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Band Promotion

Should bands bother promoting albums?

Cassette tape - accompanies article about album promotion

by Chris Singleton

The music industry is in a constant state of flux. Streaming is taking over from downloads. Vinyl is making a comeback. Hi-res audio is on the way. Live promoters are becoming record labels. Record companies want to sell t-shirts. To quote a certain AOR band from 2004, everything’s changing. And yet despite all this change, one thing seems to stay the same: the notion that the album is the be all and end all. 

Yes, despite the fact that people are consuming music in all manner of ways, on all manner of devices, and often in some sort of shuffle mode, we musicians seem wedded to the idea that at some point we should get 12 songs together, stick them on a shiny piece of plastic, assign a ‘release date’ to said piece of plastic, issue a press release about it and hope that people buy it when it hits the shelves (or not: finding a record shop to stock anything in is a devilishly hard business these days).

In some ways, this obsession with and emphasis on the long-player is perfectly understandable. The album has proven itself to be a great format; and wonderful things can happen when you place twelve songs by a great band in a row. The LP has a proud history (though not as long as some imagine – it’s really only since the mid to late sixties that the LP really became the art form that it is considered today).

The main problem I see with the album doesn’t really concern the format though: rather, it’s the way that the album seems to be the only thing that musicians think is worth promoting. With a lot of new bands I encounter, virtually all of their promotional activities are exclusively centred on an album and take place only at the time at which that album comes out; this is fine if you are Coldplay or U2, with a truckload of existing fans ready to obligingly buy a full LP’s worth of material – but not so good if you are a brand new band starting out. There’s generally no fanbase at all there to buy your album, even if it’s great, and shouting about the fact that there’s a record with 12 songs on it out on Date X is not really going to do you much good. There are an awful lot of other people doing that.

The problem is that by leaving your music promotion until the point at which your album comes out, you have possibly left things too late. By all means release a full album, but try to create a promotion schedule that starts well in advance of its release date – maybe up to a year in advance. Here are a few things that you could consider doing as part of this:

  • Rather than putting an embargo on your album tracks, and insisting, PinkFloyd-style, that they can only be listened to as part of a full album, release them (ideally with accompanying videos) online regularly – and approach blogs and music sites about your band every time you do.
  • Use Facebook ads and other social media tactics to build up your following and email mailing list so that both are as large as possible well before the record comes out.
  • Don’t leave it until the album comes out to start gigging – get out there now and start developing a live following.
  • Approach managers, publishers, agents and labels with individual songs that might pique their interest; don’t necessarily wait until your album is 100% written, mixed and mastered to do so (you never know – an individual song might convince them to put some budget into an album project).

The other thing to remember is that you might be a singles band, not an albums band. Your album might be an incoherent mess but it might have 3 killer singles on it. If so, focus on your strong point – and place the emphasis on (and plough your budget into) promoting singles over and above an album.

But to answer the main question posed by this post - should bands bother promoting their albums? - the answer is actually a resounding yes. It’s just a case of starting way earlier than you might think is necessary. A promo strategy which kicks in way before an LP comes out is crucial to giving you the fanbase (and media support) that you need in order to sell some copies of that LP (or see bums on seats at the accompanying tour). It’s simple: if your album is your big musical statement, make sure you have a big following to hear it - BEFORE it comes out.

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10 ways to improve your band's online marketing in 2014

2014

As we approach the end of 2013, we thought we’d share some tips with you that will help you tune up your online promotion efforts in 2014. Read on for some advice on how to improve your website, e-newsletters, Facebook presence and more…

1. Ensure you have a great site

Yes, it’s easier (and cheaper) to set up a Facebook page than build a website, but there are several advantages in creating a strong site:

  • It marks your band out as a professional, serious outfit
  • It gives you full control your band’s image and identity
  • It will allow you to blog (and if you are good at blogging, you may well find yourself with a truckload of additional visits to your site thanks to inbound marketing)
  • You tet full control over search engine optimisation and data capture
  • You can incorporate a wide range of functionality that might not be available on third party sites.

So, if you haven’t got a website for your band, build one. And if you DO have one, maybe take a look at it again, with a view to improving it as much as you can for 2014: ensure imagery, integration with social media, data capture and even typefaces are all as good as they possibly can be. Find out about how to build a great band website here.

2. Use ‘Addthis’

…And speaking of websites, ‘Addthis’ is a brilliant free tool that encourages visitors to your site to share content from it in lots of clever ways; it also maximises the chances of them following you on social media. If you’re not using Addthis now, you should be.

