Taking On Big Labels
“The bigger the fish better it can be cooked!!”
Ever since I’ve released my own music I’ve realized the wide gulf between the signed artists and unsigned acts; a gulf not in the quality of product but in the way it generates revenue for those associated. As an unsigned act myself I couldn’t help but feel the starving heat of market, not because I don’t have a marketable product, but simply because I cannot get the market to accept it just by asking random people to buy my creations. So what is the big problem and how can it be tackled? Before I answer this question and explain my statement in italics above, let me introduce to you how the big labels create the gulf that is used as a dumping ground for dead unsigned acts.
Why do big labels promote their protégées and hinder the growth of others?
Not a rocket science problem, I agree, nevertheless, useful in the present context.
Big labels promote their protégées as they spend a lot of money marketing them. And they spend that money because they want much more to return.
Anyone else in the same market who doesn’t belong to their camp, who isn’t earning them anything but is rather a potential choice for their customers, represents competition that has to be eliminated. Often people will pick up two albums that they like, then look inside their wallet and buy one of the two, leaving the other behind. The big labels try their best that there never is another album available to create an instance of choices for decision.
How do big labels promote their protégées?
The marketing strategy can be conveniently divided into two broad groups, namely Direct and indirect.
a) Direct marketing: This includes all the traditional and open marketing techniques, like playing their artists on TV, radio, promotions via print, and upcoming techniques as offering some related prize in a promoted contest etc.
b) Indirect marketing: This includes all the new, hidden, clandestine and psychological marketing gimmicks and techniques to promote own protégées, and also the un-acceptable tacts applied for wiping out un-protected competition. Let me innumerate a few of them:
1. Hiring young boys and girls to promote the artists among their fellows through normal day to day conversation. This is done by influencing peer opinions by intentionally eulogising the artists and their work. Knowing the artists personally is flaunted and then a few from the peers are introduced to the artists thus creating a false stardom with an act. Anyone not impressed by the artist or critical of their work is actively snubbed, harassed, ridiculed and even bullied. The image of the artist is cooked in the minds of others through personal contact. The youth are asked to flaunt as to how they are crazy about the artist and such behaviour is intentionally promoted in the way of claims that they have bought so many albums or products of the artists. Those who fall for the trick and themselves buy many products are introduced to the artist and get a few words from them personally and a chain reaction is set in motion without anyone realizing they have been set up.
2. Channels that are under the direct influence of big labels as the control and provide all the media like movies and music to them, their hosts are actively encouraged to highlight the achievements of the artist that is going to be promoted. The artist is projected in good light and larger than life.
3. False stories or bravado, kindness etc are circulated or such news created and promoted in a big way to influence public opinion in a positive way. So next time when the artist releases some work, people buy it or support it because of their admiration of a person who might be a far cry from the real person themselves. Human suffering and tragedies are shamelessly used to give the artists an opportunity to promote themselves.
4. Voting in entertainment programs are rigged or faked to promote the work of their artists so that it creates a false success in the minds of public so as to influence public decision when they are faced with a choice as to which artist’s work to purchase.
5. TV channels and radio stations are influenced to sabotage the efforts of potentially much more talented artists who may be releasing their work independently or through smaller labels. This is done by clubbing their works with those of much established artists with a stronger piece of work so that the comparison yardstick becomes tough, or their work is relegated to spots which don’t get much public attention. This can also be done by manipulating the cost of advertisement in a way that smaller labels and independent artist cannot afford prime time airplay.
What can an independent artist do to give a fight in such a situation?
Well, we all know how important publicity is for promoting your work. The only way of getting your work noticed is by getting it out there among the public, making people pay attention to it. Many indie artists use techniques like distributing their CD’s for free and performing in public places like shopping malls, small pubs etc to get noticed. Here I am going to share a few more direct marketing methods which will enhance your audience without requiring your personal presence amongst the masses.
1. Air Play:
Radio play is not affordable for most of the indie artists. They may send their songs to various radio channels and still get nowhere. But then how can you get your song heard? If you notice the question carefully friends, the problem is in getting your song heard, not getting it heard on radio or television!
The simplest solution under such circumstances is to contact small businesses locally, places like health clubs, grocery stores, mechanics, barber shops, coffee shops, family restaurants, etc, that is, places where different people go daily and spend some time. Go to these places give them your CDs, along with a couple of professionally done posters and request them to play your CD all the time. There is your Air-play, but it is not all. Read this point in conjunction with the next few points to understand the vast advantages and potential plus why these people will do it. But before that one of the most important cog in this method, the poor old cabbies!
If you have a friend who owns or drives his own cab, or you yourself drive one for part-time work, it is the best way of promoting your music. At other places mentioned above, people might not concentrate that much on what is being aired but cabs are compact spaces with no escape and scaringly intimate surroundings with a stranger. The music is sole comfort. The trick however here is knowing what mood the people using cabs are going to be in. If they are going out for party, the music has to be pumping and loud, and same when they are in the middle of it, that is, hopping between clubs. But the mood is sombre at the end of a party as well as a long day. The other very important trick here would be for the cabbie to avoid conversation and force the solitude on passengers so that they listen to what is playing. If the cabbie is you or your friend, this won’t be an issue, but if the cabbie is unknown then you will have to pay him something.
