Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tips for Better Shows

You’ve updated your website; you’ve setup some great viral marketing with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, NOW WHAT?

Play live anywhere and as often as possible is the best way to build a following. The larger your following, the more in demand you will be. If you learn what makes venue owners happy and you do it, then most likely you will have a standing invitation to come back as often as you want to.

A few suggestions:
  • Email blasts to your fans
  • Create traffic to your website with regular, purposeful communication on social sites. And when you send fans to your website, make sure there is plenty of new video, audio, photos, and so on to give them something exciting and fresh to look at.
  • Cold calls. Call every venue, promoter you can find and then follow up each lead. I understand these concepts are not new but they work.
  • Work for free
We need to be creative and smart with our time and resources. Keep in mind that at the same time as you are cold calling, emailing, and communicating with fans, you could go to a church, a coffee shop, or some other venue and play for free. After all, most places will take a chance on someone who is doing the gig for free.

Then if you get in there you have a few options to make some money anyway. You can sell some product to make a few $$. If you have aligned yourself with a charity you can make some $$ (and help others at the same time).

But the bigger point is this: all of this is good (experience, exposure, and generating a little income) – BUT, if you are amazing LIVE, they will book you again. And the next time, they’ll pay you!

Bottom Line for Success remains: Live shows and building your fan base. You can have the best of everything else, but unless you focus on these two, it's unlikely you will play a venue more than once.

All roads do lead to the stage, where you and your band have the best opportunity to connect with fans by creating special moments and memories that will gain you the most important thing in your music career: TRUE BLUE FANS.

Monday, July 20, 2009


There’s no doubt that rock stars can be creative entrepreneurs, just like entrepreneurs can be creative rock stars.

But Kurt Cobain?

It may seem a stretch to call Kurt Cobain and Nirvana entrepreneurs. After all, Cobain was so disturbed by fame that he ultimately took his own life to escape the pressure.

The success of the album Nevermind was an accident of creative genius by punk rockers who reluctantly hit it big, right?

Not exactly.

The Deliberate Creative Genius of Nirvana

I didn’t want to be a fringe alternative band… I’d rather be a rock star. ~Kurt Cobain, About a Son

An entrepreneur is successful because his passion for an outcome leads him to organize available resources in new and more valuable ways. When you look at it that way, Kurt Cobain was definitely a creative entrepreneur, and he and the other members of Nirvana knew the outcome they wanted.

They wanted to be rock stars.

Now, that doesn’t mean they wanted to be rock stars like the crop at the time, such as Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, or god forbid, Warrant. Ironically, Nirvana’s success quickly knocked the hair bands off commercial radio.

The innovative mix of punk, pop hooks and 70’s guitar rock allowed Nirvana to change the face of popular music forever. And even though it’s likely they never imagined how big it would get, Cobain candidly reveals it was all according to plan in the 2006 documentary About a Son.

Take a look at the three elements that propelled Nirvana to the top of the charts. They just might help you succeed in your own entrepreneurial endeavors.

1. Break the Status Quo

It wasn’t cool to play pop music as a punk band. And I wanted to mix the two. ~Kurt Cobain, About a Son

To innovate in epic ways, the first step is to rebel against the status quo of the industry or community you belong to. In Nirvana’s case, the music scenes in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, were notoriously anti-commercial.

Nirvana’s indie debut Bleach showed promise, but that abrasive, relatively unstructured noise rock was considered “acceptable” to the Pacific Northwest music scene. Cobain wanted to create hybrid songs with pop elements—along the lines of the Pixies—but met resistance from the community and even from Sub Pop, the label he’d worshiped such a short time ago.

So Nirvana made the heretical move of signing with a major label, releasing Nevermind with Geffen. Once Smells Like Teen Spirit broke through, the grunge gold rush began, and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains crossed over onto mainstream radio next.

Takeaway: Be a leader, not a follower. You’ll certainly annoy the status quo, but only until you’re reaping the rewards of the innovative pioneer.

