How to get playlisted on Spotify

How to get playlisted on Spotify — we give you the inside track on the different types of Spotify playlists, how they work, and how to give your music the best chance of ending up on one.

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Let’s get physical: why musicians shouldn’t forget about cds, tapes and records

Record store

Regular readers of The Prescription will have picked up on the fact that much of the advice it contains relates to digital aspects of music industry – whether that’s to do with recording, distribution, PR or marketing.

This week, I thought I’d devote a bit of time to looking at the more ‘physical’ side of things and how thinking beyond digital releases can really benefit musicians.

Whilst it’s true to say that the digital revolution has in general made physical formats like CDs and records seem rather obscure, and often available for next to nothing in charity shops, paradoxically it has also – in certain contexts — turned them into valuable source of revenue.

I’ll expand on that shortly, but let’s stay with the digital side of things for a moment.

Although digital recording gear and worldwide digital distribution have led to an explosion in the number of bands producing and distributing albums, what it hasn’t provided for these bands is the kind of fanbase-generating marketing budget that would have accompanied a traditional album release.

This is usually because today’s major music medium — streaming — doesn’t typically generate enough money to risk investing much in a band.

The upshot of universal access to recording equipment without a corresponding access to marketing budgets is that the industry has arguably changed from being one where there was a small number of bands with huge followings to one where there is a huge number of bands with small followings.

I’m guessing that if you are reading this post, you or your band fall into the latter category, and you’re struggling with how to generate revenue from that small following.

By ‘small’, I mean that perhaps a you have few hundred dedicated fans rather than a few hundred thousand. But the key word here is ‘dedicated’: if your few hundred fans are really into you, they may be prepared to pay a premium for your music, and make your music-making a financially viable activity.

But given how easy it is for for your fans to listen to you for free, this is only the case if you make it really worth their while.

And here’s where physical music products come in: if you can create a physical offering that is perceived as unique and of special value by your fans, you may find that instead of them steaming your album on Spotify for a few pence, they may be prepared to pay a lot more for the same music.

So, here are some simple ideas on how to get physical.

  • Number your CDs by hand and sign them. Instead of charging £8.99 etc., charge £15.00. This is a really simple way to increase the income you generate from any stock you manufacture, and you'll always find at least some listeners prepared to pay a bit extra for a signed CD.

  • Put together a little package comprising a bunch of limited-edition items. For example, charge £25 for a package that includes a signed CD, handwritten lyrics, a poster and two signed photos.

  • Accompany a CD sale with merchandise – bundle a CD, t-shirt and mug together for £20.

  • Do a limited run of cassettes / mix tapes and charge £15 per signed cassette album.

  • Do a combined vinyl/CD release and charge £25 per copy sold.

  • A bit of a physical/digital mash-up this, but you could issue your album on a designer USB memory stick. Include high-resolution versions of your tracks on the USB (WAVS rather than MP3s) and other exclusive content like videos, alternate takes and so on.

These are just some examples of limited-edition physical releases – I’m sure you can use your imagination to come up with more interesting examples of how to get physical. In fact, I’d be keen to hear some more ideas; do leave a comment if you have any suggestions on this front.

The point is to try to increase the value of your offering for your fans, and by extension to increase the financial value of each fan (if that doesn’t sound too mercenary!); for example, to get to a situation where you know there are 750 people who will pay £20 every year to consume your music; a £15k total. Ok, it might not be millions, but it will happily finance the recording and release of another project, or help support a tour.

Whatever you eventually decide upon for a physical release, the key thing really is to think like a business and work out:

  1. how many of your fans will realistically buy a physical product

  2. how much they will be prepared to pay for it

  3. how much it will cost you – not just in terms of money, but time too – to make your physical offering.

Ultimately, if you are smart about things, do the right sums and manage to keep costs down, you may find that oddly, in this digital era there is still considerably more to be made from an innovative physical release than a bog-standard digital one.

And the added value of this is that you have interesting physical products to send to journalists and bloggers too — this can make your press pack stick out from the crowd.

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The money is in the list!

Money in an envelope - image accompanying an article about building a band mailing list

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ll have noticed that selling records has become more and more difficult.

And you don't need a degree in rocket science to see why: ever since records became ‘files’ rather than physical items, it’s been getting easier and easier to obtain music for free – either through file-sharing or legal, ad-funded services like Spotify. So, in a world of free music, how do you actually make any cash out of your tunes?

One important answer to this tricky question is this: the money is in the list.

What list? The list of people who have given you an email address. Generating a decent database is one of the most important things that a band can do these days, but, perhaps understandably – as “data management” isn’t exactly the sexiest aspect of a rock career – it can get overlooked by bands.

So, in this article we’re going to spell out the benefits of having a good fan database, suggest ways to build one, show you how it can generate income and outline some pitfalls to avoid.

Why an email database matters

Having a good email database of your fans is a really important for a number of reasons:

  • The people who are interested enough to give you an email address are probably the people who are most likely to buy your music and merch. They are amongst your warmest "leads".

  • Communicating with your list is extremely cost-effective. If you’re on a budget, you can technically email everybody for free, or if you want to be a little more sophisticated about things, you can use an inexpensive but very useful email marketing tool (more on which anon).

  • Email addresses can be used not only for direct-to-fan communication but for building up fanbases on social networks. For example, Facebook and Twitter allow you to connect contact lists and identify profiles of people who are on them.

  • When used in conjunction with a half-decent email marketing system, your database of email addresses can tell you a hell of a lot about your fans – where in the world they are based; how many of them open your emails; what sort of content they particularly like and so on. You can use all this data to decide what sort of merchandise to sell them and where to do gigs.

But how do you build an email database?

Ok, having spelt out the benefits of an email database, how do you actually create one? There are a few different ways you can go about it.

  • At the very simplest level, you can just whack an email address on your site that people can send a message to if they want to join your list. You could then store these email addresses in Outlook, or an Excel spreadsheet. However, this is a very 1990s, less-than-ideal way of going about things – not only will ‘spambots’ find your publicly-listed email address and send you a load of junk mail, but the above method relies on you manually filing a bunch of email addresses. It is a quick way of getting a list on the go, but I’d personally avoid this method.

  • Getting a little bit more sophisticated, you could use a free service like JotForm to build a form that captures email addresses; this lets you capture more details about your fans and will send an email to you every time somebody completes your form. However, it's all still a rather manual process requiring Outlook lists or Excel spreadsheets.

  • Getting more sophisticated again, you can use a professional email marketing app such as Getresponse or Mailchimp. These are nifty tools that allow you to do a whole host of useful things, like create HTML emails (emails that involve graphics and photos); send pre-written, automated emails (autoresponders) to subscribers; see who’s opening your emails; find out where your fans live (!) and much more. Unsubscribes are handled automatically too.

Ok, so how do I actually use my list to make money?

First, you’ve got to be realistic about things: despite your list containing your ‘warmest leads’, only a very small proportion of them will actually part for cash for anything – as a rule of thumb, around 1% to 5%. So if you have 1,000 people on your mailing list, you can expect 10 to 50 sales of something.

So, the best way to generate income out of a mailing list is to grow it so that it is as large as possible.

And how do you do that?

  • Incentivise things – spell out the benefits of joining your list (this usually involves giving away music).

  • Consider using online adverts on Facebook or elsewhere to encourage people to sign up to your list. However, be aware that this can be an expensive activity which is full of pitfalls…see our article on Facebook advertising for more information on how to go about this.

  • Make it easy for people to sign up. Keep things basic: capturing name and email address is usually enough (although if you’re planning on touring, a postcode field is a good idea).

