USING NEW TECHNOLOGIES FOR PROMOTION
by Caesar Pink
© 2000 Caesar Pink. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.
This morning I found myself putting my dimes into rolls so I could cash them in to pay the printer for band posters. $70 in dimes plus $250 from selling my video card gives me $320 which is what the discount printer I found somewhere in Indiana charges for 500 16x20 posters. They're only black and white, but it's enough to plaster around the city and get our band's name -'Caeser Pink & The Imperial Orgy' burned into people's memories.
These poster are a big investment for us, and for most struggling artists, any expense for promotion is too much. Because our band does not follow the formulas of the latest trends, the record companies have repeatedly passed us by. So we had to face the question -'how do you promote a band without a big corporate budget behind you?'
The answer we found was that by using the new technologies available, amazing things can be done. In fact, these technologies have placed so much opportunity into the hands of artists that it amounts to a virtual revolution against the dominance of mega-record companies within the music industry.
The first and most obvious technology is the internet. Previously the corporations controlled all access to audiences with the exception of performing live in small venues. Now for just a few dollars a month, artists can make their work available all over the world. With this in mind I bought a $20 how-to-build-a-web site book, sat down and built a web site for The Imperial Orgy. By using creativity and having a message that was unique I created a site that really stood out from the pack. So much so, that it landed us on the cover of .Net Magazine which originates in England and is distributed all over the world and translated in seven languages. Not bad for an unsigned band.
On our web site we created a store with a shopping cart - we get our shopping cart for $100 a year, and we were able to accept credits thanks to CDStreet.com who require no deposit, but take a small percentage of your sales. I did the research and it's a very reasonable deal.
Once we had the store in place we created our own CD's on the home computer CD recorder. We designed the covers in Photoshop and printed them on a $90 printer. We made videotapes, printed lyric books at the local copy store, and found a company called CafePress.com the lets you upload your own artwork, and then they sell T-shirt, mugs and mouse pads with the artwork on it for you on a per order basis. You pay nothing until you sell an item!
Now with the web site and store in place, all we needed was to get people to come to the site. To start with we spent a half day listing ourselves with every search engine. Submitplus.com has a list of 100 search engines that makes it easy to get your site listed. We also got listed in every band listing site. And we began adding our web site address to every flyer, CD cover, letter… anything we had.
Plus there are many other opportunities on the Internet There are many companies such as MP3.com that allow you (free of charge) to create a band web page and upload MP3 files of your music on their site. Many of these companies pay you a penny or two each time one of your songs is played. Since MP3.com is one of the internet's most popular sites, quite a lot of people surf in and check out your music. Especially if you have an interesting name like 'Caeser Pink & The Imperial Orgy.'
MP3.com also allows you to create radio stations of your own and other people's music, which surfers can listen to. We have five separate sites on MP3.com and four separate radio stations. Plus we have MP3 files and band pages on at least ten other sites including rollingstone.com, iuma.com, and ubl.com. These sites are linked from our own web site have been listed separately with search engines.
This Internet stuff might sound complicated, but each thing brings a few extra people into our site and all the little things begin to add up to a lot of people. We just reached our 30,000 visitor on our site.
Next, let's look at a too often overlooked part of music promotion: live performance. When you walk on-stage that is your moment to shine. We often forget that when people come to a live performance that want to see a 'performance.' They want to be entertained. If they just wanted to hear the music they would stay home and listen to their CD player.
Here in New York City, you have the hardest competition in the world. There are hundreds of bands playing every night. There are dozens of clubs and each club has between four and eight bands per night.
But if you want to get an edge and make yourself stand out you can do it, because 99 per cent of the bands are boring to watch on-stage. Most are still stuck in the dark days of alternative; wearing grunge clothes and staring at their shoes.
In order to make ourselves stand out from the crowd, we put a lot of thought into our image. We spoke to young designers and ask them to design clothes for us for bargain rate prices. Sometimes we made outrageous costumes by shopping at the salvation army thrift shops.
Then we got the background singers to learn a few dance moves, and added a few tasteful props and theatrics. Add to that a little audience interaction and soon we had a stage show that drove people wild. When new audiences see us they know they were experiencing something different! We never gave them a chance to get bored.
But where does the new technology come in, you may ask? Well for the final touch to make our live performances a full multimedia extravaganza we wanted to have a video show behind the band. To achieve this we bought a video camera and got some desktop video editing software and went to work.
Only a few short years ago it would cost you at least $20,000.00 to purchase a home editing system. Today with new FireWire technology you can buy a mini-DV camera for as low as seven hundred dollars and hook it up to your home computer with the appropriate software, and away you go. I use a Sony TRV-900 DV Camera, a Mac G3, and Adobe Premiere video editing software. My system is a bit higher end, the whole system including the computer and software came to about $4,000.00. For half that price one can buy an iMac with video editing software already installed and a SAMSUNG SCD60 - Digital Video Camcorder for about $699.00, and be set to produce high quality video.
With the system in place we thought about each song and created a background video to go with it. We videotaped footage wherever we could. We also took footage from old public domain videos, and even ask local film students to let us use their school projects. Within a few months, we had a full video show running during our shows.
