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RECORD PROMOTION--A CLOSER LOOK
Online Record Promotion

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The typical ingredients needed to enable a successful record promotion campaign are:

1) Money,
2) Artist notoriety (which may exist because of his prior success, the success of his associates, or from planned and/or unplanned public exposure),
3) Timeliness of the release,
4) Ability of the promoter to get airplay in the proper market(s),
5) Ability to coordinate all the publicity generating factors involved,
6) Luck, and
7) Quality of the product.

If these are present, it is beneficial for the promotion campaign itself to have:

1) A planned course of action, and

2) A promotion man (or agency...independent record promoter) with a good track record, contacts, experience, clout, persistence, personableness, good health, and the ability to cope with the stress involved in working an irregular schedule with long hours.

Promotion Strategy

Ordinarily, the course of action starts with initial promotion and later with national promotion. Unless, of course, the artist is a superstar and can implement his promotion at the national level at the outset. Or, if he is so established that large quantities of records can be manufactured and shipped to record stores without initial radio airplay. See Cross-links: AIRPLAY, PUBLICITY, PUBLICITY-A CLOSER LOOK, PUBLIC RELATIONS, MANAGER-A CLOSER LOOK.

More often, however, the main objective of the promoter, both initially when breaking a record and on an ongoing basis, is to get radio airplay. The promoter must attempt to get his record added to a station's playlist and rotated on a heavy basis. Stations that play contemporary releases will only have a playlist of 20-40 records. That is to say, they only play past, current and up and coming hits.

Since there are hundreds of records released across the nation each week, airplay time is always at a premium. Competition for this time is, to say the least, fierce.

Initial Promotion

Initial promotion of a new release (especially if the artist is not known nationally) is usually directed toward a few hand-picked areas (called "breakout markets"). The geographical locations and number of areas picked could depend on many factors:

1) Money,
2) The format, quantitative audience, and program director tastes of the area radio station,
3) The type of consumer in the area,
4) Prevailing competition for shares of the area market,
5) The familiarity the artist manager/promoter has with business contacts in the region, and
6) The availability of appropriate services and events to facilitate the campaign.

The breakout markets picked are often "secondary" cities or areas where radio stations play new releases and unproven artists. This is because broadcasters located in primary markets (e.g., New York and LA) will not usually program a new record until it has reached hit status in a secondary market. Atlanta, for example, is often used as a breakout market for pop, Cleveland for rock, and Austin and cities located in mountain regions for country and country rock.

If the artist is not well known in the breakout area, the promo man would first educate the people about the artist. "Kick-off" publicity as it were. Of primary importance is to educate the programming directors of the local radio stations. This can be conducted:

1) Through online advertising and wire services, via trade publication and other advertisements, gossip columns, broadcast news programs, current event editorials, record charts, etc.,

2) By mailing out press kits,

3) By staging media events, or

4) By getting involved in events that attract media coverage.

Publicity and public relations are not only of initial and ongoing importance in a record promotion campaign, but they are of ongoing value from a career standpoint.  See Cross-links: PUBLICITY, PUBLICITY-A CLOSER LOOK, PUBLIC RELATIONS, IMAGE.

The next step is to ship promotion copies of the CD. The record company or manufacturer would supply the artist with the previously contracted number of promotion copies--usually 1,000 to 5,000 copies. Each CD would be clearly labeled "promotion copy." They would then be shipped to radio stations, program directors, record librarians, DJ's, area distributors (wholesalers), record reviewers, other artists, industry VIP's, etc.. It often helps to send copies to local talent agencies, recording studios, record companies, and music publishers. If they like what they hear they may relay the message to their clients, contacts, and music business friends. The business contacts that may generate could be surprising.  See Cross-links: CONTRACT-RECORDING CONTRACT clauses #35 and #41.

Now, it is time to start working!! The promo man must try to get the artist's CD listed on published radio station playlists, tip sheets, and mentioned in trade publications as trade picks. He would visit DJ's and try to get the song picked as a hit. The promo man would send the DJ's a gossip sheet about the artist's current events. He might do the DJ's favors or visit late night DJ's to keep them company through those weary graveyard shifts. He might arrange to have the artist meet the DJ's or schedule appearances with them. Or, have the artist drop in on the DJ when hosting a media event to "lend a helping hand." The artist could bring along some CDs, T-shirts, buttons, or other "gimmicks" bearing his likeness or identity to give away to the crowd. If the DJ then feels he owes the artist one…great! The DJ might even play the artist's record more often.

