Loss Leaders and Flipping the Switch

LOSS LEADER:

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.

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2. The Power of a Story

3. The True Function of Social Media

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.

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.

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

2) The Power of Focus and the Danger of Expansion

Why Ignoring Labels is the Best Way to Get Signed

Although the music industry is evolving, it is still hard for artists to get out of the “pick me” mindset, which has been drilled into bands’ heads through a combination of the traditional record business model and endless stories of A&R scouts signing bands in dirty bars.Crane Game

I often hear artists declare from day one that their goal is to get signed to a label. The problem with this line of thinking is that it distracts you from the unbelievably difficult task of building a fanbase and developing fantastic material. You might argue that you can do both, and that, in fact, the goal of signing to a label will only excite you further and drive you to put more effort into your work. But I wouldn’t believe you.

I believe starting a project with the goal of making the most deliberate music possible, coupled with an absolutely relentless focus on turning your supporters into a true community, is a much better use of brain-space than having phrases like “would a label want this?”  in the back of your head every step of the way.

Labels don’t sign artists that want to be signed by a label. They don’t sign artists who know in their hearts that, if only a label signed them, they could do big things. Labels sign artists who are already starting a movement and turning heads. They sign artists that are completely engrained with conviction in every song they write, every stage they step on, every mailing list email they send, and every post they make on their Facebook page.

If you take it upon yourself to start your own movement and truly create something that spreads, labels will come to you. It may seem backwards, but ignoring labels is the best way to get signed. If you begin by hoping to be validated by someone else, you’ve missed the point completely.

Pick Me

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Horizontal vs. Vertical Strategy

I touched on this in yesterday’s post, but wanted to elaborate on when I claimed that premature expansion was dangerous. As a new artist/band, the variety of areas available to pursue often feels unbearable. Here are just a few possible priorities:

  • Writing music
  • Creating Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud, Instagram, Pinterest, and Bandcamp profiles
  • Holding consistent Twitter conversations
  • Designing merchandise
  • Rehearsing
  • Configuring Facebook apps
  • Booking shows
  • Designing logos, artwork, etc.
  • Recording
  • Filming music videos
  • Booking photo shoots
  • Determining image

A common mistake is when a new artist tries to do all of these things at once. This “horizontal” approach leaves you dabbling in each area, without seeing or feeling a true sense of arrival.

The alternative to the horizontal approach is, as you may have guessed, a vertical approach. With the vertical mindset, you begin by identifying the core areas you want to focus on. Once identified, create a thorough plan – both long and short term – for each area, and then devote all of your time to executing that plan, while consistently adjusting, learning and improving. [It’s important to note that the key to all of this is a combination of patience and focus. It might take a year before you are successful enough in one area to pursue the next.]

As you begin to see results in these first few areas, you can then stack a new piece onto that, and focus fanatically on the success of that specific layer. As this unfolds, you will find yourself making a large splash in each field, rather than dipping your toe in the water and seeing if anyone notices a ripple.

Water Ripple

The Power of Focus and the Danger of Expansion

A common reason small businesses fail is premature expansion. Expansion is dangerous until you have an infrastructure so solid that you are truly confident in your business model, and have proven success. For example, a local barber shop may have a single location for a few years before opening its second shop. This is because those first few years are an ongoing learning period to develop systems, and generally figure out what works and what doesn’t, for their specific company. Then, and only then, will they expand.

An artist is no different. If you start your band by making a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr and official website, while having shirts made, contacting blogs, filming music videos, recording, and booking live shows, there is absolutely zero chance you will be devoting enough time to any of those things for them to become a sturdy platform to launch from. It will hurt you in the end.

As an alternative, consider focusing on one or two aspects, and become the best in the world at them. Begin by identifying which of those fields represent the project best. Next, identify the key platforms, on or offline, that will amplify these fields. Finally, very gradually and only once results begin to shine, start adding new elements to the scope of your work.

Master one piece at a time, and slowly build your project, rather than throwing everything out there and seeing what sticks.

Foundation

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1) Two Common Gigging Errors For New Bands

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Data as Your Compass

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be approached by Next Big Sound about writing a guest blog piece for them. If you’re unfamiliar with NBS, they provide a valuable service to artists and managers, tracking each of your web pages and creating both real-time and weekly reports on your digital footprint. Below is the piece I wrote for them. Originally titled “The Value of Data For Artist Managers”, the concepts here apply to independent/DIY artists especially:

Data

Today, an endless sea of bands are proudly branding themselves “DIY Artists,” and are quick to talk badly of record labels or any other “gatekeeper.” However, our current musical landscape comes engrained with a dense sense of responsibility and strategy that few artists acknowledge. As a manager, this responsibility includes examining perpetual concepts like transparency, exclusivity, community, and discovery, while still prioritizing the minutia. New channels pop up every day, while merchandise, publishing, touring, and recording still need to progress. With so many moving pieces, managers often crave a single thread that can tie it all together.

Enter data.

The beauty of data for artist managers is that it serves as a strategic compass, both on and offline. It informs your day-to-day decisions, allowing you to strategically penetrate a focused goal, rather than achieving random acts of improvement.

Tour routing is a great example. Every artist can, right this second, pull up a list of the top 10 cities where their fans/listeners/viewers are located on Facebook, Soundcloud and YouTube. With these reports in front of you, you will surely begin to see patterns. These patterns should guide your routing. Although it may require a bit more effort, it sure beats saying “well, it’s a rock band, so let’s tour the South.”

But touring is just one piece of an artist’s career. Digital marketing firms use radio spin data every day. If an emerging artist, for instance, begins getting radio play in select cities, marketers garner this information and execute geo-targeted campaigns to propagate these same communities. Also, in the land of the free (download), collecting fan data is critical. As a manager, a highly populated mailing list is not just a bunch of email addresses and zip codes; it is a report telling you who and where your fans are. Website traffic, merch sales, ticketing reports, live show draw, and your quantitative social media footprint are other forms of valuable data for a manager.

With all that said, the most important “metric” is still trust. Trust, in its most genuine form, cannot be measured, and that’s what makes it so special. It cannot be bought; only nurtured. Developing trust with your fan community is critical, and can only be done through repetition and consistency. As trust develops, so does your story and your influence.

With great tools like Next Big Sound, and free insights from your social channels, it is easier than ever before to identify your fan base. Touring, radio, web and merch reports, combined with an obsessive focus on trust, consistency and community is a winning formula.

Without data, it would be easy to wander aimlessly through the evolving music industry. But with data as your guide, the entire process becomes much simpler.

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