Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

Music marketing ideas for DIY artists, managers, promoters and music biz pros


July 29, 2005

Build Your Music Brand Online

Want an earful of Internet marketing tips? Deborah Harper of Psychjourney.com interviewed me by phone two days ago on the topic of my book, Branding Yourself Online. And thanks to her, you can listen to the whole thing free.

While her audience is primarily made up of therapists and mental health professionals, we had fun discussing a wide range of general self-promotion strategies that can also benefit self-empowered musicians like you.

Click here to listen to the 40-minute interview. Also visit Deborah's Psychjourney Book Club to see and hear interviews she's done with several other cool authors and experts.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 4:48 PM   0 comments


July 27, 2005

How to Boost CD & Merch Sales

Carlo, a blog reader and member of the Filipino hip-hop group Audible, sent me the following e-mail regarding Monday's post on Top CD & Merch Sales Tips. He asks some questions that I'm sure have crossed the minds of many self-promoting musicians:

"I know that if you don't ask for the sale, you won't get it. But let's say you've announced CDs and merchandise for sale before, during and after your performance. You deliver a great show and people approach you afterwards, but the amount of sales is nowhere near what you expected it to be. What do you do? Do you go approach the audience and ask 'em if they want CDs? Or just stay where you are and let people come to you?"

Great questions. I'll give a few of my own suggestions and then encourage the smart people who read this blog to post additional comments below.

Yes, take it to the people. In addition to having a merch table that fans must go to, some artists also have "helpers" who work the crowd to inspire mailing list sign-ups and CD sales. And they actually carry the CDs with them while wearing a band T-shirt.

On his Bards Crier site, Marc Gunn covered this when he highlighted Sharon Wothke and The Rogues. Here's an excerpt:

We started from the very beginning employing the use of a roaming basket. It is very effective and other groups have successfully copied our approach. Our sellers walk around holding up the product so people can see them. Our sellers try to blend in with the show and not be pushy, just visible. I personally enjoy interacting with the crowd, spoofing off of what is being said on the stage and telling jokes to make the audience laugh. And I will talk and be nice to everyone, even if they don't buy a CD, simply because I enjoy people and I am trying to be an ambassador for the band. They may not buy today, but chances are they will think about it and buy a CD at another time.

But there are also ways to entice more people to visit the merch table area, such as:

Set out free candy or snacks, available to anyone who walks over to the table.

Hold a drawing. To enter, people must put their business card or form into a bowl, which of course sits on the merch table.

But at the core of Carlo's e-mail was the question: How do you get people to actually buy instead of just browse? One great way is to make special offers. Have a regular price that people pay if they buy from your web site, then a special "live show only" discount price.

You can have some fun with this, too. When I saw Kim Massie in St. Louis recently, she joked that the normal price of her CD was $9,999. But if you bought it that night, it could be yours for only $9.99. People in the audience laughed ... and bought a lot of CDs that night.

These are just a few thoughts. Again, I encourage you to post your own ideas for inspiring sales. Just click the Comments link below.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:47 AM   4 comments


July 25, 2005

Top CD & Merch Sales Tips

Back in May I posted a request for music merchandising tips. And did the readers of this blog respond! I'll be posting some of the best tips over the coming weeks. Some great ones came from Laura Kist, who handles PR and merchandise sales for Bomb Squad, a funk-rock act based in New York City.

"The band received the 2003 New Music Award and performed live at the American Music Awards," she says. "They have two CDs out and a lot of merch, which I sell online and at live shows. I've learned quite a few things, lugging bins of merch from gig to gig."

Here are some tips Laura picked up along the way:

Location, Location, Location: Often, club owners/managers will want to stick you in a dark corner out of the way. However, you won't sell any merch that way. You need to make sure you are set up either next to the music (wear earplugs!) or by the door. By the door, no one coming or going can miss you.

What You See Is What You Get: Clubs are dark. Make sure there is enough lighting so fans can see what they might want to buy. I use a small battery-operated lamp so people can read the CDs, check out the tees, etc. It's also helpful when counting money.

Change Is Good: Definitely make sure you have change. If you make the customer go to the bar to get change, s/he may spend that $ on a drink instead. Also, price merchandise so you and the customer aren't fumbling with singles. I keep it to the 5's: $10, $15 and $20. Also, offer deals: 2-fors or "Buy this CD, get a free t-shirt" (I raise the price of the CD a bit.) It truly increases sales -- people love free stuff!

Organization and Presentation: I keep my t-shirts in plastic bins (get 'em for a couple of bucks each at Kmart). I separate the girls styles from the boys and sort them according to size. It makes it much easier to give the customer what they want, especially if it's a packed house.

