September 1st 2011
I’d been trying to get through to this journalist for weeks, he never took my calls. So one day I phoned, put on an American accent and told them it was Bruce Springsteen. The guy took the call immediately. I burst out laughing and said it wasn’t really Bruce Springsteen, and whilst he was a bit pissed off or relieved he laughed too and we had a chat.
If you take a journey the way everyone else goes you’ll sit in masses of traffic, take an alternative side road route and even if it takes longer you get to see things no one else normally sees. The journey becomes an adventure. With this in mind I’m going to spend the next few months promoting our music. We have no record company behind us and hardly any money, so I thought some of you might find it interesting to see how it goes.
I’ve tried to keep my objectives slightly limited, try and get some articles written and a bit of radio play then ask a few record companies as to whether they’re interested in dealing with us.
Please join me for the ride.
Before going ahead with anything I decided to try to create a strategy with limited objectives, this would allow me to have end points in view and measurable outcomes… not because I’m particularly organised but just so I’d know when to pause.
So here are my main objectives:
Get coverage in the media: Get interest from local and national media, maybe get some interviews and hopefully get noticed by bloggers.. so I’d better research a list ASAP.
Try to get tracks on the radio: Send out CDs to all the appropriate DJs / So get a list, contact people, send out packages and follow up.
Create a bit of a buzz and contact Record Labels
Work towards 2 release dates: Album release date: 10th October 2011 and Single Release Date 10th December
So with all this in mind I started by getting a 4 week free trial to Music Weekly and buying a cheap copy of the music directory from Amazon for £16 compared to £40
I also looked up a load of CD printing services and came across one which seemed quite reasonable. However when I got a quote it was for more than their own special offer, a quick phone call remedied that though… I felt like saying “Don’t try that old Jedi shit on me”.
So the next job is the design, however as this is for radio stations and the press it’s a whole different approach, it’s not about looking good but about looking like what the industry normally submits. More about that later though.
Tonight I’ll design the CD print, re-master the album so the tracks I want radio stations to consider are first, and work out the blurb for the labels on the CD envelope and any accompanying paperwork.
I’ll hopefully have something to show you tomorrow.
Day 3 ~ If you want to make God laugh show God your plans ~
I’m in to “next week” and still designing the CD cover. I already had one set up, but it needed a bit of colour correction. I’ve printed out quite a few trials and I’m not getting the strength of colour I need so sometime this week I’ll have to visit a print house and get some help… Ker-ching!
The other development has been a decision to create another CD, this one will have the same tracks on but in a different order (basically the more immediately impacting songs first) and an 8 page booklet, this CD will be available for those who want a more luxurious product and for use as a promotional disk. The other CD’s tracks are ordered as I’d originally wanted but as it’s an on demand service (as in the company manufactures and sends out the CDs when an order is placed) there was a limit on the book size, which is 4 pages. Getting 19 songs to fit over 3 pages has been quite a challenge for both me as a designer and no doubt anyone trying to read the bloody thing. Anyway the upshot is, 2 CDs, one is cheaper because it has a smaller booklet and the other is slightly more expensive but is more luxurious. Plus I can also send out signed copies of the 8 page one. Phew, did you get all of that… the mess I get myself into sometimes. So this week is about getting the new Master CD and graphics out to the UK manufacturers and getting a corrected set of graphics out to the US ones.
Meanwhile I’ve just done 2 email interviews, I’ll post the links on here once they’re published, and I am trying to produce a new song too.
As the saying goes: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it” Hold on! Everybody is doing it!!!
Be back soon~ish.
Two Weeks Later
The designs all got sent off, but both the US and UK companies made mistakes, fortunately it hasn’t affected my schedule. However the main problem has been in terms of printing. The UK company printed the tray card even though I’d informed them the proof showed the file was corrupted, I mean it had big pink and green stripes running across it. Plus the print out of the cover is too dark. The US version has come out pretty close to my mock ups, but the UK one is way off. If there’s any more runs I’ll be making sure they get it right next time.
