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Music industry

8 'band hacks' to make your musical life easier

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

by Chris Singleton

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

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

1. Automate your e-newsletters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to make (and nurture) music industry contacts

Networks - important in the music industry

By Chris Singleton

Looking back over various Prescription articles recently, it occurred to me that a lot of them are focused on the ‘DIY’ aspect of music promotion. Which is fine, as all music promotion essentially starts with and by the artist – even the biggest acts on the planet had to start their career somewhere, and ‘somewhere’ usually means with a dose of self-promotion.

But it is worth remembering however that as worthwhile as DIY promo is, there is a lot to be said for not doing it yourself: if you can convince a powerful Svengali, live agent or established label to take responsibility for your career and spend a lot of money promoting it, then let’s say that the letting-somebody-else-do-it school of music promotion has its up sides too. The question is how you find these sorts of contacts, and how you nurture them. Here are some tips.

Start with people you know

The best connections are often personal connections, because – assuming you are a relatively nice person – people you know are the people most likely to go the extra mile for you. Look through your address book and see if you can find anyone with any links to the entertainment business. Drop them a line, explain that you are trying to locate contacts who might be interested in furthering your career, and see if they can help. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised: in my own case, chatting to a friend led to an introduction to his friend, who got me in the door of quite a few major labels, one of which turned out to be very helpful in distributing my records. Working your personal network can prove to be a quite fruitful six degrees of Kevin Bacon style thing.

It is vital however that you do not foist yourself upon your personal contacts. Remember that you are talking to friends – and friends don’t like taken being advantage of, or given the hard sell.

Do your research

It’s surprising how many music professionals are kind enough to leave their contact details lying about online. Thanks to sites like Hitquarters and the Unsigned Guide, you can access thousands of potentially useful contacts (including their name, address and phone numbers) and find out what projects they’ve previously been involved with. (It’s like the NSA, only more rock and roll). You can also make use of LinkedIn and other social networks to establish connections with potentially useful people (but be careful whom you send contact requests to: the potential to annoy is quite high here).

Make a database

As you do your research, you should add new contacts to database of people that you want to approach with your music. This database should include not only contact details of these poor unsuspecting souls, but notes on what they’ve worked on in the past.

By database I mean something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet – but if you want to go the extra mile and be a little bit more sophisticated about it, you could try using what’s known as a ‘CRM tool’ like Nimble or Capsule. These allow you to do funkier things with your data than Excel – like keep a history of communications between you and your contacts, do sophisticated queries, connect with them on social media and more. CRM tools are also useful for keeping tabs on your fans and staying in touch with them.

Contact the RIGHT people

It’s really important to take a very targeted approach when it comes to contacting people in the music business. Only contact RELEVANT people – contacts who work with acts that make a similar noise to yours – or you’ll just waste their time and your own. Remember that everybody in showbiz knows everybody else, so you don’t want to get a reputation for being a spammer; nobody will take you seriously after that.

Approach when the time is right

Just because you now have a great list of contacts and know exactly which artists they’ve made the tea for, it does not mean that you should necessarily contact them all immediately. Only start your approaches when you are 100% ready: i.e., very confident in yourself and your music.

Nail your pitch

Remember that when you finally DO approach your contacts about your music, it’s vital that you are fully prepared: you should be presenting them with the best music, the best videos, the best photos and the best story that you can muster. It’s all very well having sophisticated data capture techniques and a huge database of music industry big wigs to hand, but if you and your ‘product’ (sorry for calling it that) aren’t looking and sounding as good as you can, you will simply waste opportunities. To help you avoid this shocking waste, we have a separate article about pitching your songs to the music industry which you might find relevant to the whole process of making and keeping friends in the music biz.

Good luck…and remember your manners.

