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Was This Musician's Plan Ethical?





Was This Musician's Plan Ethical?

- by Wade Sutton, Rocket to the Stars


Independent artists working on budgets are always looking for innovative and cost-effective ways to expose new people to their music.  Preston Edmands is one such artist.  I had never heard of Preston Edmands until I logged onto Facebook late last week.  I was checking my private messages when I noticed there was a new post in a closed group used by members of Music Industry Blueprint (the artist development program belonging to former Taylor Swift manager Rick Barker).  I clicked to see what the post was and immediately saw the title for the video Rick had posted:

"How to Hack Starbucks' Pick of the Week"

The two-and-a-half minute video created by Preston explained, in fairly good detail, how he went about trying to get his music into the hands of people visiting several Starbucks locations in Preston's home state of Maine.  The video was spotted by and posted by the folks at www.MusicMarketing.com, which is where Rick eventually saw it.  I was the first person in the group to comment on the video, giving the "thumbs-up" to Preston's idea and willingness to carry it out.  Some of the others in the group didn't see it the way I did...and it resulted in a very interesting discussion about whether Preston crossed the line.


...WHO IS PRESTON EDMANDS...

Preston Edmands is an independent artist from the state of Maine.  He currently works as a lounge entertainer and audio engineer while continuing to broaden his knowledge of music.  While he admits his heart will always be in the Northeast United States, Preston has enjoyed working on music all over the world, including Italy, Jamaica, and Thailand.  Oh, I should also mention that he is a former employee of Starbucks.


...PRESTON'S PLAN...

For those of you not in the loop, Starbucks has a program called "Pick of the Week" with which they feature an artist each week and offer customers an opportunity to download for free a song by those selected artists.  Considering the expansive reach of the Seattle-based coffee giant, there is an incredible amount of competition to be chosen for the program.  The company creates special cards featuring a picture of the "Pick of the Week" artist and a special code with which Starbucks customers can download one of the artist's tracks.  The cards are then placed on the counter at Starbucks locations around the United States where they are easily seen by customers.

When I spoke with Preston by phone, he told me he came up with his idea after reading about a similar effort by Toronto-area artist Gavin Slate.  Preston decided he was going to put the plan into action, targeting Starbucks locations in the area of and surrounding his hometown in Maine.

He first went to work designing his own cards, making them look exactly like the "Pick of the Week" cards put on the counter at Starbucks.  The short video Preston produced after executing his plan shows him working meticulously on the cards, cutting them to the exact size of the real ones.  He even used a device to round off the corners to increase the chances of them being passed over by employees.  The download codes were produced at Band Camp's website.  Preston even included on the cards logos for both Starbucks and iTunes.  If you weren't told that the cards weren't real, you probably would never know the difference.

After taking the time to produce 200 cards (remember, the guy is operating on a tight budget here), Preston jumped into his vehicle and drove to seven Starbucks locations in his area.  He walked into the businesses and discreetly placed a stack of the cards onto the "Pick of the Week" display, purchased a drink to avoid drawing any unwanted attention, and then left quietly.

Did the plan work?  Kind of.  Again, the 200 cards were distributed to seven Starbucks locations in Maine.  Of those 200, Preston told me only ten of the download codes were actually redeemed.  But hey, that is ten new people with his music on their players, right?  And while he sounded a bit disappointed in the 5% conversion rate after putting in so much time and energy, the video he made about the process actually captured far more attention.


...BUT WAS IT ETHICAL?...

This is where the conversation about Preston's scheme becomes so interesting.  Preston admitted to me by phone that he was a little bit worried about some of the legalities with what he was doing.  While Starbucks and Apple would probably make a pretty good case in court that this was a matter of trademark infringement (logos for Starbucks and iTunes were placed on Preston's cards), he told me he felt he was safe because the cards were a "parody".  

The other factor some artists took issue with was the possibility that Preston was trying to steal the spotlight from an artist that had gone through the rigorous process required to be selected for Starbucks "Pick of the Week".  One artist involved in the discussion asked, "So, what if you were the person who FINALLY got that Starbucks deal and you just got your card out there and went by to check it out and found someone else's card there. Is that OK?"

I asked Preston for his thoughts on the criticism.  His response?

"I doubt I cut into the other artist's success.  I mean it was only seven stores.  Plus I've seen cards for "Pick of the Week" lying out at the shops for weeks," Preston said.

And Preston had some supporters in our debate.  One of them was David Hooper, author of "Six-Figure Musician".  David said he felt it was "easier to get forgiveness than permission."

The entire conversation was quite interesting.  So, what do YOU think?  Did Preston Edmands cross the line?  Or are you supportive of his plan and would you consider trying something similar to promote your own music?

Be sure to comment below!

Displaying Wade's Pic.jpg

After spending nearly twenty years as a professional radio journalist, Rocket to the Stars creator Wade Sutton now helps singers and bands all over world advance their music careers.  He offers classes and consultations on everything from how bands can better interact with the media to designing their websites and media kits.  Wade's articles have been read by people in more than twenty countries and have been shared by top music industry officials and voice instructors, marketing experts, radio stations, and artists.  You can learn more about him and his services atwww.RockettotheStars.com.



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