Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, entrepreneur, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Articles → Captain T

Your marketing should be an extension of your art.

Think how the first idea you had for a song developed as you added the chords, lyrics, instrumentation, and production. Even your choice of song title, band name, and photos. Each step was a creative extension of the original idea.

But then most musicians turn off all that wonderful creativity when marketing. Once promoting, they stop taking any chances, and do everything just like everyone else.

But to help you stand out, and have more fun, your marketing should be just as creative as the rest of the process. Here’s an example:

Back in 1997, when “The X Files” was still on the air, a friend of mine who called himself Captain T put out a record called “U.S. Aliens” that was all about conspiracy theories, Area 51, alien cover-ups, and the Incredible Hulk. It was intentionally funny, but he would stay in character and play it straight: a guy who was trying to tell the world, through music, about the aliens and conspiracies.

He wanted to send his album to college radio stations, but couldn’t afford to hire a real radio promoter. When we decided to do it ourselves, we decided to make his marketing an extension of his art, his image, and his message.

Also, I wanted to be considerate to that kid in the college radio station that gets 20 CDs a day, all exactly the same, in boring envelopes.

So we bought 500 black envelopes, 500 sheets of brown paper, 500 alien head stickers, and 500 huge red labels that said “CONFIDENTIAL! DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON”.

We did a mail-merge to the 500 program directors at 500 college radio stations, so that each one got a personalized letter that said this:


Dear __name__,

You don’t know me, but I live in the bushes behind your station.

I have been here for 12 years and your station has saved my life many times over.

The music that you play has kept me going through my darkest of days and for this I owe you everything.

So I must tell you that a man named Captain T found me in the gutter yesterday, and he taught me about what is really going on with the government and what really happened down there in Area 51. This man has a message that you have to get out to the world, because people need to know the truth!

Signed, the man in the bushes, looking through your window right now


We took each letter out to the backyard and literally rubbed it in dirt, crumpled it into a little tiny ball, then flattened it out a little bit, put the CD inside, sealed it into a black envelope, put the alien head sticker on it, then covered it with the huge sticker that said “CONFIDENTIAL! DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON”, and mailed them out to each radio station.

We laughed for hours while doing it.

Now, imagine you’re that kid working at the radio station, getting 20 CDs a day with normal boring packages, saying “Please play my record!” Then you get this scary black mess of a package that says “DO NOT OPEN”, and when opened is covered in dirt and says, “You don’t know me, but I live in the bushes behind your station.”

375 of the 500 radio stations played it.

Every now and then, my friend Captain T gets approached by someone that used to work at a college radio station back in 1997. They tell him they still remember it, because it was the coolest package they ever got.

Captain T