Alert, Connect, Sell: Releasing Get Busy Committee
As I mentioned last weekend, the band I’m co-managing is releasing a record called Uzi Does It at nearly every digital retailer on the planet (with INgrooves as our digital distributor) on Tuesday, November 10th. We’re having a party at Zune LA sponsored by True Love & False Idols; if you’d like to come please let me know and I’ll try to get you on the list.
While getting the album to iTunes is the main thrust for a lot of artists, it’s only part of the story (and a very small part so far) for us. We’ve been preparing for this release for months, started selling the album in six different packages two weeks ago, are selling the album for $1 on MySpace all weekend, and much more. To make good on my promise to blog the experience of managing a brand new band I thought I’d crank out a quick post about how we released the album. If you have questions, comments, feedback, opinions, or other ideas, please leave a comment. I’m doing this in hopes it will help other artists; let’s make it a discussion.
We’ll cover how the album was recorded in another post. Tonight I’m just going to talk about what happened after I got involved. At that point the album was basically complete, they had a couple of vocals to finish, some final touches to add, and the mastering process to make it through. Apart from texting Apathy daily asking him when he’d have a master to me and if we’d really be able to release by October 27th, I wasn’t involved in the creation of the album, just the marketing and release.
At Topspin we generally talk about three stages of development:
- Creating awareness
- Making connections
We sometimes hear artists complain: “Dammit! I’m not selling anything!” Usually it’s a result of skipping straight to #3 above and not concentrating enough on #1 and #2. Consumers have an unlimited number of places to spend their time and money today. How are you getting in front of them? It is not a build-it-and-they-will-come world. How many you will sell is a small (and relatively consistent) percentage of how many people you have looking at a buy button. More impressions equals more sales, and most importantly none equals zero. If you have a very small number of fans (as we did, starting with zero emails, zero Facebook fans, zero Twitter followers, and just a handful of MySpace friends) IMHO you start by creating awareness and connecting with folks, not concentrating solely on selling.
Capturing Interest – The Net and The Web
In the heading above the “net” is not the Internet, and the “web” isn’t the World Wide Web. The net and web in this case are for capturing anyone interested in Get Busy Committee, no matter where they first heard of them, and moving them from a casual interest in “that one song” into GBC fans who will end up telling friends, going to shows, and buying stuffed koalas packing heat.
Before we can even get to the steps above, we need a place to capture any awareness we create. The artist’s Web site should be that place, IMHO.
We started by taking stock of what we had. Get Busy Committee didn’t have stand-alone Web site, just a MySpace page (ditto for Ryu, Apathy, and Scoop Deville solo) and none were collecting email addresses. Step one was to remedy this. We registered GetBusyCommittee.com and started looking for someone to help us build the Web site.
As mentioned in the last post we chose Open Mic for Web design and Parker at Wrvrywhr for Web programming. My friend Jonathan Strauss of Awe.sm also offered to help with some of the social features. Parker, Jonathan, and I gathered at an easel in my home office and argued out the design of the site. We new we needed to get a splash page up as quickly as possible, so we started with a single page which simply played the intro from the title track and had an email collection widget (both the streaming player and the email collection widget were created in less than 10 minutes using Topspin):
Then we started scoping out the rest of the site, the one we would launch on release day. Parker took notes and we went from my scribblings (dig my koala):
to wireframes for each page a la:
We handed these off to Open Mic and he turned them in to fleshed out Photoshop files before handing them back to Parker. Note Parker is in California, Open Mic is in Connecticut, and both work out of their homes. These guys are talented but their overhead is low and none of this is expensive. I’m not going to share exactly what I paid as the market may have changed their prices by the time you read this. But this is the beauty of Web development, people collaborating across the country with very low overhead, using more ingenuity than raw materials. It’s what the Web is made of.
Anyway, eventually Open Mic handed the design back to Parker, and Parker pulled the site together into what it is today with a lot of late nights and loving care:
The object was to make the site:
- Home base. The top SEO result for “Get Busy Committee” and anything else related to the band.
