You Don't Need A Record Contract!|
[ Feature - May 1998 ]
The Internet is the most profound technological change in the
creation, distribution and commerce of music since the invention
of recorded media. Much of what the music industry depends on
for a reliable and comfortably accepted infrastructure is in
transition. The good news is that everybody can relax. Great
music will drive the as-yet-undecided standards. But for now
there's no right way of doing things. Take heart and grab a
mouse. Whatever you do makes a difference. The proof is in
the pudding. Major artists have taken advantage of the technology
with spectacular results. (The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince
has sold one-hundred thousand albums on his website through
mail-order only. No advertising, no radio) In the trenches
thousands of independent musicians and recording studios have
sold more albums than most major-label releases by narrow-casting
their music to a niche market. (Did you know that 97% of all
major-label releases sell less than 700 albums? The business
relies completely on a handful of multi-platinum sellers to
keep itself afloat!) Creating a Web presence for yourself and
your music isn't mysterious, it's merely technological. And
that means there are clear methods and means to arriving at
financial viability as an independent musician.
Who can take advantage of these tools? You can, even if you're
a complete computer neophyte. Whether you're performing as a
solo artist or in a band, whether you're running an independent
record label or recording studio; if you have a phone line
you're ready to go. As Mary Poppins said: "A job begun is half
done." Let's begin with a checklist.
Buy, beg, borrow or steal (well, sort of) a website. If you
don't have a computer, get one. They cost about the same as
a good guitar. Get as fast a modem as you can and an online
account through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). All of
this information is finely detailed and documented, with numerous
pithy examples, on our website:
get started on your own website very easily. We're not kidding:
it's not a big deal. And it's fun because it involves creativity.
If you don't want to do it yourself find a friend who will do
it for you. Or find someone who works at your ISP and ask them
if they'd like to moonlight. In the process of creating your
site; think efficiency and simplicity. Keep your graphical
images small and your writing clear. A simple architecture
for easy manuevering is key. Let your particular artistic
sensibility drive your end result, just like the music you
create or service you provide. Post several pieces of individual
songs for quick auditioning and then the entire song itself.
Provide these songs (the heart of your "content") in both
streaming and download-only files and in a variety of Internet
audio formats. Use MP3, RealAudio, Audioactive, Liquid Audio,
anything and everything. Most of these tools are free downloads.
Don't forget to listen to them yourself before putting them
out into the ether for the world to enjoy-- this way you can
feel confident that an enjoyable experience will be had by all!
for exact locations and tutorials on
Other ideas for your website: let people vote on various song
clips you put up. Add new stuff regularly. Have a public
comments page. In short, find ways to justify regular updates
that keep people interested and coming back for more.
For the independent recording studio there are a number of
Web-based techniques that will benefit your business. Because
an increasing number of your potential clients want to provide
songfiles on their websites you can offer ready-to-go files of
recorded material in a variety of formats. Your clients will
leave your studio with an analog master tape of finished music
and a digital master disk of Web-optimized song files. It's
not rocket science.
A website gives you the central nest for your constituency to
come home to. The way to keep track of (and keep in touch
with) your fans is through email. Every time a fan emails you
write them back promptly. Be concise and polite. Just like
writing thank you notes to Grandma for that adorable birthday
present. Offer (always ask for permission) to place their
email addresses on a subscription list from your site only.
Create a master list of your subscribers and send messages
periodically about new music or relevant shows, tours and events
you've posted on your site. Never sell or trade your email
lists. Nobody likes spam and there's too much of it already.
Promote your email and website address (URL or Universal Resource
Locator - your Internet address) everywhere you represent
yourself. On your CDs, t-shirts, business cards, stationery,
faxes, or bass drum head. Tag it wildly with compelling urban
graphics on giant corporate billboards. Don't get caught!
A word about URLs and email addresses. If possible, keep them
short. The shorter the better, because it makes them easier
to remember. Get your own domain name (i.e.: "fezguys" in the
There are two obvious ways to sell your music online: mail-order
and downloads. Mail-order is tried and true. Fans want to
support artists whose music they like and will gladly use the
United States postal system to do this. If you are selling
physical product via mail-order process your orders quickly.
Selling downloadable music files from your site is less
straightforward but nonetheless technologically feasable. You
will need the services of an online banking system. They're
easy to find and very happy to help. Since your potential
customer must provide credit card information and answer a
number of questions keep your interface simple and straightforward.
Provide useful information such as: the size of the file to be
downloaded and the approximate time it will take at various
modem speeds (check
for a table of times).
If you perform your music; play a lot. Play anywhere and
everywhere. There is not now, nor will there ever be, a
substitute for the intimacy and power of live music. This is
your most powerful mojo.
Speaking of mojo... let's talk about the person who likes your
music. Treat them well. Be polite. It's the accepted truth
in the music business that word of mouth is your most powerful
promotional pixie dust. If you're a small or independent
musician or record label forget about banner ads on websites
and opt for trading promotion with similar bands and like-minded
individuals. Forget newsprint ads and radio spots. Be nice
to your people and they will tell everyone they meet about you.
That's personal testimonial and can't be bought. Ever.
Think about the possibilities. If you listen to the radio you
are hearing about one tenth of one percent of the total musical
output of the human race. Whether you play jugband music on
banjos and washtubs or industrial gamelon tone poems on steel
railroad materials there is a group of people who want to hear
your music. They will NEVER hear your music on corporate radio.
They will probably never hear your music at the listening booth
of a large CD store. But you are able to provide both of these
worlds (and many more) through your website. A small touring
band, a tireless coffeeshop singer, a soundtrack composer, a
mid-level manager employed at a suburban manufacturing facility
with an eight-track digital studio in the closet; anyone can
get usefulness and create community using a Web presence.
All of the tools and techniques necessary to perform all of
the above-mentioned functions can be found on our website in
common-sense language and straightforward explanation. Contact
us and we will respond to you. We'll help any way we can.
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