Sidestep industry trappings by getting the feedback & fans needed to make marketing costs worthwhile and future music marketing campaigns that hit hard.
This is the fourth piece in a five-part Decoded series in which we break down (1) a mental framework to help spend money in the right places and (2) real-world examples from 10+ marketing masterminds.
- Pt. 1: Spending Music Money Smart
- Pt. 2: The Art of Spending Smart - Visual Framework
- PT. 3: How Artist Development Powers Artist Marketing
Few things top a handshake. Once the sound and aesthetic for a music marketing campaign are locked in, the best thing artist teams can do is put themselves in the presence of others. Whether it’s bringing a regional buzz to the stage for the first time, hanging out with early adopter fans after the curtains close, or rubbing shoulders at concerts and industry events, next steps tend to reveal themselves after physical and digital immersion. For young up-and-comers and tried-and-proven legends, similar problems exist on a sliding scale.
Rising artists and managers often hit roadblocks (“How do we meet the people we need to make this campaign/rollout/project elevate us?) or struggle with the temptations of hitting fast forward (“Let’s buy these views / submit ourselves for every tour we can find / jump at every opportunity”). More seasoned artists and managers just as easily lose sight of what different audiences want from them as they grow, and the need to meet more people in higher places never fades, even if you’re the President of the United States.
For those reasons alone, it’s crucial to press pause and spend time populating your world with some of the people who matter most — early adopters who can provide invaluable feedback on the road, key industry stakeholders with the keys to open important doors — before heavily investing in bringing the rest of the universe to your backyard. Think of megastar comedians who test jokes in cellar venues before bringing them to Madison Square Garden, or pro athletes who spent more time practicing than they do on the court.
As you succeed and attention encircles your every move (or even 1/10 of them), some of these problems solve themselves. If someone isn’t paying you mind now, they just might if you land the cover of New York Times Magazine, or if you convince Shaggy to create a video to your song. Even still, most music marketing campaigns will do the most damage if you try to get a chunk of your ducks in a line before you hit that START button.
We spoke with more smart cookies about small investments and simple actions they took to build up themselves / the artists they work with. Our conclusion? Little things really do make all the difference. Meet others, treat them well, and keep it moving.
- Amir Abbassy, aka content king/former manager, aka Twitter sensei @blamethelabel
- Aaron Bogucki, VP, Digital Marketing at AWAL
- Armani White, a Philly spitter with smart, self-marketed visuals across socials
- Brittny Flint, Atom Factory alum and Artist Marketer at AWAL
- Nick Herbert, manager to hip-hop trio Injury Reserve
- Jessica Richards, manager to Boston artist/producer Latrell James
- Neicee Oakley, tour manager to Little Simz and @neiceeneice on IG
- Stephanie Navarro, Nashville-based tour manager for numerous acts
- Christian Hernandez, who's tour managed for wifisfuneral, among others
Prioritize IRL hangouts once you’ve made stuff you and your fanbase are proud of.
“The industry is set up for the artist to be completely lazy and rely on a manager or label to take care of everything,” White laments. “But the ironic part is, information is the most important thing in the industry. You should go out to every event or show and hang in the back, by the bar. There’s always someone to meet. I spent a lot of my time meeting and making relationships. If you pull up on people like a robot, sending them a link before you even ask their name, what kinda cereal they like etc., they’re going to treat you like a robot and not respond.”
Never underestimate the power of a good adventure with high network uplift potential.
“In 2012, [iconic Roc-A-Fella rapper] Freeway was kind of at a crossroads in terms of his career,” says industry vet Amir Abbassy, aka @blamethelabel. “He had just released an album called Stimulus Package on rhymeSayers, but we didn’t really have a lot of digital support yet because his legacy was around a couple radio records. So I spent $750 of my own money to travel to SXSW in March 2012 at the last minute to set up meetings with bloggers, journalists and folks in the digital space who I had not met because some of them were new to that scene. I would say that that was probably one of the most beneficial trips I’ve ever had and shortly after that it opened up many many doors for Freeway and myself. I actually remember meeting with Action Bronson during that trip and he told me to use one of the hotel rooms that Reebok booked for him. So I ended up sleeping on the couch in Harry Fraud’s room. We’re still cool because of it.”