- Vibrant. It should update with the latest information about Get Busy Committee with very little effort, from a variety of sources. Furthermore, we weren’t going to spend time or money building any of these tools from scratch. We integrated WordPress and Twitter to make sure it was easy to update with long or short-form updates (respectively) easily.
- A fan acquisition tool. The site should be sticky like fly-paper. If you visit the site you should have an incentive to leave behind your email address, follow GBC on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, a friend on MySpace, friend on Flickr, subscriber on YouTube, or subscribe via RSS. We may only get one chance to make a connection with you. We don’t want you to bounce in and bounce out without granting us permission to reach out to you later with an update.
- A tool for fans to create other fans. Every page of the site is instrumented with simple ways to share on Facebook and Twitter, and feedback for having done so either in the form of a counter or free music for having done so. We want it to not only be easy to spread the word but for you to be recognized for having done so.
- A place to convert at whatever level of fan you happen to be. Never heard of Get Busy Committee? No problem, you can stream the record or download a few songs for free. Super fan? How about the T-Shirt/USB Flash Drive combo for $55? Somewhere in between? No worries. We have something for you.
- Useful. If you’re a college radio DJ who needs a clean version to play on your show or a beatmeister who wants an acapella to remix that should be easy to find. If you’re a blogger writing about the band there should be a special page for you, even if it’s not linked from the front page. Anything you email to people regularly should be on the site and easily linked to.
What the site shouldn’t be:
- An art piece. Unless you’re Prince, the era of a big Flash site is finally over (note Prince’s official site is #8 when you search Google for Prince). Your site should have a distinct look/feel, but it needs to be all the things above and easy to use first and foremost. Make it look good and easy to navigate while accomplishing the items above. Don’t make people search and guess, because they won’t.
It’s worth noting that while we’re really happy with what we’ve created thus far it all feels very rudimentary. There’s so much room for improvement on the above vectors. It’s what I obsess over every day of my life.
Once we had the site up and running, we needed to create some awareness. We did a few simple things to bootstrap those first few views:
- Created a unique product. By creating the Uzi-shaped USB we had a hook, something people could talk about.
- Leaked some music. We took two songs from the album and made them available for download in return for an email address from GetBusyCommittee.com, and available for streaming on MySpace, Facebook, iMeem, Last.fm, YouTube, and iLike.
- Told the world. We worked every source we had to get the word out, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, email, blogs, friends, family, etc. We even bought a few Facebook and Google ads (more on that in a later post).
Through this we managed to collect a few hundred people. Not much but it was a start. These people were gold. Our early followers. Our best friends for life. We sent an email thanking them for the early support, giving them another song for free in the email, and telling them we’d give them ONE MORE song if they’d just do us a simple favor: share Get Busy Committee with their friends. We gave them explicit instructions on how to share via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or their blog and told them if they did we’d send them the song for download. In many many cases they obliged and through the goodwill of these few hundred people we broke a thousand email addrs and many hundreds of followers elsewhere. Lesson learned: we didn’t test the first email we sent well enough and sent people BAD/BROKEN instructions on how to share. People were sharing but their share wasn’t linking back to us. DOH. Test test test before you send. We ended up having to send them three emails to get the sharing instructions right. Very bad form. Thankfully we had very few unsubscribes. Thanks sincerely to those folks for understanding. Apologies.
As mentioned above, every action at this phase was positioned to drive direct connections. We’ve talked a lot in the past about Permission Marketing and the quid pro quo approach of giving something valuable in return for permission to reach out to you again. I’d like to think this goes without saying but I still see people at either end of the spectrum, either giving away music without even asking for an email address or giving away nothing and simply asking people for their hard-earned cash. Unfortunately simply having your music sitting in their iTunes library doesn’t mean they’re going to know when you’re playing a show in their hood (though Songkick is trying to solve this 😉 ) and by the same token asking someone for $15 when they aren’t yet in love with your music is destined for failure or at least lower conversion.
