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Promoting Yourself
January 10, 2003

By Derek Sivers

Being behind the scenes at CD Baby, I get to see how some people sell tons of records while some people sell none.  Every time someone sold LOTS I asked them how they did it.  Here's what I found out, mixed in with some of my own thoughts:

1. Get a database or contact management program

Getting a program to help keep track of all the people you're going to meet is THE most important thing. In order to promote your music you're going to be dealing with large quantities of people. You NEED a program to keep them all straight. Not just a word processor for making labels, but a real database program that keeps track of each person, info about them, history of your communications, and keywords.

Keywords are things like "radio" or "guitar" or "friend". You should be able to search by these, so that if you want all radio stations in California, you search "CA" in state and "radio" in your keyword.

START THINKING IN QUANTITY. It's not enough now to say, "Oooh I'm getting played on the college station near my house!" You need to get played on 300 college stations at once to even make the smallest dent on a top 200 chart.

Stay in close touch with hundreds of people. Get used to that concept.

My favorite database program is Filemaker Pro because it works the same on Mac and Windows (so you can share databases between them) - and it's totally customizable. And it's the one I can help you with. Other good database programs are ACT!, Outlook, Goldmine, and even MS Access. Get one ASAP.


Okay - you wanna get famous. Yeah yeah yeah. We all do. You want a record deal. It's not so important that you sell that CD you made. It was just meant as a demo to get you the big deal, right?  Wrong! Go SELL it! Think "test marketing."

Beer companies test a new product in a few cities across America, to see what a small percent of the population thinks of it, so they can improve it on that small level before sinking millions of dollars into a national roll-out.  Think of your band/CD this way.  You're testing it small to prove it works - so you can get major money behind it for the big push.

Design a business plan that will sell CDs and earn you money even without a record deal. Then if a major label wants to sign you, you're in a much better position to negotiate, and won't get screwed over. (much)

All of the things I'm going to discuss here are how to get more successful on your own, not just how to get a record deal.

3. This is gonna be WORK

Yes it will be FUN work, but it will be HARD work. You have to really want this. If you HATE talking on the phone, or are terrible at returning calls, or don't really want this music thing to interfere with your day job, then you can stop reading now, and turn over the promotion chores to someone else.

"Whatever scares you, go do it."  If it scares you in an excited way, that's a good sign. BUT WHATEVER YOU DO - IF SOMETHING IS MAKING YOU MISERABLE AND DRAINING YOUR ENERGY, PLEASE STOP.  Life is telling you that is not the path for you.

Biggest mistake I ever made was taking a someone's advice on a major career move, even though I walked out of his office with slumped shoulders, miserable.  It was good advice, but not for me.  (He wanted me to start a record label because I had done so well with my band.)  I wasted years of my life unenthusiastically trying to make it happen.  I wish I would have paid attention to my lack of enthusiasm and stuck with the things that excited me.  Please don't make the same mistake.

4. Think like a publicist

Think like a publicist.  When you are promoting, TURN OFF YOUR MUSICIAN BRAIN, and get into publicist mode. Get ready with sound bites, witty one-liners, and colorful descriptions of your music.

(Hint: they don't care where your drummer went to school.)
When real people ask you who you sound like, they don't want to hear "Uhhh.... No one really." - You just blew a perfect chance to get someone's attention. You could have said, "A cross between James Brown and the Beatles" and watched their curiosity grow. (Or you can say something even wilder like, "We sound like the Incredible Hulk having sex.")

You HAVE to read the book, "Guerrilla P.R." by Michael Levine.  Order it today or die in obscurity.

ANNOUNCE THINGS CONSTANTLY. When your CD is up for sale in CD Baby, announce it to the world. When it's in the top 5 sellers, announce it again. When it's the top seller, announce AGAIN.  When you win any contest, or climb the college radio charts, or ANYthing - announce it to the world! Stay in the forefront of people's minds.

5. Touring still rules

The biggest selling bands on CD Baby are the ones on tour, signing up everyone to their Emailing list, putting on a great show, doing interviews at all the college radio stations where they go, meeting the local record stores, and WORKIN' IT.

Yeah I know if you have a day job, that's hard. But I'm just tellin' ya what works the best.

6. Leave 'em wanting more

The most effective band websites are not the ones that tell every story behind every song. They're the ones that tell something interesting, suck 'em in, give them SOME music, and leave 'em wanting more.

Hold something back. Put up a few songs on MP3.COM and then direct them to buy your CD. On your website, have your "Buy our CD!" buttons everywhere. INSPIRE PEOPLE TO ACT, instead of read, shrug, and move on.

You REALLY have to inspire someone if you're going to expect them to pull out their credit card, go to a website, find you, and type in all their info. When was the last time YOU did that - and how much did it take to inspire you to do it? It's definitely more than a few good reviews. Someone has to hear it, want it, need it, miss it, remember it.

7. Have fun - do NOT be corporate

Never use corporate marketing-speak.
Be weird.
Be a real person.
Sound like one person speaking to one person.
This is a big reason why it's COOL to be indie instead of corporate. Real people respond better to the weird fun stuff.

8. Have someone connected working the INSIDE of the industry while you do the groundwork.

This is my only regret about my own album release a couple years ago. I did a great job at the dirty work described above, but no one was workin' the inside of the industry to get us onto higher-profile tours, press, movies, or distribution. We just kept touring and touring and touring...

To move up in the world, SOMEone needs to be connecting with the gatekeepers to the next level. It's not just about getting a record deal. It can be opening up for Ani DiFranco (like Rachael Sage) or for the Samples (like Seeking Homer).

Please please don't get so caught up inspecting the roots, that you forget to pick the fruit.


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