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



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.

The AAR Cycle

So you finished your single/EP/album. The music is amazing. Production is amazing. Artwork is amazing. You’ve put countless hours into this. It’s uploaded to Bandcamp and ready to be released. Next, you go to Facebook, post the link, and sit back and wait for the downloads to roll in. And then… yeah… pretty rough results. Why?

Every artist or band continually goes through what I call the AAR Cycle, a three-part cycle of Awareness, Anticipation, and Release.

AAR Cycle

Let’s work backwards. If you want successful results from your single/EP/album, your fans and friends need to know in advance when your music is being Released, how they will get it, and an idea of what to expect, to pique interest. You can’t just surprise people with this stuff.

You get this information to your fans through the Anticipation process. There absolutely MUST be Anticipation to build some element of suspense or “hype” about whatever you’re about to drop. Promo videos, behind-the-scenes footage, posters, contests, singles, and exclusive content for those on your mailing list are all possible vehicles for this. Make your content engaging, and give your followers a good amount of time before the Release to let their curiosity grow.

The absolute most critical part of the AAR Cycle, though, is the initial Awareness stage. It all MUST start with Awareness (i.e. making sure people know you exist). Otherwise, the rest is useless. In your personal life, your closest friendships grow from developing trust and loyalty over a gradual period of time. Similarly, Awareness comes from gradually developing this same trust and loyalty between your band and your fans. The best way to build this trust is to avoid the all-too-common happening of only get in touch with fans when you want something from them (“Come to this show!” … “Download this track!” … “Buy this shirt!”) Instead, be genuine and transparent about why you’re doing what you’re doing, your entire creation process, and what you hope to achieve from your project.

To summarize:

1. Use the Awareness stage to develop an emotional connection with people.

2. Once this connection is built, these initial followers will serve as the foundation for you to build Anticipation from. The people you initially connected with during the Awareness stage will not only get excited during the Anticipation stage, but they will share this excitement with like-minded friends.

3. After both of these steps have happened successfully, your Release will be much stronger, and I promise you will be more satisfied with the results.

If your music is released and no one is around to hear it, it does not make a sound.

Well Here We Are (welcome)

First off, thanks for being here.

I figure the first post should give you some insight on what you can expect from this blog, and from me.

You can expect the topics here to range somewhat, with themes generally involving:

  • strategy and promotion for independent/local/emerging artists
  • artist management
  • social media
  • entrepreneurship
  • purpose, passion, and inspiration
  • productivity and work ethic
  • music to check out
  • books to read
  • all-things-Larry David

If you enter your email address in the top right corner to subscribe, you will be notified via email whenever a new post is made. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep checking in here randomly, which doesn’t sound too convenient.

I would love for this blog to feel like a community. Any and all are encouraged to share thoughts and start discussions in the “comments” section of each post. If you like something I write, share it with friends. Invite people to join the conversation, and encourage those who you think would find this blog useful or interesting to subscribe.

You can most easily follow me on Twitter to connect.

That’s it for now.

If anything changes, I’ll let you know.

Thanks again.