The music industry was once a place of creativity and expression. This world of pitch, rhythm, and sound has morphed into a world of independence where artists can produce music without labels and where marketing and self-promotion is within the reach of every artist. Artists are now free to boycott major brands, interact with fans via Twitter, and promote their gigs via Facebook. The negative side of this new found independence is the old misperception of “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. There is a large group of musicians that believe they can market themselves solely via word or mouth, flyers, and Facebook. And while the word of mouth and flyer route would have worked a decade or so ago, it doesn’t fly now. Musicians and bands now have an ability to reach into our lives at every possible point of our daily digital routines. From Twitter and Facebook to email and merch sales, bands and musicians are taking over the internet. And since this industry is huge, this take over isn’t just a trend – it is a literal movement.
But are musicians marketing the right way? According to a recent article by CNN, they’re not. The article, How Rockers (and you) Should Promote Online, listed ten common mistakes that musicians make in marketing. I think the number of ten was generously low. I think there are a lot more than ten issues but in most cases, I don’t think it is the artists’ fault. The large labels and music websites (and their greed according to the artists) have forced the independent musicians to go rogue and to utilize as much free resources as possible to promote themselves and their music. With reports from TheNextWeb.com claiming a artists make less than one penny per sale of downloads from iTunes and Spotify, its no wonder the musicians are taking matters into their own hands. If they don’t, they’ll surely starve.
Without question, the digital age has been both a blessing and a death sentence to today’s musicians.
I reached out to a number of experts to get their feedback on the good, bad, and ugly of music marketing. I asked their opinion and advice on best practices associated with music marketing. The feedback was impressive and very consistent. With the exception of a few outliers, virtually every expert had the same core beliefs.
Expert Advice for Music Marketing Through Social Media
A strong social media presence is important, but having a solid strategy and support website isn’t just an option, it is critical.
- Every musician, regardless of genre, must embrace social media. Ann Fontanella, the last protégé of the “Old Russian School” style of violin play and pedagogy, stated “I’ve found social media extremely helpful. I’ve booked concerts straight off my YouTube page and followers on my site have driven to some concerts in their area. It’s especially important for building your fan base. A personal connection can go a long way toward filling seats in a hall or in a master class! Additionally, since an understanding of just how classical music works is somewhat elusive to many people, it’s important to offer a background about the music being performed.” Those are some pretty powerful words coming from a musician who has appeared on NPR and is a commissioned composer. Some may say social media is only effective with the young hip-hop set, but Ann obviously proves otherwise.
- Facebook is a tool and not a complete marketing solution. Ann Marie Landry, who specializes in music publicity and social media marketing, stated “A website is crucial! There are so many artists out there right now who don’t understand this, and it’s not good. They believe that their Facebook Fan Page is the only thing they need. Yes, Facebook is a giant in social media, and it’s very important to utilize it as a tool, but artists should always be pointing back to their website. Why? This is where they should be selling their music. Isn’t that the point? To have people hear and buy your music? Your website will ALWAYS be yours. No one knows what Facebook will mean for musicians 5 years down the road.” Ann is absolutely right. If artists don’t want to hand their fate over to a major label or iTunes, why would they do so with Facebook?
Expert Advice for Music Marketing Via Websites
For the musician, everything should come back to the website. Whether it is a music flyer, a social media account, or a music sharing website, all roads should lead to the musician’s website. Why? Because it provides control over the user experience and it provides an opportunity to obtain statistical data. Musicians, just like any other company or brand marketing on the internet, need to be aware of incoming website traffic and what these visitors do one reaching their website.
- Dorian Smith, a music marketing maven who supplies materials to large entities like Pandora and MTV, said “As much as it’s great to focus solely on social sites to connect directly with fans, a professional website also gives you deeper control of the statistical analysis – something which is greatly limited on social networks.”
- Another great comment came from Elvira Kalnik, a singer, songwriter, and producer. Elvira said “Online publicity is a number one promotional tool for artists. If you don’t publish, you’ll vanish.”