Ask for Help: When I know Bomb Squad is going to sell out a venue, I make sure I have someone to help me. I have lost sales because I literally couldn't get to the customer.

Up with the Times: I pay attention to what people are wearing. When trucker hats came back in style, we got trucker hats with the Bomb Squad logo.

Get Creative: I discovered that t-shirts and other merchandise don't have to be limited to the band's name. One of our best sellers is our "Sophistafunk" baby tee, named after the title track of Bomb Squad's first album. It is so popular that I often have guys asking for it for themselves! (I really have to get on that ...)

Ship Online Orders Promptly: This is so important when it comes to online sales. I am practically best friends with my mail clerk as I'm in the post office every week. When I get an order online, I make sure to take care of it within a couple of days.

Thanks for the great tips, Laura!

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posted by Bob Baker @ 12:06 PM   1 comments


July 22, 2005

Connecting With Music People Who Matter

If you don't know my indie marketing philosophy by now, here it is in a nutshell: Your #1 priority is to connect with fans. The more the merrier. Your #2 priority is to connect with people who can help you connect with even more fans.

Of course, other success factors include great music, a great live show, dedication, passion and integrity. But all of these factors and priorities will be greatly affected by the quality of your people skills -- your ability to communicate and establish meaningful relationships (and I'm not talking dating here :-)

For some tips on this topic, I'll turn to my friend Scott Ginsberg, author of The Power of Approachability. In one of his recent articles, he discussed the Top Ten Ways to Maximize Your Approachability.

Here's Scott's advice on breaking the ice when meeting someone new at a networking function:

In the event that one of those Fruitless Questions like "How's it going?" "What's up?" or "How are you?" comes up, don't fall into the "fine" trap ... A great technique is to offer a Flavored Answer to a Fruitless Question. Instead of "fine," try "Amazing!" "Any better and I'd be twins!" or "Everything is beautiful."

Your conversation partner will instantly change his or her demeanor as they smile and, most of the time, inquire further to find out what made you say that answer. Because nobody expects it. And offering a true response to magnify the way you feel is a perfect way to share yourself with others, or "make yourself personally available" to others.

So what if you're a social and promotional introvert? Scott says "have no fear" regarding the negative thoughts that go through your head:

They won't say hello back to me. They won't be interested in me. I will make a fool of myself. This is the number one reason people don't start conversations. However, practice will make this fear fade away. The more often you you start conversations, the better you will become at it. So, be the first to introduce yourself or say hello. When you take an active instead of a passive role, your skills will develop and there will be less of a chance for rejection. Also understand the gains vs. losses. For example, what's so bad about a rejection from someone you don't even know?

Finally, Scott stresses the need to give people communication options:

Your friends, colleagues, customers and coworkers will choose to communicate with you in different ways. Some will choose face to face, some will email, others will call, while others will do a little of everything. The bottom line is: make all of them available. On your business cards, email signatures, web sites or marketing materials, let people know that can get in touch with you in whatever manner they choose. Sure, you might prefer email. But what matters most is the comfort of the other person and their ability to communicate effectively.

Great advice. Use it to meet more fans -- and the people who can help you meet more fans.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 12:32 PM   1 comments


July 20, 2005

It's Like Complaining About Gravity

Here's an important lesson that could alter the way you view your place in the world of music ...

Do you complain about gravity? If not, why not? I mean, it is the source of so many frustrations -- scraped knees when you trip and fall, body parts that sag as you age, trees that crash and damage property during thunderstorms. Not to mention more extreme gravity-related tragedies like airplanes that fall from the sky or asteroid collisions that could alter life as we know it on the planet.

With all these obvious negative aspects of gravity, why don't you hear more people bitching and moaning about it? "I am so sick and tired of the damned gravity on this planet!"

I suppose you don't hear about it much because gravity is a basic law of physics. Everyone accepts it as an eternal state of life. And what good would it do anyway? No amount of complaining would change anything.

What does this have to do with your independent music career? Hang in there with me and you'll see ...

When it comes to gravity, human beings generally don't complain about it. In fact, we have learned to use the qualities of gravity to our benefit.

If it wasn't for gravity, we wouldn't have exciting activities like parachuting, surfing, skateboarding and windsurfing. There would be no home runs or pinpoint quarterback passes or Olympic diving competitions. Instead of accepting that gravity will forever keep us on the ground, daring engineers like the Wright brothers figured out how to use gravity (and other natural factors) to create lift and powered flight.

Instead of fighting with gravity, we have learned to work with it and use it to our advantage.

