Skip navigation

Sales is a numbers game. Make the numbers large enough and you can reliably start to predict your sales. Once you move away from dealing with individuals, in terms of mass communication, and make the numbers large enough to be statistically significant – the actual number will depend on what it is you are selling and is not exact, but lets say for the music business where you are selling CDs, downloads and merchandise upwards of a few hundred, and a 1,000 is very respectable.

So let’s say you have a mail list of 1,000. In the sales world, a funnel is a classic prediction methodology. Say you have a sales letter that generates a 10% response, so sending out a 1000 will generate 100 responses; calling those 100 respondents generates a 50% sales meeting success; sales meetings generate a 30% conversion. So, 1000 letters has resulted in 15 sales stepped through several known control points. Voila, you have a funnel.

Now, the business must do the sums. First of all is the cost of sending out 1000 letters plus making a 100 phone calls plus attending 50 sales meetings a viable financial proposition? If it covers all the costs and provides a profit then you have a business. You just keep cranking the handle and out pop sales. In theory yes, in practice no because no matter how reliably predictable your model the number of targets is limited.

So, when you exhaust the targets you start with a new product or maybe a service that augments the product you are selling. e.g. a repair service. This is good because you have customers who have bought your product before and they like it. Get it right and it gets even better as the previous response numbers are likely to be much better with a satisfied customer. Package it correctly and you have built a brand. That’s all very simplistic as there are lots of other factors to think about, but in principle that is how it works.

Now, that is classic sales, however, a fan who has signed up for your email list is not quite the same kettle of fish because they are buying into YOU. As an avid Steely Dan fan, I have a copy of “You’ve Gotta Talk It Like You Walk It (Or You’ll Lose Your Beat)”. It is rough and not Steely Dan-like at all. As a music lover I wouldn’t have bought it, but as a fan I had to have it to complete my collection.

By releasing new music regularly you have new products for fans to buy but it is a bit limited and one dimensional. However, this is where looking at classic sales models can still be very useful. Expanding the product line to meet their (not your) needs allows you to be creative. There is the standard ringtones, t-shirt/sweatshirt, you could offer to play a concert in their home for their family and friends.

So, the more you look at it, the more you realise that being in the music industry is no different to other businesses. There are standard techniques and methodologies that you can apply. Fan = customer, and the more you have, the smoother and more predictable your income stream becomes. And predictable revenue leads to a sustainable business.

When I worked in IT Consultancy, networking played a big part in getting the business off the ground. I would look for events where I could meet with other business owners and pitch at them. I used to attend a lot of breakfast events, lunches and evening events. It was always hard work and I kissed a lot of frogs. And it didn’t end when you left the event, the moment I got back to the office I would write a brief email to each letting them know it was good to meet them. When you are selling a service, lead times can be long so it is a case of staying in touch until there is a need.

The nice thing about the music business is that networking doesn’t have to be at a dedicated event, and, in fact, when you start a conversation with the person sat next to you on the bus it is much more relaxed. It is a social conversation. IT is a need, music is a pleasure. You don’t have to sell, your passion will come through, and what will win them over is your personal connection. The tip I always gave to my salesman, for any and every meeting, was you have one mouth and two ears, use them in that proportion.

It may seem a slow way to build your email list but added to all your other activities such as social networking and gigs, it will soon build up. But you need a mind set where you work it all the time. Another approach is to get into other people’s email lists. Be careful here, you can’t just acquire other people’s lists and start emailing them as that is spamming. But maybe you can encourage other lists to promote you which is not spamming.

Why would somebody do that? Because they gain from it, too. One simple way is to identify a band whose music is similar to yours and suggest that they email their fans with your next gig and you will do the same for them. Alternatively you can think more laterally. For example, a lot of wedding parties want a band, so think about approaching some wedding planners.

If you decide to go down the route of getting others to sell your services, like a wedding planning service, make sure you make it as easy as possible for them. Look for ways that you can add value to their service. If you have a gig coming up, invite them along so they have first hand experience of your music. Offer them a slice of the action, say 10% of the fee for any bookings they get. But remember, it is not only the music they are interested in because if you let them down, they are letting down their customer. Make sure you are dressed presentably, offer references if possible, and find ways to show them you are reliable. And then be reliable so recommending you is a no brainer.

It has been a busy time. The rest of the industry may be winding down for the holiday break but with a new video to launch in January, there is a lot of thinking to be done to create a strategy to promote it. Announcing it to the email list seems the ideal way to launch it, I wish it was bigger.

Since starting to work with Aaron, we have been looking at ways of taking a disparate fan base spread over a number of different social/music networking sites and bringing them together in one place. It is more difficult than it looks, akin to herding cats. In the end we settled on measuring our success by numbers on the email list and fans on Facebook.