3. Make sure you are not neglecting smartphone users

A huge proportion of people accessing content online are now doing so using a smartphone. This has all sorts of implications for how you present your band online – and getting this wrong could severely limit the reach of your promotional efforts. Find out how to present your band to a smartphone audience.

4. Make sure you are capturing data effectively

If you don’t have a proper mailing list set up, you are shooting your act in the foot (or feet if you’re not a solo act). In my book, an email address is still worth far more than, say, a Facebook ‘like’, because 1) when you send somebody an email, a Mark Zuckerburg algorithm isn’t deciding whether that person receives it or not and 2) email addresses can be used to forge connections on multiple social networks (via ‘find my friends’ features). Read our in-depth guide to email marketing here.

5. ‘Incentivise likes’ on Facebook

Ensure you are using (and promoting) tabs on Facebook that ‘incentivise’ likes – i.e., use tabs that give people who like your Facebook page access to particular content (a free download, exclusive video etc.). Woobox provide some really helpful tools in this regard.

6. Start using Google+

People may snigger when they hear the words ‘Google Plus’ – Google’s social network is, after all, renowned for the quantities of tumbleweed that blow through its news feeds. However, it is becoming increasingly important, because Google is starting to treat websites that are connected to Google Plus via ‘Google Authorship’ (a way of attributing your site content to a particular individual in search results) rather differently (and arguably, preferentially) to other sites. Find out more about Google Authorship here.

7. Don’t overcommunicate online

Regardless of whether you’re using emails, Facebook updates or tweets to communicate with your fans, don’t fall into the trap of spewing annoying nonsense every five minutes. Only say something when it counts. With this in mind, you may find our article on managing your online reputation handy.

8. Spend some time on data hygiene

Yikes! Data hygiene. Sounds horrendous, like going to the dentist or something. But in 2014, take a look at your various databases – be they lists of fans or industry contacts – and ensure that your records are in the best shape possible. Think about standardising the format; removing duplicate records; and ensuring that as much information as you need is in them (name, email address, phone, favourite coffee…). The cleaner and more accurate your databases, the more results you’ll get when you promote your music.

9. Don’t promote your music to your friends all the time

Tempting as it is to bombard your personal Facebook friends with encouragements to buy your album / come to your gig / purchase a limited edition t-shirt with your face on it, it’s generally a bad move. Find out when is and when isn’t the right time to promote your music to friends here.

10. Plan ahead

Most marketing departments worth their salt create 'e-comms schedules' for the year, where they forward plan what kind of communications they are going to send / broadcast throughout the year. In your case, YOU are your marketing department, so follow best practice and engage in a bit of forward planning. Forward planning also allows you to automate some of your comms in advance, meaning that when you are in the middle of a promotional campaign for your new album, you don't need to worry about sending a bunch of e-newsletter and tweets out: some software somewhere is doing it for you...

Hope these tips speed you on your way to music success in 2014; and, while we've got your attention, may we take this opportunity to thank you for reading The Prescription in 2013 and wish you a lovely Christmas and all the best for the new year.

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How to market your music to a smartphone audience

Smartphone at a gig

In this Prescription PR article, we look at some of the challenges that smartphones bring to music marketing and offer some tips on how to promote your music to a smartphone audience...

I’d like to take issue with the term ‘smartphone’. If anything, smartphones make people dumb. Try having a conversation with somebody whilst they staring at an iPhone; all you’ll get out of them is an ‘um, yeah, huh…um, huh, yeah, sorry, what was that again?’. Dinner-time conversation in posh restaurants is a particular victim of this, as your squeeze will be too busy instagramming their food to talk to you. And don’t get me started about SUV drivers on the M25 who feel compelled to, yes, check their email whilst driving. That is potentially lethal, not smart – even if it means they’re enjoying a Prescription article at 70mph (sorry, 95mph).

Regardless of the dumbing-down effects of smartphones, these devices are increasingly a fact of online life. We see proof of this every time we send a Prescription article out via email – our stats indicate that at least 30% of the people reading it are doing so on a mobile phone (mainly iPhones – that’s the music industry for you!). Similarly, a significant proportion of visitors to our website – around 20% - are peering at it on their phones. Although we’d like to think that we’re the kind of hip agency that almost demands being experienced through the prism of a glossy smartphone screen, these stats are actually going to be quite similar with regard to any online bumph.  (And musicians, as we know, excel at inflicting online bumph on the world.)

