The FezGuys
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: <>. You can 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! Check <> for exact locations and tutorials on these formats.

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 <> URL).

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. Did we mention <>?



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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