This Article Originally Published in 1994
A legion of loyal fans! Those things are what most working musicians
aspire to have. Yet, I can't count the number of frustrated band members
I encounter every month who work hard at their music but end up playing
to empty rooms and not being invited back to perform at area nightclubs.|
you know by now that you should first have great songs, strong vocals,
a defined musical focus and image, not to mention an engaging live show,
to have half a chance at luring recognition from music fans and club
owners. Therefore, it's no surprise when the bands that lack those elements
don't cut it.
But how many
times have you seen (or been in) a killer band and said to yourself,
"This group really deserves to have a crowd. People don't know what
they're missing!" More than a few times, right?
problem with these bands is that they concentrate almost entirely on
the music. Which is no crime, but it leaves the marketing and promotional
aspects of their music to chance. I don't know about you, but I realized
long ago that I wanted more control over my career (and life), not wanting
to depend on the whims of fate to steer me.
The moral here
is this: Getting a grip on the marketing aspects of promoting your music
will stack the deck in your favor. And when it comes to grabbing the
attention of the many new ears that will hear your music, spending at
least some energy on creative promotional techniques will speed the
process along. Then you'll be able to spend more time making great music
and less time rolling the dice and hoping a crowd shows up or that somebody
will buy your record.
tactics don't have to be complicated or expensive. You just have to
think beyond simply pinning up fliers and letting some of your friends
know about your gigs. Also, please realize that no one promotional effort
is going to work miracles. Low-budget, grass-roots music marketing can
be effective, but you have to approach it as a long-term, ongoing activitynot
a one-shot deal.
is a lot like multi-track recording. Each layer you put down adds to
the ones already created. That's why you'll need to develop and deploy
an ongoing series of promotional assualtseach one reaching more people,
making them more familiar with your name, image and sound.
is a random list of ideas you can use to promote your music. Hopefully,
reading over these will inspire you to use them and/or come up with
even better marketing tactics of your own.
Take some of these promotional ideas and make them work for you. If you'd
like to share your own music marketing tips and success storiesand get
a free plug in this columnplease send them to the address below.
- Take advantage of the free entertainment listings offered by publications.
Spotlight, the Riverfront Times, the Post-Dispatch and many morethey
all offer a free service of listing who's playing where and when.
All of those newspaper sections are very well read. So why doesn't
every band in town take advantage of them?
figure their fans will automatically do all the work necessary to
seek them out. Maybe their comfortable and lazy with their current
status. Perhaps they think the club will send it in for them. (Ha!
Guess again.) Maybe they were too busy creating music and simply forgot
to send it in.
I ask you:
What good does it do to poor all your heart and energies into practicing
a mind-blowing set and then do nothing to get people out to witness
it? I think you know the answer. € Offer local record stores a package-stuffer
arrangement. Many retail businesses will stuff a flier or discount
coupon into your bag along with your purchase. Wouldn't it be great
to get a record store to put your 5 1/2" by 8 1/2" flier into all
its customers' packages? Your message would go directly to the music-buying
record stores and asking about the arrangement. You might find a sympathetic
owner who will do it simply to help you out. But you'll quite likely
meet resistance with this unusual request. What then? Call it quits?
package insert two-sided. Offer to put the store's message on one
side and your message on the other. You pay for prining the whole
thing. That way, the store gets free promotion and an incentive to
stuff themand you get lots of effective exposure.
- Set up a band information telephone hotline. While sending in free
entertainment listings and compiling and using band mailing lists
are all essential, a musical act can add real promotional muscle to
its attack by offering a band hotline. That way, fans can call the
phone number any time and get up-to-the-minute details on where you're
playing that week, along with the latest info on new releases and
merchandise (including ordering instructions).
Have no fear.
You won't need to install an extra phone line and buy an answering
machine to have a hotline number. Many companies provide voice-mail
there's a company called VoiceTech (781-8888) that offers a line complete
with a menu of choices (including a short sample of your music) for
about $30 a month. Otherwise, a simple number with outgoing message
and voice-mail capabilities might run you as little as $10-12 a month.
The company I use is Answering (968-3334).
- Give something free to everyone who attends your live shows. You
want your name to be imbedded in the consciousness of everyone who
sees your band live. Simply being in the club while you're playing
is a start, but you'll want to make the most of the opportunity and
connect with those living, breathing beings further.
One way to
do that is to give something free to everyone who attends. Plant a
couple of your best, supportive fans at the door and have them pass
out some inexpensive item (small sticker, novelty business card with
your band hotline number on it, mailing list sign-up form, band newsletter,
homorous instructions on how to best enjoy your band, a Letterman-like
away these freebies, your name and image sinks in with these customers,
plus many of these promo items will end up going home with the people
who enjoyed you the mostadding more strength to your growing army
- Sponsor an award or special ceremony. Is there a distinguished person
in your community who you'd like to honor? Or is there an anniversary,
special date in history or cause you'd like to recognize? If so, plan
an event around that theme and make a party out of it.
circumstances, the local media couldn't care less about your regular
weekend gig at Barney's Bar & Grill. But give them a one-time event
with a news "hook" such as a tribute, awards ceremony, etc., and you
just might have a media landslide on your hands.
