Promotional Potpourri for Gigging Musicians
The key to succeed in today's music industry is promotion. Here are
several tips that can help you generate the buzz you need.
* The owner of an indie record label went around to music stores in a
city he was visiting. He took a demo copy of the latest music release.
He gave this CD to the store managers. Next, he used his promotional kit
to get the stores to stock a few copies on consignment. Here's the real
secret: He then told each store manager that he would be in town the
next week and would give the manager $50 if, when he came in the store,
they were playing this CD. This "bribe" (oooh, that's an ugly word) cost
him $50 the following week, but he made it up in sales at all the
locations. Of course, the band was in town that week playing a several
different venues, too.
* Get listed in the free entertainment listings offered by local
newspapers and magazines. Usually you just need to send a simple news
release with the typical who, what, when, and where filled in.
* I once sent my commercial music demo tape inside a portable cassette
player with headphones. I bought the tape players from a bargain bin for
less than $5 each. I then created a specific mix that sounded good on
the tape deck and headphones. After installing batteries, I cued up the
tape so the package was ready to roll. I then mailed this gift to a few
very important prospects. The idea was to get them to listen to my music
for the minimum of fuss. I also put a sticker with my logo and contact
information on the tape player (and on the tape, too of course). There
was a cover letter, too, that essentially said "Press play and hear how
I can help you today!". I followed up the promotion with a phone call.
It was a novel approach that generated some interest. The cost was
relatively cheap compared to some promotions (about $10 per prospect).
This might be a unique way for you to get recognized.
* Here's another gimmick that might help get your foot in the door? I
was going through some old file folders when I ran across a promotion I
did many years ago. I'd tucked a couple of candy mints in an envelope.
The headline to the letter said: "We Also Have Candy For Your Ears."
What was nice about this promotion was that the package (sales letter,
brochure, business card, and candy) was lumpy. For many people this kind
of letter is irresistible to open. The candy falls out and they can't
help but read the sales message. The promotion centered on a new music
demo recently completed and available called "Ear Candy". The response
to the promotion was acceptable; many people positively commented on the
* Start a Web site just for your fans. Make sure the entire band takes
an active role in maintaining the site and delivering its content. Make
the site interactive, fun, entertaining, and THE place for like-minded
people to gather and relate. Think this: your band = web community!
* Get a band telephone hot-line. Keep it up to date with play dates,
specials, where to order stuff, and more.
* Give free things away at gigs: your logo on a sticker, a fridge magnet
with your logo and hot-line number, sign up for a free newsletter, and
* Don't neglect the lowly flyer. Create an eye-catching design with the
basics of your next gig -- where, when, etc.-- and post it everywhere
like-minded people gather. In Madison, WI the streets downtown have
public kiosks that are always covered in the latest play dates for local
bands. If you do post, make sure you also go rip them down after the
date has passed.
* Find a good media hook for a gig. Sponsor an award, celebrate an
anniversary or event, or do the gig for a local charity. Use this hook
when contacting the local entertainment press.
* Release a novelty song related to a holiday, sports team, or local
* Don't forget merchandising. You can make money selling T-shirts, caps,
jackets, and other doo-dads. Your album cover or band logo design, can
make ideal posters and such that you can sell, too.
* You may want to get together with other acts in your music market and
develop cooperative projects whereby you distribute their records in
return for a percentage of the sale. In other words, you create a
catalog of other products to add to your own. It is just as expensive to
promote one product as it is a dozen or so. Your mailings, Web site, and
gig sales are more worthwhile when you can sell several related products
targeted at your audience. This helps you spread some costs around.
* Is the club where you're playing next stamping hands at the door? Get
a rubber stamp made with your band's logo and Web site address on it and
ask the club to use it on the patrons. Everyone entering the club will
have a temporary tattoo of your logo and www.yourband.com on their hand.
It's a simple way to remind them of your band's name and where they can
get more information about you. I'd also add a special deal to the Web
site just for those people who visit (and buy!): "Welcome fans who saw
our show at The Club Friday night. Special deal just for you: Free
shipping if you grab our latest CD ..." Other music and sound pros can
use a variation on this idea. Use the rubber stamp on everything that
leaves your office (envelopes, packages, letters, CDs, etc.), too.
