Shaun Groves is a Christian musician and one of the best when it comes to engaging his audience through his blog and social media. He crowdsourced the funds he needed to record his latest album, Third World Sympathy. A couple of years ago he joined Compassion International, and began leading their Compassion blogger trips.
So, when Shaun posted to his blog a few weeks ago inviting readers to ask him any 3 questions via email, I jumped at the opportunity to pick his brain on how musicians can better use social media to engage with people.
1) How do you think social media has impacted the music industry, specifically for new artists or those with a small following who hope to making a living at it?
I can best illustrate the impact with a story. Michael W. Smith signed me to his record label after hearing one song. He believed in that song so much, and believed I could write more like it, that he took a chance and signed me to Rocketown Records back in late 2000. That doesn’t happen anymore. As piracy ramped up in the middle of the decade labels couldn’t take that kind of risk anymore. In an attempt to eliminate risk, labels began signing artists that were sure things – primarily independent artists who’d already sold several thousand discs on their own. Labels felt safe investing in an artist knowing that they couldn’t do worse than the artist had done on their own! It wasn’t long before artists were getting signed not based on their independent sales record but on the size of their mailing list, the number of MySpace friends they had, traffic to their websites. And today, labels consider an artist’s following on Twitter and the number of Likes for their Facebook page.
Social media success is considered as good a predictor as any of what an artist’s potential is. But it’s only potential. Labels and artists are still learning how to get all those fans, readers and followers to buy music and tickets to concerts. So far mostly unsuccessfully.
2) What specific social media tools and sites do you use to connect with people, and what’s your strategy for using them?
I have a personal profile on Facebook that’s maxed out (Facebok limits friends on personal pages to 5000) and so I started an artist page there a couple years ago. I’m on Twitter as well. But most of my time is spent at shaungroves.com, which is essentially a blog I’ve kept since 2005.
You’re so smart to ask what the strategy is. That’s what so many labels, in my opinion, are lacking on-line. They’re signing artists up for every social media site out there but they have no big picture strategy how it should all ideally work together. I have a flowchart that reminds me which way traffic should flow. From Twitter and Facebook (and everyone else’s Twitter and Facebook and blogs) to shaungroves.com. Specifically I want them on the homepage. Then, through links within my blog posts I can gradualy move people toward booking me to speak or sing on behalf of Compassion International or toward sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Supporting Compassion’s ministry is the goal.
So, if you already read my blog regularly I’m honored that you’d follow me on Twitter or Like me on Facebook but, really, you’re moving backward and messing up my flowchart! You’re already where I’d most like to spend time with you, where I soend most of my time and where I share the things that are most important to me personally: my faith, family, music, and ministry with Compassion International.
3) We have a lot of musicians who come to us asking “What’s the best way to promote my band online?” I believe to use social media successfully you’ve got to go in with the mindset of engaging with people rather than promoting yourself and your music. Do you agree? If so, can you explain the difference between promotion and engagement, and offer any other advice to musicians who want to use social media well?
I think we’re still trying to figure that out – where the line is between engagement and promotion. When Larry Flynt went to the Supreme Court the justices were asked to define pornography and decide if Hustler was in fact pornographic. And, anyway, one of the justices said he couldn’t define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. Well, I can’t define that line between engagement and promotion but I know it when I see it. And so do readers. I’ve crossed that line myself. Guilty. And I think most artist sites are solidly on the wrong side of that line – more of a pamphlet than a place to relate.
But, to be fair, not every artist is able to engage on-line. Some artists are truly just too busy. Others are simply not interested – they want to make music, not manage websites. And some just aren’t communicators – writing something worth reading on a regular basis uses a different set of skills than writing a song. I’m often asked if I think every artist should have a blog and be on Twitter and manage their own Facebook presence. Absolutely not! Do what you’re passionate about, gifted for, and have time to do without hurting your already existing ministry and business and family.
Thanks Shaun for your insight, your music, and your ministry!
Listen free to Shaun’s latest album, Third World Symphony, and then buy the album here. Be sure to check out Shaun’s blog at ShaunGroves.com. You can also follow Shaun on Facebook and Twitter.
What thoughts & ideas do you have when it comes to bands and musicians using blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools to engage with their audiences, sell albums, and book concerts?