  • Mention the mailing list at every gig you play, and always capture email addresses at the door of events – ask every paying gig-goer you have to join your mailing list as soon as they walk in the door of the venue. Leave sign-up forms on any tables in the venue.

  • Ensure that your website features data capture forms prominently in all areas - on the home page, in the side bar etc.. Pop-ups and welcome mats, when used wisely, can also increase the number of email addresses captured.

Once you’ve got a large number of subscribers on your mailing list, you can send them e-newsletters about about physical releases, downloads, merchandise and gigs.

You should try to do this in as personal a way as possible — don’t talk to your fans as though you’re an airline emailing its customers; rather, communicate in a genuine, heartfelt way that lets your listeners know that you value them.

And think out of the box when it comes to what you actually sell to your subscribers. Yes, you can try to encourage them to purchase CDs and downloads, but in the streaming era this is always a hard sell. So think out of the box — innovative merch, crowdfunding and unique live experiences can potentially raise more revenue than CDs. See our ‘Let’s get physical’ article for a few suggestions on this front.

Using your mailing list wisely

Remember that once you have a huge mailing list, don’t overdo things. Think long and hard before you hit the send button on every e-newsletter. Do you really need to email everybody once a week with inane news about your granny? 

Also, remember that with mailing lists, it's incredibly easy to break the law; there are quite a few data protection regulations that you really need to adhere to if you're capturing email addresses (especially in the GDPR era). The key things to remember from a legal viewpoint are as follows:

  • Make it clear to users what they are signing up to

  • Use a 'subscribe' button or 'Yes, sign me up to your updates' checkbox

  • Give users an easy way to unsubscribe from you newsletters.

  • Store your data securely

And finally, although the money may be in the list, it isn’t ALL going to come from flogging recordings.

You may find that even if you have a large mailing list packed with enthuastic supporters, they may still not be arsed buying a record which they can listen to on Spotify for nothing.

But they may very well pay to see you live, wear your t-shirt or drink from your mug. (Check out our article on Ryanair’s business model (yes, really) for some ideas on how to make money from fans who will happily listen to your music for free but won’t buy any albums from you.)

See also

If you’re investigating the world of email marketing, there are a few reviews on email marketing apps I’ve written which will help:

And finally, you may find my guide on how to create an e-newsletter helpful.

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How to improve your live performances

The Beatles improved their live performances in Hamburg

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 as a musician, 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.

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’; and 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 playing 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. Here they are:

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

Playing live frequently – even in awful 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 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 arty 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 venue. 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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10 New Year’s resolutions to kickstart your music career

2019 - New Year's Resolutions for Bands

The first couple of weeks of a new year are generally the time when you start to think about how to do things differently (and more effectively) so in this post I thought I’d share some resolutions to help you kick-start your music career in 2019.

1. Put the music first

Being a musician these days seems to involve dividing your time between making music and nattering about it with your fan(s) on Facebook and other social networks.

This year, maybe consider putting Facebook and Twitter aside, and putting the music first. By all means keep your social media profiles relatively up to date – but not at the expense of producing great music.

Lock yourself in a room with a musical instrument (but not your smartphone) until you are 100% satisfied that you have some great songs really worth talking about.

Then, and only then, go out and talk about them. 

2. Improve your website

Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on are all helpful in spreading the word about your music, but nothing beats a good website.

By having a strong site, you’ll ensure that

  • you get a truly professional and distinct online presence

  • your act is easier to find when people search for your act (a website gives you much more control over search engine optimisation than a social media profile)

  • you obtain ultimate flexibility and control over how you present your band to the world.

To really understand why a band website is so important, I recommend reading this great article by Make it in Music on why music sites matter, as well as Prescription’s key tips for building a great band website.

3. Capture more email addresses

Capturing email addresses — using dedicated tools like Getresponse*, Mailchimp or similar — is absolutely essential for any artist (regardless of the level of their success), because

  • it allows you to communicate direct to fans

  • you, not a social networking company, own the data.

Having this direct link to your fans allows you to maximise music sales and gig attendance.

Whilst it’s nice to have large Facebook fan / Twitter follower counts, don’t forget that people will only see your messages if an algorithm lets them and, crucially, if the social network continues to be successful.

You only have to think of how much effort bands put into adding Myspace friends in the mid-naughties, and how useless that effort all seems now, to understand why having a large database of email addresses is important.

Get clued up about the importance of building an email database here.

4. improve your online reputation

The internet is rightly seen as the key place where artists forge relationships with fans – but it’s also a place where it’s easy to come across as a highly annoying individual or act.

It’s just too tempting to regularly spout inanities or post ‘buy me’ links every five minutes on Facebook and Twitter.

This year, make a resolution to stop bludgeoning your friends, family members and fans with too many messages about your music (or what the band had for lunch) and only post content about your music that matters.

5. Take your image seriously

Too many artists obsess over whether their album sounds like it was recorded on a big reel of tape in the 1970s and mixed on a consule packed full of valves – only to forget that sadly, in addition to sounding cool, you’ve got to look cool too…

So don’t forget to spend some time getting your image right, and ensuring your band photography is up to scratch.

6. Blog (And not just about your band)

One of the best ways to generate traffic to a website is to ensure it is packed full of content that people want to read.

And the easiest way to arrive at that happy situation is by blogging about interesting stuff – according to research by inbound marketing agency Hubspot, site owners that blog regularly receive around 55% more hits to their site than those that don't.

Every hit to your site is a chance for you to expose somebody to your music, or capture their email address. The key thing is this: don’t make your blog all about you – write about stuff that people are already searching about. For a band website, you might consider writing about acts that influenced you; recording equipment; a particular gig and so on.

You can find out more about blogging and how to increase blog traffic here.

7. Manage your time wisely

If you’re anything like me, you’re juggling a job, a music career, a baby and a cat.

And it’s tough, with music-making and music promo often taking a back seat. But there are strategies that can help you make the most of your time to make the most of your music – find out about time-saving tips for musicians here.

8. Think creatively about music promotion

There are many ways to skin a cat, as a record store owner I once worked for said about a very unfortunate cat.

So instead of taking the bog-standard approach of putting your album up on iTunes and hoping against hope that somebody actually buys it, why not take some time to dream up some interesting ways to fund and release it?

Sometimes creative ideas regarding both can actually land you a great PR angle too. You might find our ideas on funding the making of your album and interesting formats to release it on helpful

9. Manage that project!

You have a home studio. You have 10 songs. You are making an album. You are going to upload it somewhere. People will buy or stream it in droves. Simple, yes?

Well actually, no. Despite a plethora of self-promotion and self-distribution options now being available, releasing an album is actually a deceptively difficult business, and if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

As such, we suggest that you make this the year that you take a bit of notice of project planning. Recently we put a guide together on how to create a really great project plan for an album release using post-it notes — it’s well worth a read.

We’d also suggest that if you’re going to self-release an album this year that you check out our checklist of the key things you must do when releasing an album independently.

10. Don’t forget the professionals…

In a music industry where DIY production and promotion is increasingly the norm, it’s easy to think that you can do everything yourself, from music photography, to band website design to music PR. But sometimes it really helps to get somebody experienced on board. An outside eye can deliver objectivity, free up time and ultimately deliver more professional results.

So if you’re planning on releasing something this year, do get in touch for a conversation about how we can help.


* Affiliate link.

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How to build a music website

Music website design

In this post, I share some some key tips on how to go about building what is arguably the most important promotional tool for any band: your music website.

I’m going to discuss three things: design, functionality and platforms.