The same muscial selection principle as described in the paragraph above applies for other joints as well. Rather I should say, your music determines the joints you can utilize. For example, a romantic or soft music album for restaurants, pumping house, rock or hip-hop music for gym, pop for barber shop and anything for grocery stores, etc. You need to identify which business has an atmosphere that gels with your music. Rock music is good for mechanical repair works as the noise levels can be high for other forms of music and besides rock will keep the men pumped up while working as well. And remember to respect the individual tastes of those playing your music as well. Best way is to let them get a feel of it first before forcing your ideas and offers on them. If they are not into it, then they are not going to put any effort on it as well. Remember to explain it to them, by supporting local talent they are creating opportunities for themselves as well as someone they might be close to as well. After all, we all are in this together!
And last on this list but not the least are your friends whom no label can buy from you. Beg, bargain, convince or threat, do whatever it takes you to make them blow your songs through their sub-woofers in cars and homes homes, headphones of i-pads and walk-mans (Preferably at high volumes or hands free), make a short ringtone and FORCE it on them, etc. There’s no air-play like free air-play and if your friends can’t do this simple thing for you, they can’t be classified as your friends. And offcourse, tell them to promote you the way big labels use youth (mentioned in detail above).
This is the important extension of the first point mentioned above and the next point makes an important aspect under it as well.
The trick to getting to your CD sold is not just about getting it heard but also making it available for purchase. Whichever venue is playing your music should also be able to sell it for you, for an expected price offcourse. When people ask them whose music is it that is playing they should be able to say that this is our kid and we are the only place selling this music at a discounted price (I’ll explain below). This is why I mentioned providing a few professional posters for promotion along with your music. Now to explain its’ working model, let me take a simple example.
Let us say that you provided a restaurant or a gym with 10 CDs and each CD cost you $3 in making (including glass cover and printing, other costs etc). You want atleast $3 profit on it but you will have to allow the venue to sell it at $10 and allow them to make $4 out of it. Blasphemous? Or is it?
Firstly, why will a restaurant or gym or anyother business market you if they don’t see a bigger margin for themselves? Secondly, say one store sells your ten CDs and hence earns $40 while you end up with lesser, $30. But then, you might be getting $30 from ten different places. So how much will you be earning? Does it come out to be $300? So who’s making more profit?
Besides, make sure you price your CDs as $15 sale priced. This is the discount your friends will be offering. And even if they cheat you and make $90 instead of $40, well, it is still not $300! So getting the idea.
3. Top Ten Songs CD:
It is a good idea to collaborate with many artists and pick your best songs and make a mix tape to market. This increases the variety of the music you will be selling and hence enhances your chances of selling more music. The model will remain the one mentioned above but the game will be changed at your end. Depending upon how many songs out of 10 an artist has, he or she will have that much share in expenses as well as profit made by such sales.
So an artist with 1 song in the above example will end up with $30, which is 1/10th of $300. I agree it is less than both $40 and $90 but then the artist is making $30 by selling only one song, while the store is making $40 or $90 by selling an album containing 10 songs. So artist’s share is $30 per song while the seller’s share is $4 or $9 per song. Besides who’s stopping you from selling from more outlets? Can the big labels do the same thing? Well if they do, they are going to be in a very sticky situation as I will explain below.
Why can’t big labels do what I am suggesting unsigned artists?
The question seems obvious but let me put it in better light. The correct question here should be, “Why won’t the big labels do what I am suggesting?”
Firstly, the big labels work around figures and numbers. The figures that determine the number of copies they will produce for an act and market are the demographics of fans and their spread across the globe. Based upon an artist’s popularity, he or she will be marketed and promoted in that terrertory where most of his or her fans come from. Major investment will be in that market and all the promotions will happen there. Most of the copies of the product will be shipped there and only a fraction of the product will be marketed in other territories while some terretories will be skipped altogether. Very few artists have a global following and even those who have might have a better hold in certain markets and negligible in others. So big labels generally as a rule won’t take the pains in flooding markets with their products as I have explained above.
Secondly, they don’t need to do it that way. They already control the airwaves and their artists are already getting promoted anywhere where there is a receiving television set or a radio. If you play a TV or radio and their artist’s creation is on, anyone who can listen or see the product is being catered to. Why would they need to do it the hard and slow way like contacting every small shop or gym? Who amongst there ranks have that time?
Thirdly, even if the big labels were to loose their bearings and get into the mud themselves and start doing what I have suggested, do you realize how devastating it will be for their budget and margins? I agree, a CD that will cost you $3 to create, a big label can create the same for 90 cents possibly but then they are spending big chunks on radio, online and airwaves marketing, promotions etc. And let us not forget, while every $10 sale will give you $3 after recovering your $3 costs, the labels won’t be getting $5.10 either. They owe anything between 30-40% to the artists, and then the remainder is for them. So what options will a label have then? To make more money they will have to cut the share of signed acts and if that were to happen, the signed artists will all live to regret the day they signed the contract.
So everything that I have suggested above is going to help only people like you and me who are unsigned gigs. So what are we waiting for? Let us get our acts together and get down and dirty with those who have left us no choice. We are doing it for ourselves, what bigger motivation does anyone of us needs?
When you are fighting an adversary who is much more powerful, rich and resouceful than you, the only choice that adversary leaves for you is to quit what you are doing else the adversary will keep on undoing everything constructive you will try to achieve. The only way of dealing with such an adversary is to make him use his resources over and over, again and again. This will consume his resources and make him weak, and when he is weak enough, we can take him down.
Fatal Urge Carefree Kiss
Amanpreet Singh Rai