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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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Sunday
Aug172014

Is recording your music at home a bad idea?

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.

Friday
Jul182014

How to make the most of your back catalogue

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. 

Friday
Jul042014

Promoting your music in a world of short attention spans

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.

Friday
Jun132014

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

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 musicians can and 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.