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Subtext: The do-it-yourself approach to marketing and promoting music that began back in the 1970's and, perhaps, as early as the 1950's as an experiment that was often an exercise in futility, but has, ironically, become the standard by which we all exist, also comes with its own sets of blessings, curses and limitations.
[Bonus Query]: What do vampires and Indie musicians have in common? See answer at the end of this article.
Back in the heyday of the grassroots approach to promoting independent music, such record labels and artists got about as much respect as a Texas inmate on 'Death Row'. I can only imagine the feelings of loneliness and, at times, even helplessness felt by such pioneers as Will Ackerman while plunging ahead with their music careers in a solo capacity.
You see, such artists were considered freaks of the music industry's nature at that time, as it was the common dream of 99.9% of artists to be signed with a major record label. And, the industry's attitude accordingly was, "How dare they take charge of their careers!"
And, I can also imagine the sheer joy that these pioneers see and experience today with the about-face, 180-degree transformation of the industry that is fast returning ultimate power to its creators. Because, back in the 'old days', being "signed" was a lot like going to Heaven. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that, with many artists, being "signed" was preferable to *going* to Heaven (oops!).
But, although today's standard is the largely accepted independent route, for the most part, in the unsigned, independent, do-it-yourself music clinic that, shamelessly, refers to itself as "the industry," unsigned/independent musicians/recording artists, who are still oblivious to business practices and procedures particular to the music industry, often end up hurting themselves far more than helping themselves. And, this misfortune is often based loosely on their ill perceived idea that they can save themselves money by promoting their music themselves.
While many of them and, perhaps, even most of them, are astute and adept to the musical and production aspects of their careers, most are equally inept when it comes to coordinating the business affairs of their careers... often, like two-year-old toddlers lost in the Blair Witch woods who must, alone, find their way back to civilization. Even the few artists who are capable of completely handling the business aspects of their careers find that they must sacrifice either their artistry or managing the business of their careers, due to time constraints.
For instance, let's take what is, possibly, considered the most coveted aspect of a music career... radio airplay. Radio airplay is coveted because it serves up, at least, two benefits...
1. Instantaneous mass popularity
2. Music Sales
And, like Toyota's slogan, "Who could ask for anything more?" Well, therein also lies the answer, because we all could. So, let's visit and follow the typical scenario of an unsigned/indie taking on the do-it-yourself task of marketing and promoting his new CD:
Again, initially believing that he can save himself money by implementing the do-it-yourself approach to promotion, just as he has done successfully with his production, the average (and, not-so-average) Indie does not understand that this is where he should now turn the reins of his musical horse over to a much better and more skillful rider.
Instead, whether driven by ego, fear or a combination thereof, the Indie artist becomes like Dr. Frankenstein, performing not only self-diagnosis, but also prescribing and administering medicine upon his person. You see, he, erroneously, believes that all he needs to do to begin and sustain radio airplay, is to simply send his recording off to as many radio stations that play his genre of music as possible. Pretty simple, eh?
Just package up his award-winning CD and get Uncle Sam's blessings. At the very least, by sending out to so many stations, at least, something ought to be shaken out of the woodwork fairly soon, right? Hmm...
In fact, the Indie recalls having read somewhere that some obscure guy by the name of Kenny Love, who promotes records and also serves as a publicist to the press. But, he thinks to himself, "Forget Kenny Love and the knight-in-shining-armor horse he rode in on! I'm not going to shell out any bucks, moula or filthy lucre to him, or anyone like him, when I can just drop these babies in the mail myself! Who does Kenny Love think he's fooling?"
And, having arrived at this misguided self-realization, the unsigned/indie artist embraces and brandishes his own unique concept by packaging and shipping his CD out to stations and press at a most feverish pitch and, mostly, to commercial stations because "they" (other unsigned Indies who have bought music promotion books with unrealistic and unworkable theories) have always told him that, not only are commercial stations the most popular, but these particular stations are also the only ones that are responsible for the sale of all CDs.
Sidebar: I believe this way of thinking is how we also ended up with so many different religions (don't ask).
It is also important to note that the Indie has been told this, largely, by people who have never sold over a handful of CDs in their lives, if that many.
At the same time, and while he is feeling really inspired, the unsigned Indie gets what he perceives as, yet, another Thomas Edison-type idea. If we were following the Indie around with a video camera, much like is done on one of those survivor or documentary shows, we would immediately recognize the Indie has come up with another bright light bulb idea, which is evidenced by the wide grin that now graces his face as his eyes, seemingly, lock in a fixated stare.
This bright idea that the Indie has suddenly gotten, is to also blast his press kit off to such music literary luminaries and media giants as; Billboard, Rolling Stone, etc., saying to himself, "Hire a professional publicist to do this, when I can just drop these babies in the mail myself? Surely, thou doth jest!"
Then, after doing so, he waits... and, he waits... and then, he waits some more... until he simply can't stand any more waiting.
"Hey, what gives? I sent my CD out to, at least, a coupla hundred different stations and press, and mama didn't raise no fool! I *know* I should be getting played on stations and reviewed in papers from coast to coast by now! In fact, I should be well on my way to earning a million dollars!"
Unable to stand its lack of reasoning any longer and, as the feeling of desperation is about to set in, the unsigned indie decides to make a few telephone calls (he is now doing what is termed in the business as "record tracking" or "music tracking" but doesn't realize it). After finally being able to connect with the proper sources at a few of the many stations and press, all sorts of dreaded answers that he doesn't want to hear, are now coming over the phone line.
"When did you send it?" one asks.
"Nope, we don't have it... can you send it again?" asks another.
"You should have not sent it to us... you should have sent it to Clear Channel radio network instead because they own our station now. Would you like their address in San Antonio?"
