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Promoting Yourself Online

Top tips on how to showcase your music

The internet allows musicians to generate considerable career momentum and, on occasion, highly valuable revenue streams. However, it also presents potentially significant problems regarding the control of copyright and performers’ rights.

The Union is able to provide a concise overview of certain options available to musicians who are seeking to develop an online profile.The internet changes rapidly so do stay in touch to keep abreast of the latest news.

Phil Kear, MU National Organiser, Recording & Broadcasting

Stay in control

Choose an overall decision-maker for the blog/site’s look and content. Think about your audience. Your blog or homepage design should reflect the band’s musical style, not be a showcase for design skills.

Consistency

For a professional look, keep your blog or website’s colours, language and fonts consistent.

Get professional photos

Blogs and websites are visual gateways, so great photography is essential.

Choose the right name

Make sure your blog URL/website domain name does not clash with a big brand or unrelated subject so that fans can access your blog or your site easily and without confusion.

Rich content

Offer quick-loading MP3s and short video clips. Although broadband access is now the norm across the UK, do not equip the website with slow-to-load Flash animations, as users’ internet connections vary wildly in speed and capacity.

Make navigation obvious

Make toolbars and buttons easy to recognise and access.

Create a budget

Be realistic about costs. If you are employing an agency to build your website, make sure you are happy with its ethos and quoted price.

Let your fans interact

Be sure to include a way to contact you by email and, on a site, build a forum for fans, to spark discussions about your work and offer ideas to attract more users, plan tours and record releases, and so on.

Update regularly

Keep your blog or site interesting by posting daily/weekly updates.

The internet provides musicians with an unprecedented number of ways to showcase their creativity to the public, press and industry.

Advances in the way the internet operates mean that even the most non-technical musician can now put together an online presence which will help to gather a fanbase and keep them informed of live events, sell releases and merchandise, provide resources for the press, and even effectively reach the ears of the world’s A&R staff.

Whether you decide to launch a fullyfledged website, a blog, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel, a Facebook profile or all of them, you will undoubtedly benefit from putting your music online.

Online rights issues

Promoting music via the internet has ushered in a new era of rights issues. These apply whether you are launching a dedicated website, a social networking profile, or cutting online distribution deals with download sites. For detailed advice regarding online rights issues, please contact your Regional Office.

Social networking

You may wonder why everyone is all of a Twitter about social media and social networking. After all, the world will keep turning if you decide not to broadcast the exact details of what you had for breakfast across the internet.

But social networking is not just background noise, especially when it comes to musicians. When they are used well, social media provide simple, powerful ways to network and engage with audiences — both current and potential. Facebook includes a particularly useful events listings facility, while Twitter enables users to communicate with followers by posting ‘micro-blogs’ that are up to only 140 characters in length.

Doing the maths

Facebook has officially exceeded one billion users, and the web information company Alexa, which measures internet traffic, reported in 2013 that it was the second most popular website in the world, after Google. YouTube is third and Twitter is in tenth place.

Given the ever-shifting popularity of social networking sites, it is still wise to maintain your own website or blog.

Sharing, not shouting

Social networking is just another form of communication, one which encourages fans to interact with you. Each time you communicate, it does not necessarily have to involve a lot of text, you can always post a picture or a link to something you like.

Remember that social networking is a two-way process — essentially, it is a conversation, so do try and engage fans by talking to them rather than at them. And do not just talk about your releases and gigs, try engaging your online friends and followers with communications about your interests, which will deepen and strengthen their feeling of personal involvement with you, as an artist and a person.

Focused resources

Some musicians are joining more focused social networks, in order to engage with peers as well as potential listeners. These include the site for professional vocalists, Singers Pro (singerspro.com/uk). There are also classified advertising services, such as Join My Band (joinmyband.co.uk), which are making use of Facebook and Twitter.

For classical musicians, the London Symphony Orchestra has compiled a very helpful set of Twitter user-lists (twitter.com/londonsymphony/lists), which cover everything from orchestras and opera companies to composers and conductors.

Free accounts

A key draw with social media is the fact that the sites are often free to use, and as major record labels and PR companies use them as a major communication channel, it costs you nothing but time to replicate their promotional approach. However, although you may be tempted to set up a profile on every social networking site, it is much better to pick two or three and do them really well.

MU members who are unsure about the legal implications of placing their music on social networking sites should seek advice from their Regional Office before signing any user agreements.

A multi-channel approach

Having profiles on multiple social media sites need not mean spending hours painstakingly updating each one in turn. If you post on your own website or blog, you can use a free internet syndication tool to push the content to Facebook, Twitter and the like.

