How To Market Like Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor, frontman for industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, has earned a reputation as a marketing maverick. He engages fans, building loyalty and watching sales naturally follow.

In the Nine Inch Nails online forum, Reznor tells musicians they can be their own best marketers:

“If you are young and use the Internet, you know more about your audience than [labels] do – for sure. This is a revolution and you can be a part of it. The old guard is dying; if you have good ideas – try them.”

Email marketing is the perfect medium to try out these new ideas. With the following game plan, we’ll show you how.

Your Music + AWeber = Marketing In Tune

In 2007, the band began marketing independently when its contract with Interscope Records ended. Reznor organized an online scavenger hunt to entertain fans. He even scattered free, shareable USB keys loaded with their music at a few concerts.

While these strategies are specific to musicians and bands, the underlying principles hold true for all email campaigns.

“If you have nothing in common with American Idol and you don’t want to be the Pussycat Dolls, then you don’t really want to be on a label.”

To a label, Reznor points out, your vision and your longevity won’t be important. He suggests using new media and modern communication – such as email marketing – instead.

For example, you could use your email list to rally street teams. Segment your list by location and contact your fans in the cities you’ll be playing in.

Offer them free music, show tickets, or band paraphernalia in exchange for promoting you. Email lets you market remotely so the city is ready when you roll in.

“The role of an independent musician these days requires a mastery of first hand use of these tools,” Reznor says.

“Give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers.”

Nine Inch Nails The Slip

Nine Inch Nails The Slip art direction by Rob Sheridan and Trent Reznor.

In 2008, Reznor gave away NIN’s album The Slip in exchange for fans’ email addresses. Coldplay did the same with their album Left Right Left Right Left in 2009.

A new full-length album costs about $14.99. The average fan email address is worth $111 yearly. So these groups scored not only a higher return on their investment, but also invitations into their fans’ inboxes, which are priceless.

To try this with your own tracks, post offers with web forms on your website, to your Facebook profile, in your blog – and link to them everywhere. Deliver the MP3s upon confirmation by including the link on a web page or in a follow-up message.

“Offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions/scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan.”

Ghosts I – IV, a 36-track album, was offered in a variety of packages. Although the attribution license let fans digitally share the album for free without penalty, the packages grossed $1.6 million within one week of their release.

These packages can also help if you are interested in growing your email list. Announce beforehand that your subscribers will get first dibs – and make sure to link to or embed your sign-up form!

“There are a lot more bands today, a lot more clutter. Try to identify what it is you’re trying to do. Play up your strengths and present them.”

Your look, your sound, your attitude – what makes you stand out? What resonates with your fans? What kind of an impact are you making with them?

You don’t have to guess what these things are. Your email reports show what attracts your subscribers. Open rates, click through rates and sales tracking all tell a story. Read that story, and follow its advice.

“Engage your fans. …Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. …Be interesting. Be real.”

Though common in social media outlets, these ideas translate nicely to email.

Pearl Jam’s official fan group, Ten Club, rewards their fans with ticket upgrades, member giveaways and a community forum. To top things off, they send members a vinyl single of a live or unreleased track every spring.

Make your email list your official fan club. Include exclusive content: slice-of-life video clips, backstage passes, presale concert tickets.

And when you create this content, remember: be transparent. Stay relevant to your fans’ interests. Be yourself, and have fun building relationships with your followers.

We’re In This Together

We enjoy when you share your feedback with us and each other, so let us know:

Have you seen bands market in these ways? Has your own band used any of these strategies? What other ways have you seen musicians market?

If you are not musically inclined, do you still find this advice useful? What ideas will you take away with you?

Share your thoughts below.

Note: all images in this post are Creative Commons-licensed. Click on the images or photo credit lines.