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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The Album Sampler – Still a Great Idea
Friday, November 14, 2008

If you’re an artist who is selling your music hand to hand you know how hard it is to convince someone who has never heard of you to shell out their hard earned money to listen to your work. Heck, people are barely willing to open up their wallets to purchase the music of the artists they are familiar with. There is a simple, and not too pricey, solution to this, and it’s one that’s almost as old as the music industry itself – the album sampler.

I’ve run into plenty of artists who want nothing to do with a person unless they can get money out of them. These artists almost always fail. They fail for the simple reason that they don’t see the much bigger picture; when you’re just starting out it isn’t all about album sales, it’s about spreading awareness of who you are and what you do. Obviously, artists who have just stepped off stage from performing have a readymade audience of potential buyers, but if you’re out on the street you have no audience at all, which means you have to give them a reason to want to hear you. Point blank, they’re probably not going to buy your CD the first time they see you unless your hustling skills are of a supreme nature (a la a Sav Killz or a Creature). This is where an album sampler not only comes in handy, but is essential to the growth of an independent artist’s career.

As most artists know, the first approach of “do you like Hip-Hop? You should check out my album, it’s only ten dollars,” almost never works. It’s doomed to fail from the beginning because you’re setting up the relationship as one of salesman and potential buyer rather than one of artist and potential fan. Fans don’t want to be treated like customers. It makes them feel like the only thing you care about is their money.

It’s still OK to start with the hard sell as long as you’re prepared to hear a “no.” This is where having an album sampler comes in. After that initial “no” you can totally flip the script by saying something like “well, thanks for stopping what you were doing to speak with me. I also have an album sampler with a few songs on it. If you want to give it a listen it’s totally free. Here, have one, and thanks again.” Even if only a quarter of those you offer the sampler to take one it will mean a heck of a lot more people will become aware of your work. Additionally, everyone you offer the sampler to will have a much more positive view of you in their heads, even the people who say no, because in their eyes you will have gone from “money grubber” to “artist,” and you’ll have a lot more potential sales for the future.

So what makes for a good album sampler? Personally I think two or three full length songs and three 60-90 second snippets is perfect. Just like in the good old days of the cassette tape album samplers. That should give people enough of a feel of your work to see if they want to purchase the full length album or see you live. You also need some sort of contact information on the CD, whether it’s a website or a MySpace page. Not only does this give people the chance to find out more about you and become a fan, it’s the only way to turn your sampler into a potential sale in the future.

If you’re worried about cost, don’t be. You can press up the samplers yourself and slip them into paper CD jackets. Remember, this isn’t your album, it doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to accomplish two main goals; make people aware of who you are, and act as a stimulant for building your fan base.

If anyone wants some concrete evidence of how well this can work here’s a fantastic example. The other day I was approached by a rapper who wanted me to buy his album (which is a fairly commonplace occurrence for me). I can’t tell you the name of the rapper because I honestly don’t remember it. He might have been dope for all I know. Had he handed me a sampler I would have gone home and given it a spin just based on the respect of his hustle. If I had liked it he might have ended up an Artist Of The Week and thousands of people would have read about him. Instead he’s still out on the street, only interested in getting something out of people’s wallets.

The moral of the story is pretty obvious – an album sampler is a low cost, high reward way to get your music to people without sacrificing album sales. Why more artists don’t use this time tested form of promotion is beyond me.

PS - Props to artists like Kats who do use album samplers and see great results from doing so.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:37 AM  
  • At 8:36 AM, Blogger green conscious said…

    Good stuff!

  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger Will Conley said…

    Good lesson.

  • At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I never heard of an album sampler before. Singles, EPs and mixtapes, yes. This sounds like good stuff.

    Do you know of any artists who turned their album samples into actual albums?

  • At 10:41 AM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    As always, thanks for the props everyone.

    And Red, samplers are actually made after the album is done. The artist then takes a few songs, and a few snippets of songs, throws em onto a CD (or a cassette tape if they've time-warped back to the 80's) and they have a shining example of their work without having to give away the whole farm.

    I'll readily admit I'm always happy to listen to a sampler because it's usually only 12-15 minutes of my time and in that time I can get a good idea of whether or not I want to hear more from that particular artist.

  • At 6:52 PM, Blogger Hellviz PreZZlee said…

    Album samplers are like EPs...Btw iKnow iGave ya my EP before but it didn't work (my bad)...did ya ever get a chance to check out the zshare link?


    Hears an imeem playlist 4 it


  • At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is a good post.

    But it spawned one question in my head...

    So do you think an album sampler is better than a free mixtape?

  • At 11:33 PM, Blogger Mongo Slade said…

    A! Men!
    Thank you for this, good article as always.
    You can also put you sampler on your myspace as a download so you get to the digital people as well.
    A pretty good way to intro yourself to folks without them putting up their guard, because most people are prepared to say no no matter what you say, and all you want is a moment of someone's time to check out what you have.
    If they like it, they will find you to buy it.

  • At 1:03 AM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Y.C. - Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. A sampler gives someone a reason to want to seek you out and hear more. A mixtape, usually, bombards a person with too much.

    Also, as Mongo Slade points out, people are far more likely to give you a moment of their time as opposed to an hour.

  • At 2:42 PM, Blogger Coole said…

    Yeah man, I did album samplers when CASSETTE TAPES WERE POPULAR!!! I still give out album samplers. I even still have a few old ReddOktoba Samplers in my studio! The same holds true today, but people have gotten away from it.

  • At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow...This changes everything lol...

    Time to re-strategize...

    Thanks a lot

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