The idea of cross-merchandising in retail is simple. You take a product or service from one department and you place it in another department near a related product to get the attention of the shopper. This serves a couple of purposes – most obviously you might get to sell something to someone who might not have gone to that department (storage containers in a bulk food aisle). But less obvious, and it’s almost subconscious, you are increasing your brands value to that shopper. “I didn’t know I could get that here! I don’t need some now, but when I do instead of going to two stores, I can save a trip and just come here.” Surely there must be a way of cross-merchandising in the audio world. Indeed there is.
The first step of cross-merchandising your studio is to look at your client and see what you can do to make their life easier.
With the decline of the record labels, and more and more artists choosing to represent themselves, the many tasks that fell on the label are now in the hands of the artist. Many of these are tasks can be profitable financially – but more importantly, can help establish yourself as a resource. Be cautious, as they can also be time-consuming. Know which of these they are before agreeing to work on it for your client. I won’t be talking about rates for any of this since there is no cut-and-dry pricing that will work for everyone. Try some of these things out and see what it’s worth to you.
Not as many people listen to CD’s anymore, I know. But for many artists, it’s just not the same unless you have something tangible to hold onto at the end of it all. There are many time-consuming things in this process, so be careful with how you spend your time. The package design alone can suck up more hours than nailing the vocals on a whole album. Unless you are a quick and proficient graphic designer, chances are you will burn a lot of time here. Get to know a designer and throw them some work, and then you also gain and develop a business contact. Bonus. Remember, every contact out there is a referral waiting to happen.
The goal here: Put the artist in contact with the designer and step away. Let those guys work it out. The idea here is to add more value to your service, and again -unless you are great at graphic design or love extra pressure, stay out of it.
The CD itself is a big deal, and that’s where you come in. Mastering is the obvious cross-merchandising tool here. The temptation is to charge the client and do it yourself. Don’t get me wrong – this is totally acceptable. But if the project will benefit more from a mastering engineer, then do that. The mastering engineer will be able to deliver you a CD master ready for production. Remember, the goal of any gig is to provide the best service during and the highest quality product at the end. Don’t let money get in the way of that. More money now is a short term solution, more repeat business later will keep your studio alive for years to come.
Now that you have the graphics and a CD master (if you played your cards right you only had to make a few phone calls), it’s time to manufacture. Find a place close to home where you can get this done. You may pay a few cents more per CD than one of the big online replicators (replication is a commercial ready CD, duplication is burning CD’s) but it will be well worth it if there are ever any issues. Try resolving a minor print issue with an online mega replicator once, and that will teach you. Remember you are the head chef of this CD, and anything that leaves the kitchen is your responsibility. If the artist is not happy, it’s up to you to make it right or they wont come back – and even worse, wont recommend you to anyone.
The same rules apply for merch. Get to know some people and put your client in touch with them. Networking, not just social networking, is key.
Everyone and their dog can put something on YouTube, and services like CD Baby have made it easier than ever to get your music heard (and purchased) around the world. But there are pros and cons to everything. Much like with CD manufacturing, an artist will need graphics for their new album release, maybe even a music video. If they are getting CD’s done – great, that same designer can supply everything you need for this too. Same rules apply, set them up and stay clear. Give insight if asked, it’s great to be asked to be a part of something.
Recommending to an artist how to get started with CD baby, how to tweak their Reverb Nation, or where to get buttons made is valuable information for the artist. Best of all, if they trust your opinion (which, let’s face it, you hope they should) you just saved them time. Lots of it. Talk to the band about this stuff and share your knowledge. Don’t hoard it for fear that you are losing it. Remember, you are not always just trying to make another sale – you want to add value to your studio brand and get more work later. These are the blocks on which to build your studio.
If you are handy with web design, help a band get their site up. Not everyone can make a website which is simple to use and maintain, so take a look at some of the functions of WordPress or Drupal. These CMS (Content Management Systems) work music like a DAW. You install the ‘software’ on the site and using their administration panel, can update the site quickly and easily. Themes and Plugins offer quick ways of adding a new look, an online store set up through PayPal, or even digital download cards. Best of all, these add-ons are free! This makes you look like a champ when the band gets that extra 35% of each sale that went to the download site.
Support Roles – Producer, Manager, Guitar Tech
Along with the record companies went some key support roles. The daily lives of musicians is getting busier and busier as they need to be entrepreneurs, marketers, and public relations, as well as musicians. Guidance – both musically as a producer, and with business as a manager – is something that many musicians need to help elevate their careers. The musicians of this world often don’t have the business sense or knowledge to make it to the next step on their own. Help them along the way, and you will elevate your career as well. Again, you don’t want to step into the artists life and become a traditional manager, but you should know what an artists manager does, and offer some help along the way. You become infinitely more valuable to the artist, and will keep them coming back.
And let’s not forget about the lowly tech job. Often overlooked in the studio, but if you can’t get a good sound because the lead guitarists guitar was set up by his little brother, you are trapped. You can’t blame it on the guitar after 2 hours of takes, and you can’t blame it on the player. It falls on you to get a good sound, so don’t let those things go. Don’t assume that the musician knows how to do these things – chances are if they did they would have fixed it up before the studio. (Also, know the strings, pick, and stick that the musicians use, and have a couple backups. It looks pretty pro when you pull out the right part at the right time). I have seen so many players over the years who are clueless about how to change a string, let alone intonate (worse yet are those who think they know).
From an engineers perspective, the recording chain starts at the microphone and ends at the recorder. Take off your engineers hat and look at the big picture – the project starts with the artist and ends with the product. See how much of this you can touch on. Don’t take it all on. That’s a lot of work, more work than you would likely charge for. Provide direction, introduce people, and see the project through to the end. This is what cross-merchandising means in the studio world.
If you want to brush up on some of these things take a look around. Your local Continuing Ed or college may have a class or two of interest. I am headed to a music business class myself every Wednesday night for the next three months. It’s designed for musicians, but I know I will learn something I can pass on to my clients. Never stop learning.