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


Passive Supporters, Active Fans and Super Fans

I wrote a tweet a few days ago that seemed to resonate with people. It said that artists should spend more time defining a sense of purpose, and aligning themselves with their fans’ values.

If you’ve ever been in a band, you know that the majority of band conversations regarding goals and upcoming plans tend to revolve around things like booking as many gigs as possible, figuring out ways for as many people as possible to view your next video, etc. Of course those are not bad things to think about. But if that is the end of the conversation then you’re not only missing the other half of what’s needed, but you’re also pretty much missing the point.

This is the fan path every artist seeks:


The goal is to turn passive supporters into active fans, and then those active fans into super fans.

If you’re only thinking about how much you love playing gigs and your YouTube channel views, you definitely can get through this cycle, but the odds of getting to the third stage definitely decrease.

Two key areas I believe artists should spend more time thinking about are Transparency and Exclusivity.


Transparency deals with breaking down the barrier between you and your audience. Social media is the vehicle for transparency. Authentic Twitter conversations, behind-the-scenes YouTube videos, and sharing about things that dont relate to your music but still reinforce your values/brand/voice are examples of this.


“Exclusivity” almost could have been replaced by “Community”. This element makes people feel like they are part of a scarce (and therefore valuable) tribe. Your mailing list is a perfect way to amplify exclusivity. Exclusive content and private events/listening parties are examples of developing your community. This is why every major artist has some sort of fan club.

Transparency helps turn passive supporters into active fans, and Exclusivity helps turn active fans into super fans. Bands should spend more time talking about this.

Learning From Frank Ocean

I assume most of you have heard of Frank Ocean by now, either from his work with Jay-Z & Kanye West, his album channel ORANGE, which was released today on iTunes, his work with Odd Future, or from his work writing for artists like Beyonce and Justin Bieber.

If none of those come to mind, you must have heard about his now-famous recent Tumblr letter, originally scheduled for his album liner notes, announcing that he was bisexual, by telling the story of how he fell in love with a man four summers ago.

Since this letter was published, countless celebrities have shown support by spreading awareness about this news, and also about his amazing music. Endless articles were written, and it has sparked consistent dialogue about the courage it took to be one of the few mainstream artists in the hip hop/soul/R&B genre today who are openly bisexual.

But beyond this dialogue, and anyone’s personal opinions, there is much to be noted here about how human connection will make an Artist stand out, and how critical it is to gradually develop your own voice.

Frank’s website is simply his personal Tumblr blog, where the self-described ‘story teller’ jots down random thoughts or poems. This Tumblr is linked to his Facebook page, turning Facebook into simply another platform to get to know him. It’s obvious that Frank has been developing his own voice for quite some time now.

It is very important to realize that when he was discovered by the general public, his chances of turning that exposure into a long career would have been MUCH lower had he not been quietly developing his own voice when nobody was watching. He now has a body of both musical and poetic work that speak much louder for him than anything else could.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has now checked out his blog, Liked his Facebook page, watched great YouTube interviews, and discovered new music that I love, all simply because I feel like I’m getting to know a new person, and not just a new artist.

“You can do a lot by yourself. Not just songs, but taking control of your whole movement.” – Frank Ocean

Doing (and failing at) Everything

In addition to whatever remains of the traditional music industry, the internet has busted everything wide open, to the point where there are now more opportunities than ever for artists to be heard. Content is now cheaper to create than ever before, alternative distribution channels and revenue streams are unraveling, and social media, rather than radio or MTV, is the key dialogue vehicle between artists and their fans.

While this seems nice, your strategy cannot be doing everything. If you try to do everything, you will do everything at a mediocre level because you simply can only give each so much attention. If you are a rock band, you should worry much more about having an extraordinary live show than about how many Twitter followers you have.

Rather, the best thing you can do is understand as many of these tools as possible. Not so you can use them all, but so you can intelligently determine which ones will best amplify your strengths to a focused group of people. Pick a few, and do those few amazingly well. Think creatively and use these tools as foundations. They are a means to a more creative and unique end, not the end themselves.

If your strategy is to do everything as much as possible, you will fail. Recognize your audience, find the tools that serve that audience, and then aggressively use those tools as the core vehicle between you and that audience.

Beyond Music

When starting from scratch or developing your current project, start by identifying the things beyond your music.

If you have a great sense of humor, re-color your hair every few months, always shop at specific stores, have a stoic personality, or love a certain type of clothing, don’t blow these things off.

Instead, IDENTIFY them, and then AMPLIFY them within everything you do – from your complete live show down to your word choices in your latest Facebook post.

If you can pair great music with an engaging and identifiable personality, people will consistently want more of you. And when that happens, the odds of your success skyrocket.

Screaming At Your Fans

If you are an artist or band, go to your Facebook page, Twitter feed, and mailing list, right now.

Look at your posting history.

Are you only writing to your fans when you want something from them?

“Come to our show!”

“Buy our album!”

“Watch this video!”

“Sign up for this!”

“Listen here!”

“Read this article about us!”

“Click here!”

“Send this link to your friends!”

“Vote for us!”

Stop doing that. Please. The best way to “market” yourself is to build human connections with like-minded people (your fans). Once built, use these connections as a platform to grow together WITH them. Bring them into your world. Make them feel a sense of ownership.

They are in this with you.

People are much more likely to buy, watch, vote for, and share the music of something they are a part of than they will for someone who is just constantly screaming at them.


While social media is undoubtedly changing music discovery as a whole, it can not replace hard work and memorable activity offline.

All social media does is amplifies your offline, real-world experience. It takes what you’re doing already and helps you find a community of like-minded people around it.

Bands need to keep this in mind.

A key part of your “digital strategy” should be to be phenomenal offline.