Once upon a time, success for a musician was measured by record sales. That’s just not true anymore. I had a meeting with a record exec a while back and he told me that my Soundscan numbers had gone down hence I was getting less popular. Quite honestly, I was more popular than I had ever been. I had gotten a book deal, released a bunch of toys and was constantly on tour. I had to point out to him that the reason my Soundscan numbers had gone down was because less people were buying CDs in stores (which is how Soundscan gets their numbers), THOUSANDS of people were illegally downloading my songs from the internet and that my most recent CD which was a self release, was for the most part, not available in stores at all! (with the exception of a special deal with Hot Topic). So while I felt more successful than ever, this guy didn’t seem to have the proof he needed because basically he was relying on a form of measurement that’s become largely irrelevant in the music business of today.
Sadly, record sales are just no longer an accurate unit of measurement for a band’s success. So what is?
These days, I would measure success not by how many records I sell but by how many people come to my shows. It’s easy for someone to find my music for free on the internet so I can’t say that someone who’s heard of me is a “fan.” A true fan is someone who buys a ticket to the concert and comes out to see the show and to say “hello” to me in person. And if they support the tour with a purchase at the merch booth, a T-shirt or poster, etc… then they are REALLY helping the cause. These are the people who keep this business afloat. Without them, all we would really have as musicians is the digital sales. The nice thing about digital sales is that while records sales have dropped, we can now sell a file of the song or of the record. The profit margin is much larger than on a record sale because we don’t actually have to manufacture a CD! Digital sales have really helped to save the artist from plummeting CD sales and piracy, but on the sinking ship that is the record industry, in the tumultuous storm that is the present economy, the benefits of digital sales are just a life vest when what we really need is a new BOAT!
THE INTERNET: Myspace
The internet can also be a measure of a band’s success, but it’s tricky. How many “friends” one has on Myspace, for instance, has become very deceptive. For one, there are many bands that use “bots” to gather total strangers and add them to their friend count. These bands have obscene numbers of friends, so many you’d think they were playing arena tours… and yet, if you were to go to see them play a concert, you’d be lucky to find 100 people there. That’s certainly not success… it’s the semblance of success. With huge Myspace numbers, you might be able to fool someone into signing you or booking you, but it won’t take long for them to realize how many fans you REALLY have.
I’ve also found that on Myspace, a great number of your “friends” are not actually fans. They are just people who, like you, are trying to have as many friends as they can! lol! They are NEVER going to buy your record and they are NEVER going to come to your show. So really, they are sort of worthless and are just there to make you seem more popular than you really are. The REAL friends on Myspace are the ones who post comments (by this I mean REAL comments, not “Hey, check out my music and tell me what you think.”), people who follow, read and reply to your blogs, people who are actually engaged in what you are doing as a person and as an artist.
I get tons of email from my website and I have to tell you that some of it is a sad window into the state of things. At least a few times a week I get an email that says, “I’m your biggest fan in the whole world” for some strange reason, they are always my BIGGEST fan, “I have all of your songs! My favorites are ‘If I Only Were A Goth, The Vagina Song and Goth Queen”.
What this always tells me is that this person who thinks they are my BIGGEST fan, has never bought one of my CDs or downloaded any of my songs by legitimate means. I know this because “If I Only Were A Goth” is not by me, it’s by Thou Shalt Not! ”The Vagina Song” is not by me it’s by The Bloodhound Gang! The last one took me some time to figure out, but “Goth Queen” is apparently my song, “Ravens Land”. Like the other two songs it was mislabeled by whatever 12-year-old brat put it up on Limewire. But that aside, I would say that the amount of email you get is indicative of how “successful” you are as an artist because quite simply, it means you are reaching people. People are finding out about you most likely through word of mouth.
The bottom line is that this is what I do for a living. I feed my family and pay my rent by making music. As long as I can continue to do that, I’m succeeding. When people THINK they are a fan of my music but never support what I do by buying a CD or coming to a show, they are fooling themselves and hurting me. I always say, “if you keep picking the fruit off of the tree but you never plant any seeds, eventually there will be no more fruit and no more tree.” The very thing that you claim to BIGGEST FAN of will be gone, because in truth, once I can no longer make a living doing this, I will have to find something else to do for a living and the music will stop. I’m not trying to sound maudlin here, mind you. It’s just the truth.
PS: It’s also possible that the number of stalkers you have might be an indication of success. I now have two. I’m not talking about a girl with a passing fancy here, mind you, I mean a truly deranged person you don’t personally know who has made you a central figure in their life and emails you several times a week for months or even years. Or maybe that’s just a an awful side effect of having some measure of “success.”