The major social networking sites also provide a range of simple tools to help you post links or status updates on other websites, such as Facebook’s profile badge-maker (facebook.com/badges) and Twitter’s free ‘widget’ and ‘button’ tools for users (about.twitter.com/ resources/buttons), which generate a web code for you to copy and paste.

A particularly exciting, if not a little daunting, element of allowing users to view or listen to content online is the fact that you will often be able to see exactly how many visitors your YouTube or Ustream page has received. However, some fans will be fair-weather friends. Having 2,000 people signed up to your Facebook page or Twitter feed does not mean you will sell 2,000 tickets or CDs.

But do not think you have to get everything right from the first time you log on. It can take time and practice to determine what works. Although it is vital to keep a flow of content that will interest people, you can learn what works best as you go along.

A blog or website of your own?

Thanks to easy-to-use software, creating and maintaining an effective website or blog is now a realistic option for any musician. Whether you just want to list your musical services or are an upcoming band aiming to impress a large fanbase, the internet is a great promotion tool on a local, national and global level.

Even if you have already got a Facebook profile, or plan to create one, a blog or website allows much more scope to create an all-encompassing online environment that reflects your musical approach, including a bespoke site design and storage for such press- friendly resources as high resolution pictures.

Your own blog or website also gives the opportunity to sell music and merchandise direct to your fanbase.

Setting up a blog offers a free and relatively easy alternative to creating a stand-alone website. Platforms such as WordPress and Blogger allow you to choose a URL and visual templates/ themes, upload photos and embed videos in your blog posts.

Primary concerns

Flyers publicise your name and CDs spread your music, but a website gives fans a window into your whole musical experience. Millions of broadband internet users across the UK are now geared up for rich content, and that means listening to music online, watching videos, cruising through stacks of band photos and even contributing their own remixes of your tunes.

First, you will need to decide whether you want to create the site yourself or find an agency to design one for you. If it is just a homepage with a few links and downloads that would suit, designing it yourself will be cheaper than getting someone else to do it.

If you are looking for a really individualistic site, boasting a unique visual approach, video footage, a web store and a fan forum, it might be better to hire a designer. Whether you are intending to build your own website or hire a designer, you need to decide on your goals and map out on paper what you want to include and, most importantly, fix yourself a budget.

Choosing a domain name

Getting the right website domain name isn’t always easy, but the more unusual your band or artist name, the better your chances that it won’t already be taken by another user.

Try to choose a domain name that’s short and easy to remember, either with ‘.co.uk’ or ‘.com’ at the end, as some people still try to guess URLs rather than searching for them on the internet, and they will try these first.

Domain registration services vary in their prices, but it usually costs less to purchase a ‘.co.uk’ name from UK providers. Many registration sites also have domain name checkers, so you can see if a particular one is available.

Design issues

A templated website-building package with a framework and tutorial features will make it easier to create your first website, and the end result will be a polished, functional site that really looks professional.

There are hundreds of website building products on the market, for both Mac and PC, with ease-of-use and features suitable for novice and expert alike. Ask friends, colleagues and reputable computer retailers for advice concerning a suitable package for your abilities and needs.

Another popular, and generally cheaper, option is to use online web building kits. The best thing about this avenue is that you have complete control, and the software provides templates for forums, galleries and MP3 players.

Whichever avenue you choose, it is crucial that you have a firm design plan so that the final result represents your work. The key design issues are navigation, accessibility, content and overall style.

Tips for working with designers

Should you have your website designed, built, maintained and hosted by a third party, do not make it easy for them to hijack your website or cause problems if you fall out:

  • Ensure that you get a written contract setting out the third party’s obligations to you and your site.
  • Ensure that the contract covers registration and ownership of the domain name.
  • Ensure that the contract provides for the transfer of the domain name to you if it is not initially registered in your name.
  • Ensure that the contract transfers ownership of copyright in the site to you.
  • Ensure that the contract allows for another third party to take over the site, obtain all necessary passwords and so on, if you decide to change host or commission a new designer.
  • Ensure all copyrights in the contents of the website (words, music, photos, artwork, clips) are assigned to you or that you have written permission to use them.
  • Ensure no one can post anything on your site you are not happy with or that is libellous or infringes anyone’s rights.

Site style and navigation

You should allow visitors to your website to access the information that changes most often (news or gigs, perhaps) as quickly as possible. Beware of visual clutter and hidden menus.

Fans want information, so your homepage needs to be ordered. You can have fun with the design, but make sure the colours and fonts you use are not garish.

