Some top tips on how to make as much money as possible from your music releases.
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Tricks and tips
Some top tips on how to make as much money as possible from your music releases.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
With touring so expensive and streaming royalties so low, it’s become harder than ever to make money out of music. One area where it is still possible to generate decent revenue however is through getting radio airplay; but often, bands concentrate so hard on getting this airplay that they forget to take the necessary steps to ensure are getting paid for it - thus missing out on income that can in some cases be quite significant. So in this post we’re going to share a few pointers on how to ensure you definitely get the dosh that is due to you from that long sought-after BBC Radio 1 (ok, Hospital Radio) spin.
But first, let’s start with a question that many bands ask: how much does each UK radio station pay you per play?
Well actually, radio stations don’t pay YOU per play, they pay two royalty-collection organisations:
the Performing Rights Society (PRS for music) - an organisation that collects royalties for songwriters, composers and publishers
Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) - an organisation that collects royalties for performers and record labels).
These two organisations then dish this income out to you (or your representatives) in various instalments. And it’s worth noting that the amount of money the radio stations pay per play isn’t static - it boils down to the size of each radio station’s listenership, which of course varies year by year.
PRS members can log in to the PRS site and view a very detailed set of figures from the PRS regarding how much each station is currently paying per the PRS play - there’s a few PRS examples below for the big music stations (July 2016):
Obtaining ‘per-play’ data from the PPL is a lot harder - despite several trawls of the PPL website, I can’t find a simple overview of royalty rates per station. (I’ve fired off an email to them however asking for data - I will update this post with relevant info when I hear back).
In the meantime the I’ve sourced some pay-per-play examples from publishing company Sentric Music’s blog:
(Note that this data is from 2013, so a little out of date).
The PRS and PPL also collect ‘per-play’ royalties from thousands of other radio stations across the country (not to mention TV stations too, and many other sources).
Even the top-line figures above give you a clear idea of why getting your ducks in a row when it comes to radio royalties matters.
For the sake of argument, suppose you are fortunate to get a 4 minute track playlisted on Radio 2, obtaining 15 plays over the space of a fortnight. Combining the PRS and PPL figures gives you a total-pay-per-play figure of £106.34 per minute. Multiply that by your total number of minutes played - 60 - and you'd end up generating £6830.40 in royalties in just two weeks. And that’s just from one station - getting playlisted on Radio 2 often leads to playlisting on many other stations across the country too, which will further increase your radio royalty revenues.
Of course, deductions will need to be made from any income generated by radio play - depending on your situation, managers, labels and publishers will all be taking their slice of pie, but it’s a sizeable sum to kick things off with.
So, now that we’re all drooling at the prospect of Radio 2 playlisting and making nearly £7k in a fortnight, it’s time to look at how you avoid leaving that sort of money on the table. Thankfully, this is relatively straightforward (if a bit time-consuming).
Finally, you may find it beneficial to involve a publisher or a publishing administrator in proceedings, as they will be familiar with the whole process and may be able to speed things up, highlight any errors or suggest ways that you can squeeze a bit more revenue out of proceedings. As a starting point though, the above steps will offer some important protection against missing out on radio royalties.
I’ve often said that being in a rock-and-roll band is like running your own business (somewhat reluctantly, due to the very un-rock-and-roll nature of that statement). But insofar as you’re manufacturing something (music) and trying to flog it, it’s true.
And one thing that most successful businesses are relying on increasingly these days is cloud computing.
If in the unlikely event you’ve yet to come across this new fangled cloud stuff, in a nutshell it boils down to storing all your files online and being able to access them using any device; the implications of this are significant for all of us, and bands are no exception. So in our ever-helpful way, below you’ll find some tips on how musicians can make the most out of the cloud.
Organising rehearsals, particularly when your band has lots of musicians in it, is a pain in the ass. But if you use shared calendars that live in the cloud, it instantly becomes a lot easier - so long as everybody takes a moment to update their calendars with their unavailability, it’s really easy to spot a slot where a rehearsal might actually be feasible. Google Calendar is included with both a free Google Account or the paid-for Google Apps for Work suite, and it's super easy to use - so get your band using it.
Every recording musician will know, particularly in this digital day and age, how important it is to back up recordings. When I first started recording onto a computer, I used to spend ages copying Pro Tools files onto CDs and DVDs to back them up. A dull and time-consuming activity, particularly with my crappy CD burner.
