Vintage photo of two men reading newspaper around 1956

Marketing the unmarketable

I’ve just come to the end of a campaign to launch my new album. I’m writing the story here in case it’s of use to anyone in a similar position – an older artist with a small audience who wants to promote an album.

I’ve done two previous album launches since I got into the Indepreneur music marketing ‘school’. The first used the ‘album experience’ in email/website plan pretty successfully for the album In Another Life. For the second effort – for Ten Objects – that approach bombed completely. I thought it was time to try a different approach.

I drew up a plan during February with a Trello board covering three elements – creating merch, releasing and distributing the album and promoting the release. (The recording and mastering was complete by that point). The target release date was to be mid-May.

I spent quite a bit of time on the merch investigation. I’d never sold merch before so was quite cautious, which turned out to be wise. Because I felt that this might be my last CD release, I wanted the CD itself to be a beautiful thing and commissioned two artists on Fiverr to create graphics. One was the title image and the other a calligraphic image representation of the lyrics of one of the songs. Once I had those I thought I’d use them for

– a lyric book to go in the CD sleeve

– badges – low-value merch that could be given away or bundled with CDs

– coasters – slightly higher value, using the lyric calligraphy image which was circular

– teeshirts using both the title image and the lyric calligraphy

– large scale versions of the two images which could be sold framed or not

Because I was unsure about what I’d sell I ordered only the lyric book (as part of the overall CD duplication process), the badges and the coasters. From Awesome Merchandise I ordered 50 badges and 20 coasters. If I needed more it would be easy to reorder. I didn’t want to risk buying a lot of teeshirts that I might not be able to sell so I used a print on demand company Inkthreadible to create them, and the large prints which I could sell as framed or not.

Having got them integrated into my Woocommerce shop it was time to look at a pre-order campaign. I had really been impressed by Indepreneur’s video on pre-orders and why they were better than crowdfunding. At 165, my mail list was smaller than what he recommended but I still felt I could do it. I set up a landing page with the CD and the merch items available on the page but also offering them as upsells during the process.

In the meantime I set up distribution to Spotify, Apple etc. I’d previously used Distrokid but for this one switched to CD Baby so it would be a one-off payment rather than an annual fee. The chances of making any money from streaming for my music are so slim it didn’t make sense to be paying Distrokid every year. I also wanted to take advantage of CD Baby’s Pro service where they would get the songwriting registered with many international rights companies. Or so I thought.

The final bit I did before going public was to video some acoustic versions of the songs with the band in a casual living-room setting. I also videoed some solo acoustic versions; these were for shorts for YouTube and FB which would start with a few lines of the song solo acoustic and then the band version would crash in.

I commissioned a graphic designer friend to design the sleeve and lyric booklet using the Fiverr images but leaving a space for supporters’ names.

In the middle of March I sent the pre-order link to members of my mailing list who’d previously bought my albums. Anyone buying before the end of March would get their name on the CD sleeve. I then opened it out to the rest of the mailing list and then to FB followers.

During April I made the acquaintance of someone who was promoting a friend’s company via Instagram. He thought he could drum up some interest via Insta (which I’d never been interested in) so I agreed to use his services for three months. He would post as me on Insta and FB using video and audio assets I gave him.

Finally a local music club offered to host our launch night at no cost to us, which was a nice offer so we had a launch night planned for the last week in May.

The Results

The pre-order campaign made me very happy. I got 13 pre-orders in the first two weeks. After it opened up to the wider mail list I got another five. Some were from friends and fellow musicians but it still lifted my spirits. Their names went onto the printed CDs.

While the CDs sold, none of the merch did. When I sent out the pre-ordered CDs in May I included a coaster and a badge so it was fine that I had them, but nobody responded to any of the merch offered on my shop. I think I made a bad choice with the badges which were larger than I thought, not just something to pin discreetly on a jacket with others.

In April I was able to get a videographer friend to film four song performances (miming to the album tracks) in a nice location, so I had plenty of video assets, making up for the fact that I hadn’t recorded much in the way of ‘making-of’ videos in the studio. Terry Dray’s videos were great – two have been released so far and two more to come. The informal acoustic versions I had filmed in April, however, just didn’t cut it. The sound was OK but the performances didn’t sparkle, so I didn’t use them in their entirety although snippets were good for reels.

The Youtube shorts and the Insta videos went down quite well, easily surpassing most of the videos I have already on YouTube. By a process of making Insta reels and interacting with people, my Insta publicist raised my followers from under 100 to 182.

My mailing list has stayed the same at 165, but I have a regular automatic purge of inactive members so there have been some new subscribers and some unsubscribers.

How do I view it now? The pre-order campaign worked really well, giving me a positive feeling going into the launch. Thanks to Jesse at Indepreneur for the instructions. Merch – well, I always doubted my audience – all well over 50 – would really want teeshirts and so on, but I thought the artwork might sell. Obviously it wasn’t what they were after but because it was print-on-demand I’ve no loss and it was worth trying.

The launch night was successful in terms of numbers, performance and reception and the fact that I have lots of videos of different types means I can continue to keep the album in front of people for a bit longer.

As for CD Baby, I have no complaints at all about their distribution to Spotify etc, but the PRO publishing stuff is terrible. I could put the songs in my UK PRO myself in ten minutes but they warn me not to as it could lead to duplication when they do it. But after complaining about the length of time it’s taken them they tell me it could be six to eight months before they’ll do it. Hell, they even warn you that if you email their publishing support (I have a difficulty with another older album I shifted from Distrokid to them) you’re told you may have to wait three months for a reply. Looking online I see I’m not the only one with problems, some are much worse than mine.

I’ll continue to promote the album with videos, more in the hope of getting listens than actual sales. I’ll sell the CDs at gigs. I think the ideas I’ve had from Indepreneur have been invaluable in planning the launch and making me feel like I’ve done myself justice. I never set a sales target because, fortunately I don’t have to run this like a business that pays for itself. I just want to do the best work I can.

I hope this story is of use to someone. Happy to answer anything you pick up on.

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