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Rethinking Conventional Promo Strategies

Blog | May 6, 2009 | Updated: June 27, 2012 | Posted by Basilisk

Andrew Dubber has an interesting new post on who to send promos to, an issue that many labels and artists struggle with these days. Dubber likens the traditional model to a lottery, whereby promos are sent out to prominent gatekeepers of taste (reviewers, radio hosts, and so on) in the hopes that someone will actually crack the cellophane and give the release a spin. It is very goal-oriented; there is a desire to see a tangible return on the investment, which is often difficult to achieve. Sending promos is wasteful as many are simply discarded; there are always far more people interested in having their music heard than there are well-regarded tastemakers keen on trying something new. Speaking from experience, this is largely because a lot of music isn’t very good–and sorting through the crap to find that future gem (or even something worth writing about) is an arduous and uninspiring process. Labels and artists play this lottery to win the attention of the gatekeepers and, ideally, increase sales and exposure of their product.

Dubber’s alternate model is akin to gardening: planting seeds and cultivating relationships. The idea here is to send promos to people you have an established personal relationship with–even if they’re not influential bigwigs. Send promos to your friends, to fans with which you keep in contact, and let news of the release percolate through the social web. And why not? Digital promos don’t really cost anything other than a bit of time and effort to properly target your efforts. Dubber argues that people who don’t usually receive promos will pay far more attention to your release than those that do–and he’s probably right about that. But he also brings up a likely objection to this course of action: since friends and fans are the people most likely to buy the release anyway, why send them a promo and ruin your chance of a sale? I can see why labels and artists coming from a traditional background would find Dubber’s answers unsatisfactory.

Finding value in the gardening model of promo distribution will be easier for those who have already adopted new attitudes about the future of music in the 21st century. One of the most fashionable ideas presently circulating is centred on the power of engagement and interaction. Sending promos to fans and friends is a great engagement strategy–just be sure to follow up and continue the conversation. Will all of this lead to better sales? Well, there is some evidence for it, but not very much–and a lot of the best examples (like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead) are bands that were already phenomenally successful before the Internet changed everything.

When you get this deep into new music strategies you often encounter the mantra “sell the experience, not the music.” There is this idea that labels and artists can convert exposure into profit through the sale of concert tickets, merchandise, and deluxe physical media editions of free albums. And maybe this will work–but there are a lot of kinks to iron out. We still don’t know how viable these radical concepts are for smaller music subcultures such as psytrance. This is, of course, where my efforts come into the picture. And my thinking is that differing promo strategies are somewhat irrelevant once you embrace free music. In any case, cultivating relationships with friends and fans is a smart, and labels and artists would certainly benefit from putting more effort into listener engagement. This means sending promos–even at the risk of losing sales. There are fewer psytrance reviews written than ever before–and it is a far worse fate to be completely overlooked than it is to not break even.


  • zumba says:

    This makes a lot of sense… i like the metaphor as well….
    However i have a hard time making physical copies of my music (cd’s etc) but i feel digital promos due not have the same impact…
    anyway thanks for posting…

  • psyentifica says:

    I find the article interesting, it addresses some critical issues, but this final line ->

    “There are fewer psytrance reviews written than ever before—and it is a far worse fate to be completely overlooked than it is to not break even.”quote

    I disagree, maybe your considering mainstream media? but I think through the internet Pystrance culture,media, and creative constructs are reviewed and discussed even more. With more forums, websites, webzines and blogs for people to connect at. With more people having access to all kinds of releases yes there is always potential that a release gets overlooked but everyday we also have a broader audience looking for quality content on the net.

    I agree about sending your promos to friends/contacts though, great point here.

    thanks for the article.

  • Etienne Starblaze says:

    I like this point of view (giving music to fans) a lot! From my point of view (having received a wonderful free CD at a recent Cherry Blossom event) a free gift of something you really like is never taken lightly. This exact same music would end up in the trash if it was randomly handed out, but in my hands (and other fans) it was pure gold! I’ve already listened to it 3 times and it still doesn’t feel old.

    Maybe there is something to getting a “taste” for the feel and look of an especially well designed CD in your hands. The art in combination with the music, and its mine! lol Although that does sound selfish and possessive it is more or less true!

    Follow up with fans is exactly the key here: offering similar (or even better products) at good prices at the opportune time! ;-)

  • Matt Brown says:

    In this day and age, record labels would be foolish not to subscribe to a digital promo service – and I’m not referring to a general file sharing service like YouSendIt either – I’m referring to a service that specializes in MUSIC promos. The traditional strategy of manufacturing 500-1000 discs and then paying postage to mail them all out to the various media contacts is downright inefficient. Mail them out and then wonder. As CD’s begin to disappear and digital sales increase, the promo strategy should follow in its footsteps (digital too).

    This article talks about giving promos out to friends and family and then watching as the social networking viral magic takes over. Eh, that’s one very small important piece of the puzzle. The artist’s brand should be prominent in the various social sites – like planting seeds and allowing them to slowly grow. I just think many labels don’t even realize how easy and efficient it CAN be. They’re so used to the crappy and long winded snail-mail promo experience. With a professional digital service, a complete promo can get uploaded and 1000 invitations can get sent out in 20 minutes. Not only that, but every action gets tracked. If a media contact isn’t following up with their part of the deal, then simply remove them from your list.

    Physical promos suck.