Reason #1 you might not need a label deal: You can promote yourself. (But it won’t be easy.)
I’m on a small independent label. “Independent” in this context means we are not owned and operated by one of the big three Christian label groups: Provident (PMG), Word/Warner, EMI (EMICMG). Being on a smaller label also means less money for promoting a record – not a lot less, but less. So I’ve been letting my label do their thing while also operating from the indie artist handbook. On page 47 I think it is the handbook says you are your best promoter. You know you and your audience better than anyone. Who better to spread the word about you and your music than you?
Here’s what labels would do to promote your music:
1) Create a publicity folder with:
-Clippings and reviews about your music
-Published articles by you
-Published interviews with you
-Publicity photos of you
-CD or sampler of your music
-Bio telling your story and the story of your current project
-Fact sheet detailing your radio and retail history as well as any tours you’ve been on and any award nominations or wins
-QUotes about you from important people
-Contact info for PR, booking and management
2) Send the publicity folder to media contacts and follow-up asking for:
-Reviews of the record
-Interviews with you
-Writing opportunities on the web or in print
-Any appearance on TV anywhere (TV is the most powerful promotion there is)
3) Build a website and put you on theirs
4) Let the retail marketers and radio promoters get the word out about you by:
-Getting your song played everywhere often
-Getting your CD in listening stations, on end-caps (the displays at the end of aisles)
-Getting your face on retail sales books
-Getting you a playing opportunity at industry events like CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), distribution showcases, GMA Week etc.
-Getting radio interviews
5) Creating and exploiting grassroots efforts like:
-E-mail viral marketing
-Street team promotions
Now, out of all that (and that’s not every trick in the label’s book but just the basics) what CAN’T you do for yourself if you have the money, time and desire? Nothing.
Here’s what YOU can do:
YOU CAN MAKE A FOLDER at Kinkos with the cover of your CD on it and all the necessary papers in it. You can get lists of media contacts and mail that folder to them. Granted, not all of your contacts will be of the quality the label has and not all of the contacts a label has are ever going to be available to you – or interested in you. But you can mail a folder out to a lot of folks in media and follow up with them. If you don’t have the time or the writing/creative skills but you have lots of cash you can hire a publicist out of Nashville for not cheap who will do this for you. Or you can hire a friend who majored in English and another with an artistic bent and another with good phone skills.
YOU CAN BUILD A WEBSITE for free! Yes, I said free. Blogger.com offers FREE blogging websites and there are other free site services out there as well. Problem is they don’t look so great. So I taught myself enough html to customize one and borrowed the brain of a nerdy friend to take it even further. I use that site for booking. Now, it’s not as purdy as my label-built site but it works. And who among us doesn’t have a friend or friend of a friend with web building skills? I met one indie artist who found a college class in which students build a website for a grade. He stood outside the class and offered $100 and his meal ticket to anyone from the class willing to build his artist site for him. He had takers and wound up making it a contest: Whoever built the best site got the cash and the food. Genius.
Other options are purevolume.com and myspace.com. I have pages at both. My Space is free and allows me to upload up to four songs, post video, make and send announcements to interested parties, blog etc. Purevolume costs money but it’s not much and it too allows easy posting of music and other promotional tools. (About now the labels are trying to figure out what they offer that you can’t do yourself. It gets worse for them.)
Here are some indie artist sites and sites that help indies on the web (not necessarily free):
You can also create a Google Group. This group allows you to store all fan e-mail addresses collected at shows or from your numerous web sites in one place. Then you can quickly and easily blast all of them at once with an announcement about a contest a show or your new record deal. You can link people there from a button on your websites that says “e-mail list” and BAM! they enter their info and you have one more fan you can serve up rock n’ roll to via cyberspace.
Put a free tracker on your pages and find out how many hits you get each hour, day, month etc. Also learn what time zone they live in, if they came to you via a link from somewhere else, where that somewhere is, how long they visit your site each time, what time of day, what OS they use, what browser they use with what capabilities to handle video and audio etc etc.
The next level is buying server space for $5/month at A Small Orange or the like, uploading audio files and announcements in jpeg form and then pasting links to those audio/visual promotion tools in message boards, e-mails and on your web sites. Your small army of fans can beat the pants off any magazine ad in a matter of days if willing to pass the links along to people who’ll pass the links along.
You’re a promotion machine now! Look at you with a growing e-mail list, a couple of free web sites, folders flying all over the country and newsletters filled with tour dates and updates zinging through cyberspace to your Google Group.
Now, before you get all uppity there are things you CAN’T do for yourself on the promotions front. You can’t get on the radio in a big way. You might get a non-reporting station or two (stations that don’t affect the charts) but never the networks. There are people who would advise you to give it a try by hiring their buddy Mr. Independent Radio Promoter. He’s got a disc he sends out to radio stations just like the labels do. Thing is, no matter how good that promoter is (and he better be because he isn’t cheap) CCM radio playlists are shrinking. They’re half of what they were four years ago – around 12 current songs now. After you factor in core artists like Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, three songs by Jeremy Camp, two songs by Casting Crowns and Mercy Me – well, there’s not much room left for us C level signed guys much less a place for you. Save your money and buy more stamps.
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