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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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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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Automate your band!

 Gears - image accompanying some marketing automation tips for musicians

by Chris Singleton

Whether you’re a wildly successful musician or a complete unknown, you are probably ‘time poor’ - you are either very busy with a successful music career, or subsidising an unsuccessful one by working round the clock in an unloved day job. Either way, you won’t necessarily have a huge amount of time on your hands to promote your music. This is where automation can come in really handy – and in this article, we’re going to look at ways you can automate your band’s marketing efforts and save a truckload of time.

1. Consider online advertising

Using online advertising isn’t a free way to automate your marketing – but it can, when done well, be very effective in driving traffic to your site while you are working in a call centre. If you are lucky enough to have some budget to put into Facebook, Twitter or Google ads, then it’s definitely worth experimenting with them to get more visitors to your band’s site or social media profiles (the aim, of course, being to convert these visitors into social media fans or subscribers to your mailing list). Usually it’s best to target fans of bands that you think your act would appeal to and offer some free content in exchange for a like, follow or email address.

2. Automate your e-newsletters

I’ve written about this regularly on this blog, so I’m not going to wax too lyrical about it again…but basically,  if you use a tool like Mailchimp or Mad Mimi to send out e-newsletters, then you have the ability to program in a sequence of automated ‘follow up’ emails to your fans. Everybody who signs up your mailing list can therefore automatically receive encouragements to follow you on social media; buy your merch; come to a gig and so on – without you having to worry about scheduling e-newsletters in automatically. You’ll find some more in-depth information on autoresponders here.

3. Use RSS to disseminate content

If you have a website worth its salt, it will contain a blog with an RSS feed. This RSS feed can be used to power all sort of stuff automatically – if you set things up correctly, your RSS feed can:

  • convert your blog post into an e-newsletter which goes out to your mailing list every time you add a new entry
  • share your new posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media feeds
  • allow others to display links to your articles on their websites which are automatically updated every time you post new content
  • ‘ping’ news services and blog directories with new content
  • display your new posts to anyone using an RSS reader.

4. Be a slave to the algorithm: optimise your site for search

Every second of every day, algorithms are trawling the internet, sifting through sites and picking the best ones to plonk at the top of search results. Setting up your website in a way that gives it the best chance of being automatically discovered by one of these algorithms means that you may end up on the receiving end of a lot of web traffic without much effort . For some tips on how to go about this, you can read our article about SEO for bands (I’d also recommend that you check out our inbound marketing tips).

5. Split test to find out what content works best

You can use split testing algorithms to test what content works best for your band. Whether you want to find out which version of your website works best, what subject header for an email generates the most opens, or even which mix of a song appeals most to your fanbase, A/B tests can automatically ask the question and give you the answers.

A/B testing tools work by

  1. showing two different versions of a web page or email to a sample of your visitors / subscribers
  2. evaluating which generates the most engagement (be that in terms of how long people stay on a website or how many people open an email)
  3. automatically rolling out the best performing version of your content to the majority of your web visitors or subscribers.

Most e-newsletter tools allow you to split test out of the box; for running A/B tests on websites, check out Unbounce or Instapage.

6. Promote your gigs with Songkick

By using Songkick you can automate your gig publicity efforts to a degree. First, it allows you to make use of a widget that you can embed on any number of online presences (i.e., your website, Facebook, Bandcamp etc.) – meaning that once you’ve added a gig to the system it will automatically appear anywhere your widget is displayed.  Second, Songkick have a partnership with Spotify, Youtube and Soundcloud, so your gigs should automatically appear on those sites when people are listening to your music on them.

7. Use Hootsuite to schedule social media posts automatically

If you know that you’re going to be too busy to post on social media during a certain period, you can use tools like Hootsuite to schedule posts in advance – on multiple networks –so that the posts still magically appear even whilst you’re doing something else.

Not convinced by the power of automation yet? Well, you’re probably reading this post because one of three things happened:

  1. A search engine or social media algorithm automatically decided that you should.
  2. Our e-newsletter system automatically sent you an email about it.
  3. Our RSS feed and an automated tweet sent news of the article’s existence to the Twittersphere.

