Steve Albini on the state of the music industry

Steve Albini

by Chris Singleton

It's been a little while since I posted in The Prescription: many apologies for that, I've been very preoccupied with the build of the new Prescription PR website (we hope you like it). 

We're still beavering away on certain aspects of the new site so actually, you're not going to get a series of useful tips from me today. However, what you ARE going to get is a very interesting speech from Steve Albini - the keynote address at the 2014 Face the Music event in Melbourne - where he ruminates on the 'surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry.' In the speech he discusses the changes that the internet has brought to the music industry, and how he feels they've been overwhelmingly positive in nature for bands:

In short, the internet has made it much easier to conduct the day-to-day business of being in a band and has increased the efficiency. Everything from scheduling rehearsals using online calendars, to booking tours by email, to selling merchandise and records from online stores, down to raising the funds to make a record is a new simplicity that bands of the pre-internet era would salivate over. The old system was built by the industry to serve the players inside the industry. The new system where music is shared informally and the bands have a direct relationship to the fans was built by the bands and the fans in the manner of the old underground. It skips all the intermediary steps
— Steve Albini

You can read the full text of the speech over on the Guardian website or watch the video of it below. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Albini's optimism for the future of the music industry, the way he describes its past, present and potential future amounts to a fascinating read and I'd recommend that any band or artist currently working on a music project check it out (unless you're a Prince fan, for reasons which will become clear towards the end).


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Why bands shouldn’t put all their eggs in Facebook’s basket

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by Chris Singleton

An article in today’s Guardian caught my eye: “Ello might or might not replace Facebook, but the giant social network won’t last forever.” To save you the hassle of actually reading the article, Ello is a relatively new social network (an ‘anti-Facebook with a conscience’ apparently – given that it’s funded by venture finance capital, I won’t hold my breath about the conscience bit); it is growing at a rapid rate and might one day replace Facebook as the world’s dominant social network (or not).

I suspect that reports of Facebook’s death are likely to be much exaggerated at this point – however, it is worth thinking, from a band’s point of view, about what would happen if Facebook did pop its clogs; it could have serious ramifications for an act.

Right now, bands often focus on building up a Facebook following at the expense of a lot of other stuff. This is usually because a label wants to see a big one before getting the chequebook out (ooh er). As such bands go to huge lengths – sometimes spending a lot of money on advertising – to ensure that they have a healthy number of fans associated with their Facebook page. It makes sense on paper to do this: you get the ability to communicate with a group of people who might one day fork out for a t-shirt, and an A&R guy gets to think that you’re actually popular.

But what happens if Facebook disappears? It sounds like a crazy thought, but it’s not. We’ve been here before after all - remember getting RSI from clicking ‘add friend’ repeatedly on Myspace, and building up an impressive number of said friends…only for those friends (fairweather at best; saucy ladies punting saucy services at worst) to bugger off to Facebook a year or so later?

If Facebook does get supplanted by a newer, hipper network then you may find yourself in the situation of having spent thousands of pounds developing a following that is no longer there. You may have promoted your Facebook page religiously whilst on tour…only to find that the fans you made on tour can’t be contacted, because the only relationship you had with them was one that took place on a now defunct Facebook. This is not a good place to be in.

So how do you protect yourself? Well, by all means continue to advertise your band on Facebook; but don’t just focus on using advertising spend simply to generate ‘likes’ (this, after all, sort amounts to paying Mark Zuckerberg so that YOU can segment his database). Try to capture email addresses as well, by offering people content in exchange for their email address (at the moment, most bands just offer this content in exchange for a like). Or, if you are dead set on generating likes for your advertising spend, follow this up with some Facebook ad promotions aimed at converting the new ‘likers’ into subscribers to your mailing list (run an ad which offers them a second free track by going to your website and joining a mailing list, for example). At gigs, prioritise capturing email addresses over Facebook likes.

The reason it’s so important to capture email addresses is because 1) you are future-proofing yourself somewhat from the doomsday scenario of your Facebook following disappearing and 2) you gain more ownership over the artist-fan relationship – you are in control, generally speaking, of whether somebody sees a communication about your band or not (i.e., you are not relying on a Facebook algorithm). And email addresses allow you to invite people to follow you on other social networks too – you can generally just import your list and send out invites automatically. It’s much easier to convert an email address into a ‘like’ or a follow than the other way round.

I reckon our Facebook followings are safe for a little while yet; but it is worth thinking about what’s round the corner, and considering other ways to bombard people with information. Speaking of which it would be rude at this point not to invite you to join Prescription’s mailing list (please see below).

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Should bands bother promoting albums?

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by Chris Singleton

The music industry is in a constant state of flux. Streaming is taking over from downloads. Vinyl is making a comeback. Hi-res audio is on the way. Live promoters are becoming record labels. Record companies want to sell t-shirts. To quote a certain AOR band from 2004, everything’s changing. And yet despite all this change, one thing seems to stay the same: the notion that the album is the be all and end all. 

Yes, despite the fact that people are consuming music in all manner of ways, on all manner of devices, and often in some sort of shuffle mode, we musicians seem wedded to the idea that at some point we should get 12 songs together, stick them on a shiny piece of plastic, assign a ‘release date’ to said piece of plastic, issue a press release about it and hope that people buy it when it hits the shelves (or not: finding a record shop to stock anything in is a devilishly hard business these days).

In some ways, this obsession with and emphasis on the long-player is perfectly understandable. The album has proven itself to be a great format; and wonderful things can happen when you place twelve songs by a great band in a row. The LP has a proud history (though not as long as some imagine – it’s really only since the mid to late sixties that the LP really became the art form that it is considered today).

The main problem I see with the album doesn’t really concern the format though: rather, it’s the way that the album seems to be the only thing that musicians think is worth promoting. With a lot of new bands I encounter, virtually all of their promotional activities are exclusively centred on an album and take place only at the time at which that album comes out; this is fine if you are Coldplay or U2, with a truckload of existing fans ready to obligingly buy a full LP’s worth of material – but not so good if you are a brand new band starting out. There’s generally no fanbase at all there to buy your album, even if it’s great, and shouting about the fact that there’s a record with 12 songs on it out on Date X is not really going to do you much good. There are an awful lot of other people doing that.

The problem is that by leaving your music promotion until the point at which your album comes out, you have possibly left things too late. By all means release a full album, but try to create a promotion schedule that starts well in advance of its release date – maybe up to a year in advance. Here are a few things that you could consider doing as part of this:

  • Rather than putting an embargo on your album tracks, and insisting, PinkFloyd-style, that they can only be listened to as part of a full album, release them (ideally with accompanying videos) online regularly – and approach blogs and music sites about your band every time you do.
  • Use Facebook ads and other social media tactics to build up your following and email mailing list so that both are as large as possible well before the record comes out.
  • Don’t leave it until the album comes out to start gigging – get out there now and start developing a live following.
  • Approach managers, publishers, agents and labels with individual songs that might pique their interest; don’t necessarily wait until your album is 100% written, mixed and mastered to do so (you never know – an individual song might convince them to put some budget into an album project).

The other thing to remember is that you might be a singles band, not an albums band. Your album might be an incoherent mess but it might have 3 killer singles on it. If so, focus on your strong point – and place the emphasis on (and plough your budget into) promoting singles over and above an album.

But to answer the main question posed by this post - should bands bother promoting their albums? - the answer is actually a resounding yes. It’s just a case of starting way earlier than you might think is necessary. A promo strategy which kicks in way before an LP comes out is crucial to giving you the fanbase (and media support) that you need in order to sell some copies of that LP (or see bums on seats at the accompanying tour). It’s simple: if your album is your big musical statement, make sure you have a big following to hear it - BEFORE it comes out.

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Is recording your music at home a bad idea?

home-taping.jpg

by Chris Singleton

You are probably too young, dear reader, to remember the ‘home taping is killing music’ labels that started to adorn LPs in the late seventies (I can just about remember them, along with Sealink ferries and blue and grey trains). Well, despite the scary warnings, music did actually survive the rise of the cassette (not to mention CDs, MP3s and streams). But there is a very important part of the music industry that is in the process of being killed – and no, I’m not talking about the quaint idea that people should get paid for making music. I’m talking about the professional recording studio. Every week seems to bring news of a well-known studio being forced to shut its doors for good; this is a real pity, because in general (and this is going to be a slightly controversial statement, given the prevalence of bedroom-recorded music currently available) there is nowhere nearly as good as a recording studio for making albums.

The death of the professional recording studio is down to the fact that over the past 15 years or so, we all seem to have got it into our heads that the home is the de facto place to record music (or at least a good place to record music); so much so that it may well be time to design a ‘home recording is killing studios’ sticker that can be placed on recording equipment.

I am totally guilty of being a home-recording-believer myself over the years (it’s only recently – having spent more time recording in proper studios – that I have changed my view rather a lot on this). And it is easy to see why people want to record at home: cheap tech means everybody’s got a 128 track recorder and thousands of plugins in their toilet (or on their iPhone). Why spend £300 a day in a professional studio when you can record all your music for next to nothing at home? Well, there are several important reasons why it might be worth thinking about leaving the confines of your bedroom / garage / cellar / shed / bathroom (delete as applicable) when it comes to making your next record.

1. You are missing out on a truckload of amazing equipment

In most cases, comparing a good recording studio to a home setup is like comparing a Porsche to a Fiat Punto: there is barely a comparison to be made at all. Recording studios come with an armoury of mics, instruments, preamps, digital converters and mixing desks that will easily outclass whatever you have at home – and generate much better recordings. You simply will not have a U87 mic, a Hammond organ or a Steinway grand piano lying about at home; but you’ll find all these (and much more) in many professional studios.

2. The acoustics in studios are much better than in your garage

Even if you dismiss the gap in the quality of equipment between a home setup and a professional studio, you will find it difficult to ignore the fact that the rooms in proper recording studios have been designed to simply ‘sound’ better than a garage. Not entirely surprisingly, you will therefore end up with a much better sound from a professional studio, particularly where recordings of acoustic instruments are concerned.

