Mike King's Got a Lot to Teach: An Online Music Marketing Guru (Q&A)

Mike King teaches several music business courses for Berkleemusic.com, the online extension school of Berklee College of Music, including Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail; and Online Music Marketing with Topspin.

His book, Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail, was published by Berklee Press in the fall of 2009. King is a bastion of information. He is a creative thinker who talks faster than a grad student on jelly donuts and six double-espressos. When he speaks -- give up taking notes, listen and hope to retain parcels. King is brilliant and it takes more than a few moments not to be blinded by the light.

I hope I have gleaned the most important aspect of online music marketing from King. I believe his main tenet is to: establish, develop, maintain and grow the connection between artist and fan.

It is the same principle I discovered when I abandoned the club scene to exclusively perform living room concerts. When you are at home with a group of people, when no one is anonymous, your "fans" become your friends, almost an extension of your family. Friends will listen to your music, share your music, buy your music and support and work with you in ways you find hard to imagine, until it happens. Effective online music marketing is about establishing connections as if you are in one big living room...

RG: Are your courses aimed at indie labels and DIYers or does it encompass strategies to market music at any level from a DIY to a major label?

MK: There are people who work at labels and at major distribution companies who are taking the courses, as well as developing artists. The way I look at it is that we're all in this together; the whole business model has changed and everyone is trying to find a way forward. My goal is to provide a holistic, integrated, approach to online and physical marketing, with students walking away with a full marketing plan tailored to their individual goals.

RG: So, the concepts and strategies are similar whether you're running a campaign for yourself, for your buddy, or if you're marketing an artist for a label?

MK: Sure. I think fundamentally, whether you are an artist, an artist manager, or a label, you need to first identity who your core fan base is, and try to find the psychographic traits that binds these people together. Look at the success that Trent Reznor has had with his projects. Part of the reason he's been so successful on this own (plus a dedicated team) is that he's had years of label support, but I think more importantly, Trent fully realizes what his particular fan base responds to and he and his team provide them with engaging offers and interesting marketing campaigns that are a laser target into their interest.

But perhaps more fundamentally, and this may sound obvious, is that your success rate with sales depends largely on the base that you can communicate with in a personal way. Once you have a critical mass of folks that you are engaging with on a near one-to-one basis, then you can turn to monetize it.

RG: If you were to sit down with a DIYer, someone working solo or with a few friends, what would marketing strategies would you outline for him, assuming he is working with a limited budget?

MK: I still think that a compelling live show and great music should come before an extensive marketing campaign. The acquisition phase of the artists' campaign, where they are building up their base of targeted fans, is incredibly important. In terms of online marketing, Acquisition starts with a website that the artist controls and can adjust based on the interests of their fans. You want to make your website a conversion engine for your targeted group of fans. I'm a big supporter of the equal exchange of a free track for an email address on the artists' site, too, to help facilitate the acquisition process. Once you have a community of folks to engage with, I think it's important to communicate on a regular basis with your fans through email, third party sites and services like Facebook and Twitter, and to create content that is targeted to your fans specifically.

RG: Aside from Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, what does a DIYer want to address in his/her initial stages of online music marketing?

MK: I think that one of the major differences with online marketing is that you are dealing with a world of niches, and this really is a major shift from the traditional terrestrial "shotgun" approach to marketing. I'm a thousand times more likely to get information on music that moves me from sites like The Quietus or Awesome Mix Tapes from Africa than MTV or commercial radio. I'm pretty much completely immune from the traditional outlets of commercial radio or TV, and I think a lot of serious music fans are the same way. The online courses talk about techniques to help identify and acquire permission-based contacts, and then market effectively to a very specific fan base. Niche marketing allows you to can get laser focused in a way that is not possible with traditional marketing, such as radio, TV and print which generally address large demographics.