So, as a DIY musician plugging your wares, how do you take this new smartphone audience into account and actively cater for it? Here are a few tips:

1. Write copy that works for both desktop and mobile users

Any time you send a band e-newsletter, remember that a large proportion of your victims (sorry, recipients) will be reading it on a phone, with all the reduction in attention span that this entails. Consequently, you probably want to avoid writing an essay to your fans. Put your key ‘call to action’ (come to my gig / buy my record / be my groupie) near the top of the message, and keep waffle to a minimum. Same goes for your website really (particularly if you are not planning on having both a desktop and a mobile version of your site).

2. Avoid flashing

iOS devices don’t do Flash, and increasingly, neither do Android ones. (Try visiting a Flash website on a phone and you’ll just get a helpful blank space where the content should be.) However, for many years now bands and musicians have been big into ahem, flashing: even in the dial-up era, the web was packed full of whizzy sites packed full of flash animations. These sites cost an arm and a leg to build and took an age to load, but bands put up with this because they thought that having a flash site made them look cool. Plus ҫa change. However, these days, unless you deliberately want to confuse or irritate your smartphone audience, there is little point in having a Flash-based music site. Best to concentrate on putting together a simple music website that looks nice, loads quickly, contains great content and (crucially) captures data. If you must use Flash, get a website-building boffin to ensure your site does some OS / browser detection – this works out what kind of device or browser a visitor is using, and serves up the right sort of content accordingly (i.e., desktop users get flash; iPhone users get text etc.)

3. Ensure that your free tracks are accessible on a smartphone

A lot of bands offer free EP downloads – or even free albums – to their fans in exchange for email addresses. A lot of the time these are presented in ZIP format, with all the songs being contained within one ZIP file. This is a neat way of doing thing for desktop or laptop users…but seriously, try opening a ZIP file on an iPhone. It is doable, but it’s a royal pain in the bum. So make sure that when you give away a free track in exchange for an email address, or an interesting encounter in the green room, that the fan will actually be able to listen to the song afterwards (particularly if you’re going down the encounter-in-the-green-room route; why disappoint them twice?). One way to do this is to offer a non-zipped, down-to-earth, old-fashioned MP3 as well as a ZIP file. The former should play fine on a smartphone; and the latter will allow the user to save the content into a music folder on a PC. Another option is to also provide links to smartphone-friendly streams of your EP / album.

4. Check all your ‘online assets’ on a phone as well as a 27” monitor

If you’re a musician, the chances are you’re looking at all your online assets – websites, HTML e-newsletters, videos etc. – on a big shiny 27” iMac screen (all broke musicians have iMacs - it's an odd fact of musical life). But it's vital to check all this content on a phone too before unleashing it on the world (well ideally, on a few phones, and the odd tablet as well). A website that looks superb on the big screen may look rubbish on a phone; an e-newsletter which looks lovely in the desktop version of Gmail may be completely unreadable in the mobile version. With the increasingly large variety of devices in circulation, it’s getting difficult to create online content that works perfectly on everything; however, you should aim to ensure that your content looks good on as broad a range of devices as possible, especially iOS and Android ones.

5. Build a mobile-friendly site

One way to ensure that your site looks good on mobile devices is to, yes, build a mobile-friendly site. You can either create an alternate version of your site which displays automatically to smartphone users (a 'mobile site') or, better yet, build a 'responsive' website, which is one that resizes page width automatically to suit the device it's being viewed on. The advantage of the latter approach is that users see the exact same content, regardless of what device they're using; bespoke mobile sites tend to be more static affairs that require periodic syncing with a desktop site, or only provide a selection of content from it.  

6. Get creative with smartphone technology

Don’t overlook the creative possibilities that smartphones offer musicians. Can you create a game that is somehow tied into your music? Can you develop an app that offers your fans an interesting experience which takes your music to another level (man)? Can you use smartphones to capture data at gigs? Can you use text messages to market your music? Can you release your album as an app rather than a download or CD? It’s quite easy to go overboard with this sort of thing – and spend way too much money on developers  – but it is still worth thinking about, because some ideas can actually yield great results (and double up as good PR angles).

Now, put that phone down, stop reading this article and concentrate on the M25. Or flying that plane.

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A look at the music industry in 2013 – and some Prescription goodies to help you cope with it

Mixing desk

As I sit here waiting to find out if the ancient Mayans were correct or not, I’ve been pondering two things: firstly, shall I bother with another fancypants coffee (I don’t want to pay for one if an apocalypse prevents me finishing it) and secondly, assuming we’re not all doomed, what is going to happen to the music industry in 2013? 

For many musicians, it may seem that the Mayan prophesy is coming true and we are all doomed: with fewer and fewer people prepared to pay for CDs and downloads, and streaming services like Spotify offering paltry royalties for each play, bands might be forgiven for thinking that the Mayans were correct all along and it really is the end of the world as we know it, without anybody feeling particularly fine.