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A look at the music industry in 2013 – and some Prescription goodies to help you cope with it

Mixing desk

As I sit here waiting to find out if the ancient Mayans were correct or not, I’ve been pondering two things: firstly, shall I bother with another fancypants coffee (I don’t want to pay for one if an apocalypse prevents me finishing it) and secondly, assuming we’re not all doomed, what is going to happen to the music industry in 2013? 

For many musicians, it may seem that the Mayan prophesy is coming true and we are all doomed: with fewer and fewer people prepared to pay for CDs and downloads, and streaming services like Spotify offering paltry royalties for each play, bands might be forgiven for thinking that the Mayans were correct all along and it really is the end of the world as we know it, without anybody feeling particularly fine.

However, there is a flipside. Ok, so bands might not be making as much cash as they used to from sales – and let’s not forget that even in the glory days of the music industry, 99.9% of bands never did – but making and promoting music is getting much, much easier and cheaper. The same digital revolution which has killed off CD sales has also… 

  • made recording equipment incredibly affordable, meaning pro-quality albums can be recorded in toilets
  • made studio time much cheaper, as pro studios now have to compete with the toilet-studio-owner in question
  • made global distribution of music a reality for any band
  • provided all manner of cheap digital advertising and communications tools to musicians
  • reduced the need for physical manufacture (with an associated reduction in costs)
  • arguably made music promotion services cheaper, due to increased competition in the music promotion services market
  • reduced costs associated with music promo (in terms of postage, phone calls, promo manufacture, boozy lunches and so on – much of these can be handled online).

So basically, there’s a weird trade-off. In today’s music industry you are able to make and promote your music more easily and cheaply than ever before, but you are considerably less able to generate any cash from sales. And it doesn’t take a Mayan prophesier to tell you that in 2013, we are simply going to travel further and more quickly in this direction, possibly because the music industry lives on a computer in a shed these days, and computers – as any aficiando of Moore’s Law will tell you – double in power every two years whilst falling significantly in cost.

So as I peer into my crystal ball for 2013, I simply see even fewer people buying CDs, fewer people downloading music and more people streaming it via Spotify of similar services. (And of course if iTunes switches to being a streaming service rather than a download store, it’s really game over for music sales.)

So how do musicians cope with this? What is the point of making music if it’s looking increasingly like something that can’t be sold? Well, I’d start off any coping strategy by accentuating the positives. As a band making a racket today, and as discussed above, you have access to a whole range of things that even 15 years ago would have been completely out of your reach – incredibly affordable studio time / equipment, global distribution, cheap promo deals and direct access to listeners via social media and online communications. It’s incredible how these things (that would have looked like magic back in the late 90s) have become completely taken for granted by a lot of bands, but they are the key (and often overlooked) ingredients to creating something which is at the heart of any successful music project: a fanbase. This fanbase may not pay for your recordings, but they may be able to support you in several other ways – for example, through paying to see you live; buying merchandise; and acting as a street team that delivers vital word-of-mouth marketing.

In order to get anywhere near having a 'monetised fanbase' though, you need to do three things:

1) Create stonkingly great music

2) Work the ‘digital system’ very hard

3) Think like a business (yes, I know, yuck) and explore every avenue when thinking about monetising your music 

I can’t help you with the first part of this recipe for success, but it’s my hope that over the past year or so, our Prescription articles have provided some insights into going about the second and third parts. So, as we bid farewell to 2012 (and perhaps existence if the Mayans are correct), I thought I’d provide you with some links to some of our favourite music promo articles from the Prescription archives. May they help you in your 2013 quest for rock/dance/hip-hop/indie/shoe-gazing glory (delete as appropriate). You’ll find them below – think of them as the online equivalent of a box of Quality Street from us to you. Thank you for reading The Prescription in 2012, we hope you have a great Christmas, and we wish you every success for 2013 (and don't forget, that we are always happy to discuss ways that you can achieve this - feel free to contact us for a chat about any projects you have coming up in 2013).

