Posted tagged ‘music marketing’

Puppetmastering Reviews: Make ‘Em Say What You Want

March 2, 2010

I recently talked to a friend of mine in a band called Yellow Light Maybe that just released a record in my hometown area of Columbus, OH.  Great local record in my opinion.  Most of the press was great, they had an amazing turnout at their cd release show – but (sound the suspenseful climactic music) the typical “everything sucks” paper in town gave them a pretty crappy review.

I immediately started to think back to when this same publication ripped me to shreds.  Oh man, and did they…they did everything but come to my house and slap me in the face.

We got all up in arms about it too.  Called to talk to the editor, wrote a letter about how they are just “tearing down the scene by slamming local artists rather than leaving the story open ended to give it a chance for people that may actually dig the record…” blah, blah, blah.

Pretty foolish of me, yes I know.  But I was pissed.  This was my first experience with not only a bad review, but a public flogging.  I didn’t really know how to handle it.

After a couple of weeks though, I calmed down and thought back to some advice a friend/early manager had told me:

“There is no such thing as a bad review.  You can always make them say what you want them to say…”

Holy crap!  In that case, this publication did say that my songwriting “Invoked the better days of Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner”

So guess what?  I only used THAT sentence. And with that I completely turned a sh*t ass horrible review into one that I was actually proud of.

And I didn’t cheat or make anything up.  It was true.  They said it.  I just left out the bad stuff and then slapped it on my press kit and website.

Get a bad review lately?

What was the good part about it?  There had to be something decent.

Ever see the movie reviews come across the screen and they are just one word? “Exciting…”  “Breathtaking…”

Those are the distribution houses or labels puppetmastering the reviews.  You can do it too.  There isn’t a damn thing wrong with it.

Will people still see the bad review?  Yea, but who cares?  If you are really in this for the long haul like I always preach – one, two, or a handful of negative reviews aren’t going to hurt you.

You will still find your audience.

In the example above YLM still had 400 people show up to the show and almost completely sold out their merch.  Friends and fans left comment after comment on their social sites about how great the show was.  Bad review?  Didn’t affect them one bit.

In fact, it helped them.  Made them stronger and more united.  Brought the fans together and united them.  And not sure if they’ll use it or not – but I fished together this review from the original negative one:

“Yellow Light Maybe has the formula down…”

What are some ways you have been able to change around a review or two?

Yellow Light Maybe’s new disc More of the World is available at or on iTunes.


Your Second Most Important Marketing Tool: Thank You Cards

February 19, 2010

If you have been reading this blog the last month or so you have probably started to notice a theme. RELATIONSHIPS.

Why do I focus on relationships so much? Or wait, let me pose another question.

Remember when you first started playing music? Who were the only people who would come see you?

Yep, YOUR FRIENDS. And maybe a couple friends of your friends.

As our fanbases grow, why do we get away from this? Why are we drawn to this concept of blindly blasting our music to as many ears as possible?

Why do we “Pray and Spray” with our press releases HOPING that the local mag will pick up on it?

Enough questions Dave.

Yea, well I’m in a philosophical mood.

Ok, I’ll work towards my point.

I’m kind of a Bob Baker groupie from back in the day. Bob is a publisher himself and used to run a local mag in St. Louis. One of the most important things I learned from him was to send people thank you notes.

This is even more important now than it was 3 years ago, when I started doing it.  Why?

Because everything is so digital now that it makes it too easy just to send an email, tweet, or a facebook message.

Wanna stand out from the crowd and show you really care?  How about a hand written note? Yes, HAND WRITTEN.

Here do this:

1. Visit a site like or and order postcards (Not affiliate links)

2. Put your band’s logo/web address/etc. on it as the design

3. Leave one side blank

4. Order a TON of them

5. You can use them as a “thank you.” You can use them as a follow up note. You can use them as another great way to touch somebody (get your mind out of the gutter, yea mine went there for a sec.).

It’s all about the touches, man.  “The 10 Touches” to be exact.  If you want to set aside all this relationship mumbo-jumbo and go at it from a  strict marketing perspective – factor these postcards as a “touch tools”.

I’m sounding all pervy now, but you get the point.

