Thank you so much to everyone who’s been with us along the way!
We wanted to put together a summary of what’s happened since the release, what we’ve done and what we’ve learned.
Here are the main beats in that process up to now.
Before the official release on March 28, we of course put together the song, recorded it, and had it mixed and mastered. That was a given.
Leading up to the release, we started inviting people to join our email list. We asked our family members, friends, and then pretty much everyone we’d ever met and could contact, literally messaging hundreds of people individually over the course of a few months. Before releasing the single, we’d grown that email list to a little over 500 people. That’s not a huge list, but it was way more than I figured we’d have right off the bat, considering no one had heard any of our music.
We used MailChimp to send out updates once a week before the release.
We didn’t do anything much other than that. Each of us has a few hundred personal friends on Facebook, and we had our Hunchback Whale Facebook page. We never promoted the band Facebook page, though – we preferred to get everyone on the email list. That seemed like a more direct way to contact everyone. It turned out to be a solid decision.
We sent an email specifically mentioning the release a week before the single dropped. Then we emailed a couple times that week of the launch.
We had HunchbackWhale.com up, but that didn’t drive any traffic.
What we’ll do next time: get everything in place at least a month before the release. That way, crunch time is spent spreading the word instead of setting up all the admin details. The individual messaging, though, are still the single best converting tactic we’ve used. In other words, ask people, the painstaking way, one at a time.
The first place we made the single available was on YouTube. You’ve probably seen it already, but if not, you better go check it out before you read any more of this.
We posted the video on YouTube and then shared it on our email list and Facebook pages, both our Hunchback Whale page and our personal pages.
By the end of the first week, we were close to a thousand views, all from Facebook and the emails. So two things on this:
- Our close friends on Facebook shared the original release post when we shared it. It was just a link to the YouTube video with a quick description saying it was our first single. All told, we had about 30 shares on the link within the first week. It’s difficult to calculate exactly, but I’m sure we got a lot of traffic to the YouTube video release because of all the shares.
- We emailed everyone multiple times about the release. The first time said the release was coming. The second time said it was here. The third one only went to people who hadn’t clicked the link to the first one and asked them to check it out. A fourth email went to everyone who had clicked on it already and asked them if they’d share it for us. Many of them did (see point #1 above). Ask and you shall receive, if you’ve done a halfway decent job being a friend and – the overlooked part – if you have a way to contact them to ask them (i. e. their email addresses or friend connection on Facebook).
What we’ll do next time: the same thing, just more and planned out further in advance, specifically…
- We were writing emails on the fly. We’ll write these in advance and schedule them to send so we’re not scurrying around so much during launch week.
- We have a list of who shared our posts the first time. We’ll definitely put them on the short list of people to help spread the word next time.
- We’ll do more up front to cultivate relationships with people so it’s easier to ask them to share our stuff next time. For instance, one of the best ways we’ve found to do this is to share other people’s stuff now, tell them happy birthday… little things that go a long way. Like I said, just being a decent friend.
We posted the single on CD Baby less than a week from release date. We knew this was a problem before we did it. Everything I read said to make sure you have your ducks in a row well in advance. Well, like typical musicians, we didn’t. We were still putting together that actual MP3 files with tags, the cover photo, and all that days before sending it off to CD Baby.
As a result, once CD Baby did get it, we didn’t have any leeway for error. And naturally, there was error. For a while, we needed some additional info – the writer credits to be properly set up (Ted wanted to go by “Ted E. Jones,” but they wouldn’t accept that because it’s not his legal name. We had to go with Theodore Elliot Jones to make it official… now the secret’s out, and the branding is all wrong. 🙂 Oh well.)
It took us a few months before we got it all ironed out. That’s when “Haunted” finally made its way to iTunes and the other big players. That was a big deal.
Overall, it turned out to be a great test run. But let’s not repeat that mistake.
What we’ll do next time: again, just setting this up earlier will be a big deal. We can’t be messing around with admin stuff a month before the release. That needs to be taken care of way before then. The lesson? Over budget time for the admin stuff in advance.
Emailing Music Review Bloggers
This is kind of the normal thing every musician tries to do.
We weren’t nearly as diligent as we should have been about this. We emailed maybe 10 or 11 bloggers. Then we stopped.
We didn’t get any responses back from any of them. We didn’t follow up with any of them, though, either.
What we’ll do next time: I think there are two approaches that might work better:
- Actually emailing more of them. It’s like cold calling: you can’t call 10 people and then wonder why no one bought a car from you. We gave up too soon, brushing it off as, “We’re too busy – we’ll get back around to that.” And then six months later… still no further follow through.
- Start out with better relationships before cold emailing. I mean, if I emailed you out of nowhere, no doubt along with hundreds of others, would you take the time to read, much less click a link and listen to whatever I’d sent you? Probably not. Now if I had your cell number, and I texted you our new music after we’d worked on it together over the past few months… there’s a better shot. This is where the shouts outs come in that I’ll mention a few bullet points down…
One of our first guerrilla marketing tactics post release was to print up a bunch of Hunchback Whale cards and hand them out at concerts around town.
The concept was simple: pick concerts similar to the style of music we play but with huge followings (think Panic! At the Disco, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), show up for the lines before the show, and hand out download cards for our music, trying to gather some email addresses in the process. Like at first, we made people give us their email address before they could even listen to the song. Later, we decided we’d rather they hear our music and then make a decision if they wanted to join the list. (We’re still testing which is more effective.)
I don’t know the exact counts now, but we’ve given away between 5,000 and 6,000 cards at this point.
