You’ve read it many times: the music industry has changed. And for better or for worse, indie musicians now have tools and opportunities those 80s or 90s bands would never have dreamed of.
The cost is high though and the work is hard. Indie musicians must develop a sharp business sense to survive. And when it comes to budget and planning your campaigns you gotta be clever and carefully choose the promotional assets you’ll produce.
We won’t get into the details of the actual campaign planning in this post. Let’s just focus on the actual things you’ll need to set up and produce in order to run a successful campaign as an indie musician today.
First, the burning question:
Should I Still Press CDs?
They are so uncool. Right? But… Well, there are many buts. So here’s our case for CDs.
It’s pretty clear here, as PR people we see it all the time: journalists and bloggers still want CDs. Not all of them. But when you’re an indie musician you just can’t afford to close any door. Some journalists who have been around for a while still love to have and hold the actual record you want them to review. It makes it tangible: they check out the liner notes and your music becomes something real. Something sitting on their desk with a chance to be reviewed.
Two words when it comes to CDs:
We can’t say it enough: college radios must be high on your list if you’re promoting in the US (and touring in the US). And they’ll often happily promote Europe based artists too.
Many college radios accept digital submissions and understand that indie musicians can’t always afford the whole Pressing + Sending thing. But then again, many require or prefer (read give-priority-to) physical copies.
That’s also true for most independent radios.
And your hardcore fans will still buy your CDs, especially signed. The merch table and Bandcamp can make a substantial difference to your yearly budget.
But there’s that other one:
Should I press vinyls? That really depends on:
- your budget
- your strategy
- your fan base
For promotional purposes: vinyls are most useful if you’re crowdfunding or teasing your fanbase. They scream cool, they scream hipster and hard core music fans love them.
Vinyls won’t make a difference when it comes to the press: some bloggers will love you for sending a vinyl but it won’t make or break your press or radio campaign.
They do give your release some more substance and credibility though: music people know they cost more than CDs and producing them is a sign of confidence in your ability to sell them. That’s a plus.
If you live or play in cool cities where record stores strive, offering them vinyls is definitely a way to promote yourself to a very specific audience. You’ll also build relations with indie record shops that could lead to in-store performances and other events.
And then again, your most loyal fans will be willing to pay more to own that beautiful – signed – vinyl.
USB STICKS & OTHER LITTLE THINGS
Distributing new releases on USB sticks never really took off (for the press). They’re damn practical and can be customised to look less cold. Still, the liner notes and the artwork are missing. And the artwork plays a huge part in your campaign.
USB Sticks are to be considered as goodies and general merch. If you have a big fan base or tour a lot, you could try making some and see how your audience reacts. But they don’t come close to CDs and T-Shirts these days.
T-shirts! One of those “other little things”. If you have an audience, if you play more than 15 gigs a year, then you should definitely have t-shirts and if you can afford it, tote bags and caps. Think simple and classic. When you’re on a budget, don’t experiment with merch before you know you can comfortably sell your basic items first.
So here’s a recap:
- CDs are still a must for indie musicians
- Vinyls a very cool add-on for a hipster or demanding fan base
- Merch is only viable if you tour a lot
Whatever you decide to produce and if you haven’t run a campaign before, be sure to follow your own strategy. Look at similar bands to see what they’ve been doing so far and if it worked. Use that as inspiration. But don’t copy/paste their campaign. Even if your fan bases are similar, you may tour way more or way les than they do – and therefore need more or less merch. You may also decide to build a very first online presence – as a new artist – and hit the road later on. In this case, you’d start with a very small batch of CDs and produce more assets right before you need them.