Life is like a box of chocolates - articles from the archive… 

 

 

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Filters - what they are, why they matter and how they can turn you into a rock star

A coffee filter

Back in the old days, the music industry was all very simple. You got a manager; they got you a record deal; the record company commissioned you to make a record; the record company’s PR team approached journalists and radio producers with said record; the journalists and radio producers got you in the papers and on the airwaves; owners of record shops heard your wonderfully hip new sound and agreed to stock your album…and eventually, you sold some records to a bunch of girls in Stevenage. All of the aforementioned individuals and organisations – right down to the girls in Stevenage – constituted ‘filters’: the entities that you had to convince to let you past the gates of rock and roll into a world of stardom and excess. If any one of the filters or gatekeepers in the chain said ‘no’ to your musical efforts, you were quite probably screwed and consigned to a life of miserable gigs at the local Rat and Parrot attended by your mother and your drunken aunt. 

In this brave new world that we makers and purveyors of fine music now find ourselves in, it’s tempting to think that the whole ‘filter’ model doesn’t apply any more. After all, it’s just a case of setting up a website, sticking a free EP up there and waiting for the world to come knocking down your door, isn’t it? Well, no, not exactly, as we shall soon see.

But it does feel to many musicians as though the filters aren’t there any more. In my view, that’s down to two things. Firstly, recording: thanks to remarkably cheap and powerful recording gear it’s now technically possible to make a record without any record company involvement whatsoever. Secondly, distribution: you don’t need to impress any distributors to get distribution – all you need to do is just whack your album up on iTunes – or if you’re feeling very lazy/confident, simply put it up on your own website and leave it at that – and hey presto, your album is available 24/7 to a global audience.

This removal of the barriers to recording and distribution understandably makes a lot of bands think that if they work hard, make an undeniably great record and put it up on the net, that it will inevitably sell millions of digital copies, or, at the very least build them a fanbase that they can flog t-shirts to. Build it and they will come, to quote Field of Dreams or misquote Wayne’s World II.

But if anything, there are actually more filters in the music business than ever before. For a start, the old ones mentioned above are still there; record companies may not be selling as much music as they used to, but they are still capable of shifting units on a huge scale from time to time (even if that’s only once a year, at Christmas time, and involving a Leonard Cohen song or similar being murdered by a heavily autotuned, scantily-clad young lady who stayed on the right side of Gary Barlow for 10 very long weeks). Rock critics are still around (just); radio stations are still hugely important; hell, people still watch TV.

And then of course there’s our disruptive friend, the Internet; its arrival means that we now have a load of sites, blogs, social media pages, RSS feeds, podcasters and online radio stations that end up constituting a whole new set of filters – in short, musicians have a whole bunch set of dudes to impress (or not!).

So, no matter how easy it is to record or distribute music, filters haven’t gone away, and for my money it’s really important to remember three things when embarking on a music project:

(1) Despite the apparent lack of barriers in this internet age, you still need to get your music past a truckload of filters/gatekeepers and you need to be aware of who/what they are

(2) You need to spend time working out which individual gatekeepers you need to approach

(3) You need to decide in what order to approach them.

Step 1 boils down to making a list of ‘gatekeeper groups’. By groups I mean the likes of: 

  • managers
  • A&Rs
  • promoters
  • producers
  • journalists
  • bloggers
  • podcasters
  • publishers
  • distributers (yes, they are still relevant)
  • gig-goers
  • PR companies
  • radio pluggers
  • search engine users
  • social media fans  

(Those are just examples that I thought of off the top of my head; there are probably far more groups that I could think of if I wasn’t concentrating on my need to head off and eat a curry). 

In terms of step 2, the individual targets, you need to identify people within the above groups who really ‘get’ your music. For example, don’t spend ages trying to put your Oasis-esque tracks in front of some A&R guy who specialises in hip hop; don’t ask a blogger who only ever reviews folk albums to write a critique of your punk record; don’t approach a country music radio station with a heavy metal album. Instead, find people who are likely to champion the noise you make – fortunately there is a champion somewhere for every type of noise (which is why Ed Sheeran, despite his best efforts, is experiencing musical success). 