- One of my other favorite advice tidbits was from Cathy Beck, a musician and Account Executive at Grey Sky Films. Cathy refers to a website your home base and states “A website is a MUST-HAVE for any band or artist. This is the place where you have an opportunity to be found, showcase yourself, promote gigs, connect with fans and other artists, sell your merch, house your music, videos, photos, and so much more. Your website is your digital home base.“
All three are absolutely right. You absolutely need a website and you need to use it wisely. It is one thing to know you have 900,000 Twitter followers, but it provides much more value to know 3% of them read and responded to your latest tweet about a new song you dropped. Knowing how many came to your website based on the tweet, how many listened to the song, and what their thoughts were through comments is critical. It also takes a typical song release from an announcement and turns it into a 360 feedback system. And it also gives you an opportunity to turn that tweet into a ticket sale or song purchase.
Every Musician or Band Website Should Include
- About Section or Biography – Connecting with fans means allowing them to connect with you the musician. Tell your story and let the fans relate to the real you. If you grew up in the projects, say that you did. You’ll not only connect emotionally with a young fan, you might even inspire them to do more than they previously thought they could. If you went to The Juilliard School, mention this in your biography or about page. You’ll win the hearts of other Juilliard students and/or those who aspire to go to this school. Barry Donegan, a musician and inside expert on the music industry, offers some great advice with his blog post titled The Features of an Effective Artist Bio on Gazzmic.com.
- Interactive Media – Music is personal. Make your website personal by allowing visitors to easily listen to your music and watch your videos. WordPress does a great job of making this super easy. There are discography plugins and multiple ways to display videos – especially if these are on YouTube.
- Imagery – A picture is worth a thousand words. When you’re an artist, it is worth a thousand music downloads. Gia Joliee, a dancer, actress, and up and coming pop singer, put this concept into very simplistic and powerful words by saying “Websites must have a bio page that allows fans to see the girl behind the voice. I’m also a big fan of choosing candid pictures and pictures of yourself before fame so people see you’re a real person just like everyone else.” Whether you include these images in your bio page or you add them into an elaborate photo gallery, although the word to see the real you in both past and present form. Let fans connect with the geeky child or the gangly teenager so they can fully relate to the lovable you.
- Links to Social Media Websites – If you want people to follow you on Twitter and like you on Facebook, make it super easy for them. Put distinctive icons or interactive buttons in your website header. Don’t expect fans to search for these on your contact page or worse yet, barry them in your footer. The harder you make it for fans to see these icons, the less usage you will have.
- Email Capture – You need to have an ability for fans to follow up and you can’t expect them to automatically check your website for updates. Let them sign up for updates via an RSS feed like Feedburner or an email newsletter like Constant Contact or MailChimp. And one of the most important things people miss, is make sure this sign up box is easy to see (above the fold) and easy to use (without captcha).
- Merch Sales – If you don’t want to give away all your profits, take back control of your merchandise sales. WordPress has oodles of plugins that build out an e-commerce website within minutes. While a WordPress store isn’t a solution for everyone, it can be a great solution for independent musicians.
- Fresh Content – Nothing screams run away like a website that hasn’t been updated in two years. Don’t hire someone to build your website and leave it as is for five years. Nurture it and add fresh content to it often and you will capture the love of your fans and search engines alike.
- No Flash – Musicans like eye candy. It is just part of their creative side. Unfortunately much of this eye candy is created with flash, which is not viewable with iPads and iPhones. Flash can create creative beauty, but it won’t matter if a large part of your target audience can’t view it.
- Solid Design Because it Does Matter – While you can buy off the self music themes (we sell two ourselves), nothing will set you apart like a custom designed website. Ernie Dempsey, a music industry staple since 1999, stated “With a website a group can express their genre, style, character, personality, and a bunch of other things just from the design aspect alone. Those are things that don’t really translate if you rely solely on a Facebook or MySpace page. A website is a way to show the world who you are and you can do it with so much greater reach than just trying to do things the old-fashioned way with flyers and kissing ass.” Ernie sums it up in a very frank way, which is always good for my soul. Have something designed for you so it adequately portrays the real you from genre to your band’s personality. If you can’t afford a custom design (they typically start at about $2,500) find the right website theme that matches your band’s brand and music style. Don’t just grab a free WordPress theme and throw up a website. You might do more damage than good. Love your website and make it a 100% embodiment of who and what you and your band are and what you represent.
