Online Music Revisited: An Introduction
Amid graduate woes and grooming my moustache, I’m giving my pal Josh Wintrup a boost of publicity. These days I believe it crucial to promote songwriters in an internet smothered with infant pop idols and Gangnam Style parodies. As I scoured the web for platforms and promotional tools I became increasingly in need of a guide – most of my help was gathered through sly Googling and a bit of guesswork. While I enjoy submerging myself in this way, it’s understandable why others don’t. You musicians are a creative bunch whose talents are best suited to the stage and coffee-stained lyric sheets. All you really want is a guide – as I did for Josh. The results of this little project have left me with some know-how about the business, and in an act of great philanthropy I’d like to share it with you. Welcome to Online Music Revisited.
Congratulations, you recorded an EP! It’s easier than ever to get decent recordings – whether in your bedroom, your local church or a makeshift studio above the pub. The next step is to build a strong foundation you can roll off your tongue at gigs and events. By this I mean a network of websites that make your music accessible to the wider public. You’d be optimistic to think this spells success – that comes later – but it helps considerably. With so much out there it’d be rude not to. Furthermore, the ways of pulling this off are free and simple; there’s nothing in this blog you can’t do with a computer and an internet connection. There’s little (if any) coding, no extras to pay for, no contracts to sign and no design wizardry. All you need is time and a passion for marketing your music.
The first part of this blog will take you through the platforms you’ll want for a solid online presence. I’m going to talk you through each website, explaining how best to use its exclusive perks. To stop you salivating here’s a general idea of where we’ll be going:
…and no doubt a few more. The game is constantly changing.
Why such a range? Until Google take over the world there will always be niche websites whose developers care that little more for musicians’ needs. They offer services that cater specifically to the artist. The time and labour of such features do not necessarily benefit large social networks that revel in photos of dinner plates. Unfortunately – by nature of being niche websites – there’s no service that offers an unbeatable deal. BandCamp, for example, dedicates resources to converting and packaging large files as an EP release. It’s great for showing off your work at the cost of social integration. SoundCloud, on the other hand, boasts a community of musicians who listen to and critique your work. It’s an invaluable service, but one that relies on a sporadic layout. Every platform has its positives and drawbacks. Only through using them all will you benefit from the full range of online support.
Conversely, you are dependent on the larger corporations for fan support. An overwhelming majority of listeners use Facebook or Twitter, so it figures that you would have them to let fans like and follow you. There’s also the variety of tastes to account for; some users slog through YouTube for online music, while others prefer the focus of a SoundCloud page. A few, I’m told, still lurk on MySpace. By creating this many sites (for free, lest we forget) you are widening your chances of being noticed as well as catering to as many preferences as possible. The bigger the net, the larger the catch. Here’s a rough graphic to give you an idea of what I’m getting at.
2. Creative Hibernation
It looks far better ‘coming out’ when backed by a wealth of microsites. Tempting as it may be to share the moment one is setup, your user (who, let’s face it, is initially your mate) will listen, congratulate you and run into a dead end. What’s there to “like”? Who to follow? Similarly, don’t invite everybody to your Facebook page having uploaded only one demo; the novelty that a friend makes music will soon wear off and without a body of work behind it, your tune will fade into obscurity. Attentions spans are short and people are fickle, remember that. Throw everything at them and something is bound to make a lasting dent.
With that in mind, your first move it to be patient and assume a state of creative hibernation. Know your sites well, familiarise yourself with their features and weave them together before any declaration that you’re the next Nick Drake. Each platform works by its own rules. To get them up to scratch you’ll end up with heaps of different-sized banners, profile pictures, EP covers and more in your documents folder. The same goes for your recordings. Some sites accept FLAC files, some MP3, while others only allow songs of certain length. Recording your music was just the beginning. You’ll be tearing what’s left of your hair out compressing data but tear it you must. You’ll be thankful when the time comes to promote with a solid backing.
Some basic tips and good habits:
- Be thorough. Scrutinise every form and sub-menu in every site. In-site tutorials aren’t often clear, and can overlook some of the best tools. Be careful not to skim past any attractive design choices or link-building opportunities.
- Be organised. There’s no blanket look or setting that’s optimised for every platform so set aside a few evenings for tweaking. Keep all your original recordings and artwork in their uncompressed format, be it FLAC, AIF or Photoshop PSD. You can downsize them at a later date. Make a basic, large banner (aka header image/cover photo) and keep in mind that it will be cropped, shrunk and skewed depending on the site requirements. I’ll let you know the dimensions as we go along. Bookmark your sites in your browser, and get into a habit of revisiting each one when you make an update. It looks unprofessional when social networks aren’t updated in harmony, especially when you consider how little time it takes to make changes.
- Be consistent. Try and make design choices recur throughout your sites. This distinguishes your brand and makes it easier for users to navigate through your music network. The same goes for your songs; consider track order, song description and lyrics as uniform. Which leads me nicely to…
- Transcribe your lyrics. Search engines recognise words, not sounds. However strange it seems that you should index your new-world, pagan poetry, it’s worth investing in the great bank of Google. The raw data of your site will increase tenfold and that benefits your search rank to no end. Take the time therefore to document your lyrics. It goes without saying that spelling and punctuation should be slick; unless its a design choice that fits with your image, a scrawl of misspelt, lower-case lyrics look unprofessional.
- Be informative. Too often artists leave their song information blank. Be sure to complete every field where possible. Who played the steel guitar? Who designed your cover art? Which studio helped you out? Link to these people if they’re online. Not only does link building bulk out your SEO, its also a courtesy your peers will appreciate.
- Record covers. Your songs are great (I know, right?) yet you owe them to a heritage of styles and influences. Honour them. It may be disheartening to hear that users are more likely to search Bob Dylan than you. A great cover can act as a stepping stone between the curious listener and original music. While this is not directly relevant to setting up a network, I thought it worth mentioning at this early stage for good practice.
So you know the score – be prepared, organised and scrupulous. Setting this up can seem a little daunting, but all it boils down to is a series of good decisions, data entry and endless file uploads. Let us now enter hibernation and go through your sites one-by-one to understand a little more about them. Our first port of call: Bandcamp.