Don Bartlett Explains How Joe Pug Gave Away Free CDs To Connect With Fans

from the and-it-worked dept

There are just a few hours left if you want in on the special promotion.

With our CwF + RtB experiment in full swing, we've asked some of the participants involved to provide some guest posts about their own experience with new business models and new promotions. Don Bartlett manages Joe Pug, one of the artists involved in our Techdirt Music Club. If you order both the Techdirt Music Club and the Techdirt Book Club before midnight PT, tonight, we'll throw in a free Techdirt hoodie, or a free lunch with Mike Masnick. Bartlett and Pug ran a fascinating experiment starting last year, where they experimented with giving away totally free CDs (not just downloads). Bartlett agreed to write a guest post about what they learned:

It's hard to glance at a music blog these days without finding an article talking about the "new model" for the music industry. As the conversation advances, thoughtful commentary has popped up from sources as diverse as Mark Cuban and Trent Reznor. From my perspective, too many musicians have adopted the sound bytes that "labels are dead" and "you don't need a label" without fully thinking through the ramifications of that. While it is certainly true that many labels have backed themselves into a tough spot for a variety of reasons, the good ones still provide essential infrastructure such as distribution, publicity, financing, promotion and expertise. As we move towards a world where labels have less of a role, it's more important than ever for bands to become well-versed in how to handle these duties themselves.

For developing bands, one of the most critical parts is marketing and promotion. Fortunately, this is an area where the playing field is more open than ever. We are excited for Joe Pug to be a part of the Techdirt Music Club because we share the ideology of "Connect With Fans" and "Reason to Buy." These are core principles that every band should abide by. On the surface, it sounds very simple. The tricky part is to take your unique situation and determine what methods will achieve those goals.

In the case of Joe Pug, we felt very strongly that his songs would connect with people. This is not something we decided emotionally, but rather by looking at his history with existing fans, sales numbers, the responses he was getting from live shows, and other objective metrics. The challenge for us, then, became getting these songs in new ears in an efficient, cost effective way. We printed up CDs with two of his songs on them, along with contact info and a note that the full record was available on iTunes. We started by passing them out after shows at local venues. We had success, but we were casting too wide of a net, and it wasn't cost efficient. This is when it occurred to me that we should be inviting the people who are most excited about Joe's music to help. You can't possibly ask for more targeted marketing... people are intimately familiar with their friends' musical tastes, so if they're passing the CD along -- there is a high probability that they will be interested.

The results were instant, and overwhelming. Every possible metric jumped immediately... physical sales, digital sales, MySpace plays, Facebook friends, attendance at shows and merchandise sales. And somewhat unexpectedly, the fans who were requesting the samplers were emailing him about how excited they were to help. Without really intending to, we identified Joe's most enthusiastic fans in a place where we could interact with them and reward them with special treatment. It became one of our primary ways of connecting with fans, and the two songs were connecting well enough to give the new fans a reason to buy the full record or come out to a show. It is important to note here that it's not up to me to make moral judgments about the price of music. It's my job to look at the available revenue streams and find a way to maximize them for my client.

When it comes to connecting with fans, what worked for Joe may not work for someone else. Each situation has a unique path between band and fan. Identify your fan base (or distinct segments of your fan base for larger bands), then take a close look at how they interact with music. A younger fan might scan his RSS feed for blog posts and trade songs with his friends over AIM. An older fan might not even know how to download an mp3 into his iTunes. A busy professional might ask the clerk at a boutique what is playing while she shops. An electronic music fan is a whole lot more likely to share a widget than a folk music fan. Successfully identifying these factors within your fan base is probably the most crucial part of the equation, in my estimation.

There is a great deal of discussion these days about the "new model," but really it is only new to the music industry. Develop a truly great product that people are legitimately excited about. Invest the time, effort and money to market that product efficiently, and leverage small successes into larger ones. Eventually, the successes become large enough that everyone who gambled on the product gets their share of the profits. This is hardly MBA-level material.

What is "new" is that artists are more free than ever to execute their own marketing plans, rather than relying on the inefficient, bloated ones many labels push. I have been told many by people with nice cars, important business cards and famous friends that Joe's sampler CD program was wasteful and even "degrading to my artist." I respectfully disagreed. A year into his career, with only one EP released, Joe is playing Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Newport and touring with some of his idols. 14 months after its release, the EP sells more each month than the month previous. Is he rich? Is he famous? No. He is, however, making a very respectable living as a musician and laying the foundation for a fantastic career. That, I would hold, is the "new model".

For the Techdirt Music Club Joe is offering up a special version of the EP, with specially designed Techdirt-inspired cover art, and some unreleased songs. Check it out.

Filed Under: connecting with fans, cwf, don bartlett, joe pug, music, reason to buy, rtb

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  1. identicon
    bigpicture, 3 Aug 2009 @ 7:09pm


    If Joe is creative and produces music of wide audience appeal, then he requires promotion, recording, and distribution services to reach this wide audience. If he uses the internet and has a manager with some moxie then this should cost him about 10% to 20% of his generated revenues, and not the 90%+ that the record labels take.

    If more artists control their own destinies there may be less obscurity for the talented but unlucky ones, and more selection for the fans and less recording companies That may be how this will change the current market dynamic.

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