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: 


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