2. Mix Innovation With Fundamentals

I don’t think we’re better than the other bands… We got attention because our songs have hooks, which stick in people’s minds. ~Kurt Cobain, About a Son

Most of the songs on Nevermind were written before the band went into the studio. While the music is no way conventional, the tracks possess catchy hooks that are psychologically pleasing.

In other words, Cobain’s desire to add pop hooks to punk compositions is a classic way to “organize available resources in new and more valuable ways.” This is creative entrepreneurism at it’s finest, and Cobain got the rock star outcome he hoped for (be careful what you wish for, etc.).

The band chose producer Butch Vig, whose work with Sonic Youth Cobain admired, and selected Andy Wallace to mix the album. The group walked a fine line by combining polished production with punk aesthetics, and they nailed it (even though Cobain complained years later that Nevermind was too polished).

Takeaway: This is the fine line all creative entrepreneurs walk. Ignore market desire and human psychology, and you fail. Diminish the innovative elements that set you apart, and you become another unremarkable “me too” effort.

3. Bake the Marketing Into the Product

We didn’t do anything. It was just one of those ‘Get out of the way and duck’ records. ~Geffen President Ed Rosenblatt

When Nirvana signed with Geffen Records, they got a tried-and-true marketing machine. Radio promotion and retail positioning had been boiled down to a science in the days before digital distribution turned music marketing on its head.

The selection and release of singles was classic record-label strategy. Smells Like Teen Spirit would go first, which would introduce the band to radio listeners, DJs, and programming directors. This would pave the way for Come as You Are, which would be the more likely hit.

That’s where the plan fell apart.

To say Smells Like Teen Spirit did better than expected is a monumental understatement. A song recorded in three takes with lyrics penned minutes before turned Cobain into the reluctant voice of Generation X.

Geffen hoped that Nevermind would sell at least 250,000 copies, which is what the Vig-produced Sonic Youth album sold. Nevermind has sold over 10,000,000 copies to date, and is critically-regarded as one of the best rock albums in history, just as Smells Like Teen Spirit is considered one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded.

Takeaway: These days, creative entrepreneurs of all stripes can use the Internet to spark their own viral success stories by creating remarkable products and services. Home runs like Nevermind are rare and unexpected, so you still need a smart marketing plan. Just know when to “get out of the way and duck” when the audience decides to market for you.

In Summary (Plus One More Crucial Tip)

Kurt Cobain can definitely teach us things about starting our own business, whether big or small:

  1. The first key is always a new and better approach, or a fresh and innovative way to do the tried and true. If the “do it the way it’s done” crowd tells you you’re wrong, crazy, or stupid, you may be onto something.
  2. You can’t ignore the realities of market demand and human psychology, but often the market doesn’t realize what it wants and the mind craves something new.
  3. Create things that people naturally want to market for you.
  4. Be careful who you marry.
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Each Day, Do Certain Things

Hey, What Day is It? (Getting Into The Consumers Head)


Are you planning your music marketing according to specific days of the week? You should be? Check out this post for sure-fire ways to make the most of your online promotions.

It’s Monday! Do you know who’s watching you? Monday is considered the day of fresh information. Everything is new new new! Consider this: the average 9-5er arrives at his/her desk in the morning (please refer to obese man above), turns on the computer, and tunes into for the week’s political news, reviews on which movie did best at the weekend box office, and anything else that might be hot off the press. On Monday, people want to know what they’ve missed since Friday (though is probably not much).

Do you take Mondays seriously? Treat your music like a job. Try to have something new on your page each Monday. Whether it be a blog, new shows on your calendar, a quick news update, new photos from the weekend’s show, or new video. The options are limitless and its not like you have to revamp your page every week…just do a little at a time.