Automation rules...

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Five spring cleaning tips for bands...

 Spring cleaning - image accompanying a post about online music promotion

by Chris Singleton

Spring seems to have finally arrived at Prescription Towers, with sunshine making a brief appearance and bunny rabbits running rampant around the office. As such we’ve been indulging in some spring cleaning (chiefly to get rid of the rabbits) and thought that you might like to do some too. So here are five things YOU as a musician can do to clean up your act...

1. Get rid of social media accounts that are no longer of any use to you

Given that there is a ‘next big thing’ in social media popping up every 5 minutes, it’s not surprising that artists have many disused social media profiles kicking about. I bet you a tenner that your band has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Myspace, Reverbnation, Bandpage, Bandcamp, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+ and quite a few more social networks…but chances are, you’ve forgotten about most of them and you only keep one or two profiles updated. This means that you run the risk of potential fans or useful industry contacts doing a Google search on your act and encountering really out of date material and goofy pictures that you’re now embarrassed by. If you’re not using it, consider losing it; however, if you have a big following on a particular social network, it’s probably best to keep the relevant page alive – but bring it (and keep it) up to date.

2. Unfollow a load of people on Twitter

Most bands start off their life on Twitter by following a truckload of people in the hope that everybody will follow them back – but only a small percentage of users ever do. This leaves you with a huge following to followers deficit. So take the time to go through the list of people you’re following on Twitter and unfollow as many people as you can - you should unfollow people who don’t ever tweet or people who aren’t particularly relevant to you or your band. Doing this is beneficial for three reasons.

1) It makes your ratio of followers to following considerably better (which is helpful from a reputational point of view – it looks a bit rubbish if you’re following 2000 people and have only 100 followers).

2) It makes your Twitter feed more useful – it’s next to impossible to discern useful information from Twitter feeds when you’re following absolutely everybody.

3) It makes Twitter algorithms more effective for you – if you are only following people that are particularly relevant to your band (sympathetic radio DJs or journalists for example) then the suggestions that Twitter makes to you regarding who to follow will actually be useful ones.

For the record, you might want to check out a tool called Crowdfire (formerly Justunfollow) to help you with the above tasks – it allows you to identify people that haven’t updated their profiles in a long time as well as do one-click unfollows.

3. Update your website

Even if you have the swankiest website going, it will still look rubbish if you haven’t updated it in ages. Make sure it’s got all your latest gigs on it; a nice blog post or two; current photographs and so on. And if you know that you simply don’t have time to update a website (shame on you!) then delete any pages on it that require regular updating: it’s better to have a very simple website that is not out of date than a flashy one that is.

4. Sort out your file storage

I feel slightly ridiculous and not a little un-rock-and-roll in writing this, but simply because everything related to the music industry seems to be digitised these days, a band needs to have as good an approach to file management as possible. The one thing I have consistently found both as a musician and a PR person is that you will inevitably end up needing to access and send files relating to your band on a regular basis – A&Rs, journalists, fans, radio pluggers will all need digitised material from you regularly. If you haven’t got a cloud file storage solution, get one (Dropbox is probably my favourite for bands). And if you do have a Dropbox or Google Apps account, make sure all your folders are neatly organised and that key content is easy to locate. Again, not a very rock and roll thing to be thinking about, but you’ll be grateful for a nice folder structure when the Head of Music at Radio 1 comes calling asking you for new material pronto…and you can locate and share it with him immediately. Well hello, Mr Ergatoudis - another track you say? Certainly...

5. Clean up your mailing list

Take the time to go through your mailing list, ensuring that

  • all those email addresses collected at gigs on scraps of toilet paper are actually added to it
  • you are not using Excel or Word to store addresses and sending out emails manually but have invested in a proper e-newsletter broadcasting tool such as Mad Mimi, Getresponse or Mailchimp
  • your list does not include people who perhaps shouldn’t be on there: think twice about including friends and colleagues on every email about your band (here’s why).

