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TAD: a new app to help musicians put artwork together quickly

TAD App

We've come across a new iOS app recently which may be of interest to musicians in need of a bit of help with creating artwork for online releases (as well as those who are short of cash for hiring a designer). It's called 'TAD' - short for 'Thumbnail Art Design' - and in a nutshell, it allows you to use your smartphone to create a cover, quickly and easily, for a digital release.

Aimed at 'time poor musicians who aren't designers', it allows users to add text and other art elements to a picture of their band (or something else) and create release artwork within minutes. Filters are available for the images, as are sleeve templates based on classic sleeve designs. You can export the finished artwork in various resolutions, including 3000 x 3000 pixels (making it suitable for use with iTunes, Beatport and Spotify).

The best way to get a sense of what the app does is to watch the below video, which gives a simple demonstration of what it does. You can also find out more about the app on the official TAD website.

Ultimately TAD is a nifty little app which I can see a lot of musicians using on the bus to band practice. It's not really suitable for creating printed artwork and as such won't entirely replace the need for a graphic designer any time soon, but it definitely has its uses - even if only for playing around with ideas for sleeves. Certainly bands who only ever release music digitally will find it a very useful tool.

The app can currently be downloaded from the iOS App Store for free until 14 December, after which you can buy it for $1.99.

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Youtube for Artists is announced

Youtube for Artists

This week Youtube announced “Youtube for Artists”, which they describe as “insights and tools to help you share your music, engage your fans, and build a career”.

In reality, Youtube for Artists currently amounts to a small website containing

  • a suitably inspirational (if not madly informative) video about how every artist has the power to ‘make it’ thanks to the internet (if only it was quite that simple)
  • a brief overview of some Youtube features specifically for artists (some of which aren’t entirely ready yet)
  • some general tips on promoting your music videos.

The site feels a little half-baked right now BUT it is clear from it that there are definitely some potentially useful things on the way, chief amongst them a new ‘music insights’ tool which allows you to get an overview of where, geographically speaking, your videos are being watched – the idea being that you can take note of this big-brotheresque piece of information and plan tours accordingly.

Additionally you’ll find quite a lot of tips on Youtube for Artists about how to keep fans engaged with your videos, optimise them for Youtube’s search engine and access / make the most of statistics. When it comes to providing these tips, the Youtube for Artists site often points you in the direction of existing (and non-musician specific) help pages – this in particular helps give the whole enterprise its ‘half-finished’ feel, but these articles are useful nonetheless.

Finally, Youtube have also recently created a new feature called ‘Youtube Cards’ – these are not being introduced specifically for musicians but they are potentially very useful to them. These cards are essentially pop-up messages which you can use to add call-to-actions to your videos; Youtube somewhat hilariously describe said pop-ups as being ‘as beautiful as your videos’ (frankly, if your video is only as beautiful as a pop-up card, I would seriously worry about its quality). Despite this hyperbolic description, the cards do have the potential to be quite useful: you can use them, for example, to drive people who are watching your video back to your website, or encourage viewers to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign. If you are familiar with Youtube annotations, you can think of the cards as an evolution of those – they look better though, and are responsive (meaning they’ll display nicely across all devices).

Youtube for Artists currently feels as though it's in its infancy, and the Youtube Cards idea needs some development too - but it's good to see Youtube create resources specifically for musicians, and improvements are promised to both products. Any musicians keen on staying up to date with what remains the world's biggest music streaming site would be well advised to keep an eye on developments.

You can find out more about Youtube for Artists here, or click here for information about Youtube Cards.

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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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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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Using Google’s services and apps to further your music career

Google

Google and its all-seeing algorithms may be watching you and controlling your thoughts, but in addition to being the latest Big Brother on the block, the company are also the provider of a host of free and very powerful tools, many of which have really useful applications for musicians. As musicians are a heartless bunch who would happily lay down their grannies' lives in exchange for success, in this article we’re going to willfully ignore Google's dark side and show you how its products can help you be an efficient rock and roller.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are the chagrin of music PR companies – because they let bands keep an eye on what journalists, bloggers and the public at large are saying about them. So if you’ve hired a PR firm and Google Alerts isn’t, er, alerting you to anything, this probably means they aren’t doing the business for you and you should hire us.

Setting up alerts is simple – you just go to http://www.google.com/alerts and enter the phrase you want Google to keep an eye on, along with your email address. So, for example, if happen to be a U2 tribute band called The Achtung Babies (God bless you), you’d just enter ‘The Achtung Babies’ into the relevant field, select some communication preferences and every time somebody mentions your lovely tribute band online – whether they’re a journalist, blogger or fan – you’ll get updated.

Google Analytics

If your band has a website (and if not, why the hell not - it's 2011) then you’ve got to get Google Analytics installed on it. It provides you with incredibly detailed stats – you can find out what keywords brought people to your band's website, where your visitors are located, what your most popular content is and a truckload more info. In short, it lets you snoop on your fans. But in a good way. We think. Well, we've got it installed on our site and now we know where you live. 

