I just read an interesting recap of Prince’s career on the New York Times and it got me thinking about some musicians that have come into my view lately: Prince, Billy Corgan, and Buckethead.
They each have their own way of promoting their music in the digital age where everything can be copied and redistributed in a heartbeat.
Prince is by far, the most progressive digital marketer in the music industry. Forget about Steve Jobs. He created the idea of getting music to the masses via the internet without regard for piracy. In fact, he probably encouraged it because at the end of the day, his name was bigger and he was in demand.
Billy Corgan, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. He did have an interesting blog for a while but stopped updating it. It’s too bad because I found his writing to be quite interesting. It mostly recanted old Smashing Pumpkins stories and how they made it big, which is always cool to read since for me, SP just appeared out of nowhere with Gish on MTV.
Recently I blogged about the news that SP was reforming and releasing new music…in a way that flies in the face of Prince’s concepts. He created a distribution deal that was split between four major music retailers. Each retailer would only be able to sell 1 version of the new record. The difference being that each CD had 1 song that was different from the other 3 versions. Talk about bleeding your fans dry.
Then there’s Buckethead. Say what you want about the guy’s name and persona but you can’t argue with his talent and ability to get the word out. Here is a lone guitarist who usually records on independent labels yet has come up with some really interesting ways to promote himself and his music. The most recent example of his ingenuity is his simultaneous release of 13 CDs. (I have heard them, so I’m speaking from experience here.) Buckethead knows that aside from his unparalleled musical ability, his mysterious persona is a major draw. Keeping his mysterious persona in mind, the 13 CD set sounds more like you are getting access to multiple private recording sessions where he plays everything and anything just for you. There is no distracting audience noise or cheering, no overproduced tracks with 5 other musicians (can you say the new GnR?). You can easily picture just him sitting in a studio, pressing the record button, and wailing for hours, hence the CD set title “In Search Of The”. There truly are some really incredible bits in there. He’s not trying to create 3 minute hooky songs for radio. He’s letting you into the studio and hearing bits and pieces of future songs while he’s working on them.
Anyway, the truly unique aspect of this CD set is that he is personally autographing and drawing little things on each and every CD. The response to this idea has been so huge that they’re on backorder and it’s tough for he and Travis Dickerson to get them burned and out the door.
Back to the point of this post. What differs Buckethead from Prince and Billy Corgan is his use of the internet. His website is quite crude, which is odd considering that he’s been an underground music star for about 10 years now. What is most interesting about the site is the total lack of an online store. You cannot purchase music on the site, period. He only links out a handful of sites where you can get his music…typically the recording studio where he recorded the album.
What Buckethead does do is use the power of social media like YouTube. Ok, it can be debated that he “uses it” or doesn’t have time to shut people down, but either way, the popular video site is the perfect showcase for his work. Fans from all over the world post not only videos of him playing live but also their feeble attempts to recreate his musical magic on the guitar. For a musician whose “act” relies on a visual image, online video is the best thing to happen to his career. Regardless of his official stance on the site, when an artist has a bootlegged video of one song that has over 700k views, a guitar lesson with over 588k views, and another with over 442k views, he MUST be happy with those numbers. And those are just the top 3 videos. There are many more with 200k views per video.
Finally, another huge win for Buckethead was his inclusion on the super popular game Guitar Hero 2. His incredible playing and persona was the perfect fit for the game and I’m sure has introduced him and his music to millions of music lovers around the world. My guess is that the next tour he puts on will be sold out in every single venue across the U.S.
So, in the age where it seems the mainstream media proclaims that the music industry is imploding, iTunes is killing P2P sharing, individual artists are taking quite different roads to marketing themselves and sell their music.