Ocean of Promotion

In the September 1999 "Working Musician" column ("Expose Yourself"), we gave you several tips to help you kick your CD-promotion campaign into high gear.
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In the September 1999 "Working Musician" column ("Expose Yourself"), we gave you several tips to help you kick your CD-promotion campaign into high gear. This month we offer another installation of marketing ideas that you can add to that arsenal. Remember, although these tips are intended for the independent musician on a limited budget, you must have a sum of money large enough to realistically execute them. We suggest a budget of $10,000-an extremely modest amount in the world of record promotions. Again, your campaign should be regional in scope so you can use your limited budget most effectively; covering one area well is better than launching a poorly funded national campaign.

Refer to the table in the September issue ("The Budget Laid Bare," p. 108) for an example of how you could allocate a $10,000 budget, including some of the marketing ideas that are presented this month. You can also find that table online at the EM Web site, www.emusician.com.

GONE SURFINGA Web site is a great means of letting people know about your project. You can post sound bites, pictures, and information about upcoming shows and retail locations that sell your CD (see Fig. 1). People will bookmark your site and visit more often if you update it regularly. Keep it interesting by periodically offering contests, free song downloads, and new images. Search engines that use spider programs to find and compile Web sites are also more apt to list your site and keep it in the top 20 if it's updated frequently. (For more on promoting your Web site, check out the April and May 1998 installments of "The Biz" at www.emusician.com.)

Although many Internet providers offer free Web sites as part of their service, using a dedicated Web host server is the most professional way to go. This allows you to have your own domain name (such as www.myband.com), whereas a standard Internet service such as America Online, or a third-party music distributor such as IUMA, relegates you to an unwieldy Web address (for example, www.internetservice.com/members/music/myband). A good dedicated Web host, such as Best Internet, will help you register your domain name and get you started uploading your first pages (for contact information, see the sidebar "Promotional Resources, Part II"). It costs $70 to register your domain name for the first two years, and there's usually about a $50 setup fee with your server and a monthly service charge of about $25.

You will save hundreds of dollars in programmer fees if you learn HTML. It's easy to comprehend, and plenty of free HTML software is available for download. AOL is a great resource for HTML tutorials and software.

YOU'VE GOT MAILThe mailing list is an old standby, and for good reason: it works. If you haven't already started one, get one rolling. Sign up people at shows and people who like your sample tape, or get names from other local bands in your musical genre. Collect names ambitiously, but try to avoid including people who won't be interested in what you are doing. Including too many errant names on your list will simply waste your money on postage.

The Internet version, the e-mail list, is equally effective and much easier to work with. Trade e-mail lists with your friends, pick up "cc'd" addresses.the sources for obtaining e-mail addresses are boundless. You don't have to worry about whether all your addressees are part of your target audience, because sending e-mail is free. Armed with a list of 1,000 e-mail addresses, you can accomplish in an instant what would otherwise take days and cost you a bundle with "snail mail." You can even embed in your message a clickable link to your Web site. Don't underestimate the importance of e-mail; it's one of the most powerful promotional tools of independent musicians.

POSTCARDS FROM PARADISEPostcards are inexpensive and have a variety of promotional uses. You can use them for mailings and give them away as gifts. Music stores usually provide an area where bands leave postcards and flyers. Make your postcard a work of art-use a cool picture, eye-catching graphics, a profound phrase-so folks are more apt to hang on to them, put them on their bulletin boards, or mail them to their friends. You can generate photo-ready artwork on your personal computer with a good graphics program and a scanner. Leave the back of the card blank (except for your name and contact information); use this space to adhere stickers, made on your computer, with current information about upcoming shows and special events.

Count on spending about $150 for 1,000 full-color postcards. (Check out Modern Postcard; they do great work.) Printing is inexpensive enough that you can afford to make several different postcards for variety. If you'd like to have your postcards distributed, talk to GoCard, the company that places those postcard racks that you see in coffeehouses, gyms, and record stores. The company will print and distribute 30,000 cards for around $2,400. Describe your target market to them, and they'll help you choose the area best suited to your music from their more than 1,500 locations.

