I Fight Dragons has been selling music on USB drives for years with notable success. Here are some tips from Brian Mazzaferri on how to make the most of the venture.
“Is it time to sell your music on USB drives?” described the benefits of putting your music on custom USB drives and selling them at gigs as part of your music marketing strategy.
If you decide to take the plunge and start bringing thumb-drive albums (gig sticks) to sell at your shows, there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success — from before you place your order to the moment you’re handing your first customized USB drive to an appreciative fan.
Brian Mazzaferri and I Fight Dragons (aka IFD) have been selling music on USB drives for years with notable success. Mazzaferri and his bandmates created special “Lifetime Membership USB drives;” when fans purchased them, they received all of the band’s recorded material, free admission to any IFD show, and free digital content for life.
Here are some tips from Mazzaferri on how to make your own USB drive ventures a success.
Invest in a great design
“With I Fight Dragons and other artists I’ve seen selling USB drives through the years, we all have the most success when the USB drives have really fresh and unique form factors,” says Mazzaferri.
For IFD’s lifetime membership offer, the band creatively designed its USB sticks to be part of a thin, business-card-sized package.
“You just flipped out part of it and there was the USB interface, and it had our logo on it,” says Mazzaferri. “The idea was that people could carry it around in their wallet and always have it with them. People really loved it.”
Mazzaferri also points to MC Lars as an artist who has done USB drives right. “He did a cool one with a custom drawing,” Mazzaferri says. “There’s so much flexibility with form factor, so it’s worth the time to be creative and design your USB drive as a unique token, and not just another thumb drive. You want your fans to want it as a cool piece of merch, and not just as a container for a piece of music.”
Be meticulous when it comes to specs and file prep
Just as when prepping for a CD production project, getting your digital assets well in order will set you up for success when it comes to conceptualizing, duplicating, marketing, and selling your own USB drives.
“The most basic thing that you might not think of is making sure that you get USB drives with enough storage capacity to fit all of the digital materials you want to put on it,” says Mazzaferri. This means carefully calculating the size of all the files you want to include in your USB package and buying thumb drives that have enough capacity to hold it all — hopefully, with a little space to spare.
“You also want to make sure that what you’re giving out is big enough to be a relevant drive. If you get a drive that doesn’t have a lot of storage, people won’t use it for other things. In an ideal scenario, you want your fans to carry your drive around as a practical USB storage device, see your name and logo all the time, talk about it and you, and not just stick the drive in a closet and forget about it.
“We sort of skimped on that when we first started selling USB drives. In hindsight, I would have invested in larger-capacity drives.”
When you purchase custom USB drives form companies like Disc Makers, you can opt to have your files loaded at the factory so they’re ready to go the minute you receive them or have the drives come empty of digital content so you can load them with content yourself.
“If you’re loading the files yourself, especially if you’re working with a hundred or so USB drives like we were for our Lifetime Membership deal, you need to figure in the time to copy the files, over and over,” says Mazzaferri. “Especially if you’re loading big, high-res audio or video files, it can take significant time, so make sure to figure that in to your production and distribution timeline.”
From relationship builder to golden ticket
For bands like IFD, USB drives can be more than a cool merch item or music delivery device — they can be a key to a greater relationship between artist and audience.
“When we offered our Lifetime Memberships, the USB drives that we sold contained our whole catalog to date, but when people purchased them, they also purchased the promise of being part of an exclusive club,” says Mazzaferri. “We promised to email them copies of everything we recorded in the future, and we’ve been doing that for ten years now.
“Also, we made the USB drives kind of a golden ticket, where anybody who has one can get into any show that we perform, anywhere. It’s worked out for us pretty well. Since our fanbase is geographically spread out, we never had to deal with too many people showing up and exploding our guest list for any given date.”
IFD isn’t the only band to use USB drives as an on-ramp to something larger, and it’s a model many indie artists could benefit from emulating. “Anything you can do to make purchasing the USB drive more of a ‘join the inner circle’ experience is going to be great,” says Mazzaferri. “Trying to up the value, at the same time that you’re offering your music in a unique form factor, can really make your USB drives a unique memento and not just another piece of music.”
Match your pricing to your content
In “Is it time to sell your music on USB drives?” I mentioned the pricing flexibility thumb drives offer. But when it comes to selling your own drives, where do you begin?
For IFD’s lifetime memberships, the band sold one hundred drives for $100 each, earning a cool $10,000 to support their touring efforts. They were able to ask for so much money, Mazzaferri says, because of the many factors mentioned above, and the considerable added value — free admission to shows, tons of music, and the guarantee of all future recorded music — that came along with each purchase.
“When you put your whole back catalog on a thumb drive, it doesn’t cost you anything extra to include it, but it can make it easier to lift the price point from $10 or $15 to $25 or $50 and still have it be reasonable,” says Mazzaferri. “Even at higher prices, and especially if they have a cool form factor, USB drives can be impulse purchases at shows. Especially if you can build extra value into it or add something future-facing, you can easily justify the higher price point.”
Mazzaferri has seen bands sell USB drives for $25-50 “pretty easily without bells and whistles,” he says, “and if you go crazier, you can push it up into the three-figure range or higher, especially if you have a more devoted following. The key is defining the shape of the offer and making sure your audience members are going to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth and are going to love what they buy.”
Go to the Disc Makers YouTube Channel for more “Indie Music Minutes” and other helpful videos.
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.