How being in a band taught me everything I know about marketing and running a business
You may not think it, but bands and startups have a lot in common. Try thinking of the most disorganized, underfunded and poorly run businesses that you have ever encountered, and that is pretty much every band that exists. How does this help learn about marketing you say?
Well for around 8 years i played in a moderately successful Australian metal band called The Omen, playing shows all over the country, and trying to figure out how to make a living doing what I loved. You see outside of music, like most people who play in bands, I had a real job that I didn’t like, and only did to fund my real love. Playing music.
My day job was as a Civil Engineer and Project Manager for one of the biggest engineering firms in Melbourne, but it was not what I wanted to be doing. It was an old fashioned industry run by uptight old men and left no room for creativity, but it paid well. I fell into engineering after not being accepting into a multimedia design course at university, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but after a few years, I was bored and looking for a way out.
I spent every spare moment that I had trying to write new songs, blowing my money on gear that I couldn’t afford and practice spaces, along with trying to come up with new ways to get our name out there and get people to listen to our music and watch us play live.
With my engineering and project management, background I learned a lot of skills around how to run a successful business and manage a team. While I didn’t know it at the time, this actually laid the foundations for me in running a successful band, and leading the charge into a new career in marketing down the track.
The thing that you might not realize is that running a band is the equivalent of running the worst business that you can possible imagine, and enjoying it.
You have four or five staff members, all who have different ideas on how to do things, can typically be unreliable, have very little money, and no idea what they are doing outside of their musical skills. Also, being in a band is a bottomless money pit. You are playing for gear, rehearsal space, recording time, merchandise production, travel expenses and a lot of other stuff. You then drive 6 hours across the state to play a show to 20 people and be paid the huge sum of $100 and sell four or five shirts for your efforts.
For me, being in a band was my introduction to growth hacking and learning how to run my own business. The are many similarities between a startup and a band, and through developing a number of skills while promoting my band, I was able to hone my craft that lead to me being a top marketing manager at fast growing startup GO1.
Branding is everything
Like in a band, branding is critical. They way that you present your brand can heavily impact how you are perceived. Everything from having a professionally designed logo, to an easy to use and informative website, and consistent message/theme, is critical to your success. Yes, DIY or do it yourself is a great way to get things moving, but it can only get you so far. Just like in business, you are going to get to a point where things are starting to get bigger and you need that extra level of professionalism to take things to the next level.
Over complicating branding is never a good move. This all begins with naming and logos. How many successful bands do you know that have five word or more names? Not many at all. Having a simple name, along with an easy to read and recognizable logo is the key to a good branding campaign. People should be able to see your logo and make a connection with the band or company and know exactly what they do.
Consistency through the branding is also a key to success. Ensure that all of your promotional material and customer facing products have your name or logo featured. Over time this helps to develop your brand awareness and fan loyalty which in the end, is what we are all trying to achieve.
Old School vs New School
I was very fortunate to experience the pre and post social media boom in my marketing journey. When The Omen first started we were still in the pre social media phase of the internet. We would spend weeks prior to shows handing out flyers all over the city, and sending out text messages to everyone that we knew to let them know about shows.
Around halfway through our existence, MySpace was born and with that the way that the music business would work changed forever. It was now easy to reach a large audience with the click of a button now, opened up a whole new audience for bands all over the world.
Soon after Facebook arrived and things would change again. There are two eras to Facebook, what I like to call the golden age for brands, and then the world that we live in today. You see, when you turn the clock back about 6 years, Facebook wasn’t limiting who could actually see your posts to cash in on advertising revenue. Instead, every person that liked your page would see everything that you posted meaning it was an amazing tool for building up a brand very quickly. While that didn’t last as Facebook chased their dollars, for a brief moment there, we were in marketing heaven!
Since that point we see brands trying to build up their awareness through one particular social media channel and failing. Given how often social media channels update their algorithms and develop new tools, it’s crazy to rely on only one form of social media to build your brand these days. Ensure that you have a presence on each network, but don’t over commit to any.
I was lucky as I learned early on that diversifying your options when it comes to marketing really helped to build up our brand. The mix of online and offline concepts provided a strong platform for us to build from. While printing flyers might not be as integral to a business as it was in the past, it is still an effective means of building brand awareness. In an age where everyone relies so heavily on the internet and digital products, having a physical form of advertising is on the rise again and appreciated by our audiences.
Growth hacking is about finding new ways to build your business, so set out to try a range of avenues for your next marketing campaign. Think about your audience, and what will best suit them.
A lot goes into getting a small business up and running, and it’s critical that you do things the right way in the beginning so that six months down the track, everything isn’t a complete mess.
While most people might not realize it, once a band gets to the point where they are starting to record album and start touring, these things are just as important to a band as they are any other small business.
