Manage for Success: Marketing (Newsletter #9, January 2002)

The actual recording and making of records can be a lot of fun. Marketing of records, although it may be enjoyable to many, is frequently the most difficult, expensive, and frustrating aspect of running a record label -- and the greatest potential hazard. This is true not only for large labels, but particularly for small ones with limited financial resources. Marketing can also be a bottomless pit -- the largest hole into which your money can sink.

Achieving success for a record is extremely difficult, due not only to the current economic recession, but also to the way the industry tends to do business. Many traditional avenues of marketing recorded music have shrunken for one reason or other, or because the majors have tended to monopolize many of the media opportunities formerly available to smaller labels.

A structured approach to marketing music traditionally consists of the following activities, which will be discussed below:

Publicity: National and Local Print Media (newspapers, magazines, etc.)
Radio Airplay
Advertising: National and Local Print and Radio and "Co-op"
Artists Tour Support
Independent Marketing Specialists

Over the last number of years most newspapers have reduced, if not totally eliminated, their coverage of recorded music, and it's only the squeakiest wheels (the majors) who tend to get available coverage. This is true even with large national publications who not only have reduced the space allotted to music, but, not surprisingly, have extended their limited space to those who advertise the most (again, major labels.)

Therefore, with the exception of supporting touring artists, publicity may be an area where you'll spend very little money. That's not to say you shouldn't attempt to utilize the press, just that this may not be a prime method to market music, particularly for new and unknown artists.

If you have a limited budget for supplying press kits, very carefully chose the publications most likely to be interested in your release, and send your project only to them.

Radio Airplay:
This leaves radio promotion as one of the prime methods to market music. Of course radio airplay and your promotion efforts will be based on the kind of music you record and release. The genre of your music will determine whether or not your new CD will be of interest to radio station program and music directors.

Unfortunately, there are many types of music that don't get much, if any, airplay on commercial radio (folk music, singer-songwriters, roots, blues, traditional jazz, classical, etc.) For these you will have to rely predominantly on NPR (National Public Radio) affiliates and community and college radio stations. The cost to do the latter is relatively small compared to the cost of trying to promote rock music for major airplay. And you might also take advantage of the broadcast magazines such as NPR's "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Fresh Air," all of whom are interested in new and unusual artists and music, and conduct frequent artist interviews. Your publicist should handle these efforts.

One area you'll likely have to budget for is independent promotion, whether in conjunction with your own internal promotion staff, should you have one, or the hiring of indy promoters who specialize in the particular genre of music you're releasing. But it's important that your promotion staff, or independent promotion expert, work very hard to obtain, and then track your airplay, no matter which approach you have to promotion.

As part of your marketing campaign you'll have to determine what the most effective initial "add" date will be. It's usually two to four weeks prior to "street" date, depending on the artist's previous history at radio, or perhaps on or after street date for a new or unknown artist. The purpose of working toward an "add" date is that all stations who you can convince to broadcast your music should be encouraged to add the record to their airplay lists at the same time. This creates a greater impact when it occurs simultaneously.

Of course, you'll then have to work to increase spin rotation if you've got music that radio and the public seems to like.

So called "co-op" advertising is " cooperative" only in that you are agreeable to paying all the costs. Your distributor, frequently in conjunction with specified retailers, takes advantage of your space (print) or time (radio) buys by using use the money you allocate to purchase a certain amount of space or time for your ads. The advantage is that they will frequently offer lower rates than what you'd get on your own.

There's also directed advertising in local and national media to be considered. However this can be an expensive proposition that you might want to put the least amount of money into at the outset. It's very rare that print advertising results in significant sales, with the exception of supporting reasonably well-known artists who are on tour.

Tour Support:
Which comes to the next area you need to consider, and that's artist tour support. Independent labels can't usually afford to financially assist their touring artists, other than perhaps help in getting them gigs. However, all labels must ensure that local press and radio knows that an artist is about to be appearing in their area, and arrange for interviews in local media, both prior to and while the artist is performing in town. Be sure that you've set up interviews with the appropriate DJs or radio personalities well before the artist's appearance.

Independent Marketing Support:
There are a number of independent specialists who can work with you, not only to help you create your marketing plan, but particularly in retail support. They can check that key retailers in appropriate markets are properly covered with sufficient stock, and most important, that stores are aware of when an artist will be performing in their town, and see that they have enough CDs to cover anticipated demand.

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Solutions Unlimited is very familiar with music marketing, but we're not marketing specialists. We can, however, solve most business problems that effect record labels owners. So call on us to discuss these types of challenges, or any other aspects of running your label. We supply management solutions and advice tailored to your particular need.

Please feel free to suggest topics for future newsletters. We welcome your ideas.

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It's extremely important that you develop your marketing plan very far ahead of the actual date you expect to ship a release. And, as part of the process, budget carefully for all departmental aspects and phases of the campaign. For example, I suggest that each department develop a marketing plan as it relates to the work they plan to do, and apply costs and a timeline to it.

If you're a large label you will have departments dedicated to each area of marketing, but if you're a small label you may just have one person devoted to each aspect. A very small company may have just one or two people handling all of the marketing effort. In smaller companies the key marketing person will create the plan, but on a "departmental" basis: Publicity, Radio Promotion, etc.

Each department should indicate when they'll be starting. For example, it's a good idea that Publicity -- in-house or indy -- send a complete press kit with a sample CD to national publications at least two to four months prior to street date. This is in order to obtain "print" during the first month or two of release, since most national magazines go to press many weeks prior to the actual date they hit newsstands and mailboxes.

Radio Promotion will have to determine the "add " date for their first efforts, and the projected cost to achieve success.

For a small label it's necessary to brainstorm as if there are several departments -- determining what needs to be done for each aspect of marketing.

All of the proposed marketing ideas and expenses should be put together into a single "no holds barred" plan to see just what the combined effort will entail, and what the total cost will be. Then management can review all items and pare back the least essential elements until there's a budget and plan that's financially feasible.

This can be done on a "phased" basis. For example, many ideas that may be cut or eliminated initially, can be reinstated after initial sales are achieved and you have an idea as to whether you've got a commercial and "street-worthy" release. This is true particularly for radio promotion. If your early efforts indicate there's significant interest in a release of yours, or you may have a potential hit, that may be the time to put additional effort and money into promotion.

Or, if you see that records are starting to sell in particular areas, you might consider putting additional funds into some form of local advertising, and if the record really seems to be taking off, consider national advertising.

As well as a budget, it's important that the timeline of events, and the interaction between departments as they relate to each other, be followed fully. All departments should interact closely, keeping each other, your distributor, and any independent specialists, advised of new events as they occur, and see that they stay coordinated in their efforts.

But whatever the label size, the result is that a complete, comprehensive, and structured marketing plan will have been devised, including a budget as well as a timeline, delineating what's to be spent and what's to be accomplished in each and every aspect and phase of the campaign.

It's important, once the project has started, to track actual expenditures compared to what was budgeted. You may need to cut back if you find you're starting to run over. On the other hand, if actual expenditures are not as high as budgeted, and it seems worthwhile to spend more, there'll be sufficient funds to do that.

But it's also very important to update and revise your plan as events occur and the situation warrants. Feel free to modify and make changes to the plan, budget, and timeline if you feel it will significantly improve your overall efforts, and assuming you have the available funds.

This "roadmap" of a structured marketing plan -- including budget and timeline prepared well in advance -- will help you keep your costs under control, and will enable you to much more effectively market your music and manage your label for success.

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Copyright 2002 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.