Whilst I was waiting for the CDs to be manufactured I created a database to collate information about radio, magazines and other media that might help run articles or add my music to their playlists. Just going through Radio and magazines created a shortlist of over 600 entries. I still have to add newspapers and music blogs to the list, but one thing at a time. I’ve spent this week contacting college radio stations and specialised medium readership magazines. This has helped me get into a workflow and become more focused when it comes to phone calls. Next week I’ll move on to higher profile organisations. So far the response has been minor, a couple of companies have got back to me, but given how many of my messages were written directly and relevantly to those concerned I’m surprised by how little feedback I’ve had. Next week I’ll try to establish more contact via the phone than just by email and send promo disks out to the majority of contacts, hopefully that’ll establish more engagement.
So far one highlight has been chatting to DJs using their studio chat module whilst I listened to them talking back to me on the show. Also two articles have been published so far. I shall leave them with you for now, and will report back soon.
October 17 2011
It’s been a few weeks since I last reported back on what’s been happening promotion-wise. I’d say sorry about the delay but I think it’s probably been for the best.
It’s really hard not to come over as sounding a bit bitter, but that’s how I feel. I have emailed around 200 radio stations, I mean these are college, community, hospital and local commercial stations and I’ve only had 6 replies. I’ve also sent out disks to about 20 stations and once again only had one reply. I’m annoyed, not because they’re probably inundated with disks and can’t cope, but because it’d be good if they just had written on their webpages, “Please don’t bother sending emails or disks”. Of course it may be that our music isn’t up to scratch, but we now have over 85,000 followers on the Internet so I don’t think it’s that, but of course I can’t be sure. Now tell me if I’m wrong please but is this not the situation when it comes to getting music on playlists and radio stations?
Commercial radio stations need to play music people want to hear in order to bring in audiences to listen to the adverts that keep the station going. Most people want to hear music that’s in the charts because that’s what’s deemed as good. What gets into the charts is music that is played a lot on radio and TV, and what gets played a lot on radio and TV is music that’s been placed on playlists. Music that gets on playlists gets onto those lists through a few main ways. Firstly panels or programme managers on some stations choose the list, sometimes DJs get to choose what gets played, but in the background are pluggers, record companies and companies interlinked in some ways to the radio stations. In the UK Global Radio owns most of the major radio stations, what they play becomes the chart music and consequently that gets played on the BBC.
I recently went to an AIM (Association of Independent Musicians) meeting with the top brass of Radio One and their take on it was that their playlists were formed by a multitude of influences. Submissions, pluggers, chance hearings and so on but at the end of the day how different is what we hear on Radio One to any of the other major commercial stations? Not much, so the proof is in the pudding.
Now BBC Radio has made a gesture to opening up opportunities to new artists via their BBC Introductions scheme which is also expanding to its other stations e.g Radio 2, as well as making a proportion of air time available for the scheme in every program. However it has already received 55000 applications so it’ll be interesting to see how well it filters through such a massive submission.
Meanwhile I’m sitting here re-assessing the situation. I’m aiming to contact the major radio stations and record companies over the next few weeks whilst at the same time approaching more prominent publications, but I’m already beginning to get an idea as to what I’ll be saying to you at the end of this process and that’s this. The Internet is going to be the place for me, the mainstream is tied up. MTM (An Internet radio station that promotes new artists) has already featured me and my music and wants to do a second interview about the album, GMH Café Radio and Stray FM have also featured us, so some things are happening but there’s definitely a feeling of impasse in the mainstream if you don’t get picked up by a record company. In fact the BBC guys said the same thing when they told us that they would avoid non-label artists, mainly because of the worry that they would not be organised enough.
So as you can see it’s a funny time, I don’t really know if I’m coming or going. The CD is ready to sell and is available on line at www.simonmarksmith.com/store even though its “Impact Day” is scheduled for November 28th 2011. I’ll announce its availability to my followers sometime over the next fortnight.
One thing that has sunk in is that promotion isn’t something that one stops and starts around albums but is continual so if anything this project has given me that realisation. I’ll let you know how this next stage goes and I’ll post links to the radio appearances as and when they become available. I’ll post them here: http://simonmarksmith.com/epk/articles1.html
Here’s an interview I’ve just done for a magazine:
I imagine many of our readers won’t have heard of you, yet. Can you sum up what you’re all about?
