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Music

How to build a music website

Music website design

In this post, I share some some key tips on how to go about building what is arguably the most important promotional tool for any band: your music website.

I’m going to discuss three things: design, functionality and platforms.


The design

To draw a comparison with music recording, the design of a website may be viewed as similar to the production style of a song, and site functionality as similar to how good the song itself actually is. If you’ve got a bad song that’s excellently produced…it’s still a bad song.

Likewise with websites: if your site looks great but doesn’t do anything useful or contain any good content, it’s a poor site.

Most bands make one of two mistakes when it comes to the design of their website. Either they let their desire for a funky-looking site trump all other considerations, or they completely ignore the importance of design.

Overdoing it

Let’s start with the first mistake that it’s possible to make – going on a design ‘binge’. There is a huge arsenal of powerful (but dangerous!) tools available - Flash, Photoshop, After Effects and so on – which can ruin a website just as easily as make it look fantastic.

Sites that look very impressive but which are hugely reliant on large files, Flash and so on may cause problems for users who are on slower connections, or are trying to view your site on a mobile device.

And sites which overdo it with heavy use of Flash or video can look really naff.

To avoid overdoing it with design:

  • Have a conversation about the look and feel of your site and what you are trying to achieve before starting the design process.

  • Don’t use Flash or any other technologies which may cause mobile users difficulties.

  • Avoid cheesy or gimmicky effects on photos or text.

  • Keep things minimalist where possible - it will make your content easier to digest.

Neglecting it!

The other big design mistake is to go to the other extreme and ignore the importance of aesthetics completely; to just throw a few songs or videos up on a web page. This often happens when a the band designs a site themselves.

Although it’s often the case that there is a web designer in the band (there is a long-established connection between computer geekiness and rock and roll!), there often isn’t, and it's very tempting to try out the plethora of free or cheap online design solutions and do a DIY job on the site.

But good design skills don’t come easy, and the DIY approach can result in something that looks like it was built in 1995 by your dad.

The trick is to get the balance between functionality and design right. Let’s look at functionality.


Functionality

Functionality is one of those horrible words like ‘actioning’ that people use in episodes of The Apprentice. However, it’s crucial for your website.

Functionality is all about what your website does. And at the end of the day this may actually be more important than how it looks (important as looks are in the music industry…).

To avoid having a site that does nothing useful, it’s a really good idea – before going near a designer or a hacked copy of Photoshop – to make a comprehensive list of all the things you want your site to do.

For example, you might like your to provide users with a free download when somebody subscribes to your mailing list; you might like it to have a forum; you might want an easily-updatable gallery and so on.

Here are some suggestions on how to create a music site that does useful stuff for its users:

  • Ensure your site displays nicely on all major web browsers and mobile devices – use a responsive web design (one which adapts to the device it’s being used on), and test it across devices

  • Include a music player which showcases your best tracks (Soundcloud's widget is usually good for this).

  • Include a sign up form on your site – you want to form a lasting relationship with as many site visitors as possible, so your site should contain a mailing list sign-up form (and one which spells out the benefits of joining the list). Tools like Getresponse and Mailchimp make it easy to do create one of these.

  • Include pointers to your social media profiles - consider using Facebook page plugins to make it easy for people to follow you on Facebook and view your latest Facebook content. Add a Twitter icon and stream too. As a minimum you should have clearly visible Facebook, Twitter and Youtube icons / content.

  • Include a blog – blogging, done well, is arguably the best way to develop a strong relationship with your fans, and it’s a brilliant way to get more traffic onto your site. To find out how to do it effectively, check out these tips on how to increase traffic to your blog.

  • Provide RSS feeds - these permit your website to share your content automatically on social media and via e-newsletter every time something is published. They also allow people who use RSS readers to subscribe to your content in a reader. Find out more about RSS here.

  • Give music away for free on your site – in fact, we’d go as far as to suggest you devote a page on your site to freebies. In an age where people pretty much expect music to be free, it is bonkers to be completely precious about your tracks. You don’t have to give an entire album away, but you do need to make it very easy for people to listen to and download at least some of your music for free.

  • Include an electronic press kit – this should contain hi-res images, press releases and any supporting information / links to help journalists write reviews of your music or news features on you.

  • Install Google Analytics on your site site, so that you can look at how many people are visiting it and find out where they are coming from.

  • Make sure your site contains a gallery / embedded Youtube videos - people want to look at you, you know.

  • Optimise your site for search engines – your band name should be in the domain name, title bar, meta-data and site headers. You should also register your site with Google Search Console. You can get some simple SEO tips to help raise the visibility of your website here.


Platforms

There is a huge number of website building platforms now available which allow you to build a website without needing to understand web development or code.

Popular ones include:

  • Squarespace

  • Wordpress

  • Wix

  • Jimdo

  • Moonfruit

Of the above platforms, I generally recommend Squarespace or Wordpress as the best solutions for building band websites, chiefly because the templates available for them are the most professional in appearance (and most suited to music website building). For a full rundown of the pros and cons of both these platforms, you might like to take a look at this Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison.

These DIY building solutions are good for bands on a budget, but the key thing to remember is that you should only use them if you are confident you have the skills to use them in a way which will produce a professional result. If you’ve got the option to use a good designer, I’d still recommend that over building a site yourself.


Top tips for building and running a site

To finish off, here are some general pointers on how to go about building and running a site.

  1. Do your research. Look at what established artists are doing with their websites, and ‘absorb’ (nick!) their ideas.

  2. Create a site map before you build the site — this will give you an idea of all the content you need to collate for it.

  3. And, when it comes to content, make it great. Invest some time or money in getting some good band photos. Write some engaging copy. And of course, record some amazing songs!

  4. Don’t be too prescriptive when briefing a designer – let him/her play with some ideas, and present different concepts to you to review. You may have a good idea of what you want, but your designer may be able to come up with something better.

  5. Keep your site regularly updated – there’s nothing worse than the whiff of tumbleweed blowing through your site, no matter how great it is. If you can’t take your music career / website seriously, nobody else will.

If you need help with your music site, do drop us a line - we now provide music web design services.


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How to find a music manager

Brian Epstein

by Chris Singleton

One of the many questions we get asked at Prescription PR is this: how do I find a music manager? Well, it’s not easy, but here are a few tips on finding a good music manager, and just as importantly, establishing whether a particular candidate is the right fit for your band.

Where to look for a music manager

Finding a professional working in your musical niche

The best manager for your band is arguably an experienced person managing a successful act that makes the same sort of noise as yours; an act that is operating squarely within your ‘niche’ and selling way more music than you.

This kind of manager is most likely to have the right sort of label and live agency contacts that a band like yours needs to get things off the ground. With this in mind, it’s vital to get a good sense of what ‘niche’ you belong to, and to draw up a list of managers who operate within that niche.

You can often find their details on the liner notes of their artists’ releases, or on the contact page of band websites; and resources like the Unsigned Guide, the Music Managers Forum, Music Week and Hitquarters can furnish you with further information about them (such as an all important email address).

By focusing on the key players within your genre instead of casting the net really wide, you can find the most effective candidates for the job of Svengali extraordinaire; not to mention minimise the time spent on pitches and the upset caused by hearing the word ‘no’ an awful lot.

Sod the professionals: ask a mate or family member to do it…

This sounds like daft advice – on first hearing. Who’d want an inexperienced drinking buddy or a pushy mother to be in charge of their career?

However, most of the difficulties new artists have with successful, experienced managers boil down to this: your manager is too busy catering for his/her successful acts to devote enough time to your project, and doesn't care about you as much as them either (as you bring in less dough).

A friend or family member, however, has the potential to care about you to the point where they'll prioritise your career over everything else.  And a bit of family pushiness can go a long way, as artists like Beyonce, Ozzy Osbourne or the Jackson Five – all of whom were managed by family members – can tell you (well, maybe Ozzy doesn’t quite remember).

A huge part of successful management involves banging on doors, and you may find that somebody close to you is much better at banging on doors than a professional manager with only a passing interest in your career.

What to look for in a manager

So you've found somebody who wants to manage you! Great.

But finding a potential manager is usually only half the problem: working out whether that person is the right sort of ‘fit’ for your act is another difficult challenge. It’s quite nice, you see, when somebody offers to manage you – particularly if they have successful acts on their books. In fact, it can go to your head a bit and lead to you rushing into a silly agreement with them. Don’t let it – because at best this can be a waste of time; and at worst, it can damage your career.

Here are some key questions you need to ask yourself about a manager before committing to work with them:

1. Are they good at their job?

The first question you should ask yourself when evaluating a potential manager is this: is the person who wants to manage you good at what they do? Just as you wouldn’t hire somebody with an interest in pipes over a qualified plumber to fix a leak, you should be cautious about working with a music manager who has never signed a band to a major label, landed a big sync for an artist or got an act on a seriously good tour.

As mentioned above, passion and pushiness can compensate for a lack of experience, so don’t rule people out exclusively based on lack of a track record – The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein (pictured above), was not the most experienced manager ever, for example – but do bear it in mind.

