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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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Tips for making your band stand out from the crowd

catpiano.jpg

Pardon the pun, but making your band stand out these days is a tough gig. You end up trying to differentiate your act not only from a zillion other bands on the internet, but every band and artist in (an ever-lengthening) rock history who 'got there first' as far as your type of music is concerned. However, there are a few tricks that you can employ to distinguish your band from the competition, and, as we are generous souls here at Prescription PR, I thought I’d share some of these with you.

Sound different

“Impossible!”, “It’s all been done” and “But I want to sound like the Clash circa early 1981 just after they released Sandinista!” are all fairly understandable reactions to an instruction to make your band sound different. To a large degree, it has all been done (and to be fair, many tastemakers do insist upon you sounding like the Clash before taking you remotely seriously). 

And yet…it hasn’t all been done. That’s because most bands – The Clash included – don’t live in your house. Eh? Well, in your house you will find a plethora of kitchen utensils that you can hit, record and insert into a drum loop; you can sample the cat and turn her into a funky synth that you can then play on a keyboard; or how about turning your bathroom into a real-life echo chamber? Very few – if any musicians – will have access to your cutlery, cat or bathroom, so the sounds you make using all of these will be completely your own.

Moving outside your house and walking down the road, you will discover that in your local flea market there are host of little Casio keyboards that nobody would in their right mind think of using on a song – except you; there’s also a guy selling a cheap Italian organ from the 80s with some sounds that you haven’t encountered, perhaps for good reason, on any records before.

The point I’m making is not to rely on the standard plugins in Pro Tools or instruments that everybody else uses to make your music – look outside your sequencer or even studio for inspiration and design your own sounds. It’s harder than relying on Pro Tools plugins and presets – but it’s a lot more fun, satisfying and it helps you to sound unique.

Look different

Particularly if you are in the ‘it’s all about the music man’ camp (and being a fashion disaster myself, I sympathise very much with that point of view) it’s easy to disregard or overlook the importance of image. That’s why there are so many rather dull pictures of grumpy bands in jeans standing against a wall in existence. The other mistake bands tend to make when it comes to image is to try to look exactly like their heroes, to the point where the act looks completely unoriginal, or worse, like a tribute band. In the UK the a recent Government-commissioned report has highlighted a serious problem with the number of indie bands that STILL look like Oasis circa 1997.

The answer? A bit of time and thought put into styling your band; use of interesting backdrops for your photoshoots; and hiring a professional photographer with ideas that extend beyond the “let’s all stand up against the wall and look cross lads” approach to photo-taking (and maybe a few lights to boot!).

Unless you are going to make your own clothes (dress the band in bin liners anyone?), you will find it difficult to come up with a totally unique look, but by taking style, shoot locations and choice of photographer seriously, you are making a good start in distinguishing your act from a lot of drab-looking indie bands. 

Position yourself differently

A lot of bands assume that releasing a record simply involves issuing a press release that tells journalists that the new album is out soon and that it sounds, well, a bit like Oasis only with a synth sound that was generated by sampling a cat. Actually, you may find it more productive in some respects to forget about the music for a moment and dwell a bit more on the people making it. Does the drummer in your band have a secret criminal past involving cabbages? Has the lead singer had a relationship with a goat? Does the guitarist emit special pheromones during solos that make his performance sound more pleasing to ladies’ ears? All extreme examples (although I’d bet my bottom dollar that they’ve all been mentioned on press releases before) but what I’m getting at is that by looking at your band members' personal lives, you will often find ‘creative angles’ which can be used to generate high-profile human interest stories in the press.

There is a danger here though: sometimes human interest stories can overshadow the music to the point where either rock critics don’t take you seriously (suspecting that your angle is being used as a substitute for a record deal or talent or both) or where the human interest story completely overshadows the music, to the point where punters focus on the story, view the music as secondary, and ultimately neglect to buy the album. It’s a question of getting the balance between the music and the angle right.

So there you have it: sample some cutlery, wear a bin liner, and have a relationship with a goat: a recipe for instant success. And with that I’m off to investigate my secret past with a cabbage.

