How the five R’s of retail can help market your music

Kim Sinclair, owner and founder of Spincount PR, shares her words of wisdom for music marketing success

An excerpt from the Murdoch Music Podcast aired on Thurs, Feb 5, 2015
Twitter: @spincount | www.spincount.ca

Kim SinclairAfter graduating from the University of Kentucky with a major in Marketing Communications, Kim moved to New York City, where she worked for an international fashion label. It was there that she learned the five R’s of retail – a valuable set of tools that she would later apply in her own uber successful music business, Spincount PR. Here, she shares how the five R’s of retail can help anyone working in music.

On entering the music industry

Tim: Was working in the music industry something you aspired to?

Kim: I like to say that everything I do in this life has led to this moment, whether it was planned or accidental.

So when I went to the University of Kentucky, Marketing and Communications was my major and Art History was my minor (I decided to ‘culture myself!’). After university I met my husband at the University of Kentucky and he was from New York City, so when he said “We’ve lived in Kentucky for a while, do you want to go and live in New York City?” I said “Ah, YES, please and thank you.”

We moved and I got work in the fashion industry and by the time we left New York, I was running a 20 million dollar business at the retail level for Federated Merchandising Group.  In other words, if you were to go into Macy’s main floor, those brands on the main floor are Federated private label brands – the brands they develop ‘in house.’ My specialty was men’s sweaters. It was very cool because every single day we had to deal with different vendors, people speaking different languages in different countries. Working out schedules, first cost, landed cost, ticketed cost, spring delivery, ticketed delivery – all these things I was taught in New York.

Kim’s best business advice

Kim: One of the biggest things I was taught was brand identity and the five “R’s” of retail and how to apply all these things – how to take what your designer sees (from overseas shopping trips), bring that back and translate that into next year’s line for the customer. All these things that I learned – merchandising, branding and pricing – we all rolled that into what we call the five “R’s of retail” and all of that still applies to what I do for artists promoting their music. At the end of the day, we’re still trying to promote something – to promote a product.

Having this experience in one of the top three retailers in North America and interestingly enough, when I was there our buying office sold to other stores on an international level. The products we developed were shipped all around the world. That applies to what I do today in Spincount.

Let me tell you about the five R’s of retail, because this is something I tell artists. It’s a simple concept but if you apply it, it’s very helpful.

Tim: Now I’m all excited!

Kim: Here we go! It’s basically about presenting the Right product to the Right people at the Right time in the Right way for the Right price.

If you think about that, you can apply that to a tour, to a single show and to when you’re putting out a record. Ask yourself how are you selling that product? Who are you selling it to? Is the timing right? Should you put out an album about skipping on the beach in December? It may depend on how awful your winter is! All these things come into play when you’re planning a campaign or an event. It’s simple but at my previous employer, it was a part of our conversation every day.

Tim: That’s interesting, because I know for a lot of people in the music industry, the thought process is “Ok I’ve written enough songs to go and cut a record, now I need money, when I have enough money – now I can cut the record and then I need to put it out as soon as it’s done to get my money back.” But the ‘when’ and the ‘who’ are almost afterthoughts for people when it should be thought of at the start. Do you find that when you’re talking to new artists – is that still an issue?

Kim: Yes, because everyone second guesses themselves and I think that’s part of the creative process – always questioning and challenging yourself.

The biggest question is usually around timing – even something like ‘weather’ – when bad weather happens, things like tours and studio time can go totally off the rails. This can put your schedule behind, so when that happens we have to regroup and say “Ok, now what do we do? And how does that affect things with our timetable and can we still meet these goals? Or should we adjust?” I always advise artists to be flexible and not to stress if you have to adjust.

How to plan for an album release

Tim: How far in advance do you usually like to plan for things? Is there a time table that you’ve found works? Let’s say for an album release?