3. You are not a trained recording engineer

Just because you have an audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools at home does not mean you are a recording engineer. It means you have an audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools. A house engineer  in a professional studio will have been trained to capture sounds (through use of good mic selection and placement, or correct use of outboard equipment) in a way that you will struggle to. Not only that, but they’ve been trained to process recordings in a way that the home recordist might not understand terribly well. Advanced use of EQ, compression, gating and effects can transform recordings; the professional recording engineer will have an arsenal of tricks up their sleeve that the bedroom musician is very unlikely to be able to match. At this point I’ll draw an analogy with medical care: sure, thanks to the internet you can google your symptoms, find a potential diagnosis, and sort of be your own doctor…but how confident would you ultimately feel about the results? Just as you’d entrust your health to a doctor, entrust your beloved music to an engineer…

4. You are not a producer

If you are lucky enough to work with a really good producer, you are in a sense working with every other artist they’ve ever worked with, because that producer will have taken some interesting ideas away from every previous studio session which he or she may then be able to add to yours. That could be anything from a simple-but-effective string arrangement to a very out-there backward drum part. Something, in effect, that you would possibly never have thought of – because you’ve only ever produced your own music. Because professional producers work day-in, day-out with a multitude of different types of bands, they can apply much more creative ideas to your music than you are ever likely to. OK, so a professional producer could in theory come and hang out in your house and produce your music there…but they’ll tend to push you to go into a studio every time (because they know that that’s where they’ll get the best results for you).

5. Recording studios save you time

So long as you are well-prepared when entering the studio, you should find that recording studios help you get your music down faster. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, because the rooms are designed with recording in mind, you’ll spend less time trying to iron out a sound (because you won’t be dealing with the sonic challenges and compromises that invariably come with recording at home). Secondly, because you’re likely to be working with a professional engineer who really ‘knows’ the studio, he or she will be able to get things sounding good quicker. And finally, the fact that you are paying for studio time means you are much less likely to take regular breaks to check your Facebook stream instead of recording.

6. Recording studios inspire creativity

There is something about studios which just makes you feel more inspired. It may be that the simple act of leaving the house gets you into a more creative zone, or it might be that working in a room where Dark Side of The Moon was recorded helps you to aim for similar artistic heights, but either way being in a studio can press creative buttons that a boring old bedroom can’t. Meaning your music gets more interesting (read better).

So what has all this got to do with music promo?

Yes, this is a music promo blog – supposedly offering tips and advice on how to promote your music. Surely waxing lyrical about how great recording studios are has nothing to do with music promotion? Well, actually, I’ve always found that the whole music promotion process begins not with a Facebook ad campaign or a well written press release, but the music itself. It is infinitely easier to promote – on every level – a well-recorded and produced album than a record which, even if it contains a lot of good ideas, sounds a bit half-baked because it was recorded in a garage.

Recording studios, when used well, offer you the best opportunity to do your music justice and create albums that have the potential to sell themselves (even before you approach a music PR company). There will of course be exceptions to the rule and fantastic records produced at home, but next time you are tempted to be your own engineer and producer, or are trying to record a complicated drum part in a shed, remember where most of the great albums you’ve heard were made: in a recording studio. There are good reasons for that.

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How to make the most of your back catalogue

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by Chris Singleton

OK, so you’ve spent loadsa money and time making a record; you’ve put it out; you sold a couple of hundred of copies to friends and relatives whose interest in your musical activities seems to dwindle with each release…and now you’ve got an idea for a bigger, better, brighter album that will knock the socks off the last one. Time to consign the previous release to the dustbin of rock history, so you can focus on your new material, right? 

No.  And here’s why: when you made that old album, you produced something very valuable in this day and age: content. Have you heard that old / new saying ‘content is king’? Well, content IS king. It’s what generates visits to websites, streams on Spotify; sync-deals for films; background music for Phil and Kirsty to sell houses to on Channel 4. Good content takes time to produce, and even if you are bored with your old songs, and they’ve been knocking around for more years than you care to remember…they can come in very handy. Just because a previous album didn’t sell millions, it doesn’t mean it’s not any good, and it could contain tracks which if produced, packaged or promoted differently (or individually) could well advance your career or generate moolah to fund the next album. 

So, here are some ways you can make the most of your older material: 

  • Think about approaching publishers and other artists’ managers with a view to getting your tracks covered by whoever the latest anodyne-but-chart-topping muppets are. You might be sitting on a track which might never be a hit for you but could sell millions for a reformed-tax-avoiding-and-ever-so-slightlier-hairier boy band.
  • You can approach TV producers, film-makers or advertising people with your music: there’s nothing like a John Lewis advert featuring one of your songs to get a few quid in the run up to Christmas. The other advantage of this is that works out significantly better for you than a Wonga loan.
  • You could think about approaching games companies with an old track and ask them to have your tasteful and tender folk song form the background music to a violent shoot-em-up (OK, so maybe something a bit more electronic / upbeat might work a tad better for this particular suggestion).
  • You can give away your old material in exchange for email addresses or Facebook likes. This can be a really good way to build up a bigger database.
  • Create deluxe editions of your older albums. If you have a devoted-enough fanbase, you might find that they’re willing to shell out for a remixed and remastered version of a previous opus. Hell, you could even create a box set containing all your previous albums plus, if your music isn’t rare enough already, some ahem, rarities.
  • Sell your older albums at gigs. It’s amazing how many bands forget to do this – they often rock up at venues armed only with their brand new release (when several punters may well want to buy other CDs - particularly if they are signed).
  • You can also use physical copies of previous albums as incentives to attend gigs – if you’re sitting on a pile of CDs that never sold, why not give one away with each ticket sold for a show? 
  • You could also do a ‘two for one’ deal where people can buy the new album plus an older one at a price that is simply too good to be believed.
  • Rework a song for your new album. You might have a killer track on an older release - but one which suffered from a terrible production. Give it another go and release it as your next single. Who knows; it might be a hit second time round.

When you stop to think about it, there is actually quite a lot you can do with your older material. Dust down those old CDs and get the boy band directory out. 

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Promoting your music in a world of short attention spans

Egg timer
Egg timer

by Chris Singleton

I’ve noticed lately that my attention span is getting worse. I am finding it increasingly hard to focus on anything for any length of time (even getting to the end of this sentence was a struggle). Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, or maybe it’s to do with the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with all this fathering-of-children business, but essentially I put it down to the fact that any time I sit down to do anything, some device or other beeps at me or displays a notification that simply demands another bit of my (ever-shortening) attention. 

Needless to say I am not alone – everybody else I know is drowning in a sea of constant interruptions and diversions, usually because they are permanently wired up to that big old thing called the Internet which, frankly, never shuts up (and, for the record, is one day going to become sentient, take slight issue with the popularity of One Direction and devour us all alive). And never mind the Internet: there’s real life too. Demanding jobs, bossy toddlers, trips to the mechanic and a need to pay off the 5853% interest on a Wonga loan all impact on Joe Average’s ability to put his mind to a specific task for longer than 5 minutes (unless, it would appear, it involves Candy Crush).

And yet, despite all this, we musicians still think that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect busy, pushed-for-time members of the public to walk down to WH Smiths, purchase a music magazine, scour the magazine for a 20-word dismissal of our music, locate a boutique record store that stocks said music, buy a 180 gram limited edition vinyl copy of our latest 120-minute triple LP, nip down to the corner hifi shop to buy a turntable to actually play the masterpiece on, whip out the joss sticks, then listen in reverence to the album for 2 hours.

Yes, there are some die-hard fans who will go to those 1970s-style lengths to discover, buy and enjoy new music but sadly these days they are in the minority. Those dastardly short attention spans make it very unlikely that a potential fan will complete any of the above steps to listening bliss (they might get as far as WH Smiths, but odds are they’ll buy a saucy magazine instead – and one in which there is, surprisingly, no room for album reviews). But don’t despair: there are still ways to get people to listen to your music, but you have to bear the fact that we are living in an era of information overload in mind when you go about promoting it. Here are some tips for dealing with music fans who don’t have time for anything…

  • Don’t assume that everybody wants to listen to an album’s worth of material. Allow – and encourage – people to stream or download individual tracks. That might be all they have time for.
  • Offer your music in a variety of formats: streams, downloads, videos, acoustic versions, CD, vinyl…this ensures that you are catering for everybody (and every device).
  • Don’t just rely on promoting your music in print publications. Although some magazines and newspapers publish their features and reviews online, not all do. Increasingly, people are consuming content they used to enjoy in print publications via a Facebook feed (which Mark Zuckerburg is now using to manipulate your emotions, it would seem). So remember that online music promo is now as important – if not more so – than traditional press.
  • Create compelling reasons for people to listen to your music or watch your latest video: don’t just stick a boring tweet up that says ‘download our latest song now’. Be clever with visuals, concepts, language…do whatever it takes to stand out (so long as it’s not too naff, or illegal).
  • Think about timing: when are people most likely to have a gap in their day to notice you and your music? If you are posting your new tracks up at 11pm on a Friday night, or launching an album 5 days before Christmas, you are going to struggle in your quest for people’s attention.
  • Remind people about what you’re promoting – within reason. It’s very unusual for people to take action the very first time they see a bit of promotion for something, so you may find that you need to give them a little nudge. This could be in the form of a ‘chaser’ e-newsletter, another Facebook status update or tweet, or a follow up Facebook ad campaign. Don’t overdo it though – over-communication is no solution the problem of time-poverty, and will just annoy your fans.
  • Create edits of your songs, where appropriate, for an online audience (or indeed any audience). If you have a track that generously presents a 10 minute instrumental section before the first verse arrives, you might want to think about shortening it a bit when you use the song in certain promotional contexts.
  • If presenting your music to A&Rs, publishers and live agents, give them a sample of your music before introducing them to the full version of your latest opus or your entire back catalogue.

If you made it this far, well done: there’s hope for our attention spans yet. Now get yer joss sticks out and whack that very long record of mine on.

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Does your band need a CRM system? (And what the hell is that anyway?)