There, that feels better doesn’t it. Nice and clean.

 

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A neat trick to make ANY website promote your band: Sniply

 Megaphone

In this article we're going to share a little trick that will let you make any web page shout about your band. Sounds too good to be true? Well, actually, for once you can (mostly) believe the hype.

A quick follow-up this, to last week’s post about solving the ‘lack of content’ problem. In case you didn’t read it (shame on you), the post was chiefly about how to come up with content that regularly keeps your fans entertained and makes you look, to industry contact eyes, as though you are serious about building an online presence and making the most of it.

A lot of the post focused on how you can create your own content, but those of you who were paying close attention probably noticed that there was a little section on ‘content curation’ – some tips on how time-poor bands can use content from other websites to keep their own social media presences looking fresh, keep followers engaged and create a ‘vibe’ about their act based on a shared band-fan interest in certain types of content.

Well, a few days ago I came across a tool that potentially multiplies the usefulness of any content you share significantly: Sniply. This is because it allows you to add a message and a call to action of your choosing which then gets placed on that page.

For example, say your band shares an article from a well-known news site about some topic close to your heart. Using Sniply, you can generate a link which places a banner on that page with a picture of your band, a call to action, and a button taking the user to your website / Facebook / Twitter. Or, even better, you can use Sniply to place a little form on the page that readers can use to join your mailing list. If this all sounds a touch confusing, take a look at the above screengrab, featuring  a Guardian exclusive album stream that we secured for one of our clients recently (sorry, couldn't resist a little plug for our music PR services...). At the bottom of the page, you’ll see a nice little form advertising Prescription PR and encouraging readers to take the very wise step of joining our mailing list. You can click here to see the above Sniply example in action.

If you’re feeling underwhelmed by what on the surface looks like just another pop up box, well, think about the implications of this tool when you share a piece of viral content with a large Facebook audience. With a strong piece of content  particularly if you are quick to share it the resharing potential is large...meaning you may end up with a lot of eyeballs looking at your mailing list sign up form (which, you’ve got to admit, looks damn pretty sitting on The Guardian website). Previously, they would have just seen the content: by using Sniply, you have turned it into a promotional opportunity for your band.

How useful Sniply is to you will depend on the kind of content you share, and how ahead of the game you are in sharing it, but it does represent a very interesting tool for bands that regularly share content with their fans online. If you're interested in using it, you can get a free trial here.

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8 'band hacks' to make your musical life easier

 Plectrum and guitar - image accompanying an article about '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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How to create a great band e-newsletter

Band e-newsletter

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

1. Start with the most important thing: your database

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

2. Create an e-newsletter schedule

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

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

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

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

4. Get the visuals right

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

5. Split test!

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

6. Use good landing pages

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

7. Measure success

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

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

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

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

9. Allow fans to share your e-newsletters

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

10. Oh, do be nice

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

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

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

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Inbound marketing and what it means for musicians

 Inbound marketing - a visual representation

Have you heard of ‘inbound marketing?’ A lot of my non-music clients are getting quite obsessed with it. And rightly so, as when employed correctly it is a powerful way of attracting and retaining new customers. ‘What the feck is inbound marketing then, and can it make me a pop star?’ I hear you mutter. All right then, I shall elaborate.

Inbound marketing typically revolves around the internet, and involves three key steps:

  1. Getting found (i.e., driving traffic to your site)
  2. Converting (capturing data and generating sales)
  3. Analysing (looking at site stats and sales data to improve steps one and two).

Although I think that inbound marketing probably works better for traditional businesses than musicians, there are still some big advantages to employing it as a tactic in the battle for rock success. So let’s break down the above three steps from a musician’s point of view.

1. Getting found

Getting found boils down to what content is on your site, how it is presented from a search engine optimisation point of view, and how easy it is for readers to share it. Interesting content is key here – and by ‘interesting’ I don’t just mean your music. Yes, it is good to have a wide range of your tracks available on your site, in a variety of audio and video formats; and ideally you should present your visitors with images and text related to your music too (for example, free downloads of posters and lyrics). But if we are honest about it, only people who already know about you will be searching for you – and to make new fans, you obviously need to start attracting people to your site who have never heard of you. The key to this is to create content which is not related to you, but of interest to an audience who might like your music.