Installing Google Analytics is really easy - you just sign up for an account and give Google your web address. You are provided with a snippet of code that you cut and paste into any web page on your site you want to track and Bob's your uncle.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is useful for bands in two main ways. First, for organising rehearsals and gigs. This may sound mundane but diary management is actually surprisingly important to most bands, because trying to co-ordinate several people’s diaries can be a real headache, and bad diary management means that turning up to a gig without a drummer is a real possibility (or a fantastic achievement, if you're into drummer jokes). By sharing a Google calendar all the band members can highlight the times they’re not free in the same calendar, meaning that identifying  the next free slot for a rehearsal becomes much easier. Yes, it's around Christmas 2016.

Google Calendar cam also be used to create a diary of gigs for your fans to access. You can embed Google calendars easily on your website, meaning visitors can see a list of when and where you’re playing next (and you can update these dates very easily - this is particularly handy if your website doesn't have a content management system). Your site visitors can also subscribe to your calendar via XML or any progamme that reads the iCal format (Outlook, Apple iCal etc.), meaning that your fans will know exactly when you're playing next, and not turn up.

You can read more about sharing your Google calendar here.

Google Feedburner

Google Feedburner is an incredibly useful tool – and possibly our favourite Google product. First, it lets you tart up your RSS feed (for, say, your news page or blog) into a much more readable format and allows people to subscribe to it easily in a reader of their choice; but perhaps more importantly, it lets you create a very effective, free mailing list for your band using your RSS feed.

The latter aspect works as follows: every time you write a new blog post, Feedburner uses your blog's RSS feed to convert the post into a HTML email - and anyone who has subscribed via Feedburner's email subscription service will get a copy of that post delivered straight to their inbox. Additionally, Feedburner provides you with in depth subscriber stats and a suite of tools to help your RSS feed travel further (and potentially make money for you too). Incidentally, we use Feedburner ourselves to allow people to subscribe to The Prescription via email and RSS. If you're reading this in an email, it's thanks to Feedburner.

NB: For full instructions on how to use Feedburner to create a mailing list please see our previous post about creating an e-newsletter for your band.

Google Mail

An obvious point this, but your band needs an email address – and probably one with the band name in it – i.e., info@yourbandwebsite.com. Google Mail (or 'Gmail' as we ahead-of-the-curve-hipsters call it) is better than a lot of its webmail competitors, because it provides free IMAP accounts that (a) come with large storage and (b) allow you to whack your domain name in the email address. IMAP accounts are great because they always stay in sync, even if you are accessing your email account on a variety of devices. For example, if you are using your Gmail account on an iPhone and delete an email, the same email will be automatically deleted on your webmail, or in Outlook, Apple Mail etc. No matter what you do with your email account and no matter what device you do it on, you'll always see the same messages in your inbox and sent items. Try using the alternative, POP3, and you'll soon discover how useful IMAP is.

To configure your Gmail account so that it has a domain name in it, you’ll need to register for Google Apps. This comes in a free or paid version - the free version is available at http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/group/index.html. The process of creating email addresses with containing your domain name is a little bit fiddly, and you might require the help of a web-savvy friend, but once you’ve set it up it all works great.

Google Trends

Perhaps one for more-established artists this, but if you are lucky enough to fall into this category, then you will be able to use Google Trends to chart peaks and troughs in the number of Google searches for your band, and identify pieces of coverage that drove people to look for your act. Just enter your band’s name or your album title into the ‘search trends’ box at http://www.google.com/trends to see a pretty little graph highlighting how popular you are (or aren’t) or were (or weren’t), and any news stories that caused a spike in interest.

Google Videos / Youtube

In case you didn't know, Google also own Youtube. And unless you've been living under a rock since the 1980s (not the worst idea, particularly during the 80s themselves) we're sure you'll know how useful pop videos can be for bands, so we're going to gloss over this one for now. However, you might want to check out two recent Prescription articles on how to use Youtube effectively:

And what about Google+?

Finally, a note regarding the latest Google product, Google+. No, we haven't forgotten it. You might be interested in exploring what this new social network can do for bands, but the latest we can ascertain about it seems to imply that it's not really much use for them (yet). This is because its terms and conditions currently specify that you can only use it as an individual, not an organisation (yes, a band counts as an organisation). This means that singer-songwriters who are using it under their own name - the ever-so-talented [sic] James Blunt, for example - are probably alright, but most of the stuff we've been reading about Google+ leads us to believe that if you set up a band account, it'll get deleted. For more information about this issue, you might want to check out this article on Google+ by the Music Think Tank.

Right, we're off to the pub. Hope these tips are of use. You might even be reading them in a Google product, who knows. Now for our plug: don't forget that like Google, Prescription PR offer a wide range of digital services (not to mention good old-fashioned print PR) to promote your band - feel free to contact us if you're interested in working with us. We won't control your thoughts - but we will help you get noticed (and if we don't, no doubt that Google Alert you set up as a result of reading this article will no doubt tell you so...oops).

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