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Sunday 27 April 2008

Direct to Consumer

Well, I've been doing this commission project for over a year now. There were a few months of it that I wasn't pushing it very actively. Most of the people who got commissions from me, though, were people with whom I already had a connection. This is not surprising. You wouldn't buy a CD from a band that you'd never heard, so why would you buy a commission from somebody whose music you didn't know at all.

Still, I wanted to get the idea of the project farther out. I think the best way to spread is organically, by word of mouth and via social networking. But the idea of direct-to-consumer advertising is also compelling. So I approached the writer of the Comics Curmudgeon, which is rated as one of the top 100 American blogs. His blog has nothing to do with music. I asked him if I could trade a week long banner ad for a commission. Josh was extremely enthusiastic about the idea, so I made a one minute piece for him.

So far, everybody that's gotten a piece has been happy with it, Josh included. I think that people are more likely to like a piece of music that they feel a connection to. Personally, I'm more likely to think positively of music written by bands I already like or by my friends. Everybody has that. This seems to be especially true for people who commission pieces. In this case, Josh was happy enough that he dedicated a blog post in which he recommended me and embedded a YouTube video I made of the piece.

It's been a couple of weeks and the banner ad has timed out. The number of people watching the video has slowed to a trickle. I don't know how many thousands of people saw the post, or subsequently subscribed to my podcast, but I know that more than 3800 watched the video, which is a fantastic reach for me. I got zero new commissions.

This is exactly why my career in marketing was so short (no really). While it's true that I want to reach everybody, a one-off ad in a totally unrelated medium is not the way to do it. So my failure to get any new commissions is not necessarily an indication that the project is doomed. Most people have to hear about something three times before it clicks. Commissioning music is a totally new idea to many people. So if I want to get people to understand the idea, I need to make certain they hear about it multiple times. This effort was, therefore, much too small to work. However, there's another problem in that I can't do 100 commissions in a week. I can do maybe three. If four thousand people suddenly understood what I was up to and thought it was cool, if less than 1% of them tried to commission me, I'd be swamped.

However, one thing that I learned when I worked in marketing is that competition is correlated with growth of the category. For example, if there was just one time of sugary, fizzy water, the manufacturer might have to explain to people why they would want to drink such a thing (I, for one, am unconvinced it's a good idea). However, having multiple pop companies means that more people have heard of pop and the overall demand is higher. Is this cause or effect? Who knows. However, in the case of commissioning music, every other composer who starts doing this is also letting people know that such a category of goods exists. So I want more people to start doing this. I can't say for certain that it's going to work, but the startup costs are low.

I wonder, also, if I should retreat to a lower cost. At a time when people are losing their houses and the price of food is rising, commissioning noise music is definitely going to seem like a luxury.

Finally, while my advertisement experiment failed to gather me any new business, I'm still quite pleased with the number of ears that I reached. A number of them probably considered it to be a novelty, but that's the path musical genres take to reach popular acceptance. One small step for noise music, one giant leap for my hit counter.

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