Loss Leaders and Flipping the Switch


Definition: “a pricing strategy where a product is sold for free or below its market cost to stimulate other sales.”

Loss leaders are the discount CD’s sold in Best Buy, ultimately leading to the purchase of your new TV, or the inkjet printers sold at a loss, because you can now only buy their proprietary, hyper-expensive ink cartridges for many years.

The most common example of loss leaders in music is when new artists offer music for free to “gain exposure”. The challenge, then, becomes creating a real (like, really, REALLY real) strategy on how to maximize that exposure, and ultimately drive it somewhere more costly. The marketing and sales plan of: A) uploading a track on Soundcloud, B) posting that link on Facebook/Twitter, and C) crossing your fingers, is pretty limited.

But music is different than inkjet printers, and selling creativity is different then selling a microwave, because, just as people like to know what a painter was feeling while creating a masterpiece, music consumers like to know the story behind the artists they love.

With the rise of the internet, and resulting decline of one-size-fits-all mass advertising, an artist’s story now truly unfolds online, gradually. If someone relates to the story behind a song (and not purely the song itself), they are much more likely to share that song with a friend. That is why stage two, after offering your music for free, must be to first identify and then amplify your story online.

Once you have both tons of exposure and a story people are connecting with and sharing, then you flip the switch. Flipping the switch could mean announcing your first tour, line of merch, or making those same songs that had been free now available exclusively for sale… or all of those things back to back over the course of a few months.

If you take the long road of truly developing your project, by first offering something to spark interest, then building a story, and finally flipping the switch, your odds of building a trusted brand and career skyrocket.


1. Fanbases Are Conversations

2. The Power of a Story

3. The True Function of Social Media


The Golden Circle: Why Are You Doing What You’re Doing?

Another great guest post today from digital marketing expert Nick Susi. If you like this, you can read his first guest post on the blog here. Enjoy:

An oldie but a goodie – one of my favorite TED Talks is from back in May 2010, a talk by author Simon Sinek called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” The presentation is based on his book Start With Why, which is about just that – the importance of thinking counterintuitively to best connect with your audience and to clearly define your story. Start with WHY you’re doing something, then HOW you’re doing it, and last, WHAT you’re actually doing. Sinek names this concept The Golden Circle.Golden Circle

He uses Apple as an example to show the difference between starting with WHAT versus starting with WHY when telling their brand’s story and connecting with their core consumers.

Outside-In, Starting With WHAT

  • We make great computers.
  • They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.
  • Want to buy one?

Inside-Out, Starting with WHY

  • Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo.
  • We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly.
  • And we happen to make computers.
  • Want to buy one?

Getting to the core of why you’re doing what you’re doing helps your audience gain a better understanding of you and creates a human connection with your brand.


It’s no surprise that Sinek and his Golden Circle came up again more recently while I was reading a new book by Jackie Huba, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics.

Huba uses Lady Gaga as an example within The Golden Circle:

Gaga1) WHY

Transform the culture to create a kinder, braver world where everyone is valued.

2) HOW

Live life as performance art, including avant-garde fashion and iconic performances, to gain attention to the cause.


Write and sing catchy pop music.

Gaga not only writes, releases and performs music as her means to make a living, but also uses music as a platform for activism in favor of gay rights and against bullying. Her music, paired with her genuine proactive movement for human rights, allows her to connect with a wider audience.

It’s not necessary that every musician and artist be an activist, but ask yourself – Why are you doing what you’re doing? If you have difficulty answering this question yourself, your followers likely do not understand your complete story.

Define the WHY, clearly communicate your story, make it easy for your following to connect with you.


1) Fanbases Are Conversations

2) Guest Post: 8 Tips For Increasing Tumblr Followers & Engagement

The Power of a Story

Passionate artists perfect, analyze, and pour themselves into each song they write, because each song is an isolated representation of themselves. The greatest artists, though, are those who are able to step back and, in addition to focusing intensely on each piece of music, develop a story that surrounds this music.

So few artists think of their journey as a vehicle to write the story that surrounds them.

People don’t connect with music alone, they connect with a larger sense of purpose or a shared value that they identify with.

If you create a song, share it online with one Facebook post, and then get back to work writing again to do that same thing a few months later, you’re not positioning yourself for success. Not because the music isn’t great – the music might be the best in the world – but because there is no consistency or sense of story being developed.

Similar to any great novel, smooth transitions are critical. Just like a book, your musical project needs to flow steadily and transition gracefully, so that everything you do – from a music video release down to a tweet – moves together, as one cohesive unit, towards a common, consistent goal. Otherwise, you will simply have one-off positive moments, but no larger story to wrap them in.

Without a story, people have trouble identifying with a larger sense of purpose or shared values. And without those, it’s very hard for anyone to care about you.


1) Trust Develops as the Story Develops

2) Only Then Do We Sign Our Work

Learning From: The Airline Industry

At this point, people basically expect a bad experience when flying. The entire process – from your first steps out of the car to getting in your seat on the plane – is a truly frustrating, annoying, and often frantic process.

