For a long time now the conventional way for a band to build a following was to write songs, gig, record an EP, sell it, tour, write songs, record an album, sell it and so on, so on…
Bands would hire a producer and studio for a week or two and record 4-6 tracks. Often they’d hire a named producer to add prestige to their product, package it in fancy artwork, print up a thousand CDs, hire a PR company, buy ads in the national music magazine, rent a load of venues, book some billboard space and hit the road to promote this new master piece.
But with a recording that might have cost upward of €2,000 (maybe even €5,000); artwork at €500+; manufacturing at €500+; PR company upwards of €500/month (again, could be €2,00/month); print advertising upwards of €1,500; venue rental of €200-€500 each; billboard posters upwards of €500 (printing and posting), before you add other touring an general expenses It wasn’t hard for a band to blow between €7,000 & €15,000 over a 3 month period.
If lucky they’d get great reviews, a few featured articles and maybe some significant radio play, which could lead to some ticket and EP sale. But this is a hit and miss approach. One that the major labels could afford to do with albums as they had the spare cash and they only needed one band in ten to break through. But for the unsigned act who have each thrown in €5,000 of their savings in order to launch their career, this is really becomes a desperate all or nothing approach.
Not only is your likelihood of getting play-listed on one radio station hard, but the chance of all the major stations coming on board, is next to impossible. And that little bit of radio play might sell you a few CDs and help with ticket sales but the realism is, the CD sales will not be enough to cover your costs and your current tour will be poorly attended.
Luckily, in the last number of years, recording costs have dropped significantly. You can easily produce a 4 track EP for under €1,500. On top of that PR companies have reduced their costs. But just because a PR company says that they’ll give you a full 10 week campaign for €2,500, it doesn’t mean you should take it. It doesn’t matter if they also look after U2, The Cranberries or Snow Patrol and have contacts with every radio programmer in the country. You’re not Snow Patrol (at least not yet) and they won’t be able to guarantee you any results. So they will most likely end up shrugging their shoulder at you 10 weeks later, saying they did their best but couldn’t force anyone to play it.
Then release a single, not an EP.
Then release an Album, the mark up on EPs are small and you won’t get them into shops.
If this is what you’re hoping for, then selling your EP is the first thing you should consider not doing. If you’re looking to build your fan base then you should give your EP away for free in exchange for e-mail addresses.
If you spend €5,000 on your EP from studio to fan and you are selling it at €5, then you will need to sell 1000 copies to break even. If your costs are €10,000, then it’s double that. If you sell manage to sell 2,000 EPs then far play to you! You’re more likely to sell 500 copies and be left with another 1,500 sitting in your band room and it will have cost you €20 per CD. Chances are that most of these 500CDs will be bought by people who are already fans, but if just say they are all new fans then you will have paid €20 for each newly acquired fan.
Over a 10-20year period… Maybe €100 each. But at a cost of €20 each, you’d be broke before you’d have enough fans to break even.
If however you are in this for the long haul, then why not shift your focus from the vanity of having a CD for sale to actually acquiring fans at a cost effective rate.
Your prime focus at this stage is not radio. If the song is good and both the arrangement and overall sound suits the style you are going for, then don’t worry about the snare not sounding quite like Welcome To The Jungle or the mix not being as clean of big as Don’t Look Back In Anger. And don’t worry about it being mastered for radio. Most people will only listen to this on their computers and iPods.
Duplicate the CD 100 copies at a time. If you want your CD to make an impact then get creative with some homemade art. Play around with plastic and card sleeves, use stencils or stamps, rather then paying for full colour print.
Do it yourself. Target specialist radio shows that play new music, only. Do not send your music to radio programmers, unless you have been gaining plays on that station. Target authors of the new music section in music magazines, only. Do not send CDs to the editor of a magazine unless you have received a positive write up in that magazine. Target local publications, in towns where you have a connection. You will probably get away with 30-40 promo CDs.
Just because you pay for a month of radio ads does not mean that you will receive a single spin on that station. You can buy an article in a magazine through ads, but the cost ratio is unfavourable until you have a certain profile.
OK, this is a little more tricky, as so many places insist, but it’s a real money burner and most venue bookers are dicks, who like ripping off bands. Play as many open mics and gig nights as you possibly can. They will cost only your time and a small amount of fuel but in the long run, they will guarantee fresh faces for you to play for. If the promoter asks you to bring a certain number of fans, then stop moaning about how you’re not getting paid and bring them. Be grateful that you don’t have to pay €300 to rent the venue on a Tuesday night. If you bring more then your asked to, make sure the promoter knows and he will not only book you again but will recommend you to other promoters. If you insist in booking a venue and hosting a night, then do it in a town that you know for certain that you will bring a crowd and book a venue that you think you will easily sell out.
If you think you will bring 70 people to a show, then book a 50 capacity venue. If you think you can bring 150 people, then book the same venue 3 weeks in a row. It will generate more buzz and will make your fans more proactive when it comes to seeing you play live.
Set up a page on your website for promoting your EP. Offer a free download in exchange for an e-mail address. This might cost you a little to set up, but once it’s set up there are not more costs. Mp3s cost you nothing. Promote this page to your current fans on whatever social websites you are hooked into. Once they’ve signed up to your e-mail, send them link to download it and ask them to share a link to your site with their friends.
They should be the first to receive your EP. Send them a link to download and ask them to give it a big push for you. Not all will help but some will.
To be specific, target the right bloggers. Like press and radio, there are certain bloggers you should target and ones you shouldn’t. Use sites like hypem.com and elbo.ws to search similar sounding acts and see which blogs are writing about them. Make a list and send them a press release.
Try not to get stuck in the rut of writing a generic press release, stating every gig you’ve ever played and how great you think you are. Think outside the box. Here is a link to a great new booklet on how to write a press release (and it’s free!)… All you have to do is give them your e-mail address: http://storyamp.com/
Think of different quirky ways of promoting your band both on and off line. Play around with online advertising. But keep your budgets low. Try to spend no more then 40cent a click and €1 for an e-mail conversion. Facebook lets you target ads to fans of other acts and Youtube allows you promote your videos using keyword searches.
Your fans are what really matter. Not radio, not print. If your fans believe in you and your music and you engage them on a regular basis, then they will continue to promote your music long after the release date has passed. Make sure your e-mails and updates are interesting and that you create a constant stream of quality content. Music, Videos, Photos, Blog posts, Trivia… If it’s interesting or entertaining then they will happily pass it onto others.
Spend a year or two focusing on building your mailing list rather in lining your pockets then you will find yourself in a much better position with the time comes to release that ever-elusive album.
If your music is good enough and you target the right areas then your €5,000 budget could go a lot further then that €20,000 budget. Just be patient.