CMW Panels usually include a lot of talking heads that offer plenty of theories and future projections but fall short on providing practical tips that are useful on the here and now.
At CMW 2019 there was one notable exception that bucked the trend: Rick Barker. Barker is Taylor Swift’s former manager, served as a consultant to Big Machine Music and is a wiz at social media: one who seems to have his pulse on how to market yourself effectively via digital platforms.
For the average recording artist – but also applicable to those who are somewhat ham-fisted when it comes to social media skills in general – Barker’s “How To Be A Social Media Ninja In Just Under An Hour” was nothing short of revelatory.
First, he polled the musicians in the room and by a show of hands persuaded them to admit that while they were active in social media, they weren’t exactly setting the world on fire with the progress they were hoping for.
And it was easy to see why: they weren’t in the proper mindset.
“This is what we should think about,” Barker explained. “Social media is a tool for engagement. It’s not a place where you just show up and talk about yourself all the time. You can market without being ‘salesy.’”
He further elaborated that an artist needed four platforms to be successful in this day and age: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. No surprises there, right?
But he got them to expand their thinking in terms of realizing just how robust, flexible and expansive those platforms are..., especially when it comes to reaching and engaging audiences – and especially when it involves your cellphone.
You have to be proactive.
“You are your own media mogul,” Barker insists. “You have the ability every day to be your own PR department, your own videographer, photographer – you can record your own music, you can collect money. All in the palm of your hand. But the problem is, we wait for people to discover us – instead of us going out and finding them.”
The key takeaway is that he showed you how to do it with on-the-spot instruction. Favouring Instagram Live, for example, he noted that signing onto the platform and touching the camera icon will notify your followers that you’re signing on, which will in turn alert followers of the followers, and set off a chain reaction of engagement that literally costs nothing.
A two-faced icon at the bottom of your screen can be clicked on if someone is requesting that you add them to the feed, and then even more followers of that person are joining in to see and hear the latest from you.
“This is a way for you, without having to pay for it – to get your music in front of these folks,” Barker explained. “That’s what’s good about bringing people on.”
Barker says that fans, in general, don’t care about video as much as the audio - and engaging with them on a social platform offers them a unique connection that is endearing.
“You are someone’s favourite artist,” he notes. “Might be your Mom right now. But think of how you would feel if your name ended up on one of your favourite artist’s social media posts? Go make somebody feel special.”
With over 600m daily active users on Instagram Story, Barker says it has excellent potential and allows you to stick out – but engagement is the key.
“What Taylor did not use social media for as a way to say ‘Do For me. Vote for me. Look at me,” he said. “Go look at most artists – that’s how they’re using it. And it’s not real cool.”
He demonstrated how an API code – one that allows different platforms to talk to each other – could be utilized to “hear music on your Spotify without leaving Facebook” by hitting a share button.
Barker also implored artists posting their music to realize that - while their music may be old to them, it's brand new to others - so they should be posting it and sharing it with as many new sources as possible.
He also discouraged people from following what he calls "the label mentality."
"We get caught up in this label mentality – 'This is my last single,' he warns. " You don’t have to release singles. You’re not under the same pressure as a record company to do so."
When it comes to posting on all platforms, Barker says the practice he follows is a Social Media Meal Plan: "I'd like to give people something for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
A scheduling button allows you to post during different time zones to be in sync with your foreign fans.
As for monetizing one's posts, Barker mentioned a Nashville singer and songwriter named Dawn Myers who ventured onto Facebook Live three-and-a-half years ago and created a virtual tip jar.
"She showed up every day, played her songs and took requests," Barker said. "In her very first year. She earned almost $73K. Now she's up to almost $200K a year. She gets $3K per house concert, was flown to Mexico to play at a wedding and recently is back from Europe from another one."
Barker says the key to social media success is connection and consistency.
"We’re focused on the wrong things," he says. "Our likes, our followers, the number of plays we have. All three of those things can be purchased. What we can’t purchase is engagement. What we can’t purchase is caring about each other."
Barker urges musicians to explore and discover what social media powers they may have at their fingertips. It's probably more than they could have ever imagined.
More can be learned at RickBarker.com.