1984crm.jpg

by Chris Singleton

As regular readers of these posts will note, I seem to spend an awful lot of times telling bands to ‘think like a label’ – to create project plans; capture data efficiently; apply strong production values to any audio or visual output; get a stylist in; register music with the relevant royalty-collection organisations; do loads of coke; get your band to take their kit off at any given opportunity…all that sort of jazz. My hope is – as much as it may jar with artistic sensibilities and offend delicate souls – that readers are constantly reminded of the word ‘business’ in the phrase ‘music business’, and behave accordingly. Welcome to the machine. And if you thought that this constant encouragement to act like the most cynical of big businesses was already bad, it’s about to get worse, because I’m now going to suggest that you dabble in something called CRM: customer relationship management.

I know. It sounds terrible doesn’t it? Reducing devoted fans to ‘customers’, and talking about managing relationships without even the slightest mention of groupies. But CRM systems are what all clever businesses – and that includes the major labels – use to truly ‘understand’ their clients. Never mind the NSA, businesses have been snooping on their customers and potential customers for years now, all in a (usually profitable) attempt to squeeze as much money as possible out of them.  Yes! You too could do the same!

In the context of the music biz, all this means using sophisticated database software to

  • spot the most dedicated fans and ensure they never miss a release
  • create material for fans with particular types of interest in an artist’s music (live gigs, merchandise, limited edition vinyl etc.)
  • work out the best places to tour through use of geographical information

In a sense, these are generally things that all bands are trying to do, all the time – but CRM software just makes it a lot easier (and yes, sneaky).

So what is CRM software, and where do I get it?

A CRM package basically comprises

  • a database
  • some tools for capturing information onto it easily
  • some tools extracting useful information from it easily
  • features which allow you to track previous communications between you and your customers (fans)

There are truckloads of CRM solutions out there: Salesforce, Zoho, Capsule and Nimble are all online pieces of kit that you could use (my favourite of those, for the record, is Nimble). In a sense though, the program is less important than the database; you could actually get by reasonably well with an Excel spreadsheet so long as you were capturing the right data.

What does the ‘right data’ mean?

Most bands understand the need to capture data, but they tend to capture a fairly minimal amount of it: getting email addresses onto a scrap of paper at a gig is about as sophisticated as a lot of bands get. But actually, there is a lot more information that musicianscanand should capture which could help them both maximise sales and grow their fanbase. There are also a lot of sources of data that bands forget they have access to.

These are the pieces of information that I, as a cigar-puffing major label CEO would want to ensure that my minions were whacking onto a CRM database:

  • Email address (THE most important thing you can capture)
  • Name (particularly if you have a ‘petite’ fanbase, being able to address people by name is a Very Good Thing)
  • Postcode and country
  • History of previous music purchases
  • History of previous merchandise purchases
  • History of previous contributions to crowdfunding campaigns
  • History of previous attendance at gigs

But how the hell do you get all this data? Well, truth be told, you won’t be able to get all of it – you’re not going to convince Apple, for example, to send you a list of everybody who’s bought your records on iTunes. However, you can get a LOT of it, particularly if you are selling music and merchandise direct to fans on your website – most online store systems allow you to export all your sales info and upload it into your database; and any crowdfunding system worth its salt will give you a CSV file of everybody who’s supported your campaign. As for capturing data at gigs, you can do this both before the gig – by selling tickets in advance online – and at the event itself (you’ll find some tips on capturing data at gigs here, by the way). For the geographical side of things, it’s simply a case of capturing postcode and country any time you are asking people to provide an email address (be that on a website, or the aforementioned back of an envelope at a gig).

It will potentially be quite a lot of work and occasionally a bit of a technical challenge to get all this data in one place and onto a CRM – but it is worth it, because…

Having lots of data in your CRM means you can do Really Funky Things

Here’s where CRM gets a little less dry and a bit more sexy. Say you are deciding whether or not it’s worth investing in a vinyl release of your next album. Assuming you have captured all the data I’ve mentioned above, you can now log into your CRM, and pull up a list of everybody you sold a vinyl copy of your last record to. Groovy. And you can then decide whether there are enough people interested in that sort of thing to justify the cost.

Or say you are planning a tour. You can pull up your database, whack it into some mapping software and literally ‘see’ where your fans live. You can then identify hotspots where there is the greatest concentration of fans and put on shows in the locations which are most likely to provide a turnout which makes putting 5 sweaty blokes in the back of a people carrier for 2 months worthwhile.

Maybe you want to identify ‘superfans’ to act as special ambassadors for your band? No problem, just look for the people on your CRM who have the most ‘history’ against their records: people who have not only bought a record but attended a show, watched a live stream, purchased a t-shirt, supported your Kickstarter campaign and slept with the drummer. These are the prime candidates to join a street team or similar shady organisation devoted to promoting your music.

You get the picture – literally: an overview of your fans that you can use to sell music to in the most effective way possible. And yes, although it arguably feels quite ‘big brother’, it also brings some pretty decent benefits to the fans: they will be targeted with stuff they are most likely to enjoy, and get more opportunities to enjoy your music. And that, after all, is generally the point of being a fan.

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How to make (and nurture) music industry contacts

A music industry contact
A music industry contact

By Chris Singleton

Looking back over various Prescription articles recently, it occurred to me that a lot of them are focused on the ‘DIY’ aspect of music promotion. Which is fine, as all music promotion essentially starts with and by the artist – even the biggest acts on the planet had to start their career somewhere, and ‘somewhere’ usually means with a dose of self-promotion.

But it is worth remembering however that as worthwhile as DIY promo is, there is a lot to be said for not doing it yourself: if you can convince a powerful Svengali, live agent or established label to take responsibility for your career and spend a lot of money promoting it, then let’s say that the letting-somebody-else-do-it school of music promotion has its up sides too. The question is how you find these sorts of contacts, and how you nurture them. Here are some tips.

Start with people you know

The best connections are often personal connections, because – assuming you are a relatively nice person – people you know are the people most likely to go the extra mile for you. Look through your address book and see if you can find anyone with any links to the entertainment business. Drop them a line, explain that you are trying to locate contacts who might be interested in furthering your career, and see if they can help. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised: in my own case, chatting to a friend led to an introduction to his friend, who got me in the door of quite a few major labels, one of which turned out to be very helpful in distributing my records. Working your personal network can prove to be a quite fruitful six degrees of Kevin Bacon style thing.

It is vital however that you do not foist yourself upon your personal contacts. Remember that you are talking to friends – and friends don’t like taken being advantage of, or given the hard sell.

Do your research

It’s surprising how many music professionals are kind enough to leave their contact details lying about online. Thanks to sites like Hitquarters and the Unsigned Guide, you can access thousands of potentially useful contacts (including their name, address and phone numbers) and find out what projects they’ve previously been involved with. (It’s like the NSA, only more rock and roll). You can also make use of LinkedIn and other social networks to establish connections with potentially useful people (but be careful whom you send contact requests to: the potential to annoy is quite high here).

Make a database

As you do your research, you should add new contacts to database of people that you want to approach with your music. This database should include not only contact details of these poor unsuspecting souls, but notes on what they’ve worked on in the past.

By database I mean something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet – but if you want to go the extra mile and be a little bit more sophisticated about it, you could try using what’s known as a ‘CRM tool’ like Nimble or Capsule. These allow you to do funkier things with your data than Excel – like keep a history of communications between you and your contacts, do sophisticated queries, connect with them on social media and more. CRM tools are also useful for keeping tabs on your fans and staying in touch with them.

Contact the RIGHT people

It’s really important to take a very targeted approach when it comes to contacting people in the music business. Only contact RELEVANT people – contacts who work with acts that make a similar noise to yours – or you’ll just waste their time and your own. Remember that everybody in showbiz knows everybody else, so you don’t want to get a reputation for being a spammer; nobody will take you seriously after that.

Approach when the time is right

Just because you now have a great list of contacts and know exactly which artists they’ve made the tea for, it does not mean that you should necessarily contact them all immediately. Only start your approaches when you are 100% ready: i.e., very confident in yourself and your music.

Nail your pitch

Remember that when you finally DO approach your contacts about your music, it’s vital that you are fully prepared: you should be presenting them with the best music, the best videos, the best photos and the best story that you can muster. It’s all very well having sophisticated data capture techniques and a huge database of music industry big wigs to hand, but if you and your ‘product’ (sorry for calling it that) aren’t looking and sounding as good as you can, you will simply waste opportunities. To help you avoid this shocking waste, we have a separate article about pitching your songs to the music industry which you might find relevant to the whole process of making and keeping friends in the music biz.

Good luck…and remember your manners.

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How to choose the best music promotion team for your release

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by Chris Singleton

As is often remarked upon on these pages, a technological revolution has brought about a massive drop in the cost of access to professional recording equipment whilst at the same time furnishing musicians with an easy way to distribute music globally. This means that the number of bands in a position to make and release albums has never been higher. However, the same technological revolution has brought with it streaming, illegal downloading and the gradual death of the physical album, meaning that the rise in the number of records being released has not been accompanied by a plethora of new labels with the finances to release and promote all of them.

This has led a huge number of bands ‘going it alone’ and self-releasing their records, either with a view to getting enough of a reaction to entice one of the dwindling number of ‘proper’ labels to get involved, or generate enough of a buzz to actually turn their music-making into a viable business. Both goals are extremely difficult to achieve, but they are doable. However, generally speaking, to have any chance of meeting either, bands usually need to work with a music promo team.

What do we mean by promo team, though? Well, as a bare minimum a music promo team tends to consist of a music PR firm, who will handle print, online press and possibly some radio / TV; however, depending on budget, bands may hire a broader range of professionals, for example:

  • A music PR company
  • A national radio plugger
  • A regional radio plugger
  • A TV plugger
  • An online marketing company

Typically, the most common scenario tends to involve bands hiring a music PR firm and a national radio plugger. Regardless of the size or make-up of your team, however, it’s vital to have really good people on board; music promo services cost money and the music industry is intensely competitive – pick the wrong team and you will end up 1) throwing cash down the loo and 2) not getting anywhere. So how do you pick the right people?

