Before you even start to write the first bar of music, there is a fundamental question to ask yourself. It’s deceptively simple, and yet can derail all of your hard work. It’s “who is this music for”?
Try sitting with a blank sheet of paper one day, and answering that question. It can be fiendishly difficult – and yet it’s at the route of every other decision you need to make in order to sell it. The temptation is to start with the broad – “it’s for everyone!” – but aside from not being true (no piece of music ever created is universally loved by everyone), it’s also unhelpful. How do you present and market something that is so broad in its appeal, without it seeming anodyne and bland? It could also be seen as an admission of artistic failure – you’ve created the musical equivalent of the potato! No one hates it, and as a consequence, no one loves it.
So, it’s not for everyone, but who is it actually for? You can start by trying to identify your own musical influences and favourites, and making an honest judgement as to whether your work stands up alongside it. If it does, then you may appeal to a similar fan base as your heroes, which is definitely a good sign (as presumably your musical heroes are successful at selling records, at the very least just to you).
Once you have an honest answer as to who your potential fans are, you can start to work out how to get your music to them. There are various routes to this, from the obvious traditional methods, like radio play, live gigs or getting your work used on an advert/TV show or film (which is called “sync” in music industry parlance). Then of course there are the shiny new-fangled, digital means we discussed above.
It’s important to remember a couple of things, which seem obvious but are often forgotten:
All promotion (marketing) is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
The aim is always to get people to buy your music.
You may have thousands of Facebook friends or Likes, an avid Twitter following, and regularly put new material on your website and Soundcloud page, etc, but if none of them actually buy your music, it’s not helping you. There are various ways that you can assess the value of Social Media – whether your gigs are better attended; whether you can correlate between putting up new material and any spike in sales on your website (this is called analytics and is part of a wider field called SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation); whether you get more live bookings or enquiries as a result. If you don’t, then you need to reassess how you are using these tools. Some of the best business minds in the world are grappling with this problem constantly, and if you can come up with an infallible answer then you will become very rich indeed – but the best thing you can do is understand Marketing from the experts, and try out some of the tips and tricks that they suggest.
There is a list of resources for further reading at the end of this book that are good starting points, but one of my favourites is very simple, and I’ve seen several variations of it on numerous sites and books: At every gig you do, at some point in the middle of the set, when you have the audience in the palm of your hand and loving your music, ask everyone to get out their smartphones, and go on to your website (or Twitter, or Facebook, or even just email or text you their details) to sign up for your mailing list, and if at all possible make an immediate and tangible reward for that – ideally as a download of a free track of yours, straight to their phone (if that’s not technically possible to do automatically, then have someone manning the computer, or email them as soon as you get home from the gig).
Make sure you fulfil your offer as soon as possible. Don’t forget or leave it until the next day (you’ll leave them feeling cheated, which is massively counterproductive, or their euphoria will have waned by then). Make sure the track is one of your best too, not just some unloved album filler.
Encourage them to share the mp3 with anyone that they think will like it. You may not be earning directly from the track that you’ve given away, but it is earning you new fans, which is definitely a worthwhile investment. Big companies value each name on their mailing list at roughly £1. When you take into account the cost of reaching people with advertising, each of your mp3’s is well and truly earning its keep if it is building your fan base.
Voila – hopefully you have several hundred new fans on your mailing list every gig, and you are one step closer to them checking out, and hopefully buying more of your songs. The first track is a loss leader – a trick that supermarkets use, amongst others, in order to start you off buying things as soon as you are through the door, by presenting you with an offer that is too good to turn down. Psychologically it flips a switch, softening up customers and getting them into “purchasing mode”. Encouraging them to share the track is turning them into mavens – trusted hubs of taste and information that effectively promote you by word of mouth.
By understanding who your fans or customers are, you can start to tailor your marketing towards them. If you are a heavy metal band, then hashtags about your favourite jazz albums might not get many retweets (and vice versa). Think about what information they may want to hear, and will hopefully share with others, not just what you want to tell them about your products. Inspire debate, as well as just gig listings and album details, don’t just transmit sales speak. Social media needs to be social to work, not just a traditional advertising one way street of messages. They are your fans – understand what they want from you.
Making money from Marketing
There are a number of happy benefits from marketing your music, above and beyond simply generating direct sales of cd’s or mp3’s.
Here are a few of them:
PRS (for songwriters): http://www.prsformusic.com
If a song you have written is played on the radio, on TV or anywhere in public, then you can receive a royalty from the performing rights society (PRS). In order to do this, firstly you need to be registered with them as a commercial songwriter – and to do that you need to have had some music actually released commercially. If you can prove that, then register asap, make sure that all of your tracks are correctly catalogued by them, and then sit back and wait. Usually you receive payments from them twice a year, and they vary massively according to how much exposure your work has had. If it has been played heavily by Radio 1 or 2 for example, then you can expect a significant return (actual numbers are fiendishly difficult to obtain, as they are extremely market sensitive, but very possibly well into 5 figures). And remember this is solely for the publishing (or songwriters) rights – not the artists (or performers) royalties.
PPL (for those that played on the recordings): http://www.ppluk.com/
Artist royalties are collected by PPL. Again, you need to register with them, and ensure that all tracks that you have played or sang on are properly noted down. They also pay out twice yearly. Income from this is usually smaller than PRS income for your own works – but if you didn’t write the music you have recorded yourself, then this will be the only income you receive from public licenses.
YouTube Affiliate Program: https://www.youtube.com/yt/creators/creator-benefits.html
If you’ve made a video to accompany your music, then you can register for the YouTube Affiliate Program. You can make a small return from each view that your work generates paid for by the advertising on the site. Unless you create the new Gangnam Style that goes global, it’s unlikely to be a huge amount, but it all counts, and it’s all available to you as a way of generating some income whilst you are also marketing your music.
Live Gig Fees
Now this one may seem a little bit back to front – surely the money you get for playing live isn’t really part of the marketing spin off from your album release? Well, it all counts, and whether you play live in order to promote your recorded music, or your recorded music is there in order to help you get more gigs, doesn’t really matter – as long as you are generating income from what you love to do, it’s all good.
Web Advertising Revenue
If your web site gets enough followers, you could sell ad space on it and gain some revenue that way. You may chose not to of course – it can be a minefield for musical credibility to have say, an ad for a dating site alongside your concept album detailing your marriage break up, or any advert at all placed alongside your 8 minute thrash metal diatribe about corporations wielding too much power. Advertising can compromise the look of a web site quite severely – think this one through as to how and whether it’s an avenue for you, but if you have significant traffic then it’s maybe worth exploring.
“This article was an extract from the book “How to Thrive as an Independent Artist in the Modern Music Industry” by Matt Clackett, due for release in November 2014”
Matt Clackett is a music industry veteran. From session sax player as a teenager to writing and producing for some of the biggest names in pop, soul, dance and rock, he has gone on to establish and advise multiple music companies, covering record labels, publishing, events and now silicon valley. His latest venture is a partnership with tech guru Joe Wood, to create a revolutionary music platform called LoopSoop, which will launch as multiple apps this Autumn. When not working to radically change the music industry, he occasionally writes for www.ybom.net and The Guardian.