A solution like Google Drive or Dropbox can take all the pain out of backup, particularly if you’ve got their sync apps installed on your computer. You just save your recordings into your Google Drive or Dropbox folder and, so long as you’re online and have set up syncing correctly, it will back them up automatically to the cloud (note: to be extra safe, consider a third backup too, so that you adhere to the age old 3-2-1 backup rule).
The cloud is GREAT for facilitating collaboration. If, for example you’re backing up your recordings to the cloud as described above, you’re also making it possible for your band members to access and contribute to them without being in the same room as you.
Just like any other ‘business’ would, your band can use cloud productivity tools like G Suite or Office 365 to stay on top of band admin. Both of these products allow you to contribute in real time to documents, spreadsheets and slides - all of which can be really helpful when it comes to sorting out your band finances, tours, setlists and industry contacts databases. And the great thing is you can access all that stuff wherever you are, thanks to the beauty of mobile devices.
As mentioned above, you can use cloud collaboration tools to collectively compile a great list of music industry contacts...but the cloud comes in very handy too when it comes to communicating with them too: sharing music using the cloud is ridiculously easy. If you want to send a journalist or A&R guy a link to a track, you will do yourself no end of favours by sending them a Google Drive or Dropbox link to it, instead of attaching it to an email. If you’re clogging up somebody’s inbox with a 9MB attachment, they will immediately form a negative impression of you, no matter how good that 9MB attachment sounds. You can share all manner of other content stored in the cloud with contacts too - videos, EPKs, press releases, riders - the works.
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.
I’ve noticed lately that my attention span is getting worse. I am finding it increasingly hard to focus on anything for any length of time (even getting to the end of this sentence was a struggle). Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, or maybe it’s to do with the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with all this fathering-of-children business, but essentially I put it down to the fact that any time I sit down to do anything, some device or other beeps at me or displays a notification that simply demands another bit of my (ever-shortening) attention.
Needless to say I am not alone – everybody else I know is drowning in a sea of constant interruptions and diversions, usually because they are permanently wired up to that big old thing called the Internet which, frankly, never shuts up (and, for the record, is one day going to become sentient, take slight issue with the popularity of One Direction and devour us all alive). And never mind the Internet: there’s real life too. Demanding jobs, bossy toddlers, trips to the mechanic and a need to pay off the 5853% interest on a Wonga loan all impact on Joe Average’s ability to put his mind to a specific task for longer than 5 minutes (unless, it would appear, it involves Candy Crush).
And yet, despite all this, we musicians still think that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect busy, pushed-for-time members of the public to walk down to WH Smiths, purchase a music magazine, scour the magazine for a 20-word dismissal of our music, locate a boutique record store that stocks said music, buy a 180 gram limited edition vinyl copy of our latest 120-minute triple LP, nip down to the corner hifi shop to buy a turntable to actually play the masterpiece on, whip out the joss sticks, then listen in reverence to the album for 2 hours.
Yes, there are some die-hard fans who will go to those 1970s-style lengths to discover, buy and enjoy new music but sadly these days they are in the minority. Those dastardly short attention spans make it very unlikely that a potential fan will complete any of the above steps to listening bliss (they might get as far as WH Smiths, but odds are they’ll buy a saucy magazine instead – and one in which there is, surprisingly, no room for album reviews). But don’t despair: there are still ways to get people to listen to your music, but you have to bear the fact that we are living in an era of information overload in mind when you go about promoting it. Here are some tips for dealing with music fans who don’t have time for anything…
If you made it this far, well done: there’s hope for our attention spans yet. Now get yer joss sticks out and whack that very long record of mine on.
Pardon the pun, but making your band stand out these days is a tough gig. You end up trying to differentiate your act not only from a zillion other bands on the internet, but every band and artist in (an ever-lengthening) rock history who 'got there first' as far as your type of music is concerned. However, there are a few tricks that you can employ to distinguish your band from the competition, and, as we are generous souls here at Prescription PR, I thought I’d share some of these with you.
“Impossible!”, “It’s all been done” and “But I want to sound like the Clash circa early 1981 just after they released Sandinista!” are all fairly understandable reactions to an instruction to make your band sound different. To a large degree, it has all been done (and to be fair, many tastemakers do insist upon you sounding like the Clash before taking you remotely seriously).