Say your music is reminiscent of David Bowie’s and your latest album is called something like ‘Ciggie Sawdust’. Obviously therefore, you are most likely to sell your music to Bowie fans. But if you make your site exclusively about you and your music, you are unlikely to attract your target audience via search engines (as there would be little or no Bowie keywords on it). But if, for example, you were to write a blog post about what Bowie means to you, and discuss various aspects of his career in depth…well, from a Bowie fan’s point of view you are now of interest; and when they search for Bowie and Bowie-related keywords, you (and more importantly your music) have a greater chance of being discovered. Even changing your site title can have an impact – instead of calling your site ‘Official website of Joe Bloggs’ it is much better from a search perspective to use a title like ‘Joe Bloggs – camp indie rock music influenced by early 70s era David Bowie when he wore a lot of tights’. (For more information on search engine optimisation for musicians, and why site titles in particular are important, I’d check out our Prescription article on SEO for musicians.) The point is that is that there are millions of searches going on every second and by creating strong, keyword-rich articles about stuff other than your good self on your site - be they to do with art, politics, music or underwear - you can grab a share of those searches. (A key part of this really is having a blog – you can read our musician’s guide to blogging here.)

It is also worth remembering that anything you post on your site should be very easy to share - if your site or blog doesn’t have sharing buttons, you really are missing a trick. Most blogs have these by default but if you are stuck, you can install Addthis on your site very easily. Regardless of how your sharing functionality is set up, it must be there – your content will travel much further if readers can just click a sharing icon and whack your content up on Facebook or Twitter easily. This generates more traffic back to the site, which is all part of the ‘getting found’ process.

2. Converting

Now that your Bowie fan is on your site, reading your lovely Bowie-related article, what should happen next? Well, you should do a bit of converting. There are two main sorts of conversions – from site visitor to lead, or from site visitor to sale.

A site visitor becomes a lead when they have handed over their email address – or, in this era of social media madness, has followed you on Facebook or Twitter. Personally, I think that having a fan’s email address is still the best outcome, as you are in 100% charge of the communication process after that – i.e., you can email a fan whenever you want and are not dependent on a social network’s algorithm or that person being logged into Twitter / Facebook at a particular time for your message to be seen; you can also use the email address to invite somebody to follow you on social media anyway. Regardless of how you ask a visitor to your site to subscribe to communications though, you generally need to offer him or her an incentive in exchange for doing so. This could be a free track; a free ticket to a gig; or the promise of more interesting, Bowie-related articles. The key thing is to make the proposition overt and attractive. Spell out what you are offering and make it extremely easy for visitors to avail of the offer (i.e., use a  prominent data capture form on every page of your site; have clear calls to actions; visible social media buttons and so on. If using Facebook, try to employ a ‘locked content’ approach where fans have to like a page in exchange for content – to see an example of this in action, you might like to check out Chris Helme’s Facebook page, which we worked on recently to add 'download in exchange for a like' functionality).

Converting a site visitor to a sale immediately is extraordinarily difficult, particularly for musicians (as music is practically free now in this Spotify-era and people are even more reluctant than ever before to buy it!). It can happen though, and to 'give sales a chance' you need to ensure that your site is set up so that buying music is a very straightforward process – again, clear calls to action can help, as can prominent buttons, exclusive versions of products (i.e., signed CDs and merchandise) and a wide range of purchasing options (Paypal, iTunes etc.). But realistically most sales are going to come after somebody has been converted to a lead. The idea is that once the site visitor has become a lead, they receive a series of tasteful and useful email and social media communications from you, engage with you, and finally decide to part with cash.

