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Dropbox

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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Time-saving tips for musicians

Time

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.

1. Get a Dropbox account

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.

2. Use email autoresponders to communicate with fans

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).

3. Use a ‘social media dashboard’ to manage multiple social media profiles

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.

4.  Get to grips with RSS feeds

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.

5. Use shared calendars

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).

6. Use your smartphone smartly

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.

7. Plan your music week carefully

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.

8. And speaking of Facebook…

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.  

Find out how Prescription PR can get your band noticed - contact us today.

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