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Typefaces: why they are important and tips on choosing the right one for your band

Typefaces

Recently I bought a new pair of glasses. A pair that are a little bit more ‘out there’ than some of my previous spectacles. When I say that, I mean they are big and goofy and more in line with something that Clark Kent would sport than my more restrained, sensible eyewear purchases of yore. And to be honest, they are my sole nod to fashion. The rest of me looks as scruffy, non-descript and as ignorant of the latest trends in clothing as ever, but – oh! – you should see my eye-area. It now looks totally at home in any Dalston bar full of hip-spectacle-wearers that you care to mention. The top of my face has become fashionable; it looks like somebody has done a professional job on styling it.

I’m tempted to just leave this article at that, leaving you in awe of my spectacle-purchasing decisions and imagining what my improved eye-area looks like, but I suppose the purpose of these posts is actually to provide music promo advice, so I’d better try to find a way to turn this anecdote about glasses into something of relevance to the rock-success-craving muso. So read on and I’ll explain why the transformative power of my specs is going to help your music career.

You see, a good pair of glasses is like a good typeface. Useful. Possibly sexy. Quite often cheap. Image-changing. And before you put your promo CD in the hands of any A&R guy, or point any unsuspecting music listener in the direction of your website, you need to ensure that you’re using the right fonts on both. That may sound like a ridiculously cautious approach – or overly-reverential of fonts – but there are some very good reasons for ensuring you’ve got your typeface selection right before you unleash your music on an industry contact or a member of the great unwashed.

Firstly, the typeface you use on your promotional material is one of the biggest clues about the kind of music you make. Say, for example, you are in a band called The Folk Poppers and you make polite folk pop. The drummer in the band says he knows a thing or two about graphic design, and he duly whips up a logo using a typeface called Squealer, which is rather reminiscent of the font-du-choix of AC/DC. Not knowing any better, you plaster this all over your album sleeve, your posters, your website and your e-newsletters.  In doing so, you become a hard rock band before anybody’s even heard your CD full of tasteful folk-pop ditties. This of course means that you now run the risk of having to deal with some seriously confused hard rock fans who are absolutely disgusted by your CD; and worse, you might never reach the eardrums of those who are into polite folk pop, because they took a look at your album cover and assumed you were a hard rock band.

Secondly, a font can instantly tell an industry contact or potential listener how professional you are as an outfit (and thus how seriously to take you). For example, if you design promotional material that makes extensive use of Comic Sans, you immediately come across as amateurish. Your tracks may sound great – recorded with vintage analogue synthesisers run through valve pre-amps that only accept inputs from cables that end with quarter-inch jacks made of gold – but if the song titles are presented in Comic Sans, well, seriously, you’re screwed. That’s the kind of font that mums and dads get the pleasure of seeing when they receive a newsletter from a playgroup. It screams ‘small time’. Childish. Local. Unambitious. Not very rock and roll. And ultimately unworthy of further exploration. (Note to any kindergarten-users or proprietors amongst you: it’s fine, however, for playgroups to use it; probably quite appropriate).

It all comes down to this: in showbiz, preconceptions are everything. And typefaces are actually one of the earliest generators of these preconceptions. Like band photos, they technically don’t have anything to do with the kind of noise your band makes – but they sure as hell make people think they know what you sound like, without you ever playing a note.

So, given all the above, how do you actually get your band typeface right? Here are some tips:

  • Before you start thinking about fonts, think about your music. What kind of noise do you REALLY make? Try to nail down the genre as best you can as this will eventually inform your typeface choice. (This can be surprisingly difficult in these post-post-post-modern days of ours, but try your best.)
  • Do some research. Look at the typefaces used by bands that operate in the same genre as you and compile a list of potential fonts that get your act into the right ‘font ballpark’.
  • Use tools like Myfonts.com to see what your band’s name looks like in a particular typeface (just whack your act’s name into the ‘sample text’ box above font search results). If you see another band using a particular font, and are minded to nick it, you can also use Myfonts.com’s “What the Font” tool to find out what the name of that typeface is (by uploading a screengrab of it).
  • Once you’ve decided on a particular typeface, gauge opinion on it – ask some music industry professionals, your Facebook fans, etc. what they make of it, and if they think it 1) suits the sort of music you play and 2) looks professional.
  • Remember that if you want to use a particular font for general body copy on a website, there must be a ‘web font’ version of it available. However, if you are particularly keen on a using a typeface for your band name, but there isn’t a web font version available, you can just convert the band name text to a graphic – for use in headers and so on –  and use a similar / complimentary webfont for general text on the site. (A good source of free web fonts is Google Fonts).
  • If you feel in any way out of your depth with typefaces, do consider getting a graphic designer on board – and preferably one that regularly works with bands (rather than one who does corporate stuff – you don’t want to end up with your band’s name looking like the Barclay’s logo or similar).