Finally you need to think about the order that you approach these champions; should you approach a management company first? Or get some airplay and then approach a management company armed with a spin from Steve Lamacq? Or get Alex Petridis to say you’re the greatest thing since Girls Aloud and use this quote to convince Steve Lamacq to give you that spin? I won’t go on, but you can probably guess that it’s my sincere view that mysteries of music success can in many ways be explained by that nursery rhyme about the old lady who swallowed a fly. Perhaps she'll have a hit in the dance charts.

Ultimately there are so many variables involved in the making of a successful music project – not least luck – that it is unfortunately impossible to boil it down to a simple formula of approach X with Y and then impress Z with the results to obtain desired outcome (rock stardom and an interesting encounter in the back of a tour bus). However, I feel that artists don’t really stand a chance of any musical success at all if they don’t understand the importance of filters/gatekeepers and have a decent gameplan around how and when to approach them.

If all the above talk of filters, gatekeepers and game plans seems a little complicated, I’ll now give you the abridged version. Virtually every record company exec I’ve ever talked to has explained pop stardom to me in four words: “It’s who you know”. So get out and start knowing people.

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What does 2012 bring for the music biz?

Santa

Well, it's that time of year again. Chrimbo. Right now you are probably listening to a bunch of 1980s celebrities sing about there not being any snow in Africa this Christmastime in an alarmingly cheerful manner whilst hanging up a stocking (yes, you're doing the stocking-hanging, not the celebrities). No doubt you are also hoping that Santa will whack a big fat record deal (complete with huge advance) in said sock. However, without wishing to be too Bah Humbug about it, it's questionable as to whether either Santa or that kind of record deal actually exists. So, in the absence of a bearded mythological figure or a recording contract, we give you Prescription's list of things to watch out for in 2012 in the music biz.

The ongoing death of the download

Not everybody has twigged this yet, but the digital download is slowly (or not so slowly) joining the record, CD and tape in the 'extinct music format' club. It's certainly on the endangered species list. As more and more people consume music via the likes of Spotify and WE7, storing gigabytes of music locally on a hard drive seems more and more quaint (and pointless). Although headlines were made recently by rumours of record companies deciding not to sell new music on CDs after 2012, the real story is that selling MP3s is going to become more and more difficult in 2012. Indeed, even giving them away is going to get harder – that old trick of 'download this amazing MP3 free in exchange for your email address' that musicians have been employing for a while now is not going to work for much longer. Firstly, every band under the sun sussed that particular tactic out back in the mid-naughties, meaning the free MP3 'market' has been completely saturated; but more importantly, why would music fans bother storing an MP3 somewhere when they can stream as much music as they like, with relative ease, online?

The upshot of the death of the download is that bands are going to have to become far more inventive when it comes to getting people to listening to their music. Creative angles and interesting content (blog posts, animations, games, viral videos, downright lies and so on) are going to be more important than ever in 2012 in catching people’s attention (and hopefully, ears); on this note, you may find our article about using strong content to drive visits to your band’s website interesting.

The longer tail

There has always been a 'long tail' of music out there – a few huge-selling artists, and truckloads of non-selling ones. In recent years however, this tail has got longer, as modern computing enabled anyone with a half-decent laptop and an audio card to produce music in their bedroom. In 2012, we reckon this tail will get longer still, due to the explosion of mobile device / smartphone use. When you can buy an app for three quid or so from the Apple store – Garage Band – which effectively allows you to produce release-quality music on a pocket-sized device, it's inevitable that you will end up with more wannabes (sorry, serious musicians) uploading their pathetic (sorry, heartfelt) efforts onto the web. All this means that your band's fish size has just been reduced; where as once you were a humble cod swimming in a very big quantity of water, you have now been downgraded to a mere goldfish swimming in a vast ocean.