1. Identify your niche, and look for people who work in that area

There are a lot of PR companies and radio pluggers out there – but some will be a better or more natural ‘match’ for your project. If you make easy-listening jazz, it stands to reason that hiring somebody who works chiefly in the area of death metal PR is not the smartest move (and vice-versa). Before you hire anyone to do anything with your music, try to define what kind of genre you are operating in and do some research into companies and individuals who specialise in that genre.

2. Be cautious of companies that say ‘yes’ to every project

Delivering a serious PR or radio campaign involves a LOT of work: identifying press angles, writing press releases, selecting the correct targets, pitching, repeated chasing and reporting on progress. There is only so much time in the day, only so many people in the office (or in the case of freelancers, just one person in the office…), so if the company you are approaching seems to be one that says ‘yes’ to every project or has a huge client roster without the team to adequately service it, tread cautiously. Always ask a few probing questions about

  • why the company particularly want to work on your project
  • what else they’ve got on at the moment
  • if they can genuinely fit your project in.

3. Beware of outlandish claims

Musicians are probably the biggest dreamers out there. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as ambition is a pre-requisite to success, but unfortunately there are a bunch of snake oil salesmen about, all too ready to guarantee fame and fortune to these dreaming musicians…for a price, of course. Success in music is attainable but it is very difficult to achieve, and you need to be working with people who understand that alongside talent, graft is the key to this success. It is far better to work with a PR or plugger who gives you a realistic set of targets and outcomes rather than one who promises stardom without giving any hint at how he or she will deliver it. As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, that’s because it usually is.

4. Shop around

It’s a good idea to approach several companies / individuals with your project and ask them to pitch for your business – by averaging out the quotes you will get a sense of how much you should be expecting to pay, and by examining the quality of the pitches and the kind of media targets each company lists in their proposals, you’ll be able to get a sense of which company or freelancer is likely to do the best job.

5. Check for rapport…

As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions about how a company would potentially handle your project. This will allow you to get a sense of

  • how professional an outfit is
  • how good their relationships with media contacts are
  • their understanding of how your music could fit into the media landscape.

But crucially it will help you get a sense of the kind of personality / personalities you will be dealing with at the company, because it’s crucial to be working with people that you know you can trust and whom you will have a good rapport with throughout a campaign.

6. …and check for reports

Ensure that anyone you are thinking of working with commits to regular communication and written reports outlining who’s been approached, when, and what the reaction to date is. Nail everybody down to a robust reporting schedule. If somebody seems reluctant to commit to serious reporting, that should ring alarm bells.

7. Work with people who actually like your music

Music promotion is a business; profits need to be made and bills need to be paid. This inevitably leads to people taking on music projects even though they don’t actually like the music in question. If you’re working with a professional outfit whom you are certain will do their utmost on a project regardless of their opinion on it, then that’s okay; but in an ideal world, you want to be working with people who love your project and want to work on it because of that love for it. Passion breeds good results.

Good luck with your quest to find decent people for your project – and of course, don’t forget to put us on your list of music PR companies to check out. We look forward to all the probing questions…

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How to plan an album release - on a post it note

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by Chris Singleton

Bands are notoriously unreliable, forgetful and flakey aren’t they? Well in a sense that’s probably a good thing: in an ideal world musicians should be creative mavericks, not organised project planners. But since the music world these days seems to revolve around doing absolutely everything yourself, a bit of organisation goes a long way, and in this post I thought I’d share a low-tech but very effective way to plan an album release - and one which, incidentally, involves a lot of post-it notes.

For this exercise you will need:

  • Several packs of post-it notes
  • 1 roll of brown paper
  • 1 marker pen
  • 1 laptop 
  • Everybody involved in your album release

Step 1: Get everyone together

Get everybody who is involved in putting out your release together in the same room. Easier said than done, but try to get the band, your designers, manager, live agent, distributors, PR people, radio pluggers, CD manufacturer and the guy who’s making the tea all in the same room at the same time (if you can’t achieve this monumental feat of diarisation then get as many of your team as possible in there). These are your project ‘stakeholders’, and you need their help to create the perfect project plan.

Step 2: Create a timeline

Unfurl your roll of brown paper and pin it up on the wall. Then, mark out the first Monday of every week for about 4 months on the roll of brown paper, so that you have a timeline which stretches out for about 16-20 weeks in front of all your collaborators. If you are really organised, you might want to prepare this in advance of your meeting.

Your timeline should look something like this (but containing more weeks and columns):

bp1-example.jpg

Step 3: Identify tasks

Write ‘ALBUM RELEASE’ in big letters on a post-it note and place it on the timeline on the date that you think the album should come out. Then give a bunch of post-it notes to all the stakeholders in the room. Ask them to work backwards from this date and write all the tasks relevant to their work on individual post-it notes – for example, a PR task would be to mail copies of your CD to long lead magazines; a designer’s task would be to produce the album cover and so on. Make sure each post-it note lists not only the task but the person responsible for completing it.

Step 4: Add tasks to the timeline

When everybody has identified their tasks, ask each stakeholder to approach the timeline with their post-it notes and place them on the timeline at an appropriate point in time before the release. Ask contributors to be realistic and logical about their deadlines (yes, good luck with that).

At this point, you should have a roll of brown paper that looks somewhat like the below example (but containing a LOT more tasks):

bp-example2.jpg

Step 5: Jiggle the timeline

As more and more tasks get added, you’ll find that some of the deadlines on your roll of brown paper are quite frankly ridiculous: you’ll probably find that the radio plugger has said he’s going to send the album to radio after the record has come out, or that the artwork won’t be ready until after the CD is printed. At this point it is time to move all the post its around so that all the task deadlines make sense. You may even find that your release date was far too early / ambitious, and needs to be pushed back to accommodate everybody’s lead times. Ideally, your manager or somebody very organised should arbitrate this process so that it’s not a complete free-for-all or bun fight.

Step 6: capture the timeline into a spreadsheet

Once all the task timings have been agreed upon, it’s time to capture the timeline onto your laptop. Each task should be assigned an ‘owner’ (i.e., radio plugger, press officer, live agent etc.) on a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet should contain the following columns:

  • Task
  • Owner
  • Deadline
  • Completed? (Yes/No)

Step 7: implement the plan

Now you have your plan all laid out neatly in Excel, it’s time to implement it. Again, it’s helpful if you have a manager (or project planning freak) to do this, but regardless of who ends up ‘owning’ the spreadsheet, you need to ensure that the spreadsheet is constantly referred to and updated in the run up to the release and that everybody involved in the project is hassled constantly to ensure they meet their deadlines.

What if people can’t make the meeting?

If there are stakeholders who can’t make the brown paper meeting – the groupies, for example – then just try to capture as many tasks as you can with the people who can attend, and liaise with other stakeholders as soon as possible after the meeting to get their tasks entered onto the timeline too.

I know, it isn’t rock and roll…

All this seems like a very dry, not-at-all-rock-and-roll process. But at the end of it you should have a much clearer idea of 1) the work that an album release really entails and 2) how to ensure the album actually gets released. Hopefully the number of post-it notes and the shockingly long lead times won’t put you off music for life, though… 

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7 ways to give your music website a spring clean

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by Chris Singleton

So, despite the weather, spring is technically with us. It’s a time for daffodils; bunnies; hot cross buns; the first appearance this year of your rusty old barbeque…or maybe a long overdue glance at your music website, and a realisation that it looks like it a 1983 bulletin board. Don’t panic. Here are some tips for giving your website a bit of a spring clean and adding some features that will help you promote your music more effectively.

1. Ensure your website is talking to Google

It’s all very well having a slick website, but if it’s not showing up in search, nobody will be able to find it. So make sure Google knows about it, by…

  • ensuring that your band name and influences are present in each page title
  • ensuring every page’s ‘meta description’ includes your band name
  • registering your website with Google’s Webmaster Tools
  • connecting your site with Google+ (i.e., using Google Authorship)
  • creating some back links (links to your site) from as many sites as possible.

You can read more about SEO for bands here.

2. Ensure your site is capturing data effectively

Your website is not simply a place for punters to go and check your band out, it’s the place where they should be able to start a lasting relationship with your band (a relationship that involves not wining and dining but easily notifying fans when you are doing a gig, releasing material and so on). The best way to make this beautiful relationship happen is to ensure that your site is capturing email addresses effectively. There should ideally be a form on each page of your site where visitors can subscribe to your mailing list (ideally in exchange for some free content). This form should be hooked up to a service like Getresponse or Mad Mimi (our two favourites, although there are many to choose from) so that you can spam the living daylight out of - sorry, politely email - your fans easily. Another advantage of having a good mailing list is that you can import it into Twitter, Facebook and other social networks; this leads to your subscribers automatically being invited / encouraged to follow you on those networks.

3. Make it easy for people to follow you on social media

Obviously a huge number of people follow artists on social networks these days; even the most technically-challenged musicians tend to be aware of this and put social media icons on their website accordingly. However, they don’t always put them in the best place, or use them in the best way. To get the most out of social media on your site,

  • ensure you are putting the social media icons in a very prominent spot  - in other words, ‘above the fold’, so users don’t have to scroll a lot or nose around the site to find the social links
  • use buttons that allow ‘one-click’ follows, rather than icons which direct you to a social media profile containing another follow button. For example, use an embedded Twitter follow button or Facebook ‘like’ button wherever possible; with these, once they are clicked, the user will automatically be following your band without ever leaving your site.
  • consider using Addthis as a way of encouraging follows and content sharing – it allows you to add follow / sharing icons to your site very easily, plus gives you some very interesting stats.

4. Blog!

Unless you are getting a truckload of Radio 1 airplay, it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to get a truckload of visitors spontaneously rocking up at your website. However, if you’re writing interesting blog articles regularly (interesting = not necessarily about your band) these are very likely to get picked up by search engines, resulting in organic traffic to your site and, if you’ve followed steps 2 and 3 above correctly, a good opportunity to capture data and gain new social media followers. When done well, blogging can be a strong component of an inbound marketing strategy (you can find out about inbound marketing here).