"Yes, I got it... "
Awaiting, yet, another rejection in a, seemingly, long line of endless rejections, the musician has just heard (pardon the pun) what he believes is music to his ears... the long awaited, unbelievably immortal words from a music critic at the Los Angeles Times. Still, he does not, cannot and must not trusts his ears, and asks the reviewer for confirmation...
"What did you say?" the Indie asks.
"I said, I received your press kit, Mr. Culpepper... "
"Finally," thinks Indie musician Culpepper, "a ray of light in what was becoming a very dark existence."
"But," the music reviewer continues, "I have approximately 13,257.38 press kits ahead of yours to review. And, I probably won't get to yours until some time next year."
"Arrrrrrggghhhh! Where is something to kill with my bare hands? Anything! I just need to bleed something!" At this point, the unsigned Indie has just crossed over into that place with the blinding light and signpost up ahead that we all have come to know and love, but are still fearful of embracing called, "The Twilight Zone."
After gathering his faculties, the Indie thinks to himself, "Maybe, guys like Kenny Love aren't so bad after all... I guess it won't hurt to give him a call."
At this point, if the Indie was, unfortunately, savvy enough to connect with 200-300 stations on his own, there is probably very little I, or any other promoter, can do for him now, in the interest of 'saving' his record. At the very least, if I do become involved with it, my job as its promoter is going to be a much harder row to plow, so to speak.
This is because a recording, generally, only has one shot and one chance to make a good 'first' impression with industry decision makers. With music industry people, there is no "growing on you" effect.
Station Progam Director: "Hey, Harry!"
Station Music Director: "Yeah Joe?"
SPD: "I hate that dog CD by Jason Culpepper, but we'll keep playing it just the same because it might grow on us, and we might come to love it!"
SMD: "Okay, Joe... say, have you had a chance to listen to that CD by that new Indie group, "Sticks & Stones?"
SPD: "Oh, yeah! It's the one I'm using as a coaster for my coffee cup."
As you can readily see, it either catches their fancy at the onset, or is severely criticized endlessly from this point onward. And, even so, in the name of promotion, I suppose that it isn't completely bad to have your CD used as a coaster. After all, it is free and continuous promotion, as it is constantly before the music director's eyes each time he reaches for his coffee to take another swig.
Seriously, in the interest of making a great initial impression, every aspect should be given strong consideration. And, what this comes down to is creating a promotional budget for your recording in order to hire a competent record promoter and publicist, just as you created a production budget for it in order to either hire a competent producer and studio, or to purchase quality equipment that would allow you to get the same results.
You see, a record promoter does not simply drop records in the mail, then await telephone calls from raving and ranting music directors and music critics touting how great the recording is. In addition to your paying for a promoter's inside industry contacts (many of which are long established business relationships), along with the promoter's specialized knowledge of how to get a recording within that inner circle and to whom, you should also be advised that a promoter is also extensively familiar with such vital areas as:
1. Record tracking
2. Record charting
3. Radio-to-press coordination, and vice versa
4. Record cross-promotion
Now, of the above four areas, which all fall within the scope of the 'business' aspect, how many of the areas are you, as an artist, extensively familiar with? Okay, let me ask an easier question. Which *1* of the above areas are you familiar with and feel competent with enough to, effectively, exercise and obtain major results... all in a matter of, say, 8-12 weeks, which is approximately the time limit you have to get a 'single' not only going, but going extremely well? Going... going.... gone!
After all, if a recording is unable to be brought and presented to the people who need to hear it most (both industry people as well as potential music buyers), the recording simply becomes an expensive circular disc. And, subsequently, you have, thus, given away every cent spent that has been assigned to it up to this point. And, for all practical purposes, you might have as well simply taken all the money that you have spent on it beforehand, and simply set it afire.
As artists, it is high time to stop believing that a music career and, more succinctly, a "hit" record, can be shucked and jived its way to success, and that stroke of luck determines how much, when and if success is attained. For, to a very large degree, in addition to the art aspect, there is also a combination of science, formula and timing at work in achieving successful promotional results, just as there is also a certain degree of science, formula and timing in achieving the desired production results.
In fact, to drive this point homeward with you, know that gnawing feeling that you immediately get inside of you when something hasn't gone exactly right in the studio and, you are clueless as to why? Perhaps, a part is not being played or sung exactly the way it should or, you can't seem to get that effect that you need? And, know how it constantly eats away at you until you either obtain it, or am able to live with a less desirable alternative?
Well, you should also demand this same quality when going into the marketing and promotional phases of your recording as well. After all the invaluable time and money you have spent on its production, in the words of Mr. Spock, "It is highly illogical, Captain" to now throw caution to the wind and believe that, because of its high quality production, this alone will insure your recording's success. In fact, what you have done, is simply gotten through Phase 1 of several equally important phases. Ironically, it is amazing how many independent artists believe that the process is complete after they sing, play and record the last note.
As such, it goes without saying that this is the "missing link" that often spells the difference in whether an unsigned or independent recording artist achieves success at the national level, or remains on local or regional levels, at best, while being consigned to a weekly lifelong existence of playing "Joe's Bar & Grille" on Monday nights. Given the level of technology today, you and I both know that there is, virtually, an indistinguishable difference in a home production versus a major label production. The only distinction is the level of experience of each individual at the creative levels, whether technically, musically or otherwise. And, even so, there is enough technical information that serves as instruction available today to make up for a large part of this inexperience.
So, that being as it is, why stop now, when you are, virtually, only a stone's throw away from reaching ultimate all around success? More pointedly, why return a 98-yard kick-off, only to fumble the ball on the 2-yard line?
[Bonus Answer]: They both depend on the night to get them through the day.
P. S. And, I'll just bet that you thought the answer was going to be that they are both leeches, didn't you?
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