[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
In 2019, it’s tempting for musicians to put all of their promotion efforts into things that are purely digital, like targeted internet ads and sleek social media strategies. Conventional music industry wisdom states that investing money in things like CDs, posters, vinyl records, shirts, and stickers is making less and less sense since the majority of recorded music consumption now happens digitally.
But artists lose a huge opportunity to promote their music and connect with audiences when they adopt an all digital strategy for promoting their work and sharing it with audiences.
CDs are still needed for radio and PR campaigns
Believe it or not, loads of music journalists and DJs still prefer getting CDs. In fact, some influential press and media outlets refuse to accept anything other than CDs when it comes to music submissions. Sure, more and more artists are opting to save money with purely digital releases and promotion strategies, but they aren’t as likely to get radioplay and press coverage compared to the ones that offer their work through CDs.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to spend loads of cash duplicating thousands of CDs. In response to today’s digitally driven music climate, lots of companies now offer decent prices on short runs of CDs. This means you can pay for a short run of CDs that are used purely for promotional purposes.
Boost your merch sales or crowdfunding effort
If you’re planning on raising money for your music through crowdfunding or are looking to bolster your merch sales, offering physical rewards like posters, cassette tapes, and shirts is a good way to build interest.
Think how many hours per day you spend looking at screens. I spend at least six to eight hours writing, making music, or reading the news on my laptop. For you it might be more or less time. Physical music promotion is actually bound to become more important in the future because of our world’s increasing need for time away from computers and smartphones. Physical merch and music offerings are worth your investment, especially when it comes to finding ways for connecting with your most avid fans.
Get the word out about your music in non-digital spaces
It might feel like the entire world lives their lives purely online, but billions of people move through physical spaces to work, shop, socialize, and travel each day.
In big urban centers like New York City and London, physical music promotion through banners, posters, and stickers is still an effective way for getting the word out about a new release or tour. A couple of posters won’t make the difference between whether the world listens to your music or not, but it’s something that will help creatively align your music with visuals and spread your name around at the same time.
Like a lot of things when it comes to music, there’s no guarantees with physical music promotion, but not doing it is likely to put you at a significant disadvantage.
Things to consider with physical music promotion and releases
While adding physical elements to your music and the ways you promote it is a good idea, there’s a few things for artists to consider:
Vinyl records, shirts, posters. Merch and physical music releases can be hugely beneficial to bands––for a price. Bands get themselves into trouble when they go into debt spending thousands of dollars on merch, CDs, and cassette tapes. Some bands have the luxury of having enough money to be able to buy whatever physical promotion and release format options they like, but most musicians will have to practice restraint and discernment here
Misreading you audience’s wants
An ungodly amount of musicians out there have boxes of CDs and cassette tapes hidden away in attics, closets, and storage units because of this problem. You might have a large audience who is enthusiastic about your work, but that doesn’t mean you’re likely to sell thousands of CDs or vinyl records. The problem of selling out of something isn’t much of a problem at all compared to not being able to sell enough of something. Whether it’s tapes, CDs, or vinyl records, you can always order more.
D.I.-Why and D.I.-Don’t
Musicians are fiercely creative people, but that doesn’t mean musical talents cross over to graphic design, illustration, and photography.
Unless you truly are remarkably talented both visually and musically, your shirts, posters, album covers, and band photos will need to be handled by somebody else. Sure, you can save money by doing it yourself, but chances are it won’t be nearly as good compared to working with an artist or photographer who actually knows what they’re doing.
“None of this stuff has to do with music,” is something some of you are probably thinking, and you’re right. But if you intend on sharing and selling your music, music can’t be all you think or care about. And when it comes to effectively sharing and promoting the music you’re so passionate about making, keeping a physical touch in what you do is still a big deal.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.