Band hacks

by Chris Singleton

Maybe it's the age I'm at, but I’ve been reading a lot lately about various ‘life hacks’: little tricks such as putting glow in the dark paint on your phone charger so that you can find it easily instead of having a fumble in the dark, or dipping the top of your keys in paint so that it’s easy to differentiate the back door key from the front door key. These sort of things are meant to make us fitter, happier and more productive – but may spell an end to those late night fumbles. Ah well.

Anyway, in this post I thought I’d have a go at suggesting some 'band hacks' – some simple tricks to make running your band a little bit easier.

1. Automate your e-newsletters

When a new fan joins your mailing list– either at a gig or via your website – there are probably a few things you want to let them know about: for example, where to find you on social media; the URL for your merch store; and forthcoming gig dates. Rather than send out emails manually to every new subscriber, use autoresponders (provided by tools such as Getresponse or Mad Mimi) to schedule these in automatically - i.e., so that X number of days after signing up to your a mailing list, your new fan gets email Y. For example, a subscriber could get an email immediately upon sign-up with details of your Facebook and Twitter pages; a week later they could receive a link to an online store full of delightful t-shirts and so on.  All this saves a lot of time.

Additionally, if you know that you are going to need to publicise various activities at specific points in the year, you can also schedule in e-newsletters to go out on relevant dates with relevant information. This saves you having to panic about sending tour-related e-newsletters when you're in the middle of a rehearsal for said tour - it will go out automatically in the middle of that slightly-too-long guitar solo.

2. Use RSS to power e-newsletters and social media posts

RSS (Rich Site Summary / Really Simple Syndication) is a feed from a website that another website can use to publish content...and it’s your friend. If you have a blog on your site, for example, you can use its RSS feed to trigger e-newsletters, meaning that when you update your blog, your fans receive the latest content from it in their inbox. You can also use your RSS feed to send your content automatically to your social media profiles, meaning that when you add new posts to your blog, or images to your gallery, your Twitter followers see a relevant tweet as soon as the new content is live. And, if you make your RSS feed publicly accessible on your website, your die-hard-technically-savvy fans who naturally use an RSS reader (a ‘news aggregator’) to stay up to date with the music scene can enjoy news from your site in the list of publications they follow.

3. Use Google Alerts to find out when people are talking about your act (or not)

Google Alerts allow you to monitor the web for new content about topics of your choosing: in your case, the 'topic' is whatever your band happens to be called. Google Alerts is very easy to use: you just enter your act’s name and pick when you’d like to receive updates regarding any online mentions of the band (as-it-happens, daily or weekly). This means that whenever an influential blogger is giving your band a bad review, you’ll get a notification. The other thing that Google Alerts is good for – and I’m slightly reluctant to tell you this – is for keeping your music PR company on their toes, because you can use it to see how well they are doing with your online music PR campaign…

4. Use social media management tools to manage several profiles at once

If you are managing a multitude of social media presences, it makes sense to avail of the various tools that are available to manage them. I’ve talked about Hootsuite in the past as a way to administrate all your social media profiles in one place, and schedule posts in advance, but there are other nifty tools that can help you manage other aspects of social media. For example, Justunfollow is good for identifying people who might be particularly worth following (or unfollowing); it also allows you to create automated direct messages to new followers (be careful with this option however – the potential to annoy with it is large). Tweetadder is also probably worth a look too. There’s a plethora of tools out there to streamline your social media activity though – research them and pick the best one for your band’s needs.

5. Use a mobile device to capture data at gigs instead of a pen and paper

Using a pen and paper to capture email addresses at gigs is getting a bit passé. For a start, it’s often hard to read people’s email addresses when they are written using old fashioned hands that are under the influence of alcohol and operating in a dark and dingy gig venue. Secondly, assuming you can actually decipher the handwriting in question, you’ll have to waste time typing all these addresses all into your e-newsletter database at a later stage. A way of getting around this is to use a tablet at gigs (operated and safeguarded by a responsible individual) to capture the email addresses of attendees. The best option is to provide people with an online form that links directly to your e-newsletter service (Mailchimp etc.) but even if you don’t have a connection to the internet at the venue you're playing in, it’s still worth getting people to tap their details into an iPad – they can always be copied and pasted into your e-newsletter tool at a later stage and it’s a damn sight quicker than you typing up all those email addresses.

6. Use a project management tool to keep your band on track

Project management tools are not just for the office – they can be surprisingly useful for rock and rollers too. Web applications like Basecamp allow you to allocate a load of tasks to each of your bandmates (learn how to play in time, update the website, book the venue, chase the graphic designer – whatever applies), store files that are relevant to a project in one place (lyrics, chord charts etc.) and use automated reminders to cajole your fellow musicians into actually doing what they’re meant to be doing. Even something basic like a Google Sheet is useful for band project management - particularly if you make use of this funky 'reminders' add on.

7. Map out where your fans live – and plan your tours accordingly

If you’re being smart and capturing not just email addresses but postcodes onto your email database, you can use this data to view a map of your fans’ locations on Google Maps. This is very handy if you’re planning tours – you can focus on the locations where you are most likely to attract an audience, and book venues accordingly. There are various mapping tools available – Map a List is a good starting point.

8. Find out if music industry contacts are opening your emails using Sidekick

There’s a sneaky little tool called Sidekick which allows you to see who has been opening your emails and what they’ve been clicking on (either via real time notifications or a reporting tool). It’s very big brother in nature...but if you can put any moral qualms aside it’s very useful for working out whom to chase about your music (and when). For example, if you sent an email about your music to a blogger, you could used Sidekicks to see if it has been read and if your Soundcloud link has been clicked upon. Using that information you can decide whether another nudge is appropriate or not. If you're using the real-time notification option, you can see when somebody's opened or re-opened one of your emails, and use that information to send a seemingly coincidental 'Hi how's it going' chase a few minutes later...

Well, there we go - 8 band hacks to make running your band as straightforward as possible. Actually make it 9, as I have a final band hack for you: get more songs written by not spending all the time you saved as a result of these band hacks in the pub.

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