We’re all artists, and thus by default a bit averse to all that business nonsense. In a perfect world scenario we’d all be left alone to just make good albums, work with musicians we like, and go to bed not worrying about our overhead. But for studio owners these are trying times — we are at an extinction level event in that beautiful, world-class facilities are dropping off like flies. It can be incredibly difficult to pinpoint exactly why this has happened, and it’s unlikely that something can be attributed to any one occurrence. Sure, technological spoils and the ability to record outside of huge, expensive studios certainly has played a hand in this proverbial bloodbath, but the blame can also be placed on studio owners for not effectively marketing their facilities and thus not eliciting the amount of business necessary to keep their ship afloat.
Visibility is key in attracting clients, and even if you are just working with a project studio, your abilities can be used to support your passion — provided that you can generate interest. And the best way to do that is to market yourself and your studio ruthlessly. “But how,” you may ask, “do I do that without breaking the bank?”
Following are some choice tactics, many of which are free, and the rest of which are reasonably cheap, for reaching potential clients and luring them into your live room.
KEEP ON MARKETING IN THE REAL WORLD
Online marketing is quickly becoming the route of choice for many businesses, but the notion that banner ads and emailed press releases are enough is built upon faulty logic. There’s really something to be said for the tangible, of which the web is anything but, and there is definitely an air of professionalism that is conveyed in “real world” marketing tactics. Since we’re not going to be renting billboard space or sponsoring the Grammys anytime soon, let’s look at some relatively affordable means of marketing outside the aether.
It’s an age-old approach that absolutely should be exploited, as it’s cheap, easy, and relatively non-time consuming. The creation process is so simple that it hardly needs to be explained here; even a nominal working knowledge of Photoshop will suffice. Price of copies is rather low, but it’s worth the extra expense to spring for color copies. According to the FedEx/Kinko’s website (www.fedexkinkos.com), color copies on standard 8.5" x 11" paper run $0.39 per copy, though bulk pricing is available for large orders. It’s recommended that you outsource the work from your home printer for orders greater than 100, as it’s much less costly than burning through your own ink cartridges.
That’s pretty much common knowledge, but what you should know is that in the world of advertising, paying attention to aesthetics and design is crucial. Your gut instinct may be to cram as much information as you possibly can on one sheet of paper; after all, there’s a lot to be said about your studio. This, however, is not the best approach — the beauty of a design is most often in its simplicity, and it’s not important to represent the entireties of your facility/services in a flyer. One or two well-taken photos of the control room/live room/outboard gear/etc. will suffice, and text should be limited to studio name, pertinent contact info, services provided, and pricing. The purpose of the flyer is to be functional — this isn’t something that demands high art.
Placement of the flyer is of penultimate importance; you must be visible to musicians. Most music stores (particularly of the independent variety) provide bulletin boards, and if the real estate is available most shopkeepers will be cool with you placing a stack near the counter or entrance of the store. Furthermore, colleges that have music schools usually have free bulletin boards for classified flyers in their musical facilities — use these too.
A smart approach, and one oftentimes used by concert promoters and the like, is to print up 3" x 5" handbills and stand outside of venues directly after a show and distribute them manually. Sure, most of them will be folded up in pockets and never given a second glance, but the purpose here is brand recognition, and one or two sets of eyes can go a long way.
Bulk mailings, whether they are in the form of email or snail mail, can be an incredibly effective tool for circulating information regarding your studio. This is an especially good tactic to employ if your facility is new, or if you underwent any kind of great renovation, name change, etc. Though we all get plenty of junk mail, a physical piece of mail, in the age of email, can usually pique enough interest for the recipient(s) to give it at least a quick once-over, which is all you need to plant the seed. Unfortunately, this can get pricy and time consuming, so you can always go the route of email even if it is (arguably) a bit less effective of a tactic.
Mailing lists are available to purchase from a number of companies such as infoUSA (www.infousa.com), which offers direct mailing for everything from musicians to entertainment bureaus. And if you want to go the e-route, Coollist (www.coollist.com) also offers a free online mailing list service that allows you to contact bands by specific geographic location.