And yet…it hasn’t all been done. That’s because most bands – The Clash included – don’t live in your house. Eh? Well, in your house you will find a plethora of kitchen utensils that you can hit, record and insert into a drum loop; you can sample the cat and turn her into a funky synth that you can then play on a keyboard; or how about turning your bathroom into a real-life echo chamber? Very few – if any musicians – will have access to your cutlery, cat or bathroom, so the sounds you make using all of these will be completely your own.
Moving outside your house and walking down the road, you will discover that in your local flea market there are host of little Casio keyboards that nobody would in their right mind think of using on a song – except you; there’s also a guy selling a cheap Italian organ from the 80s with some sounds that you haven’t encountered, perhaps for good reason, on any records before.
The point I’m making is not to rely on the standard plugins in Pro Tools or instruments that everybody else uses to make your music – look outside your sequencer or even studio for inspiration and design your own sounds. It’s harder than relying on Pro Tools plugins and presets – but it’s a lot more fun, satisfying and it helps you to sound unique.
Particularly if you are in the ‘it’s all about the music man’ camp (and being a fashion disaster myself, I sympathise very much with that point of view) it’s easy to disregard or overlook the importance of image. That’s why there are so many rather dull pictures of grumpy bands in jeans standing against a wall in existence. The other mistake bands tend to make when it comes to image is to try to look exactly like their heroes, to the point where the act looks completely unoriginal, or worse, like a tribute band. In the UK the a recent Government-commissioned report has highlighted a serious problem with the number of indie bands that STILL look like Oasis circa 1997.
The answer? A bit of time and thought put into styling your band; use of interesting backdrops for your photoshoots; and hiring a professional photographer with ideas that extend beyond the “let’s all stand up against the wall and look cross lads” approach to photo-taking (and maybe a few lights to boot!).
Unless you are going to make your own clothes (dress the band in bin liners anyone?), you will find it difficult to come up with a totally unique look, but by taking style, shoot locations and choice of photographer seriously, you are making a good start in distinguishing your act from a lot of drab-looking indie bands.
A lot of bands assume that releasing a record simply involves issuing a press release that tells journalists that the new album is out soon and that it sounds, well, a bit like Oasis only with a synth sound that was generated by sampling a cat. Actually, you may find it more productive in some respects to forget about the music for a moment and dwell a bit more on the people making it. Does the drummer in your band have a secret criminal past involving cabbages? Has the lead singer had a relationship with a goat? Does the guitarist emit special pheromones during solos that make his performance sound more pleasing to ladies’ ears? All extreme examples (although I’d bet my bottom dollar that they’ve all been mentioned on press releases before) but what I’m getting at is that by looking at your band members' personal lives, you will often find ‘creative angles’ which can be used to generate high-profile human interest stories in the press.
There is a danger here though: sometimes human interest stories can overshadow the music to the point where either rock critics don’t take you seriously (suspecting that your angle is being used as a substitute for a record deal or talent or both) or where the human interest story completely overshadows the music, to the point where punters focus on the story, view the music as secondary, and ultimately neglect to buy the album. It’s a question of getting the balance between the music and the angle right.
So there you have it: sample some cutlery, wear a bin liner, and have a relationship with a goat: a recipe for instant success. And with that I’m off to investigate my secret past with a cabbage.
Today I’m going to tell you to put all thoughts of PR and marketing to one side for a minute, and use a theory called memetics to help you reach the status of global rock superstar (or richest but still the most miserable looking shoegazer on the block; take your pick).
This all boils down to thinking about your songs in a different way: not as pieces of music but as ‘memes’. According to proponents of memetics like Richard Dawkins, memes are ideas that spread from person to person within a culture. The ‘stronger’ the meme, the theory goes, the more likely it is to spread; a comparison is made with the spread of genes via natural selection, with memes being part of a sort of ‘survival of the fittest idea’ scenario. Now of course these days when people talk about memes, they are really referring to anything shared by George Takei on Facebook, but since music is now just as easy to share on the web as any other piece of digital content, I think it’s only proper to treat it the same way as a good Miley Cyrus Facebook gag.
So how do you create a fantastic, widely-shared meme? Well, if we are to buy into the theory, a starting point would be by looking to other ‘successful’ memes and trying to find out why they became successful. In this context, by ‘meme’ you can read ‘hit song’, and thanks to the internet you can audition pretty much every hit song going and try to learn as much as possible from the songwriting geniuses who crafted them...and then ‘mutate’ these hits into fabulous memes of your own.