And avoid the worst of all worlds: where you choose to work with somebody who does not have a track record AND is not particularly fussed about working hard for you.

2. Are they TOO good at their job to give you the attention you deserve?

Having a manager with an impressive roster is a double-edged sword. It can open doors, but it can also leave you without a manager at all, if he/she is too busy looking after a bunch of successful prima donnas to devote any time to your career. As such, try to get a clear commitment from this sort of manager that they will actually give you a look-in.

3. Are they a fundamentally decent person?

Having a psychopath, megalomaniac or general shark type as your manager may in some ways be good for your career. But not if they are out to rip YOU off, or screw YOU over.

Try to make sure that the person you choose to represent your interests does precisely that; this will involve picking somebody who you know will behave in a decent manner, at least where your career is involved.

4. Are they reliable?

There are a lot of nice, well-intentioned people out there who like the idea of managing bands without necessarily loving the legwork involved in doing so.

Unsurprisingly, these types can also be spectacularly flakey – particularly if they have other stuff, or day jobs, on the go. If you’re dealing with a prospective manager who is really keen on your demo but never shows up at your gigs and takes ages to return phone calls, then alarm bells should be ringing  - and loudly.

5. Are they going to spend any money on you?

Given how hard it is in this Spotify and Apple Music era to make any money at all out of music, it is understandable if managers are unable or unwilling to invest large sums money in bands, and reasonable to expect the band to make a contribution to the costs involved with getting a music project off the ground.

That said, if your manager expects you to pay for absolutely everything (every CD, every video and every Facebook advert) and will rarely if ever put their hand in their own pocket to support you, then proceed cautiously. At the end of the day managers need to put at least some of their money where their mouths are, if only to show you that they are serious about your music and give you confidence in the relationship.

6. What’s the plan?

Your manager should have a clear idea of which of your tracks he or she is going to pitch, to whom, and when; which gigs you should play; and how your new hairdo should look. 

All this needs to be communicated with you very clearly. If you don’t know what your prospective manager plans to do with your career, or hair, avoid.

Suck it and see

If, having got satisfactory answers to the above questions, you’re happy to hire a particular individual as your manager, the most sensible approach for embarking on a relationship with them is ‘suck it and see’.

Define a period of time that you’re happy to work with each other – say 6 months – and the goals that you want to achieve in that timeframe (both in terms of your manager delivering opportunities to you and you delivering good music and assets to them). Be clear too on the commission rates your manager can expect (usually 15% to 20%).

If, after a trial period you and your manager are both delivering the goods to each other – and remember, you have responsibility as an artist to put in the required musical effort too – then happy days; if not, get your pushy mother on the case!

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5 ways that bands can benefit from cloud computing

Clouds

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.

1. Timekeeping

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.

2. Backing up recordings

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).

3. Collaboration

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.

4. Admin

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.

5. Promotion

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.
 

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What does Apple Music mean for musicians?

Apple Music

by Chris Singleton

With the arrival of Apple's new streaming service, 'Apple Music', the music industry looks set for yet another massive shake-up. Here are some potential consequences of its arrival for bands and artists...

1. Music bloggers just became more important

Because of the ubiquity of Apple devices, and the fairly strong likelihood that a significant proportion of their owners will opt in to paying for Apple Music, a much larger slice of the music-listening population is going to start consuming music via streaming. Apple’s aim is to get 100 million paid subscribers on its books (the current number of people streaming music via paid accounts is thought to be around 41 million) – and, unlike many of its competitors, Apple has the advertising funds handy to help it achieve this goal. All this points to the fact that we may well soon reach the point where streaming become a much more popular way to listen to music (in all probability the de facto way).

And with streaming becoming more mainstream, the journey from reading a review of an album to listening to it becomes a lot more straightforward for a lot more people – they can simply click on a link at the bottom of an online review to hear a piece of work that is being lauded or panned by a rock critic. Contrast this to the ‘old’ scenario where a music fan encountered an album review in a printed publication: in order to get their mits on the record, they would have had to take several steps – get up off the sofa; locate the album in a physical or online store; cough up cash; bring it back from the store (or wait for it to download); insert or transfer into music-playing device…and so on. Most people are lazy, so only a fraction of printed reviews ever led to people actually auditioning the music being written about.

But if an online review contains a link at the bottom to the whole album on a streaming service that is used by millions – well we’re talking about a different kettle of fish entirely. Reviews suddenly carry more weight, because they create an instant path between the music being reviewed and its consumption.

Yes, you could argue that we’ve already arrived at that situation thanks to links to Spotify, Soundcloud or Youtube accompanying reviews, but with the arrival of Apple Music we’re talking about a massive ‘upscaling’ of all this. Its introduction will, in my book at least, have labels and music PR companies 1) taking bloggers more seriously than ever before and 2) begging them to include Apple Music links alongside reviews and features.

2. It’s going to be harder to collect fans’ email addresses

Eh? What’s Apple Music got to do with the sign up form on my website? Bear with me. First, Apple Music’s arrival is going to kill off the MP3. Not right away perhaps, but we’re now way past the beginning of the end for the ‘Motion Picture Experts Group Audio Layer Three’ file. This means that people are less likely to get excited by your band’s offer of a free MP3 in exchange for their email address – partly because they don’t bother downloading stuff any more, partly because it's inconvenient or because downloading files feels well, a bit dated – and not in a hipsterish retro good way (give it time though: I suspect that in 10 years time we'll see a downloading revival in Shoreditch...).

And will offereing people a quick - albeit exclusive - stream in exchange for their personal data yield much in the way of sign ups? My feeling is no, not really: for all its virtual nature, the MP3 could still be considered a 'thing' of sorts, whereas a stream feels more like a bit of a fluffy cloud or something. Upshot? You’re going to have to be more creative about what you offer people in exchange for their email addresses.

3. You’re going to have to get your head around a new social network

As if having to be constantly witty on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on wasn’t enough hard work, you’re now going to have to engage fans via Apple Connect, which Apple describe as

”a place where musicians give their fans a closer look at their work, their inspirations, and their world. It’s a main line into the heart of music — great stuff straight from the artists.”

Whether or not Apple Connect lives up to this hype or not is another question, but it would be foolish – given the number of devices Apple Music will be pre-installed on – not to take it pretty seriously. 

4. Musicians may have less time to write and record songs…

So far, all indications point to Apple Music managing to both kill CD and download sales whilst providing minuscule financial renumeration to artists; as with Spotify, we’re talking about musicians getting a fraction of a pence per play. Amongst other things this means that bands are going to have to tour more regularly to make any dosh, and one potential consequence of this is that some acts will have considerably less time to hone their writing or production skills (that said, they might improve their chops somewhat thanks to all those gigs).

5. …but the songs they write may be influenced by way more artists

A lot of musicians I know decry music streaming – yet subscribe to a streaming service at the same time. There’s simply no denying the convenience of the format – hence the hypocrisy. As with listeners, so with musicians: we can expect a lot more of them to get into streaming simply because of Apple Music’s arrival on their iOS device. And this will provide access to a really wide range of influences that many songwriters might never have encountered (or been arsed exploring) before. This in turn has the potential to shape their music – and music in general – in new ways, making it even more post-post-post-postmodern than it already is.

6. You’ll have more data to play with

With Apple Music, you’re going to get more access to more data – as usage of the platform becomes more widespread it’s going to be easy enough, based on being able to see the number of plays you’re getting, to spot your popular songs from the duffers. What you do with this data is, of course, up to you: some bands recoil from writing anything that could be considered remotely popular, and those acts will be no doubt pleased to see yet more evidence that nobody is listening to their music.

7. It may mean that bands start to get slightly more cash from streaming

If the number of paid streaming accounts goes up – which is likely with the introduction of Apple Music – then so will the revenue generated by this method of consuming music. This means that musicians may make a bit more money from streams of their songs. But we’re still talking fractions of pences per play. Streaming in itself does not look like making musicians rich anytime soon.

8. Should you put your songs on Apple Music?

Musicians are caught between a rock and a hard place here. If you’re a ‘niche’ act (and who isn’t these days) with say, 1000 listeners who religiously cough up for each new album you release, then you may find that putting an album up on Apple Music decimates these sales – your die-hard fans are still human at the end of the day, and given the choice most will take convenience and ‘free’ over the effort involved in a purchase (not to mention parting with real hard cash money). But not putting music up on Apple Music closes off your chances of being discovered by a lot of new listeners.

Personally I feel it’s a case of using Apple Music (and indeed other streaming services) judiciously: putting back catalogue up there will make sense for a lot of bands, along with EPs and singles; but whether you want to go the whole hog and make a new album release immediately available on Apple Music will involve weighing up a set of pros and cons and looking at your specific audience carefully. If you are an indie band with a history of ‘surefire’ sales to fans that you can communicate directly with, then there is a strong case for releasing a ‘paid-for’ physical / downloadable version of the record in advance of putting the whole thing on Apple Music: to stagger the release, in effect. Crowdfunding is also a potential option. If you’re Beyonce, it’s another scenario of course, because you'll be in a position to negotiate more favourable terms with Apple for putting your music up on Apple Music (oh how they cowered when Taylor Swift got annoyed with them recently). Horses for courses, much like everything else in today’s multi-platform, multi-format music industry.

