Wednesday, October 27, 2010

7 Steps To An Easier Online Musical Presence

I've been wracking my brain for over a year now, inching my way towards an online operating existance I call "auto-pilot". I wanted to get to this point before I released any more new music.

The challenge is this: Make it as little work as possible to gather fans, push music out them, keep them updated, and publicize events and releases. This means everything done online, whether it be blog entry, a new song, a new show, or a status update, should have the effect of a stone thrown in a pond: One throw, many ripples.

People (musicians) have been asking me how I did all this, so I'm here to spill the beans on what I can remember, and what I've learned. Keep in mind, this is an evolving process (it's the worldwide web), and your mileage my vary; please customize as you wish. Be patient, methodical, and purposeful, and when frustrated, put down the mouse and pick up the guitar. This will work for you, and if you ever see me, buy me a beer at the bar as a giving of thanks.

I've tried to keep this free of too much techno-jargon, and understandable to the uninitiated. I've included my own sites as examples of "how I did it". As you yourself go through the actual process, it will certainly help if you have (or a friend has) a basic understanding of HTML code.

1. Reverb Nation is the Bomb.

I can't say enough good things about this site. In one location I'm able to list  shows, manage an email fan list, upload music, generate a press kit, even host an online store. I can also push out various functions such as Fan email collectors, Show Itineraries, and Music Players via "Widgets" that can be  embedded on other sites and blogs. The profile page could use some cosmetic  help, but what it's really about is Reverb Nation's "behind the scenes" engines;  they drive most everything else out there for me; add a show or a song on Reverb Nation, it gets updated elsewhere. Heck, when I send an email to fans from Reverb Nation, they let me post a link to the email on other sites so non-email list members can read the missive too.

2. MySpace Stinks - So don't get rid of it.

The recent "Quit MySpace Day" was perpetrated by operatives who work with BandCamp and SoundCloud; it was an amusing, but silly ruse. Sure, MySpace is ugly, klunky, owned by Rupert Murdoch and some major record labels, and it's never lived up to it's promise(s); it's still an important online outpost though. Google yourself; your MySpace Music page consistently shows up near the top. Remember, bookers, journalists, and other "industry types" still use your MySpace page as a "one-stop-shop" information-destination.

However: Forget about adding gig info here, and get rid of the MySpace music player. Swap in a Reverb Nation music player, fan email collector and show itinerary widgets. Synch up Myspace to Reverb Nation and your Facebook Fan Page by tweaking their respective "settings" panels, make sure you provide links from MySpace to any other important things (videos, etc.) and... Congratulations - you just put MySpace in animated suspension; you'll never go back there unless you want to change a pretty color or something. Bonus: If you use the new MySpace profile 2.0, you can add a custom banner. Whee.

3. Be the Blog.

A blog (for instance, the one you're reading) is the one place you can add/post/write about pretty much whatever you want in just about any form, including embedding music players (from Reverb Nation), putting up artwork, large-format photos... you name it, you've got a blank canvas. Treat it as your periodic "fan newsletter" if you like, or more. While you're at it, in the sidebar of your blog, be sure to embed music player, show itinerary, Twitter, and fan email gathering widgets. I use blogger for both my personal music blog (you're reading it) and the Songtrails Radio Hour Blog.

Synch up things so that when you post a new blog entry, a link to that entry gets auto-placed on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc.

Still from the "Bridget" Video - p.donnelly

4. YouTube account.

This, of course, is where your music vids will reside. Of course, you'll want to embed video players at your various sites, but you'll also want to save even more work (natch) by having new videos and favorites auto-post to other sites, so synch/link this account with your Reverb Nation, MySpace, Twitter accounts, and with your...

5. Facebook Fan Page.

Assuming you've already got one of these (if you don't, stop reading right now and get one - it's where your fans are), go ahead and add a "Band Profile" tab, which is generated via your Reverb Nation account. Of course, you're already busy at work linking this very important FB Fan page to all the other music sites you're using.

