How I’m Building a Career as a Songwriter

You know what I would have loved? I would have loved to have been part of the Brill Building history between the 1940s and the 1960s – where some of America’s most popular songs were written. If you don’t know the history, check it out on Wikipedia.

Just a taste:

By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses: A musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building.

Or you know what also would be have great? Jingle writing between the 1940s and 1980s. What a sweet time to be a songwriter or a studio musician. Writing songs, recording them, hearing yourself on the radio, collecting big royalty checks – man, that would have been cool.

But, alas, that era was very short-lived and we were not lucky enough to be a part of it. So what do we do?

I’m not satisfied to just throw my hat in and say that it’s too hard to work as a songwriter. There are people out there doing it, and if they can do it so can I.

I’m going for it.

The Goal and Strategy

Let me be clear: I don’t want to be a singer-songwriter. I want to be a songwriter. I want other people to perform my songs. I know full well that I have limited skills as an entertainer, and I know my place.

My goal is to have recording artists cover my songs on their albums, secure film and television placements for my music, and to work professionally as a songwriter and composer. A difficult goal, to be sure.

People don’t know what you want unless you tell them. So that’s what I figured I’d do. I decided I would show people my music, tell them what I want, ask them to help me, and see what happens.

The Tools

Songwriter.fm

I know about how to build a website, so I started there. I searched for the right URL to purchase and, to my complete surprise, I was lucky enough to secure Songwriter.fm. I can’t believe that URL had not already been taken by a Silicon Valley start up, but I’m glad to have it.

I build a site there using WordPress and a $30 theme from ThemeForest.com. The theme has a nice structure featuring a portfolio, a contact form and a blog. I added an “About” page, found some photos to use and set it all up. The website took me about a day to put together.

In the portfolio section I put all of the songs I want to showcase. For many of them I included a free mp3 download, lyrics, chords and even sheet music. I used Soundcloud players for the recordings – and made sure I used the HTML5 players so that they would work on iPads, iPods and iPhones.

Autoresponder Email List

Next I set up an email list through Mailchimp.com.

I want people to listen to my music, but I can’t expect to just put it on a website and have people listen through it one by one. People are busy.

So I set up an “autoresponder” email list that would help. Everyone on the email list is sent a free download of one of my songs – complete with a little description, photo, lyrics, chords and sheet music – once a week.

Everyone on the list gets the songs in the same order, one at a time, once a week. It’s a playlist of songs, but doled out in a way that’s not overwhelming to listeners busy schedules. People may not sit on Songwriter.fm and listen to every one of my songs in an afternoon – but, sure, they’ll listen to one of my songs once a week.

In each email I make sure to reiterate my goal. If the reader likes it – consider covering it on your next album. Would it fit in a film or commercial you’re putting together? Great, hit reply. Know anyone that could help place this song? Pass it on.

Soundcloud, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, RSS feeds

Sure, I’m not an entertainer. Hell, I’m not even much of a singer. But unless I sing my songs and get them out in the world – no one’s going to ever know about them.

So guess who’s singing now?

I put my tunes on Soundcloud. I set up a Facebook page. I make videos for YouTube.

When I find a song I like, or a record a new demo of a work-in-progress, I put it up on the Songwriter.fm blog. The blog posts feed to Twitter and Facebook through Twitterfeed.com.

Getting Involved in the Community

The best way to get a gig as a songwriter is to know other people who are gigging as songwriters. I know I need to get involved in the community.

I sang a few weeks ago at the Sunday night singer-songwriter open mic at the Bitter End in NYC. Boy, that made me nervous. For a guy who’s used to performing 8 shows a week on Broadway you’d think I’d be cooler about it, but I was shaking in my boots.

I tried to think of resources that might be helpful to other songwriters. When American Songwriter magazine comes out I like to make a Spotify playlist of all the music mentioned in the issue, then post a link to the playlist on the Songwriter.fm blog.

I put my songwriting friends new songs up on the Songwriter.fm blog – and those posts, too, get sent out through Twitter and Facebook.

Making Quality Recordings

The recordings I have of most of my songs are demo quality. Creating radio quality recordings is much easier today than it was 20 years ago – so much easier that it’s become expected. I know that most of my demos aren’t going to cut it.

So I’ve started reaching out to producers in Chicago, Nashville and New York (to start). I’m hiring them to arrange, produce and record my songs in their studios. I leave the song treatment completely up to them. I tell them only this: Our goal here is to get a film or TV placement. Make me a recording of this song that I can pitch to FTV.

I give them a lump sum upfront and, if the song is placed in FTV, I promise them a higher-than-average percentage of the gross income on the master side. My hope is that it gives the producers a higher-than-average incentive to pitch their recording to their FTV contacts as well.

Submitting Recordings to Placement Services

I’ve submitted music to PumpAudio, YouLicense and similar services. I find the process incredibly tedious and (especially with PumpAudio) painfully slow. It feels a lot like throwing a penny into a well and hoping to one day get your wish.

I have not joined Taxi, and I suspect I never will. Their claims are just too good to be true, and there is too much noise about their service being a complete scam. It’s too expensive of a service to take a chance on. It’s like throwing $300 into the well instead of a penny.

There are better placement services out there, but it will take me some time to garner their attention. I’m hoping that the portfolio I’ve built at Songwriter.fm will help me pitch to them when the time comes.

Submitting to Songwriting Competitions

This is a tough one, because it costs money. Most competitions cost between $15 and $35 to submit a song. It’s difficult to know which songs might work in which competition, so it’s tempting to submit multiple songs to each competition.

This part of the strategy seems like an expensive crap shoot to me. The quality of a song is a really subjective thing, and if I win one of these things it might just be because the gods smiled on me that day. Who knows?

But if I do win…well, that would be great. There’s always a chance – so I do it (sparingly).

A few months ago I submitted a song to the Song of the Year competition. I received the Suggested Artist Award, which I understand puts me in the top 5% of the contest.

But, I ask rhetorically: who cares? Unless you win the top prize on one of these competitions it doesn’t mean much.

Writing for Musical Theatre

Consider this:

  • The movie Titanic, since it’s release in 1997, has grossed $658 million in box office results. Very impressive.
  • The musical Mamma Mia, since it’s opening in Toronto in 2000, has grossed over $2 billion worldwide. Much more impressive.

I’m not saying that I can write the next Mamma Mia or Wicked, all I’m saying is that it’s worth trying. I’d settle for 0.1% of the financial success of Mamma Mia ($2 million, for those of you adding it up in your heads).

I’ve worked in musical theatre a long time. I’ve studied the form and tradition. I’ve conducted shows on Broadway. I write music – why not write a musical?

I have two in the works right now. Why not? The best way to fail at writing a musical would be never to try at all.

Next Steps

Songwriting & composition is what I’ve always wanted to do. Nothing compares to the elevated feeling that accompanies creation, and for me that feeling is strongest when I write music.

Becoming a professional songwriter seems like an impossible challenge, but I think with the plan and tools that I’ve described above will help me start the journey.

I hope you’ll visit Songwriter.fm and let me know what you think. If you are a performer or recording artist I hope you’ll check out my songs. If you are a songwriter I hope you’ll get in touch with me.

7 Easy Steps to Teaching Music Lessons Online

When I was asked to write this article, it gave me the final impetus I needed to grow my teaching business.

