I met up with Owain Kelly, the bassist from the band Tigers that Talked, in March at SXSW. Here’s a video the band created during their time in Austin:

Tigers that Talked was a co-winner (along with Sonoio) of Topspin’s grant competition, which I helped judge along with some heavy hitters, like Rick Rubin, Marc Geiger, Richard Jones, Glenn Peoples, and Jennie Smythe. Owain and the band created and executed a compelling new-school music marketing plan, and I thought it might be helpful if I took a minute to lay out some of what this band did, and what they are continuing to do, from a sales and marketing perspective. Most impressive in my opinion was the band’s product and pricing strategy and execution, as well as their approach to PR and overall communications. Check out an interview I did with Owain from a few weeks back:

Band Background

Mike King: Can you talk a little bit about the background of the band, your ideas for the campaign, and what you were trying to accomplish?

Owain Kelly: I got together with Jamie, Chris, and Glenna after graduating from school. We all just kind of came together and we really liked what we were doing, so we went forward with it. We ended up signing to a local independent label. It was great at the time – we recorded the album and the label essentially turned around and said that they couldn’t release it. So we went through the whole process with them and eventually got the rights to the album ourselves, because we were very proud of it and we still wanted to release it.

MK: Were they not releasing it for creative reasons, or were they not releasing it for financial reasons?

OK: I think it was financial reasons. They aren’t even a label anymore. They are still a management company but they aren’t a label anymore. So I just think in the long run, they couldn’t do it. So we had this album that we finally got the rights to and we decided that instead of searching for another label, we could release it ourselves. We really just wanted to get the album out there and heard. You know, it’s the debut album, and a lot of people worked very hard to pull it together. We really just wanted to get it out there, get it sold and heard by people who had actually been waiting for it for quite awhile.

Process: Doing it Yourself with Help

MK: So when you say you put it out there yourself, was it just the four of you that were responsible for all the marketing and sales initiatives, or did you have some other folks that were helping out?

OK: We also have our manager, Ritchie. We had a radio plugger for the campaign but we didn’t have a press plugger. We did all of our press ourselves.

MK: I want to get into what you did with press because I think it’s fascinating, but I’m interested in knowing what else you guys were doing yourselves. Didn’t you also create your website?

OK: Yeah, absolutely. Essentially, the way that came about was another economic restraint. We had this kind of holding page website which we’ve had for years when we first started the band, made by the same guy who did the album artwork. It was a very simple one page that would just redirect you to the label’s website and it would direct you to our MySpace; there were just two links on it. We decided that we needed something a bit more substantial and we just couldn’t afford to go and get someone else to do it. Eventually we kind of talked about it, Ritchie and the four of us, and we agreed, “let’s just go for this and try and do it ourselves.” None of us had any form of web experience, no coding experience; basic Photoshop experience is really all we had. So we did a lot of online tutorials, chatted with friends who do a lot of web design; we just taught ourselves, and it took about a years worth of banging our head against the wall to get something that we were happy with. We kind of succeeded in the primary goal of making a website in about three months, it just took another nine months of honing skills to actually get a decent looking website that we were all happy with.

MK: It’s something that people talk about a lot, the fact that it is difficult to be writing and recording music, producing your own music, and then doing all the marketing yourself. Did you find that you were stretched thin by doing all the press and all the web design and updates?

OK: I have to say, without kind of just wanting to pat them on the back, it genuinely helps to have a service like Topspin involved to help with the direct communication with our fans. It is a lot of work, and it does take up a lot of time, but if you aren’t prepared to do that for your fans, then why are you even bothering to play the music? The fans are there, they want to hear from you, and I think the fans respond differently when they know that you’re making your own website and you’re doing all your own press. The more you can do yourself, the better. It’s really inspiring when you finish something you’ve done on your own, and while it might have taken you slightly longer than it would taken someone else to do it, I think it’s motivating to have a real stake in every aspect of your band as a business. With direct to fan interaction, we are getting the opportunity to tailor make our entire future and to do it in response to the people that are making this happen for us. Of course, there is a really difficult side to all of this, but it’s exciting!

Acquisition and PR Campaign

Email for Media Widget

MK: Can you talk a little bit about the techniques you used to make folks aware of you, and how you acquired permission-based contact with new fans? How did you do this on your own site and on third party sites?

OK: One of the big things we used for the acquisition stage of the campaign was the email for media widget through Topspin. Three weeks before the album came out we created an email for media widget and put it in a really prominently place on our site. The idea was that it was the first thing fans and potential fans saw when they visited the site, and we exchanged a free track for an email address. Kind of simple stuff really. But we also used the email for media widgets in the wild, too. You know, anytime we approached anyone in the press, we tried to hit him or her with the free email for media widgets. If they were going to mention that an album was coming out, we’d ask them to embed the e4m’s as well. And it worked! Using Topspin’s retrieved data we saw that the email for media widget we were using has been viewed almost 14,000 times, and from those views, the e4m was clicked around 1500 times, acquiring more than 900 new emails alone in the process. These are all people that we can connect with for this current record, as well as records down the line.