6. Linking it all together.

While this really is the trickiest part, and one that requires a lot of trial and error, hopefully you've been doing this site-by-site as you go along. My experience with having all these sites "talk" to each other is that you'll need to... Investigate, link 'em up one at a time, then test 'em one at a time. If it's broke fix it, if it ain't broke, don't you DARE touch it - move on to the next link in the chain to be worked on. When something goes wrong, change only one setting at a time. Be patient; sometimes it will take a while for your new post at Blogger to show up over at your Facebook pages. The hard work, boredome and monotony will pay off, trust me. Coffee will help. Frustrated? Step away and pick up the guitar.

One major component is Facebook Applications (albeit with their inherently clunky workings), which permit a load of cross-pollinating to/from your FB Fan page. I had to bite the bullet and also get a Twitter account, which for now functions as a "bridge" between certain sites that have trouble "talking" to each other. People (younger demographic, too) WILL follow you at Twitter as well, so it's probably worth having, even if just on auto-pilot. Room for future expansion here.

7. Bandcamp: Bigger bomb-diggity than Reverb Nation; In fact, it's the crown jewel.

Or, getting your own website/URL hosted on the cheap

This was the big surprise in the whole process; because on the surface, Bandcamp is just another site to host your music. But it's oh SO much more.

I signed up (free), and uploaded some some songs. Fine. Then I realized that BandCamp lets you sell music directly to fans (suck eggs, iTunes), lets them name their own price, and collects fan emails in exchange for free downloads (Reverb Nation will also do this for you). They also let you REALLY design your own page, but here's the kicker:

Once you obtain your very own URL (such as courtesy of a domain registration service like Go Daddy, Bandcamp will actually let you have that URL "point" at your Bandcamp page, while still displaying said custom URL! ( I believe this is called "DNS Mapping" or something.)

Do the math: You just got a custom domain and some free web hosting for very little money, boys and girls.

Fold in some smart HTML Image Mapping (attached to a custom header image) at Bandcamp, and you've got a website with URL of your choice that links everything together. Again, you need to be versed in some basic HTML code, image-mapping, and web-hosting stuff, but face it: This is 2010 and you need to suck it up, or at least find someone who can do it for you. Barter!

Your old road is rapidly changing
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand
For the times, they are a-changin'

See how other artists are using BandCamp.

Downside: The work is never done.

But for you, there's a lot less of it now. There's always some tweaking to do, some issues to investigate and solve. For instance, do I really need my music on Reverb Nation (for music widgets), Bandcamp (selling/bartering music direct to fans) AND iTunes (because everyone else is there)? For now, the answer is yes. But check back in a few hours...

[ 10/26/2010 Update: sometimes sites you "link" together mysteriously stop "talking" to each other and things need re-setting. No one said it would be perfect. ]

Back to The Music

Remember actually Making Music? Welp, we've just freed up a bunch of time and put our minds at rest by getting our nitty-gritty, annoying, boring Inter-Web things set to auto-pilot. Now we can go create some music.

Next Techno-Web-Music Post:
Soundcloud, and all that IT can do. And... Here's a late entry in the web-hosting-for-music-artists category: 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Obsessive Compulsive Department: Basses 'n' Strings

If you're into bass, or even guitar, you'll find this interesting; if not, save yourself now and turn the channel... things are about to get really tedious, boring, and string-centric. MH

During my seasonal systematic cleaning, polishing and setup of my various basses, I decided it was time to get real (and keep it real) about string selection, particularly with respect to what string set would be best for each bass. Take notes, establish benchmarks, that sort of thing. Combining my existing experience with a load of research into availability, reviews, and pricing (I was up until 2am one recent night pecking away on the inter-web), I came up with the following list of instrument / string pairings. This list is of course tailored to me, and it's evolving by nature; your mileage may vary. Feedback (not from the bass amp) is always welcomed.

Dates, where noted, are the last time strings were put on the instrument. Except for the Danelectro tic-tac, all basses are four strings. Like Terry Day's t-shirt says,

"If four strings was enough for Willie Dixon, it's enough for me." 