We took this two-pronged approach because it is easier to drive traffic from one social network site to another than straight to the email list. As the newsletter becomes a more regular feature, we will look to providing incentives for Facebook fans to move to the email list. A track give-away to join the email list seems a good way forward.

So, it’s official, size really does matter. Straight sales is a numbers game. The bigger the numbers, the more controlled the outcome. Let me elaborate: a known response rate of 30% to a particular communication means send it to 10,000 targets and approx 3,000 will respond, however, send it to a list of 100 and 30 may respond but it could be 0 or it could be all 100. It is not statistically significant.

While you may think that a fan email list is not the same as a sales email listing, it is as the numbers grow. Response is just a statistical function of the communication. Gosh, doesn’t that sound cold-hearted and business like. Don’t confuse business reality with emotional attachment to your fans. Being hard-nosed doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your fans.

We’ve been having an interesting discussion. Aaron has asked some simple, but very pertinent, questions about newsletters. While I have felt completely comfortable over the years with the idea and concept, his questions have made me think very hard about them in the context of the music industry.

In sales, when somebody engages with you as opposed to you trying to engage them, it means that they have a need. If you sell widgets, then it is quite easy to build a regular newsletter around your latest prices with a promotion. It is simple and basic but it meets the needs of the business and your customers.

This is wonderful. You have potential customers who sign up to your newsletter which is like them walking into your store. The danger with this scenario is that you are leading your potential customers to buy on price only, which means they will probably be signing up to all your competitors’ newsletters too.

Hmmm, this may be great for the buyer, but it can be the death knell for the business. So, the trick is to offer something your competitor doesn’t and differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Build in quality and good service and you will create a loyalty in your customers so price becomes less of an issue.

That’s all very good but how does that translate to the music industry. You’re not selling widgets, and better than that you have an exclusive product that only you can provide. However, in today’s internet world where most fans hook up via social networking and news is readily available without any commitment why would someone sign up to your newsletter?

I ask this question all the time and it seems to me that there is a motivation that is not obvious/understood fully and that always worries me. So, instead I focus on strategies to give the fan reasons to sign up to a newsletter and then look forward to receiving it. It seems to me the next best thing:

  • make it regular. Plan a schedule and keep to it. Once a month is a good balance. Don’t be tempted to hold up the newsletter for a new release that is in production, or a piece of news you are expecting.
  • give something that is unique to the newsletter and not found elsewhere. For example a chance to listen to an unreleased track, a new video or a personal photo of you climbing Mount Everest.
  • it is not just an opportunity to make demands on your fans. There is nothing wrong with a call to action – to vote for you in a music competition, nominate you, or take a look at your latest video and leave a comment. But one call to action per newsletter is where to draw the line balanced with 3-4 items where the flow is in the other direction.
  • as the list grows, run a survey to understand the demographics of your audience. It is important to know your audience when writing your newsletter because your content should resonate with the reader. For example, mentioning the latest computer game you have been playing to an audience of 35-55 year olds is going to miss the mark in general.The purpose is to remind folk who you are, that you are still making music and to let them know what is in the pipeline. Research shows that people will share an email with friends if they consider it interesting or amusing. Having your newsletter forwarded (referred) is a great way of growing your fan base.

In a report from NYU’s Stern Business School, researchers found that you could seriously affect CD sales by being mentioned in a blog. 40 blog mentions could increase sales by as much as 3 times, and 250 mentions could achieve 6 times the expected sales. Wow. Of course, it can’t just be Fred’s blog which is only read by his Mum and her cat.

A small provisio is that these mentions must be before your album is released. Is that significant? It seems to be. Sounds absolutely trivial doesn’t it, but stop a moment and think about it. How many independent artists can wait, or afford to wait 4 months before releasing their work. Because that is what it means. If you work with a Publicist, they will normally insist that you let them have the finished product (not a demo) 3-4 months ahead of the release date. That seems an awfully long lead time when you want to see some revenue

Having read the NYU paper, I’m now including approaching blogs too as part of the marketing mix. It is probably too late to get them to review the album now (although I won’t be shy in asking), but building those blog relationships will be really useful for the next album release. This PR task is much more personal, so whilst I might entrust it to an Intern, I wouldn’t hand it to a Publicist. Business is about building relationships over a period of time, which is why the longer you stay in business the more likely you are to remain in business.

Publicity: Information that concerns a person, group, event, or product and that is disseminated through various media to attract public notice.

I’ve been working on publicity for Aaron’s album, american [fever] dream, for about 5 months. The publicity being sought is album reviews and interviews in traditional press (magazines), and new media (ezines, blogs, internet radio and podcasts). The campaign has two purposes: firstly to publicise the new album, and secondly to continue to build Aaron’s profile.

