Marketing your own music

Marketing is not only about advertising. It includes market research, media relations and planning, product placement and pricing, sales strategies, distribution, public relations, and much more.

Whom do you sell your music?

Marketing research can be an excellent way to put your finger on the pulse of the public. It can tell you who is out there and what they are buying. When you gather data from a variety of sources, such as focus groups and the like, you can analyze your findings, define or quantify issues, address those issues, and come up with creative solutions. Then you can expand your marketing base in a scientific way, so that money is not wasted on markets that won’t have any interest in your products and services. After all, can you really sell snow cones to Eskimos? Probably not, but you could sell them the syrup. So you probably shouldn’t be trying to sell heavy metal records to traditional country music fans, and vice versa. Marketing research allows you to pinpoint your advertising and marketing strategies so that they reach the right people.

Identify yourself in the music market

Something that you may want to consider when marketing your music is how to establish your identity in the marketplace. You must be able to define your music so that others will know exactly what to expect Of course, many artists don’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain musical genre. They try to transcend the boundaries of established tastes. That is all fine and good, but if people don’t have any idea what kind of music you play, don’t expect them to buy your CD based upon the artwork on the cover or some other whim. You need to describe the basic format that your music fits into, such as rock, pop, hip-hop, or country, so that your CDs can be put in the correct place in the store. Furthermore, if you are going to stand out from other acts in your genre, you need to figure out where you fit within that genre, such as: “An alternative country artist who leans more toward folk and rock styling, interlaced with a country flavoring on vocals, that is not really geared toward traditional country fans.” Defining your music helps you focus on the people who are interested in that type of music.

You should also define your existing fan base, as well as the potential fans you want to target. You want to check out the people who come to your shows and figure out who they are, what they are interested in, and what they have in common. Learn what you can about their interests, likes, and dislikes. Learn about their musical tastes, what magazines they read, what Web sites they like to visit, and any other information you could use to create a market profi le. When you compile this type of information, it will help you fi nd similar people in your region and in other markets.

In short, try to color inside the lines. Remember, the whole idea is to sell as much as you possibly can. So focus on who is interested in buying your stuff, and don’t waste time trying to sell your heavy metal CD at an old folks’ home.

Build your brand

Building your brand is a key aspect of your marketing and promotions. Your brand includes your company’s name, logo, marketing concepts, and identity. The best example of a band that built their brand over a long period of time, and basically did it by themselves, was the Grateful Dead. They used what I call the jam band model. Since jam band music isn’t played much on the radio, a jam band isn’t going to sell a lot of CDs through normal retail channels in the beginning stages of its career. In fact, the Grateful Dead only had one charted hit. They put out a lot of albums (which did not sell very well, by the way) and toured constantly until they became one of the biggest live shows. More importantly, everyone has heard of the Grateful Dead. After all, when you hear that someone is a “deadhead,” you know exactly what that means. What better example of being branded in the music industry can you think of? The Grateful Dead were a textbook example of how you can break all the rules of music industry and still be extremely successful.

And deadheads weren’t all hippies and patchouli oil. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, and businesspeople went to shows and bought CDs and other related merchandise. Using the jam band model, you can actually make a decent living by constantly touring and selling merchandise, building your fan base one fan at a time. As time goes by, your market share should increase as more and more people start to come to your shows. After all, even if you have a record deal, most of your money will come from touring.

Develop public relations

At some point, you may want to consider hiring a publicist or public relations company. A publicist promotes the public side of your career or business, getting you across to the audience so that you can sell records, merchandise, or whatever. A publicist should be very knowledgeable about the music industry, and should have a lot of solid contacts and relationships with all types of magazines, radio and television stations, newspapers, and other media sources. Good publicists are very personable, and usually will not take “no” for an answer! They will develop a plan with you to make sure that you are constantly in the public eye. They’ll promote your music by getting interviews with targeted media outlets, from college newspapers all the way up to appearances on radio, television, and other public events. Having a representative speak for you to a media outlet or other targeted contact can create a very professional perception. A publicist will be very good at writing effective copy (artist bios, press releases, etc.) for others to use. In short, they will be able to schmooze the right people in the music industry and the news media, saving you the embarrassment of trying to sell yourself to such a tough audience.

