Best Practices In Online Promotion Of New Music Offerings

from the worth-a-read dept

Bas Grasmayer alerts us to a paper he’s written as part of the research for his thesis on the future of music distribution. This isn’t the full thesis, but is a quick analysis of 5 different musical acts (pdf) and the new music launches they did. All five are ones that we’ve talked about here: Radiohead’s name your own price deal for In Rainbows, Trent Reznor’s tiered reasons to buy for Ghosts I-IV, Groove Armada’s spam your friends EP sponsored by Baccardi, Danger Mouse’s blank CD-R and book given out after EMI wouldn’t release his latest project and Mos Def’s t-shirt album. The paper gives a pretty good summary of all of them, and concludes with some key points:

What does NOT work (well)

  • Not going all the way. Fans love free music and so do people that are not
    familiar with an artist’s work, but if you’re going to give something away then
    really give it away. If you don’t, you won’t get the attention you were hoping for
    and might even disappoint some fans instead of connecting with them.

  • Creating unnecessary mediums instead of utilizing existing ones. While
    the Bacardi B-Live Share application looked cool (now offline), it was completely
    unnecessary. Instead of creating a digital dashboard with meaningless graphics,
    it could have been executed in a much simpler fashion by utilizing existing social
    networks or filesharing websites. IF you’re going to set up such a thing, then at
    least make it interactive, social (in terms of enabling users to interact with each
    other) and add value (with videos or a game for instance). You could even use it
    to sell other products of the band or artist.
  • Expecting people to pay for what they can get for free. People might pay,
    but most will pick whatever way is most convenient. Usually, this is by remaining
    seated at your computer and by avoiding complicated online payment procedures.
    Sure, people should use legal ways to buy music, but the reality is that people go
    for convenience.
  • What does work (well)

    • Giving fans a reason to buy. Instead of expecting people to pay for something
      which they can, perhaps more easily, get for free, create added value. This is
      what Nine Inch Nails, Mos Def and Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse all did very
      well. Instead of expecting people to pay for the music, they all created something
      besides the music which people would be more willing to pay for.
    • Freemium. By offering something for free, one connects with fans and they will
      spread the word about you (as long as what you’re offering has value). Once
      attention has been garnered, and perhaps sympathy has been won, you can
      offer a premium product. This is how Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have been
      successful with aforementioned albums. First you give something for free, then
      you market your premium; freemium.
    • Understanding that the package IS the product. This goes for all of the
      cases, except for Groove Armada. In the case of Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse
      as well as Mos Def, the package was actually the reason to buy the product. In the
      case of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, they marketed the package as premiums,
      perhaps understanding that it’s hard to make money if you have to compete with
      free, meaning music downloads.
    • Buzz. By generating buzz, you can turn people just turned on to your product
      into fans. These fans can then later be marketed to when trying to sell premium
      packages (or subscriptions for example). Even if they don’t buy, having them
      talking about your brand or product increases the buzz. This works best if they
      can give others free samples (free music) to see for themselves how great the
      brand or product is.
    • Co-branding. By co-branding, the two brands can both benefit of each others’
      resources and skills. In the case of Groove Armada and Bacardi, the latter benefits
      mostly from Groove Armada’s image and the ability to promote themselves on all
      Groove Armada-related products, this includes live performances. Groove Armada
      on the other hand, benefits from the resources Bacardi has, for instance to set
      up the website and network for the distribution of the music, as well as their
      marketing capacities. Both are connected to different audiences and by working
      together, they can promote each other to their respective audiences, perhaps new

    I think this is a fantastic list — and the results of other experiments we’ve seen seem to support many of the points on this list as well. The rest of the paper is also worth reading, and I look forward to the final thesis. Of course, two small quibbles: the paper cites me a couple times, including claiming that I coined the term “competing with free.” I can’t take credit for that, though I have no idea who coined it. I was under the impression the phrase was in widespread and common usage prior to me ever mentioning it. Second, it claims that to get In Rainbows that the “minimum donation” was a penny. Perhaps that’s technically true, but the real minimum donation was nothing at all — and you could still download the album. Bas seems to recognize this, because later in the paper it mentions that many people got the album for free. Overall though, for folks who are paying attention to this stuff, this is a nice summary.

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    Comments on “Best Practices In Online Promotion Of New Music Offerings”

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    …. echo, echo, echo.

    nice to see a concrete list like that.

    too bad most of the problem causing entites will tie themselves [and anyone dim enough to listen] in knots with bizarre reasons why it doesn’t work… if they even notice it.

    wow… … that’s totally not my usual tone, is it? oh well. it’s what i have to say.

    ‘competing with free’ just sounds like a fairly standard sentence, actually. probably initially showed up in various forms like ‘you can’t compete with a free product’ or ‘you can’t compete with someone who’s giving their stuff away for free’ and so on. just guessing though.

    now, terms that Really puzzle me, are those such as ‘sidewalk’. i mean, sure, it’s where you walk, and it’s Beside the road… but what about the ones leading from the road to your house, for example?

    then again, we call ’em footpaths. which is also weird. it’s a path for your feet. i suppose ‘pathfoots’ is just dumb, so you get footpaths.

    which has… nothing to do with this list.

    aaaaaaaaaany way. some folks actually made money, and someone’s writing about it. ’tis a good thing 🙂

    Re: On the branding thing...

