Of glass ceilings

This post is not at all about me or my albums and songs. As someone who is lucky enough to afford making music out of pure passion without the necessity of transferring my compositions to money, I’m abolsutely content with my tools and possibilites to connect to my actual and potential listeners. I would play the same music even if I did it completely alone only to myself in a dark room – so each and every one of you who feels connected to me and to my songs makes me proud and utterly grateful. Fortunately I am not under some kind of a pressure to build a so-called “fan base” (as a terrible introvert, I wouldn’t even be able to do so…) – instead, I have the chance to concentrate on getting better in my musical and songwriting skills and to keep a personal relationship with everyone who’s interested in my efforts.

Not everybody is as lucky as I am, though. For most musicians it’s crucial to reach a wide audience, while for their potential fans (I mean us, music lovers…) it is also crucial to have the chance to reach them. And this is the real issue: how to distribute anything successfully in a world where people upload ~60000 songs/day (!) on Spotify? (And it’s just Spotify…)

Look at this graph below, depicting the daily traffic (more accurately: the daily number of listens) on my BandCamp account. The green arrow points at the self-promoted release of the remastered Hexapla, while the red arrow shows the enormous, but transient growth in listens after two days of my latest release being posted on BandCamp’s main page. The huge difference between these numerical “success rates” after self-promotion vs. immediately after promotion aided by some kind of a professional help is striking. It tells me that it is extremely hard – if not practically impossible – for an independent artist to break through the so-called “glass ceiling” and reach potential listeners without professional help.

What does it mean? For amateur musicians like me who create music for fun, it’s not crucial to be “successful” in terms of numbers, as we are not living from royalties and have no obligations towards record labels. Support is extremely important, but real support never comes from crowds, but rather from individuals. Personally, I’m extremely grateful that I can get personal (sometimes even face-to-face) feedback from people listening to my music and not from statistical analyses of stream numbers and followers. But if we approach the question from the viewpoint of a fan (and I’m definitely an enthusiast of many great bands representing a wide variety of rock and metal sub-genres), the situation is highly different. The lack of well-established and effective routes for the vast majority of artists to reach their potential listeners results in a very distorted situation, where both musicians and their potential listeners exist in separate, isolated bubbles mainly regulated by the taste and commercial interests of record labels. There may be thousands of great, innovative and unique artists out there – but the odds for a fan to find them is very low. Facebook ads, BandCamp promotions, YouTube channels and Spotify playlists – of course – can help, but the chances to get a click on an ad or page of an otherwise unknown artist is also low. It’s hard to avoid feeling some kind of a nostalgy for the 80’s, when metal still consituted a solid and uniform subculture with ways of direct interactions between musicians and music lovers, but nowadays, when the genre became more visible and exposed to the general public, it is obviously something quite unimaginable.

What’s the moral to this story? I don’t think that I want to (or can) phrase one single conclusion: I just wanted to share my shock about the huge impact that professional promoting tools exert on the visibility of a song or an album. Therefore, apart from listening to my “big”, well-known favorites, I try to find relatively unknown, independent artists that are less visible for the crowds – streaming services and portals like BandCamp or SoundCloud may provide quite good help in discovering talented musicians. This is, however, only the first step on a long journey: I honestly think that true support never comes from occasional clicks on streaming platforms, but only from the long-term and bi-directional, personal communication between musicians and music lovers.

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