3. Analysing

The final part of the process, the analysing bit, involves looking at what you are doing in the ‘getting found’ and ‘converting’ parts of the process, and continuously trying to improve them. In terms of analysing the ‘getting found’ aspect, you can use Google Analytics to look at what blog posts on your site are particularly popular – and create more of that kind of content; you can also use it to analyse the kind of searches that are delivering the most traffic to your site (or not) and optimise your site accordingly. You should also look at what sort of content from your site is being shared on social networks - tools like Addthis provide a lot of data on this.

As for analysing how you are capturing data, you can experiment with various propositions and see what works best. Is a download of a track a more attractive proposition than a stream? Does moving the mailing list form from the left-hand side of your website to the right-hand side generate more subscriptions? Does one type of social media icon work better than others in generating more follows? Does prioritising iTunes over Paypal mean more dosh? If you really want to go to the nth level, you could consider running some surveys via your email database about what made your site visitors take the plunge and subscribe to your mailing list – although I’m not sure how rock and roll that is.

Finally, since we’re talking inbound marketing, you could also use Hubspot’s free marketing grader tool. Hubspot coined the phrase 'inbound marketing' in the first place, and their tool looks at your site and makes simple recommendations as to how you can make it better from an inbound marketing perspective (it will score you on SEO issues, blogging frequency, social media activity and more, and then make a series of recommendations as to how you can improve things).

Whatever tools and methodology you use, the ultimate aim of the analysis is to make constant improvements to the ‘getting found’ and ‘converting’ parts of the inbound marketing process – to maximise the chances of somebody discovering your site and establishing an online relationship with you (ooh er, missus)...and eventually buying some music, gig tickets or a crappy t-shirt from you.

But…there’s a catch

Ok, so that is all great in theory isn’t it? And actually, for most of the business clients I work with when not wearing a Prescription hat, it works pretty well in practice too. There is a problem though: inbound marketing and the content creation that comes with it takes up a lot of your time – time that you could be using to write and record great music in the first place. Writing good blog posts can take ages; plodding through Google Analytics to work out if a blog post is attracting significant amount of traffic can also take a long time. But nothing in the music business is quick or easy, and as most of the music industry seems to be migrating online these days, I think it does make sense to devote some effort to understanding – and employing – this new-fangled inbound marketing stuff. It's a question of balance - making sure you are creating strong content for your site without it preventing you working on your music.

And finally...

Finally we'd just like to point out that if you're reading this Prescription article, our inbound marketing strategy is clearly working. Now may we suggest that you hire us to promote your music.

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Top online tools for promoting your music

 An old computer

An old computer

Although there is still a place for CDs, records and tapes in my, er, book, selling music is, for the vast majority of DIY musicians, all about the internet these days. So in this week’s Prescription article, I thought I’d talk about some of my favourite online tools for shoving your music in unsuspecting punters' faces (which is why you're really reading this isn't it? Anyway).

1. Building websites that let you sell music

Shopify is a tool that allows you to create a really nice-looking website that lets you sell music easily. Even if you don’t have a huge amount of technical knowledge, you can build a site fairly easily with the platform, which also comes with useful blogging tools. But crucially, it makes selling digital and physical goods direct to fan very easy, which is absolutely vital for any musician. There is a monthly fee for using it – depending on your requirements, you can expect to pay between £9 and £20 a month. Grab a free Shopify trial here.

2. Sending e-newsletters – Mad Mimi or GetResponse

A crucial part of any band promotion shenanigans is beating your fans into submission with e-newsletters, and Mad Mimi and Getresponse win my vote for the best all-round ‘e-newsletter-sending’ tools.

Madmimi is great simply because it is very, very competitive on price. For $36 (£22) a month you can send great-looking HTML emails to up to 10,000 fans. If you don’t have as many fans as that, Mad Mimi has a range of other packages that enable you to send to a smaller number of contacts – all of which seem to cost considerably less than the equivalents offered by Mad Mimi’s main competitors. On top of that, using Mad Mimi to manage data and create attractive HTML e-newsletters is very straightforward. Find out more about Mad Mimi and get a free trial here.

