Clap Your Hands’ Sales Strategy: Hipsters Are Doing It For Themselves

Jan 12th, 2007 // 15 Comments

clayour.jpgToday’s Wall Street Journal examines the distribution strategy behind the new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album, which will be available digitally on Tuesday, and in stores Jan. 30th:

The [band's] debut disc nevertheless went on to sell more than 122,000 copies in the U.S, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a relatively large number for a new indie-rock band. They never considered joining a label for their new album, according to their manager, opting instead to contract out label functions such as publicity and lining up CD production and distribution themselves…

It remains to be seen whether Clap Your Hands Say Yeah can build lasting success. But Mr. Ounsworth’s unusual path to the music store may represent an ominous sign for the industry, as CD sales continue to fall and the power of labels continues to dwindle. In the traditional music-industry model, bands earn advances from a label that they repay over time with their share of sales, which can be lower than 15% of revenues. But Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is instead spending its own money — more than $35,000 to finance the production of some 50,000 CDs, for example — to cut the music company out of the loop. The band then pays a much smaller percentage of its revenue to a distribution company that handles both digital and retail outlets. (Sales from the band’s own Web site are exempt.)

That’s all well and good, but the band’s on-our-own approach seems to be lacking something: Marketing. If you’re a diehard CYHSY fan, chances are pretty good you know this record was coming out next week. But aside from a handful of freely distributed mp3s and the usual live-show notices, we haven’t seen the usual advertising/publicity push that would accompany a band that just sold 122,000 copies of its debut record (the band’s publicity site has a picture of the album cover, but hardly mentions it by name). Maybe they’re relying on word-of-mouth, but it’s hard to see how keeping this quiet can get these guys past their already established fanbase.

Clap Your Hands and Say “Buy” [WSJ]

  1. Catbirdseat

    Unless you give a shit about “First Week Sales,” (and if you’re not a record company twatwaffle, you don’t), then it totally makes sense to me.

    I mean, WHY would all the hype and build up need to happen BEFORE the record was even available? The reason it happens now is to a.) give publications lead time, and b.) to generate First Week Sales.

    I would say that it’s actually better to take advantage of the super-transitory nature of web excitement by starting the promo machine up AFTER you’ve already got your record in the sales/distro chain.

    With my label, I typically barely mention anything at all until the day the album finally goes up for sale.

  2. Brian Raftery

    I have to disagree: They may not be going after massive first-week sales here, but not attempting any pre-release hype with a band that hit six figures on its first record flies in the face of record-biz logic. These guys have played Letterman and been on the cover of regional magazines; they’ve already gone the use-the-web-to-bring-the-fans approach. Maybe they’re planning on the bulk of their press/promo during the tour cycle, but man, this has almost enough awareness of the Mos Def record.

  3. Catbirdseat

    Perhaps more bands should try “flying in the face of record biz logic” I think. I’m not talking about “guerilla marketing, web-style,” I’m talking about realizing that it doesn’t matter if you don’t sell a huge number during the first week. It could happen during the second week, or the fourth week, or the 20th week.

  4. stopmikelupica

    I disagree – this is a tried and proven method in the rap industry. Hasn’t Too Short sold about 100,000 for every album he’s ever dropped? I can remember reading the same type of article about the rap industry in the early 90′s, and if anything, it propelled the record industry to change up and give concessions to rappers (i.e. more control, something that was foreign in the early 90′s). Or am I wrong?

  5. lucasg

    does an article in the wall street journal count for any sort of pre-release hype?

  6. Catbirdseat

    Is the humorous motif of “uptight white stockbroker rapping” about to be replaced by the humorous motif of “uptight white stockbroker standing emotionless with arms crossed at the back of the indie rock show?”

  7. Chris Molanphy

    For those who have access to it, the cover story in the current Billboard (on newsstands now; sorry, their feature content isn’t available online) is a good piece on CHYSY. (Disclosure: it’s by my friend — and Jackin’ Pop contributor — Brian Garrity.)

