Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

How to Successfully Self-Market Your Band or Business: Interview with Nickolas Blazina from ‘State and Madison’

You haven’t been to a concert in ten years, but I bet you fifty bucks there’s still a band t-shirt in your closet. Whether it’s been saved because for continued fan support or for sentimental value (I can’t bear to toss my ‘N Sync t-shirt from 2000), that band t-shirt will always double as a band promotion.

Yet, self-marketing a band goes far and beyond just a cool line up of promotional products. The best local bands might not even be heard if they don’t network, actively seek out new fans, or interact with their current fans.

State and Madison is a Chicago-based band that’s doing everything right. The band members are approachable and funny, hold contests, and repeatedly reward their loyal fans.

In late 2010, the band announced a karaoke contest for their single “Hot Damn.” Fans were encouraged to submit videos of themselves singing the song. Some submissions were simple sing-to-the-camera productions while some were scripted, customized epics. The prize? A private concert with the band: a low-cost, but highly motivating prize. The result was far-reaching: spreading State and Madison’s name.

Nickolas Blazina, State and Madison’s lead singer, shared his band’s marketing tips which YOU can use for your own band or brand.

Nickolas Blazina performing live with his band, State and Madison

Nickolas Blazina performing live with his band, State and Madison

What merchandise is the most popular among fans?

The off-the-beaten-path items like slap bracelets have been great for us. Everyone has t-shirts, but if you can find something that will make people smile because they haven’t seen it in a while, it makes a bigger impact.

What experience do you have with using or receiving promotional items like stickers, promo CDs, etc. with your own and other local bands?

Typically I won’t take anything unless I have a conversation with the promoter first, and I’ve found the same to be true on the other end. When we talk a little with prospective fans, we always find less of our flyers and promo CDs on the ground than when we just blindly hand things to people. People appreciate appreciation. A little concentration on the individual goes a long way towards having people give you a chance.

How do you spread your band’s name and music?

We hand paint signage like human sandwich boards to advertise our shows. We just made a homemade 3’ x 9’ banner advertising our House of Blues show on June 18th. We are carrying that one all over town. We do print flyers, too, but again, if you can get people to come to you for them instead of bombarding them while 39 others do the same thing, your flyers go home. The others don’t.

How do you think contests get fans engaged with local band music?

Anything that engages a fan is worth doing. A great example is the band South Jordan. They do very well at reaching out via social media to those willing, and moreover, excited to help their band grow via word of mouth campaigns (tweets for a new track, etc).

State and Madison's discography

What are some of the easiest ways to seek out new fans?

There is no easy, only less/more creative. The more creative and the less intrusive the better. In earlier years, you could hand out flyers after a show and it would make a difference. Now, literally 40 other people hand out flyers at once for different events and it’s very easy to get drowned out if you don’t take a chance: maybe embarrass yourself a bit. A hot dog suit for example.

How is social media (Twitter, Facebook) important to marketing your band?

Twitter sure is. Facebook is becoming a bit like MySpace in that everyone has figured out how to send mass, faceless emails to all their “friends”. It’s making it a bit obsolete. Like I said before: the more personal the better.

What do you do differently from other local bands to inspire fan loyalty or engage new fans?

Try and write songs that can’t be denied. You write good stuff and good things follow. Go promote a piece of junk though, and the loyalty will be hard to come by.

Anything else you’d like to tell me about local band marketing?

There are no rules. Do something different. One time I dressed up in a full on Hulk Hogan costume and went to pass out flyers. Who wouldn’t approach me to see what that was all about?

What bands and businesses can learn from Nickolas:

  • Personally engaging your customers is the best way to earn their loyalty. A few minutes of conversation at tradeshows, fairs, or meetings costs you nothing but has a high return potential.
  • Promoting low-quality products or services will do nothing for your brand. This may seem obvious, but cutting costs or corners to aim for a better bottom line is not the way to earn customer loyalty.
  • A little creativity goes a long way. In a society constantly assaulted with advertisements, a unique promotional product or marketing idea can make all the difference.

