Research

You need to get ears hearing the brilliant music you’ve worked so hard on. you need people to love you, and more importantly, pay your rent. Who are these people? If you can identify them, figure out where they’re going to listen to music, how they buy it, what attracts them to a band, then you’ll find it much easier to make yourself available to them. Transmit on the channels they’re already receiving on and you’ll see the ranks of your fans grow much faster.

Getting to know your fans means doing some research. When someone befriends you on myspace, message them asking about how they found you. Keep a record and add to it. When someone buys a CD or a t-shirt off you after a gig, get them to give you some details about themselves.

Collect postcodes, mobile numbers, email addresses, anything that makes it easier for you to tell fans when you’re next playing, or what fabulous new bit of your merchandise they can buy. Don’t pester them, no-one wants to fill out a 10 page questionnaire when all they were after was a badge: there are some sheets on the tools page that you can use as templates.

Consider ways to get people to part with their contact information. Using mobile services like StarTxt.com to distribute mobile content means you can send people tracks or wallpaper in return for their mobile numbers (if you have a lot of 14 year old girls in your fan club, that is).

A great tool for collecting information is the google forms service. If you don’t have a google account, sign up for one online in about 30 seconds, and you’ll be able to use google documents for word processing and spreadsheets. Alongside these applications is the forms service, which lets you build questionnaires to embed into widgets (see the sproutbuilder guide on the tools page) websites, myspace pages and wherever else you can think of.

Key information you should be asking your fans to provide includes in order of decreasing importance:

Email:

Name:

Post/Zip code:

Postal address:

Country:

Mobile number:

You should also record the date and place you got people’s details, so you can be more personal when you contact them. Keep this list close to your heart. Nurture it and watch it grow, because it’s the most important possession you have on the road to fame and fortune.

Respect your mailing list. It represents real people, people that you’re asking to do things with you, and for you. Be regular with your mailouts and updates, so that people keep you in their minds, but don’t spam them. One contact per fortnight per method of communication is fine. More, and you’ll start to bug people.

Things you should be writing to your customers about are pretty obvious; let them know when you’re gigging near them (postcodes are useful here). Let them know when you’ve got new content on your website, blog, or myspace page, or you’re doing a magazine interview or radio session that they might be interested in. Definitely let them know when you’ve got something new that they might be interested in purchasing, be it music or merchandise.

Learn from your list. If you get loads of people signing up at a gig, or after a particular event, you’ve done something right. Do it more, and harder.

Image

Your music’s perfect? There’s nothing more to do? Then it’s time to start planning your explosive entrance onto the world scene. Think about who you are, what image your music projects, how you want to succeed? Do you want to be Bob Dylan or The Chemical Brothers? Both are massive superstar acts, but with totally different images and vibes. What’s yours?

Your music should go a long way to helping you get this central image focused in your mind, but get it right, because everything else in your arsenal of self promotion will take a lead from this primal idea. Of course it helps if you’re hugely outgoing with bulletproof confidence (because it will take shots, guaranteed), but there’s room for everyone.

Indie star Cat Power started out gigging with her back to the crowd because her stage fright was too bad to let her look at her audience. Recognise your strengths and capitalise upon them – it’s easier than pretending to be something you’re not.

A strong image will make people believe in you, want to buy into your look and associate themselves with you. A poor image makes you look uncool and unprofessional. Look at the hundreds of sloppy band websites and myspace pages out there – this is often your first contact with a new listener, if you want them to like you it’s worth making the effort. Care about that first impression, it shows you care about yourself and your fans.

We can’t really help you dream up your image, but there are some things on the RouteNote tools page that should help you actuate it: sites to help you build a good looking myspace profile, guides to setting up your own website and to building widgets to put on your own and your fans myspace pages and websites, places to get t-shirts made.

Self Promotion II:

Two words you should think hard about. Music. Business. If you’re just having fun playing jam nights and amazing your friends with your mad guitar skillz then that’s cool, and we’d love to help you put out a release if you record anything you’re happy with, but to take music forward as a career you’ve got to accept that it needs to be a business. This means effort, people!

First of all, get your music right. This is the first and most important step in your career as a musician. It’s also the fun part. Regardless of anything else, fans will come to you for this reason first and foremost, and if you’ve got a great sound, the battle is half won. The other half of the fight is a dirty slog through the trenches, getting your music in everyone’s ears, making yourself impossible to ignore.

Self Promotion I:

The web has made it far easier to promote and profit from music. So much so that it’s now possible for bands to succeed in a big way without having the big finances and professional experience of a record label behind them. This is great news for bands starting up in the music business, but it doesn’t mean that success is going to happen by itself, overnight.

The reasons that record labels have lost ground over the last few years are many: most important was their unwillingness to embrace digital as the future of music retail, but the fact that online media also made it easier for musicians to look after the business of running their career for themselves.

Not having people from a label looking after promotion, gig booking, logistics, merchandising and the many other things that go together to make a band successful does mean that you don’t have to pay for that work, but it does mean that you’ve got to do it yourself.

