Almost out

Andrew Booker 2007-07-21 19:15:09

Of the 100 or so copies of SE1 I had left at the beginning of the week, I put stickers on about 30 them with details of the next gig and left them in Imbibe. The rest I'm keeping either to sell or to hand out at the gig. If there is any interest in them after that, I might press some more copies.

The areas we covered were Soho (the record shops), Notting Hill (exchange shops, smaller record/music shops), Shoreditch/Brick Lane and Southwark (SE1). Never made it to Islington, nor Camden. Missing out Islington I regret. Missing out Camden I don't.

How was it? Shoreditch and Brick Lane had all sorts of happening places to leave stuff. Soho was easy too around Berwick St. Everyone who owned these places welcomed that it was a free CD, not just another flier. Notting Hill was a bit more prickly, and probably less worthwhile, as it's geographically a long way from the gig in SE1, and demographically full of wealthy socialites already triple-booked with parties every night of the week.

By far the hardest area to distribute in was SE1. A couple of good places on Borough High St, and that was it. Not even the library, though for £1.50 they let me put up a poster. The area is not without its cultural places, but it's all huge and corporate around there, eg Tate Modern, South Bank Centre. These are not places you can leave fliers. Away from the river, there's nothing. There might be one record shop somewhere, haven't found it yet. Remember when I was looking for venues? After trudging all over North London for a month, Imbibe was a really quick find on the internet, and I only walked around the area afterwards. I was beguiled by the semi-desolate Dickensian isolation of a location bang in the geometric centre of the city. I now see there is almost no small scale music going on. You'd think this would be a good thing. Great, no competition! But markets don't work like that. Competition means potential customers. Nightlife begets nightlife. Nightlife abhors a vacuum. As does the section of floor under my desk.

Originally, I thought musical instrument shops would be a great place to put CDs. These places always have flier areas. Os covered some of the Denmark Street guitariums, yes I just invented that word, before he ran out of copies. Surely they would be picked up zealously by amateurs and professionals alike, all of them gagging to check out the competition/pick up ideas/get involved, etc. You would think musicians and record-buyers are basically the same people, but I have come to realise that as you approach the extremes, with shoppers who build up enormous CD collections of weird stuff at one end, and gigging players at the other, the record-buyers like to go to gigs, musicians in bands do not. This should not be surprising. Record-buyers are music consumers. Musicians are often too absorbed in their own creative existence to trouble themselves with checking out anyone else's. I was missing this insight a year ago when I set out to market Improvizone as a jam session. Yes, it would have appealed to musicians. No, they wouldn't have come, unless there was a strong chance they would be able to play.

Has it worked? Will it bring anyone to the next gig? Will it bring anyone to the gigs after that?

In order to try and measure the usefulness of splurging discs across town, my ever-so-cunning conceit that chuffed me no end was to print a special URL on the CD. With this, I reasoned in smug confidence, I could monitor the dozens and dozens of new visitors to the site entering via this hidden portal, knowing that they could only have got there from the CD. There is no link to it from anywhere on the this site, and I even doctored the site CD images so that readers wouldn't see it and spoil my stats by visiting it themselves. Genius, surely.

Nope. I can tell you, so far the outcome is one small hill of beans. Visitors to the secret URL this month number about 1% of the total we've dished out. That would be about right for door-to-door leafleting, but we were targeting places visited by people with an active interest in music, and putting free CDs in there, not fliers. Did they all get swept in the bin before people could pick them up?

I don't think so. I made a point of asking a couple of shop owners whether they periodically had a complete clearout of the mounds of fliers and free newspapers. Apparently not, it all just goes. I saw this for myself last Saturday, when I put a pile by the checkout in one of the exchange shops in Notting Hill. You could see the pile from the door, so when I walked past again an hour or so later, I had a quick look. All gone.

This is good and bad. The number of CDs you can fit in a pile is much, much less than the number of fliers you can stack up to the same height. And if a stack of 50 fliers really can disappear in a few days, and I'm leaving only about 15 (supposedly more attractive) CDs, I'm missing out on bus-loads of worthy people.

So if the CDs are going, and very quickly in places, did I make a mistake with the quantity and not press enough? Should I be making more? Right now I don't want to spend the money until I see what happens at the gig. If 10 people turn up after we've dished out nearly 1000 CDs, I'll be pleased. But at that number, the accountancy part of your brain starts calculating the cost-per-punter, and then asking you to justify it, when the real cost needs to include whether the effects last longer than one gig. Maybe they won't even kick in until two or three gigs later, when people finally tidy their desks and find the CD at the bottom of a pile of crap. Anyway the cost of this was no more than a modest advert in a glossy EMAP music magazine, and those are not just read by Londoners, and definitely disappear after a month.

Perhaps the clear plastic wallet was another mistake. For one thing, the stacks of CDs slide all over the place if you aren't careful. For another, once the disc is in the player, and its listener is really getting into it, and thinking its the best thing since... since... something really good from quite a long time ago, they have no way of knowing what it's about until they take it out of the machine. A card wallet with the details might have been better. On the other hand, in a plastic wallet you can instantly recognise it as a CD. And at least I put labels on the copies I left in the venue.

There might be a couple of fundamental reasons why the number of secret URL hits is so low. Firstly, people might just have been typing in the basic URL, and not the secret bit. I don't think so. Site hits have not been increasing any faster this month than in previous months (currently growing by about 200 new visitors per month). Secondly, maybe the CD just isn't very good. Someone a flier knows they are taking a chance if they go to a gig by someone unfamiliar. But if they like the music at all, the gig is likely leave a better impression than if they took their chance on a recording, because it's alive. It has atmosphere. It has social proof, in the other people enjoying it. A recording has none of that. You listen to it in isolation in your own terms, possibly while you're concentrating on something else. It's easier not to like a recording.

So those are all my thoughts so far, now I can only wait for the outcome in 10 days, when I will see whether people come to the gig. That's why I want to keep a few copies back to hand out then. If I'm finding people already have them, I'll know it worked. If I'm giving them to people who've never seen it, or if there's simply nobody there, I'll know it was pointless.

6th gig: Tue 31 July 2007 << | >> Making it up as we go along