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NEW YORK (Billboard) - With CD sales dropping fast, the music business is exploring nontraditional ways to expose consumers to recording artists. Among the new sales and marketing vehicles are Tara Leigh Music Party and musicShop.
Both launched in November to target female music buyers. Tara Leigh is part of House Party, an Irvington, New York, company that stages Tupperware party-like events that consumer brands sponsor at private homes. MusicShop, run by Sherman Oaks, California, music branding company Musica, is a featured section of Shop.com, the comparison-shopping engine.
Through Tara Leigh, former EMI marketing executive Josh Zieman organized 2,500 listening parties at homes throughout the United States. The gatherings attracted a total of 42,000 people, 88 percent of them female.
Tara Leigh grew out of Zieman's experience at EMI. He was vice president of marketing at the Manhattan label group before heading up business development operations at a Toronto-based digital media company in 2007.
"We were trying to reach adults and market music to them," he recalled. "We looked at the direct-sales market, which is a multibillion-dollar business, and wondered if you could sell music in that model."
House Party provides one such way to reach women in their living rooms. To launch Tara Leigh, Zieman printed 35,000 catalogs featuring 100 titles from 15 record labels, including albums by such names as Harry Connick Jr., Faith Hill, Enya and Tina Turner. He also compiled a 15-track sampler CD for party attendees and created a taraleighmusicparty.com Web site.
"The host plays the sampler at the party and talks about the releases and encourages guests to check out the catalog and order product," Zieman explained. While 13,000-plus attendees asked for more information, Ziemen conceded that the first round of parties produced "minimal sales."
Still, given the strong turnout and the interest of participating record labels, Zieman said he plans to organize another series of house parties in the spring for Mother's Day and Father's Day. "I will try to recruit women who are enthusiastic about turning their friends and family on to new music and becoming a compass for music options," he said. "I'll start there and try to find other people virally, who want to become reps -- they will get discounts on music, concert tickets and other entertainment-related items. The sales force is out there, and we're going to keep building it."
Meanwhile, a very different attempt to reach female music shoppers can be found in Musica's musicShop at Shop.com, which claims 10 million unique visitors per month.
MusicShop visitors can read a description of each CD and find how much it costs at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Buy.com and DeepDiscount.com. About 70 percent of Shop.com visitors are women 20 to 55 years of age, according to Musica principal Bernard Ross.
Musica earns a commission on each sale that originated at musicShop and charges labels a fee to have their albums featured on musicShop's home page. MusicShop initially featured 15 artists on the page, and it can showcase up to 24 per month. Among the first artists featured are singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson, Josh Groban, Lucinda Williams and Seal.
Shop.com also sends out promotional e-mail blasts to its customers. "In the first month, we had 250,000 listens," Ross said, adding that it sold about 600 CDs in the first two weeks. Ross said musicShop will soon add downloads and other artist merchandise.