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 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.
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 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 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.
An obvious point this, but your band needs an email address – and probably one with the band name in it – i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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).