A Music Marketing Secret From the Big Top

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Circus life under the big top

We all need the clowns to make us smile.

– Journey, “Faithfully”

Next to Google, free is truly our friend. In fact, free is so popular on Google that it comes up nearly 14 billion times in a search. We are influenced by free. We want to be disease-free, debt-free, and worry-free. We want our work to be hassle-free, and our YouTube videos to be commercial-free. We want our purchases to be tax-free.

So if free is what the people want, why shouldn’t musicians embrace that truth and give it to them?

That’s exactly what blogger David Hooper suggests in “Music Marketing Lessons From a Circus.” He points out that not everyone goes to a circus because they want to. Parents go because young children can’t take themselves there, nor can they look out for themselves. But not only do parents wind up going, they wind up spending money on things other than rides for their kids.

Musicians should copy this strategy when it comes to club dates, because attendance works the same way. Your family will almost always show up because their family. Some of your friends will almost always show up because they’re your friends. But neither group would attend because of the music alone. So that leaves everyone else there, and the only reason they show up is either because a lot of men will be there, a lot of women will be there, or both.

While that fact may be a hard reality, there is something musicians can do about it. They can give tickets away for free.

Think about the businesses that give stuff away. Some restaurants let children under 12 eat free on certain days. Circuses give out passes that grant free admission to children. And radio stations always give away concert tickets. Musicians, Hooper argues, should do the same thing for their loyal fans because it

… gives you the best of both worlds … it lets you treat your most loyal fans in a special way (a free ticket) but also encourages them to spread the word about the show to somebody who pays.

The “buy one, get one” technique is good for building up a fan base where you regularly play, but it is especially useful when breaking into a new market. If you give five loyal fans passes, and each one brings a paying guest, then ten people show up to the new venue just because you’re there. Add the five family members and another five friends, and you’ve got 20 new faces in the club before you strike the first note. Moreover, if each person spends an average of $20 per person on food and drinks, the club gets $400 more than it would have without you there. Owners notice numbers like that.

Handing out passes might cost bands in the short run, and they should only go to those fans who are the most likely to show up. But whatever the strategy might cost short-term, it has the potential for a much larger return on investment down the road.

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Top photo: psiho.child

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How To Book Better Gigs, Part 2

9397483030_3a000e94e2In part 1 of this series I suggested that bands wanting to play corporate parties, weddings, and festivals take stock of their current status before contacting promoters and booking agents. Since these gigs pay considerably more than the average club date, the person in charge of hiring entertainment will want to make sure the band is worth the money. Therefore, an artist or band must evaluate everything : press kits, set lists, equipment, what the band wears, and personnel. Assuming your band has those elements in top shape, you’re ready for the more lucrative gigs.

Now, how do you get them?

First, learn how to network.

Networking 101

Note: if the word networking scares you , read this article and consider going with someone else to a few public events.

Your network simply refers to the hierarchical relationship of your friends, your friends’ friends, and so on down the line. You don’t need to create a network: it already exists. You simply need to write it down in some form, then improve on it. So whether it’s in paper form or an app, invest in a good planning system. It needs to contain your contacts, a way to group certain contacts together, a calendar, and a place for notes. Use it daily, and carry it with you wherever you go.

3342687115_d2fa440a6dYou’ll also need an elevator speech. This is a 20-second commercial you can give to someone in the time it takes you to travel with that person in an elevator. You may never have to give it there, but you’ll use it often on cold calls, whether in person or over the phone. Keep it less than 250 words, and practice it often with the rest of the band. (This article has a great deal of useful information on writing such speeches.)

Your networking kit isn’t complete without business cards. If you or your band does not have them, you’ll need them. Nothing says professional faster than a good business card. You need not go for flash, but you do need the band’s name, contact person, contact info, and website printed on good, heavy cardstock. Make the color stand out with a glossy finish. It’s worth every penny.

One more thing: networking is all about building and nurturing relationships, whether you do it in person, over the phone, or online. If you only turn to your network when you want favors, you’ll soon find that your contacts have no time for you. Remember the cardinal rule of networking: you can get what you want by helping people get what they want.

You’re now ready to start networking.

Start With Who You Know

Musician Stan Stewart suggests starting with your friends and from them drawing up a list of people you know that might be able to help you. Contact your friends and simply tell them what you want.

… strike up a conversation about wanting to gig at this place. “…and I was wondering if you know the manager there…” You get the idea.

Let’s say you want to play for a certain company’s New Year’s eve party, and you have a friend who works at that company. Contact him or her and see if you can get the event planner‘s name. Also ask if you can use your friend’s name when you call the event planner. Regardless whether you get the gig, don’t forget to send a thank-you note to the event planner and your friend. If you do get it, however, a thank-you lunch with your friend is in order.

While your friends are perhaps the most willing to help you out, almost anyone can open doors for you. Know where to go for networking opportunities. Some suggestions include:

  • Club owners you’re now working for (great source of referrals)
  • Waitstaff and bartenders at the clubs you’re now working
  • Music stores (employees there are an excellent source of information)
  • Musicians in other bands
  • Professional musician organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN; the AFM (musician’s union; local songwriter’s associations)
  • Networking social media sites, such as LinkedIn or Plaxo
  • Alumni associations (most of these have LinkedIn groups)
  • Parties, informal gatherings
  • Bridal events (usually heavily attended by caterers, formal shops, bakeries, florists, and so on)
  • Churches/places of worship

Search Social Media

8583949219_f55657573eIf your friends can’t help, you can usually find out who books acts from the venue’s website. If you’re lucky, there will be a link to that person’s email or social media on the site as well. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see a phone number. If you can’t find any of this, however, Google is your friend.

But if all you can find is a Twitter link, take heart: you can still save the day. Follow them, says Stan, and engage them. (This is definitely the place for your elevator speech!)

Tell them who you are. Then, play it by ear: you may need to wait for a second or third interaction before you ask for a gig directly. An indirect approach may give you an “in”…. When the time is right, be sure the digital version of your press kit is ready to send.

A word about using social media contacts: don’t abuse them. The same networking ettiquite applies to these relationships as well. And while you may not be able to take a Twitter or Facebook contact out for lunch, you can retweet Kickstarter campaign and gig announcements. You can also listen to and comment on a fellow musician’s Soundcloud postings, and you should certainly thank people for liking, repinning, following, retweeting, and mentioning you and your posts.

Dealing With “No”

You need to understand that you’re going to hear “no” a lot. Successful people always do. During my days in business-to-business sales I read that one will hear “no” ninteen times before hearing a “yes.” It was true then, and it’s still true today. So when you get hit with a no, follow Stan Stewart’s advice:

Don’t burn any bridges. Don’t storm out or get pissy. Just say “I hope you’ll keep my press kit in your files.” If you’re still dying to play for a particular venue, continue to network. You’ll continue to meet people who are connected and they can help you get a second chance.

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Photo credits: John Anthony Loftus  (top); dereskey (middle); Jason A Howie (bottom)

You can follow Stan Stewart on Twitter at @muz4now; his website is www.muz4now.com.