How I gained 1 million streams in 60 hrs with no label or management [OP-ED]
Disclaimer: For the sake of transparency, it’s worth mentioning that about half of those streams came from the two singles released in the weeks leading up to the album release date, but for the sake of bragging, it’s also worth mentioning that the album hit 2 million streams on Spotify within two weeks of release, plus many more on other platforms.
I can’t say that I entered the music industry with any specific goals or plans, let alone knowledge or connections, but looking back, I can happily identify the things that were most helpful to building my audience without a record label or management.
About ten years ago, I started uploading clips and demos of songs I was working on, and sharing them to music forums (like the fan forums of Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci from the band Dream Theater). I was inspired to do this by seeing Misha Mansoor launch his band Periphery the same way, and of course Dream Theater were, without a doubt, one of my biggest early influences.
Upon reflection, one of the things that made me such a huge Dream Theater fan-boy was the way that Mike Portnoy kept in touch with fans via his forum, as well as how he maintained an almost cult-like level of interest in the band going between albums and tours, with things like “unofficial” bootleg releases, hiding easter eggs in their album artworks and videos, and sharing generous amounts of footage of the band behind the scenes.
Periphery operated similarly, constantly sharing works in progress and interacting with their fans on social media. Maintaining a social media presence and keeping in touch with your fanbase are fairly common (if not expected) activities for musicians in 2020, but around 2010, it was pretty amazing to me that I could post something on a forum, or send a message, directly to my musical idols, and there was a pretty good chance they would actually respond.
I think the lesson to be learned here is, you don’t need a label with its own marketing department to find an audience for you: just pay attention to your favourite artists and analyse what makes them so likeable (aside from making amazing music): is it the type of content they post? Is it the way they make themselves more personable or available to you as a fan? This might inspire you to post more behind the scenes footage to YouTube, or to do Instagram Q&As, or to write a weekly mailing list, or to start a book club with your fans.
When I was starting out, remaining active on music forums and consistently replying to Facebook messages and comments was hugely helpful to building the audience I have today. These days, I am admittedly less active online than would be ideal (we’re nine months into this pandemic and I still haven’t done a proper live stream…), but I think that building, maintaining and following your audience’s attention from platform to platform should more or less mandatory for any artist starting out.
By 2015, I’d released three EPs and built up enough of an audience online that I thought it would be cool to get a band together and play a show. In past decades, playing live has been one of the key ways that bands would “break”, but I’d argue that these days it almost makes more sense NOT to play a show until you’ve released some music and built some buzz online.
Having an excited crowd at my first ever show led to my first Australian tour, and solid attendance at these shows around the country led to working with a bigger booking agency and slowly making my way into bigger venues and better support slots.
Stream Plini, Impulse Voices:
In parallel to this, and as a result of my online activities, I made friends with lots of artists doing similar things around the world, like Aaron Marshall from the Canadian band Intervals. My first US tour came thanks to my friendship with Aaron, who asked me to be his support act, as well as play rhythm guitar in his band.
The success of that tour led to both of us touring with Animals As Leaders (probably the biggest band in our niche) in Europe and then the US. Once again, thanks to my pre-existing online following, all my sets were well-received and well-attended. This enabled me to headline my own tours in the US and Europe the following year, which, as in Australia, led to finding booking agents and getting bigger and better touring opportunities.
At first, doing all of this was extremely expensive, and confusing. I had no idea how to get performance visas for my band to play in the USA, where to hire a tour bus or backline equipment, or how best to convert a handful of different European currencies to AUD when I got home.
But, being a manager and label-free solo artist, I had saved up 100% of the income of my first few releases and used it to fund these ventures, and by politely asking everyone I could, eventually figured out all the logistics.
I think that by visiting as many places as possible and playing with the right bands at the right times, I showed my initially-digital audience that I was “serious” about making and playing music, and therefore “worth” paying attention to from one release to the next.
Now, when I release new music, I work with a couple of great publicists, and one of my best friends (who booked my first Australian tour) runs some ads on Facebook and Instagram for me, but the vast majority of those million streams in the headline came from the wonderful people that, sometime in past 10 years, I’ve talked to on forums, taught at masterclasses, replied to on Instagram or played for at a show somewhere.
The underlying theme in all of this, for me, is having the right consistency and focus in your work ethic. I don’t make a type of music that is commercially viable in a typical sense, but it is still a type of music that has enough of a worldwide audience to sustain a career.
I first found my audience by replicating how my peers and contemporary idols found theirs, and am doing my best to continually grow that audience by being remaining as active as possible in the ways that feel right to me.
While I don’t doubt the value of label and management relationships for many artists, I’m inspired by the not-entirely-impossible thought that, without any mainstream radio or festival support, I might get to book my own gig the Sydney Opera House someday soon.
Check out the clip for ‘I’ll Tell You Someday’:
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.