- Navigation That is Toddler Proof – Laura George, The Business Coach for Creatives, stated “A website can make or break an artist. In this day and age, the first place someone goes to is your website. Did they see a flyer for your band’s Friday night gig? If they did, they’re going to Google your band’s name and if they don’t see a website, they’ll forget about the concert. If they click over to your site, it better be easy to navigate and have some of your music available to listen to for free, or they’re still going to forget about the concert.” I always tell our website design clients that a website visitor is like a toddler. You need to quickly capture their attention and give them clear navigation to what they specifically need. Make sure you have clearly defined content for new fans, existing fans, media, or venue owners. These four types of people are referred to as website personas. Your website and navigation needs to meet the needs of all these people and it needs to do so quickly. You have about three seconds to capture a toddler’s attention and your website visitor is about the same.
- Solid SEO Because it Isn’t Just for the Geeks – SEO, aka search engine optimization, is important. Erin Cheyne, a marketer and former touring musician, talks about this very well by stating “I was a touring musician before I began working in marketing. I’d say it’s essential for performing artists to have a website – beyond it being a solid medium for promoting upcoming shows and album releases, it also helps with your search engine ranking. If someone sees you perform for the first time and hasn’t heard of you, it’s possible that they can find your site in the search engine without remembering exactly what your band name is.” You don’t want some third party website showing up above your website for your name, song titles, or albums. You need to make sure your website, theme, and content support SEO best practices. You can write blog posts until you’re exhausted, but they need to be based on quality SEO. And for heaven sakes, stay on the white hat SEO side of tactics. Black may be cool in the music world, but black hat SEO is not. Google it and read about it, so you make sure you are not in violation of Google and Bing’s quality guidelines.
What’s Holding Musicians Back?
Don’t think all of this is outside of your reach. It isn’t. WordPress, Facebook, and free information (like this blog post) all make internet marketing within the reach of every artist. Whether you’re on a budget or have a fat marketing budget, you can do a quality job of marketing on the internet. It just needs a plan, a good website, and some ongoing attention.
Hubert Sawyers III, a former hip-hop artist who is currently a marketing strategist by day and a music consultant by night, does a great job discussing this in a blog post titled 7 Reasons Why You Need to Build Your Own Music Website. Hubert’s article discusses seven reasons to take the website plunge. They include legitimacy, autonomy, control, flexibility, information, simplification, and potential. My favorite comment of his was “Sure, people can discover you on Twitter, but you should want them to check out your website. That is where you can truly get their attention.”
Hubert is right. Remember the door-to-door salesmen from the 70s? If they got their foot in the door, they had a much greater chance of landing that sale. If today’s recording artists can get people to their website, they have a much better chance of selling music downloads, concert ticket, and merchandise. The door-to-door salesman is similar to today’s musician. The artist might have a lot better clothing, but the core principle is the same. Get personal and you can get revenue.
Check Out Our New Music Themes for WordPress
This month we released two premium WordPress themes designed specifically for musicians. The music themes include everything mentioned above and more. From music listening and video watching to merch sales and email captures, our Lillian and Dagmar themes have an out of the box solution for a variety of musicians and bands. We built these templates as child themes for the Genesis Framework, so they are SEO friendly, robust, and they have a great music look and feel. They also come with a variety of color options to they can be matched to your style and genre.
Stop by our online theme store to learn more or demo the new themes. If you need help setting up the theme and getting you started, we can help with that too. From theme deployment to custom website design, we here to help.
Articles Mentioned in this Blog Post
- How Rockers (and you) Should Promote Online
- How much does an artist make from a single stream of a song on iTunes Match and Spotify?
- The Features of an Effective Artist Bio
- 7 Reasons Why You Need to Build Your Own Music Website
Music Experts Mentioned in this Blog Post
Ann Marie Landry
Hubert Sawyers III
Ann Marie says
Thanks so much for the quote, Rebecca! Great post, and I’m loving the Lillian theme. I will recommend it the next time an artist asks what they should use to create their website.
Rebecca Gill says
You are welcome Ann Marie. Thanks so much for weighing in with advice on the blog post.