In recent months, several of my students have moved interstate but wanted to learn music online.

I was hesitant because, as a singing and piano teacher, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make this move, especially for singing, because it is so interactive and personal.

Now I’m ready to experiment and I thought it would be interesting to have some company.

So please join me as I detail the steps I have taken to set up my Skype teaching business and please feel free to benefit from my mistakes or copy the methods which worked!

Step 1

Set Up Your Teaching Business

If you haven’t already set up your teaching business please read this article as it goes into great detail and outlines what you need to have in place before you take the next step of launching yourself worldwide as an internet teacher.

I also recommend you have a substantial amount of one to one teaching practice before you commence Skype teaching, as you will need your experience to help cover the distance which may be caused by giving Skype lessons.

Step 2

Install Skype and Other Software Programmes You May Need

Installing Skype is a very easy thing to do.

Go to http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/get-skype/ and simply follow the instructions for download on your computer.

I have decided to make use of some other programmes to give value for money and help me self assess.

These are:

  • Ecamm recorder, available at http://www.ecamm.com.  This software isn’t expensive but it enables you to record both sides of the Skype conversation on video or just voice call.  You can edit the recording as well.

    My idea is to send a copy of the lesson to the student so they can review it if they want to.  Also, I thought it would be a good way for me to assess my own teaching.  But please make sure your student is aware that this process is in place and give them the option to refuse recording.

  • As I am teaching singing, I have to think about the delay live accompaniment may cause, so I am sending my students backing tracks they can sing to that are in their key as well. This means I need to have a recording facility, which can produce tracks that will convert into downloadable MP3 format as they will be sent to the student via email prior to the lesson.

    Your student needs to have the facility to open these files and play them back or record them onto disk as well.

Step 3

You will need to be able to receive payment for the lessons you give.

The simple way to do this is with Paypal.

On their website, they have some different options for merchant services.

I chose the easiest, quickest and least complicated one, which was to email requests for payment.

Students can pay by direct deposit or credit cards when using this service and I request that payment is made prior to the lesson.

If you decide you would like to advertise your services on other websites and blogs, you could think about setting up a Clickbank account at www.clickbank.com .

This is a affiliate programme market place which means that people will advertise and sell your product (your lessons) for a percentage of each sale.

Clickbank manages the funds for you, the affiliate marketers and your students.  It is a more complex way of doing things but something you may wish to consider.

Step 4

Set Up Your Teaching Studio

In just a few seconds of meeting people or walking into a room, we make value judgements, therefore, it is important that your studio looks professional and tidy (as well as yourself) when you are teaching.

You need to take into consideration the view that your student is getting, so make sure your camera is angled and adjusted to give the clearest picture for demonstration and also make sure you have good lighting in your studio.

I rearranged my studio to suit Skype teaching and it has actually turned out to be much better for all my teaching and learning needs now.

Here is a view, in case you are curious.

Lisa Brown's Online Teaching Studio

Step 5

Get Your Paper Work In Order

As mentioned in Greg Arney’s article on setting up your teaching business, you need to have decided on your Terms and Conditions of teaching.

However, you need to consider other situations when teaching online.

What will your policies be on:

  • Payment – How much?  When to receive payment?  Refunds?  How will students pay?
  • Cancellation – How much notice should you receive?  Will you reschedule lessons?
  • Technical interruptions –  What will you do if this happens during a lesson?
  • Equipment – What software and hardware should your students have in order to interact successfully in skype lessons?

I have composed a Terms and Conditions document, which is emailed to students prior to lessons and which they then type their name on and email back to me.  This acts as an acceptance of the terms and conditions stated, so both parties are clear on what to expect.

When payment is received, I am informed by Paypal and I then send students another email confirming receipt of funds as well as their lesson time and date.

It is highly important you make sure you are aware of time differences and take these into consideration when booking appointments.

Step 6

Teach Your Lesson

I have discovered that teaching online requires creative thinking and some different approaches to normal lesson delivery because of some restrictions caused by the technology.

    • Skype is unable to transfer simultaneous audio

      Surprisingly, there is little delay when communicating on Skype.  I thought this was a great thing because I could then accompany my student until I discovered …

      When there is audio coming from both parties, Skype is unable to transfer both signals clearly at the same time, which means each of you experience cutting out.   Such a shame!!!

      However, here are some suggestions for combating this problem:

      1. Email accompaniment tracks

        You will have to make sure your student then burns these tracks onto a CD and plays them from a source outside the computer.

        This is because the tracks tend to be too loud when they are coming from the computer onto Skype and you can’t hear your student clearly enough.

      2. Consider different teaching strategies

        There are many strategies you can employ in your teaching so you don’t have to use play-along or accompaniment.  You can focus more on technical aspects, mentoring and sound production and get students to demonstrate their work in home recordings or play-along in subsequent lessons, when they are playing with a backing track.

    • Introduction and check student set-up

I would suggest you set up a Skype meeting with your student before you teach your first lesson with them.  This will:

    1. Help your student feel more comfortable

      Many people are shy and especially first-time students.  Introducing yourself to them on Skype will help break the ice so that your first lesson will run more smoothly.

    2. Check the student’s set-up

      You will need to check that your student has set up Skype correctly and everything is in working order.

      You both need to direct each other so that the camera is positioned to get a clear picture on both sides, and also make sure the student has received any resources you want them to use.

      If you are using written resources, they too will have to be sent to the student as when you hold up writing to the camera, it has a mirror effect.  It’s hard enough to begin reading music, let alone backwards!

Step 7

Self Assessment

Self-assessment of your teaching practice through reflective work is necessary if you want to engage in a high quality standard of teaching.

Teaching on Skype will take some adjustment of the way you normally deliver your material.  Your first couple of lessons could be challenging but with some problem-solving you will be able to work it out.

You will also have to consider whether moving your business online is going to be worthwhile as there is a little more work and organisation involved.

However, I feel that once you have made a routine of preparing, emailing and having standard contracts and stationery set up, it could definitely be a worthwhile practice.

I am going to give it a go for a while with a few students.

And so, in conclusion:

The disadvantages of teaching online for you are:

  • You will have to organise and think about your teaching practice in a different way to cater to this format.
  • It may be a little more work and be a little uncomfortable to begin with.

The benefits of online teaching for you are:

  • You can become an international teacher and expand your student base.
  • You can teach at odd hours if you want to.
  • You can become a trail-blazer in a field which will, no doubt, become more popular in future!  And
  • If you are smart, discover a new niche market because…

Some of the benefits for students are:

  • They don’t need to leave the comfort of their own home or office!

This would be attractive to people who:

  • clock up a lot of time working and don’t have time for to go to a lesson,
  • people in isolated areas without access to music teachers,
  • people who find travel difficult or who have limited access to transport, and
  • carers or parents who can’t leave their premises for very long.

Some disadvantages of learning online are:

  • The student misses out on some of the personal energy created in a real-life meeting, however, as they get to know you, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • They will have to be more active in helping their lesson to run smoothly, making sure their set-up is in place and they have all resources at hand but I also see this as an advantage as it helps the student learn to be independent and resourceful which are qualities needed to pursue music.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and I’d love to hear about any feedback you may have.  So, please leave a comment below and good luck!