Assuming you decide on snail mail, you may find it less time-consuming (and cheaper) to hire a service to handle all your direct mailing needs in one fell swoop. As a simple sheet of paper is rather boring and unlikely to really grab anyone’s attention, having a company such as Pure Postcards (www.purepostcards.com) design, print, and mail your advertisement for you is a smart way to get the job done with little headache. Take a few sharp-looking snapshots of what you are working with then add a few lines of text with contact info and rates, and companies like this will handle the rest. And the packages aren’t overtly costly either — an all-inclusive package of 5,000 postcards generally runs around the $350 mark. If only one client responds (and that’s a low projection), the service will have paid for itself many times over.
At first glance, promotional products can appear as a waste of monetary resources, and the concept itself, admittedly, is a bit cheesy. However, if they were largely ineffectual then it wouldn’t be a standard practice for many businesses. Heavy brand circulation leads to brand recognition, and recognition of your brand (your studio) leads to increased business.
The key to marketing via promotional products is to pick products that are of actual use to your target demographic. As your business is going to be supported by the musicians you record, it’s imperative that you pick musician-centric swag. Stickers and t-shirts are no-brainers, but highly effective. Because stickers are likely to be plastered on the side of guitar cases and shirts will be sported directly by the musicians who receive them, you’re essentially being endorsed by public figures who hold a degree of influence over their peers — which are all potential clients. T-shirts can get pricey, and thus should be distributed carefully, but stickers are super cheap. Check out Sticker Guy (www.stickerguy.com), long held to be one of the cheapest custom vinyl sticker manufacturers; even in small bulk quantities you will pay less than $0.05 per unit. Companies like Berda (www.berda.com) and Custom Ink (www.customink.com) specialize in custom T-shirt designs, and with orders of 50+ you should expect to never pay any more than $5 per shirt.
Of course there are plenty of other cool options for promotional products. Check out Westsky (www.westsky.com) for musician-friendly swag, from guitar picks to drum sticks. And if you really want to get out there, Promo Peddler (www.promopeddler.com) offers virtually every kind of customizable product under the sun. Once you’ve acquired your promotional products, send them out to the respondents from your target marketing endeavors.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF WEB POTENTIAL
Taking the aforementioned strategies into account, it’s also wise to come with a double-sided approach, and that means branching out into the web and getting your studio piped down into every computer. The beauty of web marketing is that it’s generally (and this is comparatively speaking) cheaper than “real world” marketing, and incredibly effective to boot. So let’s take a look at some of the best ways to become visible via the web.
It’s a pretty safe bet that you already have a website devoted to your studio, but is it up to par? To start, you must make sure that your site has been designed to answer any potential client’s questions. You should have, at bare minimum, pictures and descriptions of the facility (including room measurements), a complete gear list, services provided, contact list, a discography of all productions in which you, your staff, or your facility has been involved, and audio excerpts of said productions. Keep these excerpts at a high bit rate, as you are not promoting songs; you are presenting productions.
Furthermore, as we are in the age of prevalent high-speed Internet, it’s a good idea to produce a promotional video for your website. If a picture is worth a thousand words then a video is worth a million; and visual tours can be a great promotional tool. These days, even lower-priced digital cameras tend to have a built-in camcorder option, so the option of creating footage of your facility is more feasible than ever. Simply walk through your studio and give a guided tour, explaining some choice gear acquisitions, the design/function/possibilities of the studio, and any other information you think may be of interest to anyone that might be in the market for cutting an album at your place. But keep it short and fairly succinct, as attention spans are always waning, and the text of your website can serve as the more in-depth resource of the two.
After you’ve finished filming, you can dump the files into an editing program such as Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, or Apple’s Final Cut, edit, compress and convert the files to Quicktime or WMV, and either create a link to open into a new window or, ideally, embed a media player right on your page. Need a crash course on the subject? Check out How Stuff Works’ online tutorial (www.howstuffworks.com/video-editing). It’s easy as pie, and now your “story” is that much more engaging and palatable to whomever may stumble across your page. Speaking of which. . . .