The design

To draw a comparison with music recording, the design of a website may be viewed as similar to the production style of a song, and site functionality as similar to how good the song itself actually is. If you’ve got a bad song that’s excellently produced…it’s still a bad song.

Likewise with websites: if your site looks great but doesn’t do anything useful or contain any good content, it’s a poor site.

Most bands make one of two mistakes when it comes to the design of their website. Either they let their desire for a funky-looking site trump all other considerations, or they completely ignore the importance of design.

Overdoing it

Let’s start with the first mistake that it’s possible to make – going on a design ‘binge’. There is a huge arsenal of powerful (but dangerous!) tools available - Flash, Photoshop, After Effects and so on – which can ruin a website just as easily as make it look fantastic.

Sites that look very impressive but which are hugely reliant on large files, Flash and so on may cause problems for users who are on slower connections, or are trying to view your site on a mobile device.

And sites which overdo it with heavy use of Flash or video can look really naff.

To avoid overdoing it with design:

  • Have a conversation about the look and feel of your site and what you are trying to achieve before starting the design process.

  • Don’t use Flash or any other technologies which may cause mobile users difficulties.

  • Avoid cheesy or gimmicky effects on photos or text.

  • Keep things minimalist where possible - it will make your content easier to digest.

Neglecting it!

The other big design mistake is to go to the other extreme and ignore the importance of aesthetics completely; to just throw a few songs or videos up on a web page. This often happens when a the band designs a site themselves.

Although it’s often the case that there is a web designer in the band (there is a long-established connection between computer geekiness and rock and roll!), there often isn’t, and it's very tempting to try out the plethora of free or cheap online design solutions and do a DIY job on the site.

But good design skills don’t come easy, and the DIY approach can result in something that looks like it was built in 1995 by your dad.

The trick is to get the balance between functionality and design right. Let’s look at functionality.


Functionality

Functionality is one of those horrible words like ‘actioning’ that people use in episodes of The Apprentice. However, it’s crucial for your website.

Functionality is all about what your website does. And at the end of the day this may actually be more important than how it looks (important as looks are in the music industry…).

To avoid having a site that does nothing useful, it’s a really good idea – before going near a designer or a hacked copy of Photoshop – to make a comprehensive list of all the things you want your site to do.

For example, you might like your to provide users with a free download when somebody subscribes to your mailing list; you might like it to have a forum; you might want an easily-updatable gallery and so on.

Here are some suggestions on how to create a music site that does useful stuff for its users:

  • Ensure your site displays nicely on all major web browsers and mobile devices – use a responsive web design (one which adapts to the device it’s being used on), and test it across devices

  • Include a music player which showcases your best tracks (Soundcloud's widget is usually good for this).

  • Include a sign up form on your site – you want to form a lasting relationship with as many site visitors as possible, so your site should contain a mailing list sign-up form (and one which spells out the benefits of joining the list). Tools like Getresponse and Mailchimp make it easy to do create one of these.

  • Include pointers to your social media profiles - consider using Facebook page plugins to make it easy for people to follow you on Facebook and view your latest Facebook content. Add a Twitter icon and stream too. As a minimum you should have clearly visible Facebook, Twitter and Youtube icons / content.

  • Include a blog – blogging, done well, is arguably the best way to develop a strong relationship with your fans, and it’s a brilliant way to get more traffic onto your site. To find out how to do it effectively, check out these tips on how to increase traffic to your blog.

  • Provide RSS feeds - these permit your website to share your content automatically on social media and via e-newsletter every time something is published. They also allow people who use RSS readers to subscribe to your content in a reader. Find out more about RSS here.

  • Give music away for free on your site – in fact, we’d go as far as to suggest you devote a page on your site to freebies. In an age where people pretty much expect music to be free, it is bonkers to be completely precious about your tracks. You don’t have to give an entire album away, but you do need to make it very easy for people to listen to and download at least some of your music for free.

  • Include an electronic press kit – this should contain hi-res images, press releases and any supporting information / links to help journalists write reviews of your music or news features on you.

  • Install Google Analytics on your site site, so that you can look at how many people are visiting it and find out where they are coming from.

  • Make sure your site contains a gallery / embedded Youtube videos - people want to look at you, you know.

  • Optimise your site for search engines – your band name should be in the domain name, title bar, meta-data and site headers. You should also register your site with Google Search Console. You can get some simple SEO tips to help raise the visibility of your website here.


Platforms

There is a huge number of website building platforms now available which allow you to build a website without needing to understand web development or code.

Popular ones include:

  • Squarespace

  • Wordpress

  • Wix

  • Jimdo

  • Moonfruit

Of the above platforms, I generally recommend Squarespace or Wordpress as the best solutions for building band websites, chiefly because the templates available for them are the most professional in appearance (and most suited to music website building). For a full rundown of the pros and cons of both these platforms, you might like to take a look at this Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison.

These DIY building solutions are good for bands on a budget, but the key thing to remember is that you should only use them if you are confident you have the skills to use them in a way which will produce a professional result. If you’ve got the option to use a good designer, I’d still recommend that over building a site yourself.


Top tips for building and running a site

To finish off, here are some general pointers on how to go about building and running a site.

  1. Do your research. Look at what established artists are doing with their websites, and ‘absorb’ (nick!) their ideas.

  2. Create a site map before you build the site — this will give you an idea of all the content you need to collate for it.

  3. And, when it comes to content, make it great. Invest some time or money in getting some good band photos. Write some engaging copy. And of course, record some amazing songs!

  4. Don’t be too prescriptive when briefing a designer – let him/her play with some ideas, and present different concepts to you to review. You may have a good idea of what you want, but your designer may be able to come up with something better.

  5. Keep your site regularly updated – there’s nothing worse than the whiff of tumbleweed blowing through your site, no matter how great it is. If you can’t take your music career / website seriously, nobody else will.

If you need help with your music site, do drop us a line - we now provide music web design services.


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

Post it notes - image accompanying an article about planning an album release

If we’re honest about it, band members and artists aren’t always the most organised people around. This is a problem, because (1) today’s music industry places a huge emphasis on musicians organising about 90% of all their admin themselves; and (2) releasing music in a way that will ensure anybody listens to it is a surprisingly complex task, with loads of pre-planning and multiple stakeholders involved.

So 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

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 a strong 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.

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.

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)

It’s a good idea to use a cloud-based spreadsheet if possible for this — i.e., using G Suite or Office 365, because that way, all your stakeholders can access a ‘live’ version of the document which, as your album release project progresses, shows in real time what’s been done and who needs to be chased to do something.

Step 7: implement the plan

Now you have your plan all laid out neatly in a spreadsheet, it’s time to implement it.

Again, it’s helpful if you have a manager (or project planning enthusiast) 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 regularly reminded 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, then just try to capture as many tasks as possible with the people who can attend, and liaise with other stakeholders immediately 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 the work that putting out an album really entails, and you will have given your record the best chance of being successfully released (and heard).

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Four ways to tackle the 'lack of content' problem

The lack of content problem

by Chris Singleton

Back in the day, ‘content’ wasn't a problem for your average musician. Producing the stuff generally boiled down to doing what most artists are meant to do: releasing an album and playing some shows.

Things got a bit more difficult in the 80s with the invention of the pop video, but even at that, this sort of content creation was just a case of accompanying 3 singles from your album with some clips of you parading a mullet.

Fast forward to 2018 and it’s a different kettle of fish. Mullets are, for the most part, out, and content is now, to pardon a much-overused phrase, king. These days it's not enough to record songs, make videos or play gigs: on top of that we have to ‘engage’ our audience with blog posts, photographs, live videos, vlogs, viral games, tweets, status updates, online gigs, alternate acoustic versions of album tracks...and so on.

