Four ‘Wild West’ Principles That Hold True in the Modern Music World

Post originally published on CDbaby DIY BLOG March 9th, 2019.  

I survived the polar vortex and now spring appears to be just around the corner, although I have not yet consulted with the groundhog. 

To get out of my comfort zone a bit, I went ahead and hopped in a rental car for a day to go experience an open mic night in Denver at Swallow Hill Music, a nationally renowned folk community.  The folks there were welcoming and the host even invited me back to play their “best of” open mic night as soon as I am able to return. I got to listen to some great new albums on the drive, spend time with my friend and fellow singer/songwriter Chris Koza, and get a few glimpses of the mountains at sunset and sunrise. 

The digital music world is a little bit like the Wild West. Can you survive? 

Driving 14 hours in the car and visiting this long standing community of musicians gave me a lot to ponder across the desert highlands. Through western Nebraska and the homes of Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express museums I started thinking about the music industry in the digital age and how it really reminds me of a new frontier, however less bloody than the Wild West of America in the 1800s. 

Internet giants like Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are all laying the tracks and infrastructure for this new digital revolution of creative content and artists and businesses everywhere are riding around like lawless bandits trying to grab any opportunity and attention they can. However, as supply goes up, demand goes down, and with more music than ever traveling farther and faster than before, it becomes increasingly easy to get lost in the expansion. 

So what does this mean for me as an independent artist as information train tracks have been hardwired into every person’s home and soon Amazon will even have the ability to send physical items via drones to each person’s front door? 

How can you thrive in the lawless digital age? 

Looking back at the wild west through the lens of various good, bad, and ugly western movies, the dominant currency for success seems to have been competency, trustworthiness, self preservation, protecting you and your loved ones, and few but mighty words. For the sake of really driving this metaphor home on this 14 hour drive let me break down how these traits could apply in modern day to an artist or really anyone trying to navigate the digital world. 

Competency

Do you do things efficiently, and correctly? Now that the internet has presented us with millions of options, people are getting better at ranking brands’ abilities to do things the right way. 

In today’s world, competency seems to be measured by social influence. Social influence is measured by how many followers you have. How many followers you have really comes down to how consistent you are at producing quality (authentic and inspirational) content. 

You will know if you are (C) producing quality content, if you are (A) creating your content consistently, and also (B) gaining followers.  C = A and B.  Once you are (C) producing quality content, (A) consistently, it’s only a matter of time before you also gain social influence. 

Trustworthiness

You want to create the impression you are dependable, strong, reliable, and honest. In the real world this is as simple (and challenging) as telling the truth, avoiding gossip, showing up when you say you will, saying no when you need to, and keeping the promises you make. 

On the internet, guess what, it’s exactly the same! Your internet presence, however, is much more curated, and if you’re building a presence outside close friends and family you need to show up consistently for all those other people in your social network that aren’t in your inner circle. 

The nice thing about building trust online is that you can keep up with many more people more efficiently, think more carefully about what you say before it comes out of your mouth/keyboard, and there are plenty of tools to help you stay organized in keeping up with your promises. 

Protecting yourself and those you love. 

Communication is a two way path. With information sharing in today’s world, people are not only taking out their wallet to purchase your merch, music, and tickets, they are putting their reputations on the line when they interact with you via a “like,” “comment,” “follow,” or “share.” 

The same way Donald Trump’s brand influences his followers’ reputations, his followers’ reputations are also heavily influencing Donald Trump’s brand, for better or worse. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point. Whether you realize it or not your brand is affected by who and what you’re associated with. 

To protect yourself and your followers, make sure your brand stays true to your promise of who you are. If people feel unsure of you in this way, don’t be surprised if they no longer associate with your brand. Taking a stand on sensitive issues is a great way to draw a line in the sand and clearly define your brand, but only you can be the judge of when that’s appropriate, and if the cost of alienating certain people is worth it. 

Few but mighty words. 

In a world where everything seems to be speeding up, remember to slow down. Don’t try to be everywhere at once. Take a step back and look at the big picture of what is happening around you. Don’t chase the gold just because it seems everyone around you is. 

Everything actually “happening” in the digital realm is between real people. They are not numbers. They have feelings, hopes, and desires just like you. Moving to a big city can make you feel small — and the internet is the biggest city of all. Find your communities on and offline, and in the wise words of Susan Werner, “bloom where you are planted.” 

For the sake of anyone reading this who might not be a musician, I hope you still find something here to consider when it comes to your relationship with the internet world. These principles of competency, trust, self preservation, and few but mighty words are not new. When I get lost in the news feed and feel left behind in this fast changing world I know I could use a post like this to remind me of what’s important. Hopefully this post will be a welcome reminder for some of you too.

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