How To Be a Studio Musician Without Leaving Home

Musicians are always looking for ways to supplement their income and find new performance opportunities. If you have always wanted (and more so if you already are) to be a session musician, but didn’t have the right contacts or weren’t located in an active scene, you might want to look into offering your services as a virtual session musician.

A virtual session musician provides their interpretation and instrumental or vocal performance to anyone, anywhere in the world in need of their particular expertise. It is not rare to find songwriters, producers, or solo artists in need of extra instrumentation to complete their production.

How hiring a virtual session player is advantageous to the employer:

  • The quality of the musician is not limited by proximity to studio.
  • No hourly studio rates to pay or union rules to workaround.
  • Receive high quality tracks from specialists.

How offering your services as session musician is a great gig:

  • Ability to work from your home studio for clients all over the world. Leave your equipment setup and tweak for specific purposes.
  • Work on your own schedule. Take the time to experiment with parts and send only the best performances.
  • Set your own rates and accept payment online.

Of course it would not be fair to only mention the positive aspects of online session work. The most obvious disadvantage of creating a full production in this manner is that the magic could disappear. When you gather great musicians in a room together, they interact, play off each other, and create a vibe that translates into emotion in a recording. That being said, great performances are still being created online.

The process in a nutshell:

  • Songwriter records guitar and vocals to a song she wants to be considered for film.
  • She finds a drummer in NYC, a bassist in Berlin, and an electric guitarist in LA, who she thinks would be a good fit for her song and contacts them in this order. Each player has great experience and can produce great recordings of their instrument.
  • She provides each one with a simple MP3 of what she has so far, a tempo map, and basic references of what she wants where (charts or midi generated tracks are nice).
  • Each player takes the time to review the song, record their performances, and send the tracks back for review.
  • The songwriter requests any changes and the changes are revised tracks are promptly sent back.
  • With her completed tracks, she now forwards the song onto a virtual mix engineer and finally to an online mastering engineer.

How to begin offering your services?

Ensure that you can record your instrument WELL.
You don’t to have a studio with 96 inputs, or a cabinet of vintage mics, but you do need to have enough quality mic preamps, microphones, and knowledge to record your instrument well. You may need to do some research and experimentation to find the best approaches to recording your instrument, but once you’ve got it – you’ve got it. You don’t necessarily have to worry about processing it as this will be done by the mix engineer, your goal is to get a solid, clean recording of a great performance which compliments the production.

Offer the service on your website.
The basic steps you need to complete are to create a rate sheet, gear list, provide audio examples of your playing, and setup a Paypal account to receive payment from clients. Add anything else to show off your skills and convince potential clients to hire you. Try to answer their questions before they have to contact you such as your revision policy, if you provide processing, what your turnaround time is etc. The more you can differentiate yourself, the better.

Offer your services on other sites.
eSession.com is setup specifically to allow individual musicians and engineers to offer their services online. They provide easy search capabilities and a very cool plug-in called “Virtual Glass” which allows realtime video and audio streaming from within your digital audio workstation. Also check out IndabaMusic, a newer collaboration site with a built-in, online audio workstation.

In addition to specialty sites, make sure that your social networks know that you offer this service. Participating in online forums and simple including a link to your site in your signature can be a great way to drum up business. Connecting with producers and songwriters directly should be your main goal.

Whether you plan on making this your full time gig, or just offer the service to get occasional gigs, offer you services as a virtual session musician can be a great way to build up your contact list and play on numerous, international projects.

How Do I Get a Job After Music School?

T., a guitarist and soon-to-be music school grad, wrote us last week with this question:

I’m getting my degree soon, but I feel that I don’t really have a lot of actual work experience to flesh out my resume. How far do you think a degree can take me and where would be the best place to help get some work with my skills?

That’s a good question, T., and I’m sure there are other MW readers that are in the same boat.

So, you’re about to leave music school and you need a job. You don’t have a lot of credits on your resume and you’re not sure how to get started.

Let’s start off with what jobs are available these days. I often think about jobs in the musician industry split into to categories:

  1. Your music
  2. Other people’s music

Your Music

There are two of us that maintain MusicianWages.com – Cameron Mizell and myself. Cameron is an expert in category #1, so instead of rambling on about things I don’t know, I’ll defer to his incredible breadth of knowledge.

Here are some of Cameron’s articles that will help you create a career with your own music:

Also read the archives of Cameron’s articles, I’m sure you’ll find a ton of useful information.

Other People’s Music

Although I do write and record my own music, I make my living playing other people’s music. I freelance as a Broadway musician, a church musician, a for-hire accompanist, a music director for theatre, a vocal coach, and many other things.

So let’s say you’re like T. and you’re about to graduate college and you want to be a freelance musician like me. Aside from experience (which I’ll get to later), what do you need to succeed?

  • Sight-reading

    I would say that this is the real value that I give to my employers – if you take everything else away, this is the one thing that they are really paying me for. I show up and I play whatever they put in front of me. It saves them time and money – it cuts down on prep and rehearsal time, it allows them the convenience of thinking about other things, and allows them the flexibility of changing music at the last minute.

    If you’re sight-reading isn’t up to par, you can improve it. I’ve written about the subject before, and it basically boils down to practice. The more you sight-read the better you’ll become.

  • Recommendations

    I never audition or apply for positions in my business, all work is passed around through word-of-mouth. That can be really frustrating for someone starting out, but I promise it gets easier. Make sure that you keep in touch with your fellow classmates from your music school – those will be your first contacts. As they find work, they will pass work to you and vice versa.

    Giving away work is worth pointing out – you should have a small list of colleagues that you pass work to now and then. They’ll do the same for you when they have gigs they can’t take.

    There are some colleagues that will take the work and never pass anything back to you – and those are probably the wrong colleagues to have on the list. Generally, creating a sense of generosity and community around you is much more effective than creating a sense of competition.

  • Geography

    Look, if there isn’t any work where you are, you should move somewhere else. If you want to work as a freelance musician, I’m very sorry, but you just can’t live anywhere you want. You’re career will always be limited by the amount of work available (divided by the number of musicians) in your city. I just don’t see any way around that.

    When I was just out of college I moved back to my home town in the suburbs of Chicago. I took all the gigs I could get. I music directed local theatre shows, I played cocktail music at the country club, I accompanied at the local schools, I joined a band, I taught lessons. I made about the same amount of money as my friends that had entry-level day jobs. It was cool for awhile.

    But check it out – I was playing every gig in town. I’d already hit an income ceiling and I was 25. I tried Chicago for awhile, but I felt like the scene in that city was locked up tight and paid worse than the suburbs. So I left.

    I worked the regional theatre market for awhile, and eventually settled in New York – not because I necessarily wanted to live in New York – but because there was a lot of work here for my skill set.

    I think I’ll always live in New York. I can make a living here. Other players like me are making a living here. It’s not a musician utopia or anything like that – but there is a need here for musicians and I am a musician – so this is where I ended up. Luckily, I’ve also grown to really enjoy living here.

    You don’t have to live in New York. There’s a good discussion in our forums about the best cities for musicians. See what other musicians have to say.

Experience

Ok, so now on to your actual question – how far can a degree get you and how can you get more experience.

Your degree is a piece of paper, and it won’t get you a gig. What you really paid for at your college, as I touched on before, is the connections you have with your faculty and fellow students. This is for real – stay in touch with your fellow students. That’s where your work will first come from.

