Active or Passive Promotion?

The past four weeks have been hectic. Besides the usual holiday stuff, I suffered through numerous blue screens of death and my first trojan virus, eventually leading to the purchase of a new DAW from PC Audio Labs. I also completed the annual update of my mastering site, and mastered a handful of projects, including two really cool orchestral video game soundtracks. Beyond that, I’ve been promoting like crazy on MySpace, spending 2-3 hours per night messaging fans – and seeing results! Not so much in sales, but in mailing list signups, collaboration and remix offers, and radio and blog features. Things feel like they’re starting to snowball. This small taste of success in active promotion makes me question the central premise of this blog. Is it really enough for me to just lay the groundwork, and let technology and word-of-mouth take care of the rest?

The good news is that the technology continues to advance. Last night as I was catching up on my read/review bookmarks, I came across Slacker. The site is similar to other “make your own station” sites like Pandora and Last.fm, but they take it one step further by offering their own iPod-style player that automatically updates over Wi-Fi. The site is quite popular according to Alexa, and the hardware unit sells well on Amazon, so wouldn’t my time be better spent getting my music to them rather than reaching out to potential fans one at a time?


I recently read Music Success in Nine Weeks by Ariel Hyatt, which I wholeheartedly recommend. She argues that an artist’s best measure of success is the size of their mailing list. Though I was tempted to disagree, I can’t think of any better metric. Comparing current sales to past sales doesn’t make sense unless you can figure out how to factor in piracy and the overall decline of the music industry. She says you really need to get to 1000 subscribers before you can effectively market to them, so my sole New Year’s resolution is to double my mailing list to reach that number.

In mid-December, I had 480 subscribers. Four weeks later, I’m up to 520. I’m convinced that if I continued spending 2-3 hours per night introducing myself to potential fans, I’d get to 1000 by the end of the year. The real question is, is it worth it? If each new subscriber buys one album, and I make $8 from the sale, that’s $4000 for 800 hours of my time ($5 per hour).

On the other hand, I could spend 2-3 hours per WEEK reaching out to former mastering clients, and probably drum up a couple of extra $500 jobs every month. Currently, all my studio business comes from referrals. Occasionally I have dry spells, but usually I’ve got more on my plate than I can handle. It stands to reason that if I implemented some of the same promotional techniques, I’d bring in more business.

Active promotion clearly doesn’t make a lot of sense from a financial standpoint, but I’m not in it for the money. Ultimately, it’s a question of getting the balance right. In the long run, it doesn’t serve my fans for me to spend every spare minute promoting at the expense of recording new material. I’ll continue to tweak the work/family/artist formula a bit until I come up with something that feels right.


  • Reply
    Dan Freedman
    January 12, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Well, it may be $5/hr if you calculate it that way, but let me encourage you to think like a dairy farmer, not a hunter. A hunter derives value only one time from each animal he hunts. But a farmer gets a continual stream of income from each animal.

    In your case, this means that instead of thinking of each new fan as $8 in profit, why not start thinking of them as $8 per year in profits (assuming you release one album per year). That way, over the remaining 60 years of your life (I’m making some assumptions), you would derive $240,000 from those fans. Of course, hopefully your fan base would grow between now and then. And it’s not really something that inflation would eat away at either. If inflation makes things more expensive, you’ll make more than $8 per album.

    So, in summary: keep providing the music that you love to make, and your fans will keep buying it year after year. Sure, some will come and go, and you’ll have a “peak” one year that will perhaps never be surpassed, but you get the idea: farm, don’t hunt.

    Dan Freedman

  • Reply
    Monty Singleton
    January 22, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I remember reading somewhere that back in the day when people were still buying records that labels put 90% of their budget into image and marketing. You know my opinions on this. If you are going to grow your fan base, you have to market. The best products in the world have to market, word-of-mouth only works for small business. That’s the interesting dilemma of the music business. It’s a mom and pop business but needs the same amount of customers as a world corporation.

    Would that local market or restaurant succeed if it needed 10,000 customers per year to buy something? No, because they only have a word-of-mouth marketing budget.


  • Reply
    Charlene April
    January 23, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Hey! I would love to add to this discussion. There are many ways to promote and achieve results…however, I often wonder if spending hours and hours promoting to many via the internet is worth while. Us indie’s have to expose ourselves to hundreds and hundreds, (thousands really) of people just to possibly get one CD sale out of it, or one compliment, or one new sign up to the mailing list. It ends up being quite depressing…and it’s hard not to take it personally.

    I am trying to adopt a new approach which is to try to find key people/companies that can do more for me than x amount hrs/week promoting on the internet could ever do (not that we are gonna stop doing internet promo completely, cause it does work to a degree). I think the answer is in music licensing and creating relationships with Music Supervisors, Producers, etc. You get paid and gain exposure at the same time. The problem is that millions of Musician’s are essentially applying for the few placements that are available in film/tv/video games. Not giving up and being a bit persistent with the same few companies (I am hoping) will pay off. Sending the same people new songs as they become finished.

    I definitely don’t think that an Indie Musician’s success can be measured by anything specific, like a mailing list. Given the state of emergency that the industry is in, studio Musician’s such as ourselves (especially since we don’t play live) are damn lucky to just break even, and even luckier to get a few compliments and a few true fans along the way.

    NOTE: WOW- 2-3 hours a night promoting is a lot…if the results are really good for you than you should keep it up.

    -Charlene April

  • Reply
    Dean Aivaliotis
    May 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    What kind of things do you say when you message them on Myspace? I find that when I get random messages from people on Myspace I don't even bother reading them…how do you write in a way that gets them to interact?

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    May 29, 2011 at 3:50 am

    Keep in mind this article was written almost 2.5 years ago. Presently, I wouldn't waste my time on MySpace. At all. My profile lets visitors know to find me elsewhere: http://www.myspace.com/colortheory

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