I have amazing conversations with artists and songwriters every day; I love my job. Some of those conversations are with beginners, some with intermediate artists, and some are with professional indie artists whose careers are well on their way. I have to say with the exception of the pro artists, the beginners and intermediates suffer from the same disease; they lack marketing knowledge. I should say they seem to lack the very concept & definition, never mind the methodology of marketing. Simply put their artistically starving to death.
Marketing vs. Distribution
Yeah, that’s right, the concept and definition of marketing. I’ll ask and artist “how exactly are you marketing yourself?”
Let’s go back to some good ol’ plain common sense for a second. Why do record labels have promotion and marketing departments? I mean if marketing meant getting the music up on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, etc., would actually move product why the HELL would a broke record label keep paying the people in the marketing department? Any moron can place music up on all these sites; right?
How about this perspective: When you used to go into a record store to buy an album or CD, did you always walk in and magically get attracted to some piece of shrink-wrapped plastic or cardboard spend your money and then leave? NO!! You already knew what you wanted to buy which is why you were there in the first place; this is called marketing. Marketing is the art of influencing buying decisions. The outlet that is available to sell the product to the person whose buying decision was influenced is the distributor.
Get it? Just having it “on the shelf” isn’t enough. In fact, I propose that this is actually part of the problem in today’s music industry; no accountability for product that doesn’t move. This will never change, but if it did, you would find every artist quickly learning the difference between distribution and marketing; necessity is the mother of invention.
Let me explain. Anderson Distribution is (I believe) the largest music merchandise distributor in the country right now. They are an awesome company. They handle the distribution of all CD’s to Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and Best Buy stores to name a few. When a Label wants to put product (aka your CD) on the shelves of a Wal-Mart, they go through Anderson Distribution and they need to ensure that the marketing of the product (aka your CD) is already underway or the label gets screwed. This is initially exciting because to get product (aka your CD) on a Wal-Mart shelf, the minimum order is like 100,000 units. Do the math, if the retail price is $11.99 then Anderson is probably buying the product (aka your CD) from the label for $6.99; $6.99 x 100,000 = $699,000.00!!! YEEHAW!!! Um, er, wait a minute…
Let’s back up and do a little more math. Anderson doesn’t send you a check in advance for this order, just like every other major corporation their accounts payable is on a Net-60 day basis, or in this economy probably a Net-90 day basis. In plain English, the record label doesn’t get their quote, $699,000 check, end quote, for 90 days. So that means that the label is going to front you, the artist, $50,000 to manufacture 100,000 CD’s (this is JUST manufacturing of the CD and they get them for .50 cents each because of the large order, you can too if you order this many) this does not include the cost to ship them to Anderson Distribution. Now, here’s the tricky part. Anderson is a business. Their business is DISTRIBUTING PRODUCT (aka your CD) and if the product (aka your CD) is not moving, Anderson Distribution is not making money. Get it? In fact, if the product (aka your CD) is not moving Anderson Distribution is LOSING MONEY. There are a limited number of spaces to place CD’s on a shelf in Wal-Mart, I don’t know exactly what that number is but they are only going to put product on those shelves that will MOVE and make them money. So, the label essentially has 90 days to sell enough of that product (aka your CD) to show Anderson Distribution that it’s a product (aka your CD) that already is or will be a money maker for them.
What’s the exact number? I have no freaking idea, but this is just common business sense, if you think about it.
What happens if the label doesn’t move enough product (aka your CD)? Then the Net-90 payment the label will get from Anderson Distribution will consist of a check in the amount of exactly how many of your CD’s they sold minus the shipping cost to return the rest of the product (aka your CD) that didn’t sell. YIKES! You read that correctly. If you sold 1,000 units, you would get a check for $6,900 minus the cost of shipping the remaining 99,000 units back to you.
Does the label put the product (aka your CD) on the shelves of Wal-Mart and say, “we marketed it because it’s now available to be purchased”? NO!! You see, this is where the real fight begins.
What exactly are you doing to win this fight with your music?
So, let’s put that in terms of your music. Websites like iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and your site; these are storefronts, man, not marketing strategies. They are an online place to stock product (aka your CD) where interested parties can easily purchase it. Yeah, yeah, you will get a few sales here and there by just stocking product (aka your music), but you will never get enough to repay the cost of recording and manufacturing. So after (or even before) you stock the product (aka your CD), you need to market it! You need to expose it to the world and drive business to these storefronts; then people will buy because their buying decision was influenced by your marketing or sometimes by your music!
Good Marketing = Not Artistically Starving!
Are you picking up what I’m putting down? If you ask yourself, “what am I doing to market my music” and the answer is “I have it up on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and my website” then you have already lost the fight. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” states that every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought. Think about that for a second. Internalize some of these Sun Tzu quotes real quick.
This is huge. Strategy is defined as a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result. Tactics are defined as the maneuvers themselves or any mode of procedure for gaining advantage or success. In plain English strategy is the plan, tactics are the methods & procedures used to implement that plan. So a plan to market your music without procedures is the slowest route to victory. Employing methods or procedures without a plan is wasted time & energy before certain defeat. Apply this concept to making sandwiches to get a simple perspective on marketing your music. If you have a strategy for making a sandwich but never get off your ass to go to the kitchen and make one, you can think about it all you want but the sandwich won’t make itself; you go hungry. If you go to the kitchen and begin preparing to make a sandwich without strategizing as to exactly what kind of sandwich you want you will waste energy pulling out all the breads, mustards, different lunch meats, lettuce, cheeses, etc for no reason because you haven’t decided on the mission critical strategy; what kind of sandwich you want to make. Until you actually decide to make a specific sandwich your best efforts are fruitless; you go hungry. It seems so stupidly simple because it is.
Marketing music is no different than making sandwiches, there are just more details to learn. The smart artist is going to simplify the idea just like this, and start strategizing and creating/learning tactics. All the information you need is on the web or in a mentor’s brain for the artists who seek it.
One of my favorite movie quotes is from “Auntie Mame” and it says “You’ve got to live, live, live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” This is a perfect quote with regards to today’s music marketing because there is literally an embarrassment of effective online marketing methods available right now; and their available to everyone. Many of these methods are FREE OF CHARGE like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. If you were forced to prepare before you put product (aka your CD) up on iTunes for fear of product returns and non-distribution after a certain amount of time, you would be pretty focused on marketing, wouldn’t you?
So why aren’t you?
Just because you don’t have any repercussions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach stocking product (aka your CD) the same way.
This final Sun Tzu quote is actually my favorite because it’s so inspirational.
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
― Sun Tzu
In other words, the more you dig in to this marketing thing seriously, the more opportunities you are going to uncover.
The more money you are going to make.
This in turn, means you make more music; because you now make a living as an artist.
Think about it.
Stay in Tune
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