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Smart Marketing: Building Your FanbaseBy Chris Standring

I have always been a huge advocate of being in control of one's destiny as an artist. It's almost ridiculous to assume that an artist would want it any other way, or so one would think. Whether we are signed to major labels, indies or doing it grass roots style all on our own, we have to assume that our careers will continue to flourish. So we have to market smarter. And in a time of huge musical transition, if we don't we are all in trouble.

Something that I personally have become quite an expert in is marketing on the Internet, and for the last couple of years I have been determined to find a way to sell my CDs on the Internet, in the same way I do with my informational products and guitar courses. One of the reasons informational products sell on the Internet is because a marketer can capitalize on those who are searching for that information. The trouble with music is it is a 'want' not a 'need' and unless a fan came to your show and couldn't get your CD, why would they be searching for you? This has been the difficulty so far. Clearly one effective tactic (and have used this) is to piggy back off more familiar names. So if you have a website selling music, you could maybe suggest that "if you liked Coldplay then perhaps you would like blah blah bla" and so on. But this is hard to set up and a huge commitment.

So what else can we do? Something that is a little less overwhelming. Well my feeling is that you have to grow your list of subscribers. I got very excited recently when my new "Soul Express" 2006 album came out. I had a shipment of CDs sent to me from my label so I decided to offer the new album at a discount. $11.99 to be precise. Now, there ain't much profit there for a signed artist trust me, (I pay them $8 per unit - yikes!!) especially with management commissions (15%) (and when I do shows, the promoter can also take up to 25% - ouch!), but I did set up a cool little program to boost sales a little...

My subscribers got an email with a link to buy the new album. Now, the real incentive to buy was this: In the email I said "Get the new album Soul Express from and download 8 mp3 bonus tracks that didn't make the final album - and read all about why!". This is an offer that is not available in any of the stores so that is clearly an incentive to buy from me. When they clicked on the order link it took them to an upsell web page that asked the visitor if they would like to add two more CDs to their order for a $22 discount. This little trick converted approx. 20% of customers. You can see that page here. Turned out I sold 200 CDs in around 4 days. Not bad.

So if there is something I have learned it is that once I have a subscriber in my database, it is like gold dust, and provided they really want to be on that list, the chances of converting them into a sale when a new album comes out are pretty high. And with this in mind I started thinking, "Gotta get more on my list, gotta get more on my list...but how do I do that?"....

I put together a package tour at the beginning of this year. In my format, these package tours are all the rage now, in fact many agents only want to book them, insisting that solo artists are too difficult to sell to promoters. A package tour is essentially where 3 or 4 headlining artists come together for a show and one band backs them all. This way the promoter gets more bang for their buck. Instead of waiting to be invited on one of these tours I decided to invent one. I asked Jody Watley, who I have worked with on her last couple of albums, and I also asked legendary soul-jazz keyboard player Jeff Lorber. The tour is called "Soul Express featuring Jody Watley, Jeff Lorber & Chris Standring" and the tour is represented by Variety Artists International. We have some very high profile shows coming up and I have been thinking to myself "How the heck can I capitalize on all these fans at these festivals and concerts". If there are 6,000 people in the audience, how can I get them to subscribe to my list? I don't want to lose them after all. So I came up with a groovy plan.....

Many of you know that getting folks to sign up on your mailing list at gigs can be a nightmare. Why? because not everyone will come and sign up after your show for a variety of reasons and it's not necessarily because they don't want to. They are busy, the line is too long, they'll get to it later, they didn't know what they were supposed to do, and so on. Those that do come and sign up generally have such appalling handwriting that 50% come back as mailer daemons when entered into a computer email database .

There must be a better way. We need a pull marketing strategy, not a push. And that was the keyword for me...

I now have 5000 printed postcards (I'll print more as I need to) that I am going to distribute at each of these concerts. . Probably grab a street team member or local radio station intern to help. Slip them $20, that kind of thing. The postcard says:

So I figure - once they have seen the show, and we have wowed them, why would they not go and get 8 free tracks? Of course they may say, "Well why do I want tracks that didn't make the album - I want the ones that did!". But they are free bonus tracks, they can get the album too, at the gig or otherwise - they just have to buy it!. And I will see to it that they do. :)

So they can take that little postcard and do what they want with it. My guess is that it will be a numbers game. Those that want to get the free tracks simply have to enter their first and last name and email address and they get an email with a link to download. Voila!

Over time, this method may change somewhat. I will need to do some testing but I expect it to do quite well. After all, these folks came to the gig - right? If I have done my job properly they should leave the gig as new fans. Hopefully they will want to come again. And so the relationship begins.

This is good grass roots street team stuff that you can take on board yourselves, or not. I'm excited about it because it's non imposing. I don't have to pressure anyone to sign up. They do it if they want to.

Chris Standring is the CEO and founder of A&R Online ( He is also a contemporary jazz guitarist presently signed to Ultimate Vibe Recordings. For more info on Chris' recording career go to his personal website at

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