Don’t be put off – the rewards are there, and they’re greater and closer than ever before. It’s just that to get to them you’ve got to be creative, dedicated, willing and most of all, more smart and cunning than the lovechild of Machiavelli and a fox with a master’s in cunning from Oxford university of Cunning.

Advantages of Digital Distribution III:

Perversely, focussing on digital music sales can make the physical products you release more desireable. Think about Radiohead: In Rainbows. They put it out basically free over the net, and sold lush, limited edition vinyl and cd box sets, which sold 100,000 copies, and is currently changing hands for about $200 on ebay.

CD sales have taken a nosedive since music went digital, but LP and EP sales on vinyl have levelled out: according to the RIAA they even increased by 46% between 2006 and 2007, to 1.3 million units in 2007. The industry opinion is that this is because the real fans want a piece of their favourite band; a lovely artefact to hold and stroke and show off… Make the most of it! If your digital sales are good, that means there’s an opportunity to make a premium on really well produced physical material. If you can give your fans something special, that also has a premium because of its scarcity, then they’ll happily pay you for it.

Advantages of digital distribution II

There are a few online music distribution companies out there, each professing it’s service and it’s model to be the cheapest and the best: what you need to do is figure out which of them is going to be the best for you. How many tracks can you reasonably expect to sell? What can you afford to outlay? Figure those things out and then decide which deal is best for you.

The basic models of distributor are:

Subscription – Keep your royalties, but pay a maintenance or subscription fee to keep your music online. Good if you’re going to be selling a lot of tracks. (CD Baby operate this model, also charging an upload fee)

Percentage – Don’t pay any fees, but pay for the service with a percentage of the royalties from sales (this is the model we use at RouteNote). Good if you don’t want to risk losing any money, or your sales aren’t likely to be massive just yet.

Upload fee – A flat fee for uploading your music, and then keep your royalties. Again, good if you’re hoping to sell a lot of tracks, but there’s no incentive for the distributor to promote your music, as they’ve already made their money, and can’t profit further from helping you out. (EmuBands do this)

Managed – The next best thing to being signed to a record label, some digital distribution companies will take labels and larger bands on, and for a larger cut of the royalties from sales, will make more of an effort to promote their music, or offer other benefits to their partners. It’s up to you to decide whether their efforts are likely to be worth the cut. (The Orchard operate this model)

Controlling your own output means that you don’t have to go with the same partner for multiple releases, you can pick and choose different partners for different releases. If you find that the music distribution deal you’re on with one company is working better for one release than another, you can change partners for the one that’s losing out.

Also consider that digital music sales increase your presence in the marketplace, and a record label will look at the level of your sales of both physical and digital music, and of your live gig audiences when they’re looking at signing you (if that’s what you’re after).

Advantages of Digital Distribution

You already know the advantages that the internet has to offer musicians, you wouldn’t be reading this site if you weren’t interested in exploiting them. You’re still unconvinced? Digital distribution, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

Your music reaches a bigger audience than ever before, more people than have ever been into Tower Records, HMV and Virgin Megastores combined have access to your music without either of you leaving home.

More than this, digital distribution costs nothing when compared to physical – you don’t need to press CD’s or LP’s, you don’t need to package them, warehouse them, ship them, you don’t need to take returns or manage stock, you can just put one copy of a track up with a digital distributor and have infinite copies of your music literally anywhere there’s a phone line.

Of course, there are many more ways for people to copy your music without paying for it on the web, but since the cost of getting your music out there is so much less, and a greater proportion of the profits goes to the artist having cut out so much of the bulky record company structure, you’ll probably end up making more money anyhow.You certainly keep a bigger proportion of the revenue from the sales you do make.

The truth is that the internet is inescapable as a medium for music; you just can’t afford to ignore it. Even if you think the internet lays your music too open to piracy, and stick with just releasing CD’s or vinyl, chances are some one of your dedicated fans will encode their copy and put it up on a torrent site anyway, so you might as well give people the option of buying it legally online…

The Best Online Resources

This was a great panel: Brad King of Northern Kentucky University kept a tight leash on some big names from web innovators Bebo (Angel Gambino), Last.fm (Matt Ogle), Sonicbids (Panos Panay – who looks like Roger Federer, btw), iLike (Ali Partovi), and Myspace Records (Jon Pikus).

The consensus from this panel was that ubiquity is a good thing, bands should get themselves up everywhere they can on the web, but remember to try and get maximum return on their investment of time. iLike is a site that offers syndication of your gig schedule and other updates across other platforms like myspace and facebook, and seems like a great time saving tool for self promoters, as it also has a facility for sharing music with friends with particular tastes in music quickly.

The panel recommended that self promotional material strike a balance between viral entertainment value and a marketing or promotional message – creativity is always key in this area, as is frequency of updates for whatever material you’re putting out; keep the momentum up. Make sure that tracks posted to the web have proper ID3 tagging, so you can see when and where they’re being played. For the rest – remember that everyone else is trying to get online too, learning some search engine optimization basics and apply them to the content you’re putting out will help you stand out from the clutter that web 2.0 stuff generates, and just like touring, plan your attack on the web carefully; don’t just splurge stuff randomly onto the web and hope it will get attention.