As exhausting as making / doing all that stuff sounds, there is actually a point to it – it can generate interest in your band, drive traffic to your website and help you make new fans. It also gives any industry contacts checking out your act a sense that you are serious about what you do online (something which is crucial in an era where the music industry and the internet are increasingly joined at the hip).

But how on earth do you tackle producing all this content? For many artists it’s hard enough to fit in recording music and playing gigs around a time-consuming day job; as such the thought of even keeping a Facebook page up to date — let alone writing a blog post about what the band cat gets up to on tour — simply instils dread.

There are a few things you can do, however, which make climbing the content mountain easier, and in this post, we're going to highlight four ways you can tackle the 'lack of content' problem.


1. Create a ‘content bank’

Don’t wait until you’ve got something to release before you start thinking about what sort of content you’re going to accompany that release with. Have it all ready beforehand.

I usually suggest devoting a week or so to content well before you release any music. During this, you could...

  • go into a studio for a day and record a load of live acoustic versions of your songs
  • spend a day in front of your computer writing several blog posts about music or art that's inspired you
  • take a load of ‘behind the scenes’ images of rehearsals, gigs, recording sessions and so on.
  • capture footage of recording sessions and editing them into little ‘making of’ videos.

Once you've done all that, you can edit it so that it looks, sounds or reads great, and put it in a Dropbox folder: now, you have a 'content bank' containing a lot of stuff that you can share regularly during a music promo campaign.

So, by the time it comes to releasing your album, you won't be worrying that tumbleweed is blowing through your Facebook page at a time when it’s clearly meant to be conveying a sense of that much-sought-after ‘buzz’.


2. Curate content

If you’re struggling with the content bank idea (or even if you DO have a lot of content ready to share) think about being a ‘content curator’.

This means sharing other people’s content via your social media presences and blog — something that takes a lot of the legwork out of content-sharing.

The kind of content that you share can say a lot about your band though, so when you get into the content-curation business, you need to think very carefully about the links you post and how frequently you post them.

But, done correctly, content curation can create a ‘vibe’ about your band, convey a sense of activity and make your followers keen to stay posted to your feeds, simply because they’re interested in what sort of crazy / interesting  / downright disgusting link you’re going to post next.


3. Make some live videos – and kill four birds with one stone

It’s a good idea to make a live video of several tracks. Done correctly this can gives you up to 4 pieces of valuable content:

  1. Live tracks that you can give away or use as bonus tracks on releases.
  2. Several video performances that you can whack up on Youtube and include in electronic press kits.
  3. Well-lit photographs of your band (assuming you can convince a photographer to hang out that day).
  4. An experience that you can blog about (complete with lots of nice images and embedded videos).

4. Use Instagram

Being in a band is as much about the visuals as the music.

This can be a bad thing, as it it often means that bands who make great music but don't quite have a slick enough image aren't taken as seriously as they should be.

On the flip side, today's emphasis on image in the music industry, coupled with Instagram, can make content creation quick and simple. It's dead easy to create and share interesting visuals using Instagram that arguably say a lot more about who you are as an artist than a 1500-word blog post could ever do.

In short, Instagram is one of the quickest way to get into the content-creation business without having to spend ages on creating any content! So if you're not using Instagram, it might be time to get cracking with it.

In terms of the kind of pictures you should take and share using Instagram, I'd suggest that rather than constantly share pics of your band, you post images of stuff that represents your act and its ethos – whether that’s pictures of vintage microphones or dramatic skylines.

Doing so lets you make an impressive statement about you and your music in a few seconds.

I hope the above suggestions have helped ease the content pain a little. And remember, there's always the mullet video...

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7 ways to give your music website a spring clean

Music website design project

So, spring is finally with us it seems.

It’s a time for daffodils; bunnies; 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 and a good description of your music
  • registering your website with Google’s Webmaster Tools
  • creating some back links (links to your site) from as many quality 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 fans 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 an email marketing tool service like Getresponse or Mailchimp so that you can email your followers easily.

Another advantage of having a good mailing list is that you can use it in various ways on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to display online ads to people on the list.

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
  • where possible 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 a sharing tool such as 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 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 a good 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. 

My advice to any band is always to sort out the music 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 – basically you need a ‘responsive’ website which automatically resizes itself depending on what device it is being viewed on.

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.

Useful website building resources

Building a website for the first time? You may find some of these website and online store building tool reviews useful:

You might also like to check out our music web design services.

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A guide to fan funding a music project

When you don't want to use one of these, you could always try a bit of fan funding...

When you don't want to use one of these, you could always try a bit of fan funding...

In a music industry where it's a huge struggle to recoup the cost of making a record via streaming royalties, fan funding is taking on an ever-greater importance. In this post, I'm going to look at how to go about it effectively.

But first: what is ‘fan funding’?

Well, it basically boils down to using sites like Pledgemusic and Kickstarter to encourage fans to pledge an amount towards the cost of making your album (or anything else really).

Typically, you set a fundraising target and ask everybody to help you meet it by pledging to give a few bob (or lots of bobs) in exchange for ‘rewards’.

The greater the amount contributed, the greater the reward gained. So, for example, your humble fan pledges £5 and gets a digital download of the album; your Lord Ashcroft-type fan pledges £500 and gets a copy made of gold, a credit on the liner notes as executive producer of the album and the opportunity to sleep with the band and dictate musical direction.

The whole thing is sort of like buying things in reverse: you pay now, get later. This is technically quite a bum deal, but I suppose that fans are not only getting a record (eventually) but a feelgood factor too; that warm glow which only arrives when you support a starving artist.

There’s usually a catch though: if you don’t meet your fundraising target by an appointed deadline, you don’t get any money; this being the case it’s a good idea to either have a rich uncle on standby to make up the shortfall, or have a few quid set aside yourself that you can donate anonymously and save face when not enough of your mates cough up.

In order to avoid the latter scenario, here are a few pointers on fan-funding to help you make a success of it:

1. Set your fundraising target very carefully

If you set your fundraising target too high, you might not get enough contributors to meet it - and this generally means zilch for you. 

So before you start trying to finance a record using the generosity of your fans/mates, work out the number of REAL pledges you’re likely to get, and the average amount of each pledge - and base your fundraising target on that. Be conservative. 

2. Be prepared to plug a cash gap

If you ignore the above tip, you may fall several hundred or even thousands of pounds short of your target. In which case, you’ll need to take a financial hit if you want to receive any dosh.

So, when setting your target, work out what you can really afford to contribute yourself, and be ready to spend it. 

3. Know your market

When offering ‘rewards’ in exchange for pledges, remember the market you are operating in: a music industry where content from big names – i.e., not you, sorry! – is now dirt cheap, or free.

So don’t charge £15 for an ‘exclusive digital download’ when Madonna’s latest album can be bought on iTunes for a fiver or streamed on Spotify for free.

4. Offer decent rewards

Make sure that the rewards you are offering are not all just opportunities for you to be self-indulgent.

Although your signature on a CD might appeal to a genuine fan, it’s not going to impress your friends and family much; and no, they aren’t going to be that bothered by you offering to sing them a cover of their choice in their house for £600 either.

So consider offering rewards that might seriously appeal to your ‘friend-base’ as well as your fanbase.

Think outside the musical box: for example, consider bundling cool items of clothing with your CD that make use subtle use of your artwork (without being too promotional).

In essence, don’t make all the rewards too much about you; accompany your CD with items that are genuinely appealing in their own right (you might like to read our suggestions on physical items that your music fans might enjoy for some ideas).

5. Get the intervals between reward prices right

A very obvious point this, but people have different levels of disposable income.