What are some other unique ways to market local bands or businesses? Have you ever sought out a business or band because of their interesting marketing?


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  1. Jana Quinn

    I know we write post after post about personal interaction and community building with promotional products, but it’s still amazing to see that it works out in the real world!

    Excellent interview, Mandy! You asked some great questions that got to the heart of State and Madison’s business plan and brand promotion.

    This bit jumped out at me: “Typically I won’t take anything unless I have a conversation with the promoter first, and I’ve found the same to be true on the other end.”

    The simple presence of promotional products creates a sort of obligation in customers to have interactions with promoters. That’s a HUGE customer-initiated interaction that’s hard to come by… unless you’ve got some promo products on your side. 🙂

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I know! While writing this post, I was amazed to realize how many bands I’ve discovered because I talked one-on-one with members and/or scored a cool promo product from them. Having a short conversation with band members always motivates me to follow through with my promise to check out their music!

  2. Jenna Markowski

    These are all great tips!

    I think one of the best things a band can do to get their name out is to encourage their fans to band together and create a street team. This gives the fans more interaction with the band and helps them feel more involved. Street teams can create their own contests to encourage other fans to promote, and all of the fans can create a sense of community.

    I love my band shirts, I can never bring myself to throw them away. I had a ton that I never wore anymore, but instead of getting rid of them I cut them into squares and sewed them all together to make an awesome blanket. So now all of those bands are STILL getting promotion even though that product’s life as a shirt has come to an end — I just converted them into a different promotional product! 😀

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I’m with you, Jenna. Street teams are great ways to get your band’s name spread. Fans get to feel like they’re helping, your band gets more promotion – it’s win/win!

      I’ll admit though, I always prefer talking to actual band members than having a flyer forced into my hand by a hyper-active fan. Not that it’s always the case with street teams, but I’ve had the experience more than once.

      • Jenna Markowski

        That is true — most flyers that get handed to me end up on the floor in my car. But street teams are really good for social media promotion, or especially for nationwide or international promotion. Bands can have fans in different states create an individual street team for each location to help spread the word in places where the band can’t always be present themselves.

        • Mandy Kilinskis

          Street teams are definitely good for national and international promotion and I totally get that. When the street team consists of chill, well-informed fans, I’m usually apt to talk to them!

    • Amanda

      Aerosmith was my first concert, back in 98. I will never forget that night….I stood on my seat the entire time and sang along with my dad and Steven Tyler. =) I also got my first band tshirt that night, and I will never throw it out!

  3. Jill Tooley

    It sounds like Nickolas knows how to get out there and make an impression on people! I’d certainly be intrigued by a person in a Hulk Hogan costume as opposed to someone in street clothes. And their fan engagement is awesome – it’s refreshing to find a band that gives back to fans like this. I’ll have to check out their music now!

    He’s so right about the flyers, too. I just say NO to the people who try to hand them to me (it saves me the trouble of recycling them). There are more creative options out there, and you have to be one step ahead if you want to get noticed.

    P.S. I have boxes full of old ‘N Sync memorabilia that I’ll get rid of when someone pries it from my lifeless hands. ‘N Sync for life!!! 😉

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Last year at Warped Tour, the local band The Fold dressed up in banana costumes to promote their upcoming shows. Needless to say, I remembered them, talked about them, and ended up going to their show.

      The best part of their marketing strategies is that even if someone doesn’t see it, if their friend does, they are bound to hear about it! I have a few friends that hit the concert circuit often, and I always enjoy hearing about band members they’ve run into and how they market themselves.

      P.S. I have the entire collection of ‘N Sync marionettes that were released around the time of “No Strings Attached.” I’m never getting rid of them EVER.

      • Jill Tooley

        Banana costumes? Sweet – that’s how you get remembered!