MK: You also had a dedicated EPK and content page on your site that only press could access, right?

OK: Yeah, we had that as well. That was another thing, the press page that we set up on our site. I mean that again came up quite incidentally, we were just having a conversation and said, “You know what? We’ve got this page for the fans where they arrive on the site and they can instantly go to where we want them to go, so why don’t we make one for press?” So we hid a URL that wasn’t hooked up to our navigation on the actual site, and we embedded the full album, we embedded a link where press could downloaded the full album, downloaded the press release, the bios; everything that actually goes into a normal press release by an email, except that this was a live URL so that they weren’t dealing with an email that just looked like the rest of the other emails. The emails to our targeted press list were very, very short and to the point. We’d send them out and they essentially just had this link in it that said, “if you are interested in this band, here’s a press link” and if they click on that, it would take them to fully dedicated page just for them, complete with a way to contact that management, to contact us, a way to explore the site and download content.


Tigers That Talked Press Page

MK: How did you focus your press outreach?

OK: We did a couple of things. First, we looked at everyone we ever talked to back from the first EP that we released, and we targeted those folks with a really personalized email. It looked a lot less like a press email, and it was from our personal accounts. We’d email these folks and say, “Hey, we’ve got this album coming out. Here’s the album for free with the press download.” This approach was really successful actually, we got some really great blogs that responded well. The second thing we did was that we created our own database from trolling through sites that we liked and pulling out email addresses of writers that we thought might like our music.

MK: Can you talk a little bit about the results? I know you were touring at the time. Were you getting more record release press or tour press?

OK: It was more record release press and we had a few tour presses, mainly for the lead show; we did an album launch show at one of the local venues and we had a few reviewers come down and do that. We also had quite a few interviews – one of the biggest local leads that did a full cover feature on us and did a full length interview. We’ve done some other things with press, like the PRS acoustic session we did and the Amazing Radio acoustic session. I think it’s nice to see the quality of the press hits and the longevity that you can have if you approach your campaign in a personal way.

Sales Strategy:

MK: So you’ve got some momentum with press and live events, you are building up your permission based contacts, and you’re engaging with your fans regularly. Can you talk a little bit about your ideas behind your graduated pricing campaign and your variable product offerings?

OK: Late last year, we released our album, The Merchant on a graduated pricing model. We did a four-week graduated pricing campaign where the price of the record ranged from £1.00 if you purchased early, up to £4.00. So the first week you could get it for £1.00, the second week you could get it for £2.00, third week for £3.00, fourth week for £4.00. We really wanted to reward the fans that had waited months between the recording and the release of the record. We just wanted to make it incredibly cheap so that anyone who was already a fan, who was waiting for it to come out, could get the record for the lowest price possible. Along side of the digital release, we were selling a t-shirt as well as the physical CD. We sold the CD for £5.00 and we sold the t-shirt for £12.00. We also created another bundle, at £15.00, which was all the digital downloads, the CD, and the t-shirt all together.

It was interesting to see that 58% of total revenue from the campaign came from the first week when we were offering a £1.00 digital download, and the average purchase on the site ended up being £4.48. So a lot of fans were buying some of our more expensive items. Overall, 18.3% of purchasers opted for the more expensive options we provided.

We followed The Merchant release with a ‘pay-what-you-want’ EP called Battles, featuring exclusive tracks, remixes and 4 pieces of graphic art we designed ourselves. We offered a variety of suggested donations, from £1.00 up to £25.00. We found that 67.9% of fans opted to pay more than the lowest suggested price of £1.00, while the highest option of £25.00 accounted for 47.5% of our total revenue.


Battles EP Donation Release Strategy

Communication Strategy

MK: Can we talk a little more about how you are communicating with folks? There was obviously some demand for this record, even though there was a while between recording and releasing in. How did you maintain this interest through messaging and communication?

OK: We run our own website, so all the blog posts come from us and we try and write at least one blog a week. We don’t like to bombard fans with emails. We don’t ever want to be an irritation for them so we try to send out about one email to the list maybe once a month. Every month, we’ll send out an email saying what we’ve been up to, what we are going to do next, that kind of thing. Facebook has been a great channel for us as well. We’re on our Facebook page all the time and all the posts on the Facebook come directly from us. We’ve found it to be a great way to have a direct and immediate participatory relationship with our fans.