The promotion man might send pre-recorded messages thanking the DJ's or the radio station for picking his artist's record as an up and coming chart buster. The idea is to make the record easy for the DJ or radio station music director to choose. The trick is to appeal to their needs and to the needs of their audience. In addition, the promotion man might offer to have the artist do a live studio or phone interview on the air. Or, have the artist tell them his rags to riches or other interesting personal story. The intent is to try to get them interested on a personal basis.

Initial promotion efforts would last at least 8 weeks or more. It is impossible to predict ahead of time if a record will be a hit or a bomb. Most hits, in fact, bomb in some areas initially. A good commercial record hardly ever breaks immediately.

Also, even when a record bombs, the cost of promotion is not a complete loss. It has partially paved the way for future hits by introducing or retaining an artist in the public eye.

National Promotion

If the record breaks in one or two of the target markets the promotion effort can be expanded to the national level.

National promotion is carried out with many of the same tactics utilized in the initial promotion program. However, the strategy is a little different and some new tactics would be employed. The national program, in general, is vastly expanded compared to the original targeted market push.

Strategy

Kick-off publicity, distribution of promotion copies, the contacting of radio stations, etc., (as was outlined for breakout promotion) is also implemented on the national level. But where the promotion department was dealing with 10 to 20 people or businesses at the start, the number quickly jumps to thousands! For example, instead of 2 radio stations, 1,000 may be contacted! Where 1 distributor was involved, now there may be 10.

With such a substantial expansion, the first step quickly becomes apparent. One must change the mode of contact. Where contact at the targeted market level may have been personal, now it will be by mail, telephone, or telegram.

At this point knowledge and past experience in promotion is almost essential. For example, one could spend literally thousands on printing and postage in a direct mail campaign, thousands more on publicity advertising, and then drown in the red ink!

It is imperative to have the addresses and phone numbers of the right people BEFORE one embarks on his national push. It is essential to use proven advertisement copy and expression techniques to enable profitable communication.

Strategy Modification

The approach so far has been to use the breakout market tactics and de-personalize the mode of contact to facilitate the expansion a national promotion campaign demands. But the overall strategy of a national program is also slightly different.

With initial promotion most of the effort was directed toward creating a demand. The supply of the record simply followed the demand created. Although creating demand at the national level is essential and predominant, a much increased proportion of emphasis is directed toward supply--"pushing supply." This idea of pushing supply centers around the record distributor.

Record Distributor

The record distributor functions as a middleman. He is a wholesaler that operates between the record manufacturer and subdistributors (one stops and rack jobbers), or the manufacturer and the retailers. Some distribution operations are owned by major record companies. Nationally, there are only a few major record distributors but major record labels may have 15 or more distribution branches. Other record distributors are independently owned. Some independent distributors ("indies") have the capability to handle national distribution while others only operate in local or regional areas.

If the promotion campaign is being launched by an independent record company with minimal operating capital and a limited distribution network, the promo man would have to weigh his situation and obtain the most cost effective means of distribution.

The promotion man would try to lure the distributor(s) into stocking his record by making them aware of the sales in the breakout areas. He would inform them of listings on any tip sheets or radio station playlists, etc.. Promotion copies would be packaged to draw attention. It must be remembered that all distributors receive more records than they can handle. It is the job of the promo man to break the ice. This is a key function. The more innovative he is, the better his chances are to succeed.

Acquiring an established distributor is very important. This is because it can bring some long awaited promotion help--and at the right price…free! That's right, a good record distributor could shoulder much of the promotion of a record! He has established contacts and clout. He can "push supply."

Even if the distributor accepts a record, the promo man must still keep in mind that the distributor has so many records to push that some will only get his passive attention. So, the more he feels the record is a potential monster the more active will be his input.

Therefore, the promotion man must make him a believer!

If the distributor believes, he will try to place the record in as many locations as possible. He will do his share of contacting radio stations, etc., since his profits also increase with sales. The more he believes the more he will push, push, push.

Promotion Tactics

At the national level, these are the promotion tactics that are implemented…

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