The end of record companies?

If CDs do become a redundant format by the end of the year, and as discussed above, MP3s roll over and die in the near future too, then the question has to be asked – without any recordings to sell, what is the point of a traditional record company? 2012 will see lots of record companies go bust, there’s no question about that, as revenues from sales dry up.

The companies that survive (mainly major labels with large cash reserves) will simply become management companies, signing or developing celebrities and taking a percentage of everything they sell, from T-shirts to perfume to gig tickets…but not necessarily recorded music. This sort of carry-on has been around for a few years now of course – with ‘360 degree deals’ and so on - but if 2012 is the last year of the CD, it may be the year that this 'I'll have a finger in every pie' approach becomes the de facto way that record companies do business.

The rise and rise of Spotify – and what will Apple do?

With both its recent arrival in the US and its link-up with Facebook, Spotify now has an even bigger market to tap into. And people seem to be using it in ever larger numbers.

What will be very interesting to see is what Apple do in response to the increasing popularity of Spotify. For many music listeners, Spotify has replaced iTunes as the go-to music library; however, iTunes still has a huge userbase, and Apple could simply decide (once legal and licensing issues are resolved) to turn it into a music streaming service (and presumably one that you could use to listen to several artists that are not on Spotify – the Beatles, Pink Floyd etc.).

However, my gut feeling is that Apple are going to hold off doing this until absolutely necessary; the download market may be shrinking, but as far as Apple's concerned, it's still a huge one and the umbilical link between all those iDevices and iTunes makes it incredibly easy for Apple iDevice owners to buy new music or Apple to flog it to them. But the trend is definitely away from download stores and towards streaming services; so regardless of what Apple do, it makes sense for musicians to get very clued up on how to get their music on Spotify and promote it on there – as such, we’d recommend taking a look at this Make it in Music article about this very issue.

The rollout of 4G

2012 will see several countries roll out 4G – the superfast successor to 3G mobile broadband (I'm reliably informed by Wikipedia that two thirds of US cities will have 4G coverage by mid-2012). This will make streaming music on mobile devices much faster and easier than it is now (and will bring greater monthly data allowances, thereby facilitating even more streaming). As with much else in the world, the UK is somewhat behind the curve when it comes to 4G, but its general onward march (combined with ever larger numbers of people using smartphones) is inevitably going to speed up the death of downloading we talked about earlier (and may provide that tipping point for Apple to convert iTunes from a download service to a streaming one). This represents another development which should make you think twice about manufacturing 10,000 physical copies of your latest opus; maybe 500 would do…

Recession!

It's looking more and more likely that despite politicians' best efforts (or worst, depending on your political viewpoint), 2012 will bring a double-dip recession to the UK and Europe. This will inevitably impact on the entertainment industry just as much as anything else. It's hard to guess what the exact outcome will be; but alas I fear the prognosis for bands is pretty grim – people are buying less music due to technological developments anyway, and a crap economy probably just means people will buy even less of it.

It's perhaps in the live scene though that the impact will be felt most; even going to see an unsigned band is an expensive pursuit these days, and when people have less money in their pockets, your mates will view going to see your band (let's be honest, you don't have any real fans, do you?) as very low on the 'how shall I spend my shrinking disposable income?' list.

That’s all very depressing

I fear that in the above observations, I've brought you famine, war, pestilence and various other harbingers of a music-industry apocalypse. However, there is a bright side to all this: thanks to this digital revolution which is proving so distruptive, more people – perhaps including you, dear reader - are making music than ever before. And more people are probably listening to it than ever before. Music remains incredibly popular (and is more accessible than ever), and regardless of how things pan out in 2012, this is going to remain the case. Good music can get an airing, but the key thing to remember is this: if you want your music to be heard these days, you've got to – to coin an alarmingly Steve Jobs-esque phrase – think different. You may need to think smaller; in a more business-like way; but – and I appreciate the contradictions – more creatively.

