By Dave Marcello
Let’s face it; you’re pretty biased when it comes to evaluating your own music. You may think it’s the most soul-filled, genre-busting art the world has ever heard, or you might view it as a trash-filled trash bag that belongs out in the trash with the rest of the trash.
Either way, you’re simply not the best critic of your own creations. Neither is your mom. As an artist, it’s key to get your music heard by people who can be critical, unbiased, and productive. Remember, it’s up to you to take or leave anyone’s advice, but it’s probably best you hear it first.
Tell me if this reaction sounds familiar when you ask a close friend or family member what they think of your song:
“Oh, that’s great, it sounds great. Everything is great!”
Do you buy that? Are you really going to take that comment to the bank? I don’t think so. Because you work hard and pour your heart and soul into your craft, at the end of the day, the people around you want to be supportive, not leave you disheartened. Friends and family can often be too close to give you accurate feedback.
The only way to get better at what you do is to recognize what needs improvement and understand how to get better. That means having a sense of how your audience perceives your work, identifying weak points in your game, and taking action based on those insights.
But up until now, you have probably made many decisions based primarily on assumptions. Take the way your mom and friends “love your music.” They very likely do love your music, but unlike some of your band’s Facebook fans, they didn’t seek your music out — and you can’t assume that the feedback of someone who loves your music because they love you is the same as someone who found your music independently.
Small artists don’t have easy access to significant data, and it’s all too common to let your own experience bias your understanding of the feedback you already have access to.
“When an artist attempts to identify where his music is being played, who’s playing it, and how it’s being received across audiences, much is left up for assumption.” — Caitlin Lopilato, greenlabel.com
Point blank — if you’re not actively trying to validate your assumptions about both your music and your audience before putting in a bunch of time, effort, and money into your music, you’re losing out.
So, how does a musician go about proving — or disproving — assumptions?
I’m a big fan of Lean Startup theory, a business-building philosophy that focuses on learning as much as you can from the market and making decisions based on what you discover. And a lot of the lessons from successful lean startups can be easily be adapted to successful music-making and DIY marketing. Among other things, customer validation plays a crucial role in helping you move past your assumptions and get meaningful feedback.
Embrace the spirit that drives customer validation: “Get out of the building and talk to existing or potential customers!” That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to actually leave your house, but it does require you to open a dialogue with your fan base. Here are three ways you can solicit feedback from fans today:
- Move beyond the retweet and the like: Social media is at its best when fans interact directly with artists. Be brave and use it as a testing ground for your songs. Ask your followers to answer specific questions about your songs or about their listening habits to get a clearer idea of your target market, straight from the source. Share works in progress and ask for help or ideas for ways to take the song to the next level.
- Get in on live streaming now: You may not have heard of it yet, but the live streaming site YouNow already has 100 million user sessions every single month. Then you have Periscope, Meerkat, Facebook Live, and more. It doesn’t get much more direct than live streaming, where you can be uninhibited and informal, like playing a live version of a work-in-progress song right from the studio and collecting instant reactions to it.
- Hit up your mailing list: You do have a superfan email list, right? Anyone willing to fork over his or her email address is going to be a great source of feedback. Whip up a brief fan feedback survey and send it to your list (I use typeform and highly recommend it).
Bonus tip: Offer an incentive as a thank you for your fans’ time, like a limited time free album download or signed t-shirt to one random participant. You’ll be blown away by how many more people will be willing to engage constructively with just that little added push — you catch more flies with honey…
You don’t have to be a white-lab-coat-rocking scientist to act like one. If you put in the work to solidify your assumptions, you’ll end up getting better feedback, making more informed decisions, and reaping the benefits sooner and more often.
Dave Marcello is Head of Artist Growth for Audiokite Research, where music creators get unbiased and affordable feedback on their songs. He’s also a kinda-crappy-but-still-trying skater and surfer.