Posted: Sep 22, 2014
**Guest post written by Randy Young from the Ottawa based rock band Cherry Suede.
"If you’ve been struggling to get results from your marketing efforts and continue to spend more money than your band makes, then this is a must-read.
Independent - (adj) - 1: Not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc. 2: Thinking or acting for oneself.
As musicians, we tend to think we can do it all. We’re independent artists. We’ve got our music, our talent, our fans—and nothing else matters. Well, at least that’s how it works in theory.
The reality is we need help, and lots of it. I don’t care how good you are—there is simply not enough time to do everything and still be a master at your craft, which is the music itself. You need tools and you need to outsource. You need to learn how to run your band like a business, and being resistant to this fact is the fastest way to kill off whatever income—and independence—you have left.
There’s more to being a musician than playing great music. You need to promote, you need to nurture fan relationships and you need to tour - because you need to eat. Being a successful independent artist means playing the long game. You need to commit to doing the daily grunt work of promoting, booking, selling, designing posters and merchandise and hopefully still have time for writing and recording your music. And then put this on repeat.
In a way, you’re more like a media company putting out engaging and entertaining content in the hopes of selling event tickets and souvenirs. You need to turn strangers and on-the-fence fans into raving, crazy fans that love everything you do.
So that leaves us with the question: How do you do it? The music world is filled with services that promise a huge fan base, music sales, promotional material, etc. The list goes on. Many are the musical equivalent of get rich quick schemes. And that’s not what this article is about. We aren’t falling for that crap.
Instead, we’re going to revisit a tried and true sales technique that works as good for businesses as it does for bands. I’m talking about the sales funnel, and I’m going to show how it works with regards to the music industry.
With a common sales funnel, you won’t just be subsisting—you’ll be thriving. You can ramp up ticket and merchandising sales, improve your music sales, and land bigger gigs.
Picture an inverted pyramid. It’s designed like this because customers with all levels of engagement enter through the largest part, and eventually, the strongest leads are channeled to the bottom to be turned into successful sales.
At the top you have your widest area for acquiring new fans. This is where your promo and PR efforts are fighting for the attention of new prospects and people who like music similar to your own.
In the middle, as the funnel contracts, you need different kinds of sales techniques, ones that connect with the people that already know who you are—but may not know enough about you to be considered an actual fan.
And at the bottom, where the pyramid tapers off, you’ve got your customers that know about you, like you, and are inching ever closer to being fanatics of your musical talent.
You can’t expect to address all of these people the same way. You can’t speak to a fan like you’d speak to someone that hardly knows who you are. That’s why a sales funnel is so useful: it helps you VISUALIZE where prospective fans are throughout the buying process.
Below is my 10-step process to improving your own sales funnel and ratcheting up your income. Use this guide and I promise you’ll never have to furtively lift a couch cushion for loose change again. You have my word.
Just one more thing before I get started: Sales funnels focus on CONTENT and never promotional messages! When I say content, I mean any kind of media or writing that adds value. Pictures, music videos, blogs, tweets—anything you can think of that will engage potential fans.
It doesn’t matter who it is…every fan you have, and ever will have, must begin here, at the top of the sales funnel. People who find themselves at the top are here as a result of the interest generated in your band through an effective marketing or promotional strategy. The top of the funnel is the widest because no filter mechanism is at play and there is encouragement for everyone to explore.
This is where all of your potential fans are, the people that have yet to hear you but like similar bands or music. Speaking to the people at the top of the funnel means using a number of smart marketing techniques, MANY of which require little to no investment other than time.
This is all about producing content that will engage prospective fans. For every tweet, every photo, every song, consider this one question: what VALUE does it provide to these prospective fans? Does it make their day a bit brighter? Is it helpful or informative? Inspirational?
Content must be created on a regular basis. Try using a content calendar to facilitate this. This content is completely independent of your music releases. It should cover the entire gamut of content marketing, including blogs, social media (more on that in step 2), forum posts—the list goes on. With any luck, you’ll have someone that can take on these projects and make them look good (someone with graphic design/photography knowledge is a huge plus), otherwise you may want to consider hiring someone to do it for you.
A final note: never wait to post content until AFTER you have your music. Building momentum is what marketing is all about!
Yes, we all know about Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, etc. But do you REALLY know how to use them? Each platform has its own merits and drawbacks, and using each one effectively and in combination with one another can dramatically improve the amount of prospective fans that hear your work.
Many artists today became famous through a viral YouTube video or some other video sharing site. While this isn’t going to happen to everyone, the truth is it doesn’t need to. Bands that are efficient at collecting emails from prospective fans can create an email list with huge sales implications. Given we aren’t using this list of emails to harass our fans. Far from it. Rather, we use it to share even more content with them, content that they actually WANT to see.
It’s not all about internet marketing. Getting out in front of people is one of the best things you can do during the lean years of starting out. It’s not just about meeting the show attendees (your prospective fans), it’s about mingling with the other bands, learning how they do things, and perhaps even setting up a cross-promotion deal with them.
A lot of this you may already know, of course. What you may not know however, is that sometimes attending these affairs can be a waste of your time, and picking the right ones is crucial to your success. Playing on a 5-band bill that was haphazardly put together by a venue just to fill the room is usually a waste. It will be up to you to figure out which ones are worth it—and which ones will be a bust.