Accessibility is crucial. For example, using such features as cascading style sheets (CSS) ensures consistency across a site, regardless of the visitor’s connection speed.

Wired for sound

One of the most important aspects of any website that promotes your music is the ability to support sound files of your work, whether this is in the form of paid-for downloads or as free audio snippets. With broadband technology, you can easily include one or two samples on your site.

There are dozens of audio formats for web use, but the best is MP3, as the files are much smaller than WAV format and their audio quality is closer to that of a regular, commercially-released CD. Streaming music files on a website allows fans to listen to tracks but not download them.

Online retailing

Your own website offers a great opportunity to sell CDs, MP3s and merchandise, and you can create a sales facility to take card payments. Tickets are still widely issued by third party ticket agencies since most people find this to be a cheaper option.

To set up a secure payment facility, you will need to get a merchant account with your bank. These do not handle realtime card processing, rather work with a payment ‘gateway’ firm. Once payments have been processed, the funds are transferred to the account on approval.

With e-commerce software, you can create a shopping cart for orders. Some banks combine merchant accounts and payment gateways, allowing you to accept debit and credit card payments. There are set-up costs and monthly charges to take into account.

You can pay a visit to the impartial e-commerce comparison website electronic-payments.co.uk to get an idea of the services on offer.

Getting noticed

A web presence isn’t just about having a website. Your fans need to find you easily via search engines. People are now used to tapping a search query into the likes of Google and then landing at the right website in micro-seconds.

If you type any query into a search engine, the order in which the website results are served up depends on a number of factors, including the amount of times a site has been visited, the number of occasions that the search terms (or keywords) you used appear on the site, and how the site’s builders have actually constructed it.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the art of building your website in such a way that it appears closer to the top of any search engine’s results listing.

A multitude of free SEO guides are available online, or a decent book about the subject will give you the basics of how to go about making sure you build your site so that the maximum number of internet users can find it quickly and easily.

Updating your site

Ideally, your whole band should be as involved in updating your website, as it is often the only place fans can get exclusive chat and news straight from the source, but it is best to assign one person to keep web content up-to-date, for the sake of simplicity.

For quick and easy updating, try a Content Management System (CMS). These vary in price and sophistication, but free, opensource options are easily available.

In order to keep returning fans happy, your site should offer something different every day. Posting news items is the easiest way to achieve this, but enabling fans to post their comments will also keep people coming back for more.

Make sure you have a reply option and a forum which you read and post on regularly, as fans like to feel they can communicate with artists.

Be sure that your website is the way you want it to be before it goes ‘live’.

Once users are hooked on your site, you will no doubt see the number of visitors soar, which may well lead to an increase in sales and greater fan attendance at live events.

Internet deals — website rights advice

The MU advises against the use of music websites that require any form of assignment of rights and, as with all contracts, members should always get internet contracts vetted before clicking on “I agree…”. If members have any queries about a site they should contact their Regional Office.

Online A&R

The record industry largely failed to anticipate the staggering popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, which has swiftly become the mainstream forum for generating a ‘buzz’ around artists. Online A&R is the logical way for the industry to capitalise on this phenomenon by tapping into the ‘hive-mind’ wisdom of an existing networked community.

In recent years, an artist’s page on such online networking sites has acted as an impromptu calling card, so it was only a matter of time before the record labels sought to take advantage of this trend.

Many labels now accept demo submissions online, with others sure to follow. In fact, some labels no longer accept physical demos, so do contact the label in question before sending it any samples of your work.

New space

For any label, the sheer physical or electronic space that demos take up has always been a major issue. Several labels have got around this problem by launching online A&R systems, which allow artists to register, then upload tracks, pictures and a biography. Some online A&R systems even send an alert to artists when a track has been reviewed.

Another online network that is gaining in popularity is the A&R ‘blogging’ community, which allows label personnel, fellow artists and other members to review and recommend or criticise your work.

Membership involves keeping up a blog and interacting ‘socially’ with the network.

Online A&R offers several advantages to artists; it is more cost-effective because you are not paying postage, you can update your demos and artist information, and it is likely that you have got a better chance of getting feedback about your submission.

Online resources

Social networking:

facebook.com

youtube.com

twitter.com

instagram.com

plus.google.com

linkedin.com

pinterest.com

Music-focused sites:

bandcamp.com

musicglue.com

soundcloud.com

tunetribe.com

totalband.com

joinmyband.co.uk

Blogging:

blogger.com

livejournal.com

tumblr.com

wordpress.com

weebly.com

Video streaming:

youtube.com

vevo.com

vimeo.com