I had Matt Stine as a student in the inaugural run of my Online Music Marketing with Topspin course, and it’s a thrill to see him put the sales and marketing tactics we discussed in the course into practice with his artist Clinton Curtis. It’s equally thrilling to see his work presented in outlets that I admire, like Mike Masnick’s Techdirt.

I’ve pasted Matt’s guest post in Techdirt below. Congratulations Matt!

Case Study: Clinton Curtis Connects With Fans And Gives Them Good Reasons To Buy His New Album

Ever since Mike Masnick introduced the concept of CwF + RtB, he has been confronted time and time again with the argument that this concept can only work for well-known artists with large established fanbases. And time after time Mike has provided evidence that CwF + RtB can work for any band or musician at any level. Clinton Curtis’ latest release campaign for his new album, 2nd Avenue Ball, is a prime example of how a new artist can use the concepts behind Mike’s formula to build a foundation for a successful career while earning money along the way from a small group of “super” fans.

Clinton Curtis’ 2nd Avenue Ball comes out today, March 22nd but it has been available for Pre-Order since March 1st. My company, 27 Sound, has been responsible for every aspect of the campaign, from producing and recording the music, to designing ClintonCurtis.com to developing the marketing and promotion strategy. Although technically this is Clinton’s second album, Clinton is still very much a new artist, and we treated this latest release as if it was his first. Clinton had been playing a lot of shows locally and regionally over the past year, and acquired a decent amount of email addresses at those shows. We knew that a small percentage of those fans would likely support Clinton going forward. Our goal was to offer something unique to those fans already in Clinton’s network and at the same time create ways for Clinton to connect with potential new fans.

In designing Clinton’s website, we wanted to make sure we were giving Clinton’s fans a reason to return to the site on a regular basis. We created two new elements — CC Radio and CC Connect. CC Radio is essentially a bi-monthly live show, broadcast directly to clintoncurtis.com. Each episode features members of Clinton’s band, guest musicians, friends and even Clinton’s fans, getting together at 27 Sound Studios to perform a solid hour of music. Powered by Ustream, it’s really simple to use, easy to integrate into the website and shareable across all major social networks. In fact, Clinton’s album release party will actually be a CC Radio episode (9:30PM EST tonight, Tuesday March 22nd) which is a much more effective use of time and money than trying to throw a big party at a NYC venue. CC Radio is an exciting way to keep fans coming back to the site and a great way for Clinton to connect directly with his them. It has been a huge success in only it’s first two months. The fans love it, and the easy sharing capability brings more traffic to Clinton’s online store.

Once fans reach Clinton’s Online store we wanted to be sure that we gave them plenty of incentive to buy directly from us. We created CC Connect, Clinton’s “VIP” fan club, to add value to all of our direct-to-fan offerings. Any package purchased through clintoncurtis.com comes bundled with a lifetime membership to CC Connect. CC Connect members get free download packs each month featuring exclusive previously unreleased music, live recordings, studio demos, audio from CC Radio episodes and more. They also get ticket and merch discounts as well as an entire fully-produced album recorded exclusively for CC Connect members each year. By doing this we add a tremendous amount of value to each package we offer through the site, giving fans a good reason to buy.

For 2nd Avenue Ball, we worked hard to come up with a variety of packages that we think will please Clinton’s fans and drive their support. I won’t go into too much detail here on each one, but there are a couple of noteworthy items in the biggest, Super Fan Deluxe Package that I think might interest Techdirt readers.

Each of the 50 Deluxe packages come with gatefold vinyl packaging but the vinyl record inside is not Clinton’s album. We don’t yet have enough demand among Clinton’s fans to warrant manufacturing and selling vinyl, but we wanted to showcase the amazing album artwork we had from an incredible young artist, Matthew Burrows. We planned on putting high quality art prints of his work inside as an insert where the vinyl record would normally go. But then we had the idea to also include an actual LP from Clinton’s personal vinyl collection. Along with the LP, each package comes with a note about what that album meant to Clinton and what significance it had to his musical upbringing. We thought this would be a cool way to make each package completely unique.

Then we thought to return the favor…. If people get a piece of Clinton’s favorite music, we should give them back some of their favorite songs, too. So anyone who orders this package gets an email from Clinton asking for their favorite song, and then Clinton records that song and sends it directly to their inbox. Yes, it will be a lot of work for us to put this together, but it will give each of these 50 fans something special that they really want. And who knows, maybe some great recordings will come of it! (In fact, almost all of these Deluxe packages have sold out at the time of writing this, and the song requests have been really cool, including one person who requested an original song that his 9 year old son wrote.)

