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Wednesday
Feb242010

Putting It Into Practise - A Free Album Case Study

I wrote on here a while back, triggered in part by a popular blog posting, about how musicians are indeed embracing the web as a tool for promotion.  I later got to thinking about what I was doing, and how I could start to do more to boost my own profile as a musician.

I had been coming around to this gradually, and in May ‘09 had started a blog - thinking, initially, that if I could write an interesting music blog (not necessarily about myself) that gained regular readers, then I could later use it when I had something to promote.  This process really opened my eyes to how musicians can (or do) use the internet and blogging networks to ‘spread the word’, and after a free track that I gave away made it all the way to the website of The Guardian (UK newspaper) I was excited.  

So I decided to take it a step further, and give away a whole album.

This, I think now, is not necessarily the best idea for aspiring musicians, although it’s been a great learning curve.  Self-releasing an album has a number of advantages, especially since one can now do it digitally, without springing a few thousand for manufacturing costs.  You don’t need to worry about distributor schedules, you get to keep all the copyrights, and you don’t need to worry about labels’ A&R teams (although this has its dangers).  You also don’t need to worry so much about external factors affecting you - and after a disastrous album launch in 2008, in which a critically acclaimed album was torpedoed by a bankrupt distributor and a label manager contracting leukemia (who has since, happily, made a full recovery), this was a powerful draw.

Giving it away free has other advantages, of course - you don’t need to stress about leaks or piracy.  See your album on a torrent?  Brilliant - people are passing it on to others.  Right now, there is also the added advantage of ‘free’ being a selling point - I doubt this will remain true for much longer, but it works for the moment.

Working in the field of electronic dance music, over the last 5 years sales have become increasingly marginal - as in other fields.  A producer gains profile by releasing tracks, and earns the lion’s share of their income from ‘touring’ them - being booked to DJ.  

So, with this album we needed to do things cheaply.  This meant finding someone to do the artwork for free - in this case, an artist and designer who didn’t have any music projects on his portfolio, but wanted some; and we roped in a fairly inexperienced but enthusiastic friend to make a short promotional video.  We’re going to distribute it through Bandcamp - it seems a useful and easy to use tool for artists to get their wares out there.  The site that kills myspace?  I think it could be…

Then there’s PR.  Now this is something of a cruncher, it turns out.  A time-sapping, dreary trudge through the depths of joyless tedium.  I know what you’re thinking - those are some overly emotive words, and you’re right, it’s not actually as much fun as I imply.  Still, it has to be done, so off I went to the corners of the internet, and started collating my list of blogs to hit up - blogs that have shown support for me in the past, blogs that feature the same kind of music, not just the biggest ones, but also the masses, the blogs that get 20-30 thousand hits a month, and less.  This took approximately forever, but has been pleasingly fruitful, with a good couple of dozen (out of the 200-odd I mailed) promising to feature the album when it comes out.  Lots of blogs I was already in touch with, having arranged link swaps and such over the last few months, so there was already an ice-breaker there, and I considered it good form to mail individually the biggest and most influential blogs, where possible.  I’m already thinking what I could have done better here - the first thing to spring to mind is that I concentrated mainly on English-language blogs.  There are, clearly, some very popular blogs in Europe - a couple have agreed to feature me, but I think I could have done better if I had thought about it earlier.  And if I’d had the time.

I had also collected, over the last few years of releases, a handful of email addresses of other press contacts, so they were hit up in due course, and again, a couple of news features made their way onto some useful online magazine sites.  We’re still waiting to see how the print press shapes up - I’m expecting one review, although don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch.

I’ve also got the obligatory Facebook event page, to which I’ve managed to get about 4,000 people invited by haranguing my various friends (I’m surprised by how many people have rejected the event!  Perhaps I didn’t word it politely enough?), I’ve registered and posted on 40 or so music forums, burned CD’s and printed labels and handed promo copies out, there’s a permanent ad on my blog, a minimix preview up on Soundcloud and plenty of Twitter chatter.  The video is still under construction, but I’m hoping it will add to the interest and fun levels when we can promote it.

This is real work.  I’m starting to get an idea of why PR companies charge so much.  

I mentioned that I don’t think this route is necessarily the best for all aspiring artists, and the main factor in that is time.  To do this properly is a full time job - it’s ok for me, as a full-time musician with no kids (or wife!), but I’m starting to think it might be somewhat of an undertaking for those with day-jobs.

I’ve also been keeping a weekly diary of what we do, and whether it works, as part of some kind of metablogging - I’m hoping that people may become engaged with the process of the album as a narrative in itself, and perhaps pass it around as an example of how one might (or how one should not) promote oneself online.   You can read that here, for a more detailed breakdown of what I’ve been trying and whether it worked:  http://www.bassmusicblog.com/tag/diaryofafreealbum

The album is due for release on Monday, and that diary will carry on for a couple of weeks thereafter, to let people know how successful it actually was.   Or wasn’t.  I may report back here with some post-match analysis if anyone’s interested!

Ed Bayling

I.D. & Baobinga - Bass Music Sessions is released through http://www.bassmusicblog.com on Monday 1st March.

The Bandcamp page will be http://label.bassmusicblog.com.

Reader Comments (4)

You're right, promotion right now pretty much can be a full-time job in itself, and even then, and doing it online, the job can still never get done. I'm launching a website that will revolutionize promotion for indie artists by utilizing a free, automated word of mouth system online. It's a social network for music, where you follow ppl with similar tastes in music. Anything those ppl liked enough to save, gets sent to you. If you like it and put it in your playlist, it gets sent to anybody following you. The good music is spread by the fans automatically. It also opens up the opportunity to gain ad revenue from plays and views. Check out my blog, I think you will like it. We will be in beta in about 3 months. For now though we promote indie artists of all kinds for free. We'd love to hear ur music and feature it on our blog. Let me know what you think. http://beatplay.wordpress.com or u can sign up to beta test at http://MusicWithoutLabels.com

February 24 | Registered CommenterDante Cullari

Keep the journal going longer than a few weeks. We live in a schizophrenically ADD culture and all the music business hype is about "launches" and headlines, but an album is an asset you can develop for years.

February 25 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

that's a good call, since ultimately the aim of this isn't to shift a load of downloads - it's to get me more gigs, more paid work, etc. The success of which will only really become apparent over some months....

February 25 | Unregistered Commentered

I started keeping my Silber blog about my label a little more than a year ago. I find it is not only helpful as far as generating a daily interaction with the fan base, but it helps me to keep on track & get things done everyday to be held accountable. The only problem I've run into is occasionally you get down with the facts of the music business & it's easy to turn your blog into a diary which can not be such a great fit for what you actually want your fans to read.

February 28 | Unregistered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

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