You never give me your money…
The Glasgow music scene is as vibrant, as brilliant, as exciting, as challenging and as rubbish as it has been for many years. With bands to love, acts to loathe and so many artists worth overlooking, it is becoming increasingly difficult for bands to get in front of an audience and make a connection that will see them pick up fans for life.
There are many great acts and great venues in Glasgow, which is a reason why it can be a struggle to draw a crowd or sell music these days. Which is why bands and labels have to focus on the promotional side. In an ideal world, the music would sell itself and great bands would automatically get the audience they deserve but it doesn’t work like that anymore.
In the past week, we’ve witnessed three distinct promotional campaigns being run by different bands, and we thought we’d take a look at them together.
The In-Store Performance
The in-store performance is a long standing tradition in the music industry and its an occurrence where everyone should win. The store itself will hopefully gain sales and maybe even pick up a few more regular customers. The fans have a chance to see a favourite act at close quarters, maybe a get an autograph and picture while sharing the same airspace as their heroes. The band should make some sales and if the store is a chart return store, there’s a chance to positively impact on a record or single’s rankings in the weekly round-ups.
What’s not to like about an in-store?
Well….funnily enough, an in-store is just about the only time I feel uncomfortable in a record store. I don’t feel at ease in too many places these days but pubs, football stadiums and record stores are havens of wellness. Mind you, pubs have people in them, people with a drink in them, and these are unpredictable people. Pubs are fine but sometimes the inhabitants can leave you a bit on edge. Which is why it is good to find pubs that you enjoy and can relax in.
Football stadiums are great. Sure, it costs too much to get into them and they’re full of people but when you’re cheering on a common aim, you can get swept up in a wave of joy and passion. Mind you, if your team loses football stadiums are shit so the enjoyment level is based on things that are completely out of your control, so you can’t say they are perfect.
But record stores…they’re great. They allow you to buy music and they’re usually filled with people who are as socially inept and lacking in skills as you. Having the chance to dig through your favourite artists and find new tunes is always a good way to while away time.
In-store performances though…the uncomfortable waiting around while the band tunes up and gets ready adds an uncomfortable edge that record stores normally lack. With Honeyblood’s set on Thursday at HMV Argyle Street, there was such an occurrence and with a modest yet attentive crowd already gathered, the sound check was met with polite applause.
Which is always a great reason to link back to Ravi Shankar at the Concert For Bangladesh.
But with that out of the way, it was on with the show. The band were not long back from the USA, escaping before their foreigness and gender got them thrown out of the country, but they still clocked up 2 in-stores within 2 days of getting back to Blighty. Squeezing in these shows before their first week chart was compiled was a big effort but it takes a bit more than jet-lag and disorientation with life in general to halt this band.
More on Honeyblood’s chart assault can be found here but when it comes to promotions, an in-store is always going to be a winning idea.
The Online Freebie and Bundle
If you’ve ever, for your troubles, read up on online business promotions, you’ll have heard the phrase, “The money is in the list.” This is all about getting people signed up to your list, allowing you to bombard them with emails, promotions, begging letters and all manner of measures that will encourage folk to part with their cash.
The importance of a list is so distinct that companies will give away a lot in order to convince people to hand over their email address. Which is why I had a promoted advert on Facebook enquiring if I loved country music and would I like a free album?
Now, nothing really comes for free but by handing over an email address, I was presented with a download album by Glasgow country act Ashton Lane. I was also then bombarded with emails asking for feedback and presenting a unique opportunity to get 3 studio albums and 2 EPs for £7 while informing me of an upcoming gig in the city centre. We’ll overlook their valuation and merit of their videos but £7 for that amount of music has to be worth considering.
It’s only of value if you want to pay money for it. There are plenty of records and songs I wouldn’t thank you for if you if they were free and as I am a contrary git, there would be some I would still turn down even if I was paid to take them. This sort of irrational thinking is one of the reasons I’ll achieve nothing with my life, but hey, it’s good to convince yourself that you have principles!
Anyways, are three albums and two EPs of Ashton Lane records going to be worth seven quid? Hmmm, the free album gave value for money and I’m a guy that does indeed country music. That’s the thing though, asking do you like country music is akin to asking if you like food. The answer should always be yes but with so many different styles to choose from, one person’s idea of perfect country music is another person’s hell.
