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8 'band hacks' to make your musical life easier

Plectrum and guitar - image accompanying an article about 'band hacks'

by Chris Singleton

Maybe it's the age I'm at, but I’ve been reading a lot lately about various ‘life hacks’: little tricks such as putting glow in the dark paint on your phone charger so that you can find it easily instead of having a fumble in the dark, or dipping the top of your keys in paint so that it’s easy to differentiate the back door key from the front door key. These sort of things are meant to make us fitter, happier and more productive – but may spell an end to those late night fumbles. Ah well.

Anyway, in this post I thought I’d have a go at suggesting some 'band hacks' – some simple tricks to make running your band a little bit easier.

1. Automate your e-newsletters

When a new fan joins your mailing list– either at a gig or via your website – there are probably a few things you want to let them know about: for example, where to find you on social media; the URL for your merch store; and forthcoming gig dates. Rather than send out emails manually to every new subscriber, use autoresponders (provided by tools such as Getresponse or Mad Mimi) to schedule these in automatically - i.e., so that X number of days after signing up to your a mailing list, your new fan gets email Y. For example, a subscriber could get an email immediately upon sign-up with details of your Facebook and Twitter pages; a week later they could receive a link to an online store full of delightful t-shirts and so on.  All this saves a lot of time.

Additionally, if you know that you are going to need to publicise various activities at specific points in the year, you can also schedule in e-newsletters to go out on relevant dates with relevant information. This saves you having to panic about sending tour-related e-newsletters when you're in the middle of a rehearsal for said tour - it will go out automatically in the middle of that slightly-too-long guitar solo.

2. Use RSS to power e-newsletters and social media posts

RSS (Rich Site Summary / Really Simple Syndication) is a feed from a website that another website can use to publish content...and it’s your friend. If you have a blog on your site, for example, you can use its RSS feed to trigger e-newsletters, meaning that when you update your blog, your fans receive the latest content from it in their inbox. You can also use your RSS feed to send your content automatically to your social media profiles, meaning that when you add new posts to your blog, or images to your gallery, your Twitter followers see a relevant tweet as soon as the new content is live. And, if you make your RSS feed publicly accessible on your website, your die-hard-technically-savvy fans who naturally use an RSS reader (a ‘news aggregator’) to stay up to date with the music scene can enjoy news from your site in the list of publications they follow.

3. Use Google Alerts to find out when people are talking about your act (or not)

Google Alerts allow you to monitor the web for new content about topics of your choosing: in your case, the 'topic' is whatever your band happens to be called. Google Alerts is very easy to use: you just enter your act’s name and pick when you’d like to receive updates regarding any online mentions of the band (as-it-happens, daily or weekly). This means that whenever an influential blogger is giving your band a bad review, you’ll get a notification. The other thing that Google Alerts is good for – and I’m slightly reluctant to tell you this – is for keeping your music PR company on their toes, because you can use it to see how well they are doing with your online music PR campaign…

4. Use social media management tools to manage several profiles at once

If you are managing a multitude of social media presences, it makes sense to avail of the various tools that are available to manage them. I’ve talked about Hootsuite in the past as a way to administrate all your social media profiles in one place, and schedule posts in advance, but there are other nifty tools that can help you manage other aspects of social media. For example, Justunfollow is good for identifying people who might be particularly worth following (or unfollowing); it also allows you to create automated direct messages to new followers (be careful with this option however – the potential to annoy with it is large). Tweetadder is also probably worth a look too. There’s a plethora of tools out there to streamline your social media activity though – research them and pick the best one for your band’s needs.

5. Use a mobile device to capture data at gigs instead of a pen and paper

Using a pen and paper to capture email addresses at gigs is getting a bit passé. For a start, it’s often hard to read people’s email addresses when they are written using old fashioned hands that are under the influence of alcohol and operating in a dark and dingy gig venue. Secondly, assuming you can actually decipher the handwriting in question, you’ll have to waste time typing all these addresses all into your e-newsletter database at a later stage. A way of getting around this is to use a tablet at gigs (operated and safeguarded by a responsible individual) to capture the email addresses of attendees. The best option is to provide people with an online form that links directly to your e-newsletter service (Mailchimp etc.) but even if you don’t have a connection to the internet at the venue you're playing in, it’s still worth getting people to tap their details into an iPad – they can always be copied and pasted into your e-newsletter tool at a later stage and it’s a damn sight quicker than you typing up all those email addresses.

