Music industry: The numbers game


The rate at which the Wasatch Front breeds successful musicians causes double-takes. Such prolific artists seem to emerge from vacuums, but most have carefully crawled from the bottom, tried their hand at the numbers game and won.

The music industry “numbers game” involves creating a world-class music product and then sticking as many hooks in the water as you can, according to Andrew Maxfield, BYU Intro to Music Business teacher. Artists stick hooks in the water by experimenting with methods of gaining followers. When their method works, they “win,” in the sense that their music finds relevance in the industry on a large scale. To win the numbers game, Maxfield recommended that artists share their music with as many people as possible.

“If you talk to 10 people and one says, ‘Cool, I’ll check out your band,’ that’s good,” Maxfield said. “But what that really means is that if you want 1,000 fans, you need to reach out to 10,000 people.”

High-profile exposure

Some Utah artists gain their audience through participation in high-profile contests and TV shows. These methods build an artist’s audience, whether or not they win the contest.

When Jessica Bassett sang on “American Idol,” Ellen DeGeneres was blown away. DeGeneres invited Bassett to play on her talk show, helping Bassett gain more followers. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

Jessica Bassett, an information systems major at UVU, tried out for “American Idol” and got air-time on the show in January. She made it through a series of producers but not past the initial celebrity judge panel. Bassett said she wouldn’t trade her “American Idol” experience for anything. She recommends a confident approach to other musicians.

“Whenever you’re in an audition, just be fearless and don’t worry about what’s going to come of it,” Bassett said. “Have expectations that something great is going to come, but don’t have expectations of how it’s going to come.”

Bassett’s exposure through “American Idol” landed her an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, and now Bassett’s song “Lydia” is available on iTunes, Beats Music and Amazon music.

Ryan Innes, BYU graduate and musician, gained publicity through the TV show “The Voice.” Innes valued this experience. He said his social media numbers at least tripled and that the publicity he received from being on the show is the kind one can’t pay for.

“‘The Voice’ was never meant to be an end all,” Innes said. “It was all about helping me further what I was already doing.”

Power shift: The artist now harnesses power

Those who don’t choose high-profile exposure still harness power as artists. Power has shifted over time in the music industry, according to Maxfield. For music products initially, power placement lay ambiguously in the physical place of purchase.

“Not only did the artist have no idea who was buying their product and why, and what they thought of it, but the record label and distributor didn’t either,” Maxfield said.

Then a lot of power shifted to the channel. Channels, like iTunes, grappled power because of their closeness to the consumer.

Now, social media grant artists proximity to fans. Musicians can target and interact with their “numbers” of fans with more intimacy and strategy. Social media make the numbers game simpler for artists themselves.

Handling social media strategically

Artists should use social media deliberately and tactfully, according to Maxfield. He sees social media as a means to an end, where the end goal is the creation of a direct relationship between the musician and consumer.

“A lot of people just shoot an arrow in the dark while looking the other way and say, ‘Phew, got my marketing done,'” Maxfield said. “But the big-picture objective is that artists need to own the relationship with their fans as directly as possible.”

Mimi Knowles and BYU student Jay Homewood showcase Homewood’s car, which sports Knowles’ Instagram advertisement. (Photo by James Curran)

Mimi Knowles, pop/funk/soul musician of Provo, said social media help him reach fans where they already are.

“Some people may notice the flyers on the car, but most won’t because they’re looking at their phones,” Knowles said. “That’s why I use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and my blog to reach people that are social media addicts like myself.”

Knowles also uses social media to engage his audience outside the virtual world. Through social media, he invited fans to be a part of his “A Little Bit Of” music video. Knowles also advertises by placing WrapMatch decals on cars. Fans who spot one of the cars and take a picture with it can post the pictures to Instagram (@themimiknowles). They are then entered in a drawing for free tickets to Knowles’ Feb. 28 show at Velour.

To musicians like Knowles, fans are more than just numbers in the numbers game.

“My goal is to make my fans my friends,” Knowles said. “Some artists have an elitist mindset and want to keep a barrier to maintain a level of stardom. I think that’s dumb. I want to party with friends that like to party to my music.”

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