This feature is culled from our E-Zine, a fortnightly round up of new shops and collecting news.
To get the E-Zine just send a blank email to email@example.com First Published late 2000, last updated april 2003
Promos are of interest to the collector because they quite often have songs and/or mixes on them which do not make the final release. They may also feature exclusive artwork and packaging. For this reason they often command high prices, however they technically remain the property of the record company that issued them. This technicality has lead to Amazon Zshops banning the sale of promos and eBay imposing some restrictions. This feature aims to examine the position of promos in the collectors market and the prospects for the future.
What is a promo?
It is pretty much any item sent out to DJs, radio stations or reviewers in order to plug a new release. Most are marked "for Promotional Use only" hence the abbreviation to "promo"
While some will split hairs over detail all the following are basically forms of Promo (Click the links for more detailed explanations)
The first promo I can find documented dates from 1948. It is also the worlds first 7 Inch single. It is a spoken word record promoting the format, one side in English, one in Spanish.
In the 50s some UK records were released with handwritten white labels, however it appears likely that these had a similar function to acetates, and were sent out only to people directly involved with the release. Some may have found their way to radio stations.
In the 60s and 70s, promos became more widespread under the name 'Demo'. Normally these have a white label with a big "A" on the A side, they were sent mainly to radio stations, very few went to clubs. While some promos were released in limited edition special formats, the number is tiny.
(Apple released a specially packaged 4 single set including the Beatles "hey Jude" in 1968. this now changes hands for more than £1000).
It was not until the 80s that the promo came into it's own. More and more the club was as important as radio for getting your song heard, the 12" format and the need for dance versions of songs gave the promo new importance. Record collecting as a hobby was also expanding, with people collecting current acts and looking for instant rarities.
Mute Records should take much credit for their pioneering use of both promos and limited editions. Their stable included bands like Erasure and Depeche Mode, bands ideally suited to the club remix. A bewildering array of promos were released, some numbered and on coloured vinyl. Both bands became highly collectable and went on to major chart success.
The Promo today More promos are being distributed right now than ever before, It is not unheard of for a name DJ to recieve 200 a week!
DJs who receive promos are expected to send in return slips. On these they rate the song, noting both their personal response and how it performed on the dancefloor. Individual DJs responses are compiled to make the DJ charts; getting a record into the DJ charts is a feat in itself but is considered vital as the chart is widely read.
A good placement in the DJ chart makes it likely that a record will be chosen for one of the many dance compilation CDs released each week. Royalties are paid for this and the release may be in profit before a single record is sold!
Most promos are distributed through agencies like Beatwax and Paparrazzi. these agencies have hundreds of DJs on their mailing lists.
The collectors end of the promo market remains something of an enigma. Many of the promos appear to never make it to DJs. For Instance Oasis's FITB promo emerged mainly through record fairs, the dealers who had them would not say they came from!
For a small label getting noticed is not easy.
Bhaskar of Redemption Records says "it's slow process because every DJ has their mates, at the moment I despair a little because I feel I am wasting exclusive promo's on DJ's who just haven't the time or the inclination to respond! I guess its a matter of time and getting to meet guys personally."
He says he does not use the big promotion companies but will consider it if he has a record where a lot of money has already been spent on a famous remixer.
Attempts to stop the sale of Promos
Record companies have made efforts to stop the resale of promos by using such features as individual numbers or holograms, these efforts have never received cross industry support, nor have they been attempted in more than a handful of countries. The acceptance seems to have been that Promos will get sold on by DJs, so do the Record companies care?
The answer to this appears to be that they do not.
The record companies do care about Radio Shows Both the BBC and US companies have actively persued dealers who sell these, making it hard for collectors to get them.
So why has the same pressure not been brought to bear on promos?
Quite simply having a few rarities in an artist's discography is a good marketing tool.. Garbage exploited this to the maximum, with a string of cleverly packaged 7" singles at the start of their career. These were primarily released so that fans would rush to but them in the first week of release thus improving the chart position of the records.
There can be little doubt that the sight of the first single changing hands for £50 within a few months of release greatly increased collector awareness of the band, a fact not lost on record company bosses.
The UKs chart rules are forever being tightened, supposedly to make the charts a more accurate yardstick genuine popularity. To this end most special formats are now barred from counting towards chart placement.
Chart placement is the Holy Grail for a new release.. Getting a record into the top 40 increases the number of shops that will stock it and hugely boosts sales. So the record companies cannot afford to have formats disqualified. That said, they still need to create a collectors market and the promo is an obvious way round this.
By the time Garbage launched their second album the formats they had used previously were barred by new chart rules and the singles in the shops were drab. However each release was trailed by a variety of fancily packaged promos which were instant colletors items.
It was appears that Mushroom records wanted these promos to create a stir on the collectors market, they succeeded.
Officially the law is opposed to the sale of promos, and threats have been made against websites that facilitate their sale. Big companies like Amazon Zshops appear to have decided that it is easier to stop all listings containing the Word "promo" than face the risk of litigation. However in 2002 eBay quietly relaxed it's rules so that only pre-release items are barred. It now seems unlikley that promos will go the way of Radio shows.
Promos are not readily available in many high street shops, so you need to turn to record fairs, magazines and The Net
Many online traders supply promos, prices invariably vary widely, particularly in the first few days after a promo comes out. As these records are pre-release, it is important to keep up to date with the release schedule of the bands you collect! Get on the bands email list as they will often announce forthcoming releases.
Some promos become hard to find within days of release while others are over pressed and remain on record shop inventories for years. If there are famous remixers on the record, DJs will move in and buy, making the promo much harder to get.
Record fairs and magazines are good for finding older promos. If you are attempting to collect a bands complete backcatalogue you will probably find the older promos amongst the hardest records to locate.
Recommended sites: The sites listed have not been tested personally, they are a mixture of sites that have submitted to the directories saying they deal in promos and sites reccomended by collectors.
UK Sites are listed first, then global sites.
The big ones (Often more expensive, but have the stock!)
The auction houses like eBay and Yahoo are still a good source, search for keywords like "DJ" and "white label" as many sellers no longer put "promo" in the description!
To get on the mailing lists you really need a club residency, Look at other DJs response sheets to get addresses and phone numbers. Unless you have a very specialist area, contacting labels direct is pretty futile, go to the agencies and try to get on their lists. You will probably need a letter from the club manager and fliers with your name on them. You may also be asked for an upfront monthly fee.
Here are some links...Remember, promos are paid for out of the artist's advance by blagging freebies you are not getting one over on the big record companies, they give nothing away!
Dance Pools Require a monthly fee, but the vinyl works out cheap. Great for DJs! Also, you are not taking from the artist.
From DJ (USA) For Working DJs Only! Hiphop and R&B vinyl, $50/month flat rate gets you all the releases. Promo only Dance Pool (US, UK and Europe. Dance Only) Must pay for membership, critisised by many DJs for sending poor quality tunes!
The Future It would be technically possible for the record comanies to take the same strong line on promos as they have on bootlegs and Radio shows.
While the actions of sites like are of concern to the collector, the record companies themselves appear less interested in banning promos. Individual companies are not going to move against the collectors market without cross industry support and as long as the collectability of an artist remains important in determining sales, they will not get that support.
It is also worth remembering that you can still find bootlegs and radio shows online, it is just a little harder!
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