One month ago, Rolling Stone magazine put, for the first time, an unsigned band on their front cover.
Saskatchewan, Canada's The Sheepdogs won a competition that included appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, mentoring from Kid Rock, and a tour with Kings of Leon, alongside a contract with Atlantic Records. For the past four weeks that issue of Rolling Stone has been on shelves across the world, and the question as to whether it's had an impact on their online community has been answered. No. Racking up a mere 12,000 likes on Facebook, numbers-wise they're in a similar league to acts such as Dry The River and King Charles, acts both very much still emerging here in the UK.
It a demonstration of Facebook's ability to remain a representation of genuine popularity and not industry clout. With all that weight behind them The Sheepdogs have yet to turn their new found profile into actual fans.
Facebook is still a major marketing tools for both new and established acts, allowing them direct contact to their audience in a way never before possible. Fans waiting round the backstage doors of venues to meet their pin-ups seems such a wistful idea now, as you can send a direct message to your latest music icon and get an instant response. Although acts have different levels of engagement with their fans online, generally you know that your messages are being heard on some level.
It's Facebook's ability to have one-on-one engagement that the more successful bands take advantage of, either personally or via a third party. Most bands racking up serious new likes are the ones best utilizing the social media site's many facets; photo sharing; video sharing; competition tabs; track streaming; linking to other acts, venues and brands; and responding to questions and feedback directly.
It takes dedication, but it's a fair pay off as the more you communicate the more there is for potential new fans to discover and, more importantly, share with their friends. Facebook is all about word of mouth; a great sound or idea that's interesting to one person may be interesting enough for them to pass on. From the bottom up, Facebook engagement has to be honest, interactive and creative. Your average kid on the site is not swayed by who somebody's manager is, what deal they've got, or even what the coolest blogs say. It's an absolute bullshit filter.
The fact of the matter is that The Sheepdogs are not that good a band -- their music is a pale take on Americana -- and that's exactly the point. A band -- and we're talking "bands" here, not pop music -- no matter how generously you swing your balls behind them, will not register on a grassroots level with kids if they're simply not good enough. Think about that the next time you see a band with 60, 70, or 80,000 likes on Facebook. Although marketing and press have undoubtedly played their role, they've got those fans -- that buzz -- from being a band that people want to interact with. It's the modern equivalent of seeing whether a track works in the big clubs - if people dance, you've got a hit. Same here. It's why A&R's pay so much attention to YouTube hits, why tours are put together based on download locations, and why a band like Mumford & Sons could sell out a 3,000 capacity venue without a second of radio play.
With all the will in the free press world, you can't just put a band on your front cover and expect them to become an overnight success. It's not the industry telling people what to listen to anymore, the people have found their own voice, and if you want to be heard you better get talking to them... not AT them.