Our overall strategy is that we’re all music fans at the end of the day, and we know what irritates us and we know what really inspires us, and what captures our imagination, and it’s just a case of looking at that and putting yourself in your fan’s shoes. You know, I wouldn’t want to have an email everyday, not even from my favorite band; barely every week. Once a month with what’s going on is a nice level of email communication. I also think it’s important for us to make sure our fans know that the Facebook and the Twitter posts all come direct from us. They are not talking to a representative or a PR agent; they are getting to hear what we’re actually saying and what were actually doing. It’s just brilliant that there are plenty of mediums now where you can reach your fans so directly.

Check out more on Tigers that Talked here

The live events at SXSW are amazing. Because of the limited time allotted to most bands (which I think encourages bands to “pull out all the stops”), and the fact that the barrier of entry is pretty high, you’d be hard pressed to find another convention anywhere in the world with as much concentrated talent in one location.

Complementing the live music scene at SXSW are panels held throughout the week at the convention center. From Jim Griffin talking about his Choruss idea, to Ian Rogers moderating a panel on “Making a 360 Deal with Yourself,” the overall theme of the panels I attended this year revolved around the ways that artists and music business companies can identify and optimize alternative revenue models as the music business shifts away from traditional record sales. Music licensing, while nothing new, is a hot topic right now among content owners (songwriters, labels), managers, and artists. Licensing offers the possibility of incredible visibility to artists, and depending on usage, it could also provide a fairly solid revenue stream.

Here is my takeaway from the “Placing Your Music in Film and TV” panel with Jennifer Czeisler (VP Licensing, Sub Pop Records), Marianne Goode (VP Music, Lifetime Networks), Season Kent (Music Supervisor, Relativity Media LLC) Alexandra Patsavas (Owner, Chop Shop Music), Alicen Schneider (VP Music Creative Svcs, NBC Universal TV Music), and Madonna Wade-Reed (Music Supervisor, Whoopsie Daisy):

It’s a Good Time to License Independent Music

The panelists all agreed that it was a fantastic time for independent artists to look for licensing deals, simply because of economics. Producers are more open to indie music, as A) indie music is typically cheaper to license, and B) many producers consider themselves tastemakers, and want to be known for breaking bands. Alicen Schneider spoke about the fact that 75% of the music used by NBC is now independent music.

How Much Can Artists Expect to Get Paid?

There is a wide range in the amount of money artists can expect to get paid from a licensed track, much of which depends on usage. Variables include the length of the use, the thematic placement (is the song in the credits or in the background of a scene?), the budget of the production, if the song is for a one-time use or used as a recurring part of the promo for the production, and more. The more that is requested of the song, the more the song will be worth. It’s important to also note that when a song is used in TV or film, two licenses are needed: a synchronization license from the copyright owner of the music, as well as master recording license from the copyright owner of the sound recording. These are two separate agreements, and typically, artists that control both their master rights as well as their publishing will do “All in” deals that cover both “sides” of the composition. According to Jennifer from SubPop, artists can expect to receive anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000 for the master rights alone for one-time placements.

Dos and Don’t: Rules for Submissions

Similar to traditional press, blog, or radio outreach, there are specific rules that artists should follow when pitching supervisors. Once you find the name of a specific supervisor that you want to target (the Music Business Registry is a good option for finding contact info), your package should follow these guidelines:

1) Although they take Mp3 files in emails, supervisors still primarily work with full art CDs. They prefer their music in proper jewel cases with a spine that lists the artists name and title. Madonna from Whoopsie Daisy (who has worked on “Smallville,” “One Tree Hill,” “Alias,” and “Felicity,” and others) said that she receives upwards of 150 submissions a week, many of which she files away. Artists have to make it as easy as possible for them to file your music, and find it later.
2) If you are burning a CD, be sure you have added all the track info to the individual songs (particularly artist and song names). If a supervisor burns your music into iTunes, you don’t want to be in their library as “Track 2.”
3) Clearance problems are always an issue. Make the publishing and master info as prominent as possible, especially if you control both.
4) Be sure you are targeting the right show. Supervisors hate emails that ask: “What are you looking for?” Know your show’s demo, and send them appropriate music.
5) Do Not Call. Supervisors have no time to spend on the phone. Quick email reminders are appropriate. Successful pitches are those that do not expect anything, and do not put too much pressure on the supervisor. Keeping in front of them is great; stalking them is not.
6) Do not ask them for opinions on your music. Supervisors are not A&R reps. Good music will stand out and get placed at some point.

Use Songpluggers

All supervisors have a trusted stable of songpluggers that they can go to in a pinch. Songpluggers (or independent licensing companies) have relationships with all the supervisors in LA, know what their taste is in music, and can provide cleared music to them, which they can run with immediately. Indie artists should look into building a relationship with licensing companies that have these direct connections with the supervisors. However – do your homework on them. Like any promo area in the industry, there tends to be some false claims and embellishments. Learn more about songpluggers here.