9. So is there any good news for musicians in all of this?

The best thing about Apple Music for musicians is the 'conversion' factor: it brings with it the potential to turn the person who might casually hear - and like - a song on the radio or at a friend's house into somebody who engages with your music more regularly, simply because your catalogue is very easily accessible on their iOS device. The difficult part, however, will be turning that engagement into a financially beneficial arrangement. And you'll have to remember that with accessibility comes disposability: your song will be 'just' one of millions on Apple Music (and will be perceived as such by listeners). This means that your music will have to fight even harder to be the signal in the signal to noise ratio. In a way, that could be a good thing: with the advent of mass streaming, we musicians will all have to raise our songwriting game to get heard. Again.

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Youtube for Artists is announced

Youtube for Artists

This week Youtube announced “Youtube for Artists”, which they describe as “insights and tools to help you share your music, engage your fans, and build a career”.

In reality, Youtube for Artists currently amounts to a small website containing

  • a suitably inspirational (if not madly informative) video about how every artist has the power to ‘make it’ thanks to the internet (if only it was quite that simple)
  • a brief overview of some Youtube features specifically for artists (some of which aren’t entirely ready yet)
  • some general tips on promoting your music videos.

The site feels a little half-baked right now BUT it is clear from it that there are definitely some potentially useful things on the way, chief amongst them a new ‘music insights’ tool which allows you to get an overview of where, geographically speaking, your videos are being watched – the idea being that you can take note of this big-brotheresque piece of information and plan tours accordingly.

Additionally you’ll find quite a lot of tips on Youtube for Artists about how to keep fans engaged with your videos, optimise them for Youtube’s search engine and access / make the most of statistics. When it comes to providing these tips, the Youtube for Artists site often points you in the direction of existing (and non-musician specific) help pages – this in particular helps give the whole enterprise its ‘half-finished’ feel, but these articles are useful nonetheless.

Finally, Youtube have also recently created a new feature called ‘Youtube Cards’ – these are not being introduced specifically for musicians but they are potentially very useful to them. These cards are essentially pop-up messages which you can use to add call-to-actions to your videos; Youtube somewhat hilariously describe said pop-ups as being ‘as beautiful as your videos’ (frankly, if your video is only as beautiful as a pop-up card, I would seriously worry about its quality). Despite this hyperbolic description, the cards do have the potential to be quite useful: you can use them, for example, to drive people who are watching your video back to your website, or encourage viewers to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign. If you are familiar with Youtube annotations, you can think of the cards as an evolution of those – they look better though, and are responsive (meaning they’ll display nicely across all devices).

Youtube for Artists currently feels as though it's in its infancy, and the Youtube Cards idea needs some development too - but it's good to see Youtube create resources specifically for musicians, and improvements are promised to both products. Any musicians keen on staying up to date with what remains the world's biggest music streaming site would be well advised to keep an eye on developments.

You can find out more about Youtube for Artists here, or click here for information about Youtube Cards.

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Promoting your music in a world of short attention spans

Egg timer - accompanies article about music promo and short attention spans

by Chris Singleton

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…

  • Don’t assume that everybody wants to listen to an album’s worth of material. Allow – and encourage – people to stream or download individual tracks. That might be all they have time for.
  • Offer your music in a variety of formats: streams, downloads, videos, acoustic versions, CD, vinyl…this ensures that you are catering for everybody (and every device).
  • Don’t just rely on promoting your music in print publications. Although some magazines and newspapers publish their features and reviews online, not all do. Increasingly, people are consuming content they used to enjoy in print publications via a Facebook feed (which Mark Zuckerburg is now using to manipulate your emotions, it would seem). So remember that online music promo is now as important – if not more so – than traditional press.
  • Create compelling reasons for people to listen to your music or watch your latest video: don’t just stick a boring tweet up that says ‘download our latest song now’. Be clever with visuals, concepts, language…do whatever it takes to stand out (so long as it’s not too naff, or illegal).
  • Think about timing: when are people most likely to have a gap in their day to notice you and your music? If you are posting your new tracks up at 11pm on a Friday night, or launching an album 5 days before Christmas, you are going to struggle in your quest for people’s attention.
  • Remind people about what you’re promoting – within reason. It’s very unusual for people to take action the very first time they see a bit of promotion for something, so you may find that you need to give them a little nudge. This could be in the form of a ‘chaser’ e-newsletter, another Facebook status update or tweet, or a follow up Facebook ad campaign. Don’t overdo it though – over-communication is no solution the problem of time-poverty, and will just annoy your fans.
  • Create edits of your songs, where appropriate, for an online audience (or indeed any audience). If you have a track that generously presents a 10 minute instrumental section before the first verse arrives, you might want to think about shortening it a bit when you use the song in certain promotional contexts.
  • If presenting your music to A&Rs, publishers and live agents, give them a sample of your music before introducing them to the full version of your latest opus or your entire back catalogue.

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.

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Does your band need a CRM system? (And what the hell is that anyway?)

1984crm.jpg

by Chris Singleton

As regular readers of these posts will note, I seem to spend an awful lot of times telling bands to ‘think like a label’ – to create project plans; capture data efficiently; apply strong production values to any audio or visual output; get a stylist in; register music with the relevant royalty-collection organisations; do loads of coke; get your band to take their kit off at any given opportunity…all that sort of jazz. My hope is – as much as it may jar with artistic sensibilities and offend delicate souls – that readers are constantly reminded of the word ‘business’ in the phrase ‘music business’, and behave accordingly. Welcome to the machine. And if you thought that this constant encouragement to act like the most cynical of big businesses was already bad, it’s about to get worse, because I’m now going to suggest that you dabble in something called CRM: customer relationship management.

I know. It sounds terrible doesn’t it? Reducing devoted fans to ‘customers’, and talking about managing relationships without even the slightest mention of groupies. But CRM systems are what all clever businesses – and that includes the major labels – use to truly ‘understand’ their clients. Never mind the NSA, businesses have been snooping on their customers and potential customers for years now, all in a (usually profitable) attempt to squeeze as much money as possible out of them.  Yes! You too could do the same!

In the context of the music biz, all this means using sophisticated database software to

  • spot the most dedicated fans and ensure they never miss a release
  • create material for fans with particular types of interest in an artist’s music (live gigs, merchandise, limited edition vinyl etc.)
  • work out the best places to tour through use of geographical information

In a sense, these are generally things that all bands are trying to do, all the time – but CRM software just makes it a lot easier (and yes, sneaky).

So what is CRM software, and where do I get it?

A CRM package basically comprises

  • a database
  • some tools for capturing information onto it easily
  • some tools extracting useful information from it easily
  • features which allow you to track previous communications between you and your customers (fans)

There are truckloads of CRM solutions out there: Salesforce, Zoho, Capsule and Nimble are all online pieces of kit that you could use (my favourite of those, for the record, is Nimble). In a sense though, the program is less important than the database; you could actually get by reasonably well with an Excel spreadsheet so long as you were capturing the right data.

What does the ‘right data’ mean?

Most bands understand the need to capture data, but they tend to capture a fairly minimal amount of it: getting email addresses onto a scrap of paper at a gig is about as sophisticated as a lot of bands get. But actually, there is a lot more information that musicianscanand should capture which could help them both maximise sales and grow their fanbase. There are also a lot of sources of data that bands forget they have access to.

These are the pieces of information that I, as a cigar-puffing major label CEO would want to ensure that my minions were whacking onto a CRM database:

  • Email address (THE most important thing you can capture)
  • Name (particularly if you have a ‘petite’ fanbase, being able to address people by name is a Very Good Thing)
  • Postcode and country
  • History of previous music purchases
  • History of previous merchandise purchases
  • History of previous contributions to crowdfunding campaigns
  • History of previous attendance at gigs

But how the hell do you get all this data? Well, truth be told, you won’t be able to get all of it – you’re not going to convince Apple, for example, to send you a list of everybody who’s bought your records on iTunes. However, you can get a LOT of it, particularly if you are selling music and merchandise direct to fans on your website – most online store systems allow you to export all your sales info and upload it into your database; and any crowdfunding system worth its salt will give you a CSV file of everybody who’s supported your campaign. As for capturing data at gigs, you can do this both before the gig – by selling tickets in advance online – and at the event itself (you’ll find some tips on capturing data at gigs here, by the way). For the geographical side of things, it’s simply a case of capturing postcode and country any time you are asking people to provide an email address (be that on a website, or the aforementioned back of an envelope at a gig).