We approached the video show in a thoughtful way so that is was not just random images to distract people from the band. We tried to make each video help express the meaning of the song, and in many cases the videos actually added a new level of meaning to the songs.
Now that we had the video setup, we started thinking of other ways to use the technology for further promotional opportunities. The first was to create a video demo tape to send with our press kits. Using the filming style of VH1's 'Behind The Music' we set about creating a short documentary bio about the band. We did interviews, incorporated live show footage, band stills, and graphics to tell our story.
Once the video was finished and we sent it out to a few press people, we found that the reaction was extremely positive. Not only did our press kit stand out simply because we provided a video, but the documentary made a much stronger impression on the writer than a CD and written material would have alone. It made them see us as a personality with a character and story.
There was a time when an artist could make their own CD and send it to college radio station across the country and if the music was any good you stood a pretty good chance of getting it on the air. Well those days are gone! When R.E.M. broke into the mainstream through college radio the major labels took notice in a big way. These days major labels are beating down the doors of college radio program directors and the result is that now college airplay is nearly as elusive as commercial airplay.
All hope for national exposure is not lost because there is a media venue that is still relatively open to underground content: Public Access Cable TV. Most cities now have their own Public Access station whose sole mission it to provide an outlet for noncommercial programming from community filmmakers. It is relatively easy to get your video content aired and it is a great way to get your music heard by large audiences across the country.
We decided to make use of this opportunity by producing a half hour variety show called The Imperial Orgy Show. We got the background singers to be the hosts. We wrote a few comedy skits and got our friends to act in them. We interviewed other musicians and artists that we liked and played their music. And of course each show has a section about The Imperial Orgy and our music. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. In the end we had 12 half hour shows which are currently playing in many major cities across the US with a possible audience of millions.
In our situation all of these different projects took an unusual turn. In the process of creating our web sites, stage productions, and TV Show series, we had gotten so many different people involved in our creative efforts that The Imperial Orgy became an extended community beyond just the band itself. We had worked with other musicians, fashion designers, painters, sculptors, actors and writers, and not only did they help us, we gave them an opportunity to both be creative and to promote their own talents.
We realized the more we helped others and made their work a part of our own, the more all of us benefited. Also, working with all of these talented people in a creative atmosphere made the work fun. Soon we began having guests join us at our live shows and anywhere we could.
Since some of our music was of a political nature we also began getting involved with social activism projects. We soon started other web sites such as The Outsider E-Zine which is a monthly online magazine that features the artists and writers in our community. We created a community web site and radio station on MP3.com and created CDs that feature the community artists.
True to the theory, the more we helped others the better we did ourselves. Not only did each artist's fans become interested in other artists within the community, but new fans could see that we doing something special and that the artists were part of a scene that is vital and exciting.
The Final Barriers
Thanks to new technologies it is now possible for artists to create their own work and market it directly to the public without a corporate sponsor. The only real hurdle to overcome is that the media still lives in the old world where the only commercially viable artists are those backed by big corporations. We need to urge magazines, TV stations, newspapers, and radio stations to accept that a change is coming.
Soon all artists will be viable, and the media outlets must be asked to judge which artists they support based on the actual content of their work and not on the power of their corporate sponsor. I guess this might seem naive because the goal of the media is to sell advertising, and it is the artists at the top of the hottest trends which do that. But all artists have to start somewhere, and the new artists which the media chooses to promote should be chosen from a wider arena than just those with corporate backing.
There are ways to get in the media, and to achieve success media coverage is vital. An important skill to develop is the ability to write a good press release. When considering your press release there are two things to keep in mind: angle and ease.
EASE-When writing a press release, consider the writer's point of view. Writing is the reporter's job. Make it as easy for the reporter as possible. Write your press release so that it could be printed as an article. Many times my press releases have been printed almost word for word. The reporters change a few words and put their name on it as if they had written it. It's only logical that if the reporter has to put a lot of work into your story, it is less likely to get printed.
ANGLE-When you approach a media outlet, consider their purpose and try to find an angle where you could fit in. Often you stand a better chance of being covered by a magazine that doesn't usually cover music. In our case our first big break was in an Internet magazine who we sold on the uniqueness of our web site. This same approach can be applied to just about any genre of publication. You just have to find the right angle.
The Future of Entertainment
The new technologies are definitely going to change the entertainment industry. No one is quite sure how things will end up, but a change is taking place. As artists we can only benefit by helping to shape that change in a manner that provides more opportunities for artists who create work that doesn't fit into the mainstream. The tools are there for us. It is just a matter of making use of them and demanding that the world recognize us as a force that must be taken seriously.
Caeser Pink is a multimedia artist, activist, and singer/songwriter for the band Caeser Pink & The Imperial Orgy. He also the leader of the associated community known as The Imperial Orgy. Among the projects Pink and The Imperial Orgy have produced are The Imperial Orgy TV Show series,The Outsider E-Zine,The Artist's Revolution Store, as well as a variety of film projectsand Social activism projects. For more information visit The Imperial Orgy main website.