I write this blog; I also write reviews for two excellent websites, the music magazine eBurban and very wonderful independent bands’ resource Live Unsigned. Doing these things requires me to find out about various bands and musicians, listen to their music, get a handle on where they’re coming from, and communicate with them. None of this makes me an expert on anything: I’m just doing what millions of music enthusiasts globally do for fun every day (and even when I’m getting paid, or fighting sleep to meet an unrealistic self-imposed deadline, I’m doing it for fun too). The only difference is that I do a lot more of it than most people, and more regularly; but the experiences I have when I interact with an act’s online presence, and the expectations I bring to the encounter, are the same as anyone’s. The sheer number of bands’ websites and profiles I visit does mean that I see patterns, however, and get annoyed by the stuff that’s annoying a bit more readily. The reason I want to say something about this is not in order to whine about the terrible, arduous burden of the music critic in a world that blatantly fails to arrange itself for his convenience; it’s because the things that act as obstacles to a satisfactory interaction for me, are likely to act in the same way for the important visitors to your electronic shopfronts, your potential audience. Where I will tend to be persistent if I need a specific piece of information for an article, the casual music fan will probably give up a lot more quickly, so I thought I should share some of my more pertinent observations.
4 Ways Not To Capitalise On The Interest Of A Fan
- Make it impossible to contact you. This is a biggie for me, hence its place at the top of the list. An email address where people can contact you to request information or press packs, tell you how much they like your work, book you, or in other ways offer you money and exposure should be clearly displayed on your website or profile: not hidden away in a contacts page, not substituted by a webform, but right there on your front page, preferably in the sidebar or footer on every page. That’s your email, not a PR or management company’s email. If you’re so famous that you really can’t handle direct enquiries, all well and good, you don’t need my advice: if you’re not, then no one will be impressed by you pretending to be such a big shot that access to you is controlled. There have been times when I’ve given up looking for an email address and resorted to a MySpace message, typed it in at some length, entered the captcha, and discovered that the recipient only accepts messages from ‘friends’: so do I bang off a friend request, wait for it to be accepted, and then have another go? No. I close the window, and forget about the band. What someone wants to tell you may be to your benefit: there’s an outside chance they wanted to offer you a million dollars to make a performance video promoting their ethically sourced surfwear; but if you make it seriously difficult for them to talk to you, they won’t bother.
- Don’t tell people how to get hold of your recordings. You may be charging money for your recordings: if so, you need to make it as easy as possible for people to pay you, and place orders. If you don’t want to set up a fancy automated front end, you can at least have a PayPal button. If you’re letting people download your music for free, then link to the downloads from your profile(s) and make the process painless: what you get from free downloads is worth more than money until you’ve got a sizeable audience (and even then, in my view). It’s exposure, goodwill and people who will give you money in the future. Also, make sure your recordings are available to stream: do not post thirty second excerpts, as it makes you seem like a complete wanker.
- Make your music auto play. This is more of a minor niggle than the other points, but it’s related to the preceding one, so I put it next. I may be visiting your site to quickly find the catalogue number of a release, or so I can copy the URL from the address bar; a casual music fan may want to find out where your next gig is, or find some other piece of relatively trivial information. We may already be listening to some music. Obviously, we would like our listening pleasure to be disrupted by music coming from a source that may not be very obvious, and that is difficult to stop, except by the expedient of leaving your page. Do not attempt to dictate when people should listen to your music: make your player very obvious and give them the choice. Annoying people doesn’t win you fans.
- Wittily misrepresent your genre. I know genre labels are annoying: nobody likes to be pigeonholed, and if you are a genuinely creative musician, you may not fit any but the broadest genre description. A lot of time has been wasted on arguing whether band X is in genre Y, but they are still a useful shorthand, that enables music fans to briefly sketch the stylistic location of an act without having to go back to first principles. If you say you play death metal then someone who is looking for some death metal may well check out your music. If it turns out that you said it was death metal in order to highlight the absurdity of genre labels, or the impossibility of classifying your unfeasibly hip folktronica, you will annoy them. They will probably not become a fan, even though their taste might be broad enough that they would have done, had they encountered you in less irritating circumstances. Your genre label is a part of your communications to your audience: treat them with respect, and tell them something that gives them an idea of what to expect from you.
This Week’s Interesting Links
- http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2011/05/how-jonathan-coulton-made-500000-last-year-as-a-diy-musician.html This guy found a niche, and got picked up on through some totally non-standard promotional channels. The lesson for other DIY musicians? Don’t expect this, or waste your life chasing it, but be ready for it, and put yourself out there consistently to create opportunities.
- http://howtorunaband.com/2011/05/09/no-one-will-remember-your-band-10-ways-to-stop-being-forgettable/ Some good ideas to add to your growing list of ways to promote your band.
- http://www.liveunsigned.com/blog/2011/05/10-lessons-diy-artists-can-learn-from-frank-zappa/ An excellent post on the lessons to be learned from one of the most independent minds ever to grace the world of music.
- http://music3point0.blogspot.com/2011/05/economics-of-free.html A good brief outline of the principles of free distribution, and how it benefits the producer.
- http://www.livemusic24.co.uk/wp/2011/05/toots-maytals-tour-celebrate-50-years/ Now that is career longevity. It’s also a career that has maintained a consistently high standard, in stark contrast to the soon to be 50 Rolling Stones for example.
- http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/stories/051711vinyl#CIgdcAZL2XSQItGrN9AkmA Vinyl continues to grow in popularity: DIYers take note, and remember that physically packaged music is merch now. An LP may have more appeal than a CD: research shows most LP purchasers don’t own turntables.
- http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/stories/051911box#L-tWakR7hzoh-5jndnt8UA In bringing litigation against technologists the traditional recording industry seems to have found its preferred means of capitalising on the new landscape. To me it seems like an attempt to grab what they can while they can, with no sense of engaging with new opportunities and business models. I hope they die soon.