KEY WORD RANKING
Key word ranking involves constructing your pages in a manner so that search engines can prioritize your website to early result pages, thus presenting you more quickly to prospective clients. You can do some research as to what keywords have been used most often by your site visitors using programs such as Word Tracker (www.wordtracker.com), which can be downloaded for various time frames (a one week subscription is only $25.97). Then, apply that knowledge toward developing more appropriate metatags that will help link you to search engines properly. And while you can certainly take the DIY route in regards to meta tagging, depending on how fluent you are in webpage construction, you can also outsource the project to a number of companies such as KL Insight (www.klinsight.com). These companies can be invaluable for marketing your studio via key word ranking. As an example, Sound Logic Studios (www.soundlogicrecording) picked the keyword phrase “Neve recording studio” for the website. Now, if you go to Google and search for “Neve recording studio” guess who is going to come up as the first result?
So make sure your keywords are right, then track your progress. You can go and grab a hit counter for free if you don’t already have one from a site like Visible Counter (www.visiblecounter.com), and then quantify the results. However, that in and of itself is not enough, as your ranking is also determined by the number of related pages that you link to and from. Therefore, it’s really important that you trade links with bands, colleagues, and in fact, anyone that is either a client or involved in your studio.
The primary goal of marketing is exposure, so you should pursue appropriate link trades at every possible opportunity, as it’s necessary to have incoming and outgoing links from your site to maintain high search engine rankings. If you don’t already have a page on your site devoted to links, you would do well to construct one immediately, and once you do this you should make it a policy that any artist or organization you work with allow a link exchange as part of their payment for your services. Also, if you have your direct email contacts as previously recommended, you can do a quick email blast to bands and labels asking for link trades. When I first started my site, I did a blast of 20,000 and got 1,000 confirmations, a 5% success rate . . . but I also managed four new clients in the form of record labels in that same day.
You can use free sites such as Alexa (www.alexa.com) to track links for competitors, or just studios that get a lot of attention, and use that as a blueprint for the sites to whom it would be smart to propose a link trade. Also, companies such as Majon International offer services such as Quick Link Pro (www.majon.com/qlink), and claim to be able to secure an exorbitant amount of link trades with search engines using their pay services. But we don’t necessarily recommend that, as relevant links are what’s most important for studio marketing.
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
This past July, Hitwise announced that MySpace (www.myspace.com) had become the number one most visited website in United States, accounting for over 4.5% of all Internet visits, and leaving sites like Yahoo and eBay in the dust. Taking this into account, it’s downright negligent to not take advantage of a site with that much exposure that offers its services to users for free. Signing up is easy, and if you do so as a “band” you are afforded a certain amount of real estate to upload MP3s that can serve as a sampling of some of the recordings in which you’ve been involved — as well as have the option to embed your promotional videos, and use up to 16 slots for photos of your studio. Once you’ve set up your page, do a search for bands in your area and add them as friends — which is essentially link trading. Voilà! Instant promotion to local artists that are all potential clients. Sure, it may come off as a bit cheesy, but nowadays everybody is on MySpace; in fact it’s quickly becoming the promotional resource for musicians, and as a studio owner that’s offering services to that demographic, it only makes sense to follow your clientele.
Though all of the above are great starting points for taking your studio to the next level in terms of marketing, it would be very imprudent to stop here and not conduct further research so as to really understand the concepts and strategies of marketing. There are a ton of great online resources that are free and offer all the information you could ever need to apply to your own business for increased visibility and further growth. Guerilla Marketing (www.gmarketing.com) is an awesome site that is free to join and is jam-packed with tons of articles and tips. Bards Crier (www.bardscrier.com) is a great e-zine that focuses on music marketing and has a lot of applicable information for those of us on the other side of the glass as well. So read up further on it, and prep yourself for a boom in your business . . . and, as this isn’t a cure for our favorite addiction/affliction, also get ready for a couple new additions to your mic locker.