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If you intend to sell CDs, downloads or merchandise direct to your fans, or need a way to build a music website that handles e-commerce well, then you might want to try out Shopify for free here.

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Click here for TuneCore, the service that allows you to distribute your music quickly on all major digital retailers and keep all of the royalties.

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Top tip: sending e-newsletters to your fans

If you need to send emails to your band fanbase, we recommend Mad Mimi. It's possibly the most cost-effective solution we've encountered and allows you to manage / grow a database and design attractive e-newsletters without a need for any HTML coding. You can sign up for a free account here.

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Top tip: getting your band typeface right

Getting your band typeface right can make the difference between looking like amateurs, or coming across as a serious outfit. Read our article on the importance of typefaces here, or test your band's name out in a variety of fonts using Myfonts.com.

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Friday
Apr042014

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

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):

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):

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… 

Friday
Mar282014

7 ways to give your music website a spring clean

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.

Tuesday
Feb042014

Getting data capture at gigs right

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.

Friday
Jan242014

How to create a great band e-newsletter

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.