How musicians can craft an eCommerce strategy: tips from an indie label marketing expert

Exploring niche, behind-the-scenes topics within the digital realm of the music ecosystem, Digital Dialogue presents readers with insights into challenges, successes and passion-topics in the day-to-day life of those working deep in digital.

A guest post by Byta.

Peter Carruthers

Peter Carruthers is a former professional touring musician who flipped over to the business side of the music industry. He works for the illustrious Canadian indie powerhouse Arts & Crafts in label marketing and digital media. He recently moved back to Vancouver and is currently perfecting his corner 3.

“Finding ways to super-serve your biggest fans should always be on an artist’s mind”

Who are you? Where do you work?

Peter Carruthers. Arts & Crafts, Vancouver BC.

What are you currently listening to? 

Andrew W.K. – God Is Partying, Shellac – The End Of RadioBlack Midi – Cavalcade

Give us a small insight into your daily routine? 

I am both a Label / Project Manager and run A&C’s digital advertising. Though I’m based in Vancouver I work eastern hours so I’m up pretty early. My day to day is split between strategic planning and communications around album/single/EP releases from various artists, and placing digital ads with Facebook, Instagram, Google, Spotify and other various ad buying. I also am frequently having discussions with advertising vendors about new ad products and OOH opportunities.

The job is a lot of moving information from one place to another, making sure our teams are armed with all of the information they need to properly communicate our releases to either DSPs, press outlets, radio, and anyone else who might be interested.

Onto eCommerce strategies for artists…

Over the past few years it has struck me that artists aren’t crafting strategies around ecommerce. You see mega-stars really pushing merch lines, and special merch drops but you’re not seeing it as much from developing artists. Smaller artist’s ecomm offerings are often centered around selling physical albums, and potentially selling overstock tour shirts and things of that nature. This is truly not taking advantage of the many new(er) services that exist to limit risk and is not properly taking the opportunity to grow your brand.

Especially with streaming limiting direct music sales, artists need to focus on creating new products to sell, and build ongoing and changing product lines. This can be as easy as making sure you always have a new shirt for sale on your website in advance of any tour, or single drop, but this is better leveraged as part of ongoing marketing/brand growth plans.

No matter how big you are as an artist you can always setup an account with a print on demand (POD) merchandise service like Printful or Printify (there are many more which all offer different advantages). At the very least, every time you drop a new single there should be a shirt, hat, patch or another item for sale. You can set this up with virtually no upfront cost, taking away the risk. Always having new merch for sale not only serves the direct purpose of simply having something to sell that equals money in your pocket, but is also a way to service ongoing fan relationships.

Whichever ecomm platform you use should give you the ability to track your customers, and know who your high-value fans are, where they live, and lots of other info about them. You can offer them special discounts or even limited merch only available to “top fans”. Finding ways to super-serve your biggest fans should always be on an artist’s mind and this is an easy way to do so. This is also a way for artists to be creative, it’s important to view your merch as a part of your ongoing creative output, put it right alongside your music, your socials and anything else that exemplifies your brand.

Now, constantly putting out merch drops is certainly not without its challenges, you’ll have to keep an eye on fashion trends, tend to your store, get merch designed and deal with shipping etc, but this is the reality of any small business when you’re trying to grow. There are solutions to this too, you can find a good merch fulfilment partner to handle shipping, many of these businesses have design teams too which can help you get your designs together. Consider reaching out to local fashion designers in your hometown and see if they might want to collaborate on a product, find an artist you like and do a merch collab, if you’re signed to a label talk to them about having a specific a unique limited version of your album that only you sell on your shop.

Ecomm for musicians and bands is more than just selling your record, it can be rewarding creatively and truly be a driver of income and sales. Never forget that if a fan is willing to buy your shirt they probably bought your record too, and they’ll very likely to buy another shirt, hat, poster, patch, puzzle, stuffed animal, whatever it is you want to sell. Keep your products unique, keep them on brand, follow trends and super-serve your biggest fans. Do this and you will open up a new and highly effective tool to not only generate income, but to grow your brand, and open up your creativity.

Where should readers go to find out more? Any further reading or digital gurus to recommend?

This isn’t specifically related to Ecomm, but I view this as a major issue within the music sector. Simply put, I implore everyone in the music business to get their head around how copyright actually works on both sides. Understand sampling, understand what neighbouring rights are, and understand what your rights are as a rights holder.

To this end, I recommend reading Copyright’s Highway by Paul Goldstein, it’s a good read about the bizarre history of IP and how the monetization of music has guided this process forward for the better part of a century.

I recommend the blog “Penny Fractions” by David Turner as well, he’s a great writer on the current music business. Subscribe to his newsletter.

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