Local news groups love featuring local bands. Get in touch with them through press releases and phone calls. Even better, encourage their readers to connect with you on your own website, allowing you to improve your tracking and receive additional emails. Later you can retarget the ones who need a little more time to fall in love with your music.
The middle of the funnel is where your qualified leads are. These are your Twitter followers, Facebook likes, and organic inbound traffic. These leads have shown at least some intent to listen to your music, and have perhaps been keeping tabs on what you’re doing without having actually purchased anything from you or gone to one of your concerts.
The middle is also where your potential prospects are—those newly acquired fans that have had some kind of deeper engagement with your band and are still interested. All prospects are fans, but not all fans are prospects. All the same, these are still fans that perhaps have attended a livestream, clicked on a link in an email, posted a comment on your Facebook wall or sent a Tweet.
Just because these qualified leads and potential prospects are in the middle of the funnel, doesn’t mean they possess a business value yet. This needs to be assessed based on their level of engagement with your band. This is a tricky stage because there is access to a wide variety of expressions of interest and identifying potential sales correctly can make the difference between successful sales and wasted efforts.
An effective website and landing page will offer plenty of content and really bring people into your world. Every page of your website should offer a clear CTA (Call to Action) that gives a prospective fan an opportunity to act—either by signing up for a newsletter, or commenting on a blog, or sharing content via social media. Avoid selling them something! We’ll handle that later in the sales funnel.
Companies like SquareSpace are fantastic platforms that integrate with many 3rd party providers, and allow you to do pixel tracking for ad retargeting and Facebook conversions. For the more adventurous types you have Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla – though you’ll need IT help. I’ve tried them all, from extensive custom options, to out-of-the-box solutions - and SquareSpace has won for all my current needs.
Auto-responders are simply automated email systems that send emails for you—you don’t have to spend a bunch of time sending them off on your own. Bands can add value to these emails by sending free songs or albums, as well as any other content that keeps your readers up-to-date on the latest news.
Email is an incredibly powerful marketing tool—maybe the most important one you have in your arsenal. The trick is to use it wisely, and only send your readers something when you actually have content worth sharing. Using email as a tool to sell albums will ensure no one opens up one of your emails. A sales email every now and again is okay, but keep it rare. Instead, focus on sending interesting content!
A potential customer (fan sales lead) at this stage is someone who is qualified and ready to make a purchase, or have recently made a purchase (either purchased a ticket or piece of merchandise). This assessment is based on their degree of interest based on observing how they behave. They’ve made repeated inquiries, shown expressions of interest, and really enjoy what you have to offer them. Well done if you’ve brought people this far!
Digital music sales are a BONUS, not the goal. Hence, I consider this an optional step in your sales funnel technique.
And really, in this day and age, it’s not worth it to waste time and energy on music sales. The need to “own” music is just not there anymore, and in many cases it’s actually detrimental to force these kinds of sales on the newest members of your fan base.
It amazes me how many acts skip this step. Seriously, why would you tour and not pre-sell your tickets? Or even your merchandise? EVERY venue that I’ve ever dealt with LOVES the fact that I walk up with a list and a handful of cash at the beginning of the night. You can predict your income on tours, measure ad campaigns and cancel a show that you know is going to tank. There’s no reason not to do this. The challenge is to educate and coach your fan base into this pre-selling mindset.
There are so many bands that complain about pay-to-play and low guarantees. I assure you no guarantee will EVER match the return you’ll get if you know how to promote and sell your own tickets. Yes, booking is a huge time killer and the directories that are used take up extensive amounts of time to filter and pitch each venue. It’s no wonder why I call this the “ditch digging” of music. Using Indie on the Move and their new DIT service has been an incredible time saver here.
You can make ticket selling even easier by using sites like Picatic to pre-sell tickets. You can even set a minimum threshold amount that will not even charge a fan if not enough people buy tickets.
The Golden Rule of Merchandising: keep it fresh and keep designing. People will eat up what you have to offer if it’s unique and exciting.
Also, and this is important, use Teespring! Teespring is a great way to sell and fulfill orders without ever investing a cent. You can even have fans pick up shirts at a show, to avoid shipping costs. You can bring only what you need, never have overstock and increase demand with limited supply.
Instead of keeping a supply of t-shirts around all year and having sales trickle through, you can do a single sale within a specified time, and stop sales after that. This allows you to test designs and then go to a printer for the most popular shirts to sell at shows. We often include an advance-only purchase in our pre-sale to guarantee size and availability, and then bring a limited supply on the road.
After your prospects have reached the bottom of the sales funnel, it’s important to take them off of your standard email list and create an email list just for them. These are your CORE fans and the better you treat them, the better they’ll treat you.
This is a critical step and one that you MUST take eventually. Our own customers and core supporters are so passionate and engaged that we created a separate website just for them called the Cherry Suede Brigade. This has its own unique cycle that is fine-tuned for the needs of an engaged, longtime fan. They are the 20% of your base that will be responsible for 80% of your sales. They deserve their own special funnel of value—but that’s for another day.
I know this was a lot and you may be overwhelmed. But—and you have to trust me on this—this will keep your band going for YEARS if you do it right. A proper sales funnel organizes your prospective fans and brings you more (and more loyal) fans over a faster period of time."
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