However, I’ve seen musicians overlook this when setting their rewards pricing structure, for example by offering rewards that jump straight from £5 for a digital download to £35 for a signed CD copy of the album.

Since the fan-funding model in reality often relies heavily on people you know giving you cash, an approach like this means you are effectively forcing many friends and family members to choose between appearing a tad mean (by plumping for the £5 option), or generous but at a price they can’t afford (£35 – a lot of money for an independently released album, even if it comes with your name scrawled all over it).

The more sensible – and fair – thing to do is to also offer a sliding scale of rewards that are priced at sensible / even intervals: for example, a digital download for £5, a CD for £10, a signed CD for £15, a vinyl copy for £20, a signed CD and vinyl copy for £25 and so on.

6. Remember that you are NOT a charity

When using the fan-funding model, it’s easy to view yourself as a very worthy cause...and forget that you’re not actually raising money for charity. You’re raising money for yourself.

People do all manner of wonderful things in exchange for cash – climb mountains, trek across India, run marathons, eat vast quantities of mackerel and so on – but the key difference is these things are generally quite challenging and all the money raised is donated to improve people’s lives.

So when asking people to contribute, tone down the rhetoric and don’t come across like you are the musical equivalent of Mother Teresa and that those who are giving you dosh are somehow helping to save the planet.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own creative projects, but it’s extremely important to show that you understand, when asking people for money towards your project (or indeed when flogging them CDs in a more conventional way) that this is actually quite a big ask.

7. Consider whether you really want to ask your friends for donations at all

If you are in the lucky position whereby you have a genuine fanbase – a mailing list, for example, comprising several hundred loyal fans who love you and want to buy your music – think long and hard about whether you want to bother your friends for pledges at all.

It may be that you have more than enough genuine fans to fund your project, and although your friends may be a source of additional cash, there may ultimately be more disadvantages to badgering them for money than not.

Firstly, you may irritate people you care about and, from a more selfish perspective, there are musical contexts when you might REALLY need to enlist your mates' help (for example, they may be more useful as bums on seats at an important showcase gig or album launch).

A balanced approach is to ask your fans to contribute first, and, if it transpires that you're not meeting your target, to ask friends to step in and help at that point.

8. Limit your communications

Don’t post demands for money on Facebook every five minutes (tempting and easy as it is to do so), or email people once a day asking for cash so you can record your album at Abbey Road. Contact people when it counts.

9. Thank people personally

Finally, when somebody donates to your project, don’t take them for granted by relying on round robins or automated thank-you emails from your chosen funding website.

If at all possible, send those who pledge money an individual email to thank them, or better still, drop them a text or a call saying how much you appreciate it. Not only is this a nice thing to do, but it will make people feel far more inclined to support you in future. 

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How to find a music manager

Brian Epstein

by Chris Singleton

One of the many questions we get asked at Prescription PR is this: how do I find a music manager? Well, it’s not easy, but here are a few tips on finding a good music manager, and just as importantly, establishing whether a particular candidate is the right fit for your band.

Where to look for a music manager

Finding a professional working in your musical niche

The best manager for your band is arguably an experienced person managing a successful act that makes the same sort of noise as yours; an act that is operating squarely within your ‘niche’ and selling way more music than you.

This kind of manager is most likely to have the right sort of label and live agency contacts that a band like yours needs to get things off the ground. With this in mind, it’s vital to get a good sense of what ‘niche’ you belong to, and to draw up a list of managers who operate within that niche.

You can often find their details on the liner notes of their artists’ releases, or on the contact page of band websites; and resources like the Unsigned Guide, the Music Managers Forum, Music Week and Hitquarters can furnish you with further information about them (such as an all important email address).

By focusing on the key players within your genre instead of casting the net really wide, you can find the most effective candidates for the job of Svengali extraordinaire; not to mention minimise the time spent on pitches and the upset caused by hearing the word ‘no’ an awful lot.

Sod the professionals: ask a mate or family member to do it…

This sounds like daft advice – on first hearing. Who’d want an inexperienced drinking buddy or a pushy mother to be in charge of their career?

However, most of the difficulties new artists have with successful, experienced managers boil down to this: your manager is too busy catering for his/her successful acts to devote enough time to your project, and doesn't care about you as much as them either (as you bring in less dough).

A friend or family member, however, has the potential to care about you to the point where they'll prioritise your career over everything else.  And a bit of family pushiness can go a long way, as artists like Beyonce, Ozzy Osbourne or the Jackson Five – all of whom were managed by family members – can tell you (well, maybe Ozzy doesn’t quite remember).

A huge part of successful management involves banging on doors, and you may find that somebody close to you is much better at banging on doors than a professional manager with only a passing interest in your career.

What to look for in a manager

So you've found somebody who wants to manage you! Great.

But finding a potential manager is usually only half the problem: working out whether that person is the right sort of ‘fit’ for your act is another difficult challenge. It’s quite nice, you see, when somebody offers to manage you – particularly if they have successful acts on their books. In fact, it can go to your head a bit and lead to you rushing into a silly agreement with them. Don’t let it – because at best this can be a waste of time; and at worst, it can damage your career.

Here are some key questions you need to ask yourself about a manager before committing to work with them:

1. Are they good at their job?

The first question you should ask yourself when evaluating a potential manager is this: is the person who wants to manage you good at what they do? Just as you wouldn’t hire somebody with an interest in pipes over a qualified plumber to fix a leak, you should be cautious about working with a music manager who has never signed a band to a major label, landed a big sync for an artist or got an act on a seriously good tour.

As mentioned above, passion and pushiness can compensate for a lack of experience, so don’t rule people out exclusively based on lack of a track record – The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein (pictured above), was not the most experienced manager ever, for example – but do bear it in mind.

And avoid the worst of all worlds: where you choose to work with somebody who does not have a track record AND is not particularly fussed about working hard for you.

2. Are they TOO good at their job to give you the attention you deserve?

Having a manager with an impressive roster is a double-edged sword. It can open doors, but it can also leave you without a manager at all, if he/she is too busy looking after a bunch of successful prima donnas to devote any time to your career. As such, try to get a clear commitment from this sort of manager that they will actually give you a look-in.

3. Are they a fundamentally decent person?

Having a psychopath, megalomaniac or general shark type as your manager may in some ways be good for your career. But not if they are out to rip YOU off, or screw YOU over.

Try to make sure that the person you choose to represent your interests does precisely that; this will involve picking somebody who you know will behave in a decent manner, at least where your career is involved.

4. Are they reliable?

There are a lot of nice, well-intentioned people out there who like the idea of managing bands without necessarily loving the legwork involved in doing so.

Unsurprisingly, these types can also be spectacularly flakey – particularly if they have other stuff, or day jobs, on the go. If you’re dealing with a prospective manager who is really keen on your demo but never shows up at your gigs and takes ages to return phone calls, then alarm bells should be ringing  - and loudly.

5. Are they going to spend any money on you?

Given how hard it is in this Spotify and Apple Music era to make any money at all out of music, it is understandable if managers are unable or unwilling to invest large sums money in bands, and reasonable to expect the band to make a contribution to the costs involved with getting a music project off the ground.

That said, if your manager expects you to pay for absolutely everything (every CD, every video and every Facebook advert) and will rarely if ever put their hand in their own pocket to support you, then proceed cautiously. At the end of the day managers need to put at least some of their money where their mouths are, if only to show you that they are serious about your music and give you confidence in the relationship.

6. What’s the plan?

Your manager should have a clear idea of which of your tracks he or she is going to pitch, to whom, and when; which gigs you should play; and how your new hairdo should look. 