And finally, remember this above all else: there is nothing funny about Comic Sans. Even if you are in a comedy band that sings extremely jovial songs, it is still worth avoiding like the plague.

About The Prescription

‘The Prescription’ is written by independent musician and Head of Digital Communications and Irish PR at Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.  

Find out how Prescription PR can get your band noticed - contact us today. We offer music PRdigital marketing and music web design services.

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The power of enigma

Enigma

In pre-internet days of yore, there was a clear barrier between rock stars and their fans. If a rock star wanted to communicate with fans, this was generally done at gigs attended by thousands of people, through big newspaper interviews or via appearances on TV shows watched by millions. The communication was generally one way, with the rock star talking to (or sometimes even down to) his/her fans using the 'traditional' mass media. 

Fast forward to our whizzy fancypants digital era and, to a large degree, the internet has brought this barrier crashing down and changed the whole way stars communicate with their audiences. Firstly, the rock stars in question are able to inject themselves much more easily into a fan’s everyday, personal life, via appearances in Facebook accounts, email inboxes, Twitter feeds, Instagram pictures and so on in a way that was unimaginable even a few years ago; secondly, they can’t seem to resist using this power to divulge sometimes quite boring details of their personal lives that would never have been shared by their rock star forbears. Finally, the communication between a star and his/her audience is now two-way, with even the most successful of musicians replying to fans’ online comments on Twitter, taking part in Facebook conversations with them and so on.

All the above has led to the arrival of a conventional wisdom which says that bands – particularly unsigned bands – need to ‘engage’ with listeners in order to attain success. The idea being that artists need to develop a very direct relationship with their fans, where they must reply to even the most inane of queries; do requests of cheesy Christmas songs; go round to fans’ houses and play gigs; post pictures of themselves at home doing the washing up and so on (and yes, I've probably done all or most of these things myself at some point or other throughout my, ahem, music career). Through these personal interactions with fans, the theory goes, an artist eventually develops a fanbase comprising people who feel like they really know that musician, are friends with them, and ultimately feel compelled to buy their music when that oh-so-engaging artist finally finds time to stop chatting with fans online and actually record and release an album.

In many – perhaps most – situations, the above approach works, not least because fans, accustomed to the two-way communication processes facilitated so easily by online technology, almost demand this level of interaction and attention. And for emerging bands with small fanbases, where the act effectively knows each and every one of their listeners, it seems almost rude to ignore them. 

However, something huge is lost in all of this personal, two-way, share-everything communication business: the mythology that used to surround musicians.

When, many moons ago, I was a teenager, following a band meant devoting time and thought to a bunch of guys you really had no direct relationship with or access to. This meant imagining what that band was like. Forming your own idea about what the front man ate for tea. Developing weird and completely unfounded notions regarding what the band liked to do with their groupies at the weekends. It did not mean being shown Instagram pictures of an artist’s cat, or being subjected to tweets about a band’s preference for a shot of vanilla syrup in their lattes. The inaccessibility of musicians (coupled with the imaginations of fans) meant that rock stars ultimately ended up shrouded in enigma.

And enigma is a powerful thing, because it provides two key ingredients for rock success: interest and ‘cool’. It creates interest because an enigmatic star often represents the ultimate, sexiest mystery for fans and the media to get to the bottom of; and cool because it is the enigma surrounding an artist that makes him/her stand apart from the crowd – they form a hip clique all of their own. But too often bands today (particularly those using social media for the first time) tend to use the digital communications tools available to them to strip away anything remotely enigmatic. Inevitably status updates of the ‘I’m having a sandwich for lunch now’ variety appear, and there is nothing particularly cool, enigmatic, or curiosity-generating about that (unless your listeners really want to know what was in the sandwich).

