Dear bands and other independent artists/ business folkin, there are two types of you out there.
Type one: You do the thing because you enjoy the thing, it’s a hobby. But you don’t feel a pressing need to bring it into the world at large. If it happens, cool, but you aren’t concerned either way.
Type two: You make beautiful horrible things because it is what you do. You have total faith in not just the quality of what you make but the content. You have things to say, and you want the world to hear those things. You recognize that you’re not gonna get rich in the industry so let’s assume you’re in on that particular joke.
All you type ones can read the following if you want but it doesn’t apply to you. Now for the rest of you type two vampires…
As I have said before, this new record is the one for me. The one I’ve been promising myself I would make for years. Consequently I’ve taken everything I’ve picked up over the last 20 years in the industry and gone full force with it. Unfortunately almost everything I learned prior to a few years ago is no longer relevant. A few ideas still apply.
Rule One: If you think that you can just sit back and let your label, publisher or other infrastructure do all the work for you, you deserve your lack of sales.
Rule the Second: WORD OF MOUTH IS ESSENTIAL, and cannot be purchased.
Rule the Third: People pay for what they respect. And they respect things when they understand the work and ideas involved in it. Pulling the curtain aside to whatever degree helps build that relationship. People steal (download) things they don’t have a personal stake in. Getting a glimpse behind that mask at the actual person who made them makes a huge difference. I dealt with two and three by creating a special “support the artist” package. Where people would get access to a special Facebook group to that I uploaded demo files of the songs, broke down process stuff showed early versions of the videos, and they got copies as soon as I got the masters back.
“But Steven aren’t you worried that one of them will upload the files somewhere?”
No, I know my fans, and just to be safe, the versions of the files I gave them are slightly different than the final release. Nothing anyone will notice. I changed the length of the space between the songs, and customized the ide tags so that I could track them if they ever popped up. In addition to creating the eternally needed income, it also helped develop a rabid and vocal set of fans for the record. People who were invested in the record as well as building a personal relationship between myself and the fans (which is awesome!) Which was essential when it first dropped.
Rule Four: The world is a distracting place. You need to go to your customers. Be the squeakiest of wheels. Don’t want to be annoying? Too bad. You love the thing, you believe in the thing, if it’s really that good people you know will understand or at least tolerate it and everyone else is just a potential customer.
Rule Five: NO ONE WILL JUST “come to you,” because you are good. I’ve known a few people over the years who said shit like “I don’t need to book shows, if they want me they will come to me.” It’s a buyers market, galleries/performance venues, THEY DON’T NEED YOU. There are thousands of artists and bands coming to them. You are not special, and in fact if you adopt this attitude you will not just not be special, you will be seen as a problem.
Rule VI: Go to the DJs. Sure your label has a DJ pool. And those DJs get shit from them every month. And by shit I mean a bunch of files and rows of text. That’s all you are to them visually, they have no attachment to those words, those ones and zeros. Go to the DJs directly. Ask them if they want copies and send those files personally. That’s the kinda shit people remember. And it helps build and maintain those relationships. Are you still just a line of data? Sure, but at least they have a more personal connection with you.
Rule Seven: Talk to blogs, talk to Facebook groups, do giveaways. Go to club nights, have cd release parties. Do online listening parties. “But Steven people will download my music for free from those.” So what? Does it get them to the shows? We have people come up to us all the time at shows and say “I downloaded you’re entire catalog and now I’m going to buy them.”
Rule Eight: Put real effort into promotion. We live in the future, this year alone I’ve made seven music videos. Not clips of footage pulled from YouTube. Videos with sets built, homemade green screens, that I shot by myself on my iPad, and edited in premiere. You don’t have to know a ton of tech stuff. If you can use a DAW, you can use premiere. If you don’t have a visual eye, work with someone you know to help plan the shots.
(Free Pro Tip: set up the video as a series of static shots. This allows you to control the lighting and you only have to worry about shooting from one place. )
You don’t have to spend a ton of time. The most involved video I did for the Stoneburner record involved four days of set building in the garage and one of shooting. The one I did right after that took three hours to build the set and two hours of shooting. Minor Monsters I did in the living room in maybe five hours. Stick to good solid concepts and keep everything as simple as possible. Because….
Rule Nine : FACES MATTER. Sure you can be artsy if you want on your cover and other promo material, but the simple fact is our brains are wired to respond to faces. Seeing them creates empathy with the person they are looking at. It creates the perception of a relationship or at least an understanding of the other. That’s part of why the videos are so important. The other reason is because it gives you an easily digestible (and not so easily downloadable) way of sharing your music. People don’t like just sitting and listening to some random song. But if you give em something to watch it’s much easier to hold them.
Rule X: Put your fuckin money where you’re fuckin mouth is. We are not even close to stable when it comes to our finances. But Facebook advertising is really inexpensive and it’s worth it. In the last month my least viewed video had been seen 6k times and the most viewed, over twice that number. Each video was boosted once for $30.
Rule XI: No one will love your child as much as you do. Not your friends, not your label (they have a whole nursery to worry about, work with them, but do your own as well) not even your biggest fans. And more importantly it’s not their job. It’s your child to raise, it’s your brand to make, it’s your art to let drown in an ocean of lists of file names and distracting media.
Rule 12: Think outside the box. For instance, write “how to” articles for webzeins….And finally, merchandising is your friend. You can print on demand pretty much anything these days. Shirts, mugs, bags, towels, prints. Portals are easy to set up and once they are up and running you don’t have to do anything. The orders come in, the jank is shipped directly from the manufacturer. Is it more expensive than the traditional way? Sure, but you don’t have a room full of stock rapidly losing value as time passes. Obviously for situations where you need to have the merchandise on hand you will have to go through printers. But for day to day sales, it’s a great way to go.
Steven Archer is an award winning artist, author, a founding member of Ego Likeness (along with his wife Donna), and Stoneburner, as well as a few other projects. He’s a hired gun drummer for various industrial bands including Velvet Acid Christ, Mindless Faith and others. His has written music for NASA and film. Donna and his most recent book “witches,” was nominated for a Stoker award
Invaluable advice! Thank you for explaining all of this!