All this needs to be communicated with you very clearly. If you don’t know what your prospective manager plans to do with your career, or hair, avoid.

Suck it and see

If, having got satisfactory answers to the above questions, you’re happy to hire a particular individual as your manager, the most sensible approach for embarking on a relationship with them is ‘suck it and see’.

Define a period of time that you’re happy to work with each other – say 6 months – and the goals that you want to achieve in that timeframe (both in terms of your manager delivering opportunities to you and you delivering good music and assets to them). Be clear too on the commission rates your manager can expect (usually 15% to 20%).

If, after a trial period you and your manager are both delivering the goods to each other – and remember, you have responsibility as an artist to put in the required musical effort too – then happy days; if not, get your pushy mother on the case!

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How to make the most of your back catalogue

Audio cassette - accompanies article about making the most of your back catalogue

OK, so you’ve spent loads of 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 visit 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 cash 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. You might be sitting on a track which might never be a hit for you but could sell millions for a boy band.
  • You can approach TV producers, film-makers or advertising people with your music.
  • 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.
  • 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 mailing list.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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6 ways to raise your band's profile in 2018

Instruments - a photo accompanying an article about how to raise your band's profile in 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, it's time for thousands of bands across the land to make their annual annual 'next-year-is going to be our year' proclamation.

So in this post, we thought we'd share a few practical tips on how to raise your band's profile in the months ahead.

1. Build a website

Regular readers will notice that I encourage bands to build their own websites a lot (instead of just setting up a Bandcamp or Facebook page). That’s because there are some distinct advantages to using a website to promote your band over relying on third-party platforms.

First, it looks more professional and will lead to your industry contacts taking you more seriously.

Second, it will usually make your band easier to find in search results.

Third, a dedicated site allows you - not Mark Zuckerberg - to have complete control over your band’s brand.

And finally, a proper band website allows you add important functionality to proceedings - for example sophisticated email address capture and website analytics - that isn’t always available on social networks.

By all means have a presence on social media or music sites like Bandcamp - but make sure that your band website is the first port of call for your fans and industry contacts.

2. Make sure your band name goes on stage with you

It’s easy to perform a gig in front of a bunch of strangers who end up really enjoying it - but who also end up leaving the venue without any idea of who they’ve been listening to! Fans are hard to come by, and this sort of scenario feels like an awful waste of energy, time and probably money.

A simple fix for this is to print up a banner with your band’s name onstage - or use a drum head with your band’s logo and website on it. Now everyone knows who you are.

3. Put data capture at the heart of everything you do

Facebook and Twitter followings are all very well and good (and yes, important) but I’d argue that a big mailing list is possibly the most important thing a band can have.

With your mailing list, you’re much more in control of who gets to see your content, and when - not a Facebook algorithm.

Additionally, studies have shown that the ‘return on investment’ associated with email addresses is very high - emailing your fans is one of the ways that you are most likely to generate sales.

For tips on how to grow a mailing list and run an email marketing campaign, check out my article on how to create email newsletters and marketing campaigns, as well as our tips for capturing data at gigs.

4. Use simple SEO tactics to ensure people can find your band

If you are in the fortunate position where you’re getting some airplay, or some good support slots, then the chances are that you’ll get people who want to find out more about your act, or listen to you in the comfort of their own home. And they’re going to try to do this using the internet.

As such, you need to ensure that your band is easily discoverable in search results - a few simple tweaks to your site can mean the difference between being found really easily or not at all. I’ve put together some SEO tips for bands here.

5. Use Facebook advertising - but be smart about it

Facebook ads can be used by bands to reach thousands of people - but it’s important to reach the right people (i.e., folk who are most likely to enjoy your music) and convert them to followers or mailing list subscribers.

It’s dead easy to make mistakes and burn through budget when using Facebook advertising - so check out our tips on Facebook ads for musicians here before you start boosting any posts…

6. Make great music

Content is king, they say - and in this instant 'they' are right for once. Whilst it pains me somewhat to refer to music as 'content', the fact of the matter is that - particularly given today’s ultra competitive music industry - your music is only going to travel and reach ears if it is absolutely brilliant.

Before you get too worried about how to promote your music, make sure it’s wonderful - that’s half the battle.

So stop reading how-to guides and get in the studio! :)

Merry Christmas and have a brilliant 2018 from all the team at Prescription. 

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Don't forget the photography

Image of a wall with some text that reads 'insert band here.' Accompanies an article about music photography for bands.

A while ago I wrote a Prescription article about getting your band’s image right (something that, given several looks I’ve sported during my own attempt at a music career, I felt very ill-placed to do). And the other day, as I walked around the corner to get myself an overpriced latte, the article came back to mind.

This is because en route to my latte supplier, I saw a group of scruffy men standing against a wall, looking grumpy. And accompanying this group of grumpy scruffy men was a man with a fairly cheap-looking camera. I don’t think he was a photographer. He was just a mate. Of a bunch of non-descript grumpy scruffy men, who stand up against walls. 

Now obviously, said group of grumpy men were clearly what is known in industry parlance as a ‘rock group’. They might have been a very good rock group – in fact, they could have been the Next Big Thing. I say ‘could have been’ because that day, they did irreparable harm to their career prospects by standing up against a very average-looking sort of wall and getting a mate to take a picture of them with a crap camera.

The reason is simple: in this industry, there are just too many badly-taken pictures of bands standing up against walls looking grumpy (I have been responsible for quite a share of them, so believe me, I know what I’m talking about). If I had a pound for every time a band asked me to check out their website only for me to discover a badly-taken picture of them standing against a wall and looking grumpy, I would be a very rich individual. And if I’m seeing a lot of grumpy-man-wall pics, that means that other music industry professionals are seeing a lot of them, which means that when that A&R guy with the cigar asks the inevitable ‘what do the band look like?’ question he is not going to be madly impressed by a badly-taken picture of grumpy men standing up against a wall in Hackney. The world is full of such pictures. Very few are any good. Yours is unlikely to stand out.

What I’m getting at is this: don’t forget to take your band photography very seriously. Whether you like it or not, the music industry pays as much (if not more) attention to your look as your sound, and for obvious reasons your photos determine the ‘look’ bit of things.

So, here are some tips for sorting out your photoshoot so that you don’t just end up looking like a grumpy man standing beside a wall. 

  • Hire a professional music photographer, or if you are blagging favours from mates, make sure they are mates who are seriously good with a camera.
  • Plan every aspect of your shoot in advance; research locations, clothes and photographers in depth – don’t just go for the quick and easy option.
  • Use lights if at all possible, at least when taking some of the pictures. They add a hell of a lot of atmosphere to shoots, and when a big light is shone in your face, it can make you look younger than any Oil of Ulay product ever could.
  • Choose a decent backdrop for the shoot, ideally one that somehow reflects your music (tip: not a wall).
  • Try to use a mix of indoor and outdoor locations – this will result in a greater variety of pictures.
  • Don’t just stand around looking grumpy. Try a load of different poses, even if they seem outlandish or make you feel uncomfortable – you sometimes get some very interesting shots that way.
  • Take your time, and try to get as many images as possible. Even with a great photographer, it tends to take a lot of shots just to get one usable image.
  • Explore post-production options with your photographer. There are often a host of cool things that can be done in Photoshop to make your image look like it was taken in 1977 (which seems to be very important to 2017’s music industry).

Having said all that, I suppose it’s only fair to admit that sometimes a mate will use their iPhone to capture a brilliant, off-the-cuff photo of you casually loitering beside a wall. There is indeed a place for lo-fi spontaneity in rock photography and some classic photos have been taken that way. But more often than not, devoting a bit of time, thought and money to music photography will yield better results than finding a friend to accompany you on a tour of North London’s finest brick walls.