* When asked, don't say who you sound like. This can kill your chance if
you pigeonhole your music and image by saying: "We're the new Aerosmith,
dude." Instead, use this subtle tactic. Tell those who ask who you'd
open for. Say: "Our sound would make an ideal opening act for (blank)."
What you are really saying is that your brand of music would complement
this headliner and that their fans should be yours, too!
* Why not a live album? If your bread and butter is playing live, if
you've built your reputation on the club circuit, why put out a studio
album? Your fans know your live act, so why not give it to them in a
* You might want to concentrate on specific regions or cities with your
music. You don't have to tour nationally to succeed. Big Head Todd & the
Monster's Rob Squires explained how they just kept playing in Chicago,
San Francisco, Austin, and home in Colorado every other month. He
claimed the audiences just got bigger by concentrating their promotions
on these four cities.
* Have an offer for articles, radio/TV appearances, and such. You need
to capture the names of people who are interested. Give them a free
newsletter subscription or some other way that lets you grab the name
and use it in your future promotional efforts. Offer the same thing in
your paid ads, too. Get in your plug by telling where you are playing
next. Also, invite readers/listeners to get on your mailing list or to
call your music hot-line.
* Give radio stations free stuff to use for their on-air promotions
(tickets, t-shirts, etc.)
* Give the record store free copies of your CD to play in the store.
* Do record store appearances, autographs session, or "unplugged"
* A newsletter is an easy way to promote your band. Include gigs,
biographies, information, fun stuff, and order information in each
issue. Also, put in local radio request line phone numbers and e-mail
addresses and encourage your fans to request your music. Put the
newsletter on your Web site and/or e-mail it to your fans regularly.
* Have a contest near the end of your sets where the winner gets your
latest CD. This gives you a way to plug the record and direct people to
where you sell your stuff. Move quickly to the sales area bringing the
winner and others who are interested along with you. This way all
conversations between sets are focused in the sales area. Take turns
with other band members so everyone gets a real break, too.
* Looking for a good gimmick that might help get you in the door? Try to
create a product that ties in with your image. A band called Government
Cheese sent their record to radio stations accompanied by a five pound
brick of -- you guessed it -- government cheese. A band called Pray for
Rain sent sunglasses, emblazoned with the band's logo, along with their
promotional kit. These examples help get attention, but are futile
unless you persist and follow up. Don't forget: YOUR MUSIC IS THE BOTTOM
* When promoting through the media (print and broadcast), get in your
plug by telling where you are playing next. Also, invite
readers/listeners to get on your mailing list or to call your music
hot-line. You do keep a mailing list from gigs, don't you? You do have a
phone number fans can call, and you keep it updated with your latest
* If you play club dates, make sure you tell people that you are also
available for private parties and weddings, if that applies to you. Some
people think rather narrow-mindedly and may not know all that you really
offer. Make it be known what -- everything! -- you do.
* Should your musical act do original music or cover tunes? If you are
an act looking to land the record deal, you need to mostly feature your
originals. After all your image, sound, and music product is what you
sell. However, doing a few cover tunes that show your musical roots is a
fine complement as is putting your unique spin on old songs. If your act
is looking to make money on the club, wedding, and private party
circuit, performing nearly all covers is the sure-fire tactic. It is
still fine to slip in an original or two at opportune times. My
experience shows that sandwiching your original tune between two very
popular songs is a terrific strategy. Also, I see nothing wrong with
having "two acts" with different names and personalities--and still be
comprised of the same band members! One plays the mostly original scene
and another lands cover gigs (parties, weddings, and corporate jobs).
* Make sure your entire staff knows how to promote the act. Give them
cards and brochures to hand out. Train them on what you want them to say
to inquiries and such. Capture the name and contact information from
people so you can follow up later. Leave a few cards on tables, in the
bathroom, and other strategic locations around the club, too. People
will pick them up.
* Don't live in a vacuum. Make sure you invite people to contact you to
talk about your music. Make it easy for people to call and make sure you
extend them a warm welcome. Every product I make carries my contact
information so that anyone who needs to get in touch with me can do so
easily. I really enjoy talking with people about their work and helping
them achieve their goals. You can learn from my example. Tell people you
what to hear from them and give them a way to get in touch. You'll meet
some very interesting people from around the country, make some new
friends, and possibly some important business contacts, too.