Local or out of town radio station book you to come on air?  Send them a thank you note. Alternative mag review your record?  Send the journalist a thank you note with a certificate for a burrito.

Time to stop acting like these people owe you something.

If thank you cards are the second most important marketing tool, then what is the first?  YOUR MUSIC.  Obvious right?  Then why do so many still insist on spending less time writing and more time looking for that magic answer to new fans?

The magic answer is a great song.  Then a genuine “thank you” to the people who choose to stop and listen.

A few weeks ago I wrote a little about this in a blog about sending press releases.

STOP Astroturfing. Create REAL Fans with REAL Content.

February 9, 2010

Quickly defined, “Astroturfing” is creating “fake buzz” about your band or product.  This has always existed in one form or another.  Take for example the stories of record execs visiting local record stores to buy up all the product in an effort to make it appear as if their act moved a ton of records.

When forums first came about, bands would create alternate ID’s to go in and talk up their music in an attempt to stir up some buzz.

It’s fake. Just like Astro-turf It has no roots.  Just like Astroturf.  So it is easily removed and replaced with something else.

Lately, I’ve been seeing some businesses use this approach. I’ve also been running into bands that still use this approach, and it has been mainly taking place on Facebook.

Tell me if this looks familiar:

“Get all of your friends to post how much they like our band and leave it as your status update for an hour!”

Look, I’m no guru or anything. I don’t claim to be an expert…ok, maybe I do claim to be an “expert”.  😉

But don’t you think it is much more organically powerful to create REAL content that people can share to spread your message?

That’s a rhetorical question.  IT IS MORE POWERFUL.

Here is what I mean by real content

1.  Videos of you performing acoustic cover songs or originals and posting to Youtube/Vimeo so your fans can easily embed and share.  Videos of you on the road, backstage, soundcheck, doing comedy skits.  Check out Guster’s Joe’s Place Webisodes for a perfect example.  Jakob Freely (my band) did some of these while recording our last full length.  Click Here to view that one.

2.  Blogs, blogs, and more blogs:  I started blogging in 2004.  By 2005, it was the most popular page on my website.  I told REAL stories from my life and the road.  It gave “fans” more access to me and when I saw them at shows, it gave us an opportunity to talk about things other than music and build a stronger relationship in the process.

3.  Demo & Live Recordings:  Aside from a Flip type video camera of some sort, the best investment you can make in your bands web content strategy is a ZOOM Handy Recorder.  Record demos, shows, rehearsals.  Put them all up on your website for free download.  I can’t stress this enough and I am BLOWN AWAY when people resist.  People will still buy your music…stop resisting giving some of it away.  BE GENEROUS.  It will come back to you ten fold.

Listen, or uh read:  Quality over Quantity.  Now repeat that.  QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.  You want quality fans.  This is the only way you are going to get them.  By being there for them and “rewarding” them with 24/7 access to you and your music.

Show me an artist with even 1,000 hardcore fans and I’ll show you an artist with a very meaningful and lasting career.

We can go much deeper with this, but I’ll stop here for now.  The meaning of this post was to get you to realize that “fake buzz” does nothing more than satisfy your own ego.

Create talk that has some real roots attached to it…


Twitter:  @davemhuffman


February 4, 2010


What IS a Connector

Before I go any further, let me suggest that you read The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell; it is where all this “connector” talk is coming from as I am only going to scratch the surface.  

However, I have experienced this with my own two eyes. Gladwell’s book only confirmed to me that the people I have sought out actually have an “official” definition. 

You know that person that shows up to your shows with 10 people in tow? 

That’s a connector. 

Yea, it goes deeper than that.  But I’m not Gladwell and if I try, I will probably butcher his explanation.  Just know that connectors bring people together.  For a number of different reasons – they are up on the latest trends, they are smart, they are outgoing, or they know a lot about a lot of different things.

They are very easy to spot, if you train your eye to do so. And yea, you guessed it. They are social butterflies, have a ton of friends, and are always surrounded by a group of people. 

They do not blabber in your ear about how many people they can bring to the show.  In fact, usually they under-estimate the number.  BUT THEY ALWAYS DELIVER.  

