This Article Originally Published November 1999
by Michael Leshay
So you're all excited about the CD you've just gotten back from the pressing plant. Now what? Shop to the major labels and get the usual artist royalty of 13 points AFTER recoupment? Possibly, if there happens to be an offer on the table. How about shopping to the more receptive independent labels for a deal with no "advance" but a more substantial royalty of let's say 50%? Maybe, if there happens to be an offer on the table.
If the first two options to turn out not to be options, don't despair. There are some very simple and effective methods of marketing and promoting your CD. And they don't include having to disguise your voice when calling radio stations, or wearing a fake nose and glasses and pretending to be your bands manager to visit a retail outlet. You will incur some marketing and promotion costs, but the return on your overall investment will be well worth it. More importantly, you can be the ultimate controller of how the marketplace perceives you or your band.
Most record companies are looking to break artists nationally rather than regionally at first, but in reality, it is easier to sell 20,000 units to a particular region of the U.S. with a population of let's say 15,000,000 people than it is to sell 20,000 units to 272,000,000 people nationwide using the exact same amount of marketing dollars.
As a new artist (major or indie label), you will find yourself waiting in a long line behind pre-existing, established artists that all want (and will likely get) those one or two slots that open every Tuesday when radio stations set their weekly playlists. This is why the window of opportunity for multiple spins at commercial radio stations is pretty slim.
So how does a band with a small budget enhance the chances of radio airplay in order to sell albums at retail? There are several ways and they all connect with touring.
When setting up a tour, an artist should initially look at an area that is within a days drive (4 to 6 hours) from their home base. This way the artist can leave on a Thursday afternoon or Friday morning for a show on Friday night, then drive to another market (3 to 4 hours) for a show on Saturday night, then onto another market on Sunday followed by the drive home (another 3 to 4 hours) so that you can be ready for getting back to the day job on a beautiful Monday morning.
Tiring? Yes it is. But developing a strong following of fans is very important as it allows the artist to support him/herself and eventually radio, retail, press, and the major labels will be forced to look at what an artist is achieving in his particular market.
Now that you know where you're going, what do you do you do when you get there?
- Find out which radio stations in that area play your kind of music. Invite them to your show. Take them lunch. Play for the staff. Make friends.
- Identify which retail outlets (record stores, Best Buy, etc.) in each market are the easiest to approach with your CD. Which ones are supportive of indie music? Invite them to the show. Make more friends.
- What weekly, regional, daily's, fanzines, and other publications are located in each market? Send them advance notice of your gig with CDs for review. Make even more friends.
Now that we've established the three key ingredients, let's get back to the vehicle that is going to get those ingredients to work for you: touring. How do you get gigs in clubs you've never played, in cities you've never been to? Simple: Offer to play a free show. The club owner gets customers in drinking at the bar, and you get to show impressionable young people that you are the Next Big Thing and sell them CDs after the show.
How do we make the masses aware that you are going to playing a free show? Again it's simple. Run ads on television.
No, really. Did you know that you can buy prime-time TV spots on major networks like MTV, VH-1, ESPN, and the Home and Garden Channel (OK, you may not want to run spots on every channel) for as low as $12 for a thirty second spot? It depends on the size of the market but these spots are available even in major cities for not much more than $35 each and can reach nearly a million households.
Yep, all local cable companies have a certain amount of advertising time for sale right alongside the "Coca-Cola", "Rogaine", and "Partnership for a Drug Free America" ads.
Not only can you advertise your free gig and pack the house, but if you set up an 800 number and offer a free two or three song cassette/CD on your TV spots, you can build a powerful mailing list of fans to whom you can market your future gigs and recordings.
These methods require lots of homework, research, and dedication, as well as some kind of a budget, but they can put you in control of a self-sustaining career that is not dependent on major label whims, while at the same time making you more attractive to those labels.
Remember that when you come up with the idea of making and pressing your own CD, the ultimate goal is to sell them as well. So many artists press their CDs then do nothing with them, and end up giving them away to friends and family. Think about why you are making and pressing your own CD and have a game plan.