Independent Artists Embrace Twitter Music to Raise Exposure

Twitter released one of the worst-kept secrets in technology last week, further spring-boarding its business into a media company with a standalone iOS app and new subdomain built around music discovery.

Twitter Music looks like a neatly organized table of album covers that can be arranged by popularity, emergence, suggestions, and the songs or bands that users and their followers are listening to at any moment. The application is based on users’ existing Twitter activity, so the artists they follow will automatically appear in Twitter Music and those profiles will provide more detail into the artists they follow or listen to on the service.

Twitter Music offers users a clean, visually rich environment to discover new artists and listen to music from the bands they already follow without leaving Twitter. Because Twitter launched the service prior to arranging any deals with record labels, users will only get to listen to a preview of songs unless they subscribe to Rdio or Spotify and opt to connect their account for access to full tracks.

Twitter gave artists like Ne-Yo, Blake Shelton, Moby, Jason Mraz and Wiz Khalifa early access to the service to help promote the service and drive interest leading up to its full-scale launch. But as much as those artists have a vibrant and massive following on Twitter, very little of their success can be directly tied to what they do on the platform. Most artists don’t have the luxury of massive ad campaigns, marketing teams and promoters working behind the scenes and within the machinery of major record labels. For these bands and musicians, Twitter is a lifeline – a frictionless channel for them to promote, engage with fans and, if they’re lucky, sell their art.

Isaiah “Ikey” Owens has straddled both worlds. He didn’t have to worry much about self-promotion during his decade-long run as the keyboardist for Mars Volta or when he toured with Jack White’s backup band, The Buzzards, last summer. But when he’s home in Long Beach, California, or not working as a session recording artist with other bands, Owens looks to Twitter to raise his exposure as an independent artist and producer. Particularly on weeks like this when he is trying to get the word out about the just-released “Chaine Infinie” EP from Free Moral Agents, a project he began as a solo artist in 2003 that eventually grew into the five-piece band it is today.

“I rely on that stuff as an independent businessman. I don’t market. I don’t take ads out. I don’t really like doing that stuff. I’ve been able to make a career out of just using Twitter and social networking for bands to find me, and for people to hear what I’m doing,” Owens says.

“It just makes things easier. That’s the big thing when you’re touring and you’re a musician booking your own tours, which we do… If you’re playing with a band in Arizona, you want access to that band’s fans and the people that have come to see you, and you can get that immediately with [Twitter],” he says.

"Even when we’re not on tour, people can see what’s going on and be a part of it, and have that feeling of what our world is even though they may be in Japan or Iowa or wherever,” Owens adds.

Twitter is receiving equal enthusiasm from marketers like Rachel Masters, partner and co-founder of Red Magnet Media, which has managed social media campaigns for Linkin Park, Duran Duran, Incubus and Blush.

"For those of us that have been in the digital music industry for a long time, we have been dreaming of various music discovery platforms and algorithms and social graphing solutions. So anything that becomes productized and comes to the market in a big way is exciting to me,” she tells ClickZ.

"It’s an immersive music discovery experience and that’s what I really think has been lacking in the marketplace,” adds Masters. "In my mind, there’s so much content that’s out there and the big problem that’s happening today is that most people don’t know about it,” adds Masters. 

With Twitter Music, “I can go into an artist and see who they’re following on Twitter and discover new music that way. It really allows artists to be tastemakers and help us see who they’re fans of and get to know them better. That’s the magic of Twitter in my mind,” she adds.

“Twitter’s just way more to the point,” says Owens. “It’s not all this clutter of who’s dating who, and whose birthday it is and all that stuff. It’s kind of what you have to say that day and here’s some music. It’s just nice and simple that way.”

Knowing how critical Twitter has been for his career, especially over last three years, Owens still shakes his head when bands fail to recognize the importance of being active on social media.

“I work with bands who are like ‘I don’t tweet,’ and then after that they’ll go 'how do we get more people to our shows, man? I want to be huge,’” he says.

"If you don’t want to tweet, it’s not a political stance, it’s the world we live in. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t want to do any social networking then have fun staying home and playing for all your friends the rest of your life, which is cool. But don’t complain when you see other bands taking off and say how unfair it is. They’re really good at taking advantage of that stuff,” Owens says.

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