There are several entry-level positions for freelance musicians. None of them are particularly well-paid or comfortable, which is why they are relatively easy to get.

  • Cruise Ship Musician

    Cruise ship musician is the route I took. It’s pretty easy to get a cruise ship job – you take an audition with a talent agency and then wait for a call. Read this article for more info on how to book the job.

    If working on a cruise was a totally amazing, satisfying, well-paying gig, nobody would ever leave it. But in reality, it can burn you out within a few contracts (see: What Was There To Be Dark About?). But if you are just looking for some experience, it’s perfect. Take a contract or two and hone your chops in the real world. Think of it as your internship.

  • Theme Parks

    There are other gigs like the cruise gig. There are summer gigs at theme parks. Try this link at Backstage.com and search for “Theme Parks”. Expect the gigs to be long, hot and poorly paid. But don’t worry, just work the gig and get the credit on your resume. You gotta pay your dues.

  • Non-Union Broadway Tours

    Non-union musical theatre tours are a step or two up from entry-level. They can be pretty cool gigs if you get on a good tour. They can be brutal if you don’t.

    Jobs at this level start to be word-of-mouth placements for musicians, but you can submit your stuff. Networks is a major non-union touring company. Bookmark their jobs page and send your resume and website to musicresumes@networkstours.com. You can also visit BackStageJobs.com (search for “Musical” under the Departments category), they sometimes list these kinds of jobs.

    Also, dive into this discussion in the forums for more info about non-equity tours.

  • MusicianWages.com Jobs Board

    I have to give a plug to our musician jobs board here at MW. We have a growing list of musician jobs categorized by instrument and location. Subscribe to the RSS feed and have the jobs sent to your feed reader. I moderate that list myself, so it’s only good stuff going up. You might find a gig there.

I hope that helps – good luck T!

Making Free Downloads Work For You

Most independent musicians don’t have large marketing and advertising budgets to spread the word about their music. You’ve spent most of your money on the recording itself, why not use that as your marketing tool? Giving away your music might seem counter-productive if you’re ultimately trying to sell it, but giving away the right amount, and to the right people, can help you build your email list, learn more about your audience, fuel word-of-mouth marketing, and spur greater sales in the long run. After all, the end goal of any marketing, advertising, or promotional plan is to get people to listen to your music.

How much should you give away?

Usually one free track from your new album will do the trick. It’s hard enough to get people’s attention, so focusing on a single track will help even a small amount of buzz gain some critical mass. If you have older albums or demos, perhaps you can make some of that music available for free as well, but keep the focus on your new material.

How should you give it away?

Just because you are giving away your music for free does not mean you should give it away freely. Employ some strategy, using the following ideas, to make your free music work for you.

Build Your Email List

There are a number of ways to use a free download as an incentive for people to join your email list. I manage my email list with FanBridge, which allows me to send a free download automatically to every new subscriber. There are also some distribution services, such as Bandcamp or Topspin, which offer the free download in exchange for an email address.

Don’t forget to actually offer the download to those people already on your email list–after all, you should treat them like VIPs since they’ve already opted in. A free download is a great excuse to send an email blast, and you can ask your fans to share the mp3 with their friends.

Learn About Your Fans

Give a free song away or make it available to stream in places that can provide some metrics about who is listening. Widgets that can tell you who is listening, like those provided by Bandcamp and Topspin, or music-centric social networks like Last.fm, will help you understand who listens to your music, and where they are listening.

For example, I use Bandcamp widgets on my site. One is in the sidebar, though there are others throughout the site. Using Google Analytics, I know which pages and blog posts are getting the most traffic, and Bandcamp tells me which pages people are on when they listen to music on the widget. Combining this information, I’ve started to learn how to write blog posts that attract the most people that will be interested in hearing my music.

If you’re unfamiliar with Last.fm, it’s a site that tracks users’ listening habits. For example, you can visit my Last.fm profile and see what I listen to at my computer! It’s a great place to give away a free track because the people who will download it there probably track their listening habits as well (called “scrobbling” on Last.fm). I’ve learned that the people who listen to my music the most don’t always have much in common with me. Naturally, we’d assume anybody that shares our taste in music would also like the music we create, but it turns out that’s not always true. Once I saw trends in my listeners’ libraries, I was able to promote my music to a wider yet still very targeted audience.

In both cases, using metrics helped me understand my audience and make better use of the time I spend online. But this can also come in handy when you promote shows, or just talk to people about your music. Learning more about my fans has been the most valuable result of giving my music away.

Target Fans with Fans

Offer free downloads to fans with the greatest reach. Do a little research and figure out which of your fans have popular blogs or use social networks regularly to talk about the music they love. Maybe they’re musicians themselves, or perhaps they’re just interesting people that write entertaining blogs. You never know who might be considered the “go to guy” for new music recommendations amongst his friends.

Send them a personal note with a download link and thank them for their support so far. Be specific–it helps to know what show you saw them attend last, or the last time they mentioned you on their blog. Tell them you’d like them to hear your new music before you release it. Chances are they’ll reciprocate by mentioning your music online.

Free Tracks Love Metadata

Whenever you give away your music, make sure you tell people where and when they can buy more! If you’re offering a free download before your album is released, make sure people know that. If the album is available, embed the link in the MP3 metadata. The importance of embedding your track with extra information (ie. metadata) cannot be overstated.

This is especially true when you send your music to your email list and bloggers. Give them all the information you’d like them to tell other people in a nice, neat few sentences that they could just copy and paste to their blog. You are essentially giving them a press release, but in a more personable fashion.

Again, the importance of metadata cannot be overstated. If you use iTunes, right click on a track and choose “Get Info.” I’m sure other media players have similar options to enter extra data for MP3s. Fill out as much of that information as possible. Include lyrics, sidemen, composers, links, or anything else you can think of. When your tracks end up on somebody’s computer, you want to make it easy for them to find more of your music!

Why Every Musician Should Use iTunes Ping

Apple’s recent rollout of iTunes 10 included a new feature called Ping, dubbed a “social network for music” by the creators. Ping’s release was followed by a good deal of criticism from the tech and music blogs, and for the most part, I agreed with them. Coming from a company that’s notorious for unveiling gadgets and software that impress from the moment of Steve Jobs’ keynote, this feature kind of felt like it wasn’t ready for public use. But despite it’s downfalls, and perhaps because of it’s small splash in the online music and social networking community, there are several reasons why every musician should be using iTunes Ping.

There are two types of profiles on Ping:

  1. A user profile, such as this one.
  2. An artist profile, such as, wait, Bob Marley?

As of the writing of this article, there are very few differences between the two pages. The main difference is that the artist profile has a link to the artist’s page on iTunes. Also, artist pages aren’t necessarily managed by the artists themselves, because I know for a fact Bob Marley is not very good at using the internet.

If you’re an independent musician that has music on iTunes (such as myself), it is possible to get an artist profile. Contact your digital distributor, ask them what you need to do, and then be patient. It’s a first come, first served process, but while you’re waiting in line, there’s no reason not start using Ping anyway.

What’s to lose?

Being an early adopter of new ideas or technology can reap it’s benefits. Early adopter’s can influence the way a new technology or social network is used. It’s also much easier to build the foundation for your network with other early adopters before everyone else is doing it. In a smaller crowd, your actions will be noticed.