Well, actually, during the early phases of your research into memes you’ll find out pretty quickly that some of the reasons why songs become huge hits often have little to do with songwriting genius. This is because throughout rock history, people have bought records for a lot of reasons (‘ideas’) that have nothing to do with music: they may have liked the look of a particular singer’s derriere and thought that buying that artist's album would bring them just a touch closer to his/her lovely bottom; their kids might have really liked Bob the Builder; buying the remake of ‘Feed the World’ which featured that odd rap bit by Dizzee Rascal in the middle seemed like a socially acceptable way of giving to charity at the time. Memes / ideas drove these sales alright, but non-musical ones.
Anyway, unless you have extreme confidence in your bum, particularly want to write a stop-frame-animation-related novelty hit or are hell-bent on releasing Christmas charity singles, you can probably put these sort of memes to one side and focus on listening to tracks that don’t seem out of place in a sentence that involves the expression ‘musical genius’. Everybody will of course have their own idea of what musical genius is and which artists possess it; but nonetheless a cursory glance at rock history will reveal quite a treasure trove of bands and artists that managed to simultaneously possess ridiculous quantities of musical talent AND flog quite a lot of records. It doesn’t matter what type of music you like, or these artists made, there is something to learn from them. Devour every aspect of their work.
Once you’ve learnt from the master meme-makers, it’s time to produce music like them. This, naturally enough, is the tricky part. It’s not just a question of nicking ideas from musical geniuses (although this can nonetheless be quite effective – think of how many copies of Girls Aloud’s rewrite of The Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man sold); it’s as much a case of thinking – and working – like them, so that you don’t just become a copyist but start to understand the secrets behind truly great music (one of which is that overlooked thing called 'graft' by the way)...and make it yourself.
Now, let’s put all this rather intellectual talk of memes and theories and natural selection and Girls Aloud to one side (and I ought to point out that after shoving meme theory down your throat for much of this article, a lot of scientists have a big problem with it). Let’s boil things down to this: every day, we see people share fantastic content online; and regardless whether this content comprises jokes, charity appeals, interesting facts or weird photos of squirrels, it is accessed by millions not because a huge marketing budget was involved but simply because 1) there was something inherently great about that content and 2) it was incredibly easy, in this digital era, to pass it on to somebdody else. Now that they have been digitised, songs are no different in this regard, and whilst there are a host of things that you can do from a marketing and PR point of view to making this sharing process even more effective, you will make your life so much easier if you put the time (and money) into your content before you even think about promoting it. As the old jazz saying goes, ‘take care of the music, and the music will take care of you.’
(Worth a try anyway. If not you can always resort to those dodgy companies that get you fake likes on Facebook.)
The Prescription is written by a musician / digital nerdy person called Chris Singleton.
This guy, with his tremendous beard, may help you find out where you are going wrong in the music biz.
A slightly obscure one this, but something called 'the Pareto Principle' piqued my interest today. Now, I simply love things that allow me to drop the phrase 'piqued my interest' casually into sentences, so I just had to find the nearest hip Apple product immediately and type a blog post about the aforementioned principle so that you, dear reader, could be subjected to the phrase.
If you are still with me, and your own interest has been piqued, and you don't by this point think I am a complete knob, I shall explain all.
The Pareto Principle is named after an Italian statistician called Vilfredo Pareto (see picture above). He had an interest in fascism (which we'll leave to one side), but more importantly for the purposes of this article, he also had an interest in income distribution. In 1906, his research in this area led to him discovering that in Italy, 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. After doing further research, he discovered that this split held up in other countries too - it didn't matter whether he was looking at Ireland, Belgium or France, roughly 20% per cent of dudes always ended up with 80% of the land. (Plus ca change.)
This 80/20 split was quickly discovered to exist in a whole load of other fields too. Be it in business, economics, sociology or even health and safety, it seemed that in a large number of instances, 80% of consequences stemmed from 20% of the causes. This phenomemon became known as the "80/20 rule" - examples of it in action include 20% of a company's staff driving 80% its profits; 20% of products in a shop generating 80% of the sales; 20% of a site's content generating 80% of the visits; and with regard to the health and safety example mentioned earlier, it would appear from my very non-scientific trawl of the internet that 20% of hazards cause 80% of the accidents.
Now, somewhat predictably, this got me thinking: what about the music biz?