5. Compare your website against others

Compare your site to those belonging to seriously huge artists: the U2s, Bowies, Red Hot Chilli Peppers of this world. How does yours stack up? Is the photography and use of typefaces as strong? Is your site as clever or comprehensive when it comes to data capture and social media? Actually, the answer might be yes – some big acts have surprisingly awful websites. But it’s important to take a look at what the ‘pros’ do anyway, in case there are any tricks you are missing. Typically I tend to find that where a lot of unsigned bands’ websites fall down is in their use of photography – the images use just aren’t professional enough (instead of stylish photos in an interesting location, you often see bands plastering an amateurish ‘four guys looking grumpy against a wall’ photo all over their website). My advice to any band is always to sort out the photos before going anywhere near a website designer.

6. Check your website on a variety of devices

Given how many people are accessing content on smartphones these days, it’s worth checking how your site appears on a variety of devices – not just your fancypants 27 inch iMac. The main thing you need to do is ensure that your site displays correctly on any device, and not just a desktop computer – and if you want to take things a step further, you could consider creating bespoke mobile version of your site or a ‘responsive’ website which automatically resizes itself depending on what device it is being viewed on – you’ll find more tips on building a mobile site here.

7. Use analytics

There is little point having a website if you are unsure whether or not anyone is visiting it. So,

  • ensure you have a Google Analytics account for your website, and are checking it regularly
  • register your site with Google’s Webmaster Tools
  • use Addthis to measure how many people are following you or sharing content, and which bits of content they are sharing.

Act on the information you receive: if your blog articles are particularly popular, write more of them; if your videos page is heavily visited, make more of them and so on.

Right, so I hope these spring-cleaning tips leave your website looking spankingly fresh and your fanbase growing exponentially before the British summer [sic] gets here. Of course, if you can’t be bothered doing all that hard spring cleaning work yourself, here comes the obligatory plug: you can find out more about Prescription PR’s music web design services here.

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Getting data capture at gigs right

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In a recent post we looked at how to put a good newsletter together – and a large part of that article dealt with sorting out your database before actually emailing anybody. Of course for musicians, a hugely important aspect of building a database involves collecting email addresses at your live performances, so in this post we give you some quick and simple tips to ensure that you’re not missing any tricks when it comes to capturing your fans’ info at shows.

1. Start capturing attendees’ data BEFORE the gig

Eh? How do I do that? Surely I have to wait until there are punters streaming through the door of the venue before I can get them to scribble down their email address? Well, actually, no – you can capture data well before you get anywhere near the stage, by selling tickets online in advance. You don’t have to be in the ‘Ticketmaster’ league of bands to do this – there are lots of low-cost tools like Stubmatic or Wegottickets that allow you to sell e-tickets in advance of your shows and, just as importantly, capture relevant data about your fans (the main thing you want, obviously, being their email addresses). Even simple Paypal transactions let you do this. No matter how you go about selling tickets in advance online though, make sure that you are able to export a list of attendees which you can then import into your e-newsletter tool (Mailchimp, Mad Mimi etc.) or database.

2. Get somebody reliable involved to capture the data

When people think of mailing lists generated at gigs, they are usually visualising a disinterested hairy guy at the door of the venue stamping people's hand with a stampy thing and only very occasionally asking for email addresses. And yes, that hairy guy is unreliable. He’s a bit stoned, or he’s a bit shy about talking to punters, or he just doesn’t like your band. Either way you end up with less email addresses than you should. So don’t leave things to the hairy guy. Put somebody you trust to do a good job at data capture on the case. This could be your best friend, your girlfriend or your mum – it doesn’t matter so long as they know how to charm people into handing over their data.

3. Use technology to capture the email addresses

Don’t forget that it is 2014 and there are a few more options than the old pen and paper method of collecting email addresses available. You can capture them direct to iPad, for example - and before you complain about the lack of wifi signal in the toilet venue you are playing, you don’t actually have to be online to capture email addresses (many e-newsletter tools, such as Campaign Monitor or Mailchimp have apps that store data locally on your iPad and then upload it for you when you go online). Various services also exist that allow you to capture email addresses by SMS. One thing though: don’t forget to insure your iPad, and pin-lock it…

4. Don’t just leave your sign-up form at the door - take it round the venue

Depending on the kind of gig you are playing, you can be quite proactive about data capture – i.e., you don't have to simply rely on the ‘leave a clipboard at the door and hope that people sign up’ approach. For example, you could ask the ‘designated data capture person’ we discussed earlier to go around the venue, asking punters if they’d like to hand over their details. Or make announcements from the stage asking people to sign up (if nothing else, this will give you a bit of free – but admittedly quite dull – stage patter). Or finally, you could leave a clipboard at each table, or cute little cards people can fill out with their details. Whether this sort of data capture is appropriate at your gig or not will depend on the nature of your act, the type of venue you are playing in and how comfortable you feel with hounding people for an email address, but the thing to remember is that there are always ways and means of boosting your email sign-up rate at gigs that go beyond leaving a scrap of paper at front of house that nobody writes on.

5. Incentivise

As with the data capture you carry out on your website, you should ‘incentivise’ the data capture you do at gigs. Offer a free track or EP in exchange for an email address, or a discount code for a future gig. By offering a ‘quid pro quo’ you will find a significantly higher number of people are willing to subscribe to your list. 

Finally, on the face of it, data capture doesn't seem like the sexiest of topics - and it seems a crying shame to be talking about gigs in terms of sending your mum around with an iPad to collect email addresses from unsuspecting fans rather than as an excuse for you to wear leather trousers, play lengthy guitar solos, do a spot of crowd-surfing and impress groupies with witty post-show banter. But when somebody who subscribed to your mailing list at a gig goes on to pledge £100 towards a crowdfunding campaign a couple of months down the line…well, that feels kind of sexy, and may mean that you are now able to afford the leather pants for the next show – that is, if you can convince a bunch of fans to crowdfund some hosiery. Now THAT would be an achievement.

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How to create a great band e-newsletter

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For a lot of bands I talk to, an email database or e-newsletter is really a bit of an afterthought; they are more concerned with building up a Facebook or Twitter following that is big enough to impress that A&R guy from Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar." But actually, a good email list and a great series of e-newsletters represent an extremely important way to stay in touch with your fans. You are in control of the communication - not a Facebook algorithm - and, through use of strong visuals, you can really make a statement about your act, and hopefully, flog some t-shirts. Below you'll find some tips on how to turbo-charge your e-newsletters.

1. Start with the most important thing: your database

Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, think about the ‘who’. You probably have an existing database of fans tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, your fans live in several very messy spreadsheets (or indeed on scraps of paper that you brought along to gigs to scribble punters' names down on). Before even thinking about sending an e-newsletter to anybody on your mailing list, it is a good idea to consolidate all your files into one clean, well-organised spreadsheet. You should also ensure that this is ‘segmented’ as well as possible – i.e., ideally you should have a field in it containing information which lets you flag data as people who attended gigs, people who've bought your albums in the past, music industry contacts and so on. If at all possible, try to get some geographical info onto your database - this can be invaluable for you if you intend to tour (because you'll be inform alert fans living beside the Dog and Duck in Scunthorpe exactly when you'll be playing). The basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to the appropriate person at the right time.

2. Create an e-newsletter schedule

The next step is to plan your communications carefully - ideally by creating an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out what you are going to send out in an e-newsletter, to whom, and when. As you might expect, this can be very handy if you intend to promote particular gigs in particular areas, or map out a series of communications around the time of an album release. You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go. And because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see above) you will always be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts - i.e., when your latest single comes out fans will receive an e-newsletter imploring them to buy it, and your radio DJ contacts will get an email beseeching them to play it.

3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletter

For many bands, sending e-newsletters means compiling a mailing list in Excel, then copying and pasting the addresses into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Hotmail message. This is a horrendously time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also very ineffective, because it doesn’t allow you to a) send very nice-looking e-newsletters or b) accurately measure important stats like open rate and clickthroughs.

It is a much better idea to use a dedicated tool for sending your e-newsletter. There are many web-based solutions available now: big-hitters include Aweber, Getresponse, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and MadMimi. These all allow you to import your database, create attractive templates, and send out proper ‘HTML e-newsletters’ that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!). At Prescription, our favourites for band use are Getresponse and Mad Mimi, chiefly because they are inexpensive by comparison to their competitors, easy to use, and pack in an awful lot of functionality. Both come with free trials:

4. Get the visuals right

Once you’ve decided upon which bit of software you’re going to use for your e-newsletters, you need to design a nice HTML template for it. Getresponse in particular comes with a lot of designs that you can modify easily enough. If your design skills are not all that strong, you might consider hiring a designer to set up your email templates. Ultimately your e-newsletter template should look professional and uncluttered, and should feature your band logo and photographs prominently. 

5. Split test!

Once you’ve got your database, your e-communications schedule, your choice of software and your template sorted, it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters. But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible. This generally means 'split testing' your subject headers and/or content. Split testing means trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your database. You might, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with different subject headers, and send it to 500 fans on your database – after a day or so, you can identify which subject header led to the best open rate, and then use that header for the remainder of your data. Note that this is only worth doing if you have a relatively large database – if your band database is only a few hundred records in size, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly informative results (whilst taking a fair bit of time to set up).

6. Use good landing pages

It’s not just essential to have attractive, well-constructed e-newsletters: it’s important that the links in those e-newsletters take you to pages that actually ‘convert’ readers into taking further action too. Generally speaking you don’t want to send people to a page that contains a huge number of competing calls to action or links – it’s better to present a page that encourages users to take one specific action, be that buying a CD, liking a Facebook page or completing a form. Your landing pages should be attractive, easy-to-use and focused firmly on 'conversion'.

7. Measure success

Most e-newsletter tools come with detailed reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate and more. Study these stats carefully, as they will help you create better e-newsletters that generate more sales of tacky merch in future.

