Courrier: Thoughtful Rock Band Marketing
by Sue Basko, esq.
SPECIAL NOTE: Courrier's debut album, "A Violent Flame,"
In this blog post, we have some great, specific, practical planning, funding, and marketing strategy advice for indie rock bands and solo performers.
Today, we have Courrier, a rock band from Austin, Texas. Courrier makes music that is beautiful, deep, and joyous. Each song is a journey -- of hope, faith, longing, exaltation. I first noticed Courrier because of their wonderful use of photographs and simple design. Amid all the clutter and glitz of rock band hype, the simplicity and strength really stood out. The design work is an honest invitation to equally thoughtful music.
Here, Philip Edsel answers questions on behalf of Courrier:
Who are the members and what does each do?
The members of Courrier are Philip Edsel, Austin Jones, Nathan Drake, and Rob Rossy. We all have different roles from writing to booking to digital to finances. It really helps to spread out your talents. I do most of the promo and digital stuff for Courrier. I have worked for an artist management company doing digital marketing, so it kind of comes naturally for me.
Can you give me some good links to your best places online where the music can be heard?
Our music can be heard on our website , on our Facebook BandPage
, and the usual MySpace, Last.fm, iLike, etc. Our debut full-length record releases on Feb. 1st and we have a 4 song sampler that can be downloaded for free at NoiseTrade , as well as our EP which can be downloaded for free at BandCamp .
Did you meet in school or did you know each other before that?
We actually did meet in school. Three of us were in a fraternity at The University of Texas, and we met our drummer, Nathan, through church. We actually just graduated last May, except for Nathan, who is still in school. We're still youngins. Our studies span the spectrum. I was a writing major, Austin studied Government, Rob studied Spanish, and Nathan studies Economics.
How did the band form?
Our formation was pretty organic. Austin and I just began to write songs together. The three of us had a natural bond and spent our college years living together. So before we knew it, writing songs turned into playing shows which turned into being a band. Though we've been playing music almost all of our lives, we weren't professional musicians by any means.
Who writes the songs?
Austin and I usually write the lyrics and the music, but they are usually mostly ideas rather than finished songs, so we really do the writing as a band. We couldn't do it without input from every member, so in the end, all things are equal.
I have been most impressed with the strategy employed by Courrier, from the first time whoever (was it you?) designed the MySpace with the subtle blue background and large photo that held so much mystery and story. Who designed that? (This was back when MySpace had flexible formatting, before the change to the rigid “new MySpace.”)
That was back before I had any idea how to do that sort of stuff, so we enlisted a friend to help. When it comes to design, especially website design, I am a firm believer in simplicity is sexy. And not only does it look good, it's the most beneficial thing for websites. If site visitors can navigate your site easily and intuitively, you'll have greater conversion, traffic, and return visitors.
Tell me about your use of Kickstarter. What did you put on the page?
We knew that you only get one shot to make your first record. And so we wanted to do it right. We hired a fantastic producer, Matt Noveskey (also bassist for Blue October), flew an amazing engineer to Austin (Adam Hawkins, who engineered/mixed Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane and Regina Spektor's Far), and booked a legendary studio, Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio. These expenses, we knew, were going to cost us a good amount of money, which we didn't have. So we thought if we could raise almost half of the cost ($10,000), we could find a way to pay for the rest. So that was the goal.
We gave ourselves 3 months to complete this project, which is the maximum amount of time Kickstarter gives a campaign to be completed. We knew we would need all the time we could get, and the campaign would end about a month before we went into the studio. As for incentives, we offered everything from unreleased acoustic songs, our EP, an advance signed copy of our new record, a signed poster, a private acoustic show, a day in the studio, etc. The thing about the incentives, and the price levels, is that you have to set smart price levels. I see a lot of bands offer price levels for 5, 10, 15, 25, 35, 45, 50, 65, 75, 100 dollars, all the way to $5,000. The problem with that is there is no incentive. Why give 50, when I could give 45, or why give 15 when I could give 10? Our price levels were $10 (a good starting point because everyone can afford that), $25, $50, $100, $500 and $1000. I know those feel like big jumps, but it actually gives incentive to give to the next price level. And even if you only get one or two people who donate $500, you've already made quite a bit. It's really just common business sense.
As far as promotion, that's another things I see bands do incorrectly when it comes to Kickstarter. You HAVE to be on top of promotion. I'm talking about EVERY DAY. We would tweet about it or Facebook post about the campaign at least once a day. From the Courrier account AND our personal accounts. We sent out emails to friend and family, and wrote blog posts along the way. When we started, we wrote a blog post about what we were doing and why.
In the end, we couldn't have made our record without Kickstarter. It has brought us where we are now. I would HIGHLY recommend bands use it, but I would also recommend bands to give it a lot of thought, choose an ambitious but reasonable goal, and do everything they can to promote.
How about NoiseTrade?