    The material part of this dicussion: Brian G. details in the article the hard sell made on CHYSY by Sony Music — it’s pretty juicy for a Billboard piece. CYHSY ultimately walked away from the table, because they knew, however much higher the Sony brass could get their sales numbers, the take-home dollars they’d get going label-less would still be higher. That’s even if their sales stay exactly the same on album #2.

    None of this negates Brian R’s larger point — the setup for this album has indeed been anemic and perhaps unadvisable. But they knew going in that they were taking a calculated risk not going with any label at all, and it’s probably all they can handle — Brian G’s article points out that these guys (most of them) are still holding down day jobs, leaving them little time to do the kind of promotion a label, any label, could do for them. Prediction: if the sales for this record fall below #1 and they come out of the experience exhausted, they’ll succumb to a spinART or the like.

  8. Brian Raftery

    It all seems weird. This band pays for a large PR firm that barely sends out a press release, and the only advance reviews/buzz I’ve seen anywhere for this is in the British mags (both of which were meh-to-middling reviews). It’s hard to get word-of-mouth when nobody’s talking. Something just ain’t right.

  9. Halfwit

    The marketing (or lack thereof) may be an inevitable result of their distribution strategy. Upfront investment in 100,000+ CDs may not have made sense for the band in terms of immediately available finances. This way, demand doesn’t outpace supply, and it gives them time to use first round sales to fund later pressings.

    Besides, the base demographic is pretty firmly covered (Pitchfork gave the first single 3.5 stars). I guess they felt that 50,000 was a safe guarantee, and they could just order more from there.

  10. Mo!

    This reminds me of Homestar Runner and Ask a Ninja, animators and video podcasters respectively who also have the same business plan as CYHSY. Of course none of them will ever be wealthy, but I think this means more artists in the future will be upper middle class at best with loyal fans.
    Truthfully, the more we see celebrities get humiliated in the spotlight after they fall off, I think more and more people will prefer the Web 2.0 model, where they have some fans, but can still go
    out in public without being mobbed.

  11. Mike Barthel

    The problem is that the apparatus surrounding the music biz also relies on a first-week push, so it can be a lot harder to get on talk shows or magazine covers if your album didn’t just come out, at least once you get initially noticed. They’re probably banking on a touring windfall, since you can get on a package tour as long as you have an album recently released.

    It’ll be an interesting test case, though. I’ve always been a little skeptical of the real effect of marketing. I definitely had no idea this was coming out, though.

  12. mreasy

    I don’t think the lack of ads/other marketing is weird, but I’m with Brian that it’s strange that the publicity firm they’ve hired hasn’t been blitzing everyone. First-week focus or no, you’d think there’d at least be some pre-release press. But perhaps they didn’t want it to leak and were hesitant about promo…it will at least be interesting to see how things pan out.

    But regardless, I’m not sure how the spinART analogy fits in to the CYHSY scenario. Help?

  13. BillRocksCleveland

    There’s a very good reason that CHYSY could use some hype right now, and that’s the fact that the two songs they’ve released from Some Loud Thunder were underwhelming (P4k review aside). There was a lot of buzz when those songs first hit the internet, and then people listened, and said, “Um…I don’t know if I like this.”

  14. sparkletone

    This recent article on the band talks a bit about the band worrying about a backlash against them surrounding the release of the new album.

    While I think there’s probably a lot more to it than that, I wonder if this under-the-radar approach is also to help counterbalance the fact that if this album were being hyped to the heavens right now, a backlash would undoutedly form and become quite vocal.

  15. Chris Molanphy

    Hey, sparkletone — thanks for that link — that’s the Billboard article I was talking about! I had no idea AOL cross-posted those stories.

    And mreasy, all I meant by the spinART quip was that, if CYHSY is ever gonna cave to a label, they’ll likely pick a NYC-based indie, not a major. It could be Matador, could be anybody.

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