Ultimately what I’m getting at is that in this age of instant, interactive digital communication there are still alternatives to the ‘show all, tell all’ route to pop stardom available, and sometimes an approach which focuses on maintaining enigma and mystique may be far more productive than the ‘let’s engage everybody to the nth degree’ option. Being enigmatic online doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your fans, but it does mean using online tools to communicate with them more cleverly. You can use social media to be cryptic, oblique, dark, moody and mysterious just as easily as you can use it to tell listeners what colour socks you are wearing at any given point in time – it’s really a question of deciding what sort of relationship you want with your listeners, and if you think potential fans will be more impressed with a dark and mysterious musician or one who is good at sharing pictures of his cat.

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Inbound marketing and what it means for musicians

Inbound marketing - a visual representation

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

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

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

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

1. Getting found

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

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

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

2. Converting

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

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

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

3. Analysing

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

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

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

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

But…there’s a catch

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

And finally...

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

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Is social media really that helpful to bands?

Social media

I came across a very interesting article recently in The Guardian by the novelist Ewan Morrison, about how social media is not a 'magic bullet' that will bring fame and fortune to self-epublished authors, but actually a serious waste of time. His conclusion, after an in-depth study of the subject, is that it's best to avoid spending all your time as a self-publishing author trying to 'engage' a fanbase through posting status updates about cats, and focus on writing great books instead.

The parallels for independent musicians are obvious and, whilst I would not entirely go along with Morrison's pessimism on social media, I do think he makes some very good points about a) not placing too much faith in the power of social media to shift units and b) being very wary of social media gurus who offer all manner of expensive solutions / seminars that promise to take you, via Facebook or Twitter, from being a nobody to a superstar in a matter of weeks. Although a big part of my job here at Prescription is working with bands to improve their digital offering, I would never want artists to think that it's the kind of dream ticket to stardom that is often sold by digital marketing agencies to bands.

Rather, my own view on social media is that it's something that complements promotional activity and, depending on the context, can sometimes be a key part of it - but it's certainly no substitute for having great songs and a reason for people to find your act interesting in the first place. After that, when it comes to online marketing activity I'd be inclined to focus overwhelmingly on building up a great collection of email addresses - both of industry/media contacts and punters. Having this email database will mean: 

  • you can approach industry people about your band - still hugely important
  • you can sell direct to fans
  • you know your messages will, at the very least, get to people's inboxes instead of being hidden by a Facebook algorithm
  • you can import all the email addresses into social networks anyway.

Obviously I wouldn't neglect social media entirely; the point is that it often gets prioritised over more important stuff - like songwriting, or potentially more effective methods of online promotion. 

So do check out Morrison's article. It's a bit of a reality check! You can read it on the Guardian website here

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Should your band be on Wikipedia?

Search box - should your band be on Wikipedia?

Obviously your band is the greatest thing since lightly toasted sliced bread smothered in Nutella and washed down with hot milky tea, but should you create a Wikipedia entry about it?

The annoying answer is “it depends”. There are some significant benefits of having a Wikipedia entry for your act, but as with much else associated with the quest for rock success, when Wikipedia is used incorrectly, it can make you look seriously crap.

Let’s start by looking at the benefits though. Having a decent Wikipedia entry means that…

  • journalists / bloggers are provided with a useful resource to find out more about your act’s background and history
  • you give the impression that you are an act with a good reputation, and one that should be taken seriously (i.e., reviewed)
  • your band is easily findable in web searches (as Google places a high importance on Wikipedia entries in search results)
  • you improve the search ranking of sites that you reference in the Wikipedia entry –  for example, your band’s website –  because pages that are referenced by Wikipedia are considered important by several search engines
  • you can google yourself and get notions of grandeur every time.

However, before rushing off and writing a 15,000-word Wikipedia dissertation on the merits of your band, you need to, in the wise, autotuned words of The Saturdays, have a sit down with your ego. You need to ask yourself two hard questions. Questions which may lead you to retire from the music business, but questions that need to be answered before going anywhere near Wikipedia:

  1. Has your band achieved anything of note, that deserves an entry? I.e., sold any records? Or played any big festivals?
  2. Has your band ever been reviewed in any serious publications?