A number of music magazines are monthly, bi-monthly and even quarterly. They plan several issues ahead, so a bi-monthly or quarterly could easily take 6 months to publish your review. New media is instant, isn’t it? Well, no. They too can take the same time scales to publish. Having said that, Red Hot Velvet reviewed the album and published within a week.

The normal route to publicity is to hire a Publicist. You are looking for someone who fits your genre. That way you are going to lever their established contacts and target the most receptive audience. Outsourcing your publicity to a Publicist can cost between a few hundred to several thousand dollars a month. Some will work on a fixed price basis for a particular project, e.g. X dollars to contact Y Reviewers. Note that is not X dollars for Y reviews, publicity doesn’t work that way.

I have worked in outsourcing from both sides. The most difficult aspect of any outsource relationship is managing expectations. It is the client’s job to say what they want, and it is the outsources’ role to make sure that the client’s expectation are achievable, realistic and most importantly, fit within the budget. Getting something in writing is a must for both parties – it is a great conflict resolution tool. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a simple document with a time line and bullet points. Make sure the document deals with handling of expenses, so you are not surprised by implementation costs such as mailing, photocopying and printing.

Agree appraisal points and how they will be communicated. This can be done with a quick email, phone call, or face-to-face meeting. Attaching a payment schedule to these appraisal points is a great technique to focus your supplier’s mind. Be absolutely sure what is expected of you so you can deliver your side of the project. Do not underestimate the work involved in managing this relationship from both sides. I was once invited in by a difficult client to review our recent project. He refused to pay until the project was completed. It was only when I pulled out the 18 page proposal, which he had signed off on, that he sheepishly agreed that what he was asking for had never been part of the project deliverable.

You could do all the work yourself, but it will be a slow grind. I like to take some of these tasks on myself just so I know what they entail. Before engaging with a Publicist try contacting 20 of your target magazines/ezines/blogs. You’ll get a real feel for what is involved which will make managing the campaign and interacting with the Publicist much easier. And who knows, you may even manage a few reviews of your own.

This week’s focus is Aaron’s website. It is so easy to put up a site and then ignore it. In business nothing should be beyond reproach. A lot of time has gone into Aaron’s website. Of course, it is perfect! There couldn’t possibly be anything that needed changing . . . Learning to monitor your thought process and emotions, being aware or present is an interesting journey. The voice in my head was looking for reasons to avoid this task against an indignant swell of emotion. I got over it when I noticed that while tracks from Aaron’s latest album, “american [fever] dream”, start to play automatically, there is nothing else that quickly says who he is, and why you would want to delve deeper into the content.

Build it and they will come. Not so when there is so much to choose from on the World Wide Web. It doesn’t matter if you are Aaron English, Musician, or Joe Bloggs, Purveyor of Fine Things, how do you attract traffic to your website? And then, how do you persuade it to stay a while and check you out? These are two fundamental questions you are going to have to ask. Attracting traffic in the first place is a big topic and I am going to revisit that question in another blog.

Having started out with the perfect website(!), I now see that there are a number of things that could be tweaked:

  • it needs a photo of Aaron right up there, so it is one of the first things a visitor sees.
  • the single, Believe, made the Top 20 on the AC Modern chart in the US last summer. We need to shout about that definitely.
  • the pitch needs work.
  • change the music player to be a MySpace widget to help track plays. This is one of those metrics that industry folk like to look at.
  • the newsletter sign up is right at the bottom of the page, and, as more Tweets and news appear on the page, the further it slips down the page.
  • I can see adding a merch page, once there is some, beyond the music.
  • a data policy statement for those signing up to newsletter.
  • a Facebook “Like” button wouldn’t go amiss, either.

My last task on the website, for now, is to understand how people are using the site and whether the changes have had any effect. You can’t manage something you can’t measure, so I have signed up the site to Google Analytics. You can easily be overwhelmed by the stats you can collect so take a moment to understand them and decide which are the important ones. There are some stats, like average time on site, that don’t add up so don’t take them too seriously. The great thing about Google Analytics is that you can generate reports to cover any period you have been using them, so you don’t need to keep taking snapshots or writing figures down. I can see Analytics taking over from the paint drying site, if I allow it.

In simple business terms, your music and artist are the product. Actually, that’s several products, but that is getting ahead of myself. Few products are so simple, succinct and self contained that they can speak for themselves. The music and artist are complex. They are individual but in a bigger framework. “Sounds like Elvis”. Everybody knows what Elvis sounds like, but before Elvis was famous, it was a pointless statement.

