8 Marketing Tips From Hoodie Allen’s ‘People Keep Talking’

Hello and welcome to another day of music industry discussion here on the official blog of Haulix. This entry in our Advice series is a bit different from those we have done in the past. We did not work with Hoodie Allen to create the content you are about to enjoy, but as longtime supporters of his work we felt there were several things independent artists could learn from his efforts. 

This blog exists to promote the future of the music industry, and to do that we need input from people like you and your music-loving friends. If you have any questions about the content in this article, or if you have an artist you would like to see featured on this blog, please contact james@haulix.com. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

There have been countless reports about the continuing decline of album sales, but if you take a close look at the indie music scene there are many artists moving large numbers in 2014. The key to this success is largely due to the connection fans feel to these artists, which has been nurtured with aid from the rise of social media, but marketing also plays a large role. There are a limitless number of ways to promote music today, and it should not take an informative column like this for you to figure out that great promotion often equates to great sales. It’s not a science, and there are certainly examples of people who never sold even though they knew how to market, but the vast majority of cases speak to the opposite being true. Marketing matters, perhaps more so now than ever before, and today we are going to take a few notes on marketing from someone who has built a DIY career through such efforts: Hoodie Allen.

Hoodie Allen one of the hottest emcees in hip-hop today, but if you only listen to what is played on the radio you may have never heard his voice. He’s been creating and distributing music by himself, largely for free, since 2009, with five mixtapes and two extended play releases already circulating online. He’s also toured the country a dozen times (if not more), transitioning from basement shows and hole-in-the-wall clubs to sold out headlining gigs at every House of Blues from New York to Los Angeles. Through it all Hoodie has remained DIY, and later this month he will release his first studio album, People Keep Talking. It’s the culmination of everything he has done thus far in life, and up to this point his marketing efforts have been flawless. Not every artist will be able to duplicate his plan in the exact same fashion, but with a little hard work these tips can improve any upcoming album promotion:

Before you ask fans to buy something, give them something for free.

People Keep Talking may be Hoodie Allen’s first studio album, but he has made more than fifty tracks available to fans, for free, since launching his career in 2009. Hip-hop culture thrives on mixtapes, which 99% of the time are distributed for free, and Allen used that knowledge to feed his fans a constant stream of music while he refined his craft. Was every song a hit? No. Some were honestly just this side of awful, but that does not matter in the bigger scheme of things. By offering fans high quality downloads of his music for free Hoodie was able to forge a connection with people long before he ever approached them about financially backing his efforts. When he started performing live, those who enjoyed the free music came out and supported Hoodie on tour. He returned their support with more free music, and the cycle continued. Now that Hoodie feels ready to take his career to another level, both in terms of touring and recording, he’s turning to fans whose love he has reciprocated many times over at this point and is asking them once more to support his dream. Those who have followed him now feel as if they are part of his movement, and they are willing to back the album because they know he will give back to them in time. This relationship transcends the typical artist to fan frame and develops a sense of community. No money can match the power of making people feel like they are a part of something.

Start talking about the record early, but hold off on the official announcement.

Hoodie Allen has been talking about working on his debut album for the better part of two years, but he did not officially announce the record’s release until August 19, 2014. That was just under two months away from the album’s October 14 release. Your album reveal should be no further out than 6-8 weeks before release. Timing is key when it comes to promoting a release, and as soon as you announce something you need to be prepared to promote it heavily up until its release. If you slack, people will forget about your album before it even hits stores. Studies have shown that at least 25% of your album’s overall sales will come from pre-orders, so it’s incredibly important that you are prepared to properly promote your new release before announcing it to the public.

So how does one talk about a record without announcing it? The answer is actually far simpler than you may believe. Be descriptive, but don’t push your product. It’s perfectly fine to tell your fans that you’re writing and working on new material, or even that you have entered the studio. You should always keep them informed with your latest activity. You can even promote the upcoming announcement of something ‘big,’ just make sure you do not reveal any release dates or pre-order information before it is absolutely confirmed. You only get one shot at announcing something to the public, so make sure you plan accordingly.

Announce your record a week before your launch pre-orders.

News travels fast in the digital age, but as an independent artist trying to stand out amidst a constant stream of information it can take a few days for publications and fans to catch up to your latest activity. Even an announcement as big as an album release can get lost in the digital shuffle of tweets, status updates, and news posts. Don’t take it personally, it happens to literally everyone who attempts to promote online, but do make it a point to continue pushing your album release news for the first several days following the initial announcement. Be sure to include a pre-order launch date and, If possible, a short video or audio teaser that alludes to the material found on the record.

When you do launch pre-orders, be sure to premiere a song as well.

Hoodie announced his album release on August 19, teasing an August 25 launch for pre-orders. When that day arrived, Hoodie also shared the first single and video from his upcoming album. Obviously not every artist finds themselves in a position to make music videos, but you are able to share music from your upcoming release with fans. This not only sheds light on the material listeners can expect to find on your upcoming release, but also encourages promotion of your pre-order launch. Most people do not tweet store links for brands or artists regularly, but people will share creative/entertaining bits of media they find online. Give them something to talk about.

Personalize your letters to the press, even if it takes twice as long.

Even though Hoodie Allen has numerous sold out tours under his belt, he still has to work every single day to grab the attention of music journalists around the globe. To do this, Hoodie sends out personalized messaging that makes every writer feel like someone Hoodie and his crew care about them beyond the group’s basic desire for coverage. It forges a personal connection where one would not exist otherwise, and it raises the likelihood of someone reading Hoodie’s pitch by a good amount. Here’s a screenshot from one of his recent emails:

Release new material weekly, or at least on a regular basis.

If you plan to announce your album 6-8 weeks before release you must also be prepared to share several songs with the public ahead of the record’s street date. We already talked about an initial promotional single, which has been commonplace in music for as long as I can remember, but in a time where there are more artists vying for attention than ever one song is rarely enough to sustain the public’s interest in new albums. Hoodie, for example, has released a new song and music video every single week since launching pre-orders at the end of August. Nearly half of People Keep Talking can be found online at this point, but since that material is also available on iTunes the impact on Hoodie’s sales are minimal.

Again – not every artist has the budget or skill level to create a ton of music videos. You do not need music videos to sell records. Video content helps, and if nothing else you should definitely make video streams of new tracks available, but you do not need high gloss videos to sell your new record. They probably won’t hurt if you have them, but you can win over new fans just as easily without them.

Everybody loves a contest.

The idea of giving things away often seems counter-intuitive when attempting to sell a product, but in music that promotional tactic tends to work incredibly well. For People Keep Talking, Hoodie Allen is currently running a contest that awards people for promoting the fact they purchased the album. Hoodie asks fans to screenshot their receipt from iTunes and share the image on social networks while using a specific set of hashtags. 137 fans who participate will win, with prizes ranging from an all-expense paid trip to NYC for the album release, to having your name appear in the booklets for the physical release of the record (due out in a few months).

For more information on this contest, as well as a look at how Hoodie designed the entry page, click here.

Use excitement for your album to promote your next tour.

If you have a new album coming out it’s fairly safe to say you also have a new tour in the works, or at the very least a series of release shows. If possible, unveil those plans after your initial album announcement. Fans will be anxious for new music and additional details regarding the record, so they will be quick to hop on any headlines related to your ongoing efforts. You may also want to consider a pre-order package that offers tickets to a show of the consumer’s choice.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.