In addition to Kickstarter, NoiseTrade is one of our favorite resources, and has been a HUGE help to us as a band. In the current state of the music industry, money is no longer the most important currency. NoiseTrade recognizes this and capitalizes on a social currency. The idea is that you exchange free music in return for a fan's email address, as well as a Twitter or Facebook post about your music. Don't underestimate the importance of this! We have taken our email list from 0 to 3,800 people, which we have collected by giving away free music. Now, when we want to publicize our new record or an upcoming tour, we can send out an email to all those people who know about us because they've downloaded our music. There is also an option for people to "tip" artists they download from. While that's not our main goal, it's been an added benefit, because people tip us every now and then, so we've made a couple hundred dollars from that. Oh, and the service is FREE! You can also add their widget to your site, so if you want to collect emails there you can do it that way.
What about the wonderful photographs of the band? Who is taking those? What sort of ambiance are you trying to create?
Ah, yes, the photos. We are a bit different than most bands out there in that regard. So many bands are using photographers who are taking really cool looking digital HDR photos with digital cameras. And while those look great, they feel new and clean and modern. That isn't necessarily what we are about. If our music is going to be about real life and love and pain, the "grit" of reality, then we want our photos to convey that as well. We want "Courrier" to connote a certain vintage ambiance. So, because of that, all of our photos have been taken by a good friend of ours, Steven Bush (http://stevenbushphotography.com). He shoots with an AMAZING old vintage film camera called a Hasselblad. Another thing that we love about Bush is that he creates stories. We don't want to do the typical band photo where everyone just looks real serious and into the camera. We want to tell stories with our photos. This usually means creating scenes. We did one set of photos where we took an old broken down building and put a piano, chairs, and tables in it, and covered it in old newspapers from the 60s. We shot at night and lit it with lights. We're all doing something different: playing an instrument, reading a paper, playing cards, etc. Not only does the film look so rich, but it looks like there is a story happening. And people notice too. Our photos are recognizable and impressive (because Bush is amazing).
How would you categorize the music? Do you think it fits any genre?
I'd say alternative rock. I think it fits in there. We do our best to create music of a certain importance. We don't write songs about trivial stuff, not that those songs aren't important, but we just don't write them. We write songs about the most meaningful stuff to us: love, faith, war, life, pain, joy, death, etc. And we think we connect with people on a deep level because of that.
Do you see Courrier as aligned in any musical camp or as similar to any acts? Which ones?
As far as acts go, there are a lot of bands that we admire and strive to live up to their standard. It's different for all of us, but we all love some of the same: Coldplay, The Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, Switchfoot, and Radiohead, to name a few.
What does the name Courrier mean?
Courrier means messenger. Like I mentioned previously, our message is about the more fundamental and important things in life. And we hope that message rings true with people.
What online music sales services are you using and why?
We are selling on iTunes (all over the world), Amazon, and Emusic. Those are the big ones. We feel like everyone is familiar with at least one of those stores. We use TuneCore and Catapult for distribution, because they seem to have the best deals and be the easiest to work with.
Tunecore vs. Catapult: both are great, but have different features. Catapult has a low initial fee and no reoccurring annual fee, but take about 5-8% of sales. We went with them because they allowed rush distribution when we released our EP in '08. This time around we are using Tunecore because, while the initial fee and annual reigniting costs are higher, they give 100% of sales, at least from iTunes. Both are great services though.
Does Courrier have a manager? Does Courrier have a booking agent? Does Courrier plan to tour?
We do not have either! Do you know any?!?! Ha, we would love to have both. We still want to remain hands-on and involved in the day to day business type stuff, but it would be a huge help to have a manager whose sole job was that, which would free us up for more music activities. We also put on a great live show, so we could use a booking agent to get us out there.
We are planning on our first Southern US/ National tour this summer. Still in the planning stages.
Left to right: Philip Edsel (lead guitar), Rob Rossy (bass),
Nathan Drake (drums), and Austin Jones (lead singer).
Please give me the timeline leading up to release of the first album, "A Violent Flame." This can help other indie artists see the timeline and planning that led to your successful completion of an excellent first album.
Decided to record album: January of 2010
Start to end of Kickstarter: May to July of 2010
Preparation for Recording: Leading up to the record we had done songwriting retreats and other writing sessions to make sure we had everything rehearsed for the studio, so we would have time to be creative and try new things sonically, but not waste time trying to learn songs. All instrumentation on the album is by the group members.
Studio recording: August of 2010 - We recorded our album over a 2 week period. One week at Willie Nelson's studio, one day off, and then one day at Ben Kweller's Hideout studio.
Mixing, etc: September-December
Release of 4-song sampler from "A Violent Flame": January of 2011 - We wanted to give people a preview of our album. I think that we have such a strong record that almost anyone who downloads our 4 song free sampler would want to buy our record. Or at least, I hope!
Release of full album: February 1st, 2011
Do you have any songs in films or on TV yet?
No, but we think our music is pretty "cinematic" and we'd love to get it in movies and TV shows. (Update July 2012 - Plenty of Courrier songs have now been on the most popular TV shows. Look on youtube for clips.)
The current plan is to continue to promote the record on the wake of its release. I honestly believe a good product will be heard, if you take the right steps to let people know about it. We've made a good product. We've taken the right steps. Now it's just time to see if that theory holds true. Thanks, Sue!
And thank you, Philip and Courrier, for sharing all this useful information with independent artists out there!