It will potentially be quite a lot of work and occasionally a bit of a technical challenge to get all this data in one place and onto a CRM – but it is worth it, because…

Having lots of data in your CRM means you can do Really Funky Things

Here’s where CRM gets a little less dry and a bit more sexy. Say you are deciding whether or not it’s worth investing in a vinyl release of your next album. Assuming you have captured all the data I’ve mentioned above, you can now log into your CRM, and pull up a list of everybody you sold a vinyl copy of your last record to. Groovy. And you can then decide whether there are enough people interested in that sort of thing to justify the cost.

Or say you are planning a tour. You can pull up your database, whack it into some mapping software and literally ‘see’ where your fans live. You can then identify hotspots where there is the greatest concentration of fans and put on shows in the locations which are most likely to provide a turnout which makes putting 5 sweaty blokes in the back of a people carrier for 2 months worthwhile.

Maybe you want to identify ‘superfans’ to act as special ambassadors for your band? No problem, just look for the people on your CRM who have the most ‘history’ against their records: people who have not only bought a record but attended a show, watched a live stream, purchased a t-shirt, supported your Kickstarter campaign and slept with the drummer. These are the prime candidates to join a street team or similar shady organisation devoted to promoting your music.

You get the picture – literally: an overview of your fans that you can use to sell music to in the most effective way possible. And yes, although it arguably feels quite ‘big brother’, it also brings some pretty decent benefits to the fans: they will be targeted with stuff they are most likely to enjoy, and get more opportunities to enjoy your music. And that, after all, is generally the point of being a fan.

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Getting data capture at gigs right

Clipboard - image accompanying an article about capturing data / email addresses at gigs

In a recent post we looked at how to put a good newsletter together – and a large part of that article dealt with sorting out your database before actually emailing anybody. Of course for musicians, a hugely important aspect of building a database involves collecting email addresses at your live performances, so in this post we give you some quick and simple tips to ensure that you’re not missing any tricks when it comes to capturing your fans’ info at shows.

1. Start capturing attendees’ data BEFORE the gig

Eh? How do I do that? Surely I have to wait until there are punters streaming through the door of the venue before I can get them to scribble down their email address? Well, actually, no – you can capture data well before you get anywhere near the stage, by selling tickets online in advance. You don’t have to be in the ‘Ticketmaster’ league of bands to do this – there are lots of low-cost tools like Stubmatic or Wegottickets that allow you to sell e-tickets in advance of your shows and, just as importantly, capture relevant data about your fans (the main thing you want, obviously, being their email addresses). Even simple Paypal transactions let you do this. No matter how you go about selling tickets in advance online though, make sure that you are able to export a list of attendees which you can then import into your e-newsletter tool (Mailchimp, Mad Mimi etc.) or database.

2. Get somebody reliable involved to capture the data

When people think of mailing lists generated at gigs, they are usually visualising a disinterested hairy guy at the door of the venue stamping people's hand with a stampy thing and only very occasionally asking for email addresses. And yes, that hairy guy is unreliable. He’s a bit stoned, or he’s a bit shy about talking to punters, or he just doesn’t like your band. Either way you end up with less email addresses than you should. So don’t leave things to the hairy guy. Put somebody you trust to do a good job at data capture on the case. This could be your best friend, your girlfriend or your mum – it doesn’t matter so long as they know how to charm people into handing over their data.

3. Use technology to capture the email addresses

Don’t forget that it is 2014 and there are a few more options than the old pen and paper method of collecting email addresses available. You can capture them direct to iPad, for example - and before you complain about the lack of wifi signal in the toilet venue you are playing, you don’t actually have to be online to capture email addresses (many e-newsletter tools, such as Campaign Monitor or Mailchimp have apps that store data locally on your iPad and then upload it for you when you go online). Various services also exist that allow you to capture email addresses by SMS. One thing though: don’t forget to insure your iPad, and pin-lock it…

4. Don’t just leave your sign-up form at the door - take it round the venue

Depending on the kind of gig you are playing, you can be quite proactive about data capture – i.e., you don't have to simply rely on the ‘leave a clipboard at the door and hope that people sign up’ approach. For example, you could ask the ‘designated data capture person’ we discussed earlier to go around the venue, asking punters if they’d like to hand over their details. Or make announcements from the stage asking people to sign up (if nothing else, this will give you a bit of free – but admittedly quite dull – stage patter). Or finally, you could leave a clipboard at each table, or cute little cards people can fill out with their details. Whether this sort of data capture is appropriate at your gig or not will depend on the nature of your act, the type of venue you are playing in and how comfortable you feel with hounding people for an email address, but the thing to remember is that there are always ways and means of boosting your email sign-up rate at gigs that go beyond leaving a scrap of paper at front of house that nobody writes on.

5. Incentivise

As with the data capture you carry out on your website, you should ‘incentivise’ the data capture you do at gigs. Offer a free track or EP in exchange for an email address, or a discount code for a future gig. By offering a ‘quid pro quo’ you will find a significantly higher number of people are willing to subscribe to your list. 

Finally, on the face of it, data capture doesn't seem like the sexiest of topics - and it seems a crying shame to be talking about gigs in terms of sending your mum around with an iPad to collect email addresses from unsuspecting fans rather than as an excuse for you to wear leather trousers, play lengthy guitar solos, do a spot of crowd-surfing and impress groupies with witty post-show banter. But when somebody who subscribed to your mailing list at a gig goes on to pledge £100 towards a crowdfunding campaign a couple of months down the line…well, that feels kind of sexy, and may mean that you are now able to afford the leather pants for the next show – that is, if you can convince a bunch of fans to crowdfund some hosiery. Now THAT would be an achievement.

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10 ways to improve your band's online marketing in 2014

2014

As we approach the end of 2013, we thought we’d share some tips with you that will help you tune up your online promotion efforts in 2014. Read on for some advice on how to improve your website, e-newsletters, Facebook presence and more…

1. Ensure you have a great site

Yes, it’s easier (and cheaper) to set up a Facebook page than build a website, but there are several advantages in creating a strong site:

  • It marks your band out as a professional, serious outfit
  • It gives you full control your band’s image and identity
  • It will allow you to blog (and if you are good at blogging, you may well find yourself with a truckload of additional visits to your site thanks to inbound marketing)
  • You tet full control over search engine optimisation and data capture
  • You can incorporate a wide range of functionality that might not be available on third party sites.

So, if you haven’t got a website for your band, build one. And if you DO have one, maybe take a look at it again, with a view to improving it as much as you can for 2014: ensure imagery, integration with social media, data capture and even typefaces are all as good as they possibly can be. Find out about how to build a great band website here.

2. Use ‘Addthis’

…And speaking of websites, ‘Addthis’ is a brilliant free tool that encourages visitors to your site to share content from it in lots of clever ways; it also maximises the chances of them following you on social media. If you’re not using Addthis now, you should be.

3. Make sure you are not neglecting smartphone users

A huge proportion of people accessing content online are now doing so using a smartphone. This has all sorts of implications for how you present your band online – and getting this wrong could severely limit the reach of your promotional efforts. Find out how to present your band to a smartphone audience.

4. Make sure you are capturing data effectively

If you don’t have a proper mailing list set up, you are shooting your act in the foot (or feet if you’re not a solo act). In my book, an email address is still worth far more than, say, a Facebook ‘like’, because 1) when you send somebody an email, a Mark Zuckerburg algorithm isn’t deciding whether that person receives it or not and 2) email addresses can be used to forge connections on multiple social networks (via ‘find my friends’ features). Read our in-depth guide to email marketing here.

5. ‘Incentivise likes’ on Facebook

Ensure you are using (and promoting) tabs on Facebook that ‘incentivise’ likes – i.e., use tabs that give people who like your Facebook page access to particular content (a free download, exclusive video etc.). Woobox provide some really helpful tools in this regard.

6. Start using Google+

People may snigger when they hear the words ‘Google Plus’ – Google’s social network is, after all, renowned for the quantities of tumbleweed that blow through its news feeds. However, it is becoming increasingly important, because Google is starting to treat websites that are connected to Google Plus via ‘Google Authorship’ (a way of attributing your site content to a particular individual in search results) rather differently (and arguably, preferentially) to other sites. Find out more about Google Authorship here.

7. Don’t overcommunicate online

Regardless of whether you’re using emails, Facebook updates or tweets to communicate with your fans, don’t fall into the trap of spewing annoying nonsense every five minutes. Only say something when it counts. With this in mind, you may find our article on managing your online reputation handy.

8. Spend some time on data hygiene

Yikes! Data hygiene. Sounds horrendous, like going to the dentist or something. But in 2014, take a look at your various databases – be they lists of fans or industry contacts – and ensure that your records are in the best shape possible. Think about standardising the format; removing duplicate records; and ensuring that as much information as you need is in them (name, email address, phone, favourite coffee…). The cleaner and more accurate your databases, the more results you’ll get when you promote your music.

9. Don’t promote your music to your friends all the time

Tempting as it is to bombard your personal Facebook friends with encouragements to buy your album / come to your gig / purchase a limited edition t-shirt with your face on it, it’s generally a bad move. Find out when is and when isn’t the right time to promote your music to friends here.

