Music promotion with a low budget : free entertainment listings, live show

Music Promotion Tactics

"Attention-getting tactics to promote
your music (on a limited budget)"

By Bob Baker

Recognition! Attention! A legion of loyal fans! Those things are what most working musicians aspire to have. Yet, I can't count the number of frustrated band members I encounter every month who work hard at their music but end up playing to empty rooms and not being invited back to perform at area nightclubs.

Of course, you know by now that you should first have great songs, strong vocals, a defined musical focus and image, not to mention an engaging live show, to have half a chance at luring recognition from music fans and club owners. Therefore, it's no surprise when the bands that lack those elements don't cut it.

But how many times have you seen (or been in) a killer band and said to yourself, "This group really deserves to have a crowd. People don't know what they're missing!" More than a few times, right?

The typical problem with these bands is that they concentrate almost entirely on the music. Which is no crime, but it leaves the marketing and promotional aspects of their music to chance. I don't know about you, but I realized long ago that I wanted more control over my career (and life), not wanting to depend on the whims of fate to steer me.

The moral here is this: Getting a grip on the marketing aspects of promoting your music will stack the deck in your favor. And when it comes to grabbing the attention of the many new ears that will hear your music, spending at least some energy on creative promotional techniques will speed the process along. Then you'll be able to spend more time making great music and less time rolling the dice and hoping a crowd shows up or that somebody will buy your record.

Attention-getting tactics don't have to be complicated or expensive. You just have to think beyond simply pinning up fliers and letting some of your friends know about your gigs. Also, please realize that no one promotional effort is going to work miracles. Low-budget, grass-roots music marketing can be effective, but you have to approach it as a long-term, ongoing activity—not a one-shot deal.

Music marketing is a lot like multi-track recording. Each layer you put down adds to the ones already created. That's why you'll need to develop and deploy an ongoing series of promotional assualts—each one reaching more people, making them more familiar with your name, image and sound.

What follows is a random list of ideas you can use to promote your music. Hopefully, reading over these will inspire you to use them and/or come up with even better marketing tactics of your own.

  • Take advantage of the free entertainment listings offered by publications. Spotlight, the Riverfront Times, the Post-Dispatch and many more—they all offer a free service of listing who's playing where and when. All of those newspaper sections are very well read. So why doesn't every band in town take advantage of them?

    Perhaps they figure their fans will automatically do all the work necessary to seek them out. Maybe their comfortable and lazy with their current status. Perhaps they think the club will send it in for them. (Ha! Guess again.) Maybe they were too busy creating music and simply forgot to send it in.

    I ask you: What good does it do to poor all your heart and energies into practicing a mind-blowing set and then do nothing to get people out to witness it? I think you know the answer. � Offer local record stores a package-stuffer arrangement. Many retail businesses will stuff a flier or discount coupon into your bag along with your purchase. Wouldn't it be great to get a record store to put your 5 1/2" by 8 1/2" flier into all its customers' packages? Your message would go directly to the music-buying public!

    Start visiting record stores and asking about the arrangement. You might find a sympathetic owner who will do it simply to help you out. But you'll quite likely meet resistance with this unusual request. What then? Call it quits? Hardly.

    Make the package insert two-sided. Offer to put the store's message on one side and your message on the other. You pay for prining the whole thing. That way, the store gets free promotion and an incentive to stuff them—and you get lots of effective exposure.

  • Set up a band information telephone hotline. While sending in free entertainment listings and compiling and using band mailing lists are all essential, a musical act can add real promotional muscle to its attack by offering a band hotline. That way, fans can call the phone number any time and get up-to-the-minute details on where you're playing that week, along with the latest info on new releases and merchandise (including ordering instructions).

    Have no fear. You won't need to install an extra phone line and buy an answering machine to have a hotline number. Many companies provide voice-mail services inexpensively.

    Locally, there's a company called VoiceTech (781-8888) that offers a line complete with a menu of choices (including a short sample of your music) for about $30 a month. Otherwise, a simple number with outgoing message and voice-mail capabilities might run you as little as $10-12 a month. The company I use is Answering (968-3334).

  • Give something free to everyone who attends your live shows. You want your name to be imbedded in the consciousness of everyone who sees your band live. Simply being in the club while you're playing is a start, but you'll want to make the most of the opportunity and connect with those living, breathing beings further.

    One way to do that is to give something free to everyone who attends. Plant a couple of your best, supportive fans at the door and have them pass out some inexpensive item (small sticker, novelty business card with your band hotline number on it, mailing list sign-up form, band newsletter, homorous instructions on how to best enjoy your band, a Letterman-like top-ten list).

    By giving away these freebies, your name and image sinks in with these customers, plus many of these promo items will end up going home with the people who enjoyed you the most—adding more strength to your growing army of fans.

  • Sponsor an award or special ceremony. Is there a distinguished person in your community who you'd like to honor? Or is there an anniversary, special date in history or cause you'd like to recognize? If so, plan an event around that theme and make a party out of it.

    Under normal circumstances, the local media couldn't care less about your regular weekend gig at Barney's Bar & Grill. But give them a one-time event with a news "hook" such as a tribute, awards ceremony, etc., and you just might have a media landslide on your hands.

  • Sponsor a college or community radio show that features your style of music. Stations such as KDHX (88.1 FM) have businesses that sponsor different shows all the time. Why not a band? Sure, it will cost you some money, but it will be a lot less than advertising on a commercial station, and you'll be reaching a highly targeted audience.

