I spoke with NPR’s Sami Yenigun last week for a piece he was working on about Boards of Canada’s pre-release marketing campaign. You can hear the full interview here:

Morning Edition – Boards of Canada Pre-Release Marketing

In a nutshell, Boards of Canada and their label, Warp, engaged in an easter-egg-hunt type of pre-release campaign that involved sneaking out different codes through key outlets, including a code on a very limited (one copy available in the US!) vinyl, a mysterious clip at the end of an NPR piece, a banner on a fan run message board, and more. Here’s an example of one of the “clues,” which was broadcasted on Adult Swim:

I loved the campaign on many levels, but one of the things I liked the most was that I had no idea it was going on before Sami called me about it. And that is sort of the point. I’m familiar with Boards of Canada, but I am not anywhere near the inner circle of fans that the band and Warp were trying to reach with this campaign. To me, this was a brilliant campaign focused on the hard core fans that share a similar psychographic with the band – a band that is known to be cryptic, intelligent, tech savvy, and mysterious. Their serious fans, from what I can tell, are similar.

The campaign was a wonderful way to engage with fans in an authentic way, provide a level of engagement, and in many ways, flip traditional promotion on its head. Instead of the band releasing a standard press release to key online and print outlets, and instead of working retail with expensive co-op campaigns, press and retail were at once in on the campaign (in the case of Radio 1, Rough Trade / Other Music, Adult Swim, and NPR), and in other instances they were reporting on what was already happening with the fans (in the case of Pitchfork and others). Also, Warp picked perfect “niche” outlets to work with on the campaign. This was not a carpet bombing campaign where the label or PR company was sending out 500 advance copied of the record to press and blogs, this was a campaign totally focused on outlets that matter to the core fans, and outlets that speak to the exact psychographic traits of their fans. Once the clues were out there, the fans did the rest.

Certainly not something that every band can do, but I think it illustrates the success a band can have once they have acquired a substantial fan base, and engage with that fan base in the way that they want to be engaged with.

Read more here on the full campaign.


For developing, unsigned artists, there can certainly be a bit of a “Catch 22″ when it comes to funding the activities they need to find their core fanbase, engage with this fanbase, and ultimately monetize this fanbase. How does a developing artist fund the marketing initiatives necessary to generate a core fanbase, without having a fanbase to tap into? It’s something we talk a lot about in the courses I teach at Berklee.

For developing musicians, it’s important to consider the fact that without the ability to speak with fans in a direct way online, your opportunities for monetization are limited. The collection of permission-based fan contact info, through an email address, a Twitter follower, a YouTube subscriber, a Pinterest follower, a Facebook fan, and other existing and not-yet-existing services is a necessity before starting any extensive funding initiatives.

For established or legacy artists who have a dedicated, engaged, and growing fan base – and are communicating with that fan base regularly – generating funding can be a bit smoother.  Continued awareness, acquisition, and engagement is still necessary, of course, but the opportunities to engage in creative forms of funding increase exponentially if you have a base to communicate with.

Frank Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust have pushed the boundaries, creatively and entrepreneurially, for years.  Little known fact: Frank Zappa introduced a proposal for a subscription-based digital distribution service in 1983!  Recently, the Zappa Family Trust launched a new fan-focused initiative to coincide with the release of a new Vault live recording: All Roxy, No Elsewhere –  76 minutes of never-before-released Frank Zappa master recordings from the Roxy Performances of December 9th and 10th, 1973.

The ZFT is providing 1000 licenses (Roxy by Proxy) to Zappa fans for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing All Roxy, No Elsewhere on their own.  This license, in Gail Zappa’s words, provides fan with the ability to:

 “…make as many copies of the record as you can possibly distribute – AND except for reporting to us your sales & customers (just like any other record distributor) and paying us the publishing, YOU keep the money. AND you get to collect royalties from what is sold at Barfko-Swill AND you will also be entitled to a special wholesale price available to the OLAZRBPDs (Officially Licensed Authorized Zappa ROXY BY PROXY Distributor) exclusively.”