10. Plan ahead

Most marketing departments worth their salt create 'e-comms schedules' for the year, where they forward plan what kind of communications they are going to send / broadcast throughout the year. In your case, YOU are your marketing department, so follow best practice and engage in a bit of forward planning. Forward planning also allows you to automate some of your comms in advance, meaning that when you are in the middle of a promotional campaign for your new album, you don't need to worry about sending a bunch of e-newsletter and tweets out: some software somewhere is doing it for you...

Hope these tips speed you on your way to music success in 2014; and, while we've got your attention, may we take this opportunity to thank you for reading The Prescription in 2013 and wish you a lovely Christmas and all the best for the new year.

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Why you need to find your musical niche

Musical niche - image of a flute on top of some sheet music

Musical niche - image of a flute on top of some sheet music

A recurring source of bun fights in the Prescription office is my general distaste for what I would term ‘silly’ music genre names involving lots of hyphenation, and my colleagues’ enthusiasm for bandying references to future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house around the place. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that such terminology is important in today’s music industry and to stop slagging it off in Prescription articles that might be read by purveyors of well, future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house or the journalist(s) that dig(s) it. And as I prepare to be rapped over the knuckles or caned soundly across the backside for daring to open this article with yet another swipe at portentous genre names, I contemplate that actually, my colleagues (and occasional editors) sort of have a point. These long-winded incomprehensible genre names ARE actually very important.

Here’s why: we find ourselves in a post-post-post-post-modern era where there are an increasing number of independent bands who plunder and combine ideas from an ever-lengthening (and, thanks to streaming, increasingly audible) music history, inject these ideas into songs using an ever-increasing amount of audio equipment (both new and vintage) and inflict the results onto an online sea of music listeners who, thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned indie bands, the development of pop music over time and the disruptive nature of the internet no longer really have particularly homogenous tastes in music. What you end up with is niches. The kind of niches that yes, really do generate fans of future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house.

And with this niche comes opportunity. Your niche might not be huge; sticking with the future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house example, maybe there are 500 people worldwide who understand whatever that means and really dig it. But if you as an artist know how to find this audience, and how to speak to it, then you open up the possibility to do two things:

  • generate an income from this niche: in my experience, people with minority interests tend to have less opportunity to indulge them and so splash out more willingly when the opportunity to indulge arises. So even if the audience you are targeting is really small, it may be more financially valuable to you than say, trying to convince a multitude of Coldplay fans to buy some music.
  • develop a fanbase that will be far more passionate advocates of your act than the average joe (thus, hopefully, helping you to eventually gain popularity outside it).

But how do you find and speak to your niche audience? Well, I’ve been thinking about this lately with a view to increasing the popularity of my own brand of retro-ever-so-slightly-camp-but-occasionally-dark-art-rock which I will one day unleash again on the world, and these are some ideas I’ve come up with.

1. Find out what your niche actually is

You may think you sound like David Bowie mixed with a bit of Brian Ferry. Actually, you sound more like Phil Collins mixed with a dash of Usher (interesting).  But hey, don’t diss the post-Phil-Collins-Usher audience! If that’s the micro-genre you fit into, dem's the folks you’re looking for, so stop going after the hipper neo-Bowie-Ferry fans. In other words, before you start promoting your music, gauge opinion on it – not in terms of quality, but in terms of who people think it sounds like and what genre it belongs to. This will help you identify the precise audience you need to speak to and stop you hitting lovers of intelligent 70s rock with inordinately high-pitched squeals combined with big floppy eighties drum solos.

2. Find out where your niche lives

Once you’ve actually decided you are a post-Phil-Collins-Usher act, it’s time to find the post-Phil-Collins-Usher fans. The internet offers you two main ways to do this: push and pull. You can push post-Phil-Collins-Usher music on the world in a couple of ways: firstly, through social advertising tactics that allow you to display ads to fans of a very specific list of bands - i.e., fans of bands that you sound a bit like. In your case, you would probably be paying Facebook to show your videos to well, Phil Collins and Usher fans. Secondly, you can try to identify fan groups and forums dedicated to your micro-genre and SENSITIVELY present your work. Time to politely introduce yourself to the Phil Collins fan club, in other words.

In terms of pull, we’re talking about SEO and blogging here. If you make the (somewhat unusual) effort to ensure your site is optimised to appear in searches for Phil Collins and Usher, and regularly blog about the genius of Phil Collins and Usher (thus generating a lot of keyword-rich content about post-Phil-Collins-Usher music), you may well find that your audience, seemingly by magic – but actually because of algorithms – starts coming to you.

3. Find advocates of the niche

You will find that with every niche genre come advocates of that niche genre: certain bloggers, journalists, rock critics and DJs who simply love it. Particularly if you are dealing with something REALLY niche like post-Phil-Collins-Usher music, you may find that there are less artists operating in the genre to pester these poor souls for coverage and airplay, meaning YOU get more opportunities to get publicised (to a smaller - but as mentioned above - more dedicated audience). Being aware of your niche also comes in very handy when it comes to hiring music PR agencies, radio pluggers and so on - if you hire an agency or a plugger that is really into your niche genre, they are more likely to be experts in it and more keen to work hard for you as a representative of that genre. Crucially, they'll know what your niche audience reads or listens to and will pitch you for those papers / shows. Conversely, if you hire an agency or plugger that says 'yes' to every project irrespective of niche or genre, you may find yourself sans publicity quite quickly, or with a feature in Take a Break when really you should be being plugged on Noisey (or vice versa). 

4. Talk to your niche in the right way

Once you’ve discovered that you are a post-Phil-Collins-Usher band and found the post-Phil-Collins-Usher online audience and the media champions of post-Phil-Collins-Usher music, it’s time to ‘talk’ to them in the right way. Obviously, the most basic way of doing this is to present them with music that they like (i.e., stuff that sounds like a postman and Phil Collins mixed with Usher, ho ho). But it’s also important to meet their expectations in other ways. Do you look like a post-Phil Collins-Usher artist? Do you talk like one? Do you dress like one? Do you dance like one? People have very specific expectations when it comes to micro-micro-genres, and are extremely particular about how they should operate and who should operate in them – which of course, is probably why I’m not allowed slag off future-soul-post-chillwave-witch-house in public (crap, I did it again). But it is important to enthuse your niche audience as much as possible and you won’t do this by confusing them. You don’t necessarily have to conform completely to your audience’s expectations, but – initially at least – you do need to meet them to some degree or you won’t be recognised and loved as the post-Phil-Collins-Usher act that you know you really are.

Basically, all this seems cynical and formulaic and frankly, it is. But on another level, it’s just how record labels have made bands popular since time immemorial: find out who likes a certain sort of music and sell that sort of music to them. And it actually kind of makes sense. It’s just that these days, it’s not just big record labels that have the opportunity to be cynical and formulaic. Thanks to cheap recording gear, access to every other band in history's music for free online, iTunes and Mark Zuckerberg, you do as well! If you fully understand the power of all of these (ahem) tools and (crucially) you’re actually making some really great music, who knows how you might fare.

And actually, if you do find that niche audience, they might actually get a kick out of being found too.

Chris Singleton used to work at Prescription PR. Until he disrespected them fancypants genres.

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How to build a great online store for your band

A shopping cart

First came the cheap recording equipment, which turned everybody into a bedroom recording artist. Then the web arrived, turning all these bedroom recording artists into bedroom recording labels, able to flog records (in theory at least) to a massive global audience.

Now, many artists are great at making music in their bedrooms, but not so savvy when it comes to selling it from them, so in this post I’m going to outline how you can build a really good online store that makes it easy for people to purchase your wares – and ensure that people can find them.

Let’s start with building your store: there are three main approaches you can take, with various pros and cons – so let’s look at each in turn.

1 Send people to Amazon or iTunes

The first method of creating an online store, and possibly the easiest, is to simply create a page on your website called ‘store’ and place a few links on it to well-known online retailers that are stocking your CDs or selling downloads of your MP3s (Amazon, iTunes, 7 Digitial and so on). There are three main advantages to this approach: firstly, you don’t need to fulfil anything yourself (i.e., walk down to the post office and send stuff off to your customers); secondly, your music is chart eligible if you sell it this way; and thirdly, many people shop regularly with these companies and will be comfortable with buying your products from them. To maximise income from this approach, you should ideally obtain and use ‘affiliate links’ for your album from any online retailer that provides them.

2 Use Paypal

Although selling music via Amazon and iTunes is pretty easy, and has several advantages to it, you may find that selling your music direct to fan is more profitable. Instead of losing 30% or so of your sale to iTunes etc., you get to keep all the dosh. If you only have one or two products to sell, then selling them through Paypal is probably the easiest way to do this. It’s fairly straightforward to create a couple of ‘buy now’ Paypal buttons, accept payments and fulfil any items yourself.