If you can answer yes to either of those questions, it’s okay to start thinking about writing a Wikipedia entry. But if it’s a no to both, forget about it. Chances are, without any sales figures or reviews to point to, your nascent Wikipedia career will be over before it’s begun – a bearded man in California who trawls Wikipedia for daft entries will have hit the delete key before you’ve had the chance to email your mum a link to your lovely effort.

But assuming there has been a whiff of success surrounding your career – a Q or Mojo review for example, or a really good festival appearance – then a Wikipedia entry is a good move. But there are some key things that you should bear very strongly in mind before unleashing your two index fingers on your computer keyboard:

  • Read a few entries for established acts (REM, U2 etc.) to get a sense of what kind of content and style is expected for Wikipedia entries, so that when you write your own, it doesn't jump up and down screaming "The band wrote this themselves! The band wrote this themselves! And they don't have a spellchecker."
  • Make your entry incredibly impartial; if in you describe yourself in glowing terms, or simply copy and paste your press release into Wikipedia, you will find your entry on the scrapheap very quickly. To appear completely impartial, it may even be worth mentioning less-than-positive album reviews in your Wikipedia entry (as well as the fantastic ones of course; you don’t want an entry which just highlights how rubbish your band is).
  • Ensure that you provide proper annotations and crucially, links to any press coverage that you are referencing in your entry. The bearded Wikipedia editors won’t necessarily believe you got a four-star review in Uncut unless you provide some evidence. Without said evidence, you may find an annoying box accompanying your entry, announcing that “the topic of this article may not meet the general notability guideline” (which translates as: “who the f*ck are this band? We bearded Californian editors have never heard of them. Journalists, please ignore this act immediately and go back to reviewing Coldplay.”)
  • Include decent images with the entry - album artwork, press shots etc.
  • Ensure that your entry is free from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
  • Add a good selection of external – but relevant - links at the bottom of your entry so that people can find out more about you.

Finally, think about this: are you (or your drummer / guitarist / bassist) best placed to write the Wikipedia entry? You may be great musicians, but your English may stink. Or your massive egos might not be able to handle talking your band down a bit. If that’s the case, think about asking somebody else to write the entry – a sympathetic journalist or your old English teacher, for example. Just not your mother or your girlfriend.

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E-newsletters for bands on a budget

We often get approached by bands and artists wanting to know how to sort themselves out with e-newsletters. They usually ask for a data capture form that allows people to sign up to news, and a means of sending news updates to their mailing list.

We generally set them up with a dedicated e-communications system like Getresponse, which allows bands to do a lot of snazzy things - create custom data capture forms, program automated follow-ups, view detailed stats, design fancy HTML email templates and the like.

A system like that is still our preferred option for clients, because users are provided with the means to create highly targeted, professional e-communications, and to monitor open and click-through rates effectively.

However, if you're looking for something very simple, or you don't have any cash, there is another option: using your blog and a service called Feedburner to generate newsletters.

Here's how it works:

1. Register with Feedburner and 'burn' a feed using your blog's RSS feed (it's all very simple, the Feedburner site takes you through the process in an easy-to-follow set of steps).
2. Go to their 'Publicise' tab.
3. Click 'Email subscriptions' and activate the service.

(If you don't have a blog, there are a host of free blogging services you can use - Blogger being perhaps the most obvious example).

Once you've followed the above three steps, you are then provided with simple bit of HTML code which you can embed on your site. This gives you a form which captures email addresses. From then on, whenever you post a new blog entry, the content will automatically be emailed to the people who have used the form to sign up for updates. The email that gets sent is a simple affair, but it is in HTML format and you can tweak things slightly (add logos, change fonts etc.). And it's an entirely free service.

The only thing to remember is that once you've set Feedburner up to work in this way, whenever you post a blog entry, it always goes out to your entire mailing list. So you may need to think carefully about what you post and how often. If people are receiving frivolous items in their inbox every five minutes, they may quickly unsubscribe from the list.

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