The best time to hire a publicist depends on two main criteria: when you have a story to tell, and when you can afford the service. An experienced publicist’s fee can range from $500 to $5,000 a month. Until you can afford that, you can always enlist friends, family, or even your fans to help you with this work. But remember, you have to get out there and tell folks about yourself, and hiring a publicist can make that task a whole lot easier. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how good you are, but coming from a pro it can be more easily stomached.

Finally, before you hire a publicist, make sure that he is actually interested in what you are doing and believe in your talents. And make sure they have a good reputation in the music industry. Good publicists are worth their weight in gold, and the money you invest will reap serious returns.

Promote your music

If you want to promote your business in the traditional sense, you can always turn to standard promotional practices such as having sales, clearances, onsite radio promotions, and a host of other activities that are designed to draw traffi c to your business and create more sales. But a promotion in the music business doesn’t necessarily mean that you are having a sales promotion on your CDs. You need to take a proactive approach to getting your music played on the radio so that you can generate record sales. Getting airplay is the best way to sell a whole lot of CDs, unless you find success through the.

So how do you get radio stations to play your music? Well, before we answer that question, we should look at how things used to be and how they are now. Before 1960, there was blatant payola, the paying of cash or gifts in exchange for radio airplay, often by managers, labels, or other interested parties. This was done under the table because it was illegal, but it was happening all the time and just about everywhere. The government finally got wind of it, and Alan Freed, one of the first rock and roll deejays who helped popularize the art form, became the fall guy and was arrested. After that, Congress made payola a crime and imposed some fairly hefty fines. However, the record labels or other parties that were doing it didn’t get into trouble. Only the deejays did.

Shortly after that, the record labels figured out a way to get around the anti-payola statutes. They simply hired a third party called an independent record promoter to push records to the radio stations. An independent promoter sits behind a desk with a telephone and calls up both major-market and regional stations, pushing records put out by major labels that have large promotion budgets, sometimes in the millions of dollars. Therefore, the only way you are going to get any airplay in a major market is to hire an independent marketer to pay the radio stations for the privilege of playing your music. After all, radio play is advertising. It’s not called payola, because the money is passed through a third party. To be honest, I’m not so sure that I understand the difference, but that is just the way that it is. Unless we can get Congress to change it, it’s going to stay that way for a long time to come.

To make matters worse, there is Arbitron, a radio and Webcast rating service that keeps track of what’s going on in particular markets. Program directors look at the Arbitron reports and decide on the best type of music or other content that should be played on certain stations. Unanfortunately, Arbitron is solely based upon what is being independently promoted in the major markets. So, you’re going to hear the same stuff on your local radio station that somebody else is hearing completely across the country. It’s a real catch-22 for anyone who’s trying to get their record played in just about any market, whether in larger cities or in Smalltown, U.S.A.

Secrets of radio marketing

I’m sure you have wondered why you don’t hear very much variety of music on the radio. You hear the same stuff over and over again. The radio term for this is familiarity. Through years of callout research, audience testing, and other focus group studies, radio stations have determined that people tend to stay tuned longer to stations that play familiar music. Furthermore, the longer a listener stays tuned to a particular station, the greater the time spent listening or TSL. Radio advertising rates are directly determined by a station’s potential reach and its listeners’ TSL. The higher the audience numbers, the higher the station’s adver­tising rates. Unfortunately, you will find that this is similar to booking your band at certain types of venues. It’s very simple: People want to hear what they are familiar with, so most bands are forced to play cover songs if they expect to get rebooked at any of these venues. You may be able to squeeze in an original song or two throughout your set of covers, but that’s it. Of course, if are getting some airplay for your original music, then you can play more of your own songs.

However, you can reach the entire world without having to rely on radio airplay. Your new avenue is the Internet. Yet, Internet promotion as a subject of a separate article.

Old school approach to music marketing

If you can’t seem to get into the online thing, or even if you do have a site, fan club, and newsletter, you can always take the low-tech approach. You can do some “old school” marketing and advertising by sending out postcards to your fans or clients. Tell them what’s going with your band or business, and let them know that you appreciate their interest in your products or services.