Rule of thumb: If you build it, they will come. Read more about this at Drawing Traffic to your Website(s)

In college, my Communications professor told me something I will never forget: most people open their email on Wednesdays. Yes, this has been mentioned on Grassrootsy before, but its worth mentioning again. Wednesday is a unique day. Because it finds itself smack dab in the middle of the week, its the one day that you’re least likely to get “Out of Office” replies. More people at their desk = more people reading their email = more people visiting your website. Optimize on this. Send your newsletter on Wednesday mornings or afternoons if possible. Stop by Email Marketing – Making Sure People Read What You Write for more tips.

Rule of thumb: Send emails on Wed…in the morn or after lunch. Check out Grassrootsy’s additional blogs on Email Marketing here.

Stats prove that few erpeople read emails and surf the internet on the weekends, but the people who do are more likely to read through an entire email and will spend more time on your web page than they would on a weekday. For example, if you sent an email on Wednesday, you might get 100 people to open and they would spend an average of 45 second skimming through what you write. But on a Saturday, only 40 people might open up the email but spend a full 3 minutes reading it entirely.

So if you’re posting a blog or sending a weekend email, make sure it’s not time-sensitive. Perhaps you can post musings, and non-essential thoughts. Take it from Their weekend news bits are usually reposts of information that that was already used earlier in the week.

Rule of thumb: Never send an email on the weekend that you would send on a Monday or Wednesday.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


The music business is about relationships. And now it’s the artist’s turn to have one.

Success in the music business once hinged on only a handful of relationships: a publicist and a magazine, a salesman and a bookstore, a radio promoter and a radio station, a booking guy and a promoter, an artist and a manager, a writer and a publisher. If all these relationships were working, if all parties’ interests were respected and pursued, if no personalities collided to the point of impeding progress, then the project or artist they were tied to would succeed (from a business standpoint.)

Relationship is still king.

Starting a blog, hopping on Twitter, launching a Facebook fan page - these are not cure-alls because they aren’t a relationship.

These technologies can foster relationships. But not without a lot of personal investment and intentionality from an artist.

This is a big shift in thinking for artists, especially at the top levels of this industry. Artists aren’t accustomed to being so accessible, accountable and out of control. Artists are accustomed to being in front of audiences that care about what they do, audiences they know are fans and they keep in the seats for a couple hours by charging a ticket price. But on-line, where spending time with an artist is free, anybody can wander into the crowd, boo, change the subject, or walk out. And they will.

Also, artists are used to hiring people to handle their relationships for them. That’s at least 90% of what a manager does. Labels congratulate and critique through a manager, for instance, who adds his own diplomatic spin to every word so the artist’s feelings aren’t hurt and the relationship is preserved. Not so on-line. Someone can be hired to hit the “publish” button on a blog post that gets e-mailed over, invite people to a Facebook event and even write to people for an artist and signed their name (it happens), but no one can convincingly be the artist every day in post after post or interact with commenters regularly. Artists can’t hire anyone to be them 24/7 and the internet demands those kind of hours.

Lastly, labels are used to creating and maintaining the image of an artist: focusing and filtering, controlling who can and can’t have access, and how much, when and where. There’s one official bio and one fact sheet carefully crafted in a record company office and then parroted by every media outlet. That’s not possible on-line. And that’s distressing, fatal even, if an artist has nothing to say or, worse, has lots to say about things that don’t matter to anyone but them. Hair products, high priced jeans and guitar pedals aren’t all that interesting to folks with real jobs. The public is now discovering through an artist’s blog what publicists have known for quite some time and expertly covered up: This guy’s just a singer. And that’s no basis for a relationship.

If the music industry dies it won’t be because everything changed. It will be because artists didn’t. Artists today have to - no, we get to - do what the rest of the industry and human race has been doing for eons: We get to be real human beings spending time with other real human beings. There’s no shortcut for that.

Labels was afraid to tell us artists this before: It was never about our music. And it’s not about new technology now. It’s always been about people/true blue fans.
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