The revenue generated from these licenses (available at $1000 a piece) will go towards raising funds to cover the expenses related to releasing The Roxy Performances – The Movie in time for the 40th anniversary of the shows.

I think the Roxy by Proxy idea is interesting for a couple of reasons:

  1. This is a great example and a creative implementation of Clay Shirky’s “Pool of Participators” idea, outlined in his book Cognitive Surplus.  Engaged fans want to use some of their free time to help artists that they love – they just need a platform to do so. More from Clay on that idea, here.
  2. It has the potential to build trust within the Zappa fan community.  The ZFT will be working directly with fans on marketing collateral, distribution minutia, royalty payments, and more.  While this could become a complete nightmare scenario for fans as well as the ZFT, it could also open the doors for a more transparent and mutually beneficial relationship.  Guster, for example, build huge trust within their community in the early days with their “rep program,” where the band would send their fans CDs to sell on spec, with the fans sending the band checks for any sales after the fact.

Full Details on Roxy By Proxy here.

Karmin was signed by LA Reid last year to be the flagship artist of the revived Sony imprint, Epic. Over the past 12 months, they’ve played Saturday Night Live, Leno, and Ellen. Their single “Brokenhearted” peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was certified a Gold Single (500,000 copies sold) by the RIAA.

I’ve known Amy and Nick from back in the day (Amy took some courses with me), and I think they are a good example of artists working really hard to gain visibility, build leverage, and then use this leverage to forward their career. In their case, this meant working with a major label.

I interviewed Karmin a few weeks back about their path to success, which included a lot of DTF best practices. Check out the interview here:

I hijacked the Topspin blog yesterday to talk about our Online Music Marketing with Topspin course, which starts this Monday, September 27th. We’ve opened up a sample lesson from the course, which you can access here (you’ll be required to register with Berkleemusic if you have not already). The post I wrote for Topspin is below:

We’ve been teaching the Topspin course at Berkleemusic for just under a year, and personally, it’s been one of the more rewarding things that I’ve been involved in. To get emails like the following from online students really reinforces the fact that we are doing something positive and immediately applicable for musicians and their career:

Subject: Brian Ray Pre-Sale + Topspin Marketing = Success!!

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know that Brian Ray’s pre-order has been a huge success so far. We sold out the limited edition deluxe package ($35-$50) in less than 48 hours! I think Brian was a little shocked – he didn’t quite believe that his fans would be willing to spend so much money.

Had I not done the Topspin course, we probably wouldn’t have offered a deluxe package, just a CD, and would have missed out on $$$$ of sales. Thanks for all the inspiration and encouragement! I’ll be working hard over the coming months to implement even more of what I’ve learnt.

All the best,


I’ve given a bunch of Online Music Marketing with Topspin course demos to folks here at the college, to successful musicians that are visiting our school, and to musician friends that need a hand understanding some of the best practices associated with online music marketing. I thought it might be helpful for all of you to take a look inside our course too, so we made one of the 12 lessons available for free, here (you’ll need to register on our site to view). This is lesson 6 in the course, which talks about forecasting, product and pricing considerations, Topspin’s orders section, and more. This is an archive of a section of the course that my colleague and Topspin ninja, Jason Kadlec, taught earlier this year. If you decide to check it out, be sure to look at the class forum (up top), the assignment page, and Jason’s archived chat. This will give you a good understanding of the communication and interaction between the students and the instructor – the course is a whole lot more than static copy on a page. You’re working with musicians, marketers, and managers from around the world, and led by an instructor that is an expert in Topspin and online music marketing. Again, this is just one of the lessons in the 12-week course, and we go through a ton of topics covering all things online (and some offline) marketing related.

I’m more than happy to chat with anyone about the course. If you want to reach me, I’m at mking [at] berklee.edu. As I mentioned we’re starting a new term on September 27th. Hope to see you online.