21 October 2005
Fifteen top music promotion tips
Sean McManus outlines top tips for promoting your music online.
- Give it away: You'll have to give your music away at the start. Put MP3s on your website or at least have the facility to hear whole songs. People won't buy CDs or downloads unless they have a clear idea of what to expect from them. The thing about posting samples is that people will play them once, think 'that's nice' and move on. People will download MP3s and listen to them frequently if they're a good match for their taste. These are the listeners most likely to become customers. There is no way - in this world, or the next - that a new act will sell CDs on the basis of lyrics and photographs.
- Get your MP3 tags right: If people rediscover your MP3 in their iPod or hard drive months later, make sure they can still track you down. Make sure your artist name and song name appear in the appropriate tags of the MP3, and put your website address in for the album name. Try to put your website address in the filename too.
- Get into a box: We all like to think we're special and unique, but that's a hard sell. Don't be afraid to put your music into an appropriate category (rock, pop, folk, electronica etc) and to spread it far and wide all over the web through distribution websites. These are good at pointing listeners in the right direction when they're looking for something new.
- Have your own website: While community sites play their part, it's easy to get lost in a vast catalogue. Build your own website, promote it and attract a following. Buy your own domain name too - when MP3.com changed ownership, lots of bands saw their online presence vanish overnight. They had no claim to the website hosted by MP3.com they had spent years promoting. If you've got your own domain name, you can always change where it points to later, and keep ownership of the incoming visitors.
- Have a story: When people arrive at your website, you've still got to encourage them to stick around to listen to some music. Think about what your angle is. What do you write about? What kind of mood do you create? Why are you different?
- Solicit testimonials: Ask your customers to write reviews of your music. Get them to post reviews on the community sites that accept reviews and ratings, and put reviews on your own site. If you get press coverage, use it! It adds credibility to your website.
- Build a community: People will keep coming back to your site if they can meet like-minded people there and talk to them.
- Be business-like: Whether you want listeners to pay you directly or a major label to shovel money your way, you're being paid for a service. So attend to enquiries promptly and maintain good relations with your customers. It's easier to sell a second album to people who bought the first than it is to find a whole new audience for the new album. Think of ways to delight your listeners: offer a 14 day guarantee on CDs to stimulate sales (the EU distance selling directive grants this to online shoppers anyway) and send fans a new MP3 on their birthdays.
- Take control: Don't wait for success to happen to you. Build an audience. Whether that's a substantial mailing list, email list or gig audience, it doesn't matter. As long as it's people who have asked to hear from you and are likely to buy your album, it's a valuable asset. The best way to grab a record company's attention is by becoming successful independently.
- Gig: If you're in the business of gigging, put information for people who might want to book you on your website. Publish the kinds of events you're happy to play and provide a phone number for more information. Again, be business-like.
- Keep it simple: music marketing has a lot to do with image, but some websites put this before the music. Don't forget people are there to read about you, listen to your work, see your photos and interact with you. They're not usually there to watch a 5 minute animation before they can do any of that. The easier your site is to use, the more likely it is to sell music. Simplicity pays.
- Make it easy to pay you: Take cash at gigs and in local record shops, cheques by post, credit cards online. How easy can you make it for customers to buy your album?
- Network: If you're trying to get the attention of music journalists and record labels, the best way to do this is by getting a personal introduction. Meet people at concerts, industry events and through fan events for similar bands.
- Recognise taste: Not everyone will like your music, so concentrate your energy on finding those who will. This applies to listeners, journalists and record labels equally.
- Educate yourself: You might find my book Web Design in Easy Steps useful in planning, setting up and operating your online business. If you don't take your band's website seriously as a business opportunity, it's always going to remain a hobby.