  • Seek Out Exposure on Local Cable TV. "The obvious thing you should go for is exposure, and public access TV is your best bet," says Doug Moody, founder of Hollywood, Cal.'s Mystic Records. "They have to give you access, they have to expose you. It's amazing how many people actually watch those local access stations."

    Additional benefit:
    According to Moody, it's also good practice for future promotional trends. "In the next couple years, visual records will definitely be out. The Philips Corporation in Europe has put out cassette tapes you can play on your TV, and Sony has a mini-disc. Whatever the format, you're going to be dealing with visual records. You have to learn to present yourself visually." (As quoted in Getting Radio Airplay by Gary Hustwit, $19.95, Rockpress Publishing, P.O. Box 99090, San Diego, CA 92169.)

    Call the cable company that services your area and ask about its lineup of entertainment-related public access shows.

  • Hold a Contest Related to Your Band or Release. Can you come up with a fresh idea to fire up the competitive spirit of music fans in your area? The band Symon Asher did. This Seattle, Wash.-based group held a contest to guess the origin of its name. To register, people had to go to local record store outlets and fill out an entry form. Clues on the band's name were mailed weekly to radio stations and music press, creating even more of a buzz about the band.

    Why it works: There are five very effective angles to this promotional scheme:

    1. Forcing interested parties to register at record stores puts those contestants right smack in the middle of the record-buying environment, where they can buy your album.

    2. Also, by bringing more people into their shops, record store owners have more incentive to promote the contest, particularly in-house, giving you even more exposure to music consumers.

    3. Since the contest is about nothing but the band's name, the publicity benefit is priceless: name recognition!

    4. By hanging onto all the entry forms, you'll have a hefty batch of fresh names to add to your promotional mailing list.

    5. Getting the media involved by sending them clues to give to their audiences adds yet another layer of exposure—one that most publicists would kill for.

    Find a way to make the contest idea work for your band. It could just as easily be applied to the title of your new release, too.

  • Sponsor a College or Community Radio Show. Stations such as KDHX (88.1 FM) have businesses that sponsor different shows all the time. Why not a band? Sure, it will cost you some money, but it will be a lot less than advertising on a commercial station, and—by sponsoring a show that features your style of music—you'll be reaching a highly targeted audience.

  • Write and Record a Seasonal or Current Events-Related Song. We all know your independent CD release barely stands a chance of getting radio airplay on the commercial stations. Even the college and community stations require a little effort on your part to get any substantial spins over the airwaves.

    That is, unless you use your imagination and come up with a novelty song that relates to a current topic in the news or holiday. Christmas songs will almost always get some play during the Yuletide season. But stretch further.

    Ideas: What about songs pertaining to a local political scandal, sports team or election? And how about putting a St. Louis (or whatever city you're in) slant on Halloween, July 4th or Valentine's Day.

    Believe it or not, these novelty songs will have a much better chance of getting commercial airplay—which will get your name out there, possibly paving the way for your more serious songs later.

  • Multiply Your Press Exposure. When you do get a review or feature story published in the press, make copies of it and send it to everyone on your industry contact list—including radio stations, other publications, nightclub owners, booking agents, A&R people. Reinforce your recognition factor with the people who are most likely to help you get even more exposure. Also, don't forget to include press clippings or quotes in mailings that go to your fans, too!

  • Target Specific Cities and Regions for Best Results. You don't need to do live shows across the country, coast to coast, to effectively promote your music. In fact, it will probably be better for your exposure level and record sales (not to mention your sanity) to zero in on a predetermined number of cities.

    "You shouldn't spread yourself too thin," says Rob Squires, bassist for the Denver, Colo.-based Big Head Todd & the Monsters (now signed to Giant Records). Before landing the record deal, Squires says, the band took this approach: "To establish ourselves, we'd hit Chicago, San Francisco, Austin and the Colorado cities every other month. Our plan worked out great. There'd be more and more people there each time." Plus the group was eventually signed to a label that could give them nationwide support. (As quoted in Fast Forward, a newsletter put out by Disc Makers, 1328 N. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19122. 1-800-468-9353.)
  • Find Alternate Ways to Market Your Band. Is there a non-music publication or type of retail store that admirers of your style of music might patronize? If so, you might consider reaching potential new fans through those unlikely means.

    Last year BMG Distribution moved a lot of hard rock and metal sampler cassettes by advertising them through, of all things, comic books. The tapes featured cuts from such bands as 21 Guns, Babylon AD and the Rollins Band. Readers could order the samplers via a toll-free 800 number.
    "There is a significant portion of the comic-reading and record-buying public that overlaps," says Rick Bleiweiss, BMG's senior VP of marketing. "A number [of the comic book respondants] went out and bought the albums based on hearing the tracks on the sampler—and that's exactly what we want."
    (As seen in Billboard, $225/year, 1515 Broadway, 39th Floor, New York, NY 10036.)

Take some of these promotional ideas and make them work for you. If you'd like to share your own music marketing tips and success stories—and get a free plug in this column—please send them to the address below.

Bob Baker is the author of "Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook," "Unleash the Artist Within" and "Branding Yourself Online." He also publishes, a web site and e-zine that deliver marketing tips, self-promotion ideas and other empowering messages to music people of all kinds. Get your FREE subscription to Bob's e-zine by visiting today.

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