GIG A GOOD LOTYou've heard it countless times before, but this tip bears repeating: get out there and gig. Performing remains one of the best ways to promote yourself. The key to making live shows productive and lucrative is planning your strategies well in advance. Getting people to attend your show is your job, so promote your gigs at least two weeks before you play to ensure a respectable draw. Club owners hate empty clubs and will quickly put you on the "not worthy" list.

Set up a booth at the front door for collecting mailing-list names and selling your merchandise. Ask a friend to work the booth and offer him or her a commission as extra incentive. Your stage show should be tight but not overrehearsed; you want good audience interaction, minimal dead time between songs, and a confident performance. Finally, choose your gigs wisely. Don't play so many shows that you spread your limited promotional resources too thinly-one killer show with a big audience is more effective then a ton of half-baked shows with low attendance.

If you're concerned that you won't be able to rustle up an adequate draw to satisfy the club owners, open up for more popular bands. Choose acts whose style is similar to your own, and piggyback your promotional efforts on theirs. In order to find the acts you'd like to open for, you'll need to meet the right people-in other words, schmooze. For more in-depth advice, we highly recommend Tim Sweeney's audio-cassette book, Guide to Successfully Playing Live.

DON'T JUST STAND THEREAuthors make guest appearances where their books are being sold to help sell units. Musicians can do the same thing. Playing live in stores is a great way to meet the public and support the retail establishment where your album is being sold. Most stores are more than happy to have you come and perform, because it's an opportunity to generate sales for the store. Large chain stores usually have somebody in charge of booking in stores; in fact, some major chains, such as Borders, actively pursue in-store performances. Try asking for the entertainment coordinator. At smaller mom-and-pop stores, this will be handled by the owner or manager.

Treat in-store performances just as you do a regular club gig. Promote the show a few weeks ahead of time. Make sure your product is prominently displayed near the area where you'll be playing (banners work well and cost only $50 to $100, depending on size and number of colors). Set up a small table to sell additional merchandise such as T-shirts, stickers, and posters (you'll probably need to give the store a percentage of these sales); and collect names for your mailing list. Often, stores are even willing to split the cost of print ads if your draw is big enough-more people in the store means more potential store sales.

YOU OUGHTTA BE IN PICTURESWhere better to find a captive audience than at a movie theater? Think of all those people in their seats waiting to see the movie, staring attentively at the ads and trailers before the film starts. Most theaters run ads for about 10 minutes, beginning approximately 20 minutes before the movie, followed by major movie previews. You can buy these ad spots through the National Cinema Network.

Prices can be as high as $300 per week or as little as $92 per week, depending on theater and location. You get three ten-second spots at every screening in the theater that week. National Cinema Network takes your images and text and creates a slide that goes out to the theaters of your choice. (Note: it's just a slide; no sound or video is available.) In a five-screen theater you would get 315 exposures in a single week. The key to having this promotion pay off is to make sure that your slides get into theaters where your potential audience goes. Pick neighborhoods carefully and know each region's musical preferences. Your National Cinema Network sales rep can help you target your market.

PARTY ONHave a record-release party. It may sound pretty routine, but you can make it fun and profitable (see Fig. 2). Certainly, after finishing your album, you'll want to have a party and invite all your friends and family to celebrate your accomplishment. Go one step further, however, and let the press and A&R reps know about the event. These are the people who can make things happen for you, so concentrate your efforts on luring them to your gathering.

Everybody loves free food and entertainment, so use these enticements to get VIPs to show up. Have your party catered, provide some free beverages, and have a few local acts perform with your band headlining. Make sure your invitees know about these perks-they'll probably be hungry after work and come just for the food. With full bellies they'll be more receptive to your music.

Obviously, you could spend a ton of money on this sort of event, but don't. Be creative and take advantage of your resources, and you should be able to keep it under $1,000. If you have a friend with a mansion, use that; if not, find a club owner who is willing to strike a deal and let you have the club on an off night. Reserve the early part of the evening for VIPs and then charge admission later. Hand out complimentary drink tickets only to VIPs. Offer to promote the catering company along with your event in exchange for a discount on their services. Start planning and promoting your party several months in advance: book a location, contact a caterer, get the names of VIPs, send out invitations, and so on. If you plan this event well, it could open many doors for you.