8. Allow people to sign up to your mailing list directly from your site

Most e-newsletter tools allow you to easily embed sign-up forms for your mailing list directly on your website. Make sure you do this, as it will save you having to repeatedly upload spreadsheets of data to your e-newsletter service. Additionally, by connecting your website’s mailing list form directly to your e-newsletter software, you can make use of autoresponders or ‘drips’ – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list via your website, they will automatically receive messages of your choosing at intervals of your choosing. For example, a subscriber could get a welcome message immediately upon signup; a discount code for a download one week later; an encouragement to follow your band on Facebook two weeks later and so on.

It's also important to 'incentivise' data capture on your website, for example by giving people who sign up access to an exclusive download or stream. 'Join our mailing list' enthuses nobody...

9. Allow fans to share your e-newsletters

Most e-newsletter tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletter. Make use of them! It means that your content and offers get a better chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list.

10. Oh, do be nice

And finally, if you want to run an effective e-newsletter campaign, there are five important things to remember:

  • Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it
  • Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages
  • Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimise unsubscribes
  • Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe
  • Adhere to data protection laws

Now off you go to create an e-newsletter in Hotmail that you send out 20 times a week to 5 people.

This article is by Chris Singleton, whose name is currently showing in an inbox near you.

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10 ways to improve your band's online marketing in 2014

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by Chris Singleton

As we approach the end of 2013, we thought we’d share some tips with you that will help you tune up your online promotion efforts in 2014. Read on for some advice on how to improve your website, e-newsletters, Facebook presence and more…

1. Ensure you have a great site

Yes, it’s easier (and cheaper) to set up a Facebook page than build a website, but there are several advantages in creating a strong site:

  • It marks your band out as a professional, serious outfit
  • It gives you full control your band’s image and identity
  • It will allow you to blog (and if you are good at blogging, you may well find yourself with a truckload of additional visits to your site thanks to inbound marketing)
  • You tet full control over search engine optimisation and data capture
  • You can incorporate a wide range of functionality that might not be available on third party sites.

So, if you haven’t got a website for your band, build one. And if you DO have one, maybe take a look at it again, with a view to improving it as much as you can for 2014: ensure imagery, integration with social media, data capture and even typefaces are all as good as they possibly can be. Find out about how to build a great band website here.

2. Use ‘Addthis’

…And speaking of websites, ‘Addthis’ is a brilliant free tool that encourages visitors to your site to share content from it in lots of clever ways; it also maximises the chances of them following you on social media. If you’re not using Addthis now, you should be.

3. Make sure you are not neglecting smartphone users

A huge proportion of people accessing content online are now doing so using a smartphone. This has all sorts of implications for how you present your band online – and getting this wrong could severely limit the reach of your promotional efforts. Find out how to present your band to a smartphone audience.

4. Make sure you are capturing data effectively

If you don’t have a proper mailing list set up, you are shooting your act in the foot (or feet if you’re not a solo act). In my book, an email address is still worth far more than, say, a Facebook ‘like’, because 1) when you send somebody an email, a Mark Zuckerburg algorithm isn’t deciding whether that person receives it or not and 2) email addresses can be used to forge connections on multiple social networks (via ‘find my friends’ features). Read our in-depth guide to email marketing here.

5. ‘Incentivise likes’ on Facebook

Ensure you are using (and promoting) tabs on Facebook that ‘incentivise’ likes – i.e., use tabs that give people who like your Facebook page access to particular content (a free download, exclusive video etc.). Woobox provide some really helpful tools in this regard.

6. Start using Google+

People may snigger when they hear the words ‘Google Plus’ – Google’s social network is, after all, renowned for the quantities of tumbleweed that blow through its news feeds. However, it is becoming increasingly important, because Google is starting to treat websites that are connected to Google Plus via ‘Google Authorship’ (a way of attributing your site content to a particular individual in search results) rather differently (and arguably, preferentially) to other sites. Find out more about Google Authorship here.

7. Don’t overcommunicate online

Regardless of whether you’re using emails, Facebook updates or tweets to communicate with your fans, don’t fall into the trap of spewing annoying nonsense every five minutes. Only say something when it counts. With this in mind, you may find our article on managing your online reputation handy.

8. Spend some time on data hygiene

Yikes! Data hygiene. Sounds horrendous, like going to the dentist or something. But in 2014, take a look at your various databases – be they lists of fans or industry contacts – and ensure that your records are in the best shape possible. Think about standardising the format; removing duplicate records; and ensuring that as much information as you need is in them (name, email address, phone, favourite coffee…). The cleaner and more accurate your databases, the more results you’ll get when you promote your music.

9. Don’t promote your music to your friends all the time

Tempting as it is to bombard your personal Facebook friends with encouragements to buy your album / come to your gig / purchase a limited edition t-shirt with your face on it, it’s generally a bad move. Find out when is and when isn’t the right time to promote your music to friends here.

10. Plan ahead

Most marketing departments worth their salt create 'e-comms schedules' for the year, where they forward plan what kind of communications they are going to send / broadcast throughout the year. In your case, YOU are your marketing department, so follow best practice and engage in a bit of forward planning. Forward planning also allows you to automate some of your comms in advance, meaning that when you are in the middle of a promotional campaign for your new album, you don't need to worry about sending a bunch of e-newsletter and tweets out: some software somewhere is doing it for you...

Hope these tips speed you on your way to music success in 2014; and, while we've got your attention, may we take this opportunity to thank you for reading The Prescription in 2013 and wish you a lovely Christmas and all the best for the new year.

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Tips for making your band stand out from the crowd

by Chris Singleton

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One way to make your band sound different is to sample some cats

Pardon the pun, but making your band stand out these days is a tough gig. You end up trying to differentiate your act not only from a zillion other bands on the internet, but every band and artist in (an ever-lengthening) rock history who 'got there first' as far as your type of music is concerned. However, there are a few tricks that you can employ to distinguish your band from the competition, and, as we are generous souls here at Prescription PR, I thought I’d share some of these with you.

Sound different

“Impossible!”, “It’s all been done” and “But I want to sound like the Clash circa early 1981 just after they released Sandinista!” are all fairly understandable reactions to an instruction to make your band sound different. To a large degree, it has all been done (and to be fair, many tastemakers do insist upon you sounding like the Clash before taking you remotely seriously). 

And yet…it hasn’t all been done. That’s because most bands – The Clash included – don’t live in your house. Eh? Well, in your house you will find a plethora of kitchen utensils that you can hit, record and insert into a drum loop; you can sample the cat and turn her into a funky synth that you can then play on a keyboard; or how about turning your bathroom into a real-life echo chamber? Very few – if any musicians – will have access to your cutlery, cat or bathroom, so the sounds you make using all of these will be completely your own.

Moving outside your house and walking down the road, you will discover that in your local flea market there are host of little Casio keyboards that nobody would in their right mind think of using on a song – except you; there’s also a guy selling a cheap Italian organ from the 80s with some sounds that you haven’t encountered, perhaps for good reason, on any records before.

The point I’m making is not to rely on the standard plugins in Pro Tools or instruments that everybody else uses to make your music – look outside your sequencer or even studio for inspiration and design your own sounds. It’s harder than relying on Pro Tools plugins and presets – but it’s a lot more fun, satisfying and it helps you to sound unique.

Look different

Particularly if you are in the ‘it’s all about the music man’ camp (and being a fashion disaster myself, I sympathise very much with that point of view) it’s easy to disregard or overlook the importance of image. That’s why there are so many rather dull pictures of grumpy bands in jeans standing against a wall in existence. The other mistake bands tend to make when it comes to image is to try to look exactly like their heroes, to the point where the act looks completely unoriginal, or worse, like a tribute band. In the UK the a recent Government-commissioned report has highlighted a serious problem with the number of indie bands that STILL look like Oasis circa 1997.

The answer? A bit of time and thought put into styling your band; use of interesting backdrops for your photoshoots; and hiring a professional photographer with ideas that extend beyond the “let’s all stand up against the wall and look cross lads” approach to photo-taking (and maybe a few lights to boot!).

Unless you are going to make your own clothes (dress the band in bin liners anyone?), you will find it difficult to come up with a totally unique look, but by taking style, shoot locations and choice of photographer seriously, you are making a good start in distinguishing your act from a lot of drab-looking indie bands. 

Position yourself differently

A lot of bands assume that releasing a record simply involves issuing a press release that tells journalists that the new album is out soon and that it sounds, well, a bit like Oasis only with a synth sound that was generated by sampling a cat. Actually, you may find it more productive in some respects to forget about the music for a moment and dwell a bit more on the people making it. Does the drummer in your band have a secret criminal past involving cabbages? Has the lead singer had a relationship with a goat? Does the guitarist emit special pheromones during solos that make his performance sound more pleasing to ladies’ ears? All extreme examples (although I’d bet my bottom dollar that they’ve all been mentioned on press releases before) but what I’m getting at is that by looking at your band members' personal lives, you will often find ‘creative angles’ which can be used to generate high-profile human interest stories in the press.

There is a danger here though: sometimes human interest stories can overshadow the music to the point where either rock critics don’t take you seriously (suspecting that your angle is being used as a substitute for a record deal or talent or both) or where the human interest story completely overshadows the music, to the point where punters focus on the story, view the music as secondary, and ultimately neglect to buy the album. It’s a question of getting the balance between the music and the angle right.

So there you have it: sample some cutlery, wear a bin liner, and have a relationship with a goat: a recipe for instant success. And with that I’m off to investigate my secret past with a cabbage.

Chris Singleton is Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR. He thoroughly denies the whole cabbage thing.

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Mach schau! Mach schau! Or, how to improve your live performances

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When trying to find the secret to musical success, you might as well start by looking at the career of the most successful band in history: The Beatles. Even if you don’t like their music, they nonetheless wrote the textbook on how a band can overcome odds, succeed in the music biz and sustain a career; there is still much to be learnt, even in today’s internet driven music industry, from their story, and in this post, I’m going to zoom in on their early ‘Hamburg days’ in a bid to help you improve the quality of your live performances.