We tried a few approaches with Get Busy Committee:
- Free streaming player, with a button leading back to GetBusyCommittee.com. The streaming player itself doesn’t ask you for an email address in order to play, but it does give a very clear way to get back to our site (where other embeddable streaming players simply lead you back to YouTube.com, iMeem.com, etc). Hopefully people will spread the player to their sites, blogs, etc, and people will click the “free download” link if they like what they hear. One great thing about this player is that you can update it in the wild, meaning you can change the contents of what’s been embedded once it’s out there. For example, we got a great placement on Wired early in our cycle and they embedded a player which at the time contained just two tracks. When we created a streaming player for the full album we updated ALL players in the wild, and the player on the Wired page updated, too.
- Give email, get free songs widget. We give away free music in return for giving an email address. This is also easily shared and we’ve seen people put this on their blogs. Great content for them, fan connections for us.
- Liberal use of content streams from other services. We’ve integrated Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube into our site. Folks familiar with those services and interested in GBC have an obvious invitation to make the connection in a familiar environment.
One of the main tools I’ve been using to monitor the Get Busy Committee zeitgeist and connect with fans is the Topspin Twitter integration. This feature allows you to see what people are saying about your band and easily (but not robotically) follow (and hope for reciprocity) and communicate with them. I admit to being pretty addicted to this page, checking it several times a day and constantly scheming on ways to get people to talk about GBC and generate more mentions in the ether.
Selling Shit, aka “Monetization”
While I didn’t expect to sell a ton of music day one, I wanted to be selling music and more from the first day the site launched. Again, you might only get one chance to get in front of a potential fan. I want them to be able to move as far down the funnel as possible. If they just want a couple of free tracks, that’s fine, but in the case they do want to drop $55 on a Flash drive/T-shirt combo pack, why stop them? For a new band it’s a marathon not a sprint, and I see absolutely no value to deflecting interest in favor of a “huge street date”. To me that’s a sure fire recipe for “huge disappointment” and loss of momentum. I’d prefer to get the product out there to “no one”, be surprised when you sell any, and parlay that surprise into an understanding of where those sales came from and how you make a few more.
We started with a range of products, things we’d buy ourselves if we were fans:
- A cheap digital download. $6 gets you the whole album in high-quality 320kbps MP3, CD-quality FLAC, or CD-quality Apple Lossless format.
- An inexpensive CD with an immediate digital download. Buy the CD, download now. CDs printed on-demand by our friends at Kufala. Oh and the shrink-wrap is smokeable so every CD comes with free rolling papers.
- An Uzi-shaped USB flash drive and an immediate digital download. This was the most difficult piece but also the linchpin. We had to get this sourced by a company that deals directly with manufacturers in China and had to spend money up-front to buy a few hundred. To be honest I was very reticent to spend the money. But since these have constituted about 40% of our sales at a good price point as well as garnered us the most attention it was certainly money well spent. We’re already about 50% sold through our order, which is completely unexpected for me.
- High-quality t-shirts added to any of the above. We partnered with street wear company True Love & False Idols to do a high-quality shirt. They’re fashion-quality and fashion-priced and as a result we aren’t selling a ton of them on the site just yet (they’re also not merchandised particularly well at the moment, I plan to correct that later in the cycle). But also as a result we have interest with some great retail outlets such as Suru LA, who will be selling an exclusive version of the shirt along with a CD starting this week.
So how much money have we made two weeks into our direct-to-fan presale and on the eve of our retail release? Well, without sharing exact numbers I’ll share a good gauge: in the first two weeks of release we’ve made nearly exactly the amount of money we spent on Web design and development. So we’ve basically paid for the cost of creating all of the above value by front-running our retail release with a direct-to-fan campaign offering a number of products at price points ranging from free to $55. Not bad for a band no one has heard of (yet), as far as I’m concerned. And we’re not even into the first mile of the marathon yet. I’m expecting this setup to pay dividends especially when you consider the alternative to the above is to just throw your album up in iTunes and wait.
Free Is A Price Point!