My wife is a connector. Anytime we would have ticketed shows – she would account for almost 80% of the ticket sales by herself.  She was more of the Salesman” type.  Listed above in the image by

My friend Ryan is a connector as well. I played a bi-monthly gig at a bar for almost three years straight and he single-handedly filled the bar with his friends. Once he moved – everyone slowly fell off until I was down to a core group of five or so people.  He is a classic connector.  Him and his wife Molly just like to bring people together.  No Ryan & Molly = no group.

I have another friend J.T. that was a low profile connector.  He would bring at least 1 or 2 NEW people to every show and made sure they left with a cd.  J.T. was a type of “Maven” that brought people together by sharing new information and experiences.  In this case, it was my music. 

How do you spot them?  Well, when I said it was “easy” what I meant was that you just get a gut feeling and you have to trust it.  Sometimes you’ll be wrong – but eventually your gut will steer you in the right direction. 

I would: 

1.  Scan the bar during my set for the people who seemed to be the center of a group.  They’ll be the ones mostly directing conversation. 

2. TALK TO FANS – I can’t say this enough.  The more you get to know them…well, the more you’ll know about them. 

3.  Once identified, lean on them to help you promote – don’t worry, you aren’t “using them.”  Connectors LOVE to do this stuff, because at their core, they like being the “insider.”  And conversely, it’s mainly why people look to them for things in the first place. 

This is so common sense, right?  Then why do I see tons of bands still only using mass promotional tactics?  

In my last post I referred to a big venue show I did with a couple other bands that drew 800 people.  WE DID NOT HANG ONE POSTER OR SEND OUT ONE HANDBILL FOR THAT SHOW.  We just focused on our connectors.  Focused on rewarding them.  My buddy Jared Mahone actually wrote a personal hand written letter to each person, thanking them for buying tickets from him. 

Sure, hanging posters, dropping off handbills, social media interaction, and email blasts all have their place – but in all reality, these things really only account for about 20% of the crowd that will show up at the venue. 

The other 80% come from the connectors.  It’s called the 80/20 rule and it is a scientific fact.  I’m not making it up. 

It says that 20% of your following will account for 80% of your cd sales, merchandise sales, crowd brought to your show, etc. 

So find these people.  And be genuine with them.  Call them to invite them to the show.  Yes, CALL.  That is a lost art unto itself.  Do not use them only for show promotion.  First, that is a shady d*ck move and secondly they’ll smell you from a mile away if you treat them that way. 

At the core of what I’m saying is: Your friends are more important than your music.  They not only account for people showing up to see you, but in most cases they are real inspiration for your songs.  

Be good to them and they will be good to you. 


tweet:  @davemhuffman

Local Band Wars: Unite Your Fanbase, Light a Fire in the Scene

January 29, 2010

A local radio station picked up on this band feud and made this header for the station website

I think the headline says it all.

Hip-hop has been doing this for years.  And aside from it getting ugly from time to time, it really generates a TON of interest in the feuding artists and the scene in which they reside.

Why can’t other styles of music do this? Welp, they can.  And they are.  At least a couple that I know in Columbus, OH are – the George Elliot Underground and Chelsea Automatic.

Don’t get your panties in a bunch, I’m not suggesting to go out and pick fights with other bands. We’re all hypocrites, but I’m not that much of one.  I’m about lifting up the entire scene and promoting each other.  Promote the other guy more than yourself.

That’s what a friendly band feud does.  The only trick is to keep it “friendly.”

As the rumor goes, GEU and Chelsea Automatic were hanging out one night and tossing around some ideas over a few beers.  Without too much thought as to what the result would be, someone suggested a band war.

The trick was to use it as show promotion to promote a bill where both bands were playing.

The next day they started posting insults on each other’s Facebook pages, each time linking to the other’s page so all the fans on both sides could see it:

“Chelsea Automatic takes their vitamins and drinks their milk.  George Elliot Underground eats wieners.”

“Via GEU:  The four d@uche bags on the Jersey Shore could write better songs than Chelsea Automatic.”

Can you start to picture what happens next?