You know where this leading. How much do you complain about your local music scene or the music press or the sad state of radio or the lack of support from ... whoever? And what good does all the moaning do?

I'm not suggesting that the state of the music industry is somehow related to Newton's Law of Gravity. But there are certain things that you can always count on: people who won't support you when you feel they should, venues that won't book you, reviewers who won't write about you, and on and on. If you search for things to complain about, I guarantee you'll find plenty.

The trick is to treat these things like gravity. They're always going to be there to some degree. But if you're smart, you'll find a way to use whatever you have to work with to your advantage.

Think like an aerodynamic engineer or a parachutist or a major league slugger. How can you use the reality of your world to create opportunities and make something exciting out of a perceived weakness?

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posted by Bob Baker @ 10:37 AM   0 comments


July 18, 2005

One Kick-Butt Music Web Site: Look & Learn

We can talk about the elements of a good music artist web site all day long, but the best way to really "get it" is to actually visit kick-butt music sites and see them in action. One indie artist who is kicking some major butt in the web design and clarity department is Scott Andrew. Pay a visit to www.scottandrew.com and see what I mean.

What I Like About Scott's Web Site:

He has a "branded" domain name. He isn't sending people to a GeoCities or MySpace web page. He was smart and registered his artist name. Luckily, it was available as a .com.

Scott is clear about the kind of music he plays. The main image at the top of every page says, "Scott Andrew, Lo-Fi Acoustic Pop Superhero!" It's descriptive and tongue-in-cheek funny, which reinforces Scott's persona.

On the home page, he spells out his sound further. The text reads "Indie pop? Folk rock? Americana? Geez, who cares? Performing songwriter Scott Andrew charms audiences by delivering scruffy, lo-fi acoustic pop with self-effacing wit and underdog bravado. That's really all you need to know." It gives visitors a clue while still being cool and a little mysterious. Much better than the vagueness that permeates most music web sites.

Instead of offering to send you e-mail updates, Scott asks you to join his Demo Club. And he entices fans by writing "Join the Demo Club to unlock new music, get discounts, tour dates and other neato stuff." Smart move.

Scott includes upcoming shows and blog-like news entries on his home page. This keeps things fresh and up-to-date. Fans always like to know the latest.

The music page is clearly laid out. Scott lists each of his CDs, plus you can stream or download each song or purchase each CD. There's no confusion over what you can do or how to do it.

He even includes a Music Usage Policy. The page begins, "This page should answer all your questions about using my songs in podcasts, film and other media ..." Brilliant.

Everything is crystal clear. It's obvious that Scott is an excellent writer (of the English language in addition to songs), and that's one of the things that makes this site so strong. Everything is spelled out for visitors -- in a clear and concise way. Nothing is left to chance, yet he keeps things light and friendly.

Take a look at your own artist web site and ask yourself if you're being as clear and inviting as Scott Andrew. Don't steal his words or design. But do use these principles to make your own site one that's more appealing to your fans.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 12:18 PM   4 comments


July 15, 2005

DIY Books (and Bob) in the News

This just in from the Toot My Own Horn department ...

There's a fantastic article on self-publishing in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I feel blessed that the writer, Shera Dalin, felt the tips and advice I dished out for do-it-yourself authors was valuable enough to use liberally throughout the article.

I hope that my story serves as an example to others that it is quite possible to pursue a passion and purpose -- and find a way to make a living doing it. If you're interested in publishing your own book some day, take a look at the new Self-Publishing Tips & Resources section I just set up online.

Whether you're doing music, books, film or art ... it's all about self-empowerment, baby!

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posted by Bob Baker @ 11:30 AM   0 comments


July 14, 2005

Artist Empowerment Podcast #3

FYI, I just posted a new Artist Empowerment Radio show on my podcast page. The new show features snippets of songs from Gilli Moon and Scott Andrew, and the following inspiring segments from your humble host:
  • What It Really Means to "Unleash the Artist Within"
  • 5 Simple Secrets of Successful People
  • What a Set of Nuts Can Teach You About Creativity
Aren't you curious about that last one? Give it a listen now.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 10:08 AM   0 comments


July 13, 2005

Why Settle for the Slow Track?

One of the cool things about blogs is the ability that readers have to post comments. I found a great one that deserves some extra discussion. An anonymous reader responded to my post called Why You Need to Get Off the Fast-Track Mentality, which encourages artists to take the long-term, time-released approach to success instead of the knee-jerk "get famous quick" mentality.

Anonymous wrote ...
I have a question. Why put a quantity on it? There is no reason to say "you can't do it faster."