Now, I'm no statistician, but I'd hazard a guess that some form of an 80/20 rule is also in operation when it comes to the music industry. I'd happily argue that of all the music released every year, 20% is decent and 80% is pants. But leaving my taste in music to one side, I reckon that the 80/20 rule probably crops up all over the place when it comes to the actual business of selling music. Perhaps 20% of all the artists on iTunes are responsible for 80% of the sales. Maybe 20% of an artist's fans purchase 80% of their gig tickets. Perhaps 20% of a band's tracks are the ones that generate 80% of their airplay.
The above is all back-of-a-fag packet conjecture, but, simply by considering my own attempts to inflict my music on others over the past few years, I know that I've seen something like the 80/20 rule in operation. Looking back at what I spent on promo, I have noticed spending money on certain activities generated far more sales than dosh spent on others; I can see that a certain proportion of my Facebook fans are responsible for the majority of the engagement on my fan page; I know that certain songs of mine are listened to much more on Last FM than others; I know that during the years I've spent recording, I've probably spent far more time on songs that didn't make it onto albums than the ones that did.
Now, I've never gone so far as to calculate percentages regarding the above, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of 80/20 rule in operation. But regardless of the exact distribution, there is arguably an important lesson for musicians to learn from the concept of the 80/20 rule in general and it's this: you are probably wasting your time and money (80% of it?) on loads of stuff that is not working, and not concentrating as much as you should on the stuff that is yielding results. Or, perhaps you are focusing too much on an area of music which generally doesn't make anyone any money (increasingly, CD sales) and ignoring an area that still does (getting your music licensed for films).
My point is that it can't hurt to take a step back and look at where you are doing to promote your music, identify the bits that are and aren't working, and to focus on the good stuff. It's ridiculously easy to get so wrapped up in the business of making and selling music that you don't look at anything objectively, and the 80/20 rule may prove good little nudge in the direction of thinking about music promo in a more businesslike way. This businesslike approach may not be very rock and roll, but consider this: we independent musicians are often our own record labels, managers, publicists, radio pluggers, data collectors, web designers and tea boys these days. And what does this mean? We are effectively all running small businesses. So, sadly, being businesslike becomes essential, and just maybe, the 80/20 rule can help in that regard.
You can always throw the TV out of the hotel window after working out the percentage of time you spend dossing anyway.
If you are anything like most musicians I know, you are trying to fit a music career around a whole load of other stuff: a demeaning job, a screaming baby, a demanding wife / hubby, a barking dog that needs walking three timesa day, a temperamental cat and perhaps an expensive coke habit brought on by all the aforementioned. All this means that the time you have left to make or promote music is probably at a minimum and you really need to make the most of it. So, feeling sorry for you, and being a temperamental cat-owning musician myself, in this post I thought I’d share some key time-saving tips for musicians.
These days a music career involves a serious quantity of files. Not just audio files, but PDFs, Word documents, press shots, videos, databases and more. And if you are serious about your music you’ll find that these files inevitably need to be shared between multiple parties: band members, journalists, managers, publishers, publicists, producers, radio pluggers, tea boys…and it can get really messy when these files are shared via round-robin emails. To avoid said messiness, and to ensure that you don’t have to send the same song to the radio plugger AGAIN, it’s much more time-efficient to use a free ‘cloud-storage’ solution like Dropbox to share files. Using Dropbox you can set up a shared folder which everybody involved in a project - regardless of whether they are using a Mac, PC or a smartphone – can access quickly and easily without having to trawl through endless email trails. Additionally, using Dropbox means that all your files get backed up. Handy for when the computer takes your new album down with it.
There are probably quite a few things that you might want to let somebody who signs up to your mailing list know – i.e., how to buy your record, where your social media profiles are located on the web, where to find details of your live dates and crucially, how to become a groupie. With autoresponder services (such as Mad Mimi or Getresponse) you can host your mailing list online and then send various pre-programmed (and nice-looking) emails out to fans at intervals of your choosing. For example, it’s fairly easy to set things up so that as soon as fan signs up to your email list, they get a thank-you message and a link to your online store; 4 weeks later they receive an email about how to follow you on social media; 8 weeks later they get a special discount code for your t-shirts and so on. The point is that this is all done automatically – no more wasting time cobbling together mailing lists and sending crummy e-newsletters out using your Hotmail account. Additionally, because the emails are of the HTML variety, they look pretty; and services like the ones mentioned above handle unsubscribes automatically, meaning no more having to spend ages checking ‘people not to annoy ever again’ lists when you send out your spammy messages (sorry, interesting e-newsletters).