1.  Fans unite to support their band

2.  Noise is made in the scene

3.  Content is generated in the form of videos, pictures, fan shirts (Team George/Team Chelsea).

4.  Content goes viral

5.  Local media picks it up

In this case a local radio station picked it up and created a page on their website where fans could vote and show their support and experienced over 400 votes in 24 hours.

Here, think of it like this:  The 50 Cent and Kanye feud to sell more albums.  Same deal here, but on a local level.

The key to success is building the “feud” around an event with both bands in attendance.  Whether it be a co-album release, co-billed show, festival, etc.

Do this:

  • Buddy up with another local band.
  • Book a show together to have something to build the feud around (3 months out or so)
  • About a month before the show start leaving messages like the ones above on each other’s pages, websites, etc.
  • Pick up the frequency of the content as the event draws nearer.  Use videos and pictures.  Old school wrestling promos are perfect.  People can share them and spread the message.
  • Creating a micro-site for the war.  Install a voting poll option.  Look at this page:
  • Once the war starts to pick up steam, reach out to your local media contacts/bloggers/twitterers.
  • Play the show

A little sidenote:  I actually work for  I got an email from our P.D. stating that he ran into the feud online and thought it was hilarious and he wanted us to cover it.  So, I’m not making this up.

The scene needs ignited every so often or it will never grow.  And I mean the ENTIRE scene.  You don’t necessarily have to stage band fights – get creative and try something different.

But whatever you do – lift others up around you.  You’ll be amazed how much further you go than if you stick to yourself.


tweety tweet:  @davemhuffman

Don’t Forget About Your EMAIL List.

January 26, 2010

I’m not going to get all blow-hardy in this one.  I just wanted to remind you that EMAIL is still the king of online communication.  Well, maybe “communication” is too broad of a word, but a study by eMarketer shows that it is still the king of content sharing and conversion.

Check this out.

Look at that.  Email still blows the rest of them out of the water.

What does that mean? It means you need to dust off your mailing list and start taking it seriously again.  It means you need to work on your headline writing so you can actually get a good open rate (between 20%-30%).  It means you need to have a good delivery system so you can get creative with the design and insertion of content.

Anyways – I said I’d keep it short, so here’s what you do.

1.  Get a good email management system.  One that can keep track of and sort email addresses by city, state, name, gender, etc.  Also one that makes it easy to create nice looking newsletters.

2.  Focus on getting people to sign up and make it easy for them. DO NOT BE PUSHY ABOUT IT.  Just make sure it is available to them.  It also helps to have someone walk around the club during your performance politely asking attendees to sign up.  If you have a sign up widget at your site, DO NOT MAKE PEOPLE JUMP THROUGH TOO MANY HOOPS TO SIGN UP.  Email should be the only “required” piece of info.  Make the rest of the socio/demographic info optional.

3.  Back up your list. Export your list to a disc, jump drive, or whatever.  Just make sure you have a copy in case the interwebz decides to go up in flames one day.  Ok, I guess you wouldn’t need email then, but you know what I mean.  If your Fanbridge account goes ka-blewey and you have 3,000 emails stored only there, you’re screwed.

4.  Write Better Headlines.  You’ll be working on this for the rest of your life, but the point is that you realize the fact that you need to work on it.  Any old shouting email headline won’t work.  We’ll go deeper into that later, but for now check out this Copyblogger post on How to Write Headlines that Work.  While you’re at it – sign up to receive update for their blog.

5.  Size, or uh Length Matters. Most say length of the email matters in that if it’s too long, people get bored.  I partially agree with this.  I say a long email is okay from time to time so long as you tell a nice story and the content is relevant.  That said – you can’t overload people with content or they’ll just get paralyzed by it and shut down.  So just play it safe and keep it short and sweet.  And remember – YOU ONLY GET THE FIRST TWO SENTENCES TO GRAB THEIR ATTENTION AND KEEP THEMSo say what you mean and get to the point early.

6.  Use Sparingly. Send your email blasts no more than 2 times a month.  One of them should be a market specific email based around the city you are playing in that month and the other should be an overall “Update” with some added value stuff in it like new photos, videos, free music, etc.  Experiment with this though.  I would use it more frequently around big events like our festival or a cd release.  Again though – every email had an angle.  I didn’t just send emails to say “C’mon!  Come to the Show!” People HATE that sh*t.