Music photography services from Prescription PR

An obligatory (but pertinent) plug - we now offer professional photography services for bands. You can find out more in our music photography section, or contact us if you have any queries about this service.

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The key things you MUST do when releasing an album independently

Guitar (image accompanying an article about the key things you must do when releasing an album independently)

Strange things do happen. Not very often. But sometimes they do – and on those rare occasions, when weird stuff with ley lines is going on and there’s a full moon up and a bunch of hippies are doing some sort of summer solstice dance around Stonehenge, a record that has been released independently can end up capturing a national radio DJ’s ears, and then some of his DJ mates’ ears, and ultimately the ears of the great unwashed...and before you know it, you have a hit of sorts on your hands.

I say ‘hit of sorts’ because at this point, you’ve got good airplay, but in my book a hit still constitutes a piece of music that generates cash as well as awareness.

The trick to turning airplay for an independently-released track into a real hit is to have built a very strong infrastructure that supports this independent release. You may end up surprising yourself by getting a truckload of spins on Radio 2, but if you are unprepared for this eventuality, then you are shooting yourself, your release, and quite probably any hope of a career in music, in the foot.

There are several important things that you simply have to do when releasing an album independently; these tasks ensure that you receive as much money as possible for airplay and sales:

  1. Join PRS for Music and register your tracks with them. The PRS is now an amalgamation of two societies, the PRS (Performing Rights Society) and the MCPS (the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society). For a full explanation of what PRS for Music do, I’d suggest you check out their website in depth, but in a nutshell they sort songwriters and publishers out with royalties any time their music is played or performed (Irish peeps: check out IMRO instead).
     
  2. Join PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) and register your songs with them too. It’s a similar sort of organisation to PRS for Music, but it collects and distributes royalties for record companies and performers rather than songwriters and publishers. Now, as you are releasing your album independently, the chances are that you are both a performer on the album and the record company releasing it, so make sure that the PPL know about your music and are giving you due reward for it when Jeff Smith's golden ears finally decide that you are worthy of a spin on Radio 2.
     
  3. Encode ISRC (International Standard Recording Codes) on your CDs. ISRC codes ensure that when your music is played on the radio, PRS for Music and PPL know about it and are able to pay you accordingly. In an era of diminishing music sales, revenue from airplay is more important than ever, and without ISRC codes on your single or promo CD, even if you have a huge radio hit on your hands, you might not get all the airplay money owed to you. One spin on national radio in the UK can be worth around £60 - not to be sniffed at.
     
  4. This sounds incredibly obvious, but ensure that your music is available to stream and buy online on major sites (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc.) before approaching anyone at radio. Without your music available to stream or buy, you can't generate much cash from it.
     
  5. Consider some physical distribution options at the outset of the project. Despite the shift to digital, a lot of album sales are actually still CD shaped, so if you end up with a massive radio hit on your hands, physical distribution starts to make a lot of sense. So it's a good idea to have a physical distribution plan in place at the start of the project – talk to distributors early on and ideally have a partner ready to step in should you need to get your CDs into record shops.
     
  6. Make sure you are generally easy to find online. Create a good website and make sure you have strong, up-to-date presences on social media.
     
  7. Ensure that you have a decent data capture system set up on your website. (You can use a tool like Getresponse or Mailchimp to capture email addresses and send e-newsletters.) If you do get a huge amount of airplay for one of your songs – something that might only happen once in your entire career – you may end up with a huge number of people visiting your website...and you can future-proof your career a bit by ensuring that your site is optimised to capture as many of these visitors’ email addresses as possible. This is usually done by incentivising your data capture – offering a free download for an email address. A large database means that you can potentially generate a decent amount of income from selling music and gig tickets direct to fans in future, even if you never get played on the radio ever again.
     
  8. Ensure your song is on Youtube – even if you don't really have a video for it. Regardless of the popularity of Spotify, Apple Music et al.,Youtube is still effectively the world's de facto music database and if you have a radio hit, people will be looking for your song on there.
     
  9. Create a mailing list of influential music industry movers, shakers and shapers that you can get in touch with in the event that your music starts to become popular. This is always a handy thing to have lying about anyway, but if you suddently get a serious amount of airplay on a national radio station, you ideally want to be in a position where you can quickly and easily email a large bunch of A&Rs, managers, publishers and promoters notifying them of your overnight success and telling them why they should work with you.

Hopefully the above suggestions should act as a decent checklist for bands who are embarking on that most precarious of adventures, the independent album release. In fact, even if you don't have a monster hit on your hands, the above tips are worth following, because they'll help you maximise the income you do receive from any independent album release.

(At the very least, they should allow the PPL to procure 5p from your local radio station on your behalf and let your mum find your album on iTunes.)

Article by Chris Singleton

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Facebook ads for musicians: 5 key tips

Facebook logo

The words ‘Facebook page’ and ‘music career’ tend to pop up in a lot of the same sentences these days, with the health of former typically being seen as vital to the success of the latter.

It’s easy to see why: many labels and promoters assume that a band with a lot of Facebook fans is genuinely popular (and thus worthy of attention), and many musicians assume that having a large Facebook following will ensure high turnout at gigs and lots of direct-to-fan album sales. 

Whilst these assumptions are often misconceptions, Facebook can play a very important role in raising a band’s profile - so long as a few things are kept in mind.

The first thing to remember is that in 99 out of 100 cases, Facebook reach - especially for brand new acts - costs money. Sure, you can set up a page for free, but you are unlikely to get many likes without effectively ‘buying’ them. Similarly, you can post as much great content as you like, but only a small minority of your followers will see it unless you sponsor your posts.

In other words, a career via Facebook means ad spend on Facebook, so in this post, we’re going to provide a few hacks to help ensure you get the most out of a music ad campaign on the platform.

1. Target the right Facebook users

The best (or worst!) feature of Facebook ads is that they let you target people based on interests to the nth degree (you might have noticed this during the last general election). For example, you can pay to show Facebook ads to parents who like cats and drink whiskey. Or Star Wars fans who are aged between 30-40 and like Skodas. 

Cats and Skodas aside, what this means for you as a band or artist is that you can pay to show ads for your music to the people who are most likely to enjoy it - i.e., fans of similar sounding acts. Simply put, if you sound like Def Leopard, it’s dead easy to show a Facebook ad for your band to Def Leopard fans. This is much better than the ‘spray and pray’ approach that a lot of bands take, where they boost posts to their existing followers and ignore the targeting features which will help them gain new ones.

2. Target fans in the right locations

In addition to allowing you to show ads to people based on their interests, Facebook also allows you to show ads to them based on their location. For touring bands, this can be incredibly helpful - both in terms of maximising the value of your ad spend or maximising the turnout at a gig. Doing this is as easy as highlighting an area that you want to target on a map, or uploading a spreadsheet containing target postcodes.

3. Use ‘custom audiences’

Facebook advertising is not just about targeting based on interests and demographics. It’s also about making use of the data you already have. Using Facebook 'custom audiences', you can upload your existing mailing list to Facebook and show ads to everyone on that list who has a Facebook account. This means that even if somebody on your mailing list is not following your page, you can still display adverts to them just the same - so long as they have a Facebook account.

4. Install the Facebook pixel on your site

If you have a band website (and you should!) and intend to advertise on Facebook, then you should install the Facebook pixel onto your site. This is a simple line of code which basically adds a Facebook cookie to your website. This cookie then allows you to display ads for your band to anyone who visited your website in the last 90 days.