3 Use e-commerce software / an online store builder

If you have lots of products to sell – i.e., a big back catalogue and a wide range of already-manufactured merchandise items – and you are fulfilling orders yourself, you may find it easier to go with a more comprehensive ‘online store solution’ – a paid-for web service that lets you manage lots of items of stock, keep track of orders / inventory, present items in an attractive way and add / remove products easily. There are lots of different solutions out there, but two stand out for me: Ecwid and Shopify. 

Ecwid is ideal for people who already have a website (for example, a Wordpress or Squarespace site) and want to ‘plug in’ an online store system. You set up your store on the Ecwid website, add products, upload artwork, set up pricing...and then, when you are ready to launch your store, you are given a snippet of code that you can add to the shop page of your site; once you do this, your online store and all your CDs and tacky t-shirts magically appear. You still fulfil the products yourself, but you get a professional way of displaying stock online, tracking orders, capturing data and accepting credit card payments. You can try out Ecwid for free here.

If you don’t already have a website, then Shopify is possibly a good option for you, because it’s a system that doubles up as a website building tool and a sophisticated online store which lets you sell physical and digital products. There are more sophisticated / user-friendly website builders out there, but its online store functionality is amongst the best available, and with a bit of perseverance or help from somebody who knows their online onions, you can put a very nice site together with it. Shopify’s free trial is available here.

The downside of using one of these solutions is that they come with monthly fees attached. So really, they are best suited for bands who are going to be selling enough items every month to justify these payments.

Selling direct to fans? Give your customers some options

Even if selling direct to fan is the most profitable option for you, some people prefer to buy music from the big retailers. As such, even if you are using Paypal or an online store builder to facilitate online sales, it's still worth offering people the option of buying your music using Amazon or iTunes. By all means encourage fans to buy direct from you, and explain that this is the best way they can support your band...but give people the option to buy elsewhere – or you could lose sales. An iTunes sale, even if less profitable than a direct-to-fan sale, is better than no sale at all...

What about selling merchandise, then?

There are two main approaches you can take to selling your tacky t-shirts online:

  • You can manufacture merchandise yourself, and sell it using one of the methods described above.

  • Don’t manufacture any at all but use a site like Cafepress or Zazzle to design an item of merchandise virtually – with these sites, your item only gets manufactured and shipped once a customer places an order.

Which option is for you really boils down to how popular your band is and how many items of merchandise you’re likely to sell. If you are only likely to sell one or two items a year, then I’d avoid manufacturing hundreds of t-shirts like the plague, but if you are huge and likely to sell thousands of t-shirts and leather thongs with your band’s logo on them, then manufacturing them yourself will lead to a much greater profit margin. This is because sites such as Cafepress and Zazzle charge a ‘base rate’ for items which is quite high, meaning you have to keep your mark-up very low to prevent your t-shirts becoming prohibitively expensive.

How to ensure that people can find your online store

If you are distributing your music digitally you will probably find yourself in the odd position of competing with various digital outlets for sales of your own music. For example, you may find that iTunes is beating you to the top spot in Google search results when you type your album’s title into the search box. Or that a Google advert encouraging people to buy your album on Amazon is appearing next to these results.

Obviously it makes a lot of financial sense to ensure that your online store is highly visible in search results – you ideally want your store at the top, so that you can either avail of the more profitable direct-to-fan sales or purchases made through your iTunes / Amazon affiliate links. There are two ways you can do this: through search engine optimisation (SEO) or by advertising your album via adwords. With regard to SEO, here are some tips on getting to the top of results:

  • Your band’s name and (important) album titles should be listed in your online store’s page title – for example, a title such as "David Bowie – Online Store – Albums including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs" is infinitely preferable to a very non-descript ‘Online Store’.

  • Ensure your page has a ‘meta description’ which lists your artist name, albums, merchandise items and so on. This can be longer than the page title – for example, “David Bowie’s official online store, where you can buy all his albums and merchandise. Get the remastered editions of Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs, or buy t-shirts, coffee mugs and leather thongs”.

  • Ensure all your product descriptions are ‘keyword-rich’ – i.e., contain very accurate descriptions of those leather thongs you are selling.

  • Where possible or applicable, use ‘meaningful URLs’ – web addresses that contain keywords. For example, if you happen to have individual pages for individual items (this will be the case if you are using Shopify), ensure that you are creating URLs such as ‘www.davidbowie.com/ziggy-stardust-album’ rather than ‘www.davidbowie.com/album1’.

You can check out our article on search engine optimisation for bands for a more in-depth guide to SEO for musicians, but following the above tips will help you enormously when it comes to ensuring your online store is optimised for search.

As for online advertising, it’s probably only worth spending money on Google Adwords if you know you are going to be selling significant quantities of records and want to ensure that they are bought from a particular location – your online store, basically. More useful perhaps is advertising on Facebook – using promoted posts or side adverts to put your release or store in front of your existing fans (who constitute your warmest audience of course).

That’s it for me for now – hope these tips help in your ambition to sell music to your parents succeed.

Online store building resources

I’ve written a few reviews over at my blog on Style Factory of popular e-commerce and online store building apps. See below for links:

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The demise of HMV and the implications for musicians

hmv.jpg

Three letters have dominated music industry news recently: HMV. Much has been written (quite rightly) about the sad fact that thousands of people may lose their jobs, directly or indirectly, if and when the chain disappears from the high street. We’ve also seen a lot of chat about the implications of HMV’s demise for the music industry as a whole. Will any independent stores crop up to fill the HMV-shaped holes on the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee or Humberside? Is this the final death knell of the CD? With nowhere in Stevenage to buy CDs anymore, will any remaining (and heavily bearded) CD buyers turn to that Amazon thingy, where ne’er-do-wells roam the digital streets selling signed copies of classic albums for as little as 1p?

One question that hasn’t really been asked enough for my liking, however, is this: what does the closure of HMV mean for musicians? You would think that in any discussion regarding the death of a high street store, some thought might be spared for the group of people that are technically the key players in the supply chain – the bands and artists that make the product (that would be, ahem, ‘music’).

But I kind of understand why nobody has really been banging on about poor musicians losing an outlet to sell their wares from. This is because most musicians’ output was never anywhere to be found in HMV. There just wasn’t enough space in there to house everybody’s latest concept album about beans. As a rule of thumb, only stuff that sold in good quantities was stocked, and if it sold ok, it must have been made by a rock star, and all rock stars are loaded and just blow their money on charlie anyway, so why worry about them? To be fair, anyone thinking like that probably had a bit of a point.

The fact is, in a practical or financial sense, HMV’s closure means little for the average artist, who no doubt has global distribution for that album about beans sorted via iTunes, Amazon and so on...but can’t get a single copy into HMV to save his life (not, as we found out, that very many shoppers would be present in HMV anyway to buy that copy).

Nonetheless, I think that the demise of HMV does have a big impact on musicians: a psychological one.

You see, even in this age of digital-everything, being able to invite girls (or indeed boys) into a HMV store – under the pretence of buying some records – and casually hanging out beside the rack where your CD casually happened to be residing was a Very Special Thing. It was a) something to aspire to and b) something that sort of indicated you’d 'made it' to some degree or other. Yet now, the closure of HMV kills that noble dream of impressing girls (or indeed boys) by showing them your CD sandwiched between Simply Red and Jessica Simpson.

If you are still reading this blog post after encountering that last sentence, then congratulations and yes, I jest a bit. But there is a serious point here: making music is a bloody difficult, time-consuming and generally unrewarding business, and if you are in the middle of recording that incredibly difficult twentieth album and you see HMV closing down, you are bound to think ‘oh crap, it’s bad enough that nobody buys music any more but now there are actually NO SHOPS to buy it in.’ This, naturally enough, leads you to wonder what the hell you are making that record for.

Well, I’ll tell you what you’re making that record for: your ears, and the ears of other people. Yes, getting it into the ears of the latter group is a constantly changing process – enough to make you dizzy, give you vertigo and throw up all over the place. But this state of flux is nothing new; the music industry has always been completely entwined with fast-developing technology. Popular music used to be exclusively about playing live; then along came wax cylinders. That gramaphone that the HMV dog stuck its head into. Reel to reel tape. Vinyl. The humble cassette. CD. Minidiscs. The MP3. Pro Tools. The rise of Myspace. The fall of Myspace. Streaming. iPods. iTunes. Autotune. Spotify. The return of Peter Andre. Whatever Apple throw at us next. iDunno.

The difference for musicians today is that the pace of change has got to a point where we are now galloping along at insane speed; computers are doubling in power every 18 months, and as you've probably heard me say before, the music industry all happens on a computer these days. Which is why of course HMV, with its quaint emphasis on shiny plastic discs, bit the dust.

But none of this means that people will stop loving music – it’s arguably more popular than ever (it’s certainly more accessible). And that’s why, HMV or no, you should make that difficult twentieth album. Because it might be your best yet (or your first good one). Because you never know what good music can do, or where it can take you. Throughout history, and despite the music industry’s best efforts, good music has shown itself to have an endearing habit of sticking its head above the parapet and making itself heard.

