So something I’ve been struggling properly developing these days has been special pricing and promotional strategies based around pricing. As a result I’m doing what I always do when I come up against a conundrum of this sort – I write about it in order to get my thoughts on the table and properly sorted out. Now this is a something that seems like it should be fairly straightforward, but I feel like the idea of regularly doing 20% off weekends or free Bandcamp days gets rather staid very quickly. I’m not saying those types of promotions are bad ideas in and of themselves but more that you want to make sure that your discount options are regular, stimulating frequent interest and also pushing a general sense of innovation and ideally encouraging customer loyalty. There are a lot of ways to do this and you see them fairly regularly but at the same time I think their implementation can be rather subtle and you need to be careful with how you do it.
Remember that one of the issues with having regular discounts is the same as having regular shows in the same market, your fans start to think “Oh yeah I’ll just go take advantage of the next one” That’s why it’s good sometimes to have alternative billing models. The added bonus of figuring out an alternative billing model is that that in and of itself can generate some word of mouth interest in your band. To illustrate, you could have a policy that anyone who spends more than $50 on your merchandise is going to get a free CD from your back catalog. This on the one hand makes the fan feel appreciated since they get a free CD, but also encourages them to get their friends to spend a lot of money on merchandise too,since their friends who are fans of the band will probably also be interested in the idea of a free CD. Now while this certainly is, I think, an effective idea, the idea of alternative billing leads to some very exciting opportunities.
Since the music business is indeed a business I see no reason as to why you shouldn’t try and borrow selling models from other industries. One that I think could be especially interesting would be affiliate marketing. Now affiliate marketing can oftentimes be basically a scam for free labor, but I think in music it could be potentially interesting. Obviously it can be hard to track if affiliate marketing on a DIY level, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to tell fans that if they bring five paying friends to a show they get in free. I’m just spitballing here, but I think by the same token you could probably do something with merchandise sales. Affiliate links for selling might be overkill for an underground band who do very little online sales, but if you put up signs at shows encouraging fans to get other people to buy shirts in exchange for a free shirt that’s certainly a type of affiliate marketing. I’m not necessarily sure how that might work, but I think it would be interesting to get gears turning in that direction.
Remember – as long as you are selling a product for over the value it cost to create it you are making money. That doesn’t mean you should be selling CD’s for barely above cost but it does mean that you need to keep that in mind when crating sales promotions. Also realize that no matter how hard you work there is probably going to buy merch that just won’t sell out that is dead space in your bands rehearsal studio, so realize that including that in giveaways is always a good thing. While this can often be outside of the purview of younger bands who don’t have a lot of merch or back catalog yet I think that if you do the math you can do some truly crazy promotions. This is something you see all the time when bands do what are essentially fire sales. I think that isn’t the greatest way to do it since it lowers the perception of the band to a group who couldn’t get rid of their merch so why should you buy it? Instead frame it as a fun bonus, eg “Buy one shirt and get two free!” If you’re selling shirts at $20 then you’re still making profit but also getting rid of deadweight. These promotion I’d only recommend in engaging in for a fairly short burst so the general public doesn’t catch on, but ‘crazy’ promotion that actually make financial sense can be a great way to really drive forward sales and generate the quick cash needed for a tour or recording session.
Ultimately you need to realize that music really isn’t a tangible thing anymore. This is one of the hardest concepts in the industry to wrap your head around but also one of the most important. In a world where digital files are the primary form of music consumption then who is going to care about CD’s? Furthermore – when all music can easily be gotten for free why should they buy your CD’s? Now I get that there are a lot of people who like to support local music and a lot of people ho like having the physical product, and that rules, CD sales currently are, and probably will stay, a regular part of my bands revenue streams. However the people buying CDs aren’t really buying them for the music, they re buying them for the art and the physical product. They all can get the music online for free. You need to realize this when you create merchandise and realize that giving away download codes with t shirts or alternate forms of merch is only going to increase the value of those products while probably not diminishing CD sales, because again, people aren’t buying music, they are buying a product and experience.
Of course every form of promotion needs to be extensively tested. All of these things have the potential to blow up in your face if you don’t do the math right or if you misjudge your demographic. That’s fine and to be expected, there are no one size fits all rules, that’s why it’s sometimes better to hire a consultant than to just wing it based off books. (Don’t get me wrong though, I love good music industry books) The goal of this article was more to get your brain, and let’s be honest here, my brain, moving in a new direction and looking at things in a new light that might be more capable of selling things with exciting pricing strategies that don’t just make you look like every other band. Remember, it’s not that every other band is wrong – that’s just arrogant – it’s that you need to believe in your capacity to do things better.