5. Don’t just focus on getting likes for your page

Because of the perceived importance of having thousands of Facebook likes for your music page, many artists who run ads on Facebook just focus on using them to increase the like count. But it’s worth remembering that Facebook advertising also provides a really good way of growing your email database. Instead of encouraging people to like your Facebook page, you can encourage them to subscribe to your mailing list (usually in exchange for some content) . 

In many ways, a large email database is a more important asset than a large following on Facebook - simply because you own it, and you can communicate with all of your subscribers via e-newsletter any time you want. This contrasts with Facebook pages, where algorithms ensure that only a small percentage of your followers see what you post and you have to pay to maximise reach.

Hope you enjoyed these tips - for more, don't forget to subscribe to The Prescription, our music industry blog.

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What is music publishing?

Music publishing - image of a piano with a songbook resting on it

Admit it - when you first thought about donning the leather pants and aiming for rock stardom, you didn’t really spend much time thinking about things like copyright, licensing, mechanical royalties and synch deals: all important aspects of music publishing. No, you were more concerned about your choice of guitar and how many groupies there would be backstage once you made it to Wembley.

However - particularly in today’s music industry, where selling a CD seems like an altogether antiquated practice - music publishing is a hugely important thing, regardless of what sort of music you make. This is because it can often generate far more income than physical music sales (or kickstart them). So what is it, exactly?

It's all about the money

In a nutshell, music publishing is all about ensuring that the songwriting royalties that you are due are being collected and put in your bank account.  Music publishers will typically ensure that you are receiving all the income due to you from:

  • Mechanical royalties - royalties that you are owed every time a piece of music you’ve written is manufactured on a CD, downloaded on a digital music site, or streamed.
  • Performance royalties - royalties owed to you whenever one of your compositions is broadcast or performed in public.
  • Licenses for synchronization - fees due to you if one of your compositions is used in a film, TV commercial etc.
  • Licenses for sampling - fees due to you if one of your compositions is used as part of another track.
  • Print rights for sheet music - fees due to you if somebody likes your music so much they feel compelled to print sheet music versions of your songs.

A music publishing company’s first task is to ensure that all the above types of royalties are going into your bank account, but if you are lucky enough to be working with a a good music publishing company, they will also be out there pushing your music hard to people who might want to pay to use it: for example other artists, labels, advertising companies and movie makers. 

In exchange for the above services, you agree to give your music publisher an agreed share of any revenue your songs generate.

What about performing rights organisations?

By now you’re probably freaking out about all the money you’re losing by not having a music publisher. Well, although having a music publisher can be hugely beneficial to your career and your wallet, you can still ensure that you’re getting royalties due to you by joining a performing rights organisation. In the UK, that’s PRS for Music - an organisation that licenses its members’ musical compositions and lyrics, and collects royalties every time they are played in public, broadcast on radio or TV, used on the internet or copied onto physical products.

What the PRS and similar performing rights organisations won’t really do however is proactively push your music to advertisers, film companies, labels or artists - and that’s why it’s good to work with a music publisher if you can (so long as they’re a good one with a history of pitching their clients' music hard to individuals and organisations who might pay to use it).

A little bit clearer? Hope so. However, the above is just a brief introduction to music publishing - it is a complex and oft-misunderstood aspect of the music industry, and there's lots more to learn about it. For more information on how it all works, you could do worse than check out the guide to music publishing and synchronisation over at Music Gurus - this is a series of videos by a friend of mine, Jay Mistry (founder of JM Consultancy), which delves in depth into the key topics associated with music publishing, including:

  • copyright
  • publishing contracts
  • how to find a music publisher
  • synchronisation

You can check out the Music Gurus guide to music publishing here.

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How to make the most out of a support slot

A crowd at a gig. Image accompanies an article about how to make the most out of a support slot.

Headlining a gig sounds much sexier than being a support act, and bands often get excited at the prospect of being at the top of the bill. But for most unsigned or new bands it’s usually much better to play on a bill supporting somebody else.

There are a few reasons why: the most obvious being that to headline a show you need enough fans to fill the venue. Most new bands – by virtue of the fact that they are new – just don’t have a sizeable enough following to make a headline show work. We’ve all been to gigs where an enthusiastic but unknown headlining act comes on only to find that the venue has emptied out. In some cases, we’ve been that band. It’s a depressing scenario.

Playing support to another band by contrast gives you a chance to play to full venues and expose your band (ooh er) to another act’s following. It also allows you to play earlier, which can be important if you’d like to invite some industry contacts to see your show. No matter how free the bar is, an A&R guy is far less likely to hang about till 10.30pm to see your set than he is to pop in after work for an 8pm set.

However, playing further down the bill is not without its challenges. Firstly, most of the people at the gig are there to see somebody else and are less likely to be paying attention to what you’re doing. Secondly, even if you grab these folks’ attention with the quality of your music, it’s easy – human nature being what it is – for those potential new fans to walk away from the venue without catching the name of your band or signing up to your mailing list. When this happens, it means that your support slot arguably becomes little more than a rehearsal in front of a crowd.

There are things you can do however to maximise the chances of converting a listener's casual interest into something more useful. I’d suggest two main areas to focus on: increasing the visibility of your band’s name and starting a relationship with members of the gig’s audience.

Increasing the visibility of your band’s name

Use bass drum heads

Make sure your band’s name is (pardon the pun) drummed into audience’s head. To make a bad pun even worse, a good place to start with this actually involves drums. By using a graphic bass drum head featuring your band’s name (and website URL, if there’s room), you are instantly making it easier for an audience to leave your show with an act name to Google or a website address to enter into a browser.

Use projections

Similarly, you can use projections to ensure an audience can't miss your band name or logo. Not all venues will cater for this, but if they do, it's worth hauling a (cheap) laptop and a VGA cable along to your shows.

Ensure you mention your band’s name on stage

In your head you may need no introduction, but in reality you probably do. You should ensure that your witty stage repartee includes occasional references to your band’s name and website – particularly as you wrap up your set and prepare to leave the stage.

Don’t forget pre-show publicity

Just because you’re not headlining the show doesn’t mean that you should neglect pre-show publicity. Ensure that the venue or promoter you are dealing with lists your band’s name on all promotional materials – posters, websites, flyers etc. This means that the audience of the show may already know your band’s name before you start playing.

Starting a relationship with the audience

Although there’s scope for quite a few groupie jokes here, by ‘starting a relationship with the audience’ I technically mean capturing as many of the crowd’s email addresses as possible. We have a whole article on how to go about this here, but here’s some quick pointers:

  • Try to have a mailing list signup form at the door of the venue and on your merch stand.
  • Leave sign up flyers or cards on every table (these should include details of your Facebook page, website etc.)
  • Where possible, use new-fangled devices like smartphones or tablets to capture email addresses directly onto your mailing list.
  • Be pro-active: if you have somebody who can go into the crowd with a clipboard or tablet and encourage sign-ups to your mailing list, this can drastically improve the number of email addresses captured.
  • Incentivise: offer a free track in exchange for an email address.

Another thing you should do to maximise sign-up rates is ensure that your website is 100% geared up to capture data effectively: if a member of the crowd looks you up online after the show, it should be blindingly obvious to them how they can sign up. This can be done using 'welcome mats', pop-up forms (occasionally controversial but usually quite effective) or prominent sign-up boxes embedded onto your site. Similarly, all your social media links should be to the fore – and where possible use ‘like’ and ‘follow’ buttons rather than icons which have an immediate action.

So now you know how to make the most out of a support slot. The next challenge is how to get one – and we’ll have more to say on that soon…

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