Setting up a user profile is simple and takes only a couple minutes. Once your profile is set up and you’re logged into your iTunes account, any actions you make in the store will show up on your profile page and in the activity feed of anybody that follows you. Once you’ve set up a Ping profile you’ll also notice a little “Ping” button next to whatever track is selected in your iTunes library:

Ping button in your iTunes library.
Ping options in your iTunes Library

If you’re like me and listen to music in iTunes on a regular basis, you can very easily keep your profile active by taking one action each day that will show up on your profile. In other words, using Ping requires very little time or effort, so there is really nothing to lose.

Actually, you will lose one thing: Anonymity.

Once you’ve created a Ping profile, your actual name will appear on any review you’ve ever written on iTunes. So all those third person reviews you wrote for your own albums might need to be deleted.

One of my reviews on iTunes.

Anonymity relieves us of accountability, and I believe it’s good thing, especially as a musician, to let everyone know who is writing the reviews. As you’ll learn, this actually makes it easier to find like minded people to connect with on Ping.

Using Ping to Connect with Others

My brain is hardwired to approach everything online with the question, “How can I use this to get more people to hear my music?”

Follow people with similar tastes as you. Search the iTunes store for your favorite albums. Leave a review or at least rate the album yourself, and then look for reviews by people whose full names are written as a blue link, like mine in the review pictured above. You can click through to that person’s profile and see what else they like and read their other reviews. If Ping users have written reviews for your album, you should definitely follow them!

Once you’re following a decent number of people, you’ll see an activity stream similar to Facebook or Twitter. This makes it easy to learn about more music (the whole intention behind Ping, I suppose), and also find more people with similar tastes in music.

People who like the same music as you are more likely to like your music. There’s really no direct action you need to take to tell people about your music. Ideally, some of them will go to your profile and learn that you make music of your own.

Using Ping to Promote Your Music

Your Ping profile should both tell people what kind of music you like, but also that you make music. There’s room to write a bio, and it’s important to not make this a hard sell marketing pitch about your latest album. Unfortunately, you can’t create any links in your bio. To link to your music, simply put links to your albums in the “Music I Like” section–something you select when setting up your profile.

Avoid putting your music in your activity stream. Everybody is going to start doing that, and it’s going to look tacky and turn off people from wanting to follow you. Most of your posts should be about the music you like. For every 20 posts about other people’s music, perhaps post a link to one of your tracks and say something interesting about it. This is simply a good practice for any sort of social networking tool.

One way of working a link to your music into your activity stream is by “liking” somebody else’s review of your album. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting what somebody else thinks of your music!

Staying Ahead of the Curve

I’m sure that as newer versions of iTunes roll out, improvements will be made to Ping. While the social networking aspect of it is somewhat limited, it does exist in the most popular digital music store (at least in US market share). As I discovered years ago by making playlists, the best place to promote your music is within the store itself.

I can’t guarantee results from using Ping. It’s still too new, and I don’t have enough experience with it. To be honest, there’s really not that much TO experience. But be it Ping or any other resource that has potential to get new people to hear my music, I believe it’s well worth the small investment of time and effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Visit my artist profile on iTunes Ping.

Allison Weiss on Building an Internet Presence

Allison Weiss is one of the hardest working singer/songwriters I know. We met through Lauren Zettler, who I play with regularly, and I’ve been able to watch Allison do her thing online and in person, from the audience and behind the scenes. I can honestly say that what you see is what you get with Allison. It’s her ability to be herself online has attracted a massive but well targeted internet following across several social networking platforms which she weaves together using tools freely available to anybody. In other words, she uses no tricks and doesn’t have a team of web gurus hiding behind a curtain. She really does it all herself.

Allison Weiss, photo by Shervin Lainez
Allison Weiss, photo by Shervin Lainez

I asked Allison if she’d share her secrets with us, and as I suspected, there are no secrets! She is just a creative and savvy musician that is willing to try out new technology to stay ahead of the curve (something I believe is a key to a successful DIY music career). But don’t take my word for it, read Allison’s responses and see for yourself. There’s a lot to learn for any independent musician trying to get their music in front of the right people.

CM: You’ve built an impressive online audience. How did that start?

AW: I could say YouTube and I could say Tumblr, but I think it all started because of how much I really love the internet. Since I first got online in my early teens, I’ve loved what the internet has done for communication. Social networking is a beautiful thing. You can find someone who loves what you love in a second, even though they may be halfway across the world. When I started playing music professionally it seemed obvious that just being myself online was going to be the best form of promotion (I didn’t know any other way). I’m also an early adopter. When new technology comes along I don’t look at it as another burden to bear, but another tool to utilize. I jump on the bandwagon immediately rather than waiting until someone forces me on it.

Considering how quickly trends change online, do you think somebody doing that today would have the same results?

Absolutely, but nowadays it definitely takes patience. Back in 2005 you could put an acoustic cover up on YouTube and everyone was watching it. Now the market is saturated, so you can’t just complete the task. You have to be good. You can’t start a Twitter account and expect the fans to come pouring in. You have to use it and get good at it and learn how to make the technology work for you.

Did you have a vision of what you were building, or did it just kind of happen?

It definitely just kind of happened. I’ve never had a solid plan. I get excited, I have fun, and I roll with it. It’s hard to tell what’s going to be successful, which is why I do a little bit of everything. I set up my Kickstarter account in a couple of hours and set it in motion with a mentality of “Here goes nothing, let’s see if this works…” and it blew up*. Recently I posted a couple tracks to thesixtyone.com because a fan recommended it, and out of nowhere I was gaining a ton of fans through it. Like I said, sometimes you just never know and you have to figure it out by trial and error.

*Editor’s note: Allison created a Kickstarter project to fund her latest album, Allison Weiss Was Right All Along. She gave herself two months to raise $2,000 and ended up hitting that goal in 10 hours. She raised $4,000 by the end of the week, and ended up with $7,711 total, allowing her to expand the EP she intended to make into a full length album.

I’d say your online following is genuine, not like you used some scheme to get a bunch of MySpace friends or Twitter followers. What’s the key to attracting a real, honest fanbase?

The key to attracting a real, honest fanbase is to be a real, honest person. Most of the time I try and think of things from a fan’s perspective. How would I like my favorite bands to communicate with me? I try my best to be as interesting as possible, and I always stay true to myself. I’m open and inviting, because the bottom line is that I truly believe music is about community. I love being able to interact with fans. I love meeting people in real life who I’ve seen online. I think that if you’re a nice and genuine person, those relationships you form online will last longer than the hottest new site, and people who love you will follow you anywhere.

What do you do to keep your fans engaged online?

I post a lot of stuff. Not just show dates or album announcements. That’s super boring after a while. I update my blog and twitter like people would care about where I am or what I’m doing. I want people to feel like they know me, so I let myself be known. I have contests and give away free stuff, I try and make everything as entertaining and fun as possible. That way when I throw in a show date here and there, people are paying attention because they care.

How often do you try to do these things? How often is too often, and how little is too little, if there are such boundaries?

