Ashby Frank stood in Target for 45 minutes, texting friend Brandon Bostic and composing a song about Granny, “the world’s first mountain twerker.”
Frank and Bostic, both freelance musicians and songwriters in Nashville, Tenn., then met at Frank’s house and patched together the song “Mountain Twerker” in 15 minutes. They eventually made a Facebook page for their impromptu band The Darrell Brothers, and released the song on iTunes and a video on YouTube.
“Within 72 hours (of its release on YouTube) it was No. 3 trending music video in the world,” Frank said.
Beyond the appeal of a twerking Granny, The Darrell Brothers’ experiences highlight the opportunities that artists can employ to connect directly with fans.
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Digital media enables artists to build their brand, sell songs and market tours, according to performers and panelists, including Frank, who participated in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Business Conference, one of the elements of the five-day World of Bluegrass event held in Raleigh last week.
Meanwhile, YouTube views, Facebook likes, emails, Twitter followers, along with artists’ music and touring experience, often factor into the consideration process for record labels, publicists and sponsors, the panelists said.
Behind the bluegrass concerts and records, is an industry of musicians, bands and others who run their music operation just like many other small-business owners, juggling multiple responsibilities, including building a brand.
Digital marketing is “absolutely critical,” said Molly Nagel, owner of Little Engine, an Asheville-based project management and marketing firm for artists, managers, events and small businesses, who was a panelist at the conference.
It’s key because the products that artists are creating and marketing are easy to share on various digital platforms, Nagel said.
Secondly, digital platforms can be used for targeted marketing by touring artists who need to reach audiences in several different stops in as many days.
“It gives you the ability to do that easily in real time,” she said.
Build a website
While social media is important, Nagel and others said, artists need to create their own websites and email lists because Facebook and Twitter could be irrelevant in coming years.
The website should include basics, such as music, tour dates, videos and a place where visitors can sign up for a newsletter.
One of the goals of social media is to engage fans so they come to the website, sign up for the newsletter and share their location and email address.
“Once you have that direct line of communication, the engagement factor just raises exponentially,” Nagel said.
On Facebook, artists should set up a band page and post at least once a day, she said.
Lorraine Jordan, who lives in Garner and is in the bluegrass band Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road, follows that rule by posting updates that include where she is playing, pictures of fans and videos the band made on their bus.
“You can just about know our whole road trip,” Jordan said.
Bands should try to post content that is varied. If artists aren’t overflowing with ideas, they can set up a calendar outlining their posts, Nagel said.
Christian Sedelmyer and Rachel Baiman, fiddle players in the Nashville-based band 10 String Symphony, were among the Business Conference’s panelists and performed in Raleigh as part of the World of Bluegrass. They said artists should avoid just posting business updates, such as where they are touring and that a new album has been released.
“When people follow you on social media, they are not doing it because they want a business update,” Baiman said. “They are doing it because they want to get to know the people.”
Sedelmyer said that if artists hate the idea of sharing what they had for breakfast, then they can share what they are reading or who influenced a song.
In addition to fan engagement, artists can purchase Facebook and Twitter advertising to help them target potential fans on their tour stops.
“You can say I want to show this ad to people who are interested in this festival in that area, this band that is from the area,” along with fans who are interested in IBMA, banjos, or other specific items that relate to their band, Baiman said.
With Twitter, artists on tour can target followers of the local newspaper where they are playing or a band in the area that plays a similar style of music.
Social media can also be used to engage potential sponsors by posting pictures of the band using their products and tagging the company in the post.
“When I see artists showing our banjos in their photos and stuff, I am like instantly interested in what they are doing because they are making themselves visible,” said panelist Jamie Deering, who handles artist relations for the Deering Banjo Co., based in Spring Valley, Calif.
Such interactions could ultimately lead to conversations about those companies sponsoring a band with money or offering discounts on its products.
Incorporate current trends
Some ways for artists to expand their audience include incorporating current trends into their music and videos, along with covering other more popular performers’ songs.
Karlie Justus Marlowe, a conference panelist and digital marketing manager at Hillsborough-based Yep Roc Music Group, said it has new artists come in once a month and post a three- to five-song playlist.
“Our way to tap into that viral piece of it is have them do one cover,” she said.
Artists can take that to the next level by turning that music into a simple video that can be shared on YouTube and social media.
Bands should resist immediately sharing new video and content to the public. Instead, they should pitch it to an outlet to premier it, said conference panelist Emilee Warner, founder and publicist for Warnerblaster, a publicity and project management firm in Nashville.
“Premiers are the new version of getting people to write about you,” Warner said.
Capturing something that is already a rising trend and is completely outside of what they are doing is another way to expand followings.
If artists can stay attuned to trends on social media and link a project “to something that is really current, that is definitely going to help your numbers,” Warner said.
Frank, who was among the panelists at the Business Conference, and Bostic started texting their Granny song after after Miley Cyrus popularized the term “twerking” during her notorious appearance with singer Robin Thicke on MTV’s 2013 Video Music Awards.
The week after Frank and Bostic recorded their song, they attended the 2013 IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, connected with a representative of the John Boy and Billy Radio Network and later made an appearance on the show, which debuted the song.
They listed the song on iTunes through CD Baby, an online music store and distributor that specializes in selling music from independent artists.
Then they made a video with the help of a student filmmaker. On Nov. 12, 2013, they listed the video on YouTube.
The video has now been viewed more than 560,000 times on YouTube and has been shared more than 200,000 times on Facebook.
“So, I have had this crash course in social media that I never expected,” Frank said.