Thursday, September 10, 2009

influence vs popularity part 3

Back in the day I was involved in some record labels, a loose collective of producers and dj's. This was in the period 89-96 when house/techno was still reasonably underground and left field, before the superclub boom (Cream, MoS etc) of the mid 90's when it all went Pete Tong.

Such was the transient/faddy nature of club music it was important to shift as many copies in the first couple of weeks as possible because after that your track was pretty much finished (unless you got licenced by one of the major labels dance offshoots, but that's another story).

In that upfront period your sales chances were boosted if you could make it onto the Mixmag magazine 'buzz chart' - the top 20 pre-release records as decreed by 'charts' that club djs submitted (bribery of drugs, sex and over-inflated dj fee's to the DMC mafia also helped!) and a good indicator of what the happening tunes in the club chart would be in the coming weeks.

With that in mind it was be a good idea to make white label copies available to dj's, pre-release, in order to get some buzz going. This is standard practice, dj's wanted upfront music before it was in the shops for the general punters to buy.

For the first few releases we compiled a list of the top 50 or so 'influencer' djs to mail out white label copies. These were the guys and girls who regularly headlined on the club circuit, yer Oakenfold, Rampling, Greame Park, Lisa Loud the Flying lot etc etc.

What we soon realised was that despite being the ones with the biggest reach and the biggest percieved influence we got little or no traction from it.
We spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince the big boys and girls to tell our story but of course, so was every other fledgling label in the country (and the world).

When these lot were getting hundreds of free records every week your chances of being the 'tune' that they picked up on was pretty slim.

We soon changed our strategy and began mailing our promos to the little guys. The resident dj's in the small clubs in the unfashionable towns with small networks (fans).
These djs were pleased to recieve free records, played them and charted them, plus they often had day jobs as club music buyers in small record shops so would stock the tunes that were kicking off in their small clubs.

BINGO! - sales.

You can see a win-win situation starting to develop here.

The double whammy is, however, the so called influencer headline djs were more likely to pick up on records that they heard the little guys play, and get massive reaction to than the stuff they were being mailed.

Hence, the little guys djs - despite the smaller reach/network - were in fact more influential than the 'influencers' in the beginning.

So whatʼs better?
1 dj with a ʻreachʼ of 100,000 who might play your tune once?
100 djs with a following of 250 fans who will play your record a lot and talk about your record a lot and have the grass-roots credibility that means the (comparitively) mainstream 'influencers' look to them for the latest fashion?

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