Tweeting and blogging (on Tumblr.com) have become natural parts of my life. I do it so often that I can’t imagine not. When something interesting in real life happens, I think about whether the internet would like to know about it (usually they would). In fact, I’m trying to stop differentiating between Real Life and The Internet, because the fact is The Internet IS Real Life. Every username is a real person who matters just as much as someone standing in front of you. As far as how often is too often, I think it totally depends. I know celebrity musicians who tweet every two minutes but still have hundreds of thousands of followers. Most of the time I wish people would post more. To me it’s more important to think about quality than quantity. You could tweet a thousand times a day and think every post you make is hilarious and incredible, but this usually isn’t the case. I say pay attention to ‘Likes’ and ‘Reblogs’. Stay entertaining and use your best judgement.

So I’d say we’ve established your web savviness by now. Can you share your 3 favorite online resources that help your career as a musician?

I’m going to give you six, is that okay? Two categories: Tools and Communities, because half of these are technical and save a lot of work, and the other half need to be used frequently and skillfully to really help a music career:

Tools:

  • ArtistData.com – I use this website to update information across the net. They’ll sync up to a ton of event-listing websites and post it all over the place when you add a new show. One of the best things is that for about $5/mo, they’ll send your show listings to local press, which means you’ll always be on the physical calendar. Saves me a TON of time.
  • FanBridge.com – Mailing list and email marketing tool. I love them. Your mailing list is a hundred times more important than number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends. They let you target fans by location and offer free downloads for joining.
  • BigCartel.com – I just discovered this site. It’s a simple and easy way to sell physical merch online. Adding a new item is as easy as a few clicks. A basic account is free, and more options are available for a small monthly fee. PLUS it’s all linked up to PayPal so it’s really easy to deal with money. And I think they just added an option to sell downloads.

Communities:

  • Tumblr.com – Blog here. It’s the best. Follow and be followed. It’s Twitter’s big bro who’s smarter and has more to say.
  • Twitter.com – If you don’t have one yet, you’re only cheating yourself. If you can text, you can twitter. Stop wondering if people want to know about your day-to-day and just accept that they DO.
  • TheSixtyOne.com – I haven’t quite figured out this site in it’s entirety, but I know that I uploaded a couple tracks, left it alone, and suddenly found myself swimming in new fans. It’s an incredibly innovative and experimental new music discovery site where fans choose what floats to the top. Explore it.

I could go on and on. Bandcamp.com, Livestream.com, Facebook.com, there are a million.

To conclude, has all the online activity carried over into the real world? Does it all help sell music or bring people out to your shows when you tour?

Definitely. It’s pretty awesome to see it all really working. I think it’s important to note here that you have to remember to ask your fans for support. Make sure you get names on your mailing list, send out Facebook events, and keep people updated on what you’re doing. The unfortunate thing about the internet is that there’s so much of it that will distract people from paying attention to you, so you have to give them a reason to care. Whether that means giving away an album for free in exchange for email addresses, or streaming yourself from your bedroom, or covering Lady Gaga songs on YouTube, that’s up to you. Stay honest, stay entertaining, and be good at what you do. Don’t be afraid of the internet. Embrace new technology. Get creative. Make it happen.

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Learn more about Allison Weiss and see her internet skills in action at www.allisonw.com.

Theatre Music Directors: Connecting with Other Music Directors

Music directing is usually, by its nature, a solitary profession.  Artistic directors and producers only hire MDs one at a time, so we rarely get to work with or even meet each other. We hear about other MDs by reputation or perhaps we’ll meet if there’s an overlap from one show to the next.

Despite the isolated nature of a music directing career, its also an industry in which networking is key.  MDs rarely audition for jobs, and are usually recommended for jobs by word of mouth or sub for friends when needed.

Nothing can substitute meeting face-to-face, having a drink, playing together in a pit or collaborating on a project – but nevertheless, here are a few ways to connect with other theatre music directors online.

Theatre Music Directors Facebook Group

This is a group for professional music directors in the theatre industry. You can find it at this link.

Please leave the group a wall post including something about yourself – where you’ve worked, where you live, etc.

Theatre Music Directors Twitter Group

There are several ways to put together groups on Twitter, and most of them are pretty unsatisfying.  The best one at this time seems to be Twibes.com, which automatically adds you to a group if you are kind enough to send out a tweet that promotes their site (you’ll see).  Shameless, to be sure, but not a bad way, in the end, for us all to find each other on the Great White Twit.

Here’s the link:

The theatremusicdirectors Twibe

Theatre Music Directors Listserv

Lastly, there is a email list at Yahoo Groups that music directors can subscribe (and contribute) to, although this list is currently invite only.  This is a (new and tad bit sleepy) group for MDs to discuss current topics and find out about new job openings.

You can find this group at this link.

Which One Should You Use?

As with any niche topic online, which group you join and how you connect all depends on your internet habits and interests, but at least one of these options should help you connect in the industry.  Try them all out and see which one works best for you.

Getting the Most from Tags & Descriptions

It’s a well established fact that seach engine optimization, or SEO, is an important tool for building an online presence and attracting more traffic to your website. To learn more about SEO, see Dave Hahn’s Search Engine Optimization for Musicians. As he mentions, musicians needn’t be overly concerned with SEO on their own website if it’s for mostly promotional and informational purposes. This is very true, and the last thing a working musician needs is one more distraction from their instrument. However, the concepts are important to understand as you expand your internet presence because better optimization helps more people find your music. In this article, we’ll apply these concepts outside the musician’s website and into other online communities.

Most social networks have their own internal search functions or methods of organizing user profiles. Twitter is an excellent example of a site whose search engine helps not only connects people with common interests, but also allows virtual chat rooms to be created on the fly if every user tweets a common word (usually preceded by a # symbol). YouTube relies heavily on searches to help visitors dig through all the content, so precise, well thought out titles, descriptions and tags on your videos increase the chances of the right people discovering your videos. Both sites are destinations with built in communities, the perfect places for musicians to build awareness.

As a musician, you ought to be familiar with these sites and others like them. They are excellent promotional tools, free to use, and the philosophy behind this brand of strategic marketing will transfer to the next set of tools once these are obsolete. The trick is using them efficiently and not being overwhelmed by the vast number of websites people might tell you to join. I believe it’s better to find a few that work best for you, where most of your audience hangs out, and make the most out of your profile.

Before You Start

What is your message? How do people describe you or your music? Come up with a few general words or phrases that accurately describe you, your music, and each of your albums. If you have some descriptions prepared, you’ll waste less time setting up new profiles and uploading new content. A little repetition also helps people start to recognize you.

Most importantly, be really, really good. Make sure people are impressed when they stumble across your content. Just getting somebody’s attention today is hard enough, so be ready when they do give you some of their time.

Best Practices for Tags & Descriptions

Write out your full name, the band members’ full names, and the band’s name as often as possible. Use pronouns sparingly, only enough to avoid sounding like a broken record. Search engines interpret repetition as importance, and what’s more important than the name of your band?

If your name is common, set yourself apart. Since I’ve already mentioned him, let me use Dave Hahn as an example. It is almost hard to believe how many people named Dave Hahn are on the internet. There’s a rock climber, at least two other musicians, an illustrator, and a guy that made a nuclear bomb out of smoke detectors. To set himself apart, Dave uses his full name with his middle initial, David J. Hahn, and relies on keywords that are unique to him, such as “piano, conducting, keyboards.”

