Here's an interesting case study which will appear in my book The New Rules of Marketing and PR.
Music is a classic example of a long tail business. Prior to the Web, bands that didn't have a major label behind them couldn't hope to get national or global attention. The best they could do was establish a local audience in a city or region or perhaps with a definable market such as North Eastern US college students. Enter podcasting. Anybody with some simple and easy-to-use equipment can set themselves up as a radio station and get instant global distribution via iTunes and other distribution services.
"Podcasters are a different breed, they're like you and me," says Jay Moonah, musician and songwriter of the Toronto band Uncle Seth. "With TV and commercial radio and MTV-type people, they work and talk from on high. Podcasting is different. It's neat that we've made fans out of some of these podcasters, such as George Smyth of Eclectic Mix. It's fun when they play our music, and then if I email them it is great to start a conversation." Moonah says that the Indie bands like Uncle Seth that take the lead with podcasting have benefited greatly through wider distribution which generates new fans.
Editorial note to music fans: The new Uncle Seth single, an upbeat cover of Joni Mitchell's classic song Both Sides, Now (available at iTunes) is killer.
Besides working with other podcasters, Moonah and Uncle Seth also host their own podcast. In each episode the band debates, discusses wacky topics, and plays exclusive tracks of their music not available anywhere else. "The interesting thing about the show is that we made a conscious effort not to make it just the music," Moonah says. "We wanted to get some of our personality into it. So we went the direction of doing things like talking for an entire show about the first records we ever bought."
"Within the last year or so, podcasting has become a real part of the social networking thing," Moonah says. "From a technical aspect, you could do podcasting a long time ago. But for us, the social aspect is really neat, bands and other organizations combine the music and the community and mix them together. For example there a community of Canadian Jam bands where we’ve met a lot of friends. Like other online communities it has a real world community associated with it."
As Moonah has honed his expertise with podcasting and musician web sites, he's developed a side business working with bands labels and other musicians on podcasting strategy. "Especially in Canada it's difficult making a living as a musician," he says. "My thing of combining the businesses into a big circle of music and consulting and podcasting really works well for me."
"I like people to understand that podcasting has so many uses," Moonah says. "It is a legitimate thing, not a toy for kids. So the advice I have for managers and label people is to not jump into your own podcast until you listen to other podcasts. Find podcasts that you like and you think might play you and submit your music to them to get going. Then think about what you want to do if you want to make your own podcast. The people who make it work are those who understand it. As a band you can compete with radio via podcasts because you can get onto several podcasts and then people will hear you several times, just like a radio rotation."
Yes, podcasting works for the music business. But it is also effective for many other industries. How about yours?