You've done it! You've beaten the odds and actually produced a hit record. People know your name (or at least, they know your song), but with the short attention span of the internet age, you could be forgotten by tomorrow.
Change happens constantly and rapidly in every aspect of the music industry, and unless you play the game correctly, you could quickly become as much a thing of the past as physical album sales and hits being broken by terrestrial radio.
Luckily, there are 10 rules you can follow, which will allow you to remain at the forefront of listeners' minds (and ears) and promote yourself so that you don't fall victim to the career-killer that is being forgotten.
Stay in the Marketplace
Mystery is history. Remove yourself from the scene and you're forgotten. Your number one concern is satiating your fans. You do this by giving them news updates and new music. Music is now primarily one-offs on YouTube and SoundCloud. An acoustic cover of a new hit or a classic can work wonders; people already know the song so they don't tune out and they love to pass these things on, potentially converting newbies.
As for news, unless you're a superstar, keep it under the radar and don't overdo it. Put your music on your website and socials, BUT ONLY ONCE! Sure, if you're inclined to, post updates on your life and opinions on the social networks. But you must do it yourself. If you're employing someone to do it, the audience can tell and it works against you. You don't want to look like you're working it.
When you've reached the pinnacle there's only one way to go, down, and it's a long, hard climb back up. So do your best to maintain your status until...
Releasing New Music
It must be great, it must be a hit, or don't even bother. You want to keep up your momentum. A stiff can move you backward. Nobody knows anything, but you know when you've crossed the bar; when you've achieved greatness. Your heart pitter-patters after composing the song, or upon hearing the final mix. If you're not reaching this peak, don't double-down, take a break.
Great art is based on inspiration, which comes at the strangest times, when you're in the shower, when you're reading the newspaper, the more you live your normal life the better chance you have of capturing lightning in a bottle. As for songs written by others, if you're in Nashville, if you're a superstar, you get the best, because the writers want to make money. But if you're not Luke Bryan, it's best to compose yourself, because you're evidenced in the song—it's personal—or try to work with outside people, those not part of the usual system. If it's pop, yes, there's nobody like Max Martin, but too many of these songs sound alike, they were made in a factory, and what draws people most is the outside cut, the different. Don't be afraid to take a chance.
Forget it unless you're established; if you've had hits in the past and are not going have one in the future. The album will garner you publicity, even though radio won't play it, and no one wants to hear new songs in concert. It's a circle jerk, the last remnants of an old paradigm. So, you can go for the low hanging fruit, or you can truly be a musician and try to play the game like the youngsters, try to cut a hit. Believe me, people will give it a listen.
As far as gaining traction...
You Need a Team
Nothing succeeds on its own anymore. You need a team of people lobbying the tastemakers. Go with a team that is excited about you, not the team that has the most success—they don't need you. But chances are you've already signed to a label anyway. In that case, make friends with the powers-that-be. Keeping your label at arm's length is a disaster. Have dinner with the president, take the promo staff out for a brainstorming session, send an email when someone does something good. People want to work for those they know who are nice, it's no different in music than it is in any other walk of life. Your label is in the marketplace 24/7, they know who they can work, whereas you don't come to bat that often.
The Single Stiffs
This happens more often than not, so it's best to have something else in the pipeline, something that sounds different, that you also believe is great. Give it a shot, but not until you're sure the prior track is dead. But that could be as soon as a month, even sooner. People have short memories, they forget the stiffs, as long as you subsequently have a hit.
This is tricky because it means less than ever before and nothing is worse than playing a cut that has already failed. Don't expect much, but you can get lucky.
Not as important as online, although the major news outlets are there too. DO NOT DO A TYPICAL STORY/INTERVIEW WHERE YOU SAY THIS IS YOUR GREATEST ALBUM EVER AND HOW. People ignore this stuff, they've seen it too much, it's just hype. It's better to just have a squib or a quick review, or else a full interview that's more about you than the music. The best instance of this is the Father John Misty story in the New Yorker—it's what Rolling Stone used to do. He came across as an individual, as opposed to part of the working combine. Also, it was OFF CYCLE! That's the new game. If you've got any traction, you want stories long after the new music has been released, both talking about its run in the marketplace and where your head is at. Front-load at your peril.
There is a cornucopia of outlets. Have your PR team service them all. You'd be stunned how many just print your press release verbatim.
It comes last today. Even if you're a superstar. The action is all in streaming. Become a student of the Spotify charts, see what is working, how long the tracks stay on. Also, note that often times, the most successful cuts sound completely different from the rest. You can get lucky, people can stumble on to your track on a playlist and get hooked, even if they didn't know you before.
The new payola—even if you're just paying a service. If you're truly a star, your team has a relationship with Spotify and Apple (and Amazon!). It behooves these services to make hits, it burnishes their image, shows evidence of their power, but they're run by data. If you're not reacting, you're done.
Don't become too invested in cleaning up on the road. The shorter the better. You want to be in the studio, you want to make records. If you have enough hits, you can work forever. Once you go on tour you're forgotten. Oh, the music press might publicize your initial date, you might get a review in every market—if you're lucky—but it's just that the action is all in cyberspace, online, on streaming services. Out on the road, you're in your silo, doing nothing but making dough. Unless, of course, you do something different, which almost nobody does.
The best example is Phish's Baker's Dozen at Madison Square Garden, not repeating any song in a seemingly endless number of dates. Their fans can't stop telling everybody they know how great this is, it puts Phish top of mind.
Yes, there's more than one way to play this game. But if you think taking a year to make an album that you publicize for a month or more before release and then sell an 18-month tour at the same is the game to be played, you're living in the past. The present rules, wake up and change, it's good for you!
By Bob Lefsetz. Reprinted with permission from The Lefsetz Letter, subscribe via Lefsetz.com.