One of the first jobs is to identify where does Aaron’s music sit so I can communicate his sound and identity to someone without them having to hear him first. It’s called a pitch, or a strap line. My job is to create a pitch. I have revisited this exercise several times over the last few months. Ho hum. It is half-term, I can hear my daughter running around downstairs. Maybe I can round her up and we could watch the paint drying website together. . . It occurs to me that something is better than nothing. Stop trying to get it perfect, that can come later. So I borrow from Mark Newman of Progression Magazine and reword a quote from a review of Aaron’s record: “Coldplay & Elbow meet potent lyrics, eloquence and sublime melodies reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, Joseph Arthur and Perry Blake.”

Let’s see what Aaron thinks?

Apart from my lack of music industry experience, there is another hurdle to overcome. Something I forgot to mention is that Aaron is based in Seattle, and I am in Cambridge . . . England. Yes, the one that all the others are named after. Working remotely has its own challenges. You can feel very isolated and unloved at times. Aaron is filming a couple of videos to accompany the launch of the new album, “american [fever] dream”, on Venice Beach in LA. I have to trudge into town to see if that review got published in Rock’n’Reel this month. The only similarity is that it is hot and crowded.

Those of you who work remotely (telecommute) understand exactly what I mean. A team should be more than the sum of its parts and without good communication, planning and priority setting, you are just an individual working in a vacuum. Teams create strategies, assign tasks, and set common goals. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to chat face-to-face with a colleague. Knock on his office door and 10 mins later you have probably saved yourself an hour or two of email writing, and without the frustration of having to wait for a reply. Oh yes, did I mention that there is an 8 hour time difference to cope with as well.

Goal setting is essential regardless of location. Understand where you want to get to, then work out how you are going to get there. The simple bit is to get on with it. Simple it may sound, but unless you are disciplined you will wander off track really quickly. There are dishes in the sink that need washing. My tea cup is empty. Hey, look, an email on how to watch paint dry. . . My personal trick for achieving something with my day is to look at my todo list, and pick the task I am most resisting as the first thing to tackle.

One of the most difficult aspects of carrying out multiple tasks is context switching. This is a problem a lot people suffer regardless of industry. You are in phone-radio-station mindset, and then you have to switch to planning and research. Going between them takes time. Organising chunks of time to tasks is most effective, but it is so difficult not to get side tracked, especially with that paint drying website. Organise, plan and be realistic in your expectation of what you are likely to achieve with your day. That doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for the moon because it sounds unrealistic.

It’s been a tough week. We have been running a AAA radio campaign in the US. The Promoter has now finished but the CD is still in review with a number of stations. It would be wasteful not to follow them up. I have a list of stations and do the research to get Music Director names, phone numbers and most importantly their “call times”, when they will accept calls from promoters. Unfortunately, each Director has her own little window, which is great if you are following a few hundred because you will always be phoning one. But with only a dozen you may be phoning two in a day, although, as I’ve found, catching two can take several hours, if you’re lucky.

My name is Faruk Kara. I am not a musician or a creative. My background is IT; software development and more recently IT infrastructure consultancy. Up to 20 months ago I ran a successful consultancy focusing on using IT in business. I am more interested in business than IT. IT is a means to an end. As a present to myself when the business was sold, I treated myself to train trip around the States visiting friends.

My second stop was my old stomping ground, Seattle. There I hooked up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for nearly twelve years but had been in touch with regularly thanks to the power of the internet. Aaron ( had in the time since I’d last seen him self released two albums. The first was “All The Waters Of This World” eight years ago, and the second, “The Marriage Of The Sun And The Moon” came out in 2008.

Somewhere in my house is a signed copy of that first album. It says “To the expectant parents. With my love, Aaron”. One day it will be worth a lot of money, if only I can find it. My wife and I enjoyed that album so much I had to buy another to replace it. I still listen to it regularly, and enjoyed it on my iPod as my train made its way through the Cascades just before arriving in Seattle.

Aaron was at the time of my visit in May 2009 working on his third album, “american [fever] dream”. I came away with a CD containing a number of early cuts. It would be another 5 weeks before I could listen to them properly. I was blown away when I finally got the chance.

Wind forward to March 2010. The release of Aaron’s new album is just over a month away. My routine of walking my daughter to school, going to the gym, spending the afternoons converting my vinyl to digital is starting to wear thin. I schedule a call with Aaron. Two hours later I’m in the music business. It is just like IT, only more glamorous, right?

Fast forward a little further and I am now working as Aaron’s Manager. There is a very steep learning curve to go up. Business may be business, but each industry requires specific knowledge and understanding. Some of the skills learnt in the IT consultancy world have transferred over immediately. However, there are lots of new skills and knowledge to acquire, sometimes painfully. Follow my regular blog to see what I learn about making a living out of music.