I’m a multi-media artist, which means I work in a number of disciplines namely as: A recording artist / singer song writer, painter, photographer, writer, and video maker. I tend to use the processes I’ve learned in each discipline in the other disciplines and I approach my work from an artistic point of view. What I mean is I’m looking to try to find my own voice and have a dialogue with the process of creativity which may lead to unexpected destinations rather than aiming towards a specific outcome. By the way I don’t see that as an excuse for the creation of a load of artistic drivel that will bore everyone’s socks off, but it’s a kind of balancing act between what the process creates and what it will mean to my audience. I think that touching one’s audience is an important part of the creative process.
In terms of what my music sounds like it’s somewhere between Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen.
When did you first start using social media? How did your using of it evolve?
I’ve been using the Internet to promote my work since 1998, I’ve made my writing, pictures and music available for free and even before social networking took off had a small following. When Myspace took off I didn’t really know how to use it and because Myspace became about the number of fans rather than relationships it kind of inhibited any real social networking compared to what’s going on now with Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.
About a Year ago I noticed a friend had set up a music Like page on Facebook so I thought I’d set one up too, since then I’ve picked up well over 100,000 likers. But remember it’s not about numbers, not ultimately.
How important is social media to you? If you’re an independent artist, what is the best way to get your music promoted?
There’s always myths and hype, so I don’t want to encourage that, I’d like to try to keep this as real as we can. So let’s start with the normal ideas around promotion, essentially most acts would benefit from being on major radio station playlists and TV, but realistically the chances for most of us to get that exposure are really, really low. You’d have to become part of the industry to get in on all of that and whether it’s unfair or not there’s a simple but obvious fact to keep in mind, there are only so many songs that can be played, only so many acts that can be promoted in the mainstream and there are many tens of thousands of artists vying for those places. So the experience for most of us is one of frustration, rejection and humiliation. BUT the industry which we know and love (hehe) is relatively new compared to music’s place in our culture. Go back to before radio and TV and you’ll find that music was part of our daily lives. People sang together communally in pubs and churches, in the streets and in social gatherings. Musicians were part of the community, and most people could sing, it wasn’t seen as exceptional.
What social networking is doing is bringing back a sense of community that has been lacking in society for many decades. What this means for musicians and singers etc… is that a platform through which they can develop an audience has become available. Sometimes it might be just a small number of people, but if they, the audience and artist, are really engaged and interested in each other then something magical for both parties comes about. If you use sales of albums or numbers of Likers to measure your success then you’re missing the point. Ask yourself this: if you are only willing to make your music available to sell and you only sell a few dozen, then is it not better to give away some of your best music and build up a following. That way your music gets heard, you get to have a dialogue with your followers and who knows maybe they’ll evangelize your work to others.
Do you have a particular social media ethos? A guide to social media success if you like?
What this means is that you put yourself out there, genuinely, (but politely), you show real interest in your audience and develop meaningful relationships with them. The kind of thing I mean in practical terms is to ask your audience about their experiences, possibly related to the subject matter of one of your songs, or tell a story behind a song, show them you are human and allow them to show you their humanity too.
There’s a book called Unmarketing which I’d strongly recommend and no I’m not on commission.
Why are more and more people using social media to promote their music?
There aren’t alternatives in the mainstream. The process for those who do it well is extremely rewarding.
Is there a failing in the music industry? What are the problems with it at the moment?
It’s quite simple really. The music industry fails because like many businesses it’s been run by money makers, of course they don’t see they’re failing but they are and in time the Internet is going to make their profits slump massively and this is why: They have become like a supermarket that only sells its own brand, not only does it not offer other brands but it only offers a limited range of products. As far as it’s concerned it’s doing ok, however there’s now another market, it’s on the web and not only does it offer more variety but it’s at a fraction of the cost. “Ah but we’ve got the market cornered because we have the strongest marketing tools” they’ll say. And I’d say “Take a look at how Facebook allows people to see what others are listening to, have a listen to the choice of Internet radio stations with no annoying adverts, have a listen to the quality of music made in people’s home studios. Have a look at the breadth of variety on offer. So punk you’re probably wondering whether I shot 5 bullets or six, well make my day”
You give away your music for free? How do you plan to make money from your work?