        Oh my gosh, I still have all of those dolls as well! CRAZY! I saw some in a dollar store a few years back, believe it or not. It was like a time warp back to the early 2000s! Pretty sure I have every single and album they ever released, too – both European and American. My husband tells me that I should be ashamed of myself, but I graciously disagree. 😉

  4. JPorretto

    Let me tell you first hand…. promoting a band is a B*TCH. If you really want to do it right it has to be almost a full time job. I completely agree with Nickolas about being personal. My band has never gotten more than 1 or 2 people out to see us from spamming Facebook. I don’t even bother with that aspect anymore. Maybe I should make the jump onto Twitter…

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Yeah, in terms of Facebook, it seems to work best to create an event and leave it at that. I know that events always help remind me when/where shows are.

      And give Twitter a try. I look at Twitter more than Facebook, but that’s just me.

    • Tony Promo

      I agree with Jeff about the beeyotch part wholeheartedly. I had a short-lived career as a concert promoter and lost my behind. Promoting your own band is the same thing. In my years of music industry nerdery, I have discovered the key to successfully promoting your band, and it’s easier than you would think….

      Don’t suck!

      Really… it’s that easy (kind of).

      Little story about a band named Umphrey’s McGee that I started seeing in 2000. At first, there were 30 or 40 of us in a smoky bar, all with our jaws on the ground and drooling on ourselves due to the musical wizardry we all knew we were waaaaay too lucky to see in it’s infancy. This band was incredible. They could and would play absolutely anything, they all had music degrees from Notre Dame, and were way too good to be playing Otto’s in DeKalb or Dirty Nellies in Palatine. As the next year or two progressed and their shows got better by the week, they started letting us freely patch our DAT recorders (google it) into the soundboard. From there, we would put the shows on CD and trade them, for free. This was before the days of cable internet, or even affordable DSL, so everything was done hand-to-hand. Imagine promoting a band now without social networking, you can’t, right?!?

      Shortly thereafter we came up with something we called “B&P”, where, on the band’s message board, we would offer up a particular show to the first five or ten people to respond. The person who had the show on CD would then send a private message with his or her address, and whoever was lucky enough to get in on time would send a self-addressed stamped envelope with however many CD-R’s were needed for the show (usually three, as the shows were three hours long). We would burn the shows for those people, send them back, and then they would do the same thing in return.

      This spread word of the band like wildfire, and after they established somewhat of a national fanbase, we took it in a different direction. Myself, along with a few other dedicated nerds and the band’s manager, would contact people in other states where the bad was going to perform and send them spindles upon spindles of burned CD’s with Umphrey’s McGee shows to give out freely at record stores, college campuses, concerts, etc. So, by the time the band made their first venture out of the midwest to do a west coast tour, they were selling out medium size venues everywhere they went! Literally lines around the block, people crashing the gates, etc. It was madness!

      At the time, we really didn’t realize how innovative that really was, because before we knew it, we could stream shows online, download them through torrent sites, or even buy them on the way out of the show! Yes, they pioneered the marketing strategy of actually taking orders for the show that they were playing that night, and within 30 minutes of the end of the encore, you could stop by the merch booth and buy a copy of the concert you JUST saw! Genius? Undoubtedly.

      So, long story short, Facebook, Twitter and whatever else are definitely not the end-all be-all of music promotion. You can’t make money selling records and CD’s now anyway, so in order to be successful, you have to tour your ass off, and as long as you don’t suck 😉 … the sky’s the limit.

  5. Kyle

    It’s interesting to hear that Facebook is starting to become somewhat obsolete in marketing a band. I didn’t realize this, but it makes sense due to it not being very personal. One of these days maybe I’ll finally cave and join Twitter.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I didn’t consciously realize it until the interview, but he’s right! I’ve gotten very ambivalent about looking at mass messages. However, I can put my favorite bands on phone updates from Twitter and always stay up to date in what they’re doing!

