Marketing & Media

Vocalist Products!
Buy a Vocalist T-Shirt! Visit our shop and browse our merchandise
Visit Our CafePress Shop

Vocalist & Club
Free Newsletter

Enter Email

I think it's a pretty safe assumption that nearly every person reading this (let alone every songwriter, band and artist on the planet) would love to know how to make themselves instantly signable. Better yet, how about a way to make record companies hunt you down? That's right, I know the secret that will make them seek you out -- stalk you, and then offer you a deal.

Sounds ideal doesn't it? And, it's absolutely achievable. The problem is, not that many people can pull it off.

Some artists have, and you know them well. Hootie and the Blowfish for one. Dave Matthews for another. So what do they know that you don't? What's the secret formula? It's hard work! What? Did you think this was going to be easy?!

Record companies used to "develop" new artists. Development meant that they would sign an artist or band, pair them up with the right producer, make a record, release the record, promote the record to radio stations (beg them to play it, or give them payola), and hype it to the record stores. If the record stiffed, that was okay. At least some people heard about the record. The hope (and to some extent the reality) was that the few people who did buy the record would tell their friends about it and the next record would sell more copies.

If the second record sold more units than the first, but still wasn't a hit, that was okay too. Record companies realized that it was a process to break new artists, and that it often took three records and lots of touring to make a new act a household word.

A good example that dates back to the heyday of artist development is James Taylor. Most people became aware of him when they heard his "first" album, Sweet Baby James. Guess what? It wasn't his first. If memory serves correct (and my memory ain't what it used to be), it was his third album. It took three attempts before radio and the American public caught on.

Today, most labels talk a good game when it comes to development, but few actually do it. What that means is that you have to do it yourself. That's the hard part. But it can be done. Look at Ani DiFranco. Record companies are begging her to sign with them.

Here's the formula (sshhhhh . . . don't tell anybody). Make your own record. If you have a good home studio, it'll be a cheap thrill. If you don't, not so cheap. Next step, press up a couple thousand CDs. Still not a big ticket item. Maybe a few thousand bucks.

Now for the hard part; sell those CDs. Do you have a marketing plan? Better get one. Why would anybody buy a CD from an unknown band whose CD they can't find in a record store? And, they've never heard it on the radio.

Oh, I see. You got it played one time on a local radio station during their local talent hour. Yeah, but wasn't that on Sunday night when nobody was listening? Better than not getting played, but hardly enough airplay to attract any attention.

You could beg a couple of local record stores to take some units on consignment. Good idea. Now, how's anybody going to know that your record is buried in the generic bin under the letter "J"? How will they know it's even been released? Good questions both. Without a lot of press, some advertising and lots of airplay, your CD is invisible.

Sounds like you're going to need to go on the road and build a following. That's how it's done. Hootie and Dave Matthews spent about three hundred days a year on the road to build their fan bases. Most baby bands signed to major labels spend about two grand a week to stay on the road, and I'm not talking Lear Jets and luxury hotels. Plan on spending some nights sleeping in the van, and if you're lucky, maybe some Motel 6, four people to a room nights. Remember, most gigs will only pay about a hundred bucks a night.

But look at the bright side. You'll be able to sell your CDs at the gig. Figure about ten units a night if you're lucky. But after a while, word will begin to spread. You'll begin to build a following. More money per gig. More units sold at each gig.

Oh yeah, I forgot one little detail. While you're out playing road warrior, who's going to pay your rent at home? You could always move your stuff in to your parents' house. Then again, maybe your wife or girlfriend (or husband or boyfriend) won't mind picking up the tab while your gone. Hopefully that's the only thing they're picking up while you're gone.

Assuming everything goes as planned, after a year or so, you should be selling enough CDs at gigs and making enough of a name for yourself that you can start moving some units in record stores in the towns you play in. Cool. You've got yourself a distributor, they're stocking the stores. Radio stations begin to hear about you. Now, they'll play your record. Bam! It's a hit. Units begin to fly out of the stores.

But wait, the distributors are out of stock. They need another ten thousands units and they need them quick. Oops! I forgot to mention that the distributor hasn't paid you for the units sold yet, because they haven't been paid by the record stores yet.

Now you're beginning to realize why businesses have cash flow problems. They have to wait thirty, sixty, maybe even ninety days before they get paid. How will you order ten thousand more units, get them manufactured in time, and pay for them fast enough to get them in the stores while the radio stations are still hot on your record?

I'm not sure, but let's say that you solve that problem. All is good. Let's say for argument's sake that you sell ten thousand copies of your CD. Let's also assume that you were smart enough to put a UPC barcode on your CD so every time one is sold, it shows up on Soundscan's (they track actual record store sales numbers) computer. Now you're cooking with gas!

Now you can sit back and relax, because I'll bet you dollars to donuts that some beadie-eyed person with really thick glasses is sitting in a dimly lit office at a major record company looking at Soundscan reports. And when he sees that you've sold ten thousand units, he's going to start calling records stores and clubs along your tour route. He's going to find out that you've developed a following. In fact you've done what record companies rarely do these days. You've done artist development. You've shouldered all the risk. You've done their work for them. Now, you're on their radar screens and they're going to want to sign you! See? I told you it was easy.

Pretty exciting isn't it? Hey! Is that the phone I hear ringing? Gee, I'll bet it's an executive from a major record label. What should you say? Or . . .

*** Stay tuned for: What shouldn't you say to an A&R person? ****

Guitar Divider
Article reprinted with permission from TAXI: The Independent A&R Vehicle that connects unsigned artists, bands and songwriters with major record labels, publishers, Film & TV music supervisors.

Taxi Logo