• Patrick Schober

Marketing Lessons From the Music Industry (Tricks You Can Steal From Guys Like Ozzy)

If there’s anything I might love more than marketing and writing, it’s music. I play music in the background all day long to help me concentrate, and it’s rare that you’ll find me in the office without something playing.

Watching and writing about the industry over the years has helped me keep an eye on some of the industry’s more clever marketing ideas. In general, marketing in music is pretty standard fare, but history is full of great ideas worth adapting to your own purposes.

Music Industry Marketing Lessons

Here are a few true marketing stories from the music industry (and what you can learn from them):

You have to show up.

Here’s a story from Ozzy Osbourne’s autobiography, I Am Ozzy: Back in the early days of Black Sabbath (when it was still called “Earth”), the band struck on an unusual way to get in front of large crowds: They’d travel to wherever big acts were scheduled to perform, and then they’d wait outside, hoping the headliner wouldn’t show up.

Surprisingly, it actually worked. On one occasion, Jethro Tull’s bus broke down on the way to a show, and Tony Iommi, the band’s guitarist, approached the venue manager to ask about filling in. He gave the band the green light, and the payoff ended up being worth more than some new fans in the crowd.

Jethro Tull caught the second half of the act, and they were so impressed, they poached Iommi. During the brief courtship, Iommi learned how a real band puts in a real shift at work, and that new work ethic helped fuel Black Sabbath’s early success after Iommi returned.

In Non-Rock Terms

The band’s strategy was a hail mary, but it was a low-cost strategy with a huge potential upside. As you think about your own marketing strategy, what are the low-risk/high-reward opportunities before you?

Think outside your typical dirt.

Todd Snider is wildly popular in the Country/Folk circles, mixing a little bit of Rock edge into his often-hilarious on-stage stories (those who were around in the ‘90s might remember his minor hit, “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues”).

As a gifted storyteller, Snider could have augmented his marketing in numerous ways. One strategy he’s used in the past is books. In 2014, Snider published his autobiography: I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales.

The book has received rave reviews from fans of his music and from people who simply like a good read. While the book sales are likely a nice way to pad his bottom line, there’s another effect at play here as well.

In creating such an interesting narrative around his work as a musician, he generates more interest in his music. Fans who like his book end up listening to more of his songs as they learn the stories behind them, and readers who’ve never listened before inevitably become curious enough to try his music out.

In short, Snider’s book can turn passersby into fans and fans into super fans.

In Non-Rock Terms

Todd Snider is a songwriter and performer by trade, but he saw an opportunity to expand outward in a way that could eventually support his trade.

On another level, I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales is a reminder that something small—a white paper, an ebook, a few blog posts—can often lead to something much more substantial.

Think ahead (and be clever) to delight and excite.

Album releases are complicated affairs. An album release is essentially a product launch—but you’re essentially hoping that each and every launch makes the product go viral.

There are some tried and true strategies bands and labels typically latch onto, including singles, press releases, stream services, social media, and touring.

So when a band does something unexpected, the industry takes note. That’s what happened when Nine Inch Nails released Year Zero in 2007. Using their tour t-shirts as a launchpad, the band created an alternative reality game for fans to experience—both in the real world and online.

From creating hidden websites to hiding USB drives loaded with music in venue bathrooms, Nine Inch Nails and their marketing team generated a massive wave of interest in the new album, racking up:

  • Thousands of fan-created art pieces

  • More than 100,000 forum posts around the game and the album

  • 50,000 emails about the album and the game

The alternative reality game helped. The album sold 187,000 copies in its first week, eventually reaching No. 2 in the US.

In Non-Rock Terms

While I love ARGs, the lesson here isn’t that you need to create one (though history has shown us again and again that they can be effective marketing techniques across a variety of industries).

No, the beauty here is that that Nine Inch Nails looked at a process that was relatively standard (an album release) and found a way to breathe new life into it. If you’re marketing with the same exact strategies as all of your competitors, you’ll have a difficult time standing out. But if you think of something new, creative, or clever that resonates with your target audience, you can stand out in a big way.

The Larger Lesson: Look Everywhere For Marketing Ideas

You don’t have to look hard to dig up great marketing campaigns and new ideas. Every industry has its own legendary marketing stories (you’ll find plenty more from the music industry if you look around.

The big lesson: Don’t limit yourself to what your industry is doing. Look elsewhere for inspiration.

Don’t be afraid of what you come across. Although something like Nine Inch Nail’s ARG or Todd Snider’s book might seem ambitious, few great marketing ideas can be phoned in. The greatest marketing campaigns take time.

But they’re worth it.

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