Registering business names and copyright information, applying for a tax file number and setting up a process for tracking, recording and filing expenses and expenditure, setting up bank accounts, these all need to be done for both bands and businesses alike.
Not all bands will go to these lengths, but then again, a lot of bands won’t get to this point and are happy to just play small local shows, but the second you want to start taking things seriously, the business side of your music needs to match your expansion creatively.
Having run my band for six years, and set up all of these processes for the group, I didn’t realize at the time but I was learning more throughout that timeframe than I would in a year of business school. Not only that, I generally learnt all the wrong ways to go about things, and then had to fix them, meaning that the next time I set up a business, it was a much easier process and I was able to get things up and running much quicker and smoother.
Investing in your product
You have to spend money to make money. How many times have you heard that? Well unfortunately it’s the truth, and it’s the one things stopping most businesses from turning from good ideas, into actual functioning businesses.
The way in which you can get investment is changing with time, and if you have a great idea it’s a lot easier to find someone to assist in supporting you financially. For a band, that initial investment is a lot harder source. Like 95% of all businesses, a band is funded by it’s members, or founders if you will, it can take some time for there to be any return on your investment, if you get a return at all.
Since I was in a band, the way things operate has dramatically changed and the internet has become a central tool for all everything, including fundraising. The introduction of crowdfunding sites has changed the game for small businesses and bands alike. A band can now work to raise funds prior to entering the studio or embarking on a costly international tour, allowing fans of their work to contribute funds in exchange for ticket, merchandise or other sought after experiences.
This model replaces the system that was in place during my band’s days, where the only way that you could get someone to give you money for a record was to sign a deal with a record label. I was successful in getting my band signed with a label that included a national distribution deal with MGM records. That experience taught me a lot about how raising capital for a business though.
Instead of pitching to a group of VC’s with your carefully crafted slide deck who may invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions into your idea, you would be dealing with a label manager who you were trying to get to invest much smaller amounts but would be at the same time, would throw you out of the room in a second if they didn’t like the look of you.
Pitching to labels is an art, just as pitching to VC’s is, and remarkably the same tactics work in both situations.
The importance of community
What is a band without its fans?
Nothing. To a band, community is everything. Without their fans, no one will buy their record, attend their shows, or support what they are doing. But it’s not the one of fans who attend that one big festival that are important, it’s the dedicated fans that come to every single show that you play and support every thing that you do that counts.
In our online world, businesses can easily fail to recognize community. You can build an amazing looking website, have a great product, and have the ability to change a market, but without people to support you, you won’t get anywhere.
Community is just as important to any business as it is a band. There’s an old saying ‘The best advertising you can get is by word of mouth’, and it rings true. Your customers are your biggest supporters, and by uniting them, you have a stronger voice than you can get by throwing money as pay per click campaigns.
Show your audience that you are real people. Don’t hide behind stock photos and technical articles, put your team’s faces on your website and allow them to project a human touch onto your potential customers. Build your social media communities up, run events, get in touch with people in anyway that you can and give them a platform to say good things about what you’re doing and it will be the most valuable thing that you ever do.
Don’t over do it
More is not always better. Knowing when to release things and how to do it is an art, and an art that many people fail at miserably before they work it out.
It’s all about creating demand. If you are interacting with or running events for your community too often, they are more likely to fail. One of the toughest things to do as a band is turn down shows, but if you are playing in the same city every week for months on end, who is actually going to come and watch you play?
You create an audience that has the attitude of “I don’t think i’ll go and watch them play this weekend, they will be playing next weekend anyway”. When the following weekend rolls around, the same thought process takes place.
My band had a rule that we would not play in the city more than once every 2 months. This created a demand amongst our fans because they knew if they didn’t come to the show, they would have to wait a long time before they could see us again.
The same principle goes for runnings any business related events. A meetup that takes place once a quarter will always be more highly attended than a weekly or fortnightly event.
Reward your customers
Everyone likes being recognized for their contribution, and your customers are the reason that your business is succeeding so why not reward them. Small gestures can go a long way and turn a customer from someone who is in it to see how things go, into long term supporter.
Bands are constantly giving away things for free. Whether it be music, video and playing free shows. If you can get people listening to or watching what you do, people remember that, and there’s a strong chance that they are you going to support you in the future because you were generous to them.
Don’t be shy is dishing out your company branded merchandise! Remember, if people are wearing your gear, they are essentially a walking billboard for your company, and everyone likes a free shirt!
These are just a few examples of some of the things that I learned throughout my many years of playing and running bands. I didn’t know it at the time, but it set me up for not only stepping into the business world, but being able to establish myself as a marketing and growth hacking expert by applying techniques that are lesser used in the business world.
There is nothing more satisfying than being able to watch a business grow thanks to your hard work and planning, and I hope these tips can help you and your business!
If you would like to talk about any of the things mentioned in this article, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @scottdancooper