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Rock success

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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Using Google’s services and apps to further your music career

Google

Google and its all-seeing algorithms may be watching you and controlling your thoughts, but in addition to being the latest Big Brother on the block, the company are also the provider of a host of free and very powerful tools, many of which have really useful applications for musicians. As musicians are a heartless bunch who would happily lay down their grannies' lives in exchange for success, in this article we’re going to willfully ignore Google's dark side and show you how its products can help you be an efficient rock and roller.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are the chagrin of music PR companies – because they let bands keep an eye on what journalists, bloggers and the public at large are saying about them. So if you’ve hired a PR firm and Google Alerts isn’t, er, alerting you to anything, this probably means they aren’t doing the business for you and you should hire us.

Setting up alerts is simple – you just go to http://www.google.com/alerts and enter the phrase you want Google to keep an eye on, along with your email address. So, for example, if happen to be a U2 tribute band called The Achtung Babies (God bless you), you’d just enter ‘The Achtung Babies’ into the relevant field, select some communication preferences and every time somebody mentions your lovely tribute band online – whether they’re a journalist, blogger or fan – you’ll get updated.

Google Analytics

If your band has a website (and if not, why the hell not - it's 2011) then you’ve got to get Google Analytics installed on it. It provides you with incredibly detailed stats – you can find out what keywords brought people to your band's website, where your visitors are located, what your most popular content is and a truckload more info. In short, it lets you snoop on your fans. But in a good way. We think. Well, we've got it installed on our site and now we know where you live. 

Installing Google Analytics is really easy - you just sign up for an account and give Google your web address. You are provided with a snippet of code that you cut and paste into any web page on your site you want to track and Bob's your uncle.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is useful for bands in two main ways. First, for organising rehearsals and gigs. This may sound mundane but diary management is actually surprisingly important to most bands, because trying to co-ordinate several people’s diaries can be a real headache, and bad diary management means that turning up to a gig without a drummer is a real possibility (or a fantastic achievement, if you're into drummer jokes). By sharing a Google calendar all the band members can highlight the times they’re not free in the same calendar, meaning that identifying  the next free slot for a rehearsal becomes much easier. Yes, it's around Christmas 2016.

Google Calendar cam also be used to create a diary of gigs for your fans to access. You can embed Google calendars easily on your website, meaning visitors can see a list of when and where you’re playing next (and you can update these dates very easily - this is particularly handy if your website doesn't have a content management system). Your site visitors can also subscribe to your calendar via XML or any progamme that reads the iCal format (Outlook, Apple iCal etc.), meaning that your fans will know exactly when you're playing next, and not turn up.

You can read more about sharing your Google calendar here.

Google Feedburner

Google Feedburner is an incredibly useful tool – and possibly our favourite Google product. First, it lets you tart up your RSS feed (for, say, your news page or blog) into a much more readable format and allows people to subscribe to it easily in a reader of their choice; but perhaps more importantly, it lets you create a very effective, free mailing list for your band using your RSS feed.

The latter aspect works as follows: every time you write a new blog post, Feedburner uses your blog's RSS feed to convert the post into a HTML email - and anyone who has subscribed via Feedburner's email subscription service will get a copy of that post delivered straight to their inbox. Additionally, Feedburner provides you with in depth subscriber stats and a suite of tools to help your RSS feed travel further (and potentially make money for you too). Incidentally, we use Feedburner ourselves to allow people to subscribe to The Prescription via email and RSS. If you're reading this in an email, it's thanks to Feedburner.

NB: For full instructions on how to use Feedburner to create a mailing list please see our previous post about creating an e-newsletter for your band.

Google Mail

An obvious point this, but your band needs an email address – and probably one with the band name in it – i.e., info@yourbandwebsite.com. Google Mail (or 'Gmail' as we ahead-of-the-curve-hipsters call it) is better than a lot of its webmail competitors, because it provides free IMAP accounts that (a) come with large storage and (b) allow you to whack your domain name in the email address. IMAP accounts are great because they always stay in sync, even if you are accessing your email account on a variety of devices. For example, if you are using your Gmail account on an iPhone and delete an email, the same email will be automatically deleted on your webmail, or in Outlook, Apple Mail etc. No matter what you do with your email account and no matter what device you do it on, you'll always see the same messages in your inbox and sent items. Try using the alternative, POP3, and you'll soon discover how useful IMAP is.

To configure your Gmail account so that it has a domain name in it, you’ll need to register for Google Apps. This comes in a free or paid version - the free version is available at http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/group/index.html. The process of creating email addresses with containing your domain name is a little bit fiddly, and you might require the help of a web-savvy friend, but once you’ve set it up it all works great.

Google Trends

Perhaps one for more-established artists this, but if you are lucky enough to fall into this category, then you will be able to use Google Trends to chart peaks and troughs in the number of Google searches for your band, and identify pieces of coverage that drove people to look for your act. Just enter your band’s name or your album title into the ‘search trends’ box at http://www.google.com/trends to see a pretty little graph highlighting how popular you are (or aren’t) or were (or weren’t), and any news stories that caused a spike in interest.

Google Videos / Youtube

In case you didn't know, Google also own Youtube. And unless you've been living under a rock since the 1980s (not the worst idea, particularly during the 80s themselves) we're sure you'll know how useful pop videos can be for bands, so we're going to gloss over this one for now. However, you might want to check out two recent Prescription articles on how to use Youtube effectively:

And what about Google+?

Finally, a note regarding the latest Google product, Google+. No, we haven't forgotten it. You might be interested in exploring what this new social network can do for bands, but the latest we can ascertain about it seems to imply that it's not really much use for them (yet). This is because its terms and conditions currently specify that you can only use it as an individual, not an organisation (yes, a band counts as an organisation). This means that singer-songwriters who are using it under their own name - the ever-so-talented [sic] James Blunt, for example - are probably alright, but most of the stuff we've been reading about Google+ leads us to believe that if you set up a band account, it'll get deleted. For more information about this issue, you might want to check out this article on Google+ by the Music Think Tank.

Right, we're off to the pub. Hope these tips are of use. You might even be reading them in a Google product, who knows. Now for our plug: don't forget that like Google, Prescription PR offer a wide range of digital services (not to mention good old-fashioned print PR) to promote your band - feel free to contact us if you're interested in working with us. We won't control your thoughts - but we will help you get noticed (and if we don't, no doubt that Google Alert you set up as a result of reading this article will no doubt tell you so...oops).

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