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The case for online-only promotion


I promote to establish and nurture a genuine relationship with my fans. I measure my success by the number of subscribers to my mailing list. Notice I said mailing list, not Twitter followers or MySpace “friends.” I’m talking about the people who grant me permission through a double opt-in process to email them directly on a regular and consistent basis. Right now there are just over a thousand, but there are plenty more out there who might love my music if they heard it. So how do we reach those potential fans?

In the pre-Web 2.0 days, you’d court a label, or if you were really adventurous, you’d hire a PR firm yourself. The PR firm would leverage their relationships with press and radio, which in turn maintain relationships with their audiences. That left you three degrees removed from your potential fans, the vast majority of whom you’d never hear from. Today, social networking allows us to cut out the middlemen and establish those relationships directly. Let’s dispel a couple of myths:

  1. It’s all about exposure. My bullshit detector goes off whenever I hear the word “exposure.” It’s nebulous and generally worthless. I’ve spent a lot of time and money courting press and radio, resulting in bucketloads of “exposure” but few sales or follow-up contacts. While “you never know” who might be listening or reading, chances are good that nothing will come of it. The best promotions are targeted to as specific an audience as possible.
  2. You need to impress the gatekeepers. No, you really don’t. You’re better off letting them come to you. Bloggers, DJs, music supervisors, labels, and the rest of the industry want to discover you for themselves. Grow your fanbase and the rest will follow. I know that may seem counterintuitive, but one small leap of faith could save you years of rejection and frustration. It is my sincere belief that lasting success comes from the bottom up.

While your goals may be different from mine, they probably involve more fans and more money. You already communicate with your fans and sell your music online, perhaps exclusively. It’s difficult and in some cases impossible to convert an offline fan into an online one, so why waste your energy? Promote where the action is: online.

Let me be clear - I’m not suggesting Dave Matthews stop touring and start blogging instead (he should do both). While you may consider your live show or your latest album to be the best promotion of all, performing and making records is what musicians do. For the purposes of this discussion, the term “promotion” refers to the many non-musical efforts you make to raise awareness of your music.

You might feel like you need to promote both offline and online to “cover your bases,” but there are an infinite number of bases to cover! You’ll never run out of things to do online: your web site, blog, podcast, remix competition, iPhone app, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, iMixes, thesixtyone, Jango, Stereofame,, OurStage, Pandora, Amazon, iLike, Podsafe Network, ccMixter,, Music Xray, Bandcamp, and a hundred others.

Of course, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. There’s no point in setting up profiles you aren’t going to maintain. A web presence is not enough - you have to actively promote. You’ll need to come up with your own promo combo platter and make it part of your regular diet. I’m busy recording a new album, so my bare bones routine consists of regular updates to my mailing list, blog, Facebook, and Twitter, plus a daily check-in at thesixtyone.

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.

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Reader Comments (9)

Hey Brian,

Great post.. we need more people like you to inspire artists to rethink the "why" behind their actions.

Hoover're trying to make touring easier for bands by building a global touring contact network. It's bands helping bands by sharing venue contacts.

December 28 | Unregistered CommenterHoover

Very well said! Personally, my experience is that it's more important what you don't do than what you do to promote. Time is precious. I need to save energy to use it on composing, not on office work ;-)

December 30 | Unregistered CommenterHelge Krabye

Very complete tutorial about only online promotion -
the best way is to combine on- and offline promotion.
What about virtuel offline promotion?

December 30 | Unregistered CommenterBeatrix Fröhlich

What about the promotion which could follow your life?

Obviously living in a busy city is ideal, which is why im located in one. I can actively promote while not even thinking about it.

Aim to flyer 10 houses on your walk to work?

I'm not going to say another top post, as it obviously is :p But im just very glad of posts reminding me of the simple things. I don't want too much work in front of me and around my pc/desk.

This is the line im on about here:

"It is my sincere belief that lasting success comes from the bottom up."

December 31 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

Nice to hear that the article is resonating! I appreciate the kind words.

As for virtual offline promotion, I'll be the first in line when Derek Siver's MuckWork launches! :)

December 31 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Great post! Quick question - could you explain a bit more what you mean by the statement:

"It’s difficult and in some cases impossible to convert an offline fan into an online one, so why waste your energy?"

It seems counterintuitive - the natural guess would be that offline fans would transition easily into online fans.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I mean that it's hard to get people you connect with via a performance, the radio, or press feature/interview/review/ad to go to your web site, sign up for your mailing list, or buy your album on iTunes. It's much easier to get someone on Facebook, Twitter, thesixtyone, Jango etc to do those things, since they're only a click away.

If anyone has had luck selling digital download cards at gigs, feel free to contradict me! :)

January 13 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

I took this too the extreme by playing shows and not bringing CDs to sell ("online only promotion"). Personally I never buy CDs anymore, just MP3s, and so when people would ask "do you sell CDs"?, instead I gave them a QR code and short URL to the ZIP file of my album online. But the truth is that a handful of people are still very "old media", and they still want a physical CD - and are willing to pay for it.

January 18 | Registered CommenterChris Castiglione

Great ideas and info... so am starting my promotion here!

Booking Agent for: Suga Roy and Conrad Crystal, I- cient cy Mau and The Mau Mau Warriors, Ras Mrydak, Aaron Silk, Yung Yezzie and Tinga Stewart!

One love!

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