Today marks the first in what I hope will be a long string of guest columns. The honor goes to my good friend Mark Nicholas, who records under the band name Cosmicity. We’ve both been releasing electronic pop CDs since the early ’90s, yet he’s managed to release three times as many as I have! -Brian
Whenever you read an article on indie music, it inevitably leads to some “expert” telling you that it’s all about Guerrilla Marketing. But if you’re like me, you don’t really have any money, so even relatively small Guerrilla Marketing schemes are simply out of reach. Where does that really leave you?
Well, all is not lost. Through trial and error, I’ve found some fairly effective nearly-free stuff you can do to generate both sales and interest in your music. I’ll talk about several things in the coming weeks, but the first thing I must talk about is YouTube. Love it or hate it, it is officially THE place that is making nobody bands into somebody bands right now. You can pretty much forget about being “discovered” any other way.
Now, obviously we’re not all filmmakers with the budgets to be the next OK GO!. Heck, I work in Broadcast Production for my day job, and I still can’t get anyone to help me make a video for my music. So what are you supposed to do? Put simply, whatever you can.
If you’ve got even just a little experience with a home video camera, maybe you could come up with something rather clever for your band. Write out a small shot list. Enlist a few friends to help. Here’s an example from a friend of mine in the band Alter Der Ruine who did exactly that:
Here’s an example that took even less work: A friend of mine from the band The Long Division, a band that had almost no fan base 1 year ago, made a video for their song “Magic Muffin” by running around a supermarket with a tiny camcorder. It’s just this guy dancing in the isle enthusiastically pushing a shopping cart. Sounds lame when you describe it out loud, right? But people love it. 10,000 views on YouTube alone. He’s not the next YouTube break-out sensation or anything yet, but suddenly now he has serious fans and a following just because people found the simplicity and honesty of it charming. Budget? You could make this exact video (cleaner even) using a Flip video camera for $100 and the free copy of iMovie or whatever came with your computer.
Another quick and cheap example is my own video for a cover of the Michael Sembello classic “Maniac” (it’s that song from Flashdance). I had 1 day of free time when my wife was out of the house and I had nothing else I had to do. So I set my ancient video camera on a table and just sang along to the song. I did it twice, once on either side of a couch. It took me about 2 hours to merge the shots together in Final Cut Express (very easy to use, cheap to buy), add a couple of insert shots from a second camera I had recording at the same time, and voila. Lame video done in 1 day. And it IS totally lame, there’s no denying that. There’s not even really a concept! I even had to make it black and white to cover up the supremely poor quality of my almost decade old video cameras. But that song has outsold every other song on that album 100 to 1. (I also owe the sales success of that song partially to another website, but I’m saving that info for another article.)
As a stupid side note, one of my best selling albums was one that I had a spoof commercial for. Again, totally lame video, but I think it’s stupidity actually helped it go semi-viral and helped me/Cosmicity tremendously as people blogged about it on various “synth scene” music websites. It was also a sneaky way to squeeze portions of many songs into one video. Note that the 1-888 phone number is real, and people actually called it to order! (This video’s success isn’t reflected on the YouTube view count because I initially put it out as a standalone Quicktime on my website. YouTube wasn’t quite the full-on entity it is now back in 2003.)
And yes, it is even worth it to just post your latest single on YouTube with nothing but a montage of jpegs from your live show as the video. People use YouTube videos for blogging when they want to share a new song with others. Just having a presence on YouTube, however small or simplistic it might be, is better than not having a presence. Many times if a band doesn’t do this for themselves, a fan will take it upon themselves to make their own montage video for a song they love. Here’s a fan video for a very old Color Theory song (by Passive Promotion’s founder Brian Hazard) that I’m not sure he even knows exists:
If you have a program that’ll build a simple slide show from photos, take advantage of it. Put in all of your best band photos and loop ‘em to the track. Better yet, get creative with it. Pirate a bunch of images that say something about your song using google image search, and make the video from those. Yes, it’s technically illegal, so officially I’m not telling you to do it, but the truth is that indie musicians are too far under the radar to bother any corporate lawyers. And if by some miracle your video became a huge hit and someone did complain or threaten to sue you, you could just take it down. You’d already have raised awareness of your band, so you’d still win in the end.
Okay, now I really need to go and take my own advice on this immediately. My YouTube presence has been extremely poor lately, and my sales have been reflecting that!