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Andrew Apanov (Dotted Music/WeSpin): "Don’t Hide Behind Music – You Are an Essential Part of Your Music."

Published January 23 2015.

  by Mario

A while ago when I browsed the interweb for DIY musician tools I ran into Andrew Apanov, founder of Dotted Music and WeSpin, the former an agency offering a package of services like social media marketing, fan monetization and community building for artists, the latter a music marketing training website and community. Immediately I had the sense that we're brothers in spirit. So I asked him to answer a few questions about how DIY musicians can benefit from his services ...

50K MUSIC: First please tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Andrew Apanov, where do you come from?
Andrew: I’m someone who loves music, and loves helping musicians even more. I run Dotted Music – a music industry blog which has been around since 2009, and which is now also a full-service digital marketing agency for music brands. In 2012 I also launched an educational marketing training and community platform called WeSpin. I’ve been consulting artists, doing a podcast and a video interview series with industry representatives, speaking, organising workshops, and constantly learning how to advance others’ careers and brands. Importantly, since two years back I’ve also been enjoying living in Poland with my wife and cat. The boom of the local craft beer scene, which started just around the time we moved here, makes me particularly happy.

Back to the topic! Even earlier, for around seven years, I was an Editor, and then an Editor-in-chief at Ultimate-Guitar.com, one of the biggest guitar websites on the planet. Simultaneously, I was DJing and co-organising big night events in my hometown. I don’t DJ much these days, but plan to do it more, especially when I bring my vinyl collection over here.

When asked about where I’m from and what I do, I may reply that I’m Russian, now living in Poland, running a US-based, yet location-independent company with its team members and clients spread all around the world.

50K MUSIC: How did you come up with the idea of supporting musicians?
Andrew: My work at Ultimate Guitar was related to serving music listeners. While organising live events, I sort of served music fans, too. But even back then, and even without fully realising it, I was most excited about helping musicians – those who we had been bringing to our events, or those who we could support through features on the website. When I started to understand what I was truly passionate about, I also became more proactive in what I could do for artists. I began helping musicians I knew to build marketing plans, launched the Dotted Music blog and so on.

50K MUSIC: More than a few indie artists don't feel very comfortable promoting themselves. How do you help them with your service WeSpin?
Andrew: The main problem artists have about the promotional aspect of their careers, in my opinion, is that they approach it from a wrong perspective. For many, promoting their work online means constantly talking about their music and pushing it anywhere they can. While being good at pitching yourself is important, what artists need to learn first is something different, and so much more enjoyable.

In WeSpin, through video and text lessons and the community, I and my team teach musicians to brand themselves, use social media networks effectively, create engaging and interesting content, understand the music business and more. I want artists to understand that promoting themselves online is a very interesting and creative process. It’s also very uncomfortable at first, and it requires learning, organising yourself better, and building new habits – I never ever try to make it sound like it’s easy – but it’s very rewarding, and leads to huge successes.

50K MUSIC: What do you think how important is social media for artists to promote their music?
Andrew: Social media is where artists’ fans are! And this is where artists have to hang out a lot to build their fan bases. Many make a mistake by stopping on social media, however, relying on the networks in full. I treat social media as a channel to reach listeners (so what you create is heard and seen), capture those who are most interested (as followers, subscribers and likes), shape your brand (by showing your values, interests and weirdness through what you publish), engage and remind of yourself on an ongoing basis (via interesting non-promotional content, communicating with fans, targeted ads).

There is a lot in it, so undeniably social media is essential. Just remember that your conversion and sales “funnels” shouldn’t stop there. For example, when you want to establish an even closer relationship with your audience, capture your fans’ email addresses. When you’ve got something to sell, sell to your already interested and engaged email list first and foremost; this is where most of the sales happen, not Facebook. And while entertaining your fans with GIFs and cool links on Twitter, occasionally drive traffic to the blog posts on your website, where you can showcase your brand visually in full (and capture emails). Do not stop on social networks, but since their importance only increase every year, you have to use them in full.

50K MUSIC: How can musicians make use of social media? Could you unveil some tips to musicians to get the most out of it?
Andrew: Start with treating social media as a publishing and not promotional platform. When you think of your social media accounts as a place about others, not you, then you approach it differently. I don’t believe that you can fail if you are dedicated to serving your fans online on an ongoing basis – e.g. through delivering engaging content.

You will find a way to monetise your following, don’t stress about it too much when you only start out online as an artist. Focus on communicating with and helping others: listeners, fellow musicians, people from the industry. Show your authenticity, and people will follow. Social media is great for this.

50K MUSIC: Beyond there's the real world where musicians also should be a good hand at promoting their music. Wouldn't it be a good strategy to connect these both worlds?
Andrew: Absolutely, and we can see how important connecting with fans in the “offline” world is. To not only speak about theory, let me provide some examples right away... when communicating with fans online, thanking them for their activity, running contests or collecting email addresses in exchange of some content – why limit yourself with delivering digital files? It’s best to ship something personally, like a CD with a sticker and a handwritten note, but you can’t always do that. It’s time-consuming and can be pricey, too. At WeSpin, we occasionally ship our members postcards via an online service called Sincerely – it’s just around $2 per card. There are other services, too, like Postable, or something I recently discovered called sick.af  (a bit more expensive and probably too minimalistic, although that might work well for some projects). Websites like Handiemail  and Fountain Greetings allow you to send handwritten mail and greeting cards. Just ask your fan for an address, and ship them something!

And of course, when you ship something on your own, always personalise it. A singer of one awesome rock band I consulted last year draws hilarious, silly pictures. They remind a five-year old’s drawings. But they are so unique and funny, that fans love them. Adding one such drawing (which doesn’t take a lot to create from what I can tell) in a package with a CD or a tee turns the receiver from a fan into a super fan.

50K MUSIC: And one last hint from you how musicians can get more engaged followers and more fans?
Andrew: Be more sincere, and more confident about yourself. Don’t hide behind music – you are an essential part of your music. You are not talking to robots or idiots on social media, but real people behind their computer screens (there are idiots among them sometimes, but that’s not as common as many think; and you can ignore those easily). Don’t be afraid to show who you are, your weirdness if you want. It will not look or sound as great as you imagine the very first time, but it’s fine. Keep shipping, keep posting, and your content will be sharper and greater with ever post – and it will be attracting more fans than ever.

Andrew is about to start an online course on fan engagement for musicians ... you can register here.