Maximize the multi-faceted value of reinvesting directly into your fanbase.
“There’s a million different doors you can open when it comes to direct-to-fan marketing,” says Aaron Bogucki, VP, Digital Marketing at AWAL. “Whether it’s taking a fan out to a $250 dinner and having them interview you on Instagram Live, or flying your biggest fan out to a show and recording the experience, or just thinking outside the box, like being a punk metal band and performing at an retirement home as a video concept. Our artist Example generated $50,000 worth of PR and earned media by spending like $3,000 to buy a fan a car with an aux cord so he could hear his new album.”
[Click to read Example’s battle-tested advice for smart artist marketing.]
Treat others well today to open up collaborations tomorrow (it’s rarer than you might think).
“I've been able to accomplish a lot with a little on several artist marketing projects by having great relationships with other people/creatives in the industry,” AWAL’s Flint says. “Be good to people and they will (hopefully) be good to you in return.”
Take stock of how you can leverage your different skill sets to unlock other doors for yourself.
“Latrell [James] being duly talented as both an artist and a producer helped a lot,” says manager Richards. “We used his production as a way to build relationship to gain more access & recognition. Once there was a stable connection, we would continue to see if there’s anything we could leverage for Latrell as an artist, which lead to being apart of Lil Dicky’s sold out show at Brighton Music Hall, or being invited to the Dreamville sessions.”
Constantly reexamine what's working and what isn't onstage to keep things fresh on tour.
“Smaller, intimate shows means you can communicate with the audience a lot more and test out new songs and arrangements," Simz's road righthand Neicee tells us. "I think setlist and song arrangements are the main ways we improve shows outside of additional production. When an artist has a back catalogue it’s about getting the balance right between old songs, new songs, fan favourites and artists' personal choice. Revamping the arrangements means the artist doesn’t getting tired of performing the same songs for long periods of time and the audience doesn’t get tired of hearing them. It’s useful to test out new material before hitting bigger markets but every show and every audience is different."
Christian Hernandez agrees: "From my experience, the best way to gain practice is to get a rehearsal space (rental space, garage, etc.) and film a full run of the performance. You’ll be able to catch mistakes and perfect the show when going over the footage. Taking the show to the local stage before hitting the road can be beneficial for testing the crowd response cues and such too, but it’s not the best idea to book every local opportunity. Be selective."
Stretch whatever you have at your disposal to make special opportunities work as they arise.
“It had been several months after we had dropped Injury Reserve's breakout mixtape Floss, and we had cultivated this decent sized following online,” Nick Herbert, the hip-hop group’s manager, remembers. “We were at a crossroads about whether or not we could headline a tour ourselves and we were also surprised nobody else had offered us a support tour.”
“We ended up getting offered a basic support package from Ho99o9, which would have covered the bare minimums of touring, and initially looked like we might end up in the red. Because the budget was so tight there was a lot of discussion about whether or not it was a good idea. We ended up doing a bare bones setup. Just the guys and I and a merch seller. We all shared one hotel every night and drove the entire country in a minivan. Because we had built up this internet following, we had enough fans coming to the shows every night and we were making enough money from merch to keep us in the green. Not only did we put on an amazing show every night, we did free meet and greets after every show where we engaged with every single fan. This laid what proved to be invaluable groundwork for future touring and releases.”
Fresh artists and managers often have this perspective that touring from the jump should be their main money making source. Hopefully it will become that over time, but that's rarely going to be the case initially, and you should look at it as an investment in the same way you would invest money into PR, marketing, etc. Take the chance, be smart with your money, and live on a shoestring for as long as possible and if the music lines up with that tenacity great things will come your way”
Go beyond traditional venues to practice & build your base without breaking the bank.
