iTunes Success in 12 Steps

How an indie artist went from 0 to 1,000 sales a week in digital music sales on iTunes in one year.

Ariel's digital music sales advice

I recently was having lunch with my dear friend, music attorney extraordinaire Dan Friedman, who was in town to showcase a band he represents who he mentioned was selling 1,000 singles a week on iTunes. My jaw almost hit the table. 1,000 singles a week on iTunes? Who is this band? How were they able to dramatically increase their digital music sales? Luckily, he coughed up the answer, (and their phone number).

A few days later, I cold called Greg, the artist, who it turns out are an emo/piano rock band (kind of like Ben Folds Five), and we spent an hour and a half on the phone. Greg generously spilled the beans as to how the band got to where to selling 1,000 CD singles a week on iTunes and signed to a record deal.

How They Did It…
Greg explained that they decided to make a full time business out of their band. Everyday at 9 AM, three of the four members met in what they called “The War Room,” which was a room reserved in one of their homes. They took it seriously, just like a job, and every day they would set simple goals.

“In the beginning we really did not know what we were doing,” Greg recalls. “The daily goal was to make the maximum amount of friends on MySpace, which was 400 a day. Between three of us, that was 133 each.” Here’s how it went from there.

Step 1: Find sound alikes – famous bands similar to you.
They started by looking at similar bands in their genre that had large friends lists at MySpace. Dashboard Confessional, for example. They would go and they would ping each and every friend in Dashboard Confessional’s friends list…

Step 2: Ping each person.
And then they would go to the comments and post:

“Hey if you like Dashboard Confessional, you’re probably going to like Making April. Would you please come check us out and leave a comment?” Then, people would check them out and leave comments.

Step 3: Get personal.
The band would then personally respond and personally thank everyone that left a comment. And they always signed their name using a sig file, which included their IM address.

Step 4: Instant Messenger bonanza.
Then they would get their new fans’ information through Instant Messenger, and they would sit all day long on Instant Messenger chatting back and forth with their new friends, and according to Greg it was crazy. They actually couldn’t turn on their IM because the minute they would open it up, they’d get thousands of people trying to ping them. So they had to post their status as “Away” on their IM because their buddy list was insane.

TIP! Give your music away. The whole time, they were giving away their music for free to build their audience.

Step 5: Run contests.
After several months making thousands of personal contacts, a new marketing idea struck them: Making April decided to create a contest to run for their fans. They asked fans to add them to their “Top 8” friends. This success of the contest manifested in the band getting even more MySpace traction.

Each of the 20 people in the contest got points for convincing others to add their video and/or song. According to Greg it got completely out of control.

After this successful contest, a company called Brickfish took notice and offered to help them launch a second contest. Entrants had to design a T-shirt, and in return the band would write a song for the winner.

So, out of a well planned T-shirt contest they got an additional 100,000 hits to their page in two weeks, and the winner got a shirt, a personal call from the band, and an original song written about them. “It was unbelievable.”

Step 6: Engage your audience consistently.
Another of their strategies was to send out a bulletin every single day. Not a hypey bulletin pushing themselves, but a simple one that would engage their fans by asking a question like, “Should we get chunky peanut butter or smooth”

They felt that there was no reason to blog because they weren’t really on the road, and they didn’t have a lot of news to report, so they just kept asking questions on their bulletins, day in and day out.

And they had a call to action: They would ask everyone on the bulletins to comment back on their pages. They would get hundreds of responses from people, which then would add a track play and a front page hit to their MySpace page. Just due to the question, they would get 500 messages instantly, and 600+ comments a day.

Step 7: MTV action.
After their wildly successful Brickfish contest, they got a song placed on MTV’s “Laguna Beach.” They don’t really know how they ended up on that show – they think a fan probably e-mailed the track to MTV – but the episode aired three times, and all of a sudden they noticed people started to buy the download.

Step 8: Get ready to charge for tracks (after a solid fan base is built).
It was only after all of this traction and attention that Making April started pushing their iTunes page. This was after a full year of solid online promotions. They took the free MP3s off of their MySpace page and they started seeing their sales pick up.

Step 9: Repeat and repeat and repeat… and repeat.
They put a big wall-mounted dry erase board on the wall of the war room, and every day they each had a goal to make 150 friends and comment back personally.

Step 10: Measure your goals and write them down.
Then they laid out a weekly plan to hit their goals and numbers at iTunes, which were 200 plays and 400 friends a day. They also went after the friends of another a band called Secondhand Serenade (who blew up after becoming the number one unsigned artist at MySpace).

Step 11: Be masterful at one thing.
I asked Greg if they did blogging, podcasting, Twitter, or other social networking sites, and to my surprise, he said “no.” They did this all on MySpace alone. The goal for MySpace was to consistently add 200 friend requests and 400 plays to the traffic they were already generating.

Step 12: A record deal.
Because of all of their solid dedicated focus, Universal Republic Records took notice and offered them a deal. The moral of the story and the end result of all this work: Making April got a deal.

Was this process easy? No. It took solid dedication, trial and error, and a hell of a lot of time invested, but Making April managed to be one of the top selling bands at iTunes in 2007 and they beat a vast majority of artists signed to major labels.

I think this is a phenomenal and an inspirational story and one that teaches us lots of lessons. From my experience, musicians tend to give up too easily and lose focus, and then become defeated and give up. Making April proves that with a plan and some dedication, you can get very far with the tools available to anyone who wants to give it a go.

Ariel Hyatt is the foudner of CyberPR, a boutique online PR firm located in New York that has worked with more than 1,800 clients over 18 years in business.

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11 thoughts on “iTunes Success in 12 Steps

  1. Now if my band was a little bit smart, they would already know this stuff…instead of the whole “fans will come to us” approach that gets us a whopping 3 new fans a month.

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