There are many factors that must be considered by musicians and bands as they prepare to release an independent recording, or attempt to shop their music to A&R Reps at record labels. I have been involved with independent music for over 25 years. In order to help you understand what must be done to plan your career, and/or implement a record release, I have conceived a Music Marketing Concept that will help you professionally develop your music for the marketplace. This easy to understand concept can be used by any dedicated and hard working musician or independent record label to build and/or further their careers as talented artists.
By learning the 'Four Front' Music Marketing Concept, which is based on the time tested and ever evolving marketing strategies and tactics of major labels and independent labels, you will know what it takes to compete in and work with all the businesses, services, and people that a recording artist encounters while pursuing their musical careers. You will see how understanding the 'Four Front Concept' can help you develop your talent and image; along with helping you create effective promotion, advertising, and marketing materials, which are so vital to a successful and profitable music marketing campaign. In addition, The 'Four Front' concept provides you with information on how the businesses and services encountered in the marketing process rely on each other for information and support of any recorded product.
So, let's get started. The Music Industry is organized into "Four Fronts" or key 'areas'. The First Front of Music Marketing is called Artist and Product Development. It is broken into two parts. Artist Development is Part 1 and it deals with all the issues that any new artist or band must consider, such as; songwriting skills, and musicianship development, creating an honest and consistent image, copyright and publishing concerns, co-musician and band issues, recording and mastering arrangements, as well as management and legal needs. Product Development is Part 2 and it deals with all the issues that must be considered after a recording has been made including: cover artwork design and printing, manufacturing choices, market research data, as well as distribution and sales strategies. After the music has been created and a recording has been manufactured, the remaining Three Fronts, which are called: Promotion (the radio, TV, and Internet airplay campaign), Publicity (the press and media campaign) and Performance (live shows and touring plans) come into play to support the First Front of Artist and Product Development.
The trick to understanding the 'Four Front Marketing Concept' is simply this. You must conceive, budget for, and carryout a consistent four-pronged marketing campaign for your independent music. Every successful record in history has behind it elements of this basic formula, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel, all that is needed is to build upon the tactics and strategies that have been utilized by record labels past and present, and to find innovative new ways to expand on those proven methods.
The growing impact of an Internet presence for developing acts is such an example. If you look at what is available on the Internet for musicians as tools to expose and sell their music, beneath the Internet's structure is the basis of four key areas of exposure, Online Product Sales, Promotion through Internet radio stations, Publicity through many online publications, and the opportunity to Perform your music live over the Internet.
But, let's get back to basics now, in the beginning you must concern yourself only with the music itself. Remember, the first half of the First Front is called 'Artist Development'. This simply means that everything starts with songs. If you intend to make money with your music, then your songs must have some commercial appeal to them. This does not mean that you must 'sell out' to some passing trend, but history has proven that the music that endures is music that stimulates the imagination of the listener in some way so that they are moved to purchase it. 'Ownership" of your songs is the greatest proof that you have reached someone with your music. When people have to own their own copy of your songs, that is the highest tribute to their worth.
So, your songs must be of that caliber. When you feel confident that your songs do have a waiting audience who will appreciate them then it is your obligation to protect them by copywriting them. If there is a growing market (or demand) for your music, then starting your own publishing company, or searching for a music publisher will become necessary. But as 'Artist Development' moves along, and the business of music progresses, establishing and consistently presenting a clear image for the public to relate to becomes increasingly important, as will defining the business structure and policies of doing business with fellow musicians in your group.
Artist Development also means perfecting your live performance skills, and finding affordable and reliable recording arrangements to record demo or other music projects. Finding the right studio, the right equipment, the right producer and engineer, and the right studio are all factors related to developing your art...your music...preparing it for the Product Development stage. Before leaving the subject of Artist Development, it must be mentioned that self management, or attracting the attention of professional management may enter the picture. Someone has to arrange for and be responsible for all the details of the aforementioned details. And of course, the advice of a professional entertainment attorney is strongly advised as you prepare to enter the world of .... the second half of the First Front...Product Development.
Product Development, is again all those issues related to the question...You have recorded your music, now what do you do with it? Well hopefully you have thought about your customer a bit. Who is your fan? What do you know about them, and how do you intend to make them aware of your music? I suggest that you create a cover for your record that embodies all the image concerns you dealt with earlier so that when your fans, and the business gatekeepers who stand between your music and your fan ( the buyers at distributors and stores, the music directors at radios stations, the writers in the press, and the bookers of live shows)...can easily see what genre of music you play, and will be intrigued enough by your artwork to want to listen to it, and hopefully buy or support it Next, shopping around for the best manufacturing deal you can find becomes essential. There are, for example, dozens of 'Package Deals" out there through such manufacturers as Discmakers and Oasis, etc. But, do you really need a thousand CDs? Maybe that is too many or too few! Too many startup bands and artists manufacture x number of CDs solely because they got a good price from a 'package deal'. Research your fanbase, how many promotional copies you will need to send out, and how much money you have budgeted for marketing, and you may be surprised how many CDs you actually need.
Product Development then becomes a matter of SELLING your music. You must devise specific methods by which your CD can be purchased by your fans. Live sales, Internet sales, consignment at local stores, and ultimately finding distributors and retail music chain stores who will carry your music. Formal distribution is the toughest to obtain these days, simply because of the huge amount of releases being unleashed before an unsuspecting public. 500 new releases a week are littering the retail landscape, so finding and using the other methods of selling your music are highly suggested these days.
