Rock This Low Budget Marketing Advice From a Rocker

Last Updated Apr 21, 2009 9:25 AM EDT

Business owners looking to build a loyal customer base, expand into new market areas and create buzz without a big marketing budget often overlook a great source of ideas: musicians. And authors. And comedians. And painters.

Artists have to sell themselves and their works everyday, often on the cheap. How truly creative can creative people become to build their fan base?

Author Scott Kirsner decided to collect this wisdom in his new book Fans Friends & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age. One of the artists profiled is rock/pop/folk/ musician Jonathan Coulton, who quit his career as a software developer in 2005 to make a living on the road.

Writing on Harvard Business Publishing, Kirsner shines a spotlight on Coulton's rise and what makes him successful in building his business. Here are three lessons:

  1. Tell Me Where to Play Coulton asks his fans where he should play in upcoming tours. Kirsner's takeaway: "Coulton says almost no traditional marketing is required to ensure that he has a full house, since he can communicate directly with fans who've asked him to come to their city."
  2. Get Involved With What I Do Fans have even been asked to participate in the creation of new songs. Kirsner's takeaway:"Fans (or customers) who feel they've played a role in the creative process are far more likely to tell others about the resulting product."
  3. Make Your Own Stuff Rather than traditional copyright, Coulton protects his music under a Creative Commons license. This allows other artists to create derivative works on the original. Kirsner's takeaway: "The result of relinquishing some control over 'Coulton-branded' content is that more stuff is made and spread around the Web than Coulton could ever make himself."
This is superior business advice. Invite your customers to tell you what to create next. Involve them in the product's development. Make it easy for your wares to be showcased around the Web.

For more ideas, check out Kirsner's excellent post, Customer Strategy Tips from an Indie Rocker.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.