatever music I make I start off with a huge handicap. Something I am and cannot change is holding back the potential of what I do: being me. How should I react to that?

This all ties in to ideas about status, and particularly my status, in life. I sometimes make music and I sometimes write blogs and that is really all I do. You're probably wondering how I stay alive but that's a secret I don't want to share. That's because its a sad tale and not a bad tale, by the way. People are allowed their secrets. Anyway. I make music and write blogs. I consider myself an electronic musician and if someone asks me what I do, and they virtually never do because I don't know anyone or go anywhere, then that is what I say I do. This doesn't mean I am a professional. A professional to me is someone who does a certain task for money or to support themselves. Additionally, it may mean they adhere to a set of standards that people who do that task to support themselves may hold in common. But I don't make a cent from my music because I choose to give it away. Partly, I think, this is a defense mechanism. If I charged money it would probably be very negatively received if no one wanted to pay. By making it free I save myself that heartache. Partly, though, its also ideological. I give my music away and therefore I owe no one anything. You haven't paid for it and so you have no call to demand anything from me in return. Commerce, wherever it takes place, sets up obligations and I want none involved in my music making.

Commerce, however, is often a guiding standard of our world. If I tell someone I'm a musician and they say "Where can I buy your music?" and I tell them they can't because I give it away for free they look at me funny. What kind of professional makes no money from his or her profession? The suggestion is then that I am a fraud. To be a professional is to make money from what you do. So I am not a professional because I earn no money from my music. I'm also not one, incidentally, because I go my own way regarding the standards I use to make it as well. I get very annoyed when people write things telling me where a professional would place their speakers or how they would go about recording something or what the "proper" way to achieve some musical task is. I think you can do things how the hell you like. In music you decide what the goals are and how to get there. But if only it was the music that were important. When people hear sound coming into their ears they may know nothing about its origins. All there is in that moment is sound. I wish it remained that way. This, for me, is a precious, sacred moment. But it doesn't stay that way. The innocence of Eden is shattered by the thirst for the Tree of Knowledge. Instead people might judge how professional I am and that might reflect on my music. Maybe they were hoping it came from someone more good looking or with a better set of synths. It wouldn't matter to these people that I am as serious about the music I have made as any artist (who makes money from music) they could name. It wouldn't in that moment be just about the music anymore. Superfluous stuff poisons the well.

Of course, there's no way to change any of this. People want to know stuff. Even if it would be better all round if they didn't. I could go back to pretending to be 25 year old woman of course. These seem to be continuously popular. I've learnt that pretense and deception can work. I don't doubt I could charm money into my life through a succession of fictional characters. And its not as if I don't need this money. Others would tell you that I certainly do. And that's probably one reason why I never ask for it. I'm very contrarian. But it has to be said that in this case I have a very lousy marketing strategy for the main thing I do. This is because I don't think that I am actually worth paying if I'm honest. It was very easy to pretend to be the other person. In fact, it was freedom from being me. You could pay her because she is giving you your money's worth. But me? You must be joking. But its the same music!

The woman is gone now. The four accounts she was associated with are deleted. She no longer exists. But the music does. Its my music. And its on my Bandcamp. It will not garner any of the attention it did whilst there was a pretty face and a nice chest to stick on the front of it. Instead, I've very deliberately put my own face on it. Gargoyle-like, it stares out at anyone dumb enough to stray there, a warning that nothing here is very attractive. The music was made by someone who is seriously interested in music though and always wants to learn and progress in using sounds to express things and just to bring some interest to the world. Is this enough? Probably not. I'm just using music to knit the days together really until they run out.

That will probably have to be enough.

PS This album is now no longer available. It lived on my Bandcamp for a few months garnering much less interest than it had when a pretty young woman was the figurehead for it and even though, in theory, I have a network of potentially around a thousand people I could advertise it to on Twitter who have chosen to follow me. Having read my thoughts above you may draw your own conclusions as to why and extrapolate accordingly.


  1. I conducted a similar experiment myself a few years ago on a gear forum. Didn't even put a picture up. Just described myself as a young woman from New Zealand. Just like you I got a deluge of responses to everything I posted, plus private messages. I closed it down pretty quick.

    However there's another point to your experience besides the fact that men's brains dangle between their legs. The way we perceive is entirely contextual. Ouzo tastes better in Greece than in Sheffield. Bratwurst tastes better in Berlin than in Nottingham. If you recorded a cat walking on piano keys and told me it was by John Cage I'd probably listen to it more attentively than if I knew what it really was.

  2. Very interesting experiment, and sadly not unexpected results. We are all just shouting into the abyss anyway. Oh, and Guy, did you ever hear this lost Steve Reich and Pauline Oliveros collaboration that was recorded in a disused water tank? ;-)

    1. It has that monotonous insistence so indicative of the composer's character