PRIZE PATROLPeople love freebies; it's human nature, so take advantage of it. But don't give stuff away too easily; make people do something-even just visit your Web site-to get it. Hand out postcards that prompt people to go online and register to win goodies such as T-shirts, CDs, or backstage passes. Give people extra incentive to sign your mailing list by holding a drawing. Make it public knowledge that you give away some sort of prize at every one of your shows. If you get more people to your shows that way, it's worth springing for prizes. We know of one band that landed an endorsement deal with a well-known percussion company and now hands out inexpensive rhythm instruments at their shows. Not only do audience members get to play along with the band, but they get a souvenir as well.

Advertising your contests creatively will expand your audience. Try coupons (Val Pak will include your coupon in 10,000 mailers for about $600) or flyer inserts in the Sunday newspaper (about $30 for 1,000 inserts). Just check the demographics and make sure these promotions will reach your target market. However, the bottom line is, if it says "free" on it, somebody will look at it. If they sign up on your Web site for a free CD and they like it, you've won a new fan.

CALL MY AGENTSad though it may be, business people such as buyers for retail stores, distributors, and program directors of radio stations tend not to take artists seriously. The two usual assumptions are that artists are "flakes" and that they must not be successful enough to do business with if they are calling contacts themselves rather than having an agent do it. It's not up to you to reform their opinions, though. A better tactic is to work within the narrow framework of what is acceptable to them: have a friend act as your agent, or pretend to be somebody else and act as your own agent.

It's best to have some trusty friends function as your mouthpiece. Coach them on how you'd like to be presented, give them a goal, and let them go at it. Even better, team up with a fellow musician who's at the same stage in his or her career, and trade off business negotiations. This gives you both incentive to do a good job for each other, because each of you is counting on the other; if you slack off, you can bet your friend will become resentful and slack off, too. This kind of relationship requires a high level of trust, maturity, and good communication, so choose your partner wisely. With some effort and prudence you'll discover why the adage "Two heads are better than one" rings true.

If you're daring, create a fictitious agent and play the part yourself. Of course, this is very risky: if you're found out, major repercussions could result (such as being blacklisted), because nobody likes to feel they've been played for a fool. However, many artists pull this off successfully. Never underestimate your ability to accomplish things on your own, but do bear in mind the consequences if things should go awry.

SINK OR SWIMWorking with a tight budget is a challenge, but it can be rewarding when, through your own ingenuity and persistence, you're able to launch a campaign that gets the attention of major labels, the press, and fans. Just keep in mind these three important points: (1) keep it regional; (2) know your target market; and (3) have a plan. Choose your promotions carefully; nothing is worse than spending your money on something that yields no response. If you're unsure about your strategy, poll your fans. If you're still unsure, don't do it-spend your money on a campaign that you know will get some attention. Finally, get your marketing plan together at least six months in advance. It takes time to organize things, and it takes a lot of foresight to execute several promotional tricks concurrently.

The promotional ideas presented here, while tried and true, represent just the tip of the iceberg. Be creative in your marketing approaches, and there's no telling what you can accomplish. Don't lose sight of your goals to get your music out to the public, to sell units, and to have fun doing it. And above all, be realistic and don't take on too much at once, or you may find yourself broke with a stack of products that you can't move. Good luck!

Lygia Ferra is a songwriter/producer whose first independent release as a solo artist, Strange Peculiar, is slated to hit retail stores by the end of the year. For more information, visit www.lygiaferra.com. Erik Hawkins is a musician/producer working in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area. He recently started his own indie label, MuziCali Intertainment (www.muzicali.com).

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Network Solutionstel. (703) 742-4777Web www.networksolutions.com or www.internic.net

TSA BooksTim Sweeney & Associates21213-B Hawthorne Blvd., Ste. 5255Torrence, CA 90503tel. (310) 542-1322fax (310) 542-1300e-mail koti@pacbell.netWeb www.tsamusic.com

Val PakDirect Marketing Systems, Inc.8605 Largo Lakes DriveLargo, FL 33773tel. (800) 444-5656e-mail advertise@valpak.comWeb www.valpak.com