Tech Tip:Selling Indie Releases
"10 sure-fire ideas to help you sell more of your independent records, tapes & CDs"
by Bob Baker
So you've put a lot of time and effort into writing good original songs, committing them to tape in the studio, crafting the artwork and packaging and arranging for your record, tape and/or CD to finally be manufactured.
Many musicians describe the feeling of seeing their slickly packaged final creation for the first time: It's a wonderful sensation of basking in the glow of accomplishment. And they feel like shouting at the top of their lungs to let the world know about this great thing they've got to offer.
That's why it's difficult to figure out why so many music creators drop the ball at this point. Sure, they want to get recognition and acceptance from hordes of people who have been touched by their music. And, let's face it, they wouldn't mind making some good money at selling their product, too. So why do bands and record labels continue to print up 1,000 CDs, only to have 850 of them sit in a closet and gather dust?
The answer is simple: These bands and record labels haven't learned effective methods for marketing their releases. Are you one of these people? If so, don't worry. There's still plenty of hope for you.
What follows is a brief excerpt from a book I hope to have out sometime in 1994 covering over 125 ideas on how to make more money from your recorded products. Until then, use these 10 random ideas to expand your thinking and help you sell more of your independent releases.
Commit to becoming an independent music marketer, instead of just a record producer. Unless you're simply making music for your immediate friends and family (which is worthy in itself), you're going to have to expand your skills to include more than songwriting and recording techniques. Far too many musically creative people feel that if they just come up with great music, the world will beat a path to their door. While this approach actually seems to work for a select few, most bands and songwriters have to work a little harder to get their music not only noticed... but bought in bulk by enthusiastic music fans. Therefore, the first step in your efforts to sell more of your records, tapes and CDs is to decide right now that you will spend as much time and energy in marketing your musical pride and joy as you do creating it. This means you'll be eager to indulge in the art of researching your market, networking with people who can help you accomplish your sales goals and, ultimately, becoming as inspired by exposing your music as you are by playing it.
Know who your fans are and why they buy from you. How would you describe the ideal consumer of your music? And what inspires them to buy your records? If you can't answer these questions, you may have a tough battle (not to mention a closet full of CDs) ahead of you. Acts that develop huge and loyal followings usually have a specific musical focus and image their fans identify with so strongly that they pack the group's shows and buy tons of their releases. The magnet that draws these fans is the attitude of the band, combined with a sound, look and image that supports it. Get a handle on what attitude, sound and image you portray. Knowing this will help you position your act for maximum exposure... and sales! Important note: But make sure it's a sincere attitude that is really a part of you. Copping an image because you think it will sell will cause your career to fall apart quicker than you can say, "Milli Vanilli."
At live shows, perform songs off your release and say so from the stage. Live shows are one of your best ways to promote the availability of your release, so don't be shy about announcing it. Many musicians who front bands think it's uncool to repeatedly plug their "product" at gigs. Hogwash! You want people to come to your shows because they like your band, right? If they've taken the time to set aside an evening to experience your band, wouldn't many of them also want to take your recorded music home? Of course. Don't deny them that experience. And don't deny yourself the monetary rewards of selling more of your music.
Print up and distribute a band newsletter. Most bands will pass out fliers or calendars at their live shows, but fliers get tossed in the trash pretty quickly and usually don't help a band's efforts in selling more records. So why don't you come up with a newsletter that's filled with tidbits of information on your band? The most effective band newsletters I've seen use plenty of humor. By having fun items of interest in your newsletter, people will hang onto it longer, plus you can fill it with a convenient order form to get your recorded goodies by mail and to announce where they are available in stores.
When doing print, radio and TV interviews, offer to give something away free if readers/listeners/viewers contact you. As you know, a great way to build up a following is to build up and use a mailing list. (You do have one, don't you?) But live gigs aren't the only places to collect names and addresses. When you do media interviews, you're reaching perhaps thousands of potential fans. Make the best use of that opportunity by giving something away to readers, listeners or viewers--your newsletter, catalog, sticker, band comic book, novelty condom... anything to inspire music fans to connect with you. Preferably, have people call a band hotline number and leave their mailing information.
In paid ads, always offer a free catalog or newsletter. Likewise, when you are paying for advertising, either in print or on radio, don't waste the chance to connect with more fans. Offer that same free item in all of your ads!
Offer appropriate radio stations free copies of your release to use as giveaways during on-air promotions. Media folks love to give stuff away to entice their audiences. So don't be too shy about asking the local college or non-commercial stations if they'd give away your new CD on the air. Of course, your band would also love to come in and do an interview to tie in with the giveaway.
Arrange for a live record store appearance, autograph session or unplugged performance. I know what you're thinking: "Record store appearance? That would be awfully pompous of me!" Not so fast. The national touring acts aren't the only musicians worthy of such gimmicks. Setting up an in-store appearance gives you weeks of exposure in the store in the form of fliers promoting the date, it gets people talking and, in the case of an unplugged performance, gets your music to the ears of record-buying consumers who might never have heard you otherwise.
Give away free copies to record store managers for in-store play. This may seem obvious, but a lot of "record producers" overlook this important marketing technique. The record store is the perfect place to capture the attention of music fans. They come in only to buy music! Ask any record store clerk how many times a customer has come up and asked, "Who is this playing over the speakers right now?" Get smart and start meeting the store managers and giving away those free promotional copies.
Seek out overlooked retail sales opportunities. Can you find a way to take your band name, album title or image and market it in an unusual way? Many new age artists have marketed their CDs through nature stores and crystal "rock" shops. Some labels have thematic releases that are packaged with books on the same subject, which opens up bookstore sales--a whole new method of distribution. Can you think of one that would work for you?
To sum up: Open your mind to the music sales possibilities around you and you may soon find yourself with a lot of extra closet space.
Bob Baker is an indie musician, former music magazine publisher and author of "The Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook" and "101 Ways to Make Money in the Music Business." Get a FREE subscription to Bob's music marketing tip sheet, The Buzz Factor, by sending a blank e-mail to:
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