So I guess the key thing that musicians can take from the demise of HMV is this: put it in context. This industry changes every five minutes. Don’t get too hung up on the methods of distribution and delivery, just make sure the song’s stonkingly great. Above all else, that is the key requirement for reaching all those waxy ears.

(Or just get a boob job and phone Nigel).

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Time to stop inviting friends to your gigs?

Gig

Being in a new band is a sure way to make sure you stay in touch with your friends. This because as a spankingly new band, nobody will have heard of you…meaning you won’t have any real fans, and will rely on your chums to provide the bums on the seats at gigs you play. As such you will find yourself staying in touch with even the most boring individuals just so that you can invite them to your next gig. We’ve all been there, and irritated lots of people in the process (or been irritated by the aforementioned boring gig invitees).

However, there comes a point where it’s prudent to start looking beyond your ‘friendbase’ and start trying to build a genuine ‘fanbase’. This 'having-a-fanbase' business, of course, is generally the key ingredient to being a popstar, but this essential fact is easy to forget – or wilfully ignore. Making proper fans is difficult and the soft option is to pester friends regularly to come along to your next show. And pester we musicians do – via phone, email, Facebook, letter, carrier pigeon…but it is ultimately a fairly self-defeating strategy. 

What generally happens with friendbases is this: your first gig with your new band is a sell-out. All your mates, and your bandmates’ mates come out in force to support you. You feel like a rock star for 15 minutes, you end up getting off with your guitarist’s sexy but impressionable second cousin and, high on success, decide to put on another show a couple of weeks later. This show is reasonably well attended by your friends, but as you start to play your second shoegazing-hip-hop-grimey-post-rock number, you get a niggling feeling that there are quite a few mates who came to the first gig who didn’t bother to come along to the second. By the time your third gig comes around, you’re struggling to pull a crowd. By the fourth show, even your mum and dad are busy that night. No amount of Facebook-ing, tweeting or personal appeals is going to reverse this situation.

You shouldn’t be offended by this. After all, when you became mates with somebody you did so based on common interests; a shared concern for each other; a mutual love of Carry On films; delighting in some sort of bedroom peccadillo that might actually be illegal. Your best mate Charlie Chum absolutely did not befriend you just so that he could attend every single gig you are ever going to play in your life. And, what’s more, Charlie may adore you – but not your music. In fact he might not like music at all. So why subject a mate repeatedly to something he doesn’t like? Frankly, it’s not very nice of you. And besides which, Charlie prefers watching footie at home on a Monday night to trooping down to the local Dog and Duck for a gig, and has a very busy life involving 2 kids…which is why he is washing his hair by gig 3. You can't compete with football and nappy-changing (or both) indefinitely; the nappies ALWAYS win.

Besides all that, friends aren't evangelical about your music - most will view it as your hobby and who spreads the word about people's hobbies? - but real fans, when they get on the case, can seriously wax lyrical about you. So if you want to grow in popularity, you HAVE to build a fanbase (there is also the added bonus that by ceasing to invite your mates to gigs all the time you might stop losing friends and alienating people). The question is: how do you build this fanbase? It's very difficult, and involves loads of work, but based on my experience of building my own, er, shall we say 'boutique fanbase', and watching other (infinitely more successful) acts go about it, these are the main things you need to do:

1 Write great songs, and ensure they are stonkingly-well produced. Easier said than done of course, but if you don’t get the music right, nobody’s going to like it enough to become a fan.

2 Give some of this music away for free – in exchange, preferably, for an email address. Some acts are a bit sniffy about doing this, but people need to hear your tracks in order to be able to like them (hence the freebie) and you need some way to communicate with fans (hence the nabbing of an email address). 

3 Find ways of targeting people who will actually like your music. If you happen to be the next Rod Stewart, maybe find some Rod Stewart fan groups on the internet and ask them (politely) to have a listen to your tracks, invite them to give some feedback etc. Find the correct audience: don’t go onto One Direction forums flogging your ‘Maggie May’-inspired EP.

4 Rehearse your ass off, because you will need to be a great live act in time for my next suggestion.

5 Play loads of gigs that are not 'yours' – i.e., where you are not topping the bill (or booking the venue and taking the door etc.). Put your ego aside for ten minutes (well, ten years) and play second fiddle to as many already popular bands as you can. In a nutshell, the aim of the game is to nick other bands' fans. And of course, don't bother playing live at all unless you are truly fantastic.

6 Try to capture as much data as humanly possible at each and every gig. Again, you need to stay in contact with the people who like your music. Use this data to invite people to the next show.

7 Repeat steps 1 to 6 until you are not relying on any cousins to make the crowd look decent.

If you manage all the above correctly, and are finding yourself in that happy place where you have a lot of genuine fans downloading your music and attending gigs, it’s time to take things a step further, by seeing if you can get some industry / media figures enthused about your act. It’s these sort of ‘filters’ / gatekeepers that can ‘upscale’ your project and increase the number of fans. This can be done via a lot of research into who's who in the music biz, creating big Excel spreadsheets of industry contacts, and approaching them extremely carefully and methodically with your music. Heck, you could even consider hiring the likes of Prescription to do the hard work for you. It’s really important however not to overdo the communications – just as your friends will get peeved by being nagged about your music, so will industry figures, journalists and bloggers. Often, the key thing is to ask for advice rather than a record deal – people in the entertainment industry tend to have big egos and love venturing an opinion, so you might have a better chance of forming a relationship with, say, a Svengali by acting like you find him/her interesting and getting their insights on the future of the CD (there isn’t one – you heard it here first) instead of bombarding them with your music. 

Now, one last thought on all this: there is still a place for your friends – there are times when you will still REALLY need them. For example, in a crowd-funding project, or to support you at a very important showcase. You don’t need to write them off completely – you just need to think hard about when to blag a favour. And in the meantime, go out looking for real fans. Good hunting.

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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.  

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Using Twitter: top tips for musicians and bands

Twitter logo

Twitter logo

Although Twitter’s been around for quite a while now (since 2006, if my memory serves me correctly), it’s still not fully understood – or used to maximum effect – by a lot of bands and musicians. But many do seem to have a sense of its importance, and “can you get me a bigger Twitter following?” is one of the most common questions posed by bands to Prescription PR, making us feel as though we are the musical equivalent of plastic surgeons. “For a price,” is a common answer, as we reach for some strange-looking implements. But today, dear reader, we’re giving you some free advice on using the medium – and as you’ll find out, size isn’t everything. Here’s our survival guide…

1. Pick the right username

A very obvious point this, but if your little four-piece is called, say, “The Beatles”, then don’t try to be all clever about things and pick “@YokoOno” as your Twitter handle. Pick a username that is as close as possible to your band’s, because the people who want to follow you on Twitter after seeing you play that gig at the Cavern in Liverpool are as just as likely to whack “www.twitter.com/thebeatles” into an address bar of a browser as they are to search for “The Beatles Twitter” in Google. Or at least that would have been the case had Twitter been around in 1961. It wasn't, which is why the Beatles didn't 'make it' on Twitter. They actually played a few gigs and wrote decent songs - worth doing that too, by the way.

2. You’ve got a biography: use it

Alright, a biography comprising a mere 160 characters is not nearly enough to describe the incredible things you’ve been through as an artist and to impart your views on the price of cabbage – but it is what will come up in Google when somebody searches for your band’s Twitter page (see example below).

So get to the point – put decent, concise content in your bio that enables people to spot your profile easily in search results, and distinguishes you from the American sports hero who happens to share your name.

3. Look professional

Twitter gives you the option to brand your profile nicely – you can upload a dinky profile picture and a background of your choice. Use these tools to make your Twitter profile appear consistent with your band’s general online presence. In short, don’t rely on one of Twitter’s default backgrounds and a blank profile pic – be professional about things. Otherwise you will look like the Twitter novice that you are. Pay particular attention to the profile pic, because this is what pops up in other users’ news feed when you post your latest inanity about a gig down in the Dog and Duck.

4. Follow the right people

Don’t be tempted to use automated ‘adders’ or dodgy sites to grow a Twitter following. The 10,000 followers you get from such services may a) not exactly be real people and b) simply won’t be interested in your latest double album. They will however, be interested in regularly offering you an oil inheritance from Nigeria or shoving a pair of fake breasts in your face (sadly these offers rarely translate into reality, believe me). Instead, try to follow bloggers, journalists, writers and musicians that you respect and that are relevant to you – for example, bloggers that write really interesting stuff about the nu-metal-cum-chillwave-shoegazing scene that your band is trying to break into. A proportion of these hip bloggers and journalists will follow you back, meaning (as we’ll see below) that Twitter will inform other similarly hip bloggers and journalists that you are an interesting person worth following, generating more hip followers for you.