- Sponsor a college or community radio show that features your style
of music. Stations such as KDHX (88.1 FM) have businesses that sponsor
different shows all the time. Why not a band? Sure, it will cost you
some money, but it will be a lot less than advertising on a commercial
station, and you'll be reaching a highly targeted audience.
- Seek Out Exposure on Local Cable TV. "The obvious thing you should
go for is exposure, and public access TV is your best bet," says Doug
Moody, founder of Hollywood, Cal.'s Mystic Records. "They have to
give you access, they have to expose you. It's amazing how many people
actually watch those local access stations."
Call the cable company that services your area and ask about its lineup
of entertainment-related public access shows.
According to Moody, it's also good practice for future promotional
trends. "In the next couple years, visual records will definitely
be out. The Philips Corporation in Europe has put out cassette tapes
you can play on your TV, and Sony has a mini-disc. Whatever the
format, you're going to be dealing with visual records. You have
to learn to present yourself visually." (As quoted in Getting Radio
Airplay by Gary Hustwit, $19.95, Rockpress Publishing, P.O. Box
99090, San Diego, CA 92169.)
- Hold a Contest Related to Your Band or Release. Can you come up
with a fresh idea to fire up the competitive spirit of music fans
in your area? The band Symon Asher did. This Seattle, Wash.-based
group held a contest to guess the origin of its name. To register,
people had to go to local record store outlets and fill out an entry
form. Clues on the band's name were mailed weekly to radio stations
and music press, creating even more of a buzz about the band.
Why it works: There are five very effective angles to this promotional
- Forcing interested parties to register at record stores puts
those contestants right smack in the middle of the record-buying
environment, where they can buy your album.
- Also, by bringing more people into their shops, record store
owners have more incentive to promote the contest, particularly
in-house, giving you even more exposure to music consumers.
- Since the contest is about nothing but the band's name, the
publicity benefit is priceless: name recognition!
- By hanging onto all the entry forms, you'll have a hefty batch
of fresh names to add to your promotional mailing list.
- Getting the media involved by sending them clues to give to
their audiences adds yet another layer of exposureone that most
publicists would kill for.
Find a way to make the contest idea work for your band. It could just
as easily be applied to the title of your new release, too.
- Sponsor a College or Community Radio Show. Stations such as KDHX
(88.1 FM) have businesses that sponsor different shows all the time.
Why not a band? Sure, it will cost you some money, but it will be
a lot less than advertising on a commercial station, andby sponsoring
a show that features your style of musicyou'll be reaching a highly
- Write and Record a Seasonal or Current Events-Related Song. We all
know your independent CD release barely stands a chance of getting
radio airplay on the commercial stations. Even the college and community
stations require a little effort on your part to get any substantial
spins over the airwaves.
unless you use your imagination and come up with a novelty song that
relates to a current topic in the news or holiday. Christmas songs
will almost always get some play during the Yuletide season. But stretch
about songs pertaining to a local political scandal, sports team or
election? And how about putting a St. Louis (or whatever city you're
in) slant on Halloween, July 4th or Valentine's Day.
or not, these novelty songs will have a much better chance of getting
commercial airplaywhich will get your name out there, possibly paving
the way for your more serious songs later.
- Multiply Your Press Exposure. When you do get a review or feature
story published in the press, make copies of it and send it to everyone
on your industry contact listincluding radio stations, other publications,
nightclub owners, booking agents, A&R people. Reinforce your recognition
factor with the people who are most likely to help you get even more
exposure. Also, don't forget to include press clippings or quotes
in mailings that go to your fans, too!
- Target Specific Cities and Regions for Best Results. You don't need
to do live shows across the country, coast to coast, to effectively
promote your music. In fact, it will probably be better for your exposure
level and record sales (not to mention your sanity) to zero in on
a predetermined number of cities.
"You shouldn't spread yourself too thin," says Rob Squires, bassist
for the Denver, Colo.-based Big Head Todd & the Monsters (now signed
to Giant Records). Before landing the record deal, Squires says,
the band took this approach: "To establish ourselves, we'd hit Chicago,
San Francisco, Austin and the Colorado cities every other month.
Our plan worked out great. There'd be more and more people there
each time." Plus the group was eventually signed to a label that
could give them nationwide support. (As quoted in Fast Forward,
a newsletter put out by Disc Makers, 1328 N. Fourth St., Philadelphia,
PA 19122. 1-800-468-9353.)
- Find Alternate Ways to Market Your Band. Is there a non-music publication
or type of retail store that admirers of your style of music might
patronize? If so, you might consider reaching potential new fans through
those unlikely means.
Last year BMG Distribution moved a lot of hard rock and metal sampler
cassettes by advertising them through, of all things, comic books.
The tapes featured cuts from such bands as 21 Guns, Babylon AD and
the Rollins Band. Readers could order the samplers via a toll-free
"There is a significant portion of the comic-reading and record-buying
public that overlaps," says Rick Bleiweiss, BMG's senior VP of marketing.
"A number [of the comic book respondants] went out and bought the
albums based on hearing the tracks on the samplerand that's exactly
what we want."
(As seen in Billboard, $225/year, 1515 Broadway, 39th Floor, New
York, NY 10036.)
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