Artist Strategy: “Story Time”


What separates Deadmau5 from Dyro, or Rihanna from Rox? Why do we recognize certain names – certain brands – so well and others maybe not so much? It’s safe to say that talent wise, these artists are comparable; their production or vocal chops alone aren’t enough to propel them to the front of the minds of music consumers. So what is it? What makes Joel and Robyn different and what leads listeners to go to them first for a music fix? If it’s not all about the final product, then why do we as independent artists tend to lock ourselves away in dark bedrooms, littered with discarded bags of Doritos, painstakingly self-producing an EP that embodies months or even years of deliberation and practice, only to post it online to a tepid-at-best response from friends and family? What can we do differently?

We can strategize, of course!

Artists are quick to consider independent and major label business practices decidedly incompatible – but there’s a lot to be learned from the success of the stars and it doesn’t mean lip-syncing or dressing up in a space suit [unless you’re into that].


Intro To Consumer Choice 

The kind academic community of marketing scholars offers an analysis of consumer decision-making that we can apply to the music business. It’s a series of educated guesses regarding why buyers buy what they buy. They have identified a “need,” either functional [serving a practical issue] or psychological [satisfying a perceived desire], as the origin of purchase decisions. These needs include anything from hunger to clothing, sleep to self-actualization and the majority of which can be satisfied quite easily and simply. That is hardly ever the case; what’s known as a ‘want’ complicates the equation and it is that ‘want’ position that music competes for. Since, statistically speaking, the reclusive approach to professional artistry doesn’t tend to achieve that position, it takes strategy.


The main problem lies in artists’ product-centric vs. buyer-centric approaches towards strategy. Ever since Henry Ford’s mantra of ‘any color, so long as it’s black’ dissolved into a sea of possibilities and customizable options, consumers have had the final say. Competition between businesses [or in our case, between artists] encouraged the development of ‘different’, of ‘unique’. The pool of options grew and grew and correlated with a growing importance of consumer choice considerations. Consumers are more empowered than ever. As a result, a savvy business [and a savvy artist] looks just as much to what consumers want as to why they want it.

Strategists that understand this are able to do some very interesting and effective things. For now, I’ll discuss a creative approach to pro-consumer strategy that’s been quite successful for those who have pulled it off.

So, relax. It’s story time.

Trent Reznor

In 2007, Trent Reznor began an incredible promotional campaign for the Nine Inch Nails album, Zero. To begin, he circulated a concert t-shirt [seen below] with a hidden URL included in the shirt’s lettering; his clever fans quickly found the website – “”.


The dilapidated looking site, which portrays a world in which the government sedates and controls the population by invading the water supply with a psychoactive drug called “Parepin”, initiated an extensive network of “eerie voice mail, Web sites, Morse code clues hidden in MP3s and messages buried deep within music videos” all leading up to the release of the band’s record. The promotion brought together fans, created an entirely alternative reality, garnered a massive amount of “earned media”, and made Year Zero one of the most memorable experiences a Nine Inch Nails fan could have.



If there’s to take away from Reznor’s creativity, it’s a lesson in creating value through telling a story. As an independent artist, one may not be in a position to stage an extravagant movement, she can work to engage her fans and involve them in what he or she does whether it be consistently live streaming rehearsals or sharing updates on recording projects. There needs to be something to carry the music – a story, a mindset, a video [ahem… Psy/Baauer] – and augmenting the hard work of a self-produced EP with something more tangible can be the difference between two choices. It can be the difference between Deadmau5 and Dyro.

The Promo Bay – A New Era of Independent Promotion


If anyone has been on The Pirate Bay in the last several months (which I’m sure is not true *wink*wink*) you would have noticed at least once on the home page the words the promo bay accompanied by a band that is releasing their music through the pirate bay. Yes that is correct. The pirate bay has become a technically legal album Promoter for several artists over the last few months and it has become insanely popular recently. So much so that the pirate bay ‘crew’ needed to create a whole new ship and recruit a whole new batch of sailors. My apologies, that is probably the worst metaphor I have ever come up with but I’m keeping it. Anyways all you need to know is that the pirate bay launched a new website this week: and the site is completely dedicated to marketing and distributing the work of independent artists. And by artists I mean photographers, authors, musicians, painters, film makers, game designers, software developers, all kinds of shit. If you make something your good enough for the promo bay.

How it works is an artist will submit their work to the promo bay and every couple of days a whole team is dedicated to looking through thousands of submissions and picking the best ones to promote to millions of people at no cost. As a side note youtube should do that. They should have a section where random artists can submit videos of their work and then youtube should just put it on the front page for a day. That would be radical as shit. We can all learn something from the pirate bay. Anyways, for some brilliant reason the UK has blocked all access to the

Why on earth would they do that? It is a completely legal website. Well what a good question Phil, let me tell you. Record Companies or Music Entertainment Companies or whatever the hell they want to be called are only really good for one thing at this point and that is promotion and exposure for the artist. Currently it is impossibly hard to get the kind of promotion that a record label can offer but things could very well change. And if the world discovers a new way then well, need I say more?

It is kind of sad that artists from the UK are being shunned by their own homeland from these incredible opportunities. I mean it can not possible hurt anybody so what the hell? If anything you want your home team artists to be doing well but my best guess is that they simply do not want anything to do with the pirate bay what so ever. It’s at the point where the pirate bay promotes the promo bay which promotes the pirate bay so I guess if you use one chances are you use the other but whatever. I’ve said it a million times, if your music is out there its better than it not being out there straight up.

At the end of the day the only thing the promo bay impacts negatively is record companies so as long as that is true they will have to deal with A LOT of shit. As any pioneer this is natural but I think this type of indie promotion has the potential to become huge. Like I said imagine if YouTube did this, or Facebook, or hell even the front page of Google. Independent music could easily become the most ‘consumed’ music out there. I think we could be headed that direction and the promo bay is leading the way into this new era of independent promotion. (see what I did there)

Phillip Richard