So here’s a dirty secret a lot of people don’t want to admit too. Most artists can’t get anything out of long tail marketing. Where long tail marketing was often viewed as the savior of the industry I think that a lot of people have radically overestimated its potential value, or at least don’t really understand what it means. This is something I’ve started to discuss with a lot of people recently, and it’s one of those things that makes long tail marketing such a struggle. And yes -if you don’t know what long tail marketing is I’m going to explain it to you in a minute. I just want to take a minute to appreciate how miserably fucked we all are. Look at it this way, do you know who Romeo Santos is? How about Ricardo Arjona? Jeff Lynne? You might know one or two of those guys, but guess what, they are all headlining at Madison Square Garden in the next few months. Y’know – one of the biggest venues in America, and they are trying to survive in the long tail.
For the uninitiated long tail marketing is the concept that in the age of the internet you don’t need to be one of the biggest artists in the world to be able to succeed and have a career in music. It says that you can exist deep down the line because there is a lot of money being spread out down there since we are no longer as focused on stars as much and someone needs to be making that money after all. Why can’t it be you? And that’s certainly fair enough. It’s a model that I personally know a lot of artists, professional ones, base their careers off of. It’s a model that I think a lot of people should be looking at if they want to realistically understand how to get ahead in the music industry because these days it’s the only realistic model we have. The thing is of course that it’s not necessarily a model that works for everyone. In fact it sometimes feels like it’s just another model selling false promises in a world of grief and forcing us to choke on it once more. Let’s dig in to that a little bit.
I think the problem that I have with the long tail marketing model is two fold. First ir presents this weird socialistic view of the industry. But when it comes down to it that’s not really how any of this works. First of all there ae long tails within long tails. That is to say a band like Conan is in the long tail of a band like The Sword or Sleep, and a band like Against The Grain are in the long tail of Conan and then a band like Mr Plow exists in the long tall of that. All of those bands excluding Mr Plow have been full on professional musicians at some point or still are professional musicians. Which is awesome. But again, it’s important to realize that these things are nested fractally and for you to become the long tail of even one subsection of a subsection requires a ton of success and doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to make money. In other words – you can’t just hide in the long tail, if you want to survive in a long tail industry you still need to be out there grinding it out, because even cult fame is hard to come by in this day and age.
Look at it this way – in order to be a professional musician in a touring rock band you basically need to be able to sell 200 tickets in a given market and move $1500 in merch a night and do that 100 nights a year. That is – essentially – the bare minimum, and that’s really fucking hard to get at. Simultaneously, there are a ton of musicians in a ton of genres who do that and grind it out non stop and it’s really cool to get to see that and be a part of that. However, when people talk about realistically making a living at this in the long tail this is what that means. It doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly going to be playing shows to 500 people and can do select one offs when you want because you are getting so many Spotify placements. Because that’s another key thing – those streaming placements you’re getting make you just as much as press does, Nothing. At least not directly. You need to be capitalizing on it and growing from there.
The other thing to understand with long tail marketing is you need to make sure there is a long tail for you to fall under. That is to say, if you are making music that is hopelessly out of date, widely viewed as uncool and with limited people thinking that you are at all worth engaging with then the odds are that you’re not going to wind up getting anything out of this. You’re going to wind up sad and angry, not because the people trying to help you out are bad people but simply because there just isn’t enough of a market out there, and that’s what aggravates a lot of musicians. They want to createsomething in a market that simply doesn’t exist and that’s a huge problem. It can be because the music is straight up bad, or just because it is presently uncool o not done a lot. If you’re trying to figure out why your band isn’t having the success that you feel you deserve, ask yourself, “have there been any other bands in this style that have come up from a similar position to us in the last 5 years?” If there are not then it means that you’re fucking yourself over if you’re trying to become a profitable act (Plenty of people just create for the love and that’s cool too) and you’re getting stuck in a position that is not only unhelpful but also a waste of time and money.
So yes the long tail works and you can make a lot of money within it but only if you meet a pretty clear set of criteria. These criteria aren’t necessarily impossible to meet, and some of them are downright easy but you need to realistically look at the market if you want to go somewhere. I know that this can be a bitch and I know that this can make music feel like a job but look how far you got in an article on long tail marketing, the odds are that you’ve got enough wherewithal to at least sit down and analyze if there is a long tail for you to fall under or if you’re just wasting your time and need to go back to the drawing board. Again, if you don’t care about profits, totally cool, but keep this in mind if you’re trying to turn into the real deal.