Photo by Alex Eriksen

Back in the day, the only “social media” bands had came in the form of homemade cassette tapes. Then came the e-mail list, then Internet distribution and websites, followed by Facebook, Twitter and all the rest. Now, the streets of the Internet are crowded with soapboxes, each one with a band perched on top. With every one of them shouting at the top of their lungs it’s impossible to hear any single one distinctly. Likewise vice-versa, in a marketplace of literally thousands of bands no single one can rise above another. The end result is you have fans picking and choosing based on recommendations by friends or websites. A challenge is laid before the bands: how to find their way into these listeners’ ears.

“If there’s a theme here it’s giving fans something instead of marketing to them blatantly,” said Eliot Van Buskirk, editor of Evolver.Fm and a lead analyst at the Echo Nest. At Evolver.Fm he follows the trends of the music app world; at the Echo Nest he helps that world expand. The panel bandied between the gimmicks and the proven tools to help any band, everything from getting fans to shows to buying merchandise and music using their social media tools and apps. The metrics of online traffic come in many forms, but all translate to how popular a band is. Likes on Facebook, mentions on Twitter, sharing an artist’s music through streaming services—these all contribute to a band’s cred but don’t matter much when they don’t translate into sales. “You might have a million fans on Facebook, but you don’t know where they are,” said Jason Leckberg from Eleven Seven. “Having content people want to share—that’s the bottom line.”

In a panel that included Sonar, Foursquare, Soundtracking and Banjo, it was unanimous that tracking data by location is among the most interesting thing happening in the field. It doesn’t exist yet, but panelists fantasized about an app that pings your phone when close to a venue where an artist you’re following, or should be following, is playing and if tickets are available. “Geo-fencing” is just one of these developments; you walk into an area where an invisible fence sends a signal to your phone. If there are venues or shows nearby or special deals you’ll be alerted instantly. This approach, being expanded upon now by Foursquare and its Radar app, will send you such alerts. In the more local sense there are apps venues and artists can use to spur attendance or interest. “One of the things I love using Foursquare is checking in,” said Steven Jang from Soundtracking. “If I see friends checked in at the venue, we have that mutual connection.”

There are pitfalls to the social media game, the biggest being wasting your time. Things like scavenger hunts while beloved by diehards are met with indifference by casual users. “If your music doesn’t move people then the gimmick won’t work,” said Leckberg. The panel had advice not just for bands but venues, as well as companies designing their own apps. “There’s a labor versus happiness dynamic,” said Jang. “The easier it is, the happier users will be.” In a field where pie-in-the-sky ideas are pitched every day, Foursquare’s Jonathan Crowley urged common sense ideas over grand schemes. This applies especially to venues that the panel recommended using social media to the fullest. “If you could put your venue in the path of the highest amount of foot traffic, wouldn’t you?” said Jang, a part owner of a club himself. Whether you’re a band, club owner or promoter, if you aren’t using all forms of social media, whether it be streaming services, location-based services or messaging services, prepare to get left behind.