What we’ll do next time: concert hijacking makes a great story (it’s worth it just for that when people interview us a little later) but doesn’t really move the needle enough for the cost and time involved. Beyond the story, though, I think it did teach us a lot about how people perceive and receive music (or don’t). Downloads and “free music” just aren’t seen as valuable to most people. Best part? The people who did like it REALLY liked it.
Handing out cards personally
This goes a lot further. When we’re talking with friends or people we meet in everyday life, when we can tell them about our music and hand them a card, the card serves as a physical reminder, with an online destination on it, to check out the music. If we’ve made that personal connection already, even if it’s just seeing the same barista in a coffee shop over and over again, the card goes a lot further than if we’re handing them out en mass to strangers.
We’ve had particular success exchanging cards with fellow musicians. We’re on similar journeys, and musicians tend to appreciate music more. Plus, what we’ve found is that once we offer a card first, other musicians are more than happy to share their music and contact info. That allows us to follow up with them, instead of waiting for them to find us.
Some close friends have even helped us pass out these cards. That’s always encouraging.
What we’ll do next time: cards are still a great item to have on hand all the time. With companies like Staples printing them for literally pennies per card, it’s a no brainer to keep in our arsenal for personal connections.
Song / Song-Writer Contests
They always say not to put too much effort into contests. What’s the likelihood that a contest by itself will launch a career, even if the song does make it to the top?
That said, we’re throwing spaghetti to see what sticks, so…
We’ve entered a couple. We haven’t gotten back results on all of them, but we did okay in one (top 10 placing).
So far, we haven’t made any direct connections. Part of it might just be for some validation – like, “Yay, a bunch of random judges liked our stuff.” But when it comes down to it, it’s not about what judges like. It’s about what real people listen to.
There’s this quote, something like, “A lot of people can get up and sing. Not a lot of people give you their soul on stage.”
What we’ll do next time: I think we’ll continue to enter contests here and there when we can, but it’s not a strategy. It’s too hit or miss. It’s more for fun. Maybe we’ll get some press out of it to add to our bylines.
We’ve created three or four videos to share on YouTube, all of them pretty ridiculous. (You can see what I mean over on our channel here.)
We haven’t approached YouTube with the goal of becoming stars there. Our music will be there, at least some of it, and we’d like to create some music videos down the road. Overall, though, our primary strategy has been to continue to keep the email list the hub, with very occasional content published elsewhere. We just haven’t seen anyone convert YouTube into the type of music career we want. Usually, it’s based around cover songs or creating incredible videos with music as the backdrop. For now, that’s just not the direction we’ve wanted to go.
What we’ll do next time: we could benefit from a more set schedule for publishing on YouTube, even if it’s just once a quarter. That would add some legitimacy to the channel, giving subscribers a reason to subscribe.
CD Baby’s DIY Musician’s Conference
We’ve learned a lot from CD Baby, both their services for distribution and their podcast.
This year, we decided to go to their DIY Musician’s Conference. It was a no brainer when we found out it was in Nashville this year and we could get in on the early bird special price of $69/person for the weekend.
Three big takeaways (and by “takeaways,” I mean things we’ve started doing as a result of the conference):
- Do Facebook Live videos, even if they’re only two minutes long: Rick Barker stressed how much Facebook support Facebook Live video. Longer videos are better, but even if it’s only a few minutes long, it’s better to do it live than post a pre-recorded video, whenever possible.
- Do Shout Outs: Taking Facebook Live a step further, we did a series of shout outs to various musicians and bands we met at the conference. This has been a good way to keep connected to the people we met. They might not all listen to our music, but we hope connecting like this makes it more likely that we’ll be able to continue to help each other in the future.
- Rehearse (and perfect) the live show: Tom Jackson, one of the keynote speakers at the conference, is a Live Music Producer. He teaches musicians and bands how to move on stage, how to create memorable moments, and to captivate the audience and engage them in the show, instead of just playing some songs. We’d learned some from him already before we added (and had a lot of the same ideas anyway), but seeing him do his live band makeovers helped solidify how important this can be. Now when we rehearse, we’ve been focusing more on this aspect of the show, adding parts where we can ask the audience to sing along, extending intros, and so on.
There’s also another piece to this, someone we met and will probably continue to connect with for advice. We haven’t pulled the trigger on this yet, though, so I won’t share any more on it for now.
So where did this get us?
Some quick stats to benchmark where we’re at:
- 5000+ Hunchback Whale cards handed out
- 760+ email subscribers
- 240+ Facebook Likes
- 40+ YouTube subscribers
- 1 single released with 1400+ views on YouTube
A couple notes on this:
- We don’t have a Twitter account, Instagram account, or Snapchat account (well, technically, we do – we saved the usernames – but we’re not active on any of them). We also haven’t done anything on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or Spotify other than posting our first single on them.
- We haven’t tried any ads yet (no Facebook ads, no boosted posts, nothing like that). I think we will in the future. For now, it’s more about finding where the flame will burn – then we can dump gas on the fire with ads.
- The song’s available on all the major platforms now, streaming and for download, if anyone wants to buy it. It’s free, though – we never meant to make any money on this one, so no real metrics on sales yet.
Biggest lesson: it’s one person at a time. Taylor Swift’s first manager said, “If you want to sell 500,000 albums, you have to meet 500,000 people.”
I had a couple paragraphs here originally, but nah… we’re not going to share all that yet. That’s for the super fans who get our emails. If you’re part of that already, that means you.
If not… why not join? Just let us know you want to be part of it. (Or enter your email at the bottom of the page here.)
Also, let us know if you have suggestions. How would you improve all this if it were up to you?
It’s a long road, and it’s difficult to find real numbers with timetables when everyone’s starting out. Hopefully, sharing some of this will help others along the way. Or at least be fun for those listening.