Indie Promotion from a Store’s Perspective

As the owner of A Different Drum, I’ve spent a lot of years selling independent music – not only ADD’s own label releases, but CD’s from other indie labels and self-released artists from around the world. Some of those artists sell very well, even if they aren’t necessarily known as the “giants” of the electronic pop scene, while others sell quite poorly, even if they’re sitting on an album packed with excellent music.

In a market where it’s more and more difficult to sell music (thanks to the many millions of freeloaders), indie labels and artists find themselves with less income to fuel the critical promotional engine to move their album sales, either physically or digitally. So, we have to wisely use what tools are available to us. I believe that those artists who have consistently sold more units are the ones who dedicate more time and creative thought in the use of those tools. I’ll just talk about a few of the ways that I think will help promote your music after you’ve managed to get a few indie-friendly stores to list or stock the item.

What you have to understand right away is that people won’t buy your music just because it’s “out there”. That’s the “field of dreams” approach, where you’re convinced “if I make it, they will come…” Sorry, people aren’t going to spend their money (especially in these hard times) to buy something that isn’t screaming for attention. Your main goals should be to, A) Get your music heard!  And B) Keep your name in the would-be consumers’ minds!

First, getting heard: Put your music everywhere you can – on MySpace, on iLike, on YouTube even with a still graphic of your album, on, etc. Sure, a lot of people will use nifty software to rip your song and keep it for free, but we have to write those people off because there is no stopping the technology, and those people aren’t buyers anyway (again… freeloaders).

If the store you’re using, whether it is Amazon, CD Baby, or A Different Drum, etc. has a feature for audio samples, find out how they get their samples (whether in-house or imported from Muze, etc.) and make sure you have samples at the point of sale! I’m a music shopper as well as a fan, and I like to shop on Amazon. Recently they changed their audio samples format and nearly half of all the samples of indie artists just vanished (only listings that are also sold digitally on Amazon still have samples). I was furious and told them so, because my shopping became much more difficult. They told me that they’re working to update their samples system, so I hope that it comes back again, and soon!

Now here is an idea that I’ve seen used a couple of times with great success, and I’ve used it myself too. You’ve probably got hundreds of copies of your first album or two taking up space in your closet or garage. They’re just sitting there, accomplishing nothing. Sure, it would be nice to sell them all, but if you’re like the rest of us, that’s going to take years. If you’re still pressing forward and putting out new music, then put those old CD’s to use! If you’re selling 25 or 50 per year, then put aside 2 or 3 years’ worth, then designate the rest as freebees, to be used for promotion. Contact that indie store that is selling your tunes and tell them you’d love for them to give a free CD all their best customers, or to include it in every shipping box they send out to consistent buyers. Face it, people love free stuff, and the stores sell to real music buyers, so if you’re giving freebees to actual music buyers, then your chances of selling that next album can only go up.

Or, if the store doesn’t want to give away freebees, see if they’ll drop the price down dramatically (of course, that requires that you give them the old inventory for free or for $1 each). With some of my older label releases, I dropped the prices down to $3 in the store, and suddenly those titles were back on the weekly best-seller list. Another label I’ve worked with for years did the same, dropping all old inventory down to $3 retail (sold the CD’s to me for $1 each) and suddenly those CD’s were moving, AND customers started picking up the more recent releases by some of those artists, at full price. If your old CD is at CD Baby, then use their $5 discount option for your old stuff. If you’re listed on Amazon, then submit the form to request a price drop down to $3.99, or set up an alternate listing through their “marketplace” offering the CD in new condition for $1. Who cares if all you’ll get back is a few pennies – it’s just sitting in your closet anyway, so put that inventory to work! This is one of the ways you’ll get heard, and lose your old inventory, and win new friends.

There are other ways to get heard, giving tracks to podcasters, giving CD’s to influential DJ’s, or to college radio as fund-raiser give-aways. I’m trying to think of the cheapest way to use what you already have.

Now, getting people to think about you again and again and again. Make up some little business cards with an advertising blurb about your new album and some links to buy it or hear it (MySpace page address, and mentions of Amazon, CD Baby, etc.). I just used a company called and it was great! They have a business card design program that is extremely simple, where you can import your album cover art and resize it to fit the card, then add your text anywhere you want on the card. It’s full-color and you can even make it glossy. You submit your design (mine took approximately 10 minutes to make) and then place your order. I ordered 2000 cards and it was less than $80 (cheaper than my local Staples) and the cards were here in only one week. Now, I put those cards in every outgoing order. Sure, they may end up in the trash eventually, but people WILL look at it before they toss it. Then the next order they’ll look at it again, and again, etc. I’ve sold CD’s because of promo cards, and customers have even told me that was their motivator. They listened to the artist because of some promo card blurb. Mail order stores are usually happy to pass along cards or free swag. Load them up! I once contacted CD Baby and asked if they could put 1000 promo cards in outgoing orders. They simply said that I could send the cards with an appropriate bribe for the warehouse employees, like bags of candy, and they’d happily put the cards in boxes. Maybe Amazon doesn’t do anything like that, but most indie stores love anything that can help them get more sales with little effort.

Don’t just create a homepage, MySpace page, etc. but create an email list! Keep everybody’s email address who has ever shown interest in your music. Then send out regular updates, like every month. Even if you don’t have anything to say, think of a reason – talk about a track you’re working on. Talk about a concert you just enjoyed. Talk about SOMETHING that makes them think of you as an equal – as one of their friends. That relationship will go a long way when your new album comes out. Collaborate with other indie artists. Play shows together, make a song together, promote together, link to each other, and pretty soon their fans will know your name too, and they’ll probably check out your music. Once your promo cards run out, make some cheap stickers with your band name and homepage address and send those everywhere for free. DON’T sell them for $1 each on your page. I always think that’s silly because you want people to put those things everywhere, and they usually won’t pay to put your sticker on their school binder since you’re not U2.

OK, those are only a few ideas, but I hope you get the point. You’ve already paid to make those old CD’s, so use them to push forward! For less than $100 you can make free cards and stickers to spread your name around. It costs nothing to network with other bands, and they’ll probably love the cross promotion you can bring to them as well. Think of the potential audience as friends and treat them that way. Send them a “happy birthday” message on MySpace or Facebook – it’s a few minutes of work that will earn their respect and pick up an extra sell or two down the road.

Now, have fun, and keep up the great work!

Todd Durrant

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Mark Nicholas
    November 26, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Good article with spot-on advice. Everything discussed will pay dividends in the future and IS worth the minimal effort!

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