If a tree falls

Suppose you have a really cool concept for a shop. It's not unique, but it's distinctive, and you know it's a good idea. You're pretty sure people will like it. You invest time and money to bring this shop into existence. You rent a space and create an enticing interior. You stock it with interesting, high-quality goods priced to sell.

You open the doors, send out some announcements, and wait for business. A few people find your shop and think it's cool. Others pass it by. Most don't even know it exists. Some know but never check it out. For whatever reason, they're not interested. You send out more announcements, but by this time your shop opening is old news. And there are so many other cool shops. You think yours is cooler, or at least as cool, but it doesn't matter because people are shopping elsewhere. If that keeps up, you're out of business.

You might have the best idea around, but if you don't market it properly, it might as well not exist.

It's the economy, stupid

People are good at different things, and it's rare when someone is good at a lot of things. It's even rarer when someone is good at things that don't usually go together, such as art and business. Artists make art. Promoters and marketers make products enticing to potential buyers and known to the world. It's not often that you find someone who is a great artist and is also good at marketing and promotion.

That, however, is what DIY is all about. When you do it yourself, you have to do everything, or find someone for not much money who can do it for you. You have to learn what you don't know already. You have to embrace things you might not really like. You have to become good at something you might not want to do. I posted a new acronym on Twitter this week: DIWY. That stands for "do it wrong yourself." It's much easier than doing it right.

Some musicians are adept at playing the game. They create an appealing product. They promote it well, often with video and artwork. They attract attention. They get people interested. They are good at timing, so that the interest persists. They effectively market what they produce, and they are rewarded for it.

That would not be me.

When it comes to music, I'm passionate about writing, playing, and recording. It's what I know best. It's what I do best. Marketing and promotion, not so much. I can learn how to do them better. Indeed I have done so. But I don't learn things very well that I don't really like, and I have a hard time bringing the requisite enthusiasm to them.

There have been rare times when record companies fell over themselves to sign bands: the British Invasion and its aftermath in the 1960s, the punk and early post-punk era in the late 1970s and early '80s, and the grunge period in the early 1990s. When Sweetie and I were in the biz 30 years ago, things weren't easy, but there was a scene going on, and a lot of people who were interested in new music. We had to do a lot ourselves, but there were also people willing to take chances. For the past couple of decades, however, things have changed for the worse. We're pretty much on our own now. There are lots of opportunities to get your music out in public, but you have to do even more promotion and marketing than ever. And then, even if if you lead a horse to water and show him how cool and refreshing it is, he will drink only if he damn well pleases. There are lots of springs around.

Lessons learned?

Love Hz, the first Lisa's Hotcakes EP, kind of trickled out into the world. It was originally intended as a demo, and then it became a digital release, and finally our drummer T obtained artwork and then burned and distributed some copies. We were learning both about the business as it is now (nothing like it used to be) and about ourselves. The EP got a surprising amount of notice considering its haphazard marketing.

For Hotter, I swore I would do it right. And yet somehow, I did it wrong again. This article from CD Baby was horribly enlightening and made perfect sense. As Sweetie said after she read the article, what we were mostly missing was a "runway." I should have sent out promotion in advance of the release (more than I did, and systematically). I should have addressed all the mailers I would need and then when we had the discs shipped them out all at once. I should have assembled a list of people and places to hit with Bandcamp links immediately upon release. The CD artwork was minimalist on purpose, and certainly you can't miss that red, but maybe we should have been less minimalist. And now, the window of opportunity is looking pretty narrow. These days, it doesn't take long before a CD (or any product launch) is old news.

Nothing is ever a total loss, of course. The CD is receiving some local airplay. Maybe it will get airplay elsewhere in the country or even outside. Maybe someone with power and influence will listen to it and like what they hear. Maybe it will get a bounce when we least expect it. There are all kinds of possibilities. But much lower probabilities. We have lost the few advantages we could have made for ourselves, and now we hope for the best, whatever that might be.

We believe in the product and in ourselves. We know that when people see us play, they like what they hear. We know that Hotter has six strong songs on it, well played and well produced. All killer, no filler! But unless people listen, they will never know that. If you haven't heard G belt out "If I Have Not Love," you're missing something special.

There are so many bands and so much music, so we truly appreciate everyone who comes to shows and everyone who has bought or even listened to our music. We don't know how the story is going to go from here, but it's still going.

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