6. Use a project management tool to keep your band on track

Project management tools are not just for the office – they can be surprisingly useful for rock and rollers too. Web applications like Basecamp allow you to allocate a load of tasks to each of your bandmates (learn how to play in time, update the website, book the venue, chase the graphic designer – whatever applies), store files that are relevant to a project in one place (lyrics, chord charts etc.) and use automated reminders to cajole your fellow musicians into actually doing what they’re meant to be doing. Even something basic like a Google Sheet is useful for band project management - particularly if you make use of this funky 'reminders' add on.

7. Map out where your fans live – and plan your tours accordingly

If you’re being smart and capturing not just email addresses but postcodes onto your email database, you can use this data to view a map of your fans’ locations on Google Maps. This is very handy if you’re planning tours – you can focus on the locations where you are most likely to attract an audience, and book venues accordingly. There are various mapping tools available – Map a List is a good starting point.

8. Find out if music industry contacts are opening your emails using Sidekick

There’s a sneaky little tool called Sidekick which allows you to see who has been opening your emails and what they’ve been clicking on (either via real time notifications or a reporting tool). It’s very big brother in nature...but if you can put any moral qualms aside it’s very useful for working out whom to chase about your music (and when). For example, if you sent an email about your music to a blogger, you could used Sidekicks to see if it has been read and if your Soundcloud link has been clicked upon. Using that information you can decide whether another nudge is appropriate or not. If you're using the real-time notification option, you can see when somebody's opened or re-opened one of your emails, and use that information to send a seemingly coincidental 'Hi how's it going' chase a few minutes later...

Well, there we go - 8 band hacks to make running your band as straightforward as possible. Actually make it 9, as I have a final band hack for you: get more songs written by not spending all the time you saved as a result of these band hacks in the pub.

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Inbound marketing and what it means for musicians

Inbound marketing - a visual representation

Have you heard of ‘inbound marketing?’ A lot of my non-music clients are getting quite obsessed with it. And rightly so, as when employed correctly it is a powerful way of attracting and retaining new customers. ‘What the feck is inbound marketing then, and can it make me a pop star?’ I hear you mutter. All right then, I shall elaborate.

Inbound marketing typically revolves around the internet, and involves three key steps:

  1. Getting found (i.e., driving traffic to your site)
  2. Converting (capturing data and generating sales)
  3. Analysing (looking at site stats and sales data to improve steps one and two).

Although I think that inbound marketing probably works better for traditional businesses than musicians, there are still some big advantages to employing it as a tactic in the battle for rock success. So let’s break down the above three steps from a musician’s point of view.

1. Getting found

Getting found boils down to what content is on your site, how it is presented from a search engine optimisation point of view, and how easy it is for readers to share it. Interesting content is key here – and by ‘interesting’ I don’t just mean your music. Yes, it is good to have a wide range of your tracks available on your site, in a variety of audio and video formats; and ideally you should present your visitors with images and text related to your music too (for example, free downloads of posters and lyrics). But if we are honest about it, only people who already know about you will be searching for you – and to make new fans, you obviously need to start attracting people to your site who have never heard of you. The key to this is to create content which is not related to you, but of interest to an audience who might like your music.

Say your music is reminiscent of David Bowie’s and your latest album is called something like ‘Ciggie Sawdust’. Obviously therefore, you are most likely to sell your music to Bowie fans. But if you make your site exclusively about you and your music, you are unlikely to attract your target audience via search engines (as there would be little or no Bowie keywords on it). But if, for example, you were to write a blog post about what Bowie means to you, and discuss various aspects of his career in depth…well, from a Bowie fan’s point of view you are now of interest; and when they search for Bowie and Bowie-related keywords, you (and more importantly your music) have a greater chance of being discovered. Even changing your site title can have an impact – instead of calling your site ‘Official website of Joe Bloggs’ it is much better from a search perspective to use a title like ‘Joe Bloggs – camp indie rock music influenced by early 70s era David Bowie when he wore a lot of tights’. (For more information on search engine optimisation for musicians, and why site titles in particular are important, I’d check out our Prescription article on SEO for musicians.) The point is that is that there are millions of searches going on every second and by creating strong, keyword-rich articles about stuff other than your good self on your site - be they to do with art, politics, music or underwear - you can grab a share of those searches. (A key part of this really is having a blog – you can read our musician’s guide to blogging here.)

It is also worth remembering that anything you post on your site should be very easy to share - if your site or blog doesn’t have sharing buttons, you really are missing a trick. Most blogs have these by default but if you are stuck, you can install Addthis on your site very easily. Regardless of how your sharing functionality is set up, it must be there – your content will travel much further if readers can just click a sharing icon and whack your content up on Facebook or Twitter easily. This generates more traffic back to the site, which is all part of the ‘getting found’ process.