As a musician you’ll probably have social media pages coming out of your ass – using a ‘social media dashboard’ such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck can save you a truckload of time because such tools let you update all your profiles at once. Additionally, you can use these services to schedule status updates in advance, meaning Hootsuite can tweet inanities about your latest release on your behalf whilst you’re doing something far more productive down the pub.
Gaining a good understanding of RSS feeds can be a huge time-saver. RSS feeds let the content from your site ‘travel’ really easily and crucially, without much effort from you. Using RSS feeds wisely, and in conjunction with some of the tools discussed above, you can set things up so that (for example) when you update the news section of your site, your fans automatically receive an email containing the news in question; your Facebook page gets instantly updated with the same story; a tweet containing a link to the news is posted; the news is pinged to Google’s search engine instantly, and the item appears in RSS readers. All meaning that you only have to write that news story once and can use the time saved to concentrate on oh, I don’t know, writing some songs or something. I don’t have time to go into the technicalities here, but google phrases like ‘What is RSS?’ and ‘RSS to email’ and you should be able to build up a picture of what I’m waffling on about.
Paper diaries are sooo last century. If you’re in a band, you should use a shared calendar to let bandmates, managers and groupies know when you’re available for a rehearsal, moan or good time (or all three) respectively. So long as everybody else is sharing similar information, you should be able to organise rehearsals, gigs and shags way quicker than by resorting to constant ringarounds or emails. You get a free, shareable calendar with a Google account, so no excuses. (Whilst on the subject of Google accounts incidentally, you may find our post on how musicians can use Google Apps productively interesting too).
There are a truckload of iOS and Android apps available which are invaluable timesavers (and often lifesavers) for musicians. Which ones will help you most depends on what you are up to, but personally my phone acts as a Dictaphone (for remembering those down tunes that come into my head whilst on the loo); a metronome; a guitar tuner; a notepad for jotting down lyrics; a personal organiser; a multitrack recorder; a device for telling my Facebook fans I’m writing songs on the loo; hell, I even use it as phone. In a nutshell, you should use a smartphone to further your music career during periods where in the pre-iPhone era you might have not got anything done. Like when you're on a boring bus journey, or in an important meeting at work.
Time is like anything else – you have to be organised with it to make the most of it. Don’t do things on the fly. Working out what time you have free each week, what you intend to get done musically with that free time and sticking to a timetable may mean you don’t just end up on Facebook when you could be writing a concept album about beans, or promoting your current critically-acclaimed esoteric jazz-punk fusion release. Make a to-do list and stick to it.
When your wife, husband, cat or dog does finally allow you to have a bit of free time to concentrate on the real passion in your life (music), for God’s sake don’t waste that precious ten minutes on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or checking your site’s analytics. Or objectifying ladies. The internet’s great and all but I reckon I’d have recorded way more than 2 albums in 6 years had it not been invented. Most musos I know are the same: they moan about having no time to get anything done with their music only to spend any free time they actually do get browsing the web. So when you do have a bit of time to write your jazz-punk-fusion thingy, lock yourself in a room, switch off the internet and don’t come out until it’s written. If you do need to use the internet for musical reasons, for example, sending out e-newsletters about gigs and so on, stay off the saucy sites until the job is done.
Having spent a lot of time writing all the above I am now going to get the guitar out. Oh hang on, there’s some footie on TV tonight.
The Prescription is written by independent musician and Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.
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Right now, all across the country, bands are recording music in dingy bedsits, crap rehearsal rooms, disgusting garages and sheds.
Whilst these locations may not be particularly pleasant, so long as they are equipped with a computer and an audio interface, they house recording studios that the rock megastars of yesteryear would have drooled over.
Even today’s most basic recording packages generally allow you to multitrack a huge (often unlimited) number of instruments; they also come with a vast range of digital effects, software synthesisers, pitch-correction tools and a library of drummer jokes (compare this to the 4-track tape recorders that the Beatles had to rely on for most of their career – although they probably had quite a few drummer jokes to hand). Whereas in days of rock yore, you really had to be signed or very rich to go anywhere near recording equipment this good, incredible music production tools are now cheap and easily accessible to even the most pauperly of bands.