In fact, I think that's generally been the theme of our articles in 2011: looking back over them they seem to prescribe a mix of not forgetting the basics with thinking of ways to be clever about how you promote yourself. And, as a parting Christmas gift, I thought it might be worth highlighting our ‘greatest hits’ of Prescription articles – the posts containing the tips which we think could make the most difference to your forays into music promotion next year.

These are: 

Anyway! Enough musical talk. We're off to the Prescription PR Christmas party, dressed all smart-casual, like.

We wish you well in your endeavours and hope you have a great Christmas and a successful 2012.

The Prescription is written by independent musician and digital consultant to Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.

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Rock success – the Ryanair way

Ryanair and rock success - what do the two things have in common?

Ryanair and rock success - what do the two things have in common?

In today’s article we’re going to make you approach your music career the way Ryanair approaches its business model. Hopefully this won’t lead to you firing anyone in the band who’s in the Musicians’ Union, charging people an extra £60 for turning up to one of your gigs in a wheelchair, or having fans that absolutely hate you but reluctantly buy your records anyway because they're cheaper than all the other bands' albums; rather, the point of it is to look at:

  • the power of free stuff in opening up other markets and revenue streams
  • the importance to musicians of sticking to budgets.

What most people don’t realise about Ryanair is that they are not really an airline. Sure, they fly a lot of planes, but they are a multi-faceted business that actually make their money out of

  • selling a load of things that aren’t flights
  • keeping their business costs as low as possible.

Let’s start off by examining  the first bit: the ‘non-flights’. Ryanair will indeed sell you a ‘free’ (or extremely cheap) flight. But that’s really just a cunning ploy to make you buy other crap. Because once they’ve tempted you with the flight, they now have an opportunity to do three main things:

  1. Sell you a huge range of other products and services that simply don't resemble an airplane: travel insurance, bus tickets, sandwiches, car hire, hotel accommodation, credit cards, scratchcards, calendars, perfume, tobacco, gift vouchers, ‘approved-size’ travel bags, saucy calendars, airport parking…
  2. Subject you to a raft of terms and conditions that come with punitive fees for those who transgress them (£35 for having the wrong-sized bag at the gate, anyone?)
  3. Make any other essential aspect of taking your flight as expensive as possible via hidden charges (think of the very expensive credit card booking fees, or high charges for those who need to bring a suitcase or sports equipment on holiday).

The truth is that the free flight is really the ‘turnkey’ to get you into the Ryanair selling machine. The free flights generate a new market for the company, which is then bombarded with pleas to buy additional services and products. And clearly, enough people do find ‘The Girls of Ryanair’ calendar, a cardboard sandwich or an extortionately-priced small can of Heineken worth parting with cash for.

The other successful aspect of Ryanair’s business model is to do with keeping costs insanely low, meaning that they really maximise the profit from all the other tat they sell very effectively. They do this via a pretty draconian stance against unions; paying relatively low wages compared to other airlines; reducing the number of staff they employ to a bare minimum; forcing customers to book their own flights and check in online; and using cheaper, more regional airports.

“So what on earth has all this got to do with my rock and roll dream?”, I hear you ponder. Well, just as with cheap airlines, the music industry is a viciously competitive business, and in this digital era, is as much about free stuff and low costs as anything Michael O'Leary could dream up. Odd as it may sound, Ryanair's business model might finally be the thing that that helps you turn that money pit rock career of yours into something that actually makes you a profit.

Ryanair might have a choice about giving away free flights, but musicians increasingly don’t have this choice about giving away their music for free. The relentless march of the internet means that music is arguably already free - and getting freer by the day, thanks to file-sharing and the increasing availability of streaming services like Spotify and Apple’s iCloud. But just as Ryanair make a lot of money out of ‘non-flights’, musicians can also generate cash out of 'non-albums'. Here’s how a Ryanair-style model might work for a band.

