Sunday, 1 June 2014

What's your music worth? Well, how about asking?

The Bluebeat Arkestra put up an online Honesty Box for their new EP and plugged it on Facebook. Here's what happened.

Dark Disco, Trip-Hop, Funk,    
Electronic  and Breakbeat heaven    
You can get lots of free music online. Much of it is on dodgy torrent sites who stiff musicians illegally. Streaming sites pay tiny royalties and stiff musicians legally. 

What's to be done? Ubercool web marketing gurus tell you to give it away; it's promotion. That's the online equivalent of expecting a band to play for free. 

The bottom line? The web has devalued music. It's great for spreading and sharing ideas. It works fine for me: I like to write. But it's not great for musos who put up money and rehearsal and collaboration time to make their statement. 

A while back, Dave Breeze of The BlueBeat Arkestra told me of their plans to launch an EP with an online honesty box through Bandcamp: download for free and then pay what you like. We fixed to meet up after the release to find out how it went. 

The Bluebeat Arkestra are an engaging and intelligent six piece. They can't be the easiest bunch to mike up for a live gig, mixing vocals, fiddle, trumpet and electronica. But they've come up with the goods on their new EP, partly due to a sensitive production job with Sam RedmoreYou might just be confused by a name that suggests a Prince Buster / Sun Ra mash-up. It's simpler than that: Two albums next to each other in guitarist Shaun Hands' record collection. 

So, a month ago, the band duly launched their EP with gigs, and a solid media campaign. They devised a meticulous plan of action, all budgeted and planned, with lists of people they needed to contact, datelines, times and responsibilities. Facebook sprayed out paid-for targeted messages on a daily basis. That phase done, it was time to take stock with Dave and Shaun.

Can I start by asking what you did on Facebook, and how much it cost?
Dave: There's two elements with Facebook promotion. You can boost a specific status post, and you can do a sponsored advert. The sponsored advert was quite expensive: it was over a hundred pounds, over a period of a month. And we spent ten or twenty pounds or so on boosting a specific post, when we first posted the Chillr video....
...but we got a much better response to the short sharp burst boosting the video post than we did to the month-long sponsored advert.
And that video now has, by far, your best YouTube figures. Very respectable. So do you think what worked best was a short sharp burst boosting the a video of one of the songs?
Definitely. We had one advert that went straight to the Bandcamp page. That's where you can download the EP and pay us if you like it. Over the course of a month that got maybe 100 clicks. So we paid about a pound for each click. So - not great value.
But I saw that ad a LOT. I'm wondering – did you over-egg that part of the campaign? 
It's hard to know. But will you remember our name? 
Good point! I kind of already knew you; now I know you better. The critical point might be this: a band makes the effort to pull people to Bandcamp or Soundcloud. If the stuff on offer is rubbish, than that's a catastrophic campaign. Tell me how the boosted post part of the campaign worked?
Really, really well. We got thousands of clicks. It didn't get lost. 
And that was just asking people to click once to check your video?
Shaun: Yeah. I was talking with Sam Redmore, our producer. He said he rarely posts anything without boosting it. That step seems to be more and more important. You see bands who say they post all the time, but nobody sees all those posts. It's a way for Facebook to make a bit of money.
Dave: They are a business, and that's the product the offer. In terms of where you spend your money, it's good value in many ways. We started a record label a couple of years ago, and I took some adverts out in a local magazine. We were talking a half page of A4, and the cost was upwards of £300. Our ad cost a third of that, and it ran for a month to the people wanted to reach. .
That's another example of the net turning old-school spending patterns upside down. A lot of people – creative people especially - are making a lot less money because of that. So how did that work for you with your online honesty box?
Shaun: I was a bit wary of pay what you want.
Dave: For me, I had a strong belief that if you listen to the record, you'll think it's really good and want to pay something for it. So, yes, we did run that risk you hinted at of people not liking it, but it seemed to work for us.
Shaun: It's how things have changed. Maybe twenty years ago, we've have been signed by now. We've done everything that we should have done. 
But that's not your fault! I think that, one,we're living in a golden age of local band creativity, and two, the playing field you're on is now vast.
Dave: There is so much more competition. 
So are you managing to raise your profile to get noticed?
Dave: we've had a lot of airplay locally and also on 6 Music and Amazing Radio. And there's been stations in France and elsewhere who have picked up on us. Lots of reviews. Other bands have come up to us and asked us how we've managed to do that. That's nice. 
Maybe that comes down to your post boosting and that expensive sponsored advert. 
Dave: It's good because you can do a lot under your own steam. It's taking it on from there...
We haven't mentioned your excellent producer and the way you put your EP together. 
Shaun: We'd never been particularly happy with how our previous recording went – working against the clock in a studio – and Sam wanted to produce rather than remix. We gave him Ghosts first. That's one of Hayley (Trower)'s songs. We saw her do it at the Actress and Bishop and it sounded like Goldfrapp. We didn't know the best way to record it. 
Dave: We recorded the drums with Free School at their studio in Hockley. The rest we did with Sam – either we went round to his house, or put stuff down and sent it to him. Apart from the drums, it was all recorded in a bedroom. A lot of people were quite shocked. 
Shaun: A lot of it's down to him – all the weird noises...
The Bluebeat Arkestra are now planning their next recording. The marketing push for the current EP is pretty much done, and summer gigs await. Has it all worked? It's up to you to judge. I think they've hit several targets. Sales have been better than expected, and their name has travelled quite a lot further than they planned. 

It's interesting to compare their initiative with Radiohead's 2007 ploy, putting their heads on the block in a blaze of publicity to highlight the web-based problems the band faced. Interestingly, they abandoned the approach a few years later. Seven years ago, of course, the market was a lot less crowded.The end result of that marketing push? Fans paid, on average $2.26 for their album downloads. That low figure is, in part, due to the publicity surrounding their initiative - they were pretty much the first to try this. 

The Bluebeat Arkestra's haven't ridden the same wave at all. It's more local; they set out to spread the word about their new EP, and they used social media very deliberately. Not a bad result, all told.

The Bluebeat Arkestra facebook page
The Bandcamp page - download from here, listen, pay what you like: 

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Edward Johan Bol said...

I used to hate the idea of giving music away, all my hard graft taken for free... Now, with a new album newly finished, with a new project, we are considering a free download for the entire album. Let the the music promote the gigs, give out cheap business cards with all the media links and the download info. Perhaps sell other merch, or vinyl at gigs.

I know plenty of bands with a garage full of CDs who have barely broken even on duplication costs. We want people to enjoy our art, perhaps give it to them, and that push the band, and brand, forward.

Popularity will be gained much more quickly. A few good paying PRS radio plays, or perhaps even a TV advert, is worth lots more than a few CD sales, and you're only going to get that from popularity and exposure.

Robin Valk said...

I think this is one of the new ways forward. The Bluebeat Arkestra used it as an angle to to spearhead their campaign, which was shrewd. If everyone does it now, it won't work, and I think people can only do it once... until they have built profile. Bottom line: find a way to stand out, over and above your music - cos it's damn crowded on that level playing field.