So despite the insistence of Kirstie Allsopp, it turns out that location, location, location really isn’t so important after all, especially when it comes to making it in music. Whether you’re an Uptown Girl loving the noise and the hurry of Downtown or prefer driving the country road to West Virginia, the truth is, it just doesn’t matter like it used to. And sitting here, safe in the knowledge that today, thanks to the power of the Internet, you can make it anywhere (you just have to want to be a part of it), I turn my thoughts away from the business of location and towards the creation of something beautiful. For before you can use Internet technology to bring art to an audience, you first have to realise it.
There are many opportunities to create art and beauty in life, and whilst what constitutes art and beauty is rather subjective, it is commonly acknowledged that art and beautiful things do not come into being without some degree of thought, planning and pride. Packaging and presentation is also important, having the potential to make special even the seemingly insignificant. Some people can’t resist beautifying everything they touch. They iron their socks and present the smallest of gifts in the most mesmerising of packaging. Others wear odd socks and give bottles of wine without even so much as a gift tag on. Which camp do you fall into?
Ask yourself, what thing of beauty will you, as a singer, create today? A sound? A song? A story? A feeling? A tear? A memory? Perhaps all of those things?
In my last piece of writing to you, I promised that we’d consider what is and isn’t working for content creators all over the world. And don’t be put off by the term. Content Creator might seem a little cold as terminology goes, but in today’s fast converging world (you can thank technology again for that one), it’s important to remember that there are all kinds of people creating (and consuming) things out there, and whether you’re a singer or a storyteller, both types of content can and should be emotive and beautiful.
But where to start? Finding your space amongst the noise might seem risky. It used to be that a record label and mainstream media would try, try, try again with an artist who wasn’t quite achieving the required formulae of content, audience, coverage and sales. These days, however, a new artist is usually given just one shot at an album. Get it wrong with them and you’re out, yet this is where a direct-to-fan model really comes into its own.
An Internet audience will allow you to grow, rather than arrive, which is especially lucky as success rarely comes without hard work and development. As Ira Glass mentions (see his quote in the last issue of iSing), your taste may always be killer, but sometimes, what you’re making at first, is not. It takes effort, persistence, thought, intelligence and a bunch of other things to break through that period, but your audience will understand that, and it really does work. Just look at somebody like Jessica Cornish (although you might know her as Jessie J), who, over a period of six years, used YouTube and an online audience as a testing ground for her debut album. Her style truly evolved with much input from her fans, with the resulting support and adoration from audience, industry and media being phenomenal.
An audience also has the capacity to forgive in ways that the modern music industry and traditional media simply do not, and making the occasional creative mistake along the way in your mission to develop good quality content is thankfully acceptable to today’s fan-consumers. That doesn’t mean that you should completely lose grip of your quality control, though, for even with the best clean-up know-how, it isn’t always possible (or easy) to completely remove content from the Internet later down the line when your capability has improved, so tread carefully! Looking at Jessie J, again, as an example, whilst some of her early videos from her official YouTube channel have been removed by her label, there are countless copies of them available on other users’ channels that are a little more difficult for the content owners to control.
With the aforementioned cautionary point relating to quality ringing in your ears, do find reassurance in the countless number of online singer success stories (Justin Bieber, Connor Maynard, Ebony Day, Rebecca Bla… scrub that one) that you’ll be just fine if you can dig deep, be brave and throw the doors wide open for a digital audience to follow your development online.
But finding courage, of course, is just the beginning. The next job becomes about deciding what to reveal to your audience and how to package that content. I’ll leave you (at least for now) to drive your own artistry in terms of the ‘what’, but the ‘how’ is definitely something worth discussing. For this next section, I ask you to look to online bloggers for inspiration. He might not have been made famous by a corporate entity, but Charlie McDonnell makes his living from video blogging. And he doesn’t just get by. He bought an entire house using his YouTube royalties. His success centres on episodic content, the idea that each video you create will tell a story from start to finish. Research shows that whilst audiences used to enjoy shorter snippets of content online, these days they are more and more attracted to the idea of consuming television-like programming on platforms like Vimeo and YouTube, so once your artistic / musical content is decided upon, the importance of building a story around it becomes paramount.
And you then have another important decision to make: Linear or Non-linear? Linear content is designed to be viewed in a specific order, with one episode containing content that might not make complete sense should you have not seen the episode preceding it. Sharing the creation of a song and plotting the development of melody, harmony, lyrics and production in separate, linear episodes, could prove an interesting series of content for fans to engage with. The idea of a linear series allows for true storytelling (like in The Twilight Saga), and that’s all well and good when you have control over scheduling and can influence when a viewer might consume certain content, but with video platforms such as YouTube actively encouraging a more flexible approach to content navigation today, creators of non-drama video shorts are becoming more focused on non-linear content creation. Similar to The Simpsons, which resets to zero at the end of an episode (at least, for the most part), non-linear content sits very naturally with the kind of online videos you’ll likely make as a singer, but the choice is really yours.
Linear or non-linear, the most crucial thing to remember when producing your content is your opportunity to create engagement and your audience’s love of it. Thanks to the two-way nature of social media, a multiple person conversation is easily created around the things you upload, and where such conversation is present, the likelihood of your audience responding to calls to action that you embed (and you must!) within your videos increases hugely. Calls to action (CTAs) are requests that you make of your viewers, sometimes implicitly and other times explicitly. Whether you desire that they follow you on Twitter or download your latest track on iTunes, YouTube (and other platforms) makes it possible for you to embed on-screen links to compliment the CTA’s you yourself may deliver in your videos.
And whilst I leave you to begin trying some of this stuff out for yourselves, my own attention turns back to artistry. With so much content in existence today, how do you make yours stand out? It’s not by doing the same as everybody else, that’s for sure. So in preparation for the next issue of iSing, I’ll be working on some pointers for you to consider to ensure that once you’re done learning about the HOW of online content creation, you can rethink the WHAT, ensuring that you don’t just ride the waves of others, but go out and make some to call your own. Next time, we’ll focus on you creating something in answer to market need, allowing you to create the sounds of tomorrow, rather than recreating those of yesterday.
Until then, keep on creating.