Because of a forum discussion I’ve been reading about creating, pricing and marketing “professional” virtual instrument libraries to professionals, I offer these thoughts having had an excellent background in consumer marketing prior to coming back to music full time some years ago. My purpose is to aid developers working out of deep passion, but shallow marketing budgets.

Professional comes out of the word, profession
Haydn ran the Esterhazy kitchen by day, and composed by night. Was he a professional? Haydn’s true profession was composer, but when he did his work was his business. American composer John Alden Carpenter was commissioned by Diagaliev to write a ballet. But by day he worked for his dad’s insurance company. Was Carpenter a professional because of this work arrangement?

Within music, music creators (a more apt term) often do one job by day and create by night until they can build their business up to the point that they can create music full time.  Philip Glass drove a New York City cab and wrote music. In literary circles, Stephen King did as did the late Robert B. Parker, he taught school.

Were any of these professional?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s a hard marketing question because in the arts it’s difficult to define what a professional is since secondary income streams are often needed in the beginning. In other occupations, there are SIC codes to work with and mailing lists that can be rented to reach those having an occupation labeled as professional. Many professionals can be reached through trade publications or associations.

But not music creators. There is such diversity, there are no trade organizations and no single publication to reach them.

Consequently, to say or suggest that a product is professional, means that the product is operating at a clearly defined level of use that anyone who can afford it, can buy.

However, defining and marketing to professionals within the music creative community is an entirely different matter.

Two Types of Music Creatives
There are two types of music creatives of which a product may or may not appeal to both. It’s the job of pre-marketing, preferably during product design, to determine this.

Group 1 are those who do not use music technology as the primary conveyor of their musical ideas. They either shun it or use a notation program with an orchestral package to check their work, not necessarily to market it.

Group 2 are those who do use music technology as the prime conveyor of their musical ideas and to do so use a sequencing program. Within this group are those who buy orchestral VIs for the sonic value, and those who buy these libraries to score orchestrally either for all electronic works, or to create an audio pre-viz so that producers/directors know what the score will sound like before the parts hit the stands.

Those music creators who have opted to use music technology as a conveyor for their music, have recognized the business need to invest roughly  $10,000 or more into a high end (not professional, high end) computer setup with high end (pro?) audio gear including audio monitors, visual monitors, headphones, desks, keyboards, the requisite software, and VI’s.

Targeting the Real Target Market
To effectively reach potential customers, thinking about virtual instrument marketing, especially for orchestral oriented libraries, must change. Most badly use the terms from the Rogers Curve of Technology Adoption by citing Early Adopters as the first to buy, They are not. They are second. Innovators are first representing 2.5% of the market. That said, I don’t these terms really apply to VI marketing today.

Consequently, for this segment, new terminology is required.

After nearly a dozen years marketing high end orchestral libraries, my observation is that within the technological music creative community, particularly in film production centers, the first to buy are called The Competitives, because they alone have the competitive drive to get the newest first to stay ahead and be competitive. They will invest time, money and system integration woes to be first, not as a social status, but as a competitive edge to gain or maintain leadership in the pecking order.

Four things important to The Competitives are sound, ease of use, easy system integration with the hardware and sequencing systems, and a fast learning curve. Whether such buyers are on the A or B list, matters not. Wherever they live, whatever they write and produce, they have a competitive drive to win. And win is word not commonly used in music circles, but among the ambitious to succeed, it’s there. So being first to buy means having a leg up on those who buy later, much later, or not at all.

The next group are the Heavy Gratifiers. Music is their passion but not their occupation. They have both money and hardware. Interestingly enough, the four things also important to Heavy Gratifiers are sound, ease of use, easy system integration with the hardware and sequencing systems, and a fast learning curve. Additionally, both have chosen to make similar capital investments in hardware and software.

Both groups have time as a primary consideration: one to make money and the other to have their time managed well so that they can enjoy the experience. However, for both groups, most developers utterly fail in this area for the consistent lack of connect-the-dots instruction.

Alexander Publishing’s 25-year training experience in this area has found that the quicker the customer learns and gets productive, the quicker they come back for a second purchase. The more frustrating the learning curve, the slower the repurchasing cycle.

That said, there is a narrower within these two segments where orchestral VIs are concerned.

Not all technological music creators buy orchestral software, and those who do may or may not understand enough about instrumentation and orchestration to appreciate and understand how to use divisi, sul ponticello, sul tasto, spiccato, harmonics, and other techniques.

Practical orchestral knowledge becomes the next definer of who within the Competitives and Heavy Gratifiers will opt for the full version, and those who will wait for the lite version with features they understand and can figure out how to use.

Thus the Competitives and Heavy Gratifiers are subdivided into two groups, those who know orchestration and will appreciate the new innovations, and those who don’t who’ll either wait for either a lite version, a drop in price, or both.

This is a very serious marketing observation because if a goodly part of the buying segment lacks the craft to fully understand the orchestration benefits a library possesses, then, they will not understand product pricing in terms of features, benefits and value.

Consequently, part of the pre-marketing and marketing mix is creating not one or two YouTube videos, but several that talk to both groups demonstrating features and benefits so that value and pricing is understood and respected. For more advanced scoring features (usually for customers who know how to score read), PDFs can be created which go into more connect-the-dots detail.

Reaching Your Market
Herein is a serious marketing challenge: no one knows how big this market segment is nor really where these buyers live. There are U.S. Census clues showing that the heaviest concentration of music creators are in Los Angeles and New York, followed by Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Outside the U.S. there’s Toronto and London. After these major cities, technological music creatives are scattered across the globe.

