Big name bands look for new ways to sell their wares
By Bill Weedmark
With today’s fast-paced, digital-on-demand style of music delivery, musicians need to be able to stand out above the clutter to reach increasingly fractured audiences if they want to generate sales and prevent illegal downloads. The best way to do this is to do something unique and worthy of attention.
But when it comes to marketing a new album, some artists and bands seem content to trust their name alone to push copies out the door. Others go with the advice of their label and rely on the tried-but-true method of using print, radio and TV ads to get the word on the street.
Limp Bizkit is a perfect example of what bad marketing can do to a successful band. The combined sales of the their first three albums totaled more than 20 million copies worldwide, yet their last true album, The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1) hasn’t even sold one million worldwide.
Some blame the decline of the nu-metal genre, but it probably has more to do with the fact that the album’s marketing was almost non-existent.
Since music listeners seem to be increasingly fickle, many won’t give up their $15 for just any album without hearing it first. With the Internet at everyone’s fingertips, it’s just a matter of five minutes and knowing the right sites to download a new album weeks, or months, before its release.
That’s why it’s so important that artists try something new and take risks. Some people are going to download albums no matter what, but if an artist can stand out and prove themselves, listeners will be much more likely to not only purchase the album, but buy merchandise and concert tickets as well.
The biggest factor in generating album and ticket sales is getting the fans involved. Artists don’t make much money from album sales, so hooking a casual listener and turning them into a die-hard fan, whether it be through unique promotions or new marketing techniques, is vital.
Sites like MySpace and YouTube are good starting points for generating interest. MySpace gives fans updated news, a forum to voice their opinions and a legitimate way to listen to tracks before release dates, while YouTube can be used to promote new music videos or behind-the-scenes footage.
The Decembrists took the viral Internet marketing concept a step further last fall when they shot a music video featuring the band in front of a green screen and challenged fans to finish the video and post them online. Not only did the band generate intense fan interest and activity, but they ended up featured on The Colbert Report and reached a massive audience.
Barenaked Ladies went another route this January when they held a fan cruise, “Ships and Dip.” The cruise left Ft. Lauderdale for four days of live music from numerous bands, during which time BNL announced that they planned to follow-up “Ships and Dip” with another cruise in 2008.
The band also takes a unique approach to concert bootlegging by selling CD-Rs and downloads of all their concerts.
Probably the most original approach to marketing a new album is Nine Inch Nails’ efforts in support of the new album, Year Zero, scheduled for release on April 17.
After kicking off the European tour, fans noticed that a new NIN T-shirt had certain letters highlighted in the city and venue names, which spelled out “I am trying to believe.” The fans put two and two together and found a Web site of the same name.
This opened the flood gates and led to the discovery of a wave of viral marketing Web sites tied into the Year Zero “alternate reality game.” Members of the unofficial NIN forum, Echoing The Sound, and the official fan club, The Spiral, scoured the sites for clues.
This led to more sites being discovered, hidden phone numbers with eerie voice messages, MP3s and even a giant billboard mural in London, all detailing aspects of the world of Year Zero: a dysotopian world 15 years in the future.
USB flash drives were found at many of the European concert venues with songs from the album and even the music video for the first single. Three songs have been “leaked” in this manner so far, not counting the single, all appearing on the band’s MySpace page within days of hitting the ‘Net.
Reznor later confirmed on The Spiral that the band was behind the USB leaks, and that the traditional record label approach of just selling an album is dead. He went on to discuss other things he’d like to try, such as selling recordings of his live shows, like Barenaked Ladies do, but his label is behind the times and refused to allow it.
While conventional wisdom would be against a band giving away songs from an upcoming album, it doesn’t seem to be hurting NIN. The band and the Year Zero campaign have received an amazing amount of publicity from such major sources as MTV News, USA Today and Rolling Stone, with the latter referring to the promotion and the fan involvement as “a marketing team’s dream.”
CNN even jumped on the dog pile April 2 with a fairly long article on the Year Zero ARG. Reznor, however, said that the Year Zero ARG isn’t about pushing sales or marketing gimmicks, but that it was part of the art form itself.
It’s almost certain that the traditional ways of marketing an album are going out the door. The bands that are going to succeed are the ones who will embrace the Internet and find new ways to entice their fans. And the ones who don’t can join Limp Bizkit in the “Bands of Yesterday” category.