But before I do that, let’s take a look at what’s currently wrong with your live performances. Based on my own past failings, I can suggest a few issues that you might want to address:

  • You don’t look like a ‘natural’ performer
  • You look uninteresting on stage
  • Your playing skills aren’t that great

All that sounds rather harsh doesn’t it? Now, of course, I’m not saying that all the above strictly applies to you, dear reader, but my hunch is that if you are reading an article about improving your live performances…well, some of it probably does. So what you can learn by looking at the Beatles’ Hamburg period?

Let’s start with a bit of history: the Beatles went to Hamburg in August 1960, booked to play a string of gigs in the notorious St Pauli area of the city (the Hamburg equivalent of Mos Eisley, it would appear – a hive of scum and villainy). Upon arriving there, band essentially lived in a toilet and played gigs seven days a week in seedy nightclubs. And when they started this stint, all the flaws discussed above – by the band’s own admission – were present in their performances. The Beatles didn’t play like naturals; they didn’t have a ‘look’; their music was very rough around the edges. But by the end of their Hamburg experience, The Beatles had been transformed into a live powerhouse with interesting haircuts that quickly went on to secure a record deal and…yes, you know the rest; you’ve watched The Rutles movie. 

And here’s why Hamburg transformed The Beatles: first, the band got loads of practice at live performance. Playing seven days a week for hours on end honed their performances to the point where they started to look like the real deal. Second, they were under huge pressure to entertain: the clubs they played in initially were run by a rather forceful German entrepreneur called Bruno Koschmider, who, whilst the band were playing, would come to the front of the stage and scream ‘Mach schau! Mach schau!’ (‘Make show! Make show’) loudly at them. This led to Lennon to ‘dance around like a gorilla’ and the band ‘knock their heads together’ on stage: a far cry from just standing still and playing songs, which they’d previously done in Liverpool. Third, the intense schedule of live performances meant that the band effectively spent a vast amount of time on band practice – albeit live on stage in front of an audience. (Additionally, because they had to play for so long each evening, they had to pad out their songs with long guitar solos – thus improving their improvisation, composition and general noodling-on-a-guitar skills). 

One other thing worth considering about The Beatles’ Hamburg experience was that they were playing out of their ‘natural habitat’, Liverpool – they were in a strange city, playing to strange folk, meaning that there was 1) more room for them to make and learn from mistakes in front of a potentially less ‘local’ (read judgmental) crowd and 2) they were more likely to come into people who did things differently. For example, that moptop haircut – which went on to be one of the things that made the band stand out in Britain – was, curiously enough, a very common sight on the head of young German men in 1960. And the band encountered the likes of artists Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann, who helped define the band’s style not just in their early years (via Kirchherr’s iconic photo shoots and her insistence on the group wearing leather outfits instead of sports jackets) but later in their career too, with Voormann designing the artwork for Revolver in 1966.

Anyway, let us move from the sixties back to the present, where you are no doubt waiting for me to stop waffling on about some band your dad likes and cut to the quick with those handy hints on how to be a pop star. Well, having dived into the music history books, I have indeed resurfaced with a few tips to ahem, boost your performance:

1. Play as many gigs as you can, in as many venues as possible

Playing live frequently – even in crap venues – will help you to feel comfortable on stage and more able to deal with a variety of different (and even hostile) audiences. It will also do wonders for your playing, and – almost as importantly – your stage patter. 

2. Try to differentiate your band from other acts

Don’t just stand there and play songs like every other boring indie band: employ some theatricality. Whether that’s by dressing interestingly, getting your frontperson to do a gorilla dance, putting on a light show or using some fancypants video backdrops, follow Bruno Koschmider’s advice and ‘mach schau’. Remember of course that there is a fine line between making your schau look ‘interesting’ or making it look daft – but generally speaking, even a daft show is infinitely better than a bland one. 

3. Invite feedback

In Germany, the Beatles didn’t so much invite feedback as receive it somewhat unwillingly via a venue owner yelling at them as they played; but either way it worked – the instruction to entertain led to them starting to do precisely that. Particularly if you are relatively new to gigging, ask (ideally impartial) members of your audience to give you an honest post-mortem after the gig. Don’t be offended if the feedback ain’t so hot: try to learn from it. Another thing you can do is video your performances and, much like a football team sitting round the TV watching a game they’ve just played, try to establish what worked and what didn’t, with a view to including the good stuff more in gigs and omitting the bad. 

4. Get out of your comfort zone 

Don’t just play in your local pub. Try to find gigs in places where you wouldn’t normally look for them. Whether that means busking on the tube or playing in a fan’s house, the more you can er, expose yourself to different situations and audiences, the more likely you are to come into contact with people who you may be able to learn from – whether that’s simply a hard crowd or a bohemian photographer who goes onto play a big part in your sexy new look. 

If none of the above work, I would suggest a brief stint in Germany and some leather pants: after all, there’s nothing like the real thing.

Chris Singleton wrote this post. He has never been seen in leather trousers, which perhaps explains his relative obscurity.

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Why you need to find your musical niche

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A recurring source of bun fights in the Prescription office is my general distaste for what I would term ‘silly’ music genre names involving lots of hyphenation, and my colleagues’ enthusiasm for bandying references to future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house around the place. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that such terminology is important in today’s music industry and to stop slagging it off in Prescription articles that might be read by purveyors of well, future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house or the journalist(s) that dig(s) it. And as I prepare to be rapped over the knuckles or caned soundly across the backside for daring to open this article with yet another swipe at portentous genre names, I contemplate that actually, my colleagues (and occasional editors) sort of have a point. These long-winded incomprehensible genre names ARE actually very important.

Here’s why: we find ourselves in a post-post-post-post-modern era where there are an increasing number of independent bands who plunder and combine ideas from an ever-lengthening (and, thanks to streaming, increasingly audible) music history, inject these ideas into songs using an ever-increasing amount of audio equipment (both new and vintage) and inflict the results onto an online sea of music listeners who, thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned indie bands, the development of pop music over time and the disruptive nature of the internet no longer really have particularly homogenous tastes in music. What you end up with is niches. The kind of niches that yes, really do generate fans of future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house.

And with this niche comes opportunity. Your niche might not be huge; sticking with the future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house example, maybe there are 500 people worldwide who understand whatever that means and really dig it. But if you as an artist know how to find this audience, and how to speak to it, then you open up the possibility to do two things:

  • generate an income from this niche: in my experience, people with minority interests tend to have less opportunity to indulge them and so splash out more willingly when the opportunity to indulge arises. So even if the audience you are targeting is really small, it may be more financially valuable to you than say, trying to convince a multitude of Coldplay fans to buy some music.
  • develop a fanbase that will be far more passionate advocates of your act than the average joe (thus, hopefully, helping you to eventually gain popularity outside it).

But how do you find and speak to your niche audience? Well, I’ve been thinking about this lately with a view to increasing the popularity of my own brand of retro-ever-so-slightly-camp-but-occasionally-dark-art-rock which I will one day unleash again on the world, and these are some ideas I’ve come up with.

1. Find out what your niche actually is

You may think you sound like David Bowie mixed with a bit of Brian Ferry. Actually, you sound more like Phil Collins mixed with a dash of Usher (interesting).  But hey, don’t diss the post-Phil-Collins-Usher audience! If that’s the micro-genre you fit into, dem's the folks you’re looking for, so stop going after the hipper neo-Bowie-Ferry fans. In other words, before you start promoting your music, gauge opinion on it – not in terms of quality, but in terms of who people think it sounds like and what genre it belongs to. This will help you identify the precise audience you need to speak to and stop you hitting lovers of intelligent 70s rock with inordinately high-pitched squeals combined with big floppy eighties drum solos.

2. Find out where your niche lives

Once you’ve actually decided you are a post-Phil-Collins-Usher act, it’s time to find the post-Phil-Collins-Usher fans. The internet offers you two main ways to do this: push and pull. You can push post-Phil-Collins-Usher music on the world in a couple of ways: firstly, through social advertising tactics that allow you to display ads to fans of a very specific list of bands - i.e., fans of bands that you sound a bit like. In your case, you would probably be paying Facebook to show your videos to well, Phil Collins and Usher fans. Secondly, you can try to identify fan groups and forums dedicated to your micro-genre and SENSITIVELY present your work. Time to politely introduce yourself to the Phil Collins fan club, in other words.

In terms of pull, we’re talking about SEO and blogging here. If you make the (somewhat unusual) effort to ensure your site is optimised to appear in searches for Phil Collins and Usher, and regularly blog about the genius of Phil Collins and Usher (thus generating a lot of keyword-rich content about post-Phil-Collins-Usher music), you may well find that your audience, seemingly by magic – but actually because of algorithms – starts coming to you.

3. Find advocates of the niche

You will find that with every niche genre come advocates of that niche genre: certain bloggers, journalists, rock critics and DJs who simply love it. Particularly if you are dealing with something REALLY niche like post-Phil-Collins-Usher music, you may find that there are less artists operating in the genre to pester these poor souls for coverage and airplay, meaning YOU get more opportunities to get publicised (to a smaller - but as mentioned above - more dedicated audience). Being aware of your niche also comes in very handy when it comes to hiring music PR agencies, radio pluggers and so on - if you hire an agency or a plugger that is really into your niche genre, they are more likely to be experts in it and more keen to work hard for you as a representative of that genre. Crucially, they'll know what your niche audience reads or listens to and will pitch you for those papers / shows. Conversely, if you hire an agency or plugger that says 'yes' to every project irrespective of niche or genre, you may find yourself sans publicity quite quickly, or with a feature in Take a Break when really you should be being plugged on Noisey (or vice versa). 

4. Talk to your niche in the right way

Once you’ve discovered that you are a post-Phil-Collins-Usher band and found the post-Phil-Collins-Usher online audience and the media champions of post-Phil-Collins-Usher music, it’s time to ‘talk’ to them in the right way. Obviously, the most basic way of doing this is to present them with music that they like (i.e., stuff that sounds like a postman and Phil Collins mixed with Usher, ho ho). But it’s also important to meet their expectations in other ways. Do you look like a post-Phil Collins-Usher artist? Do you talk like one? Do you dress like one? Do you dance like one? People have very specific expectations when it comes to micro-micro-genres, and are extremely particular about how they should operate and who should operate in them – which of course, is probably why I’m not allowed slag off future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house in public (crap, I did it again). But it is important to enthuse your niche audience as much as possible and you won’t do this by confusing them. You don’t necessarily have to conform completely to your audience’s expectations, but – initially at least – you do need to meet them to some degree or you won’t be recognised and loved as the post-Phil-Collins-Usher act that you know you really are.