These are just a few of the things that are unique about this campaign although there are many others (including the “Turn This CD Into A Coaster” Kit that comes with each disc!). Have a look over at clintoncurtis.com to see the package offers in more detail and explore around the site to see more ways Clinton is actively connecting with his fanbase. I would love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas on what we could be doing better. I always keep reminding our team that this is all an experiment and we need to adapt and change every day as we learn from the feedback we get from our fans. So visit the site and help us out!

It only takes a couple hours for a musician to get started with basic online marketing. Setting up an account with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, uStream, Flickr, Reverbnation, OurStage, Fanbridge, and the dozens of other options is simple, and an excellent first step. But I tend to think that some bands lose sight of the fact that online marketing is not an end on to itself. The most effective online marketing campaigns support the physical marketing efforts as well.

Two examples from this week:

1) Don Bartlett, manager of Joe Pug (via the Lefsetz letter):

“We decided to put an offer up on Joe’s website and MySpace. We told any fan that if they knew anyone who might be interested in Joe’s music that they could send us an email and we send them as many copies of a two-song sampler CD as they wanted. Free. We even cover the postage. To keep costs down, we invested in a cd publishing system that burns and prints them robotically. Each CD has two songs, contact info, MySpace, and a reminder that the full cd was at iTunes. If someone lived near a place where a show was scheduled, we printed that show info on there as well. People requested as few as 2 and as many as 50. We sent all of them. Requests continued to pour in, and the more we sent out the faster the new requests came in. We’re at the point now where we get about 15 a day. Joe writes a thank you in each and every one. And almost instantly, sales took off. [Show] attendance jumped noticeably and MySpace/website action began a steady upward arc. More importantly, we built an incredible database of his most hardcore fans. And after receiving a mailbox full of cds for free, they are willing to do anything to help forward the cause. And it is the ultimate in target marketing…you have people who already like your music passing it on to their friends, whose tastes they presumably know.”

2) Rock/Jam band Umphrey’s McGee

The band is organizing an online pre-sale campaign that gives their fans a reason to encourage others to buy the record pre-sale. They’re announcing it on their Website, as well as using banner ads on their social networking properties. Here are the details from their site:

Much like an Umphrey’s show, no one is exactly sure what will happen with Mantis, the upcoming release from Umphrey’s McGee. The more fans that pre-order the release, the more bonus content we’ll unlock for everyone. We are leaving the amount of additional content and the makeup of some of that content entirely up to you. There are 8 total levels of material that could be unlocked containing over 45 unique & unreleased audio tracks, including behind-the-scenes perspectives, videos, and plenty of quirky surprises. Bonus Material Part I available EXCLUSIVELY to those who pre-order.

Great to see both of these bands nailing the online campaign to affect tangible change offline and facilitate a personal connection directly with their fans.

There may be more music produced now than ever, but it certainly is not getting any cheaper to promote it to traditional outlets. David from Digital Audio Insider has written a great piece about the realities of servicing your record to press and radio. College radio is relatively untainted by the consolidation and lack of diversity that haunts commercial radio, and can be a good option for independent bands that appeal to the 18-24 demographic. The same can be said for press, who generally review records and concerts based on buzz and quality, rather than ad dollars (unlike commercial radio and most retail visibility).

As David points out in his piece, press and radio do not react well to emails containing links to MP3s to review. They need the proper CD in a package, with a one sheet. The financial realities of this break out like this:

$1.81 per CD package

+

There are about 1000 college stations which are eligible to send their playlists to CMJ (College Music Journal). Say you are in a hip-hop band and want to get added to the Hip-Hop chart on CMJ. 300 stations report to this.

+ 300 CDs

If you are sending CDs to CMJ, then you are likely touring as well. If you are touring, you want to support your dates by getting press visibility in key markets, as well as try for some national hip-hop pubs. Let’s say you do a press mailing to 300 outlets to cover major regional papers and targeted national media.

+ 300 CDs

= $1,086 for mailing costs.

Of course, you are going to want to hire an indie to help you at press and radio. Depending on your goals, how long your campaign is, and who you use, this could cost you anywhere from $1,000-$4,000 for a radio campaign, and between $1000-$5000 a month for three months for publicity coverage.

Based on these numbers, bands are looking at $12,000-$15,000 on the low end to do an effective campaign to press and college radio.

Pretty effective argument for maxing out your tour, community and online marketing efforts first, huh?
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