Fender 1966 Precision Bass
(Photo: In-studio pajama overdubs, Libby Johnson "Perfect View" recording sessions.) The grand-daddy of all my basses. Bought in 1993 for
(please don't hate me) a measly $675 when I was with The Gripweeds, it's my recording log, and rarely sees the live stage. The butterscotch color is probably some sort of severely-yellowed Fender white. I've swapped out the tuners, knobs, bridge, and pick guard, but kept all the original parts stored away. The pickups and pots are still original. To duplicate the James Jamerson sound as closely as possible, I've been using La Bella 0760M "Deep Talkin'" Flat Wounds  (.52 .073 .095 .110). I don't even remember the last time I changed these puppies; like James did, I'll keep a set of strings on this bass forever. Bring on the funk, please... literally.

Lakland 2007 Duck Dunn Precision Bass 
My main stage bass, a dream to play. Candy-apple red with big fret markers, P Bass body and passive electronics, fast J Bass neck, Lindy Fralin pickups (which they longer come with; Lakland was sold in April 2010 and there's a whole new production workflow and supply, apparently. They now have Hanson pickups). Purchased a couple of years ago on Craigslist. I'm getting tempted to put a replacement tortoise shell pick guard on. Someday I'd like to get a Hip Shot D-Tuner slapped on to this bass, so that would mean a thicker E string, if not a thicker set all together. For now, to duplicate the strings and gauges that came on this bass from the factory, I chose GHS M3050 Precision Flatwound (.45 .65 .85 .105 - 10/5/2010).

Fender 2006 MIM Jazz Bass
(Photo: onstage with Los Blaggards, high above Major's Cove) This is my backup stage bass, bought out of necessity in Iowa City, IA (thanks, Berge) during the Jaguar Bass "problem-period" (more on this below). Midnight Wine color, and I swapped out the white pickguard for a tortoise-shell. Like the Lakland, right now it has a new set of GHS M3050 Precision Flatwounds (.45 .65 .85 .105 - 10/5/2010) but ideally, I'd like to go with a lighter gauge set to bring out more of the "J Bass" character, something like the GHS 3025 Flatwounds (.045 .060 .075 .095), or the La Bella equivalent.

Fender 2006 MIJ Jaguar Bass
It seemed like a good idea at the time; it took modifications to make it work right. J Bass neck and pickup profile. I immediately took it on the road with Matthew Grimm and the Red Smear, where it gave me unending electronic problems, to the degree that after the infamous Dallas TX show, I purchased the aforementioned Jazz bass in Iowa City, mid-tour. Back home, I had the active 9V electronics removed, and there was never a problem again. Only the pickup selector switches, volume and tone knobs remain functional.
Because I still want to have one bass with round-wound strings in the arsenal, and I had a couple of sets laying around, I've put on a set of Dean Markley MED 50-105 Medium Gauge Blue Steels. We'll see how that experiment goes. 

Carlo Robelli Acoustic "Freedom" Bass 
Yes, it has an eagle in the soundhole; I had to have Richie Havens sign it. I get a very pleasing "upright" sound from this instrument, especially if foam (or as some players do, a tampon - I have yet to try this) is put under the strings near the bridge. String selection on this one is an ongoing experiment. Right now, to keep tension low I've gone with a set of Fender 9050L Flatwounds, Light gauge (.045 .060 .080 .100). They're a bit bright, so I'm using a cloth or foam mute under the strings. A set of black nylon flat wounds might be really nice on this thing though.

Danelectro 6-String Bass
These Danelectro (Tic Tac) basses are typically strung up (.024, .034, .044, .056, .072 .084), all roundwounds.
They're tuned E to E one octave down from a normal guitar, sometimes with the top-note strings tuned to C and F instead of guitar-conventional B and E. I think the set I currently have on mine (another Craigslist buy) is single strings from the same manufacturer cobbled together. It's due for a new set very soon, and it will probably be a custom set once again. Danelectro's custom sets are apparently no longer available. Suggestions?

Some Context: Danelectro baritone guitars are apparently strung up .014 to .068. The standard set of GHS Electric Bass Boomers for Fender VI Bass 6-String (used extensively by the John Lennon and George Harrison in-studio when Paul was on piano) runs .025 to .095; this obviously yielded a much more bass-like tone.

Next up: Guitars

photos: Ray Reeves, Ingrid Silva, Paula Donnelly, Jim Marchese, Dave Henderson

Shots Fired In Dallas, TX


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