Marketers - Think Like an Unsigned Band
Want to sell? Learn from unsigned bands.
As well as being a freelance copywriter, I’m a keen guitarist. I front the band White Noise Radio, with whom I’ve written and released two EPs, and I also teach guitar in the evenings. Now, you may think that copywriting and music-making don’t go hand-in-hand, but in fact any unsigned band has to do a whole lot of marketing if they want people to pay attention to them.
There are a more-or-less unlimited number of small, local bands - just take a look at the listings of any local venue and you’ll see dozens of acts all striving to get an audience. The rules for success in the unsigned band game are the same as those for marketers and small business owners - somehow, you’ve got to convince people that only you can provide what they’re looking for, and that you’re worth their money.
Now, you may not be picking up guitars and heading to the rehearsal room, but there’s a lot to be learned from the way that unsigned bands promote themselves. Having promoted White Noise Radio for several years now I’ve had to learn what works (and what doesn’t), and there’s a lot that can be applied to marketing a business.
Do Unsigned Bands Really Know Marketing?
I know what you’re thinking; surely a teenager in a punk band doesn’t know a damn thing about market segmentation and audience identification - why should I listen to them? Well, the unsigned band arena is an excellent microcosm for discovering what works, and while these bands might not necessarily use the same marketing lingo that we’re used to, they’ve still got the same objective; to be the next big thing.
There’s much more to being in a band than just writing some songs and turning up to a show. I should know - I spend as much time working on promo material for White Noise Radio as I do actually practising or gigging. Here’s a short list of some of the regular tasks an unsigned band on the make needs to do:
Finding and contacting promoters - if you want to get on stage you need to find a promoter, but you’re one in a million bands trying to get their attention. How are you going to stand out?
Designing and producing merchandise. You want to sell CDs, but who’s going to design it? You need shirts, too, as well as posters - better get hold of Photoshop!
Building a website - I built the White Noise Radio site using WordPress, and few unsigned bands can afford to pay someone to make a site for them.
Ensure your fans can find you easily online; this means keeping track of your online presence across every platform, and making sure info is consistent.
Being a promoter - you’ll have to run your own gigs occasionally (at an EP launch night, for instance), so you’ll need to be able to co-ordinate several bands, a venue and promotion for the night.
Creating content - this could be photos, music, videos, “behind the scenes” footage, blogs, or anything, but it’s important to keep producing stuff for fans to engage with.
Create press releases for new music/videos/tours; this has to entice people into listening to you, so it has to be good.
Put together EPKs (electronic press kits) for mailing out to industry professionals. This is the “sales package” for the band, so again it has to really sell them.
Actually playing gigs, if you have time!
I’m not saying that all bands do all of this, or that they do it equally well. However these are pretty much par for the course if a band’s trying to climb the ladder, and it’s all stuff that I’ve done with WNR. It’s safe to say that unsigned bands have to do a fair amount of promotional work - so what can you learn from them?
What Can You Learn From an Unsigned Band?
There are a million-and-one things to do in an unsigned band, just as in a small business, and you have to become a jack-of-all-trades. With that in mind, here are some of the ways that unsigned bands market themselves, and how you can apply the same concepts to your own marketing.
Assume that no-one cares
The golden rule is to assume that nobody cares who you are or what you do - you’ve got to make them care, so give them a reason. For instance, if you’re writing a press release for your new EP, give people a reason to keep reading right in that first sentence. Here’s an example of what you shouldn’t do:
“Bill, Bob and Dan started Some Random Band 3 years ago, and after practising and writing for many months they’ve come up with their first EP, called Why Even Bother.”
If you’re a friend of Bill, Bob and Dan, then you probably care what comes after this, and you’re going to read on regardless. But bear in mind that if they don’t know you personally, no one cares. They don’t care what your names are, how long you’ve been going, or what you’ve been doing for the last few months. No-one’s going to want to find out more about this band - they’re just going to click on something else. Try this out instead:
“Our New EP, the latest release from Another Band, shows off their talent for blending smoky nostalgia with a hefty kick of modern guts - and they’ve got a story to tell.”
Here, you’re filling that first sentence with reasons to keep on reading: the reader knows who the band are, what their new record is called, what their sound is and, crucially, a promise of an interesting story if they read on. These are the same principles that apply to marketing of any kind, where no-one cares what you’re trying to sell. It’s all about getting your hooks into people as quickly as possible.
There’s another good reason to get to the point quickly; studies show that most readers will only read about 20% of anything you’ve written. That’s out of all the people who didn’t just scroll past your post in the first place, which means you’ve got to put all the crucial info in the very first paragraph. Got a gig coming up? First paragraph. New release? First paragraph. You can talk about your creative process later - make sure people read the important stuff first.
Do their job for them
No matter who you’re contacting, give them as little work to do as possible. People are easily turned off, and it’s so hard to keep their attention that you need to create a simple, flowing process for them to follow. Check out the difference here:
“My name’s Ben, from the band White Noise Radio. We’re looking for gigs in your area, and sound like a combination of Karnivool, Porcupine Tree and Thrice - find us on online to hear more.”