This has led to a an explosion in DIY music recording, which has led to millions of albums being recorded at home or in the garden shed. Most are not very good and not heard by very many people, but on balance, DIY recording is probably a good thing. Although it means a lot of crap records will get made – obviously, there is a difference between having fab recording equipment and knowing how to use it well – at least bands that would not have had access to good recording gear now get the chance to use and experiment with it; and occasionally, they come up with something terrific that captures the public’s ears and imagination.
DIY recording arguably reached the masses in a serious way about 10 years ago, when consumer-grade computers and hard drives became fast enough to handle professional audio recording duties; but over the past couple of years, we’ve seen bands starting to use DIY in all areas of their music career. With DIY recording, artists got their mits on the means of production, but serious manufacture, distribution and promotion were still largely the preserve of record labels. But that’s been changing; over the past couple of years we’ve seen that a combination of technological developments, new online services, an explosion in broadband access and improved awareness of what’s available to musicians has resulted in a huge number of artists not just recording DIY music, but also doing the following:
In other words, pretty much doing everything labels, publishers and promoters would normally do – but usually on a ‘micro scale’.
The question for musicians about DIY is this however: just because you can do all these things, should you? We often come across artists who have spent years perfecting their sound in their own home studios, and who excel at DIY recording...who then ruin a fantastic home-recorded album by designing a crappy cover in Photoshop and shooting their own video (making it much harder for us to get journalists or bloggers to take them seriously). It’s easy to see why bands do this: it’s infinitely cheaper and often quicker than hiring a professional. And in some cases, it’s absolutely fine to take the DIY route – for example, there might be a guy in the band with a day job in online advertising, who can set up an excellent, cost-effective campaign. Or there may be a photographer in the group who can sort out some fantastic press shots. The problem is that there often isn’t, and with a plethora of cheap gadgets and online services available, it’s very tempting for musicians – who are so used to taking a DIY approach to their music – to assume that a) this is a good way of filling the gap and b) that a DIY approach to everything will always yield positive results.
Obviously, you might not always have a choice around DIY promotion: there may be no budget at all to play with. But even if you are releasing an album on a shoestring, here are some key pointers to bear in mind when you are considering all the other DIY stuff you can do...
Above all, take a look at where your strengths lie. If you are a musician who happens to be a good web designer, then by all means, design your own website. But if you know the video you’re going to make to accompany a brilliant track that you sweated for days over in the garden shed is going to look rubbish, it’s time to look elsewhere for help.
OK, so you’ve spent 4 years recording your opus. And you’re getting ready to whack it up on iTunes and Spotify, thereby putting it within reach of a global audience of music lovers, who will, if there is any justice in this world, buy it in their droves and propel your act into the league of leather-panted rock gods.
The problem is that you are in the same boat as Lord-knows-how-many thousands of musicians all across the world, who, just like you, all aspire to wear the leather rock pants (or lycra hot pants; take your pick). The digital revolution has made it ridiculously easy to distribute your music to a global audience, but the flipside of this is that quite frankly, everybody else is doing it. You are competing with an enormous pool of ruthless, fame-hungry musicians who would sell their granny’s false teeth, or even the granny in question herself, if it meant a whiff of success.
So how can you put yourself ahead of this pack of mean, granny-selling musos? One option, of course, is to find yourself a nice sugar daddy or mommy with a shedload of cash that they are willing to plough into your career; but even then, you will probably not be home and dry.
Although it helps enormously, cash on its own will not buy you success. It’s quite likely that your talent won’t help much either; record companies get sent fantastic music all the time – which could chart easily if given the right push – that remains completely unheard by the masses (often because the lead singer has a bad haircut, but that's another blog post).
In a nutshell – and you probably know this already – rock and roll success is one of the most difficult things to achieve, and if cash or talent alone can’t secure it, then what will? Well, it’s our view that one of the most single important things that can help give artists an edge in the quest for success, but gets repeatedly overlooked, is this: a plan.
Here’s a classic example of what we mean: a band spends thousands of pounds on an album; hires a designer to create a beautiful album cover; manufactures digipacks made of gold; hires dwarves to serve cocaine at gigs…and then sets a release date for the record that completely ignores the fact that the music press generally demand to receive an album three months in advance of its release (the ‘long lead time’). Cue no press hype, no interest from radio as a result of great reviews and finally, no sales and no leather pants and screaming teenage groupies.