Always link to your website. Every profile, post, or comment you make anywhere online should link back to your website. If you’re able to created embedded links, incorporate keywords into the linked phrase. For example, instead of just using his name, Dave should use something like “pianist David J. Hahn” so search engines index the keyword alongside his name. Building a web presence is much more effective if you are funneling traffic to a central location. Search engines also follow links to help determine the importance of websites. The more links headed to your website, the better. Don’t expect everyone to take the link every time, but make sure it’s available and works. This leads us to the next point.

Write out full URLs, starting with “http://”. If you use the full web address, many sites including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook will automatically convert it into a link. The advantages here are obvious.

Write out the name of the venue and location of your gigs every time you announce the shows, blog about them, or post videos or pictures at the venue. For some reason, a lot of clubs have terrible SEO for their own websites, and it’s not that hard to show up in the search results by simply listing their name on your site. More importantly, the venues you play put your music in context for people, so it doesn’t hurt for your name to show up in the search listing, even if they weren’t looking for you.

Find the best phrases and tags using Google’s Keyword Tool. For example, you may want to describe yourself as an “indie rock band” but when you plug that phrase into the keyword tool you’ll learn that the phrase “indie band” is searched 90,000 time each month, compared to only 9,000 for “indie rock band.”

Talk about your stuff. As a guitarist, I try to write “Fender Telecaster” or “1967 Gibson ES-175″ in place of “my guitar” when appropriate. Not only are your fans curious about what you use, but people search for gear all the time. Sometimes this is all the common ground you need to find a new fan.

Use tags to reinforce the rest of your content, but don’t rely on them. Tags are more effective when used to add one more instance of a keyword from the title or body of your content.

Pictures are not worth a thousand words. Banners and logos are great, but don’t rely on them to tell the world who you are online. Search engines can’t index the words on the image. Make sure important words appear as text somewhere near the top of the site.

Think like the person performing the search. When you use a search engine, you try to pick out the important words for whatever it is you’re looking for. This is common sense, but pretend you are looking for exactly whatever it is you are posting to the internet, and make sure those words are present in your description and tags. Use proper spelling and avoid all those internet abbreviations and slang. Although your audience might know what you’re talking about, they probably don’t search for those terms very often and search engines don’t index them very well.

To be honest, this is all a relatively small piece of the puzzle. I don’t think there has ever been a musician that broke through the noise because of their YouTube tags, and I doubt it’s held anyone back. However, I don’t believe it is trivial. Thinking this way will make your time online much more effective, and then you can spend more time making music.

A Musician’s Guide to Creating an Online Presence

For the independent, D.I.Y. musician, establishing a balance between online and offline efforts is becoming increasingly difficult. It seems that every new social networking site that pops up is one more task to add to your overflowing list of things to do. It’s a full time job in and of itself–simply too much for most musicians, especially those who also hold down some sort of job outside of music to help support themselves. How is one supposed to keep up?

This article is not about how to keep up, rather it’s about how to ignore the noise.

To be blunt, there are people out there trying to make money from you. These people will peddle products and services that we didn’t know we needed until they existed, and in most cases, we don’t need them. If they’re not trying to sell you something, they’re just trying to get your attention or your internet traffic. I’m not blaming these people; they only exist because independent musicians make a good market. We have only ourselves to blame for all these distractions.

It is entirely possible to ignore most of what’s happening online and still have a large internet presence. The beauty of the internet is that your presence can exist without sitting in front of a computer. Here’s what I suggest.

Create great content, first.

Great music should make up the bulk of your great content. Without a doubt, this is the hardest part, and it should be. Our specialty is music, and we should be better at making music than everybody else. The better you are, the less of the other stuff you’ll have to do. More people will do that work for; your fans will do that work for you.

For example, I have a few friends that recently started a band in New York City. They have MySpace and Facebook pages for the band, as well as their own personal pages, but that’s it. Nothing special, no custom website, and far less than what a new-media/social networking guru would advise. If judged by their internet presence alone, ignoring their actual content, you’d probably blow them off.

They spend all their time practicing, and several days a week they set up to busk in the subway or Central Park. They burn CDs to sell for $5 and have cards available with their band name and MySpace URL. They also have a notebook for collecting email addresses.

They’re making good money in tips and selling the CDs, but what’s amazing is how many people are taking notice. Simply because they are so good, people stop, listen, and take note of who they are. There are several videos of them on YouTube created by commuters. We’ve found a few blogs where the authors just wanted to share the experience of listening to the band in the middle of their hectic day.

The best content is not even created by the band, it’s created by fans–people who invested their own time for the sake of spreading the word about some great music. That sounds pretty old school, doesn’t it?

The rest of your content–the stuff that isn’t music–should be about music (but not necessarily yours) without talking directly about the music. In other words, use a blog or social networking site to simply be yourself and write about how music is a big part of your life. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, blog about your morning run and share your playlist, perhaps as an iMix. You can even sidetrack to discuss your hobbies or your favorite TV shows, things non-musicians can relate to. As long as there’s a link to your website or album somewhere on the web page, you don’t need to remind everyone that you’re a musician all the time.

Have a purpose behind everything you do.

To avoid wasting time, get focused, be honest with yourself and hold others accountable to be honest with you. The next time somebody tells you that you should be doing something that has nothing to do with writing or playing music, ask questions. Find out the real reason why they think you should create another online profile for your band or read a book about the music business.

Perhaps one of the best things you can do for your music is create a blog to hold yourself accountable. Turn it into a journal about something you’re working on musically. You could blog about making an album, or touring, or just write about what you’re practicing. I find that writing about things I’m planning on doing makes me do it sooner than later because I’m sorting it out in my head so the doing part is easier. Simply the act of writing this article is helping me figure out ways to be more efficient with my time online. And we’ve all heard about the stunts that involve writing and posting a recording of a new song every day for a month, or something similar. Sure, those are publicity stunts, but they’re also exercises in creativity. Difficult exercises.

David Rose wrote a great article for this site called Music Marketing with a Purpose. In it, he discusses prioritizing your time so you’re not trying to do it all. This is a great place to start lining up your priorities.

Go to your audience.

Back to the example of my friends’ band–they’ve found the places in the subway or Central Park that make them the most money. They’ve found they do best playing for the locals, not tourists. Just because there are more people that want to spend their money in Times Square it doesn’t mean that’s the best location for them to play their music.

Similarly, each website or social network draws different crowds, and the goal is to find the one or two places where your music appeals to the site’s existing audience. It’s better to find ten people that really like what you’re doing and want to spread the word rather than shouting at 10,000 people that are all ignoring you. Besides, if those ten people can share your content with their friends, via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., your audience will multiply.

Also, consider the type of connections you need to make. For my type of musician (one with original content), Twitter has been more effective than Facebook. For a musician like Dave Hahn (a contract musician), Facebook is the better networking tool. Figure out where like-minded musicians have the most success and focus on that website.

Schedule and feed your blogs.

There are certain times during the week internet traffic is high and people are more likely to respond to your content. Posting content, or links to your content, during these times is a great way to increase traffic to your website and ultimately get more people to listen to your music. This also allows you to spread out one day’s work over the course of a week or more. Some days I get two or more ideas for blog posts, so I tackle them while they’re fresh in my mind but schedule them a week apart.

I also schedule most of my Twitter updates on Sundays using a third party site called HootSuite. Many of these tweets are links to content I find interesting, but I’ll also work in some of the “this is what I’m doing” updates. I can do that simply because I plan out my week on Sundays.

