Making Music: December 2000
Stories of success
Sean McManus talks to some successful online bands about what promotional tools have worked for them
Each month MP3.com gives a million dollars away under its 'payback for playback' scheme to the bands who post their music on the site for free download. The cash is split up according to how many downloads each band gets, with the top earner taking home a cheque for nearly US$20,000 (about £13,500) in the last published month (July).
Ambient artist Transoceanic is one of the top UK earners on MP3.com, having received US$21,000 over the last year and US$9,000 in their best month alone. Richard Jones of the band says: "It was quite a surprise to us that downloads were more profitable than CD sales. Once you have realised that, you might decide that it's better to allow people free access to all your tracks." The band has sold about 200 made-on-demand CDs at the site, earning a total of around US$800 at 50% royalties.
He advises bands to invest their promotional time wisely. "Too many musicians I see on MP3.COM spend lots of time swapping downloads with other musicians. While there is a place for that if you want to get yourself heard for the first time, the next day that person is not going to download your music again unless you also download his music again. So find things that last. For example, if you can convince a conventional or web-based radio station to add you to their playlist, that might have a longer term payoff, since you might be on that playlist for a long time."
Jones says that search engines are ineffective because they only enable people to find you who already know about you. Rich Newman from Tagyerit has one solution. The band builds pages about subjects people might be interested in, and puts the music in the background. "We have a pumpkin carving website with some truly whacky creations and carving tips," says Newman. "It received over 18,000 unique visitors last October 1999, and mid September 2000 we're already getting 200 visitors a day. We provide a music clip for our song SciFi on the page as well as our logo and links back. Second to that is our popular Whole World Toilet Paper Museum which features the song 'Embarrassed'. This gets about 1,000 unique visits a month."
Hakan "Master Zap" Andersson has written music software that brings traffic to his site, and agrees with Newman on the importance of drawing people in with content. He's made US$20,000 from the payback for playback scheme, and US$1000 from on-demand CDs. He's been with MP3 since the site launched and gets 1000 viewers a day at his MP3.com page. "Get a real site," he says. "Don't bother trying to promote an MP3.com URL because they're considered tacky by most people. Buy a proper domain name and never promote a URL you do not own." He notes that banner adverts are a waste of time.
While ownership of your domain name seems like good advice, you can still incorporate your MP3.com page within your main site. "Incorporate your main site to be your MP3.com site. It is well worth it," say Jaen MaeWyn and Hanz Ulrich of metal band Aurtakis. The band gets around 300 hits a month and has sold 100 CDs and earned US$750 in payback earnings in nine months. "With MP3.com you get to put your own html in the top area of your page. So add yourself to webrings, banner adverts, search engines, anything you can think of. Also make a station on MP3.com for your band. It really goes a long way." They advise that bands put their website address on everything and say that they've found it a waste of time sending press releases to radio stations.
Dennis Barton of acid techno band Skylab says that press releases can help if sent to magazines. "I think that print is very powerful. It never hurts to be in magazines." The band's MP3.com page gets over 200,000 hits a month, which has earned US$24,000 and sold 40 CDs. Although many bands online are studio bands, Skylab depends on gigs to promote the site. "We have stickers and all that, but word of mouth and a hardcore touring schedule is the best promo for us: the Grateful Dead tactic."
He also urges bands to consider all the promotional opportunities available. "They are all effective to some degree. I think that unless you are a brand name it's hard to get people to buy your product. You have to get people to remember your name. Multiple reminders, from multiple sources is the key to advertising."
PPK is a New Russian Trance band produced by Sergey Pimenov. The band has earned a decent salary from its MP3.com payback alone, taking home US$38,146 in nine months. "The most effective method seems to be a link in a popular site or review in a popular magazine. The broadcast of our first video-clip on Russia's MTV also helped us very much. We used computer animation to include our urls into the clip. At once the website attendance increased from 1000 to 7500 during one day."
Although the promotion is important, Pimenov believes the most important factor is the music. "If your music is good - people will find it," he says. "Music is the Key."