Your fans What They Want - Free
I'm having a little hit record right now. Well at least at radio,
time will tell whether this song will really translate into
sales. But at radio right now, as I write this, "Love
& Paragraphs", my 5th solo album is at #2 with
a bullet on the Radio & Records national contemporary jazz
chart and #7 at Billboard. I am particularly chuffed (as we
say in the UK) because as you might know, I started my own independent
record label "Ultimate Vibe Recordings" (and no we
are not looking to sign artists right now!) and to have some
success whilst competing with major labels and established labels
is quite an encouraging thing.
I set up the label wanting to play the radio and retail game,
and frankly I didn't want to be relegated to selling five CDs
on MySpace. I always say, you bat in the game you are comfortable
playing. So it was important for me and my career to stay in
the big leagues if I wanted to continue being taken seriously
at festival shows and so on.
Because this was now my own label, I figured I should really
get inventive marketing-wise and try to dream up something that
hadn't been done before. After all, I had all this internet
marketing experience and now was the time to cross pollinate,
as it were. You know, capitalize on both the online and offline
thing. So I put my thinking cap on....
I came to the conclusion some time ago that if an independent
label is to exist, it cannot be the victim of the traditional
marketing machine. That is to say, if retail programs and advertising
programs prioritize major labels, that shouldn't be a reason
for an independent label NOT to exist. The secret is in niche
marketing. Now having said that, you get out what you put in,
but profits can be realized if you invest money wisely. But
more importantly, building a community to market to for future
releases is THE thing to take seriously and put into momentum
I have talked probably way too much in the past about growing
your subscriber database. And I'm going to do it again today
because I have never been more convinced that the future for
independent artists is to market to their own growing database
So the question I asked myself was this:
"If someone finds my CD in a store, say Borders or Barnes
& Noble, how on earth can I get their personal contact info
so when my next CD comes out, I can offer them an incentive
to buy from me?"
Any customers who buy from my personal website, I instantly
have their info. I can market to them, offer them additional
CDs and so on. But those others that go through the distribution
pipeline, how do I get to them?
And I came up with the answer...
In 1989, when I was living in the UK, I recorded an album called
"Main Course". I financed it myself and hired
all the best studio players in London. I was into the fusion
guitar thing at the time so it came out a little self indulgent,
but those were the times. I came over to LA to try to get it
released. I was all excited to get over here but when I arrived
I met with a luke warm industry response. "It's good Chris
but I don't know what to do with it" A lovely yet typical
A&R response. "It's OK Chris but nothing to get in
bed about", was another. And so I went back to London feeling
a little dejected. And the master tapes sat in my little London
flat for some time.
20 years later, the digital revolution shows up and I decide
to make this old album downloadable. Why not offer it as a free
bonus? I thought. So I had my graphic designer do a little baseball
style card and when I manufactured the Love & Paragraphs
CD, I included this little baseball card in every jewel case.
This is how it looked:
I figured, if someone went to a store and
purchased this album, provided they actually liked it, why would
they not go to the URL and download this free CD? It was clearly
just a numbers game I thought. Now, in order for someone to
download this album, they have to input their email address
and when they do, they get an autoresponder email giving them
the link to download the album along with a username and password
to access the page. Giving up an email address, I figured, was
a small price to pay to get a whole album free of charge.
Each email address is then neatly stored in a database which
I can access online to see how well it is working.
And I am glad to say this has probably turned out to be one
of the best marketing ideas I have dreamed up so far. Every
day I get notified of several new signups and it is fun to watch
the list grow.
We all know that at live shows, getting fans to write down their
email address on a sign up sheet is painful because even if
they do, half of those addresses are completely unreadable and
end up bouncing back. This new method is a 'pull' marketing
tactic where each email address has to be valid in order to
get access to the download.
So how can you relate to this marketing tactic? Well
I certainly don't suggest you go out of your way to record an
additional album just to offer it as a free bonus. But you certainly
should have additional tracks that either didn't make your CD
or that you recorded for this reason alone. If you don't have
retail distribution, it doesn't mean you shouldn't adopt this
marketing idea, because even if someone buys your CD at a show,
that is still a potential fan you can grab and market to later
Don't think that you need to stop here either. It may not be
just free songs that you offer your fans. Ask yourself this:
"What could someone offer me free that would
make me happy to give up my contact information?"
You could make a band video that could include all sorts of
secret backstage goings on that only fans who purchase your
album could get access to. Perhaps an ebook with photos that
fans can download that contains all sorts of things the band
gets up to. Perhaps half priced tickets to your shows. Perhaps
all of these ideas. It's as wide open as your imagination.
Think creatively, and put your promotional campaign together.
Have fun with it. It's really encouraging watching something
like this work successfully.
The Author: Chris Standring is the CEO and founder of A&R
He is also a contemporary jazz guitarist presently signed to
Ultimate Vibe Recordings. For more info on Chris' recording
career go to his personal website at www.chrisstandring.com
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