For example, if I have a rehearsal on Thursday and a show on Friday, I can schedule my tweets about those things ahead of time. This way I don’t have to worry about it later in the week, all my focus is on the music. A few times throughout each day I’ll log into Twitter and respond to people’s replies and see what’s going on, but I’m never logged in for more than a few minutes.

There are many blog posts out there about how to use Twitter effectively, so that’s not what I’m trying to discuss here. Rather, I want to make the point that with a little thought and organization, you can use these kinds of websites to great effect with very little time investment.

Along with scheduling posts, most websites today can aggregate content from other sites. This is a great way to stake out more internet territory without adding extra work. This can usually be done using RSS feeds, and with a little formatting you can make it look pretty slick. Much of the MusicianWages social networking presence works this way–when a reader posts a comment on an article or the forum, it feeds to our Twitter and Facebook pages. It makes life easier, and it sends our content to a larger audience frequently and automatically.

Use metadata and keywords.

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many musicians I see not making the most out of their content with at least minimally optimized keywords. At first, you’re going to have to generate your own traffic, but after a while search engines can do a lot of the work for you.

Search engines, though, won’t do you any good if your blog posts are full of typos or you just fail to mention in words what is happening on this web page. Search engines look at the text that’s viewable by visitors, so don’t be afraid to brand each page with your full name or your bands name. If you’re out in the world doing your thing and getting people to remember your name, make sure they can find you when they type it into Google.

Experiment.

Unfortunately, the only way to know whether or not something will work for you is to try it out. That takes time, and your time is valuable and better spent working on your music. However, when something comes along that you think might work out for you, consider allowing yourself anywhere from one week to two months to try it out. If you’ve never started a blog, dedicate one night a week to write something for a couple months. This might take a couple hours of work a week, but that’s not a terrible amount of time. And you’ll know whether or not it’s right for you by the end of two months.

I’ve gotten to the point where I dedicate about two hours a week to trying something new online. I don’t view the failures as a waste of time. In fact, I consider it a victory when an idea never gains traction–that’s one less task to worry about. I’ve accepted routine failures as part of the course to genuine long term success.

Keep in mind, this is a long, sometimes slow process. There’s no secret to creating a strong online presence overnight no matter how much time you spend on it in one sitting. Build gradually and purposefully upon your previous content, and make sure it’s all riding on the shoulders of great music.

Music Marketing with a Purpose

This past year I posted a blog called The $52.45 Music Marketing Plan that turned out to be the most read article at KnowTheMusicBiz.com all year. There are now so many options available for marketing music online it seems like everyone who has ever written a song is giving it a go.  Let’s face it, writing a great song is the tough part but successfully marketing your music is a must if you want it heard among the crowded field of musicians vying for attention.  As with most things, a little planning can go a long way towards helping you succeed.

When putting together a music marketing plan I usually suggest thinking through three “what” questions before taking action:

  1. What do your fans want?
  2. What do you want to accomplish through your marketing efforts?
  3. What are the priorities?

What do your fans want?

This one is really pretty simple. First and foremost music fans are interested in music! Music fans are always seeking a new great song to fall in love with. If a fan has become interested enough to visit your website don’t disappoint them by not having music available for streaming, download and purchase on your site. ReverbNation provides several free music player options that can be embedded in a musician’s website making it easy for fans to stream music.  Both Audiolife and Nimbit allow musicians to easily sell MP3’s directly from their own website in addition to merchandise, CD’s and DVD’s, without any upfront fees.

Once fans have developed an interest in a musicians’s music they might become interested in learning more about them as an individual or individuals. Make it easy for fans to keep up with the latest news and updates by prominently featuring an email list signup and RSS subscription link for the blog on the website. Fans may also want to connect on popular social networks. Be sure to display links to the social networks where you are active such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Fans want to see the musicians they enjoy play live shows. Regularly communicate the dates, show times and locations of all scheduled live shows on your website, through your email list, on your blog and social networks. ReverbNation also has free Show Schedule Widgets that include show dates and maps to help promote live shows.

What do you want to accomplish through your marketing efforts?

I firmly believe an musician’s success in achieving a sustainable career in music is tied directly to their ability to build and nurture an ongoing, direct relationship with their fans. The central point for this direct relationship should be the musician’s website.

Marketing efforts that drive your fans to MySpace, YouTube or iTunes help foster relationships between your fans and MySpace, YouTube and iTunes, instead of with you. Definitely have a presence on the most popular websites where fans discover and enjoy music but design your marketing efforts to drive fans directly to your website.

When considering what you want your marketing efforts to accomplish think more in terms of how you can develop a direct, long-term relationship with fans instead of just focusing on adding “X” number of email subscribers or Twitter followers this month.

Consistently give fans what they are interested in, great music and insight into the songs and creator(s), and they will reward you with their loyalty and support. In addition to sharing your best music, share your personal story, the inspiration for specific songs or your songwriting process through blog or video posts on your website. Ultimately, the goal is to develop relationships to the point where fans will want to buy your music, merchandise or tickets to your next show.

Don’t forget that real relationships include give and take and two-way communications. To see an example of one give and take strategy check out Rocker Derek Jordon’s website. Derek gives fans who sign up for his email list two free MP3’s of his music. That’s a great way to engage music fans and get a dialogue going! It sounds like common sense but…remember to personally and promptly reply to any questions, comments or inquiries you get from fans. It definitely helps foster that direct relationship.

What are the priorities?

It seems like there are is an infinite number of options for marketing music these days and new solutions and companies are constantly popping up. It’s important to prioritize your efforts so you don’t end up trying to “do it all”. Here is my take on the top priorities for marketing your music:

  1. Get a Website – If you are serious about a career as a musician you should own a url that includes your name (or bands name) and have your own website. If you don’t already have a website check out Bandcamp and Bandzoogle, they both provide full featured and inexpensive website solutions specifically for musicians.
  2. Direct Commerce – Buying directly from a musician helps strengthen the direct to fan relationship. Direct commerce also provides better margins for a musician than selling through a third party. Make sure fans can purchase music, merchandise, tickets and anything else you sell directly from you / your website. Both  Audiolife and Nimbit offer direct commerce solutions for musicians that can be easily added to any website.
  3. Direct Marketing – Go sign up at ReverbNation. They offer an impressive set of free direct marketing tools for musicians, including email marketing, media players and electronic press kits, that can help drive traffic to your website and build relationships with fans. RN also provides detailed reporting that can help you better understand fan reaction to your music and marketing efforts.
  4. Internet Radio – Internet radio providers such as Imeem, Last.fm, Pandora have great music discovery tools for their ever expanding listener bases. Be sure to take advantage of the Internet Radio Opportunity for Independent Artists and get your music heard by new potential fans.
  5. Awareness / Reach – It’s important to have your music available in the primary places where music fans discover new music. With so many options available once you are on Facebook and MySpace how do you decide the next place to set up a presence? The key is to start with the sites that have the most traffic. To determine how much traffic a specific site has check them out through Compete or Alexa. The data isn’t perfect but it will give you a general idea of whether or not they have enough fan traffic to justify the time required to regularly maintain another presence there.

Finally, don’t try to do this all by yourself, it’s really too much for one person. Give serious consideration to Tim Westergren’s Fifth Beatle for The Digtal Age suggestion and you just might have time left over to write some great music too!