What about the people who have music as their full-time job ... who practice hours a day, and through small self-promotion efforts and word of mouth ... seem to grow their audience exponentially without all the hard effort you talk about ... just because their music is really appealing to their audience?

I have your Guerrilla Music Marketing book, and it has worked wonders for me ... but I think discouraging the possibility of massive success, or telling people it's going to take 7-10 years, seems a little extreme.

It would be much more helpful for me if you were to encourage the possibility of promotion into bigger independent success and the possibility of eventually becoming valuable to a major label ... not as a tool for a break out, but as a genuine promotional partner to extend music to a wider audience ...

Great points. Here's my take: My original motivation was to provide a reality check for those weekend warrior-type musicians who may also be lured by the rags-to-riches drama of American Idol. But I also wanted to provide a voice of encouragement for those musicians who aren't starry-eyed dreamers but who get frustrated by the apparent slow pace of progress.

There are a lot of truly talented singers, songwriters and players who "give it a shot" for several months or a couple years and then throw in the towel when they haven't reached a certain predetermined level of success. And that's fine. Not everyone has the drive and passion to keep plugging away when the money or the fans or the critical acclaim are in short supply.

So I think it was important to point out that it's okay to be patient, as long as (as the anonymous poster says) you are continually working on your craft, reaching out to fans and attempting to grow.

However, his or her comments shed light on a flaw in my advice: The implication that you should automatically "settle" for it taking a long time. I'm a big believer in the power of expectations. People with positive expectations generally enjoy positive results. So, by all means, think big ... dream big ... fully expect to succeed.

The trick is not becoming too attached to a particular outcome or specific timeframe. The most successful people set adventurous goals -- but they are infinitely flexible in adjusting their plan and rolling with the challenges (and new opportunities) they face along the way.

Maybe my headline was wrong. Instead of "Why You Need to Get Off the Fast-Track Mentality," it should have been "Why You Need to Be Committed to Your Ultimate Success -- No Matter How Long It Takes."

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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:50 AM   0 comments


July 11, 2005

Help Me in San Francisco in August

I'm going to be in San Francisco, CA, for five days in August -- the 19th thru the 23rd. While the trip is mostly for pleasure, I'm not opposed to mixing in a little semi-business. If you know of a speaking opportuntity in the area, please let me know.

I'd also be open to a more casual event, such as the networking-type parties that Derek Sivers did a couple years ago for CD Baby members. If you can gather together 50 or more music people at a store, studio, school or other venue, send your idea my way and let's see if we can turn it into a cool August event in San Fran. Just send an e-mail to Bob AT TheBuzzFactor.com.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 8:45 AM   1 comments


July 08, 2005

A New Day for Indie Music?

Are you a believer? Do you think that advances in technology mean a new day has dawned for indie artists?

Not everyone is convinced. For instance, regarding an item I posted earlier this week, Jonathan Carson (a former indie rocker and current word-of-mouth business expert), wrote this on his BuzzMetrics blog:

"I find it hard to imagine music blogs, or p2p or iTunes or any of these other potential disruptive technologies, truly breaking the current pop music paradigm. I have come to sincerely believe that most people want their music force fed to them, and have no interest in exploring the long tail of independent musicians who are doing things on their own."

While I respect Jonathan's work and like to think I'm open to a variety of opinions, I have a different view. And the thing is, I agree with him. "Most people" aren't overly concerned with how they get exposed to music. They're happy to encounter music as background noise and turn to commercial radio and other safely programmed sources to learn about artists.

So new technologies won't influence a good chunk of the population -- which means there will always be a place for corporate-created tunes.

However, independent artists shouldn't concern themselves with "most people." That's the mentality behind the old major label way of thinking -- blockbuster hits on a massive scale. In a recent Small Business Trends blog post, media expert Robin Good articulated the point I'm trying to make here quite well ...

"Artists are saying 'Who needs audiences of millions?' Without the marketing burdens and the huge overhead of trying to reach mass markets, artists find they can be successful and make a profit with fewer customers."

Bingo. Don't worry about "most people." Zero in on that small percentage of the population that is open-minded not only to music blogs, podcasts, digital downloads, etc. -- but also to your particular style of music. And considering there are about a billion people worldwide with online access these days, even a miniscule percentage can equal tens of thousands of people who could potentially embrace your sound and become lifelong fans.

And that's where new technologies are making the most impact. Allowing artists to find those previously hard-to-find fans.

At the same time, it isn't all about new tools making all the difference. I believe musicians have always had a lot more power to steer their own careers than they ever gave themselves credit for. But now it's a lot easier and less costly to reach savvy music fans using technology. Whatever era we happen to be in, it's all about looking for opportunities, creating your own lucky breaks, and making the most of what's right in front of you.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:28 AM   2 comments


July 06, 2005

Can a Music Blog Break a Band?