For a richer feature-set, including more control over design, autoresponders and social sharing, I'd probably plump for Getresponse. The pricing is still pretty competitive too. One thing worth noting though is that Getresponse doesn't allow you to import data - you have to start building your list from scratch with it.

3. Sharing files – Dropbox

Dropbox is a great way to store data ‘in the cloud’ which means three things: you can back up your files easily, access them from anywhere, and – probably most importantly from the music promo point of view – share content incredibly easily. At Prescription we use frequently use Dropbox to share songs, videos, hi-res pics and press releases with journalists; on top of that, we even use it as an office network and a data-backup solution. We love it, and I’ve come across fewer handier tools for musicians (or indeed anyone in need of somewhere to store/share a load of stuff online). Most importantly for me, it means that the days of clunky uploads to Yousendit or attaching large files to emails and hoping for the best are over. You get a 2GB with a free Dropbox account, and if you want more, a 100GB package costs around £6 per month. Find out more about Dropbox here.

4. Productivity – Google Apps

If you are a DIY musician you’ll know that really, you're trying to run a business as much as you are trying to write music. As such you’ll need a truckload of tools that let you do the former (and far more boring) activity effectively. Fortunately “don’t be evil” Google (who may or may not be evil these days but let’s put that momentarily to one side) have come to the rescue with a suite of free goodies that let you manage your time (via Google calendars), send IMAP emails using your own domain name (thanks to Gmail), set up a basic band email list (via Feedburner), find out what people are saying about you online (using Google Alerts) and see when your mum is visiting your website (via Google Analytics). There's also Google Docs, for those of you who are too cheap to buy a copy of Microsoft Office. I wrote a post last year about how you can use Google apps to further your music career – you might want to check it out.

5. Making your Facebook page better – Woobox’s static Iframe app

Back in the days of yore (well, until about a year ago I think), you used to be able to add ‘static HTML’ pages to Facebook fan pages. This meant that, providing you were prepared to fiddle about a bit with some HTML code, you could add a whole load of funky stuff to your Facebook fan page – content embedded from your site, mailing list sign-up forms, ‘fan-gated’ content (where people have to like a page to get a free song etc.) and more. Then Facebook took this functionality away, which was Very Annoying. Fortunately a crowd called Woobox came along and created a great thing – the-not-very sexily titled ‘Static Iframe App’ – which allows you to add your own custom tabs to Facebook again. What’s more, the app actually makes it much easier than it was before to add the funky stuff I was talking about above. The app itself is available at https://apps.facebook.com/iframehost-heart/?fb_source=search&ref=ts; for an example of it in action may we suggest you check out a bit of work we did recently for ex-Seahorse and now fantastic solo artist Chris Helme, where we used it to embed a mailing list sign-up form on his Facebook page and offer a track in exchange for a like.

6. Checking how good your website is - Marketing Grader

So good is Hubspot's Marketing Grader that I thought it deserved a mention all of its own in a recent Prescription article - and it's worth mentioning again here. Basically it's a tool that looks at your website and tells you everything that's wrong with it from a content / SEO / social media point of view. But thankfully, it also gives you a list of things you need to do to improve your site. You can take a look at Marketing Grader here.

7. Testing your band's name out in a variety of fonts - Myfonts.com

Most band logos aren't really logos at all - they are simply the band's name displayed in a particular typeface. And how good or bad that typeface is can make the difference between your band looking like rookies or pros. Rather than relying on whatever default fonts came pre-installed with Windows, you should be a bit more adventurous - you can use Myfonts.com to experiment with different fonts and use your band name as the 'test text'.

That's it for now, musical chums. Hope the above tools help you in your quest for glory.

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The death of email?

 A visual interpretation of death

Mark Zuckerburg is in the news again; and this time it’s for pronouncing the email dead. This official pronouncement of death conveniently went hand in hand with the launch of Facebook’s new messaging system, but we’ll leave cynicism about what makes a good headline to one side (you are reading this on a PR company’s website, after all) and take a look at his bold claim and what the implications are for musicians. Should you shred your virtual mailing lists and start spamming potential fans using yet another Zuckerburg invention?

