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Successful Social Media Strategies With Indie Artist, Jennie Walker
Jennie Walker discussed the impact of social media, which led to her getting a record deal with Maddie Records
By Eiko Watanabe
(more articles from this author)
2010-11-13
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New York: On a recent Saturday night, independent recording artist Jennie Walker talked about the powerful impact of social media, which led to her getting a record deal with Maddie Records. She explained how social media could be successfully used by sharing her own experiences as a new artist in her 40's, and talked about dropping her debut album "Night Flight to London" in February, 2011.

Originally from Texas, she moved to NYC dreaming of being a recording artist. Maddie Records contacted her via email in the early spring of 2009. They had listened to her music and thought it was interesting, so they asked her if she would be interested in having it distributed in the UK. Walker worked with Grammy nominated producer Tommy Faragher, who recently worked for "Glee." Putting aside some recent "Glee"-related controversy, after working with Faragher, Walker's debut album will be physically distributed by Universal Music Group and digitally released by The Orchard. Prior to these events, she had not had any sales of her music, so the question is, how did all of this success come to be? This is where the social media strategies come in.

Walker talked about blogs. As we all know, a lot of musicians are blogging. For anyone who owns a blog, here is an effective way of utilizing it: write it, tag it "properly," and post it online. That allows the artist to maximize the potential for people to find the blog. You can have a wonderful blog that would capture the interest of both fans and music industry insiders, but if people can't find it because it's not tagged in a manner that is conducive to search engine optimization, that's a problem.

Walker then began talking about social media sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The number of "user friendly" MySpace users has been decreasing, and now it is the half of what they used to have. Facebook is really now the biggest social networking site. And, the number of people who "tweet" has been increasing. So what's the theory behind utilizing those sites? It's essentially about interacting with people. Regarding Twitter, she said, "It is a matter of communicating with your followers and people who you follow. There is a public conversation. Also, you can re-tweet what they tweet." Walker wanted a new web site when she started Twitter. She was curious if she could meet someone on Twitter who could design a web site for her. Then, what happened? She ended up meeting a web designer who was willing to work for her. The end result was that she had a professional designed website that was personalized to fit her style and brand. Walker, who had about 2100 followers, said, "There are real people behind the Twitter accounts most of the time." It's definitely worthwhile as "real" people who have similar goals or are interested in what you are doing can connect with you. It's quick, to the point, and personal.

Walker said, "I didn't do anything with MySpace. Communicating with people on MySpace is a nightmare because of restrictions. For example, there are only a certain number of messages that you can send out to people per day."

On Facebook, Walker has an "artist page" with her music and event list. She emphasized how effective Facebook was, explaining "Advertising on Facebook is so targeted in terms of demographics that it is incredibly effective. You can also set a budget for the ad." She also mentioned how efficient it is that MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook are all connected now.

She moved on to the next topic, which was band websites, such as ReverbNation. However, Walker talked about an international market. For example, Overplay is an England-based web site. She said, "People in different countries have different ears." She also talked how excited she became when she found a Japanese web site on which there were 2000 Japanese bands. The main reason why she focused on international web sites is that she is always looking for things that are not being used as widely as other sites and are slightly less popular because when sites become too popular, everyone uses them and the content tends to be the same. It is therefore harder to differentiate yourself as an artist and get exposure.

What about video sites such as YouTube, Google video and Metacafé? She commented, "everything is 'video' anyway." So, independent musicians should pay close attention to learning how to make videos for free considering their usually limited budgets. Also, it is crucial and helpful for them to track how many people get to listen to their music each day.

The next topic was branding with consistency. Consistency is the most important point for independent musicians, regardless of their budgets because you don't want to send mixed messages to the audience. Artists should always check to see if someone has already used their names already when registering on social media sites.

Regarding quality, musicians, as artists, should see themselves as a "self-containing entity" by designing their own brands themselves, such as photos, their appearance and websites' backgrounds, etc. That's what Apple, Inc. does. Walker said, "You have to look like you're already successful."

What about funding? She came to a conclusion about that point when randomly spending her money for Louis Vuitton bags- "You have to invest your money in yourself and your music. If you are not going to do it, why would someone else? Invest your money in your music, no matter what." And, when you sell your project, the most effective tool is videos, which are visual and tangible.

Live showcases are good opportunities for musicians as well. For example, Best Buy stores in NY now have live showcases, which are non-paid opportunities for artists to perform to a new audience. She added, "As an independent artist, you should be able to find at least 500 people who buy your album."

Coming back to the original story about how she got a record deal, she said, "Here's the first thing that you can do - create a "what you've done" portfolio that contains any positive press you have received, what articles have been written about you, what kind of media exposure you've had, when, where, and what radio has played your music, what events you've been to, awards that you've been nominated for, etc.

Speaking of the press, she mentioned that she had been interviewed by Time Magazine and The Boston Globe because she went to Hillary Clinton Rally events in NY and walked directly up to those reporters herself. Although they mainly liked "her age" a lot, those interviews definitely had a positive impact on her online buzz. However, it is obvious that not everyone is courageous enough to walk up to the reporters, so here is her recommendation. There is a web site called Musicxray.com, and it can be very helpful if you are looking for media or press. Here's another convincing story/example. When she looked at a web site called HELLO MUSIC, she found an opportunity in which Delta Air Lines was looking for music to play for their radio program on flight. She submitted her music to them and they accepted it. Now, you can listen to her music during a flight to London.

The last point that she made was about "thinking outside a music box." She went to a lot of music industry networking events in New York, but she found that they were all the same people with the same information, which was rather boring and even made her think that she didn't make any progress and it wasn't worth her time. After finding a lack of respect and a lot of clatters in those NYC music events, she started going to non-music-related events, such as general social media networking events. Of course, she talked about her music to people there and ended up getting a great deal of attention from them. Looking back at those experiences, she pointed out a great advantage that she learned about how to effectively use social media "early." Also, she realized that all industries were related anyway. Her current goal is still to find things "early."

One of the last things Walker shared was how she spent each day. She worked a 9am - 5pm job, went back home and got on the computer to do social media networking, went and boxed at the gym, and then back home for more social media networking before going to sleep/passing out. Behind her busy daily routine, there was something which has kept her working so hard. On January 1st, 2009, her life got changed when her mother passed away. Her mother was the person who always created music with her and knew that Walker wanted to be a recording artist. When her mother was gone, she thought, "She is not going to see me successful." Something clicked and she developed a new level of determination. "I am done. I am done with pretending that I want to be a recording artist, and instead, I am going to be a recording artist. I have nothing to lose because I just lost everything."

It was probably this "turning point" in her life which caused some personal changes within - all for the better, and led her to work so hard, dig into social media, and come out on the winning end of it with a record deal.

So what's the moral of Ms. Walker's story? You can wait around for someone to come and find you because you think you're that good, or you can save your money and not invest in your music because you're still waiting for that someone to find you, and you can even do what the masses do - go to the same social networking sites with the same strategies as everyone else and take a number. Or, you can decide to do things out of the ordinary. See yourself as an artist instead of someone who wants to be an artist. Invest the money in your music as if you believe in yourself, because after all, if you don't, why should anybody else? Find non-traditional means of getting media and press exposure. Learn how to work the system, and think outside of the box. There are opportunities out there to be successful, but unless you want to wait until you're old and gray (and they may not come even then), you'd better roll up your sleeves, network, put the time in, and become someone that people notice because you are finding new and innovative ways for them to notice you. Don't be afraid. Empower yourself and watch the rewards follow.


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