“My name’s Ben, from the band White Noise Radio. We’re looking for gigs in your area, and sound like a combination of Karnivool, Porcupine Tree and Thrice - watch the video for our new single “Dawning” and find us on Facebook to hear more.”
In the first example I’m expecting the recipient to go online and search until they find us, then to track down our music and listen to it. Fine, if they’re really interested, but if they aren’t they won’t bother (and most of the time they aren’t). In the second example I put a direct link to our content, so all they have to do is click once - I make it as easy as possible for them to go where I want them to go.
A good real-world example where this attitude made a big difference was in the promo campaign for the latest WNR EP, Cosmos. We’ve struggled to get much online press in the past, no matter who we contacted, but with this EP we worked with a publicist who had us write our own content. I put together a press release and some info on the band, and it’s amazing how little this would change from one outlet to another; editors would just copy/paste our content and publish it. I think this success was partly down to having a publicist on our side, but the key was that we weren’t asking people to spend any time writing about us. We’d already done their job for them - all they had to do was publish it. Free content for them, free exposure for us.
You can apply this concept to marketing by assuming that people won’t do anything unless you make it ridiculously easy for them. Always ask yourself what the barriers are to a successful conversion - for instance, on my own contact page I have a phone number, an email link and a pre-written contact form. If someone’s not comfortable phoning me they can send an email, and if they’re not sure what to write I’ve provided a pre-written form which only needs the blanks filling in. I’ve also made sure that each site page contains a call-to-action to contact me, and links people directly to the page; I don’t even want them to scroll up to the navigation bar.
Who are you trying to impress?
Unsigned bands can’t just play at any venue; they want to play the ones where they’ll have the right audience. There’s no sense in a death metal band playing to punters in a jazz club, because they won’t be interested in their music (to put it mildly). Similarly, a mumbly folk artist won’t want a slot at a Camden Underworld festival, because the audience won’t want to buy what they’re selling. It’s crucial to play to the right people, not just to anyone, and the same goes for marketing.
Who are you trying to sell to? You’ll need to tailor your approach to match them. For instance, if you’re selling technical services to IT professionals you shouldn’t “dumb down” your communications - engage them on their level, rather than trying to address a wider audience. Worry about the people that you want to sell to, rather than everyone. You don’t want to be the funk band at a death metal show, so pick your audience with care.
Give the people what they want . . .
. . . and what the people want is something interesting - yes, it’s the all-powerful C-word; “content”. Unsigned bands are in a good position when it comes to creating content, because it’s not hard for them to find something interesting. Whether that’s rehearsal room pictures, demo recordings, interviews, gig pictures or recording footage, it’s not hard to produce decent content if you’re in a band, because you’re often doing something interesting:
// Sunset on the "Dawning" shoot - beautiful view over Bristol // pic.twitter.com/edyGJoIVSi— White Noise Radio (@WNR_Band) 19 June 2017
But what if you’re selling something boring, like pay-per-click advertising (sorry PPC people)? How can you produce engaging content when your field isn’t inherently interesting? Well, you have to come up with an angle on your specialist subject. Remember, the point of producing content isn’t to always give people the hard sell. You don’t have to constantly bang on about why your products are the best with thinly-veiled blog articles about “The Importance of Managing Your PPC Spend”; if you’re going to bother creating content it needs to be worth reading, otherwise it’s just time wasted. Of course there are benefits to creating content about your products, including SEO advantages, so you need to keep topics relevant to your business.
Let’s say you need to produce some content for your PPC business. It’s going to go out on Twitter and LinkedIn, and you’ll host it on your on-site blog. What on earth are you going to write about? What about these:
“Inside Google’s Amazing Workplace - Free Lobster and Zero-G Naps” - you might not want to mention competitors, but let’s be real; you aren’t competing with Google. The search giant has some pretty far-out work practises which makes for interesting reading, and though you won’t be able to keyword-stuff the article with PPC terms it’s a lot more valuable to provide something interesting.
“You’re Doing PPC Wrong and You Don’t Even Know” - a bold claim if ever there was one, but it’s a headline that’s going to draw people in. This runs the risk of becoming clickbait if you can’t back it up, so you’d better have a good reason to make the claim, but it’s a great article. It’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and skill, and you’ll have plenty of tasty SEO keywords as well.
“Why I Work in PPC Advertising” - yes, you’re talking about PPC, but the subject is you. People are interested in personal stories, and talking about your own journey to becoming a PPC expert is likely to make readers want to share their own experiences. Instant engagement, and a big win for you - not only is this good for building your site’s authority, but post engagement is a Google page ranking factor.
Content is really, really valuable for your online presence, and it plays a big part in raising you above your competitors. Bear in mind that there is no point whatsoever in producing content just for the sake of it, because of the one golden rule:
No one cares.
If you’re going to do it, you have to do it well - if you’re making content just to fill space then you might as well not bother. If you don’t have the time to produce decent content, or you don’t know how, have a look at my blog authorship services to find out how I can help you out.
Marketing a band, selling a brand . . .
There are a lot of similarities between marketing a small business and an unsigned band. You might not be chasing a record deal but you’re both trying to convince an uninterested public that out of all the options available they should choose you, and with such a crowded, competitive marketplace there’s a lot you can learn from how unsigned bands go about selling themselves.