There are a multitude of other examples of this kind of thing – for example, bands manufacturing CDs without ISRC codes (making it significantly harder to generate royalty income from airplay); press releases being issued without release dates; the radio plugger not being made aware of a four star Q review before talking to the head of Radio 1; barcodes not being added to CDs; artist websites not being updated with new material in time for the release and so on. All of these basic mistakes make that elusive rock success even more elusive, and generally they all stem from poor planning. Although “project management” may seem like a boring term when you put it in the same sentence as “rock stardom”, the two go hand in hand; and regardless of your budget or the quality of your material, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
So, here are 4 key tips which we think can help independent or unsigned artists plan for an effective promotional campaign.
1. Assign roles and responsibilities clearly: most serious album release projects will require a music PR company, a radio plugger, a website designer, a print designer, a distributor (and perhaps a publisher or TV plugger too). Ensure everybody is clear who is doing what, even if you are taking a DIY approach and doing a lot of the legwork yourself.
2. If at all possible, try to get one competent, organised individual to oversee the release – to act as the project manager. This person should liaise constantly with all the above stakeholders and ensure that each key project task is completed on time.
3. Get all your stakeholders in the same room and draw up a release timeline that works for everybody. Discuss press lead times, manufacturing turnaround, distribution deadlines, barcodes, ISRC codes and so on. Come out of that meeting with a project plan that contains key tasks and realistic milestones for the project.
4. Don’t ignore that project plan that you spent hours creating! Your project manager should now use it as his/her reference point throughout the entire release and tick off each task as they are completed.
Obviously, these four tips won’t guarantee rock stardom; a few little things like a serious marketing spend, a lot of good luck and that good haircut come in handy too, but hopefully having a clear, simple plan will take you a step closer to the land of the rock pants, or at least give you the best chance possible of getting there, regardless of your budget or musical prowess.
Chris Anderson's The Long Tail is a book that was published a few years ago, but it's one that we thought we'd flag it up in The Prescription, because it's still hugely relevant to musicians and those working in the music industry. Musician Chris Singleton is a fan of the book; you'll find some of his thoughts on it and the implications of 'the long tail' for musicians below.
In his fascinating tome The Long Tail, Chris Anderson highlights how in this new-fangled age of e-commerce, online retailers are actually making more money out of selling lots of individual niche products than they are from selling hits. The classic example given in the book is Amazon: in a given week they may sell thousands of copies of a particular Coldplay album, but during the same time they will sell far more albums by a variety of less-well known artists.
This creates the 'long tail effect', which is illustrated in the diagram on this page. On the left hand side of the graph you see the million-selling acts, seemingly way more popular than everybody else. On the right hand side you see the 'long tail' of all the other less popular niche artists that don’t sell as many copies of their albums. But because digital distribution has allowed literally anybody to sell albums online, there are now so many niche products available for sale that the tail goes on and on and on…until all the products that sell one or two copies a year actually generate more profit, when considered together, than the hits that might sell millions in a year. The little guys actually pack more of a sales punch.
This is great, obviously, for Amazon and other online retailers - all they have to do is stock as much stuff as possible. But what are the implications for all the niche artists? Well, to be honest, the long tail effect probably doesn't help niche artists that much in strict retailing terms. The best application of 'the tail' for generating music sales is probably to make as much of your music as possible available to buy – somebody’s going to want to buy that alternative nu-metal-emo-dance remix you did of some crappy B-side, so why not let them (the downside though is that putting ropey content out there may not be great for your artistic integrity or image).
However, what may help musicians a bit more is another long tail effect: the long tail of media. If you look again at the chart above, and this time think of the left-hand side of the graph as containing the big publications – national newspapers and magazines – and the right hand side of the chart as containing the bloggers (or online content creators), it becomes clear that the bloggers actually have a bigger readership than the traditional media. A country may have 10 national broadsheets, which will be read by millions of people a day, but millions of people in that country will be creating content on blogs or social networks every day which is read by 10 or more people a day.
Needless to say it’s fantastic for bands if they can get into conventional print publications – as this is brilliant for profile and will no doubt also influence what bloggers are writing about – but it’s bloody hard. In the absence of success in that area, the long tail of media points to an alternative strategy for musicians who need exposure. This is to convince a critical mass of bloggers and other content creators to advocate their music. This is not by any means an easy process – it requires a lot of targeted approaches, and a lot of email-writing, but if done properly, at least it offers some exposure instead of none. The digital revolution has created a situation whereby decent bands who had no hope of getting national press can now at least get their music written about and crucially, heard by a potentially large audience.