5. Take Twitter’s advice

When you log into Twitter, you’ll see a ‘Who to follow’ panel, with suggestions from Twitter's algorithms regarding people that you might find interesting. These recommendations are based on who you are already following on the network (and who's following you), and assuming you’ve taken my words of wisdom above on board, Twitter will be suggesting interesting, relevant and (shock!) “useful” people to follow. (If not, it’ll be prompting you to follow more oil barons and big-but-pretend-bosomed ladies. Nice and all as they are, these individuals might not be all that much use to your music career). So take a careful look at the suggestions, check out each profile suggested, and if you think the algorithm has sussed you out correctly, start taking Twitter’s advice on who to follow.

6. Follow back – where appropriate

When somebody follows you, take a look at what they do / write about, and if they seem like a "fit" for your band, then by all means follow back. I’d suggest not following everybody back – otherwise it makes it harder for Twitter to make accurate recommendations about who you should be following and who should follow you. As with points 4 and 5 above, the “quality” or relevance of follower / following is everything here.

7. Remember: content is king…

…but not necessarily your content. By all means post links to your band's new videos and MP3s from time to time, but do not get too fond of doing so; otherwise you’ll just look like a jerk. Believe me, when it comes to overcommunicating about my own music projects, I’ve been there, done that and bought the t-shirt…and despite waxing endlessly about the importance of musicians keeping schtum for five minutes, I still see artists (who should know better) bore their friends, family and remaining fan to tears with hourly Facebook updates about their latest creative endeavours. Nobody cares after a while (if they ever did in the first place). Instead, post links to great content from other sources – whack links up on Twitter to scintillating articles which don’t happen to be about your music (and rest assured, there are a lot of them). Or make witty observations about cheese. In short, get a reputation for being an interesting dude, not a self-obsessed bore. If you post a lot of fantastic content on Twitter, guess what? It’ll get retweeted, meaning your lovely face will potentially pop up in thousands of Twitter feeds. Meaning you’ll get more followers, which you can then eventually bore with stuff about your band (which, after all, is why you’re reading this post in the first place).

8. Interact

Although it’s great for broadcasting news to millions of people, starting revolutions in dodgy regimes and so on, Twitter isn’t a one-way medium and by using the ‘reply’ or “@username” options provided you can interact with people and engage your followers (whatever the hell that means; writing the words ‘engage your followers’ is obligatory in any article about Twitter, so I had to include it somewhere). In a nutshell, if you take the time to respond to enquiries from fans or comment on tweets from the hip bloggers you follow, you will build up a rapport with both groups; this can lead to goodwill for you being generated amongst your two key audiences – fans and tastemakers – resulting, hopefully, in more sales and coverage for your band.

9. Ask for retweets – but only when it’s REALLY important

You can ask your followers to “retweet” stuff –  for example, share posts about your latest video, or a big showcase gig. However, don’t prefix absolutely every tweet with “Please RT!” – only do so for posts that are really important. Otherwise you will become the boy who cried “retweet!” and so jaded will your followers be with this carry-on that nobody will ever retweet anything you post. So there.

10. Be regular

Don’t set up a profile on Twitter and then forget all about it. Doing this will a) guarantee that you don’t have much of a following or b) make you look like you don’t give a monkeys about social media or c) don’t know how to use it. None of these inconvenient truths will impress those skinny-jean wearing A&R guys from Shoreditch who are all queuing up to view your Twitter profile right now.

11. Be visible

Remember to promote your Twitter address outside of Twitter. Put it on your album art, your website, your posters, your drumkit, your head – anywhere people can see it. This will help increase your following.

12. Use hashtags to increase the visibility of your tweets

If you're tweeting about something topical - for example, Louise Mensch - use a hash ('#') followed by a relevant tag - i.e., '#louisemensch'. This increases the visibility of your tweet, because people often search for popular hashtags on Twitter to see what the latest news on a subject is, or simply to steal a funny tweet and pass it off as their own. So with the example given, people who are searching for '#louisemensch' (and there are a lot of them) may encounter your witty, and quite possibly rude, tweet about her. This may result in more people, particularly those of a non-Louise-Mensch bent (and there are a lot of them) retweeting your witticism or following you (or both).

13. But size isn’t everything…

Finally, another reminder that like your girlfriend said, SIZE IS NOT EVERYTHING. Having thousands of dodgy followers you never communicate with is less important than having a smaller group of influential followers who hang on and retweet your every regular, interesting 140-character utterance. Think about it: if 200 tastemakers with audiences of 10,000 each are following you, and 50 of them dig you to the extent that they retweet your post about your latest video, you’ve just hit 50 x 10,000 people…that’s your video broadcast to a potential audience of 500,000 (many of whom may retweet it again). And crucially, those 500,000 Twitter users you’ve been exposed to are more likely to take you seriously, because they heard about you from a credible source, not the oil baron with the big boobies.

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Let’s get physical: why musicians shouldn’t forget about cds, tapes and records

Record store

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt have picked up on the fact that much of the advice that has been imparted relates to digital aspects of music industry – whether that’s to do with recording, distribution, PR or marketing. And for good reason really: to misquote Madonna, we are living in a digital age, and we are all digital girls. Actually at Prescription PR you’ll find nearly all fellas, except at the weekend perhaps, but you get the drift.

Anyway, slipping quickly out of drag, and back into a manly blogger’s outfit (whatever the hell that looks like that), I thought  I’d devote a bit of time this week to underlining something important: that although the digital revolution has in general made the likes of CDs, tapes, minidiscs and records look very obscure, and cheap as chips, paradoxically it has also – in certain contexts - made them look very hip and a potential source of lots of moolah.

I’ll explain why in a minute – and outline the potential benefits of your band ‘getting physical’ – but let’s stay in the digital domain for a moment. Cheap digital recording gear and worldwide digital distribution via the internet have led to an explosion in the number of bands producing and distributing albums. What this digital revolution hasn’t provided for these bands, however, is the kind of fanbase-generating marketing budget that would have accompanied a traditional album release. The upshot is that the industry has arguably changed from being one where there is a tiny number of bands with huge followings to one where there is a huge number of bands with tiny followings.

I’m guessing that if you are reading this post, you or your band fall into the latter category, and question is how – and sorry if this sounds a little bit mercenary – to make as much money as possible from that tiny following. By tiny, I mean that perhaps a you have few hundred dedicated fans rather than a few hundred thousand. But the key word here is ‘dedicated’: if the aforementioned group are really into you, then they may be prepared to pay a premium for your music. But given how easy it is for them to listen to you for free, only if you make it really worth their while.

And here’s where physical music products come in: if you can create a physical offering that is perceived as unique and of special value by your fans, you may find that instead of them paying £6.99 to download your album on iTunes, they may be prepared to pay a lot more for the same music.

So, here are some simple ideas on how to get physical.

  • Number your CDs by hand and sign them. Instead of charging £8.99 etc., charge £15.00. This is a really simple way to increase the income you generate from any stock you manufacture, and you'll always find at least some listeners prepared to pay a bit extra for a signed CD.
  • Put together a little package comprising a bunch of funky, limited-edition items. For example, charge £25 for a package that includes a signed CD, handwritten lyrics, a poster and two signed photos.
  • Accompany a CD sale with merchandise – bundle a CD, t-shirt and mug together for £20.
  • Do a limited run of cassettes / mix tapes and charge £17 per signed cassette album.
  • Do a combined vinyl/CD release and charge £30 per copy sold.
  • A bit of a physical/digital mash-up this, but you could issue your album on a designer USB memory stick – there are a range of mad designs you can get now (rainforest-friendly USB stick anyone?). Include high-resolution versions of your tracks on the USB (WAVS rather than MP3s) and other exclusive content like videos, alternate takes and so on.

These are just some examples of limited-edition physical releases – I’m sure you can use your imagination to come up with funkier examples of how to get physical. In fact, I’d be interested in hearing some more ideas; do leave a comment if you have any clever suggestions.

Whatever you eventually decide upon for a physical release, the key thing really is to think like a business and work out:

  1. how many of your fans will realistically buy a physical product
  2. how much they will be prepared to pay for it
  3. how much it will cost you – not just in terms of money, but time too – to make your physical offering.

Ultimately, if you are smart about things, do the right sums and  keep costs down, you may find that oddly, in this digital era there is more to be made from an innovative physical release than a bog-standard digital one. If you have 100 fans prepared to pay £30 for a really great physical package that costs £10 to produce, that’s a profit of £2,000 (and seriously, making any money, let alone £2k from music, is getting extremely difficult these days). Conversely, if all your 100 fans bought your album on iTunes, you’d have made at most £490 (£6.99 x 100, minus Apples 30% or so cut); possibly less if a distributor or indie label is taking a cut. Indeed, a cool physical product that fans might even view as an investment may make the difference between them parting with cash at all or just hitting play on Spotify or clicking on that torrent link.

Finally, there is another big advantage to funky physical releases: they make you look cool. Drop the fact that your music is out on limited-edition vinyl or a cassette casually into a conversation, and skinny-jeaned hipsters from Hackney will come out of the woodwork, start drooling and think your music is much better than it actually is.

Which of course in this business is all that counts really.

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The Long Tail - and music PR

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.

The Long Tail

The Long Tail

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.

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