We don’t think so. There are several good reasons to hold onto your mailing list and your beautifully crafted HTML email templates. The first is that er, email isn’t dead. In fact, as one Very Important Email Boffin, Nathaniel Borenstein, told the BBC recently, its use is actually growing. And, although teenagers may currently be eschewing it, they are effectively forced upon entering the world of work to start using email; most businesses do not encourage their staff to spend all day on Facebook (they encourage them to CC everybody on pointless round robin emails instead). If you saw Prescription PR’s inboxes, you would know that the email is, perhaps sadly, rather too alive and well.

Having established that email isn’t actually dead, the second reason for continuing to communicate with your fans via email rather than relying solely on whatever Facebook offers you is that – as hard as it may be to believe now – Facebook could just be a fad. You may think that with its 500 million plus users I’m mad making a statement like that. However, the pace of change in web technology is frenetic and in the space of just five years we have already seen the rise and fall of another huge social network, Myspace. The point is that if you invest all your time, energy and money exclusively in Facebook communications – whether that’s spending money on advertising to increase ‘likes’ of your page, or trying to work out how best to use Facebook Messenger to give your ten fans the impression that you are huge in Japan – you are screwed if things in Facebook land go tits up and everybody who liked you on that network has upped sticks and is now hanging out somewhere else. That’s precisely what happened with Myspace – just remember all those bands who got RSI from clicking ‘add friend’ on Myspace only to have all those very dear pals bugger off to an entirely new network altogether. Harlots.

The third reason you should value the humble email address is the degree of control it offers you. When you post a message up on your Facebook page, not everybody reads it or even sees it (you can find out why here). Admittedly, the same can be true of email – particularly if you write very boring messages to people all the time – but you know that when you send an email to a fan, it will generally go into their inbox (unless you are flogging saucily-titled albums that spam filters don’t like; how very dare you). Additionally, you can format the email how you like – add branding, photos, links and so on. And, depending on how clever you are, you can use a tool like Mad Mimi or Getresponse to run A-B subject header tests; schedule a broadcast time; measure open rates and clickthroughs; even see where your fans live (yes, seriously). Facebook messages or status updates do not offer anything like this level of control over communications.

Finally, regardless of what happens in the future, and whichever social network is king in 2050, the email address is probably going to be involved in some shape or form, and the more of them you have the better. For all Zuckerburg’s hyperbole about the death of the email, you still need an email address to er, sign up to Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Myspace. And all of those networks encourage you to ‘find your friends’ or invite people to become fans of your band (poor sods) using your email address book or by importing your mailing list. So in effect, email addresses are turnkeys to every social network out there – both in terms of joining them or, more importantly from the musician’s point of view, locating existing fans who use them.

So given all the above, the official Prescription line is to hold onto that mailing list, and continue to grow it if you can. We’ll leave you with a parting thought though: if you are reading this article in email form, it’s further proof that the email address is still alive, unless this article is an email ghostie haunting your spooky Hotmail account. 

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How to get more traffic to your music website

 No traffic here...

No traffic here...

If you’re in a band, the chances are you’ve got a website. You either designed it yourself, convinced a gullible friend to build it, or got ripped off by a cowboy web designer, but regardless of how your website came into being, you’ve got a problem with it. Nobody’s looking at it.

This is because the supply of music websites far outstrips the demand for them. There are hundreds of thousands of musicians, all over the world, with music sites. But only a tiny proportion of the owners of these sites are popular musicians that people have actually heard of (and are therefore in a position to search for). So the vast majority of music sites languish on a server somewhere, with online tumbleweed (whatever that looks like) slowly passing by them. By virtue of the fact that you are reading this, you probably own one of them.

So how do you generate more traffic to that music site that you lovingly created? Well, as ever, we’ve got a few suggestions.

1. Forget about the music

Yes, you run a music site. But if you’re an unknown musician, making your site exclusively about your music isn’t going to drive traffic; nobody has heard of you, and consequently nobody is searching for you or your music. However, if you feature content on your site that is searched for, then you stand a much better chance of getting a significant number of visits.