Firstly is making money from one’s work the main objective? I go to work plus I make money from my music, I would make music whether I made money or not. But if money is important to you then surely building up a following means you’re more likely to make money from your following through merchandise, membership schemes, advertising, sponsorship, product recommendation / endorsement, being seen as an expert in your niche and paid for your expertise, working for other artists, gigging, teaching, CDs, premium downloads, premium products and loads of other areas if you use your imagination.
Some people believe that having 1000 true fans who are willing to buy everything you sell could bring you in an income of around £20,000 per year, and that’s a low estimate.
How many recordings do you have and how much of that has had the support of any major labels / deals? With that in mind, what do record deals mean to you? If you were offered a deal from a major company would you take it?
I’ve recorded over 300 songs but only about 40 to what I’d call album standard. I’ve never had any major label interest, but I haven’t courted it either, not for any anti record industry reasons, I just never felt I’d be of interest to them. Even with 100000 followers I’ve had no interest at all. As things seem to have changed for me in the last year or so I’ve come to feel that I’d have to be offered a pretty good deal to make it worthwhile, I mean I’ve recorded the songs, done the videos, promoted the work, sorted out the PPL and PRS stuff, so unless they’re going to get my songs on major radio station playlists what would be the point. I’m sticking with the Internet for now, and I’d seriously advise most of you to focus on it too.
You’ve nearly got over 100,000 fans on Facebook, a lot more than some bands in the charts. What does this mean to you?
It’s deeply touching and makes my work feel more meaningful to me, however this is just the beginning and developing deeper relationships with those fans over the coming years is paramount. Clicking Like on an artist’s page takes no effort and doesn’t mean much more than “I quite like your stuff” so let’s not get too carried away, however it does mean something, it means there’s a chance of more contact between us and I really do love that engagement.
What’s the key to your internet success? How have you managed to achieve all you have without the backing of major record companies and PR agencies?
By continually offering new songs for free, chatting with my followers, not just pushing information about me down their throats but instead having a two way relationship. I don’t have to ask people to share my work, if they like what I do they will, if they don’t then there’s no point asking them to. We also spend a lot of time on our work and don’t give out rubbish, or album fillers. We’re currently working on 5 new songs, I have a small group of followers who get to hear these songs and their honest opinion is taken in to consideration, if it’s not up to scratch I’d rather not put it out there, but then knowing if something is any good is hard when you’re so close to it.
Using social media may seem quite daunting to some, what advice would you offer someone who’s just starting out?
Well check out http://www.unmarketing.com/
Also make sure all your things on the internet have links to your major social media places, your you tube channel, you Twitter one, your Facebook Like page (not your personal one as it has a limit of 5000 friends), maybe a blog too. Choose one platform to focus on and try to draw your audience to that one so you can be more focused.
Is there ever a point when using social media so much becomes a block to being a great artist? Too much concentration of wondering whether or not this is a great tweet, as opposed to whether or not this is good music that you’re writing?
Spend the same amount of time promoting yourself as you do being creative, that’s what most artists in the mainstream have to do. If you want a following you’ll have to work for it, if you don’t want to work for it then don’t complain about not having a following. If you decide not to promote yourself or even to look at how to do it then you’ve made that choice. I’m a bit hard on this one because I feel it’s illogical not to promote your work if you want an audience, if you don’t then it doesn’t matter.
In my own experience I work to pay my mortgage, I don’t go out a lot, I am involved with being creative for most of the time that I’m not earning a crust but I interject my work with social networking and traditional promotion. If you think social networking may take up time that could be used for being creative then maybe just go down the pub less or don’t watch TV, there’s often somewhere that time can be borrowed from. The situation is unfair but social networking does offer some people opportunities that weren’t there beforehand, it’s good for some and for others it’s not.