Every professional and legitimate record label has setup the arrangements for selling their records before moving on to the other activities they will be used to expose the music they have released.
You must do the same thing. At this point at a record label, a Marketing Plan is written up. It will contain much of the information discussed here, and in the paragaphs ahead. But Product Development at a label means putting down on paper the tactics and strategies to be used to sell the release. Be prepared to spend some money dealing with all these issues. Distributors rarely enjoy working with under-funded labels. It takes money to develop your product for the marketplace. You will need funds for coop advertising with retailers, you will probably need money to print up hundreds of Distributor One Sheets ( sheets that describe in outline form your marketing commitments), and if you want to get into some listening stations at retail, get your wallet out because it can cost thousands of dollars to get involved with that in-store merchandising effort).
Enter the three remaining Fronts... The Exposure Fronts. Do you want to get some college and/or non-commercial radio airplay? Or perhaps prepare to enter the super competitive realm of soliciting commercial radio stations for airplay. Welcome to the Promotion Front! 'Promotion' in the purest sense of the word means 'Airplay"! It is the thoughtfully researched and carefully planned out campaign for getting songs played on the radio, as well as on the new Internet radio stations, and it can ultimately mean getting videos aired on public access TV, commercial broadcast TV channels and networks, as well as the MTV's and VH1's of the cable world.
The only reason record labels fight the good fight of trying to secure airplay for their records is the simple fact that when secured, airplay is the single most effective means of exposing music to the public. Be prepared however for a frustrating and competitive fight. You must be armed with your Product Development marketing ideas and plans, and a significant financial investment to have any real success on a national level with your Promotion plan.
On the Internet side of things, one could look at the MP3 revolution as the greatest Promotion gift to developing acts that has ever happened. By posting your music on the hundreds of sites devoted to MP3, you can have fans listen to your music any old time they want to after they have downloaded your songs from those sites, or your own website ( You DO have a website, don't you?). Hot on the heels of the MP3 compressed audio file revolution, are many other secure downloadable opportunities as well. Liquid Audio, a2b, and Microsoft's Media Player all offer other near-CD quality options for you to post your music online for fans to hear.
The next Exposure Front is the Publicity Front. Armed with professionally designed, image-reflected press kit materials ( Bios, Fact Sheets, Cover Letters, Photos, Press Clippings and/or Press Quote Sheets) you will be organizing again a well researched, and hopefully effective campaign to get the music press to review your release, and eventually write stories about you and your music, as well as interview you about your music. This Publicity Plan will act as a support mechanism for all your other 'Front' activities. Of course there are thousands of on and off line press opportunities, but again, armed with your marketing ideas from the Product Development stage, you will have many reasons why a magazine, newspaper, fanzine, or e-sine should feature your music, right?
The only other Front left to discuss a bit is the Performance Front. This, in many ways, is the foundation of most genres of music. Playing live in front of your fans is the best way to develop a loyal and dedicated fanbase. So, if you want to play in the clubs and other big venues that showcase talent, give the gatekeepers in that arena reasons why they should book you. I am a big fan of doing non-club dates as a way of getting the attention of the commercial mainstream clubs out there. From house party gigs, to school concerts, to fairs and festivals and everything in between, just getting yourself in front of audiences, and of course using that opportunity to get mailing lists made up, and to SELL your music...The Performance Front is the bedrock of the Four Front Marketing Concept. Many artists are finding ways online to broadcast their tours, and/or to have an archive of club and concert appearances on their web sites.
Now, with a basic understanding of the Four Key Areas of music marketing described, there is on only one other basic concept that must be understood, and it is this. The 'Four Fronts' of Music Marketing are interrelated and interdependent upon each other!
In some ways there is a catch 22 about all this. By this I mean that in order to get your Product into mass distribution, the distributors want to know what your promotion, publicity, and performance plans are. In order to get significant airplay the radio stations want to know what your Product Development, Publicity, and Performance plans are. In order to get Publicity, the editors and writers at the magazines and newspapers want to know what your Promotion, Product Development and Performance commitment is, and in order to get the better live Performance gigs, the booking agents, and club owners need to know what successes you have had with selling your Product, getting Press support, and any Radio airplay.
So, where do you start? Well, I always recommend that you start where you are the strongest. Even though there are a lot of articles and books out there with titles like " Ten Steps To Musical Success", or " How To Be a Star in 30 Days", the truth of the matter is that every band or solo artist has to have the ability to 'feel' their way around this crazy business. There really is no systematic way that this 'Four Front' concept works the same for everyone. Many acts, as I said before, build their successes around touring and playing live in support of their independent music. Others get lucky with some radio airplay, or have become what are called 'critics darlings', and get a ton of favorable press, and that becomes there breakthrough Front. Others combine elements of different fronts, playing live regularly, and constantly selling their CDs and Tapes at their live shows. And of course, using the 'Four Fronts' online, a new generation of cyber musicians are getting their breaks online, using Artist and Product Development, Promotion, Publicity, and Performance tactics and strategies to launch and maintain their careers.
Lest you think that my discussion of this marketing concept is only the responsibility of developing acts, let me tell you this before I sign off...No matter how established or legendary any musician becomes, when they release another record, the 'Four Fronts' of music marketing stay with them forever. That is why they have stayed in your head all these years! You may just be getting started and think that all I have described is a one time deal until you are 'discovered'. Sorry about that, the more successful you get, the more time you will spend dealing with the 'Four Fronts' of Music Marketing. Welcome to the business of music!
Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.
Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.
He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".
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