Basically, all this seems cynical and formulaic and frankly, it is. But on another level, it’s just how record labels have made bands popular since time immemorial: find out who likes a certain sort of music and sell that sort of music to them. And it actually kind of makes sense. It’s just that these days, it’s not just big record labels that have the opportunity to be cynical and formulaic. Thanks to cheap recording gear, access to every other band in history's music for free online, iTunes and Mark Zuckerberg, you do as well! If you fully understand the power of all of these (ahem) tools and (crucially) you’re actually making some really great music, who knows how you might fare.

And actually, if you do find that niche audience, they might actually get a kick out of being found too.

Chris Singleton used to work at Prescription PR. Until he disrespected them fancypants genres.

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Memes: the secret of spreading your music about?

Can Richard Dawkins help your music career?

Can Richard Dawkins help your music career?

Today I’m going to tell you to put all thoughts of PR and marketing to one side for a minute, and use a theory called memetics to help you reach the status of global rock superstar (or richest but still the most miserable looking shoegazer on the block; take your pick).

This all boils down to thinking about your songs in a different way: not as pieces of music but as ‘memes’. According to proponents of memetics like Richard Dawkins, memes are ideas that spread from person to person within a culture. The ‘stronger’ the meme, the theory goes, the more likely it is to spread; a comparison is made with the spread of genes via natural selection, with memes being part of a sort of ‘survival of the fittest idea’ scenario. Now of course these days when people talk about memes, they are really referring to anything shared by George Takei on Facebook, but since music is now just as easy to share on the web as any other piece of digital content, I think it’s only proper to treat it the same way as a good Miley Cyrus Facebook gag.

So how do you create a fantastic, widely-shared meme? Well, if we are to buy into the theory, a starting point would be by looking to other ‘successful’ memes and trying to find out why they became successful. In this context, by ‘meme’ you can read ‘hit song’, and thanks to the internet you can audition pretty much every hit song going and try to learn as much as possible from the songwriting geniuses who crafted them...and then ‘mutate’ these hits into fabulous memes of your own.

Well, actually, during the early phases of your research into memes you’ll find out pretty quickly that some of the reasons why songs become huge hits often have little to do with songwriting genius. This is because throughout rock history, people have bought records for a lot of reasons (‘ideas’) that have nothing to do with music: they may have liked the look of a particular singer’s derriere and thought that buying that artist's album would bring them just a touch closer to his/her lovely bottom; their kids might have really liked Bob the Builder; buying the remake of ‘Feed the World’ which featured that odd rap bit by Dizzee Rascal in the middle seemed like a socially acceptable way of giving to charity at the time. Memes / ideas drove these sales alright, but non-musical ones.

Anyway, unless you have extreme confidence in your bum, particularly want to write a stop-frame-animation-related novelty hit or are hell-bent on releasing Christmas charity singles, you can probably put these sort of memes to one side and focus on listening to tracks that don’t seem out of place in a sentence that involves the expression ‘musical genius’. Everybody will of course have their own idea of what musical genius is and which artists possess it; but nonetheless a cursory glance at rock history will reveal quite a treasure trove of bands and artists that managed to simultaneously possess ridiculous quantities of musical talent AND flog quite a lot of records. It doesn’t matter what type of music you like, or these artists made, there is something to learn from them. Devour every aspect of their work.

Once you’ve learnt from the master meme-makers, it’s time to produce music like them. This, naturally enough, is the tricky part. It’s not just a question of nicking ideas from musical geniuses (although this can nonetheless be quite effective – think of how many copies of Girls Aloud’s rewrite of The Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man sold); it’s as much a case of thinking – and working – like them, so that you don’t just become a copyist but start to understand the secrets behind truly great music (one of which is that overlooked thing called 'graft' by the way)...and make it yourself. 

Now, let’s put all this rather intellectual talk of memes and theories and natural selection and Girls Aloud to one side (and I ought to point out that after shoving meme theory down your throat for much of this article, a lot of scientists have a big problem with it). Let’s boil things down to this: every day, we see people share fantastic content online; and regardless whether this content comprises jokes, charity appeals, interesting facts or weird photos of squirrels, it is accessed by millions not because a huge marketing budget was involved but simply because 1) there was something inherently great about that content and 2) it was incredibly easy, in this digital era, to pass it on to somebdody else. Now that they have been digitised, songs are no different in this regard, and whilst there are a host of things that you can do from a marketing and PR point of view to making this sharing process even more effective, you will make your life so much easier if you put the time (and money) into your content before you even think about promoting it. As the old jazz saying goes, ‘take care of the music, and the music will take care of you.’

(Worth a try anyway. If not you can always resort to those dodgy companies that get you fake likes on Facebook.)

The Prescription is written by a musician / digital nerdy person called Chris Singleton.

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Boosting your profile: three alternatives to twerking

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A short post, this, but in the light of twerk-gate - Miley Cyrus' studied contribution to the feminist movement - I thought it important to remind the global community of musicians that we should not all rush to judgment. Instead, let's face the harsh reality: we musicians all have a bit of Miley in us. We'll do whatever it takes to make ourselves just a little bit more famous - be that go on about our band on Facebook all day, incessently harass our friends to attend our gigs or send e-newsletters out to our address books asking people to sod the charity donations and donate to a kickstarter campaign instead. But despite our best attempts to irritate our friends (sorry, publicise our bands), most of us are simply not in a position to quite grab Cyrus-style headlines; we may not really have the bottoms for it, or a VMA appearance in the diary.

But there are nonetheless things we musicians can do to raise our profiles, and this week, I came across three useful articles / online resources that I'd like to share with you, which, whilst not quite allowing you to get your bottom out on stage, offer some really good advice on ways to boost your profile as a musician.

Here goes:

1. Build a prospect list

Make It In Music have a great post up at the moment about how to build a prospect list. It's an extremely detailed article about generating and pitching to industry 'leads', which at the end of the day, is how any successful business (and, yes, your band IS a business) acquires clients (read: music fans). Enjoy the Make It In Music post here.

2. Use Twitter properly

The folks at CD Baby reckon that Twitter is better than Facebook for promoting music. I'm not convinced, but I will give them this: they have created an excellent free guide to using Twitter to raise your band's profile. A must-read for any band who understands that they need to get into all this social media nonsense but are not sure where to start.

3. Be weird

Here's a gem of a video interview with marketing guru Seth Godin; in it, he basically explains why in the internet age, it's important for musicians to be weird (note: this is NOT a carte blanche to go twerking - we're trying to avoid that carry on). Watch 'What Seth Godin Can Teach The Music Industry' here.

Enjoy the above resources. Now put yer bum away!

Amongst other things, Chris Singleton is a musician and Head of Digital Communications for Prescription PR.

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What does the new Gmail 'promotions' tab mean for your band?

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If, like me, you have an unhealthy interest in HTML emails, you will have noticed that Google (who run one of the biggest free email services on the planet) have helpfully decided to take ‘promotional’ emails – along with ones sent from social networks – out of your Gmail inbox and file them away in a new ‘promotions’ tab. At first glance, this appears to be a pain in the bum for anyone using HTML emails to flog anything, and that, of course, includes musicians (who probably send more promotional emails to unsuspecting members of the public than MPs, religious zealots and attractive ladies from exotic countries with large inheritances to share combined). Thanks to Google’s changes, your band’s beautifully designed HTML e-newsletter is now rotting in the promotions tab, meaning that your biggest fan(s) will forget all about you (leaving only the NSA to read your emails). Right? Well not quite. There are a few things you can do about this.

1. Warn punters about the 'promotions' tab when they are subscribing to your e-newsletter

Place some copy on your sign up form, confirmation email and ‘thank you for subscribing’ page asking people to add your e-newsletters to their ‘primary inbox’ in Google. This is a simple case of the user looking for one of your emails, right clicking on it and choosing ‘Move to tab > Primary’; after that, all emails from you – providing you send them from the same email laddress as the first one – will go into the primary Gmail inbox.

2. Make existing fans aware of the situation

Use other communications channels available to you – for example, your website, social media presences or even stage patter at your gigs – to let your fans know that Google have hidden your band e-newsletters and where to find them. Again, you can explain the ‘move to tab’ business to them so that they can get all your emails safely in future.

3. Mention the Gmail issue in every email you send out

Add a little piece of copy in each email you send out informing people how to ensure their email turns up in the right Gmail inbox. That means that if your fans are pootling about in their ‘promotions’ inbox, and happen to open your email, they can observe your sage words of advice and take action to ensure your e-newsletters go into their primary inbox in future.

4. Concentrate on creating great content

If your emails are along the lines of ‘hey John, the band just had bagels for breakfast and please come to our overpriced gig tonight’ then it doesn’t really matter what Gmail tab they end up in: they are not going to be read all that often, and certainly not enjoyed. Basically, you should be aiming to create content so great that if your fans notice it’s not in their inbox, they will wonder why, and go nosing around for it. Creating a great newsletter always boils down to offering something of benefit to the fan in each email – be that a really interesting blog post, a free track, a 2-4-1 gig ticket deal or a video. You should only ever send an e-newsletter if you are in a position to offer something of value. Otherwise don’t send it.

Ultimately, of the above 4 tips, the fourth is potentially the most important. If your newsletters are genuinely of interest, Gmail users will miss them if they suddenly disappear – and my hunch is that they will use their noggins and look for them in the promotions tab. So, in a weird way, Google might have all done us musicians a favour...by reminding us that if we want people to read our e-newsletters, they’ve got to be good in the first place – regardless of which inbox in cyberspace they end up.

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Article by Chris Singleton, Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR

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