“Intimate shows help audiences connect to the lyrics and provide feedback on your music,” Latrell James’ manager says. “You can always create a memorable showcase in your city for $100 or less if you get creative with location and set-up. People buy into live shows to see entertainment and artistry. You don’t need a traditional venue for that. Your goal is to make a memory. Walk away from each performance with four solid fans who will be coming back again. Latrell always alters his sets to include new music and we measure crowd reaction and grade them. I feel if no one ever asks you about a specific song after your set, then your music is not effectively connecting with your core audience.”
Trust that things scale with time and effort. It's almost always a grind at the beginning.
“In the beginning of an artists career, touring can be pretty tough, you’re working with low budgets and if you’re independent it’s a lot harder," says Neicee. "Splitter vans, hotels and low cost airlines is the most common way to tour on the come up. As an artists touring career progresses sleeper buses become more common for traveling and the overall experience gets better. Every artist wants to put on the best show possible but again it comes at a cost.
"Musician costs, rehearsals, visual content, staging, audio hire where venues don’t have everything you need, these are all components of creating a great show," she continues. "In the beginning the priority is not lighting and staging, the priority is getting on stage and making sure everything works and the audience take you in, but as you tour more and more and build a audience that buys tickets and follows the live journey, the desire and tools became more available to add more layers to the show. That could be as little as switching wired mics for radio mics or as big as building custom stages in larger venues."
"At one point, I was juggling tour managing, DJing, taking photo and video, selling merch, and driving," Hernandez remembers. "If you can find someone who can do it all, that will save money and resources. Some jobs can be combined, or in my case, all of them. The less mouths to feed, the better, for so many reasons."
Leverage every tool at your disposal to stay on top of finances and inventory on the road.
"Having programs like Mastertour to keep everyone in the know (routing, flights, daily schedules, bus calls, etc) and atVenu to manage your merch sales is a big help," Navarro says. "These things have a monthly fee, but help operations run smoothly. There's a lot of costs to juggle. Line items would include production costs (lights, audio, rehearsal space) plus hotels, gas, ground travel, air travel, crew pay, credentials, etc. It's endless, and crucial to think about replacement items. If you leave something behind or something breaks, there has to be a contingency plan to get another or have a backup, or else the show can't run."
Christian Hernandez agrees: "If you have an extra $1K lying around to use on tour, and everything is taken care of, save that stack! I’ve been in a situation where we were comfortably in the green, then our vehicle breaks down and we get slapped with a $2000 mechanic bill, placing us in the red — which sucks... a lot.z'
Save daily to keep your piggy bank well-fed by the time you finish your last stop.
"Catering budgets can be really tight," Neicee notes. "Within that I aim to accomplish artist + crew riders which contain alcohol soft drinks, water and snacks, a hot meal before show and after show food which is normally a few pizzas for everyone to share. On a personal level I would say trying to live with your Per Diems whilst on the road is a good tip because it means when you receive your wage it feels like you're actually being paid rather than a reimbursement of what you spent before. Sometimes this is really difficult and that’s why I try to stretch the catering budget as far as possible so on show days everyone is looked after."
Remember that your foundation (music & identity) doesn't stop when you're traveling city to city. Keep creating.
"Artists need to invest in content at all times—but especially while on tour," Hernandez emphasizes. "Hiring someone who does good visuals should be a top priority in the tour budget because new fans in every city are going straight to Instagram after the show to check out the artist. If it’s compelling and consistent, they will latch on and be right there when it’s time for the next show in their city. If you have an extra $1K when you return home, spend it on videos (have someone edit all the tour clips for an epic recap), or give the crew a bonus. They will remember that when you hit them up for the next tour. Content is king, but keeping good people around you on tour is more important than anything.
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