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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