Think of it this way: nobody is that interested in reading about how that gig of yours in the Rat and Parrot went; but they might be interested in what you made of the most recent U2 album. There might be one person entering ‘Sexy Susie’s gig in Rat and Parrot’ into Google (your mum) compared to hundreds of thousands whacking ‘No line on the Horizon U2 review’ into the search box. Consequently, if you’ve blogged about the U2 record, you’ve got a significantly better chance of coming up in search results than if you have written and posted a glowing review of your last album on your site. Ergo more visitors to your site, even if they are aficionados of tax-avoiding Irish bands.

Ah yes, you say, but then my site just becomes a U2 reviews site. Well, no, not really. Your site can become a place where you and your bandmates share your views on a range of topics that are of genuine interest to you - and more importantly, other people. You can share your views on sex; religion; politics; photography – whatever. So long as the content you post on your site is engaging, and you are passionate about the topics you write about, you can start to attract decent visitor numbers, simply because the internet is a huge place filled with content-hungry searchers. And obviously, you can feature the content you’re really trying to put in front of people – you and your music – alongside any of your posts about sexy religious politicians who dig photography. All of a sudden, through intelligent blogging, you have a captive audience.

2. Remember the tagging

Any time you post new content on your site, always tag it well. Assuming your site is built on a relatively modern platform (such as Wordpress or Squarespace), or you are integrating a blogging tool like Blogger into your site, you should be able to easily add labels to your content which will help it crop up in search – and drive traffic. If, for example, you write a blog post about your favourite Star Wars film, you shouldn’t just leave it there – you should add a series of tags which accurately describe the content – “Jar Jar Binks”, “George Lucas”, “daft Ewoks”, “camp robots” and so on.

Whilst on the subject of tagging, you should ensure that your site in general (i.e., not just the page where you post articles) is optimised for search. There are countless articles you can read online about SEO (search engine optimisation) but in a nutshell, you need to ensure that your site title, meta data, headers and copy all contain information that people are likely to be searching for. Again, because nobody is really going to be searching for you, you should use descriptions which involve well-known artists that you are influenced by. For example, instead of having a site title like “Official website of Sexy Susie”, you should have one that includes the main artists that you are influenced by – for example, “Official site of Sexy Susie – an artist influenced by David Bowie, James Blunt, Kiss and Cliff Richard” (an unfortunate combination perhaps, but there you go).

3. Share your content, and get others to share it too

When you do create your hugely engaging article about Bono’s leather pants, make sure you share it. Post a link to it on your Facebook page; whack it up on Twitter. Submit it to content sharing services like Stumbleupon or Digg; and encourage readers to do so too by adding a ‘sharing’ call to action at the bottom of each article – “Like this article? Please share it on…” etc. Using a free content-sharing tool like Addthis can help in this regard. Even one share – whether by you or another person - can actually result in an article going viral, so make the most of all the copious sharing opportunities that the Web 2.0 gives you.

4. Allow users to subscribe to receive more content

At the end of each Bono article, explain to users how they can get more of your content. Usually this involves asking them to subscribe to your blog posts via email, subscribing to an RSS feed or following you on Twitter / Facebook. If you have a blog, you can use Feedburner to allow people to sign up to email or RSS updates – it’s a free tool from Google which makes all that sort of thing a doddle. The more people subscribe to your updates - using any of the above methods - the more return visits you'll get to your site, meaning you'll have more eyeballs encountering your latest gig listings, online store and whatnot.

Monetise?

Finally, if you are really good at writing content, and you start to get thousands of hits to your site as a result, you could consider a) giving up music and becoming a writer or b) monetising your blogging talents through selling advertising space alongside your blog. The easiest way to do the latter is to use Google’s Adsense service – you just sign up for an account, copy and paste some code into your site, and you have sold your soul to Google in two easy steps. But it might pay for some recording time for that next album of yours that nobody’s going to buy.

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There’s a couple of other articles from us about websites / content which you may find useful:

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