Kim: In very broad terms, I would say you need to have everything planned and ready to launch, two months in advance is not too early. I like to mail physical copies out six weeks before a release date. When you launch an album or EP you want to have as much ammunition in advance as possible. You want to get reviews and get it to as many historical supporters as you can to start building a buzz and awareness of your upcoming work.

Keep in mind other people’s timetables. Just because you mail something six weeks in advance, it doesn’t mean it’s enough time for others to get a review completed or to get it up on the air.

The other advice I give our clients is that we have to do our homework, it may do a day to three days to figure out who to mail your record to. I’d rather have ten meaningful contacts than a hundred shots in the dark.

Tim: The amount of submissions I received when I was at True North records – a folk label – for rap music – it’d blow your mind. All they needed was to look at our website for five minutes to figure out that we were the wrong label for them.

Kim: I am constantly reminding myself about best-practices. I have to tell myself, “I know they’re my friends, but they may not want the newest rock album!” We’re all human, but you still need to make sure your contacts are meaningful and they’ll get you much further than your shots in the dark.

On changing industries to carve a career in music

Tim: How was the transition from doing the retail marketing to Spincount? How did that come about?

Kim: I like to consider myself the accidental promoter. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. There’s a lovely gentleman who lived in Liverpool and ran a bar. He and his wife were the most amazing supporters of music. They’d house bands in any genre, in any format from all over the world. I can’t tell you the number of times I’d walk into his bar and meet the most amazing people. One night there’d be a band from Winnipeg, the next night they’d be from Montreal – it was really incredible.

I just happened to be there one night, with the bar owner, his wife, my husband, an artist and it was a Sunday night. To say there were 10 people there would have been stretching it, but to be fair it was a Sunday night in Liverpool!

Coco Love Alcorn (photo by Summerfolk)

Coco Love Alcorn (photo by Summerfolk)

And here’s where it hits home – the artist was Coco Love Alcorn.

So afterwards, we’re all sitting at one table and talking and I’m telling her our story about being new to Canada and new to the area. There wasn’t a lot going on. I’m talking to Coco and telling her what I did in New York. She was extremely interested in my skill set and suggested that I could help her out down the road.

That’s where it all started.

I was a super fan of hers as soon as I saw her. It was just one of those things where the accidental promoter happened and it just evolved from there. Then she introduced me to Ian Sherwood and suddenly everyone talks to each other. One thing led to another. I was extremely fortunate to be in that bar that night.

Tim: Since then you’ve worked on a bunch of records that have done very well. How many Juno nods did you get this year?

Kim: I’ve worked for five artists who have been nominated for six Junos this year. These are not just wonderful artists that I get to work with – but wonderful people. I’m so lucky to work with the artists and their teams. No one is an island. The artist gets up there and does their thing on stage and that’s where the Juno level quality comes in – you have to be a performer as well. And these are some magnificent performers.

Tim: If I could pat you on the back right now or shake your hand I would – did you do a happy dance when you heard [about the Junos]?

Kim: I was running around the house screaming [laughs]! I was bursting with pride for the artist and my team. I’m honoured to work with such fine, fine people.

On Juno pride and more amazing awards

Tim: So Juno day was an amazing day – and then the very next day the East Coast Music Awards [ECMA]’s nominations came out.

Kim: It might have been the best 24 hours, or one of the best days!

Tim: How many nominations did you get for albums or artists that Spincount had a role with?

Kim: Including the one for Spincount, as music merchant of the year, 21.

Tim: [Laughs] That seems like you’re lying!

Kim: I’m not!

Tim: That’s crazy! It’s so awesome.

Kim: The music in Canada is mind-numbingly good. The talent is incredible and there is so much support for the music industry. Coming from the states where there is no health care, much less support for artists, I come here and there are grants and funding – and the FANS – they make it all possible.

The nice thing about grants and funding is that it makes you think as an entrepreneur and a business and to write your marketing plans, which brings it right back to the five R’s we were talking about earlier 😉

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