However, there is a flipside. Ok, so bands might not be making as much cash as they used to from sales – and let’s not forget that even in the glory days of the music industry, 99.9% of bands never did – but making and promoting music is getting much, much easier and cheaper. The same digital revolution which has killed off CD sales has also… 

  • made recording equipment incredibly affordable, meaning pro-quality albums can be recorded in toilets
  • made studio time much cheaper, as pro studios now have to compete with the toilet-studio-owner in question
  • made global distribution of music a reality for any band
  • provided all manner of cheap digital advertising and communications tools to musicians
  • reduced the need for physical manufacture (with an associated reduction in costs)
  • arguably made music promotion services cheaper, due to increased competition in the music promotion services market
  • reduced costs associated with music promo (in terms of postage, phone calls, promo manufacture, boozy lunches and so on – much of these can be handled online).

So basically, there’s a weird trade-off. In today’s music industry you are able to make and promote your music more easily and cheaply than ever before, but you are considerably less able to generate any cash from sales. And it doesn’t take a Mayan prophesier to tell you that in 2013, we are simply going to travel further and more quickly in this direction, possibly because the music industry lives on a computer in a shed these days, and computers – as any aficiando of Moore’s Law will tell you – double in power every two years whilst falling significantly in cost.

So as I peer into my crystal ball for 2013, I simply see even fewer people buying CDs, fewer people downloading music and more people streaming it via Spotify of similar services. (And of course if iTunes switches to being a streaming service rather than a download store, it’s really game over for music sales.)

So how do musicians cope with this? What is the point of making music if it’s looking increasingly like something that can’t be sold? Well, I’d start off any coping strategy by accentuating the positives. As a band making a racket today, and as discussed above, you have access to a whole range of things that even 15 years ago would have been completely out of your reach – incredibly affordable studio time / equipment, global distribution, cheap promo deals and direct access to listeners via social media and online communications. It’s incredible how these things (that would have looked like magic back in the late 90s) have become completely taken for granted by a lot of bands, but they are the key (and often overlooked) ingredients to creating something which is at the heart of any successful music project: a fanbase. This fanbase may not pay for your recordings, but they may be able to support you in several other ways – for example, through paying to see you live; buying merchandise; and acting as a street team that delivers vital word-of-mouth marketing.

In order to get anywhere near having a 'monetised fanbase' though, you need to do three things:

1) Create stonkingly great music

2) Work the ‘digital system’ very hard

3) Think like a business (yes, I know, yuck) and explore every avenue when thinking about monetising your music 

I can’t help you with the first part of this recipe for success, but it’s my hope that over the past year or so, our Prescription articles have provided some insights into going about the second and third parts. So, as we bid farewell to 2012 (and perhaps existence if the Mayans are correct), I thought I’d provide you with some links to some of our favourite music promo articles from the Prescription archives. May they help you in your 2013 quest for rock/dance/hip-hop/indie/shoe-gazing glory (delete as appropriate). You’ll find them below – think of them as the online equivalent of a box of Quality Street from us to you. Thank you for reading The Prescription in 2012, we hope you have a great Christmas, and we wish you every success for 2013 (and don't forget, that we are always happy to discuss ways that you can achieve this - feel free to contact us for a chat about any projects you have coming up in 2013).

Life is like a box of chocolates - articles from the archive… 

 

 

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The new Facebook Timeline: what it means for bands and musicians, and how to use it properly

Timeline

In case you haven’t noticed yet, big changes to Facebook pages are around the corner. That Facebook page that you lovingly filled with crap – sorry, interesting content – about your band is shortly going to become a ‘timeline’ rather than a good old-fashioned virtual wall.

That’s nice, I hear you say – and I suppose, yes, it will make your page look a lot prettier and there are a couple of nice new features. However, there is one fairly significant downside for bands: the new format page won’t let you set a default landing tab, which spells the end of that nifty little trick whereby bands (or indeed brands) could set up their page so that users visiting it were automatically presented with ‘locked content’ – i.e., content you get in exchange for liking the page. From 30 March, if a Facebook user visits your page, they see the timeline, period. That said, it’s still possible to use Facebook ads and other links to take users to an app on your page containing locked content; it’s just that the switch does reduce the scope a bit for artists to increase likes by default, and it’s annoying for anyone who paid a developer to build a nice locked content landing tab.

But we are where we are, and regardless of how irritating you find the changes to your Facebook page, it is still for the foreseeable future going to be an important communications tool for you. So, in this post, we thought we’d give you, in our ever-generous way, our top tips for making the most of the new page format.