      • Amy

        It seems that by the time I check my fb news feed my favorite bands’ announcments are already old news. Plus, if they’re a larger band I know that it’s not an actual member updating their status, but instead some assistant or something. Twitter and more personal engagements seem like the most effective route to take and really make fans (and customers!) feel more appreciated.

  6. Amanda

    Nice interview Mandy!

    I love that Nickolas was intertested in being featured in our blog! =) Right there he gained views from our entire blogsquad! That alone shows he knows how to help market his band. I love that they hand out slap bracelets–how unique!

    I checked out some of their music, and I think this is a band I could listen to. I like that they’re going to play with Lucky Boys Confusion too…they’re one of my fave local bands!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Both of them are playing on the 18th at House of Blues… 🙂

      • Jenna Markowski

        QLP FIELD TRIP! 😀

        • Amanda

          Yes!!!! =)

  7. Joseph Giorgi

    I’m not going to lie: I don’t go to a whole lot of concerts (local or otherwise). I’ll go if my girlfriend or group of friends suggest that I tag along, but normally it’s pretty seldom. It’s even rarer that I get the chance to interact with band members after shows. Still, it’s always easy to tell which bands go the extra mile when it comes to marketing, and judging by this interview, State and Madison is definitely one of them.

    I especially like Nickolas’ response to your question about what his band does differently to inspire loyalty. It’s nice to hear that he believes that when “you write good stuff…good things follow.” When you have something to sell that’s of higher quality than your competition, you’re already one step ahead.

    Great interview, Mandy! 😀

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Joe!

      I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in how to market and how to promote and this sale and that deal that we all forget that all the marketing in the world won’t make up for a bad product.

  8. Wim @ Sales Sells

    “The more creative and the less intrusive the better.”

    That’s sort of the mantra for modern day business, isn’t it? It’s not about interrupting people, it’s about standing out and providing value so that people will spread the word for you. Advice to take at heart!

    Great article, liked the creative approach!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Wim!

      It’s totally true. As a consumer, I want to find goods, music, promo products, etc. that seem interesting. but not overwhelming!

      Thanks for praise and tweeting out the interview!

  9. Manda Olson

    I completely agree with your thoughts on Facebook vs. Twitter, Mandy. I appreciate the convenience of band members setting up Facebook events, but only really feel a personal connection on Twitter. It allows me to interact personally with band members, and also see which bands are creating buzz among other bands and fans. I also appreciate when bands are thoughtful and creative with their tweets and updates–one band that does this amazingly is The Noise FM. Their tweets often leave me still laughing hours after reading them, and it’s such an effective tool. People will remember you if you’re engaging and witty, and that will get more people to your shows.

    I’ve also seen a lot of success in offering either music or tickets to shows for free, usually in exchange for tweeting or facebooking about the band. I started following one band (Now the Rabbit) on Twitter, and they DM’ed me their EP for free in return! After listening to the EP and really enjoying it, they’re on my radar and I will definitely be at their next Chicago show. I’ve also gone to a lot of free shows put on by bands that I haven’t checked out yet, and they’ve become some of my favorite bands to see live. There’s no risk or consequence to my wallet if I go to a free show without knowing the band, but if their live show is good enough (and State and Madison’s most definitely is!) people will keep coming even when the show isn’t free!

    Also, my St&Mad slap bracelet is one of my most prized possessions. Just sayin’.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      You make a valid point about tweets! I’m far more interested in an amusing, witty band – and one day I swear I will see Noise FM simply because their tweets are so darn witty.

      And I didn’t realize that free music and tickets was something that happened so frequently. It might be a hit to the band’s wallet at present, but if you become a fan, that’s an investment that will pay out every time they have a show.

      Thanks for your insightful comment and the expression of love for your slap bracelet. 😀

  10. Dacey

    Self marketing a band promotion needs to follow the various methods.Single methods never works.There should be a proper planning for promoting band.

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