How to spend $100,000 to break an artist

…and how to do it for a fraction of the cost.

Amber Horsburgh
Oct 23 · 3 min read

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Two conversations I keep having as a music marketing consultant:

  1. “We’ve got the money, we just don’t know where to spend it. What actually matters?”
  2. “We have high hopes for this release but the budget’s tight because we’re already so far in the red”

When thinking about marketing a record, the first place I start is with the overall budget. It’s your greatest predictor of marketing activities and provides the following:

1) Viability of your marketing ideas

Shawn Mendes pop-up shop to support his self-titled record, London May 2018 is an example of a marketing initiative that can have a high impact but is a huge investment financially and logistically. To execute this at the highest level requires adequate lead time to source sponsorship, product and programming and not something that can be executed on a lean budget.

Many a time I’ve lead brainstorms that result in some sort of “pop up” concept around release week. Things like: storefront takeovers, artists giving tatts in real time, a stage where the artist can perform the new record with bespoke, themed cocktails for the event. There is absolutely no way you can execute this at the highest level on a $10,000 marketing budget, heck, probs not even with a $100,000 marketing budget. Therefore, your team should spend its time/resources investigating other ideas.

2) Feasibility test to see what shape ideas take

Princess Nokia’s Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T) video is an example of a larger budget production — 4 costume changes, hotel rental, glam for 10–20 extras and so on. At the core of the video is the idea of Princess Nokia being crowned pageant winner, how that would look on a $2,000 budget would be vastly different to the excellent quality of this video.

The budget determines how you pull off your marketing ideas. For example, if a music video needs to be made for $2,000 — the treatment and team will look a lot different to a $75,000 video. At $2,000, your cast are friends. The crew is stripped back and clothing will be borrowed and returned to store. Hair and makeup looks will be done by friends or by hitting the Sephora stand — you get the gist. The marketing budget predicts how something will be made — the creative restraints around the idea.

3) Prioritization of marketing activities

There’s the impulse to do everything — artists are creative by nature; they have squillions of ideas all the time. Music is one of the fastest evolving artistic mediums. Plus, with an ever evolving media landscape, you’ve got legitimately hundreds of paths to success. The marketing budget will tell you what to focus on and what to ignore at the given time.

4) Risk tolerance for new ideas

With a $10,000 budget you’ll be more risk averse. At $10,000, you’re likely self funding, so every dollar spent hurts. At $100,000, you may have outside investment from a label, distributor or private investor — therefore more open to risk. You also have wiggle room to experiment more.


So, the first question you should ask before starting any marketing campaign is, “What is the overall budget?” You should have an answer for this — put a stake in the ground rather than meet the question with “Well, it depends, what do you need?” or “We’ll spend if it looks like it’s working.”

Here’s how I break down $10,000 vs. $100,000 marketing budget for a record campaign.

With 10,000 your main focus is brand building and growth, therefore creating content and getting it seen is the primary focus and therefore primary spend.
With more money you can experiment more, but your need to be everywhere increase the marketing initiatives required for a project of this scope.

A more detailed breakdown of marketing activities and strategy→

If you’re keen on more resources for breaking down marketing budgets, be sure to check out these guys →

  • Yung Lean case study for breaking up a hip-hop/rap marketing budget based on the genre’s nuances.
  • Marketing budget template — adjustable spreadsheet that tells you how much to spend on each line item based on the genre you’re working with
  • + the theory behind using listener behavior for budgeting

Amber Horsburgh

Written by

Music marketing consultant. Downtown Records & Big Spaceship alumni. Writes about music, strategy and feels at Deep Cuts http://bit.ly/2yphFYx

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