    The Groove Armada / Bacardi thing was a flop, wasn’t it? It all went very quiet after the promotion ended, and as far as I’m aware, no winners have been announced publicly.

    Yeah, if you look at the whole paper, he details why it was a flop. But it doesn’t mean there weren’t elements of it that were useful to learn from — both pro and con.

    R. Milessays:

    Oh, so close!

    It’s a shame Bas only targeted the music industry, because the premise of the paper can be applied to any distributor of digital goods.

    I would have loved to cite this well written document in debates for those who don’t understand “freeconomics”, but sadly, the message is going to be lost simply because it’s specific to an industry.

    Maybe Mike will take on the responsibility to write a similar paper regarding the digital world?

    In my experiences, there just seems to be no convincing these anti-free model people as they’re deadfast to point out two common replies: “These people are popular” and the “They didn’t make the same amount of money.”

    Ugh. It’s so tiring to argue against these responses, especially when the debate finally reaches “the artist”.

    Recently, I had a spirited discussion with an old acquaintance discussing this very issue. To defend my position, I pointed to several Techdirt articles. The reply I got was this:
    “Of all people, I can’t believe you’ve swung to the socialist side to think artists shouldn’t get paid for their works.”

    The comment made me chuckle, so I replied:
    “Of all people, I can’t believe you expect people to pay to view your works when they didn’t ask you to create them in the first place. So why expect them to pay after the fact instead of turning them into fans to buy later, once you decide what’s truly worth selling?”

    The expectations of payment is something which clouds the minds of those who want to make a living off artistic works rather than understand the consumer, which they are to other artists.

    I’m hoping a definitive paper gets written in the future which can dispel this foolish thinking, but until “proof” shows success, this paper won’t change the minds with this thinking.

    One thing it does do is it shows doing something is better than doing nothing. Let’s just hope that message is taken away from the reading.

    Re: Oh, so close!


    Yeah, there’s a lot to consider. I would have loved to write about this using a broader scope, however, that wouldn’t be very convenient for my thesis. So for now, this is it.

    When I finish the thesis I hope to have the time to diverge a little bit, because there are interesting things going on.

    If you haven’t read it, I can really recommend the book ‘Free’ by Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired). It’s a very fascinating read and much broader.

    Maybe there are some books or good papers out their regarding publishable content and how business models should adapt to the rules the reality of new media has created… and maybe Mike can point us to them 😉


    Control Issues ...

    “Instead of creating a digital dashboard with meaningless graphics, it could have been executed in a much simpler fashion by utilizing existing social networks or filesharing websites.”

    Yes but that would allow users to comment and there could be negative comments …. so we cant allow that …. basically its a control issue that made that promo not work.

    Big Media is all about controling the content they own to maximize profits while minimizing work done ….


    “I can’t believe you expect people to pay to view your works when they didn’t ask you to create them in the first place.”

    So naturally, you commissioned all the food you ate today?

    And your apartment or house, you commissioned that to be built?

    The clothes you wear? Of course you contacted the GAP and commissioned them to make you an outfit?

    Obviously, you wouldn’t have paid for any of these these things without having personally asked for them to be created in the first place, that would be absurd!

    what works for new music launches

    I would say that for established bands this valuable info but to the great masses of unsigned and struggling musicians it is a little out of their grasp. They would have to be famous first then launch with these novel approaches. However what does translate is that merchandise and packaging are what sells and music is the draw. We should all just stop talking about selling music in any recorded form and move into the free music future of tickets, t-shirts, and partnerships.Creativity is the intellectual property that cannot be manufactured and is therefore the most valuable of all commodities market that.


    Freemium works either way. Just yesterday I downloaded an EP for free and after listening to it, I decided I really needed the high quality 320kbps (or FLAC) version of it, which was just two dollars.

    At such a price, it cost so little mental energy to decide if it was worth it… I just got it immediately 🙂

    Of course smaller bands are dealing with very different scales, that’s why in the foreword I included a link to Trent Reznor’s advice for beginning bands (and what he would do if he were starting out now). You can find this advice here:,767183

    Get Outside of the Music Box

    In terms of the artists’ careers, music is always treated as a completely separate arm, and maybe at one point of time, it was. Many focus on how new distribution methods contrast the old standards, suggesting an evolution from old to new.

    Erase all of the lines between music, online, and tour, and let the content pieces sit on the same table. There are so many more factors that contribute to the monetary success of an album release (or touring for that matter). And so many subsequent rewards that are gained other than what is measured through royalty statements.

    Studying music marketing tactics out of context with this other factors only presents a narrowed view of a much larger picture that should be examined. Just sayin.

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