Anyways – those are some of the basics.  Just use the Golden Rule when delivering email, make it easy for people, add value to the relationship, and you’ll be ok.

Shoot me an email if you have questions and want to go further:


Let’s tweet, tweet:  @davemhuffman

Management or NO Management? That is the Question.

January 19, 2010

This is the only real management photo I could find. SOURCE:

Here’s the short answer to that question:  It depends.

I just blew your mind all over the place with that didn’t I?  Well, it’s true – in so many ways.  It depends on what type of career you’d like to have with music, it depends on whether or not you mind parting with 15%-20% of your profits (even merchandise profits), it depends on what type of manager you can get, the list goes on and on.

What I’m trying to outline here is that it’s just not as simple as hiring a manager.  In most cases, blindly doing so could mean the end to any possibility of you ever really getting ANYWHERE with music.


If making money and having music be your ultimate “day-job” then the answer here is two part.  DO NOT get a manager at first. Instead, do everything you can possibly do, either by yourself or with the help of friends.  I’m serious when I say there really is no other route.  You’re going to be making peanuts those first couple of years and with putting almost everything you make back into the business to help it grow, you can’t afford to split any of it with someone else.

Plus, and here’s the real benefit:  By doing things yourself those first few years, you gain valuable insight into what type of manager you REALLY need.

Do you need a booking manager?

A business manager to keep track of your finances, etc?

Do you need someone mainly with industry contacts that can help with publising, etc?

I suggest doing what Corey Smith has done.  Suggestions below:

1.  Start playing locally

2. Then build a touring base by extending your base one or two cities at a time.  Keep it manageable though.  Identify markets where a scene exists that can help cultivate your music.

3.  Approach friends to help you with some of the duties:  gathering venue contacts, designing posters, website upkeep, merch table, etc.  Pay them from time to time.  But I’ll tell you upfront:  the best ones will help you because they love it, not because you are paying them. If you can’t afford to pay them, reward them in other ways.

4.  Once duties or a portion thereof are no longer manageable by you or your team, then and only then do you seek out and hire a manager.

5.  Start by hiring a manager to take over one portion of your duties.  For example, booking shows.  Try getting a non-exclusive agent and do not sign any contracts.  If you think the agent is going to be really good and they want you to sign something: MAKE SURE THERE ARE PERFORMANCE BASED CLAUSES FOR THEM IN THE CONTRACT and/or put a 90 day “trial period” in the contract.

The last thing you need is being stuck in a two year contract with an agent that sits on his a** while you book the shows and pay out 17%.

At some point, for your career to get to the next level you are going to HAVE TO focus harder on making better music.  If you are still booking shows and dealing with day to day business, your time will be severely limited.  In some cases, if you are playing out 4 nights a week – you’ll have ZERO time to write and release new content.

Here’s the deal in plain English: When your music career becomes un-manageable by you and the crew you’ve built THEN AND ONLY THEN do you look at hiring a manager.

Of course the threshold is different for everyone, Jakob Freely played 175 shows in 2007, released two records, fully promoted/organized/and held it’s own festival, and we did it with no management.  All with the help of everyone in the band a few great friends.

All I’m illustrating by telling you that is you can handle quite alot before taking the plunge and getting a manager.

A lot of the music industry resources for the indie musician are super dry and boring as hell.  Most are filled with the advice centered around the idea that you are gearing your entire career around that bad car loan-ish record deal.  However, some are REALLY good.  And some aren’t necessarily music industry books – but I’ve found them super helpful

Here they are:

1.  I Don’t Need A Record Deal! by Dayelle Deanna Schwartz

2.  Guerilla Music Marketing:  Encore Edition by Bob Baker

3.  The Indie Bible


5.  Making and Marketing Music:  the Musicians Guide to Financing, Distributing, and Promoting Albums by Jodi Summers

6.  Outliers:  The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

7.  The Tipping Point:  How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcom Gladwell

I have an entire library, but that should get you started.

As always – you can email me at with any questions.

Direct link to photo source:


Let’s tweet yo:  @davemhuffman