The following is a guest post by Billy Bones, a music marketing expert who works with record labels in improving their marketing strategies. He is also the founder of Booking Agent Info, the celebrity contact information database.
Pretty Lights (interviewed here in Clash) has done what many DIY artists have strived to do: Achieve success not only in touring, but in music sales and merchandise as well. Pretty Lights has been successful in all three areas by being innovative and patient in building a loyal fan base. There are a lot of key tactics that a DIY artist can take away from the Pretty Lights approach. In this post, we’ll explore three strategies Pretty Lights has utilized in order to become a successful artist on his own terms.
1. Use Free Music to Build a Fanbase
Though there are many musicians and music marketers who argue against giving away free music, Pretty Lights has shown how powerful it can be. In hip-hop, giving away free music by way of mixtapes has become common in order to build your fan base. In fact, hip-hop sees giving away free music as a way to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape. The practice was looked down on in other genres, and the concept wasn’t really explored until Radiohead adopted the “pay what you want” model for their In Rainbows album. Before Radiohead adopted this model, Pretty Lights had already given away his debut album away for free. His reasoning was that, “No one was buying music they hadn’t heard and didn’t know about.“
New artists who have yet to build a fan base for themselves can use this strategy to help build a community around their music. The music you give away for free will still have to be marketed, but by giving away the music you are giving a potential fan one less barrier to consuming your music. As your fan base increases, you can start asking them for their email in exchange for an album, or to tweet in exchange for a song. The key to giving away free music is that you are utilizing this strategy to not only get people to listen to music, but get the people who like your music to spread it. Pretty Lights has made his music accessible through apps and Soundcloud, but you can’t actually download the album unless you go to his website. When you go to his website to download it, he asks you for a donation or for your e-mail. By bringing them to his website, he is creating a community and hub for his music, where people can stay updated on his releases and consume content.
2. Be Creative In Finding Ways To Reach New Fans
Another area where Pretty Lights has excelled in marketing his music is in his distribution strategy. With so much music to consume on the Internet, you have to be creative in finding ways to reach new fans. Jay-Z gave away a million free copies of his album Magna Carta Holy Grail to Samsung Galaxy owners through a partnership with Samsung. Before the Jay-Z campaign, Pretty Lights partnered with BitTorrent (known for pirating music) to give away his music for free, resulting in millions of downloads of his music bundle. That’s a lot of people exposed to his music. While a major label would have put their team of lawyers to work, Pretty Lights gained an unbelievable amount of exposure.
What can artists take away from this? While not everybody will have the ability to set-up a giveaway with Samsung or a deal with BitTorrent, the main takeaway is to be creative in how you distribute your music. The status quo is to distribute music through digital stores like (iTunes, Beatport, Amazon), or streaming music sites (Spotify, Rdio, Grooveshark), but there are many other ways people access music. Whether legal or illegal, the key is knowing how to use the different avenues to your advantage. DIY artists can partner with a platform who has a big audience and utilize it in order to increase their reach. Whether it’s partnering with a blog for a release or an app for distribution on mobile phones, finding creative avenues for distribution is important in order to break away from the clutter. Also, when you do this type of partnership it’s important to make it unique to that platform as Pretty Lights did by creating a free bundle of music and videos.
3. Monetize Your Community
Not only has Pretty Lights done an amazing job of building his fan base, he has done an even better job of monetizing it. Through his clever marketing he manages to consistently sell out shows and sell out merchandise. Even though his most recent album was available for free on his website it didn’t stop fans from buying it—it debuted in the Top 40 Billboard charts. Pretty Lights maintains a connection with his community of fans through Facebook, Twitter, email, and his website. Anytime he has a special on his merchandise, he’ll be sure to let you know on his Facebook page. When he has a show in your area, you get an email. How? Because you gave him your zip code when you downloaded one of his albums. Pretty Lights also occasionally partners with other companies for exclusive product lines that are only sold through his website. He recently partnered with headwear brand Lacer on an exclusive hat. It was limited in quantity and sold only on Pretty Lights website. An update to his Facebook page and a quick email was all he needed to sell out of the line within a few days.
Once you build a community, your fans will want to support you. Pretty Lights doesn’t constantly bombard his fans with promotions. Instead, he strategically reaches out to them when he has news. So what can you do to monetize your fan base? Utilize Facebook and email to promote your shows. Sell your music. Even if you give away your music for free, your super fans will still buy your music if you sell it. It’s the 80/20 concept: 20% of your fans will account for 80% of the income that you make from your music. Also, partner with a company to create merch. They’ll cover the overhead of manufacturing the merchandise, and even help you market it. By doing this, it allows you to avoid keeping inventory while reaping the benefits of utilizing their marketing tools while also selling to your audience as well. Focus on building your community first, then after you build a community of fans, you will have an audience to monetize.
Of course, in order for any of this to be successful, Pretty Lights first created great music that people wanted to consume. Yet even though Pretty Lights is undoubtedly a talented artist, without the novel brand and business approach, the masses beyond the local fan base may not have heard a single track. Independent artists just starting out or spinning their wheels after a few years in the business, take these lessons learned and make them work for you.