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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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Using Instagram to promote your band

cat-chris.jpg

Chris Singleton's cat, with a 1972 sort of vibe going on.

As a self-professed digital sort of dude, I'm meant to be ridiculously ahead of the curve on just about every level, but given that musically my head (and haircut) is somewhere back in 1972, it's probably no wonder that occasionally I miss out on the rise of a social media craze every now and then. One such craze is Instagram - I've only recently started using it (hence my paltry following) but I must say I do love it - probably because it makes all my photos look like they were shot in 1972, which, as discussed, is where I feel most comfortable, even though I wasn't born then.

Anyhoo, I'm sure you're all more clued up than me on Instagram, and have been using it for ages to take and share retro pictures of your cat, but in case you haven't heard about it, it's a photo taking/filtering/sharing app for your iOS or Android device and it's great (for a full introduction, I'd suggest reading this Wikihow article). What you clued-up musical kids might not have considered though, is that beyond allowing you to take and share retro pictures of said cat, it also has potential to be a useful tool for promoting your band. This is because people can subscribe to feeds of your images, meaning that fans can follow your band, pictorially speaking, all over the place. In other words: on tour, backstage, at the recording studio, in the toilet, doing lines in the toilet and so on - in realtime. Which is kind of funky, and I'm sure would be right up the street of your die-hard nutjob fan (or fans, if you are very lucky). Alternatively, non-fans may come across cool pictures you've been taking of your cat doing coke in the jacks, and love them so much that they investigate your non-cat-narcotics-related activities (i.e., your music) a bit further.

So, why not steal a march on all the other desperate musicians out there by setting up an Instagram profile dedicated to your band, and creating a photographic diary of your musical life? Here's some quick tips to help you do just that:

  • Download the Instagram app (obviously).
  • Pick a good username that allows fans to find your profile easily.
  • Make sure your account is public, so that the great unwashed can see your pictures (you can do this under the settings option).
  • Only post your best pictures; don't put any old rubbish up there.
  • Don't just share pictures of your band - post other cool images that are likely to get shared / liked by other users.
  • Enable sharing of your pictures on Facebook and Twitter (and any other social networks you may use).
  • Always add captions for your pics and (VERY important this) accompany them with hashtags, so that the image is easily discoverable in Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
  • Follow other users and comment on their pictures (the 'find friends' options will help you do this), so that they think you like their inane, lo-fi, washed-out pictures of stag dos, and feel inclined to follow you back.
  • Embed your Instagram feed on your band's website and add a 'follow' button.

Hope that helps you on your way to musical stardom, and if not, well, grab the nearest cat.

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