Marketing and promotion

You just got 1000 CDs pressed, and you've done your best to distribute it through normal channels. The only question is, will people want to buy it?

Before I begin, my goal of selling hardcopies is simply to further my music, and not become a really rich or famous person off of it. I consider it an ethical obligation to make my music available to people who'd be interested in it, and if I could afford to give away hardcopies for free, I would. Since I can't, I at least want to make sure I sell the (few) thousand copies of each album I get pressed is not gathering dust in my basement. To this end, I've adopted a marketing strategy that I believe has worked for me, starting with finding out...

What percentage of people are potential customers?

The first thing you have to do is figure out what percentage of the population, roughly, is going to want to listen to your music. For example, I get about two hundred people visiting my band page each day. I average about two orders through my www page each day. This means that 99% of the people who visit my page don't bother to order an album, for whatever reasons (some might be happy listening to it online---all my music is available online, some might have just hated it, and some might not have a sound player and have no way of checking it out). Generalising this to the entire population, making a few assumptions given the nature of my music, this seems reasonable: about 1% of all people who are actively into music like my music. In most bands' cases, it'll be higher. I suspect with bands that get constant airplay on the radio, it can go up as high as 50%.

The idea then is to make sure that 1% get to hear your music. To this end, you need to come up with "gimmicks", for lack of a better term, that will attract people. I listen to the radio, and I hear bands that are selling thousands of copies of their CD, and I am firmly convinced my music will be considered better by at least some people (that 1%). But as you go about selling your album, you will find that marketing has little to do with how good, or how bad, your music really is. At this point, it's like any other sales job: convincing people to fork over the money for it.

Appearances are important

One of the most important things, I think, is the look of what you have to offer. For example, my CD comes in a cool diecut case, if I say so myself, which attracts people on the first glance, even before the music does. In fact, I know many people who've bought the CD purely for the case, disliking the music. This might sound a bit weird, since people are buying your CD for the artwork, and not for the music, but hey, this way, you could potentially win fans, and if you have a 1000+ copies you need to unload, every copy sold counts. I think this is the best way to sell stuff when people have no clue about what your music is, and have never heard of you.

Keep prices low

I don't think price is that important when convincing people to buy stuff, but I can't say it hasn't helped. People are more willing to take risks if the cost is lower. So you might want to cut back a bit on profits and not sell your CD for $16.00 right off the bat. I sell my CDs for $5 and $3, and T-shirts for $10, and I think it's adequate. Your mileage might vary. I personally feel CD prices are exorbitant, and I refuse to play that game, and I also believe that if I wanted to make a lot of money selling CDs, I should sell a lot of CDs, not price gouge, as some people have seen fit to do.

A related item is how you accept orders. I accept orders through a form on my www page, and offer a "buy now-pay later" option, which I've gotten a 95% return back for people ordering from the U.S. Some the tricks to keep in mind here including sending a professional looking invoice along with the order, and providing a return envelope for people to mail the checks to. I'm sure accepting credit cards could only be nothing but beneficial.

David Nevue of Midnight Rain Productions writes: "I stumbled across your site quite a while back, and decided to take a chance with your "buy now - pay later" Internet marketing philosophy with my own music. I thought I'd see if this added convenience would help promote sales online. Well, it has. I was amazed when I started getting orders from my site. Prior to implimenting this idea I'd received only 5 CD orders in my entire first year online. After implementing your buy now- pay later idea I'm getting about 5 orders a week."

Set up shop on the Internet

One of the best ways to gain exposure is make your music available out on the Internet/www. Besides gaining exposure, it should serve as a point for info about your band, and the place where people can buy hard copies of your music. Above, I talk about a 1% "capture rate", wherein one percent of the people who visit your site decide to buy your music. So one of your goals should be to get as many visits (not hits, but visits) as possible. Let's face it: not many people, at least at first, are going to be interested in an unknown band. There are several methods, however, to get people to visit your page and in my case, what has worked best is having other sources of information on my www site that attract thousands of visitors. I shameless plug my band at various locations in my site, and thus I'm currently receiving more than 200 visits each day to my site (my Primus page and my Music Ram-blings page on the other hand, get more than ten-twenty times as much). Another thing to do is ask to swap links with anyone and everyone. The more the links to your site, the greater the number of visitors. I also sometimes put up flyers advertising the www page, where people can tear out a www page address, instead of a phone number. In general: explore many venues for attracting visitors.

One of the important features of setting up shop on the 'net is that people can listen to samples (in my case, the full-length songs) and then decide if they really want to go for it or not. I do not recommend wasting your money on IUMA or any such service where many bands are housed to store your sounds. I think the best way to go is to set up your own server (this'll enable you to provided related and unrelated content on your site, which will attract more visitors). However, I do recommend checking IUMA out and see how they use the various sound formats to publicise a bands work. You could also check out my TWISTED HELICES band page to see one way of making your music accessible.

Create a buzz

Send your tape/CD out to the various 'zines whose work you like and college radio stations (tapes should be sent to tape-friendly radio stations) and get the buzz going about your band. Be sure to put any and all reviews you get on your www page, if you have one (even negative reviews might sometimes help---I put up all reviews, both positive and negative) . If you tour, be sure to publicise your Internet site if you have one. Take advantage of every advertising oppporunity you get.

Free Music

I proposed the Free Music Philosophy initially, when I just had demos out. The business idea behind it is that freeing your music is simply good marketing, though I think freeing music (I speak of freedom, not price) is the ethically right thing to do. At the time of writing, it has been six months since I released my album. Did it do anything for me? You judge!

In summary

Doing what I've written in an active manner has enabled me to get rid of more than 3000 copies in a span of two years. I've repressed thrice. Personally, I'm extremely satisified with this, but your mileage may vary. Do everything you can to sell your stuff without compromising your ethics. Most of all, have fun doing it!

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala ||