Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


« So now you get it, but do you really? | Main | An Interview With Zoë Keating »

Money can't buy you love


If I had $5,000 to spend on music promotion, I certainly wouldn’t waste it on any of the following:

Ads. It’s easy to get “dazzled by the numbers” when given the opportunity to reach thousands of people. We think, “If only 1% of those people bought the album, I’d double my investment!” Don’t let the math fool you. Unless there is a compelling reason to respond to your ad, nobody will. That goes for print ads, banner ads, and Google Adwords. One exception is letting your already massive fanbase know about a new release or tour.

Press. Words don’t sell music. Music sells music. Few people bother to read reviews, features, or interviews with bands they aren’t familiar with. Even fewer take the next step and search for the music. A feature in a music blog is much more effective, because readers are one click away from hearing or even downloading your song. Sure, a four-star review in Rolling Stone has its uses, but it ain’t gonna happen. While good press usually doesn’t have an explicit price tag attached, you’re often expected to purchase an ad.

Radio promotion. I’ve spent over $10,000 on radio promotion, with negligible results. A European campaign that got my songs in regular rotation on over 40 commercial stations in Italy and France, plus a highly targeted US campaign that got me on the CMJ Charts, earned me a combined total of zero royalties and zero sales. I’ve had a lot more luck with Jango, at a fraction of the cost. Before you invest in a radio campaign, ask yourself 1) who are you trying to reach, and 2) what exactly do you want them to do?

Nobody has ever contacted me or bought a CD as a result of seeing my ad, reading about me in the press, or hearing me on the radio. From a promotional standpoint, it may as well have never happened.

Compilation CDs. When I was getting started in the mid-90’s, landing a spot on a compilation CDs was a big deal. Back then, just having a CD was a sign of success. Today, anyone can burn their own. The compilation CD has been supplanted by the playlist. You’re better off uploading an iMix to the iTunes Store and calling it a day. Under no circumstances should you pay to be on one of those compilation CDs “A&R companies” shotgun to their database of industry contacts. They go straight into the trash. Even if it doesn’t cost you anything, think twice about letting include your song on their compilation. You’ll be competing for sales of that track on iTunes.

Promo CDs. Thinking about pressing an extra 500 CDs to give away as promos? I wouldn’t. Believe me, if the 3,000 CDs in my garage had any promotional value, I’d give them away in a heartbeat. Shotgunning promos to DJs, music supervisors, A&R departments, and your favorite bands undercuts your own sales. Within a month, you’ll see a dozen copies going for $0.99 on Amazon. No joke.

Song Contests. This year I had the incredible luck of being named a Grand Prize Winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Despite sending out press releases and doing everything else I could think of to snowball the win into something bigger, it didn’t do much from a promotional standpoint. Still, I received over $8,500 in cash and gear, and it was gratifying to be recognized by my peers. My recommendation is, only enter a song contest for the prizes.

So what would I spent that theoretical $5,000 on? I’ll have to get back to you on that one, because I honestly don’t know. I promote to establish and nurture a genuine relationship with my fans. While money can buy you “exposure,” it can’t buy you love. I’ll expand on my reasoning next time as I make the case for online-only promotion.

Brian Hazard is a recording artist with fifteen years of experience promoting his seven Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (25)

Your advice seems to focus on what will directly generate money, which granted is very little. But the promotional tools may gradually help generate revenue. Music takes time to "grow" on consumers, and these methods help achieve this. Why would you care if your promos are traded for 0.99? Surely that's great, as they're being traded to people who may never have heard of your music, which is passively spreading your presence. It's definitely better than your promos being thrown in the bin.
Many of the tools that you have put down have worked on me and my friends as consumers. All of your reasoning is based upon your personal experience; with the wide array of promotional tools available today, I believe that different methods suite different artists. Very importantly, it also depends heavily upon the quality of the music.

Hmm. I would spend it on a tour of some kind, local, or interstate. Just reaching out to an audience that is receptive to your music. Hire musicians and so forth.