Ashton Lane aren’t hellish, far from it, but they don’t reach out to me either. This is the sound of modern country, the polished pop perfection that is so prevalent in country music these days. When it’s done to the best of its capabilities, it’s fantastic, like all genres, but because there is so much of it these days (and of course that TV show has had a part in bringing it to the masses) and with so much stuff to choose from, you need to be brilliant to stick in someone’s mind. It’s a really tough market at the moment, when you’ve got ex girl-group members flaunting their country credentials, it’s difficult to make your mark and Ashton Lane should be applauded for thinking outside the standard music box in getting their name read and music heard.
Esther, the girl in Ashton Lane (the band, not the actual thoroughfare with the pubs and the cinema) has been battering away in the industry for many years, with a family line that runs back even further. Hopefully, she (and the band) will keep doing what they love and making a living from it, because there is definitely a market for this style of music.
Personally, this style of promotion is a bit too corporate and business-like for my tastes when it comes to music promotion…but that’s all down to the fact that I’m still a bit of a dreamer when it comes to music. This style of promotion is only going to become more prevalent in the years to come but it isn’t going to change anything about what bands need to do, they still need to have the songs and they still need to make the connection.
The Launch Gig and Discount Promotion
And from a new option to one of the oldest games in the book, the launch gig. Launch gigs are fantastic for driving promotion around a new release and it creates a focal point that everyone can get round. The nature of the industry has changed, it used to be that the gig was the tool to create publicity for a release but nowadays, it’s as equally important as the release itself.
There’s not a lot of money in the music industry at the lower end of the market but for bands that are selling tickets that allow them to make some money and their own merchandise that feeds into their income, you can see why this sort of promotion is essential.
And as you have two separate streams that are so important, it makes sense to try and weld them together, increasing the likelihood of selling in both of these areas.
This isn’t a new trend but it is something that has been creeping in more and more often in recent years. First of all it was wrong ‘uns like The Script providing exclusive chances to buy tour tickets when fans bought the album in advance and so of course, anyone with a soul and working ears sneered at this act. “Check out the corporate sliminess of these guys, that’s not keeping it real.” And then Sufjan Stevens did it as well and a lot of people went awfully quiet on the merits of providing priority tickets to people who buy an album or merchandise. Morrissey did it too, allowing him to sell loads of t-shirts long before people even got to the gig. However, let’s not be taking Morrissey as a barometer of what is right or wrong to do, he makes an awful lot of comments that most right-minded people will at least raise an eyebrow to.
But with online selling opportunities, there is a genuine chance for acts and labels to provide bundles that capture the imagination and allow people to save money while doing things they were probably going to do.
We review the latest release from Olive Grove Records here and if you’re quick, you can order a bundle from them which gives you an eticket for the launch gig and a vinyl copy of the EP which can be picked up on night. First of all, no postage costs, brilliant. You’re also getting people to make plans and if they can bring friends along, you’re getting more punters in than you may have done otherwise. This is also good news for the venue because anything which encourages more people to come along should hopefully help them to make profits.
Where it really works though is that it commits people. Giving people a chance to get entry to the gig and a vinyl copy of the EP at a lower combined price than the individual costs creates the commitment for the event. The gig is in the south side of Glasgow, walkable from my flat or given the likelihood of cold November rain (which admittedly doesn’t last forever), a quick bus journey, and there would be sense in me holding off until the evening of the show. A gadabout like myself is always facing new and unexpected plans for a Saturday night and even though the plan all week had been to head to the gig, one phone call or message could change all that, which means the band or label would lose that cash which had been earmarked for them all week.
The bundle though, the real incentive to buy in advance, safeguards them and then even if a far more wildly interesting offer came up, that cash had been banked by the artists and my whereabouts would be of no concern or interest.
Even with new online opportunities arising all the time, live performances and a traditional form of engagement remains the best way for a band to reach out to their audience. There are definitely new ways of selling these shows and encouraging people to come along but at the heart of it all, the live show remains the best way for acts to “shift units”.
It’s good to know that in a changing and uncertain world, some things are still the same.