When people talk about what Trent Reznor did with Ghosts they always mention the 2500 $300 box sets he sold but rarely do they mention what is perhaps the most genius concept he introduced with that offer: the price point of FREE. What Trent really did was look his fans in the eye and ask them, “So, how big a fan are you?” But he also acknowledged that “not that big” or “I dunno yet” was a perfectly valid response by saying, “if you’d prefer to spend nothing, I have a package for you, it’s half the album.”
We opted to do the same thing with the Get Busy Committee record. Our hope (and belief) was that when the right people heard a few songs from the record, and samples of the other songs, they’d be happy to part with at least a small amount of cash to own the rest of the songs. So we decided to give away fully half of the album for free, and to incorporate these free tracks into the “store” right next to the paid tracks. When you visit the store, you can choose to spend $0, $6, $10, $20, or $35-$55 on a package including a shirt.
But the $0 package isn’t 100% free. We ask for some simple help in return. We ask that you do one of the following things:
- Add our streaming player to your MySpace page or blog, and drop us a link or screen shot.
- Email 10 friends a link to the streaming player and Web site. We can easily track this with the Topspin CRM software.
- Become a fan on Facebook, and post the streaming widget to your Facebook page. Jonathan of Awe.sm cranked this functionality out for us in an overnight session (THANKS, JONATHAN! I owe you at least one night’s sleep and will pay you back just as soon as science figures out a way for me to).
- Follow us on Twitter, and Tweet a link to the site to your followers. This is easily monitored with the Topspin Twitter integration.
Note that each of these things isn’t just a share, it’s a connection between fan and artist followed by a share. Connect with us, give us a conduit to reach you in the future, and tell your friends about what we have going on, and we’ll give you half the album for free.
The Ultra-Cheap Option
Following in the footsteps of Fanfarlo and others, we decided to see just how many fans we could acquire through a big traffic-driver with a very special offer. This weekend only (through Monday, November 9th, so if you’re reading this Monday you can still take advantage of the offer by clicking here, and you’d be crazy not to) we’re selling the record for $1 in an offer made exclusively via our MySpace page. In return MySpace was kind enough to give us some great promotion on both the MySpace Music page and the MySpace front page. We’ve seen an influx of tons of traffic and plays (about 25K plays today — we had a couple thousand total before this promo), hundreds of new friend requests, and lots of folks either taking the free tracks (in return for an email address) or the $1 album itself. We’ve seen a huge jump in the number of people LIKING and TALKING ABOUT the record, which is encouraging, but most importantly we’ve increased the number of people connected to us via MySpace, Email, and even Facebook and Twitter as a result of this promotion. That’s more people we can reach out to with special offers and more people who will spread the word on our behalf. More people tomorrow than yesterday. That’s the motto.
Tom Silverman refers to “quantum events”, those events you can’t count on which can change everything for an artist. We haven’t had any of those yet, but we’re encouraged radio seems to be liking the track. There’s no question that radio introduces people to music and sells records if you’re fortunate enough to find your way to the airwaves. We’ve been very fortunate and KROQ in Los Angeles has been taking a chance on the track, playing it every day since Wednesday of last week. They played it around 7:30pm on Wednesday and the phones blew up so hard (we really didn’t do anything to juice that, either, we’d been told not to try to inflate the response) they played it AGAIN at 9pm as part of their “Furious Five At Nine”, their top five requests show. Wow. Quantum? Too early to tell, but it’s great news regardless. Hopefully they’ll keep playing it and we can get a few other stations to try a few spins, too.
If you’ve read this far, I thank you. I know I’d be crazy to ask any more of you than simply reading this far, but if you like what we’re up to here please support by:
- Buying the record. The most expensive package is recommended. 😉
- Calling your local radio station and telling them they should be as cool as KROQ and play some Get Busy Committee.
- Leaving a comment below and telling me what you think or sharing a tip. I’ve already taken some value from last week’s post and I really appreciate the feedback.
- Turn off your TV, support and discover more music. As Zappa said, Music Is The Best.
Thanks. Until next time…