David RD Gratton

Derek Sivers, Carter Marshall, and Tyler Bancroft provide advice for musicians looking to promote themselves

June 3, 2007

I presented on a panel on Saturday for Music BC at Tom Lee Music Hall. The highlight of the evening was the keynote by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. This was the second time I heard Derek speak in 5 months, and although some of the anecdotes were similar, his presentation was different. Speaking as much as he does, I am sure it would be easy to just pull out the canned presentation, but he doesn't. It is a clear testament to the passion he has for the indie music scene. He is really inspirational to all those who are just starting out. He's moving to London next week for 6 months or more, so he may be difficult to catch but if you get the chance be sure to go hear him speak.

After the keynote Carter Marshall, Nettwerk, Tyler Bancroft, Frontside Promotions Inc, and myself joined Derek for a panel that was supposed to be a "workshop focusing on e-commerce, online distribution, and viral marketing. Find out how Myspace, Youtube, iTunes and the like are turning the music industry upside down, and how YOU can take advantage." I left the session feeling somewhat concerned, as I am not sure we as a panel delivered the goods on that subject, we got a bit side tracked on DRM, pricing, business models, and the like. This is very typical to many music panels these days. It's natural I guess.

However, there were some real gems that I think are worth passing on:
Tyler Bancroft:

  • Don't just have a CD. Shoot video! Any video. Upload it everywhere (not just YouTube) and people will watch it. The video does not need to be expensive. Consumer MiniDV is fine.
  • The thumbnail that is embedded in the page is critical for inducing people to click the video for viewing. Know how each video service selects the thumbnail that will be displayed. YouTube uses the centre of the video's first frame. A picture of a sexy woman will get clicked more often than the title of your song or band. Derek made a good point about truth in advertising, but if your video is original (you are artists and entertainers after all) and delivers the goods, you will be forgiven, I'm sure.

It's a bit of a shame that Tyler didn't get an opportunity to talk more about what he does to promote on the Internet, because I have a feeling he knew the most about the subject since he is actually up to his eyeballs "doing it". He is one of the driving forces behind the Jeremy Fisher campaign.

Derek Sivers:

  • Do a cover song - in your band's musical style. Remember no one in Kentucky knows who you are. However, if a listener from kentucky looks up 99 Luftballoons on iTunes for example, and they see a cover of it by your band, they will likely listen to it as well. If they like what they hear, they will often buy it. If they buy it they will take a look at ALL your music. Derek sited a number of examples of this, and the numbers are impressive. I have to agree. it's a brilliant way of getting exposure for an unknown band. Oh.. he also mentioned don't do a cover Lennon's Imagine or any other song that has been covered to death as it defeats the purpose. Go find a one hit wonder.
  • He mentioned my favourite self help book of all time. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnagie. Read it. I agree.

Carter Marshall:

  • Put your music EVERYWHERE.
  • Derek made a comment to value your music and make people pay for it. In other words don't give it away for free. Carter agreed, but said that you do not have to value your music in a straight monetary sense - especially when you are starting out and trying to get it heard. Building a legitimate fan list is critical to your career. So considering giving tracks away for free in exchange for the listener's e-mail address.

To me this was a great piece of advice. An ongoing connection with your fans is critical. You can sell a CD once to a fan, but that same fan may come to all your shows, and tell all their friends if you can establish an ongoing relationship with them. To do that, you need their e-mail address.


  • Don't spam - that goes for comments on Facebook, or MySpace. Be personal. Be it e-mail, MySpace, or what-have-you, make your correspondence personal. An e-mail that has my name on it, and says something to me personally as well as giving me the details of your next gig is much more likely to get me to your show, and I will bring friends. Sure it takes more time, but if you focus your e-mails and comments I can guarantee you that you will get better results and have longer lasting relationships with your fans and supporters.
  • Make sure your music is exposed to search engines. So tell people what your band or particular song sounds like on all your websites. (Shameless plug: Project Opus is highly optimized for this type of thing.) If people tell you that a certain song sounds like Nickelback then say so. It doesn't matter if you don't agree or that you are not a fan. This goes to the same logic of Derek's "record a cover song" advice.

I hope people found the session worth their while, and I'm sorry if we got side tracked. Derek's inspirational keynote was most likely more than enough. I am going to try and track down Tyler to pick his brain for an interview to get more of his ideas down.