Here's an encouraging story for those who believe in the power of the Internet to level the playing field. This is how an article on MTV.com explains it:
The Hysterics aren't signed to a major label. They haven't groomed a following through a string of indie records. In fact, they haven't even released an official CD yet. So how did the Brooklyn, New York, foursome end up as one of MTV News' picks for You Hear It First? They have their science teacher to thank for that.

That's right, the Hysterics are only teenagers, still enrolled in high school. It was a demo song by the group's lead singer, 15-year-old Oliver Ignatius, that landed in the hands of J.P. Connolly, a science teacher at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn, and started the young group's journey toward semi-fame.
Connolly -- the hip educator that he is -- is also involved in a blog called Music for Robots. After posting a Hysterics demo track called "Mostly Untitled," the response from music fans was instantly strong. I'll let this New York Times article pick up the story from here:
That's where Joseph Patel, an MTV News producer and regular reader of the blog, heard the song. He also loved it, and decided to put the Hysterics on the air, despite the fact that they had done little more than practice in drummer Geoff Turbeville's parents' bedroom.
This exposure has done wonders for both the Hysterics (who are now courting offers from record labels) and the Music for Robots blog.

Lesson: Take advantage of new technologies and creative ways to reach new fans. You never know who might be listening. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a really cool science teacher to help you along the way.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 8:38 AM   1 comments


July 04, 2005

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2005 (So Far)

As we pass the halfway mark of the current year, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the top posts from this Music Promotion Blog. I based my definition of "top" on a combination of reader comments and my own subjective opinions. If you missed them the first time around, enjoy these posts from January to June 2005:

Who Do You Sound Like? And Why It's Important

Why You Need to Get Off the Fast-Track Mentality

The End of the Music Business as We Know It?


Marketing Lessons Learned from the Grammy Awards

Two Tips for Commercial Radio Airplay

Your #1 Success Tool

Marketing Lessons from an 8-Year-Old Girl

The Power of Personality - Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3

The Future of Music: Flowing Like Water?

Stream Your Music with Webjay

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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:20 AM   0 comments


July 01, 2005

Formulating Your Best Music Promotion Plan

Here's an item from the Buzz Factor e-zine archives. I think this one is worth a second look. And if you're celebrating it in your part of the world, have a great Indie-Pendence Day weekend!

A lot of people who subscribe to my Buzz Factor e-zine, read my books and attend my workshops tell me that once they shift into a brainstorming mode, the self-promotion ideas come faster than Billy Joel behind the wheel of a Mazarotti. My first piece of advice regarding this fantastic state of mind is:

Buy a notebook or journal and capture these thoughts by writing them down. Don't expect to remember everything later. That rarely works. Grab ideas while they're hot.

If you're driving when inspiration strikes, carefully pull over and scribble down your thoughts on a gas receipt, fast food bag or whatever is handy. If you're in a bar or restaurant, use a napkin. If you're in the shower ... well, be creative and find a way to record those great ideas.

Once you have a master list of earth-shattering, career-boosting concepts, things don't get any easier. Now you probably feel as if you have so many options, you don't know where to start. Most music people get so flustered at this point, they do nothing. Or they do a little bit of everything all at once and spread themselves too thin, with nothing to show for all their hard work.

Well, I believe in keeping things simple. Don't overwhelm yourself. For starters, there are two things you should do every week, if not every day:

1) Write, record and perform great music. This is no secret. The most creative promotion ideas in the world will do nothing to help mediocre music. So work on your music making craft constantly. All it takes is one killer song to light a fire that will sustain an entire career.

2) The second thing you should do almost every day is to take steps to connect with and attract more fans. Don't get sidetracked with technicalities and industry connections and stuff that doesn't matter. Keep a constant focus on fans.

Now, what about those specific big ideas you have for getting exposure, selling CDs, etc.? Get out a calendar that covers the next 12 months, and start writing down your best ideas and the times of the year they would work best.

Think this through and move things around on the calendar until you've got one or two great ideas listed for each month. Doing this will give you a promotional roadmap so you know the best ways to spend your time and energy every month. Your efforts will be more focused this way and more likely to generate results.

Don't just wing it and leave things to chance. This is your career and livelihood at stake here. Set priorities. Create an action plan. You can always tweak and alter the plan as you go. But having one in the first place gives you a starting point and a direction ... and a reason to get busy and start promoting your music now.

So formulate a plan -- your ideal plan -- then ... get out there and promote yourself!

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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:14 AM   2 comments