1. Upload a great cover picture and profile picture

The cover picture is a new banner that goes across the top of your page and it provides you with a good opportunity to make a visual statement about your band. Ok, a pretty basic suggestion this, but important nonetheless: use a really good picture of your act. You should use an image that 1) works well when cropped to 851 x 315 pixels and 2) screams ‘I’m serious about my music’ to any A&Rs, journalists, promoters or indeed any industry bods in tight pants who casually peruse your page. Don’t use a really small pic of your dog that looks rubbish when scaled up. The same sort of advice applies to your profile pic, which is the smaller image that appears in your fans’ news feeds whenever you post some boring information about said dog. A note of caution: Facebook aren’t too keen on letting you use your cover pic as an advertisement, so be careful about whacking big ‘buy now’ text all over that picture of your dog. Or you’ll get a spanking from Mark Zuckerburg. Ooh.

2. Choose your ‘featured apps’ wisely

Just underneath your profile pic you’ll see 4 rectangular ‘app’ boxes – these are effectively the old ‘tabs’ from your facebook page. You can feature up to 12 apps on your page, the rest of which users can access via a little drop-down arrow. It’s important to choose which ones to feature in the top 4, because people don’t hang about long on Facebook pages and you want to make the key stuff very obvious. My advice would be to put your ‘free download’ app fairly prominently at the top, along with any other useful apps that you’ve got – videos and a music player generally being the priorities. I have to say that even after all these years, and with a new timeline to boot, adding apps in Facebook actually remains a really cumbersome process which I don’t have time to go into, so good luck with that (some googling of ‘how do I ad a new Facebook app’ should help…a bit).

On the plus side, apps on Facebook pages are now fairly unmissable – compared to the old tab icons, they are huge. And however difficult it is to add apps, they do come in handy once they're there.

3. Set a ‘founded date’

A 'founded date' marks the start of your musical odyssey and the point from which you can start filling in your band’s back story on Facebook. If you’ve been around for a while, your band may predate the existence of Facebook, so you’ll definitely need to enter a founded date if you want to add information about your musical activities pre-2007. I can’t quite remember how I entered my founded date on my Facebook page, but I think it involved scrolling right down to the bottom of the page and clicking some sort of a pencil icon. As ever with Facebook pages, it’s not madly intuitive.

4. Add milestones

Adding milestones is a good bit more straightforward – just click the ‘milestone’ link which is located at the top left-hand side of the page, underneath your cover photo. Use this option to add significant dates and events in your band’s career, like when you released a record that nobody bought, or did a gig for an audience comprising your mum. On a more serious note, it’s worth taking a bit of time on this, as it does give your band an opportunity to provide something that is of real interest to your fans. Or at least the ones wearing anoraks.

5. Pin and star stuff

You can now give a particular post, link, video etc. greater prominence on your Facebook page by pinning it to the top. Simply hit the little pencil icon beside any post, and hit the ‘pin to top’ link. It will then hang around at the top of your page like a bad smell for a week. This is useful for flagging up particularly important content, like that time you saw Boy George walk into the local corner shop.

Starring stuff is another way to make a post more prominent on your page – if you click the star icon beside a post, it will be expanded to a full-size article.

6. Use messaging

One of the more significant new features of Facebook pages is that fans can message you directly and privately – i.e., not just write embarrassing stuff on your wall. Great if you’ve got a bunch of record companies or hot groupies keen to contact you; not so great if you’ve got a raincoat-wearing brigade wanting to get in touch. On balance though, I’d leave the messaging option switched on; it’s a form of fan engagement and you can always ignore the weirdos if you have to. Of the new features being discussed here, I think the that the messaging option is potentially the most significant, because it allows potentially very helpful people to establish a connection / dialogue with you about your music.

7. Use the ‘build audience’ features

By clicking the ‘build audience’ button at the top of your page, you’ll be presented with various tools that you can use to spread the word about your page (including a handy option to use your mailing list to invite people to follow you). Although these tools are not all strictly speaking new, they are presented in a  simple and comprehensive way and you should definitely take a look at them.

But remember…

Regardless of the above new features,  it’s really important to note that that most of your fans won't actually look at your Facebook page that often (if at all!); rather, they'll see content that you post on it pop up in their news feed. This is why, for all the nice new features, it’s still more important to think about what you actually post on your page than how well the page itself is presented. The better and richer the quality of the content you post, the more you will engage people and define a good online reputation. On that note, I’d actually suggest that you take a look at our recent post on managing your online reputation – it's got a lot of pointers on that score. 

Right, I'm off to put a lot of interesting and perhaps not-entirely-true milestones on my own Facebook page. Like the time I was number 1 in Belgium.

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