Music Licensing is Insanely Competitive

The labels are keenly aware of the importance of music licensing. Alicen Schneider related a story about Dave Matthews’ label sending Dave himself to play a one-on-one concert for her to showcase some of his new license-friendly music. But the bottom line is that if artists can find fans of their music in the supervisor, (or sometimes even a key actor, as was the situation with Death Cab for Cutie and their placements in the O.C.), indie bands have as much of a chance as a major label artist (if not more, with the smaller budgets) with success in music licensing.

SXSW Interviews

Apr 19 2008

Myself and Dave Franz interviewed some folks when we were at the SXSW music conference last month. Take a look at the two-part video interview here

Following hot on the heels of No Depression’s announcement that they were closing up shop, Harp Magazine, another one of my favorites, announced this AM that they too were ceasing publication.

From my old contact there, Jake Flack:

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I am very sorry to tell you that, effective March 20, 2008, I will no longer be the Associate Publisher of Harp. Because of the declining revenues and increasing costs related to print publishing, Harp is discontinuing publishing as of that date. The March/April issue (with Dave Grohl on the cover) will be the last issue printed and distributed. The company is shutting down operations and will not be publishing the May issue.

It’s been my distinct pleasure to work with all of you. For the past five years I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many wonderful people who are dedicated to putting out and promoting great music. I’ve always felt that Harp provided a first class platform for giving independent music a voice that otherwise might not have been heard. We were able to do that because our advertisers shared that vision.

I apologize for the mass email but time dictates this rather impersonal notice. Best of luck to everyone and thank you so much for everything!

Jake

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It’s always a drag to see another positive entity in the music business go down, but I suppose I am not incredibly surprised. When I think of the parties and folks at SXSW that made an impression on me, much of it was online focused: Ioda’s party on 6th and Red River, Imeem’s event, the Ourstage folks, and so on. Similar to mid-level indie labels, I think mid-level music print mags are in for a tough haul, in particular those that are not making a serious push for online business. Online businesses with marketing dollars prefer to spend it on online advertising: certainly keyword buys, but also newsletter affiliation, banner ads, and contextual marketing. With online marketing, you can pinpoint exactly how successful a particular campaign is, and more importantly, online marketing folks know that it is easier to attract someone that is already online than it is to to attract someone that is offline. To survive these days, Harp and others need to monetize their online efforts by creating an online community, that A) folks want to be part of, and B) advertisers see value in.

Those that are not evolving are going to be left behind…

SXSW

Mar 16 2008

Whew. Just got back from one of the largest music conferences in the world – SXSW (South By South West) in Austin, TX. It’s like a musical wonderland down there. I was floored by Earthless, These are Powers, A Place to Bury Strangers, Chuck Prophet, Mark Kozelek, Brad Barr, The Peasantry, and in particular, Monotonix, which might have put on one of the most ridiculous/riveting performance I have ever seen. Check them out:

I suppose that seeing good music at SXSW is a given, but now that I am back and catching up with my RSS feeds and emails, it’s a little surprising for me to see that some folks have an opinion that SXSW is a waste of time for bands, the business has changed in such a way that the industry folks in attendance don’t make a difference anymore, and that the conference is so crowded there is little chance that bands can make any impact anyway.

To me, that’s a bit of a close-minded and jaded way to look at things.

It might be true that the major label A&R folks that are at SXSW are interested in locking bands into 360 deals that are likely not in the best interest of artists. But from a promotional and business standpoint, there are fantastic opportunities. We all know the Internet has changed everything about the business – sales, distribution, and how music is discovered. Commercial radio has fizzled as a means to expose folks to new music, having been replaced by blogs and online music communities. And the blogs have been in full effect at SXSW. Sean Moeller runs a tremendous music blog/site called Daytrotter, and he’s been holed up at Big Orange Studios in Austin the whole week recording exclusive live sets and interviews with folks like Peter Bjorn, from Peter Bjorn and John, Kaki King, and Johnathan Rice. The notion that there is too much competition at SXSW is discounted by that fact that the Internet allows the new breed of tastemakers to bring SXSW to you. All it takes is one blogger writing about your performance to make an impact on hundreds or thousands of folks immediately, both through editorial and multimedia content.

It always comes back to the music. If your music kills and you work hard, good things will happen. Berklee put on a show on Friday afternoon at Friends on 6th street, where my good friend and Berklee alum Brad Barr performed. Brad played a beautiful Townes Van Zandt-inspired set (to my ears) of original music. Directly after the show, Brad was approached to play a solo set at the High Sierra Music Festival in California next year, as well as an opportunity to play Middlebury College. Cory Brown, the founder of artist-friendly Absolutely Kosher records, was in attendance too, rocking out to The Peasantry. It’s tough for me to see how these things could be viewed as anything but positive for Brad and The Peasantry.

Barry Kelly, Dave Franz, and myself shot some video interviews with heavy hitter forward thinking industry folks while we were down in Austin. I’ll post a link when we have the piece edited all together.