2. Converting

Now that your Bowie fan is on your site, reading your lovely Bowie-related article, what should happen next? Well, you should do a bit of converting. There are two main sorts of conversions – from site visitor to lead, or from site visitor to sale.

A site visitor becomes a lead when they have handed over their email address – or, in this era of social media madness, has followed you on Facebook or Twitter. Personally, I think that having a fan’s email address is still the best outcome, as you are in 100% charge of the communication process after that – i.e., you can email a fan whenever you want and are not dependent on a social network’s algorithm or that person being logged into Twitter / Facebook at a particular time for your message to be seen; you can also use the email address to invite somebody to follow you on social media anyway. Regardless of how you ask a visitor to your site to subscribe to communications though, you generally need to offer him or her an incentive in exchange for doing so. This could be a free track; a free ticket to a gig; or the promise of more interesting, Bowie-related articles. The key thing is to make the proposition overt and attractive. Spell out what you are offering and make it extremely easy for visitors to avail of the offer (i.e., use a  prominent data capture form on every page of your site; have clear calls to actions; visible social media buttons and so on. If using Facebook, try to employ a ‘locked content’ approach where fans have to like a page in exchange for content – to see an example of this in action, you might like to check out Chris Helme’s Facebook page, which we worked on recently to add 'download in exchange for a like' functionality).

Converting a site visitor to a sale immediately is extraordinarily difficult, particularly for musicians (as music is practically free now in this Spotify-era and people are even more reluctant than ever before to buy it!). It can happen though, and to 'give sales a chance' you need to ensure that your site is set up so that buying music is a very straightforward process – again, clear calls to action can help, as can prominent buttons, exclusive versions of products (i.e., signed CDs and merchandise) and a wide range of purchasing options (Paypal, iTunes etc.). But realistically most sales are going to come after somebody has been converted to a lead. The idea is that once the site visitor has become a lead, they receive a series of tasteful and useful email and social media communications from you, engage with you, and finally decide to part with cash.

3. Analysing

The final part of the process, the analysing bit, involves looking at what you are doing in the ‘getting found’ and ‘converting’ parts of the process, and continuously trying to improve them. In terms of analysing the ‘getting found’ aspect, you can use Google Analytics to look at what blog posts on your site are particularly popular – and create more of that kind of content; you can also use it to analyse the kind of searches that are delivering the most traffic to your site (or not) and optimise your site accordingly. You should also look at what sort of content from your site is being shared on social networks - tools like Addthis provide a lot of data on this.

As for analysing how you are capturing data, you can experiment with various propositions and see what works best. Is a download of a track a more attractive proposition than a stream? Does moving the mailing list form from the left-hand side of your website to the right-hand side generate more subscriptions? Does one type of social media icon work better than others in generating more follows? Does prioritising iTunes over Paypal mean more dosh? If you really want to go to the nth level, you could consider running some surveys via your email database about what made your site visitors take the plunge and subscribe to your mailing list – although I’m not sure how rock and roll that is.

Finally, since we’re talking inbound marketing, you could also use Hubspot’s free marketing grader tool. Hubspot coined the phrase 'inbound marketing' in the first place, and their tool looks at your site and makes simple recommendations as to how you can make it better from an inbound marketing perspective (it will score you on SEO issues, blogging frequency, social media activity and more, and then make a series of recommendations as to how you can improve things).

Whatever tools and methodology you use, the ultimate aim of the analysis is to make constant improvements to the ‘getting found’ and ‘converting’ parts of the inbound marketing process – to maximise the chances of somebody discovering your site and establishing an online relationship with you (ooh er, missus)...and eventually buying some music, gig tickets or a crappy t-shirt from you.

But…there’s a catch

Ok, so that is all great in theory isn’t it? And actually, for most of the business clients I work with when not wearing a Prescription hat, it works pretty well in practice too. There is a problem though: inbound marketing and the content creation that comes with it takes up a lot of your time – time that you could be using to write and record great music in the first place. Writing good blog posts can take ages; plodding through Google Analytics to work out if a blog post is attracting significant amount of traffic can also take a long time. But nothing in the music business is quick or easy, and as most of the music industry seems to be migrating online these days, I think it does make sense to devote some effort to understanding – and employing – this new-fangled inbound marketing stuff. It's a question of balance - making sure you are creating strong content for your site without it preventing you working on your music.

And finally...

Finally we'd just like to point out that if you're reading this Prescription article, our inbound marketing strategy is clearly working. Now may we suggest that you hire us to promote your music.

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