If you think hard about it, though, it really is not the long lines, expensive amenities, or high chance of a flight delay that makes the process so painful. Ultimately, it’s the customer service experience that does it, and there are two key factors we can learn from here.


Everyone knows how important first impressions are. In business, in music, in relationships, in anything. But for some reason most companies seem to ignore this when determining who their customer service reps will be. To put the most unintelligent, incompetent, or drained/defeated personalities at your front desks, answering your phones, and helping your customers (specifically in an industry full of customer complaints like this one), makes no sense to me. A first impression is so, so, so critical – and it’s worth investing in the people or materials necessary to make your brand’s first impression a great one.


If the entire frustrating travel process were identical, except you felt like the customer service representatives genuinely cared about you, it would not be nearly as bad. There is an overwhelming feeling of being a statistic when traveling. When a flight is canceled or delayed several hours, there is absolutely zero sense of apology or hospitality exchanged. The customer service rep understandably can’t care about each flight cancelation, and I’m not suggesting they put up an “RIP Flight 4950” sign when a flight is canceled. But I am saying that if there was even the slightest form of either systematic or personal apology from a brand when they cause an extreme inconvenience for a customer that is already paying tons of money to be there, it would make a massive difference.

If any airline were to truly step up and make changes in these directions, their customer loyalty would skyrocket, and they would immediately become everyone’s favorite airline.


1) “Your Customer Service Experience”

2) “Daytrotter: How Community and Value Can Trump Cheap”

A Few Reminders For Artists

  • Being a musician is not an excuse to be irresponsible or disorganized.
  • Music spreads through conversation and sharing.
  • The internet connects like-minded people, no matter how small the niche.
  • Managers can only work as hard as their artist.
  • The “average person” spends 40+ hours per week working.
  • You must give people a reason to listen to your music.
  • Social media is not a “necessary evil”. It is the best way to communicate with your fans.
  • Success = Preparation + Opportunity. Can you honestly say you’re preparing?
  • Do you have a story worth telling?
  • Focus on the key platforms that amplify your strengths – don’t try to do everything at once.
  • Press helps develop your story.
  • You are not entitled to paying gigs based on talent; you earn them as you build an audience.
  • Stop blaming record labels, other gatekeepers, or people who “just don’t get it”.
  • Don’t get lost somewhere in the middle; focus on the edges.
  • Fans love being acknowledged.
  • Managers are not assistants.
  • Transparent, authentic one-on-one interaction always win.
  • Real success comes from brave, painful, concentrated effort.

“Only Then Do We Sign Our Work”

The first two minutes of this video are absolute gold. This is poetry. Click below to watch.

Only then do we sign our work

if everyone

is busy making everything

how can anyone perfect anything?

we start to confuse convenience

with joy


with choice

designing something requires


the first thing we ask is:

“what do we want people to feel?”





then we begin to craft around our intention.

it takes time…

there are a thousand no’s

for every yes.

we simplify

we perfect

we start over

until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches.

only then do we sign our work.


1) A Body of Work

2) Exponential Habit and Fear

Learning From: BKLYNR

BKLYNRThe extreme saturation of the internet is a cause of annoyance for many people. Facebook users, for instance, usually enjoy the social network’s connection value, but are drained by the constant invitations (Facebook Events, Farmville requests, etc.) Today, artists and businesses alike are often focused exclusively on dropping prices as low as possible, and are willing to sacrifice quality to get there.

A recent Brooklyn startup, aptly titled BKLYNR, is doing just the opposite, though. And it’s working.

BKLYNR’s mission is to create quality journalism about Brooklyn, specifically topics that are usually ignored (i.e. they don’t write about food trucks). But this theme of quality is densely engrained in every aspect of the publication – which focuses on politics, culture, urban development and the community at large – from the stunning website design to the confident yet approachable voice in their Tweets. As a subscriber since the day they launched, I would describe what I’ve seen from BKLYNR pretty simply: they’re confident that they’re creating something truly valuable, and are willing to bet that you’ll appreciate the quality enough to pay for it.

BKLYNR 2For artists/bands, aside from BKLYNR’s prioritization of quality, there is a different (and truly massive) lesson to learn here. It is critical to recognize that, again, they are not writing about the popular, common, trendy topics. Instead, they are creating content for an extremely focused audience that most people simply don’t really care about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard new artists, whose goals are not much different than a startup business, talk about how they play an obscure genre and therefore find it too difficult to get their name out there.

In reality, though, focusing on a niche audience allows you to become a trusted source, while diving directly into your community much more easily than you would if you were trying to appeal to everyone. The beauty of the internet is that it allows like-minded people to form communities around things they love. So, if you’re a new artist worried that your music is too obscure to appeal to the mainstream, recognize that, today, obscurity is actually empowering, and that the difference between failure and success is often just a matter of embracing the pocket of the world that you identify with.


1) Daytrotter: How Community and Value Can Trump “Cheap”

2) The Power of Focus and the Danger of Expansion