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterKent Sandvik

With money I cannot buy love, but fans with my hardwork. I think you know well how to spend money.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I'd like to address Richard's points:

While money is the easiest metric to measure, I'm also factoring in fan activity. That's why I mentioned that none of the first three items even garnered a single contact. For example, I had a full-page feature in my local paper that, for all I can tell, nobody noticed. The European radio campaign has had 10 years to grow, yet I have a much more robust fanbase in Sweden and Germany than I do in Italy and France where the promotion took place.

I'd be happy to have my promos traded for $0.99 on Lala, but I'd rather not have it show up on Amazon next to my full price listing. Arguably, the consumer is considering a purchase by the time they arrive at the album's detail page, and I prefer they buy it from me.

Finally, while I do have personal experience in all the areas discussed, I'm factoring in friends' results. As a mastering engineer, I'm in close contact with a number of bands and labels, and have been involved in countless shared promotions over the years. That said, I agree that different methods suit different artists, and that quality is paramount.

If anyone has had recent measurable success with the methods above, I'd love to hear about it!

November 30 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Thanks for the response Brian, really appreciated it. FYI, I'm looking to release some work soon and I'll mainly be using free services (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Last.FM, SoundCloud etc) for the bulk of promotion.

Cheers, Rich

Promo CDs work.

Nobody uses them right, though, and you nailed it with your paragraph summary. People run around trying to put that CD into as many hands as possible, and that's the problem. I can find 3000 who don't give a fuck about my music, easy. I live in a city with 111,000 of them, at least.

But that's not what your promo CDs are for. They're for handing to the people who come to you and ask for them. They probably won't ask specifically -- but when you find someone who 1) loved your set and wants something to listen to or 2) wants to buy your album but doesn't have the money for it, then these are the kinds of situations where a promo CD is effective.

But the direction is key. Don't push it out to people -- give it to the rare few who approach you directly and actually want it.

I've played in a band that booked an entire 18 stop tour strictly off promo CD's with contact/booking info on the back. It really does work.

(But only when it works.)

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

"I promote to establish and nurture a genuine relationship with my fans."

Love that quote.

November 30 | Registered CommenterEndy Daniyanto

That totally makes sense Justin!

I wonder if the "I want everyone here to have a CD, whether they can pay for it or not" approach would work just as well and net you more cash. Or maybe your approach is better because you're ensuring that everyone who gets a CD really wants it. Either way, it sounds like a solid technique to me. I haven't played live in 10 years, and don't plan to, so I won't be able to benefit from your wisdom directly.

November 30 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Wow I would take that 5K just so I wouldn't have to read this article again. Whats this guy talking about. Really it just sounds bitter if you ask me. If you had a break through hit and were headlining sold out arenas around the world. I bet you wouldn't be saying anything of this. But because you have a fair to ok music career, your experience has left you reeling on what didn't work for you. From my personal experience almost all the above works for me. Add's have opened me up to fans, Press Releases has earned me cover story's in various magazines, radio stations and tons of exposure that in turn = Sales. So, maybe your opinion is good for those who don't really expect anything out of there career, but for the rest of us, play ball.

December 1 | Unregistered CommenterMusic Fan

You wouldn't know it from reading one article, but I'm actually quite happy with my career. If yours is so great, why comment anonymously? Could you go into more detail on how you made ads, press releases, and radio promotion work for you?

I can see how the article comes off as negative, but the overall message is simply that money isn't the answer. That's a good thing for those of us who aren't rich.

December 1 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Yeah, I thought this was pretty good advice and it didn't read as "bitter" to me. Then again, I have actually been called "bitter" this year myself.

(Also, I'm curious about why someone would get paid $5000 to not read an article again. That doesn't compute for me.)

December 1 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Great article. I was curious about your success with Jango as I've been weighing this option. Could you elaborate on how it has helped you?

Forget my stupid question. Just clicked on the link are read your post on Jango. Quite informative. I think I'm about to become a member...

I'd probably take that $5 and spend it on touring. Get into a new market or spend some time cultivating one where there's already some interest. Touring is a lot more work than the examples you listed in the post, but it's also the most reliable way to "establish and nurture a genuine relationship" with fans.

December 1 | Registered CommenterRefe Tuma

First off, I love the 'what not to do' lists rather than the ''you must do this' lists.

There has been so much talk around this topic and social media. I won't recap every point I have read recently, but you can get so far promoting yourself without even spending the $5000.

The one thing I will relay is the 50 cent approach. (yes the artist) He put up a track for free. Got feedback (negative feedback mind you) and then worked from that.

It's sad to say this when I want all musicians to make money off of what they create, but give something away for free. One track, that's all it may take. Free music has become the norm sadly and it will get you SO far with promoting yourself rather than trying to scrape every penny from what you have created.

Thanks for the post and inspiring some thoughts I have had built up in me.

December 1 | Unregistered Commenterdirkler

Thanks for condensing a confusing subject for us Brian. While each artist must go his or her own way, the point shouldn't be lost. Don't spend your time and effort on things that don't help you succeed. I think the mix will be slightly different for everyone, but we can all learn from each others experience. You are mostly correct on these issues. As humans we learn from mistakes (or we're supposed to), so readers should take this and learn from it. While I think your article shows a good deal on some things to avoid, finding the right mix will require an artist to really have a good idea on what they want. Only then can they properly direct their marketing and glean what they should from your article. For example, if you have dreams of fame and riches, why spend your time looking for measly record sales? Write hits, record them, build a base and shop for the big deal. Otherwise you'll truly be unhappy. You do know the chances right? Slim to none. So why get mad when it doesn't happen. If you don't like to gamble, concentrate on what it takes to make a decent living. If you do that your marketing mix will be very different. And I suspect you'll be much happier. I bet your focus now is pretty good Brian. I bet you're a fairly happy guy. Keep on rockin'!

December 2 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Royer

Thanks for this post! I recently had one of my artists raise $10,000 for a CD. He printed up 1500 copies and devoted the rest of the money, almost $8,000 for promotion. He was certain that hiring a well-established promoter of indie rock bands would make his CD a hit.

I begged him to reconsider, using most of the reasons you cited.

He was sure the promoter was the magic bullet, "The promoter really wants to work with us, and loves the record."

THEY ALL SAY THAT!! You're about to hand them $8,000 to send out emails to a list of blogs! You're never going to have trouble finding someone willing to take your money.

December 2 | Unregistered Commenteranon

Yeah, there are some sharks out there. I'd like to find a promoter who will work for a percentage of sales!

You bring up a good point Greg. You have to know why you're promoting in the first place! Some people will accept nothing short of superstardom, and might be more inclined to go for broke by gambling with high stakes approaches.

Judging the comments on my blog, touring and licensing seem to be considered the best approaches. A compelling live performance is certainly the answer for some, and I've had my first successes with licensing this year, though the "exposure" (in my experience that word always calls for air quotes) hasn't brought me any new fans or sales that I can trace. I won't be able to deliver a final verdict until I receive my ASCAP statements.

December 2 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Yes, a killer live show has a believability factor and an intimacy that's off the charts, in terms of winning new fans. No amount of promotion can substitute for that, because, due to being bombarded with marketing, people are mistrustful. As a performer, you're much more a part of a given fan's life than somebody they read about in an ad or on a blog. It's difficult, at best, for a solo electronic artist to generate that kind of onstage excitement.

December 2 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

The writer gives a lot of disheartening advice with very few answers as to what an aspiring artist should do. This is why so many have not warmed to his post and are suspicious of his reasoning and experience. I have not ventured out yet and started an indie all I can say is that this guy has more experience than I do. With that being said...there is no way your going to tell me that giving away economically designed (priced) promotional cds, wont help a band. Many major label artists (see 50 cent) have used this model. No, every promotional cd may not even get listened to, but that is not the point. If 1 out of 10 listens and likes then word of mouth can be substantial. However I do appreciate his advice. The bit about a blog feature as opposed to an article resonated with me very much.

December 3 | Unregistered CommenterCarlton Ahdween

I did a couple thousand promo CDs a couple albums ago and couldn't GIVE them away, even just handing them out to people at concerts. When people see you handing stuff out, they make an effort to avoid you (I can't blame them - I do the same thing). A friend who runs a record store included them with orders for awhile, but nothing really came of it. Of course with all of this stuff, ymmv.

December 26 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Brian is right but is also very WRONG on a number of points.

This is where he is right. Ads, press, CD compilations, promo CDs et all will NOT help you sell any CDs and to try to sell in this manner is a big mistake. It is a symptom of major label thinking on indie labels and will NOT work for you. Like Brian, we have tried all of the above methods and found it to be a total waste of time.

The record industry works in a particular manner and indie artists often want to emulate the likes of 50 Cent and company but in order to do that you absolutely need a major or major label dollars to get radio, press and tv to line up for you.

Where Brian is wrong is this. It is all well and good to say what doesn't work without offering a solution. That's the easy part, try offering solutions that do work.

I will attempt to now.

The internet is ideal for indies but until you stop thinking like majors you will not have any success.

If you are not a touring artist then the following suggestions is in my opinion not only achievable but vital.

1. Website. Your website is KING. I will repeat this. Your website is KING and is absolutely vital for you to make a career online.

2. Your website is about relationships. This is the hardest part to sell to indies who have the record industry mentality. But let those with ears hear. Your website is NOT about selling your music to your fans. Sure give them the option to buy but it should not be about selling CDs but about access to YOU.

3. Your are in the entertainment industry and entertainment is your primary goal. It is about mixed media and the kids on Youtube generating millions of views are flooring us in the music industry with cheap and nasty videos while we spend thousands on videos etc but cannot entertain. Even a serious musician can create an entertaining video to blow everyone away with so it can be done.

4. Monetise your site. Even if you do it yourself. Understand that instead of trying to sell 1m units of 1 dollar each why not use free content (streaming is our preferred method) to sell 1 item worth a million dollars, 10 items of $100,000, 100 items for $10,000 and so on. With that in mind you can then advertise online BUT you use licence your music to your ad.

5. Someone once said if radio won't play your music, create your own radio station. If TV won't screen your content, start your own. The Internet has given us the tools and opportunity to do both. Use them and create social media around you.

6. Covers. Make them, and make them and make them. I say it 3 times because we are adopting this ourselves and we have lots of records we want to cover. Just make covers of music you like or versions of hits in the style you like. You don't need to sell them.


8. Stay in the digital arena. If anyone wants a physical CD or DVD make it convenient for them to get it from you. Make sure it's convenient for you to produce them as well so maybe use Cafepress, Lulu or any other on demand service so this could be automated and you don't have to babysit it.

9. Be inaccessible. Too much live gigs, begging friends to come to your gigs are a NO NO. It will lose you more friends than anything else. Become a recluse, record, write, make videos and rare public appearances (as your band) you need a mystique and you have to create it by being scarce. Don't tweet every 5 minutes.

10. Do it for love and not for money. Yes this is correct, do it for love and not for money. Once you love what you're doing, then generate the money around your cool club. People are buying products all the time and will buy your own products or services or affillates etc. It should be soft sell but the most important of all of the above is LOVE WHAT YOU'RE DOING.

These are my top ten tips for you all. We are in the glorious world of free entertainment so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel just follow the basic principles of free entertainment.

If you entertain people, do it on your own turf and advertise other products and services. Place a value on your visitors and try and understand a bit about them. Then advertise products that can monetise your site effectively.

If you like my post then watch my reality TV show My Pop Diary at my website. Enjoy!

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterKehinde

There were some very good posts in this train. And it is good to bring it out into the open, especially for new artists coming on with raw talent and a lot of hope. Important thing is to conserve your cash and don't give it out unless the promoter is going to take payment based on sales. Another point is to "think before you think". This is another way of saying (as others above) that you should know what you want in the big picture and then plan accordingly and always follow through. Don't just do something and then not tabulate and analyze the results. Finally, in general and regarding promotional CDs, be very selective as people do not appreciate what they have not paid for.

The one thing Radio can do for you that nothing else, not even the Internet, can do for you is play your song for a relatively captive audience receptive to listening to new music. The problem I face when trying to get "free" Internet exposure is that ultimately, it comes down to the potential user's choice to click "play." And the fact of the matter is, if they're already streaming something, watching a YouTube video posted on Facebook, or listening to their iPod, they aren't going to click play. Even I'm guilty of this... I'll see a link from artists I already know and like and think to myself, "let me bookmark this so that I can listen to it later" and then never do.

Another reason why I know the "click play" problem is real is that the vast majority of websites I visit that is for an artist or band plays their music the minute you browse their page; you aren't even given the opportunity to play a track. It's just already playing. This is a little annoying for a few different reasons... The main one is that computer audio is usually not compressed the way radio audio is compressed. You might have to CRANK your computer speakers to hear the audio coming out of YouTube or a video game you're playing, and then have to reach for the volume knob to turn it down the minute you start playing a podcast in iTunes. There's very little I hate more than to not realize my computer speakers are on 10, visit and have their song blow me out of my chair.

The iMix upload is a good suggestion but I think the even better idea is to find popular podcasts, and then look into how to get your music submitted. Because the one thing that this article does get right is that ads don't sell music, reviews don't sell music (they're just there to look good on your press kit when trying to land gigs), music sells music. And most importantly, the single sells music. One really tight song, played a lot, to as many people as possible.

What's really good for that?

Oh yeah. Radio.

Radio can do two things that is extremely difficult to acheive on the Internet. Radio reaches millions of people, someone is bound to hear it and like it, which is the thing that takes a fan base of a hundred and turn into a fan base of thousands. Radio can also reach those millions of people over, and over, and over again. I once read a paper from the advertising business that it takes being exposed to something nine times before you even recognize what you've been exposed to. Getting one person to listen to a 30 second clip of your music on the Internet JUST ONCE (with multiple browser tabs going, social media, e-mail, Instant Messaging, and on and on and on) takes a near-Herculean effort. But people are in their cars everyday, with the radio on.

"No they're not."

No, yes they are. I've read the industry numbers and there are still millions of people listening to the radio. And in fact, market research has made it clear that people are more likely to buy things heard advertised on TV and Radio than on the Internet. This article is on to one thing, Google Ads aren't worth the money because just because Google pulls in millions of eyeballs doesn't mean people actually act on what they see there. Again, the Internet--the environment of someone's personal computer--is rather chaotic, and unfocused, unlike a television or radio broadcast, where you get a format: song, song, song, commercials, song, song song, commercials. You know what you're getting, and you know you're going to get something you're probably going to like because of stations adhering to a certain format.

My only complaint is the lack of format diversity in American Radio. Nevertheless, I still think it's a worthwhile expense to invest in radio promotion--inside and outside of the United States. To this day, more new music is discovered there than anywhere else. YouTube is a great resource for artists already discovered--especially with MTV relegating music videos to 5am on the East Coast. However, if you're a new act, playing clubs is fine, and MySpace is even better. But you really aren't going to build up a name until you get on the Radio.

The other thing this article doesn't discuss is the fact that success in music is not an overnight goal. Survivor, one of my favorite bands, formed in 1977 and didn't have a hit record until six years later. They had already two other albums out before Eye of the Tiger broke in 1983. I contend that you need to think of your music career in terms of decades, not months. And that what you do today to make a name for your music, and everyday for the next 5+ years will eventually lead to something real. One of my theories behind that is the fact that bands come and go, now more than ever, since it's become so cheap and easy to make music. How does a music fan get emotionally attached to someone who is here today and gone tomorrow? Because they got bored, or didn't sell enough downloads for it to be worth their while?

Don't think like the record labels. They're the ones who want to see 150k album sales overnight. You want to think like the A&R guys did in the 70s and before... Long term. Hone your craft, collaborate, perform, record your work in a REAL studio by engineers who know how to mix, find producers who will cut that 9 minute epic down to a 4 minute song that gets your point across, and nothing more. And don't stop putting your name and music out there. If people keep hearing your stuff, and people who like it continue to hear it (so yes, that does mean the radio), they'll know you're serious. And someone worth following as a fan into the proverbial record store.

November 4 | Unregistered CommenterDairenn Lombard

I've been studying to become a Certified Google Adwords partner and I can honestly say that I think the reason online ads fail most times isn't because of the online ad platform, but how people run their ads. When I first heard about Adwords I got a certificate in the mail for $100 in free ads. I dived right in and started a campaign without really understanding what I was doing. For instance, in Adwords there's something called Match types.

You have broad matches, phrase matches, and exact matches. If I typed a keyword like this: smart hip hop that would be a broad match and my ad would show for every word in that keyword individually. Like, if somebody ran a Google search for "Smart guys", “hip replacement”, “Bunny hop” my ad would show. If I typed the keyword like this: "Smart hip hop" that's a phrase match. With a phrase match my ad would only show if somebody searched using all of the words in my keyword in the exact same order as I typed them. My keyword would show for "I love smart hip hop". An exact match would be if I typed the keyword like this: [smart hip hop]. With an exact match my ad would only show up if somebody searched for the term "smart hip hop" exactly with no words coming before or after the term. Adwords gives information on the success rate of every keyword telling you how many times your ad shows for a specific keyword, how many people click on it, how often it leads to a sale. If a keyword is performing poorly you just eliminate it. Keywords are important because they determine how relavent your ad is going to be in relation to the search strings it comes up in. I mean, it requires upkeep. It’s not something you set on auto-pilot and check out on.

Running an ad you have to have an idea of who you're targeting, their age, where to find them, etc. You have to know what kind of language they'll respond to, what kind of imagery. You have to have a good call to action like saying "check out my music" in your ad will get you different results than "Buy Now $5" or whatever. If you're selling something advertise a deal like giving away your album with the purchase of a T-shirt or some other kind of deal. In Adwords you could do something like create multiple ads with different calls to action and images to see which one was most effective. You could have Adwords automatically alternate the ads pertaining to which ones were generating the most clicks or sales. A bad call to action can set you up for failure. People tend to use calls to action to generate clicks but it should be about generating conversions because you’re spending money per click and want the most out them. It would be better to get fewer clicks from more interested people. Rather than using a call to action to attract everyone it should kind of be used to eliminate uninterested parties. Being specific helps that. If I say smart hip hop somebody that’s into Gangsta rap isn’t going to click on my ad. If I specify a price and that it’s for sale people won’t click if they’d like to have it for free or at a price other than what I advertised. Still there's more to consider. The targeting can be so specific. I'm an artist but I happen to have a genuine passion for marketing and promoting. I got into it to learn how to promote my music but I feel like I've been cheating on my music for the past few years with it. I've collected a ton of info on what to do when releasing a project but haven't put together anything to put out, but that's my personal bag still trying to find room for creativity having had 3 kids in 3 years back to back.

Oh and another feature Adwords has that I like but haven’t tried so I can’t say if it works but still I love it. They have something called “Remarketing”. Using Remarketing if somebody visits your website you can embed code on your site that will put them in a list. You can have a list of people that visited but didn’t buy, create an ad offering a discount to that group of people, and use remarketing to have that ad follow them around on the Internet.

This isn’t to say that it works like a charm or anything but to say there’s more to it than people know. I once got paid to fix a ladies computer. She had it sitting in a closet for months calling it a piece of junk saying it didn’t work. There was nothing wrong with the computer. She just didn’t plug it in properly.

I wrote an article on a site I run with a friend called giving something like an introductory course to Adwords. Payusnomind is site where me and my friend give our unqualified opinion on music promo and other stuff.

October 31 | Unregistered Commenteriamthegif

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>