Here is communications reality: there is no single media vehicle that reaches the Competitives and Heavy Gratifiers. To reach them, developers, especially those selling direct, must become direct marketers and make heavy use of social media to build e-lists.

Not every product lends itself to having forum support, but every VI product can have fundamental newsletter support with lists managed at Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, and other companies.

Content is easy to define: virtual instrument recipes. For examples, check out any Photoshop or 3D graphics publication. You’ll see plenty of recipes, otherwise known as tutorials.

Setting Price Points
Here’s the starting formula used in direct marketing.

Take the cost accounted base cost of the product and multiply it by 5. So if your base cost is $150 per unit, then a planning list price is $750 per unit.

If you’re selling to dealers and your dealer discount is 30% of list, this means your gross  income is $525.00, less your cost accounted base cost of $150, or $375.00. Of course, to most forum readers this looks like obsessive income, until you factor in licensing costs, advertising, other overhead and the desire to show a profit and pay your mortgage.

Remember, I said this was a starting point. To set your base cost, you must project profit/loss at 250/500/750/1000 units each.

Most hope for 500 units while others pray for 1000.

Sadly, in doing this exercise you must also factor in piracy. How many units do you need to sell to break even at 250 and 500? That’s where I’d start pegging my list price.

Check Bing or Google to see how bad the problem is by typing in a product name and going in 3-5 pages. Sadly, a goodly number of technological music creatives are part of the Robin Hood Black Market and have no moral problem with cannabalizing the very people who provide them the tools to create with.

You can’t cost account for all the loss, but you have to cost account for some.

Read some marketing books.
Developers hate it when I say this but it’s true. They should read High Technology Marketing by William Davidow, From Good to Great by Jim Collins,  and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladstone if they don’t read anything else.  


Because most developers I’ve worked with do not want to deal with the fact that they are not just selling a product, they are building a company. So the company and how it’s run is also part of the product design. These three titles help you plan, build and launch the product and the company. They are worth your time.

Demos are an absolute necessity, but there is a healthy lack of trust about them because demo makers for developers, often Competitives themselves, don’t want to explain how they got to the end result, meaning how was it MIDI edited, EQ’ed, and effected with reverb or anything else.

When customers buy a VI based on a demo, they’re not buying the library per se, they’re buying the end result they heard achieved in the audio demo. Consequently, they want to know how can they can achieve the same end result to sound like that, too.

Hardly any company’s demos, audio or video, demonstrate completely how the demo maker got to the end results.

This is one reason why I think Alex Wallbank’s YouTube video for Cinematic Strings 2.0 showing how he EQ’ed the demo piece to get the end result he did has been so helpful for his sales. When Alex Wallbank announced that he had used external EQ and reverb, and then gave the EQ settings, he created trust by giving a problem/solution product demonstration showing that you, too, can create that finished sound.

This appeals to Competitives and Heavy Gratifiers alike since both see from one demo that you don’t have to work hard to get a great sound. In short, CS2 sends the clear message, “we manage your time well.”

Doing a demo of a concert work helps position the professional quality of a library because the dead composer’s name and work aids in positioning the product, certifying that the VI can execute at a high level of professional usage in that genre once the customer learns it.

Here, the demo is a product demonstration showing how it makes the music creator’s dream come true. And easy to follow customer training is important. Make it complicated and the credit card goes back into the wallet.

Product demos showing the dev at the keyboard sans reverb, EQ, et al are also effective.

MIDI files help show how to edit with the product.

Remember, product audio demos can be great sounding, but there is still the customer need, regardless of professional attainment, as to how the demo was produced and engineered to achieve the promoted sound.  

Big name endorsers help position the product as to how high end and “professional” it is. But big name composers endorsing VIs don’t go on forums and chat them up. Big name endorsers also don’t usually do product demos. Why? Because Competitives don’t want to tell other Competitives how they created their sound with a particular product.

So you have to tell them.

Selling Direct and The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point talks about getting word of mouth going. And for that you need someone or some one’s to champion the VI.

This is important because when a VI dev sells direct, there’s no one to verify product claims for ease of performance and production use other than the buyer.

And because more devs are selling direct, it’s only their money to advertise and promote the product, because the dev now lacks the retail support to help promote and brand the name.  So promoting is even more expensive.

This means that part of creating positive word of mouth is for devs to consider releasing NFRs to a select group who may like it enough to generate some positive talk about the product, and who will back up that talk by agreeing to produce audio or video demos explaining how they produced their work. Without the demos, it’s just propaganda.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting endorsements from the A-List is important. But it’s Tommy Muckymuck and his demos who’s going to help you sell this lib.

First Reviews Are Forum Reviews
This is a major factor and no dev can control it. Within hours of release, especially with a downloadable VI, customer reviews hit the forums. Reviews in  the various music mags are important, especially for awards, but they’re now also rans because the news is announced 1-2 months or more after the product has been released and reviewed on the various forums.

By then it’s a done deal. A print ad can help create new sales, but that happens 30-60 days after the ad has been placed.

That’s why a developer needs to have Mavens get NFRs to create early reviews and individual non-corporate approved demos (as mentioned above).

Thus today, part of the direct marketing mix is effective social network marketing, audio and video demos, Mavens who like the product enough to say so, and online web site reviews as these reviews will be out months before the printed ones.  

Creating and marketing a sample library is a tough entrepreneurial act because there’s lions, and tigers, and bears out there along with real pirates.

Competition is fierce, too. But plan well, execute well, and treat your customers like gold, and you should do well.