First, the band give away an album download in exchange for an email address or Facebook ‘like’. This free album is the equivalent of Ryanair’s free flight, the turnkey which opens the door to new, less obvious, business opportunities. Then, using this email address, they provide fans with the opportunity to buy a range of other stuff related to the band, for example…

  • limited-edition, physical editions of the band's music: signed CDs, special vinyl pressings, designer USB sticks and so on
  • t-shirts
  • tacky merchandise: mugs, mouse mats, hats, calendars and anything else that fans might consider a desirable object (Cafépress allow you to whack your band logo on a thong)
  • signed posters and lyrics
  • gig tickets
  • private performances in fans homes

Additionally, if you are a big enough act, with enough traffic going to your site (or a big mailing list), you could actually contemplate selling advertising to other bands or music-related businesses.

The point is that strictly speaking, none of the above stuff involves the fan buying a recorded song – it’s all ancillary stuff…but your free music provides you with an opportunity to sell it.

As for Ryanair’s approach to keeping costs low, there are lessons to be learnt here too for independent musicians. We hope that you won’t be as heartless as Ryanair when it comes to anybody you employ (surely you’re not that big a bastard), but if you want to turn a profit from an independent release, you do have to be very mindful of cost reduction.

Let’s say that you are a singer-songwriter that typically sells 300 albums at £10 apiece per release. Of these 300 record-buyers, 75 might attend the album launch, paying £10 in at the door. You might generate another £250 from t-shirt sales or other tat. Meaning that before your costs are deducted, your indie album project has the potential to generate £4,000. In these crazy economic times, this is not an amount to be sniffed at. But how do you hold onto as much of this cash as possible? It’s all about the cost reduction. Here’s some ideas on how to do it.

  1. Consider not printing any CDs. They’re on the way out but, when design and manufacture costs are considered, can be incredibly expensive to produce.
  2. If you are getting physical (i.e. printing CDs), see if you can barter with graphic designers. Do you have a skill that you can swap in exchange for a CD sleeve design? You can apply this barter technique to other aspects of the release too – your session guitarist might need a website, for example, and you might be just the man to make it for him, so long as he'll do a free gig or two for you.
  3. Cut out as many middle-men as possible. Although it’s always worth getting a digital distribution arrangement of some sort (i.e., via Tunecore, Zimbalam etc.), do set up a Paypal account and get as many of your fans as possible to buy direct from your site. 
  4. Always do a cost-benefit analysis before spending any money on a project. Before placing an advert in an expensive magazine, try to work out how many albums you will sell as a direct result of that ad. Before mastering your album at Abbey Road, consider if it will maximise or reduce profit. Apply this logic to every stage / aspect of the release.
  5. Use negotiation skills to get the best price from any agency, plugger venue or manufacturer you may be hiring. Ensure you are getting the best bang for your buck, and, unless it’s Prescription PR we’re talking about, shop around :-)
  6. If you are a singer-songwriter, ask yourself if you really need to spend £1000 on session guys for a live performance that will only take in £500 at the door.
  7. Create a profit and loss spreadsheet  at the start of your project. And stick to it!

The point of all this is to get you thinking about music like a business. This is not very romantic, admittedly, and may not fit well with your well-crafted starving artist image. And nobody likes to mention Ryanair in the same sentence as rock success. But the point is that the rock and roll dream and bad decision-making typically go hand in hand. You get so sucked in by the dream that you will spend daft amounts of money to create that diamond-encrusted digi-pack, but you’ll neglect to set up a Paypal account that you an use to sell overhead-free digital downloads direct to fans. Or because you are so wrapped up in selling albums, you forget that even a modest fanbase can generate significant income for you if they can be persuaded to buy other stuff too. Maybe enough income, one day, to allow you not to have to resort to buying that ‘free’ Ryanair flight.

Now, where is that 'Girls of Ryanair' calendar I bought on Prescription's last outing to Majorca?

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