In the past several years the internet has seen a virtual explosion in content about music, musicians, bands, recording and the music business. Many books and articles have been written to persuade you, as a creative musician/composer/recording artist, to get yourself on the Internet as a way to expose yourself to the tens of millions of Internet users. If you're relatively new to the Internet, or haven't spent hundreds of hours surfing the Web, you might find some of the information in these books and articles hard to believe. Most of the articles are technically accurate, but they are written in such a way as to unintentionally color the facts of Internet marketing for musicians.
I've put together a list of statements paraphrased from various written materials that have surfaced on the subject of Internet marketing and publicity for musicians and based upon my own personal experiences over the past three years, I'll give you my opinions as to the accuracy of the statements. I'm sure you'll agree there is a grain of truth to every exaggeration, likewise, a bit of exaggeration in every true statement.
Internet marketing will give your band access to millions of people for little money.
Fiction. I'm calling this one fiction for two reasons. First, you don't have access to millions of people, millions of people have access to you. Big difference. Even if you paid $300 for a program to e-mail ordering information for your latest CD to 3 million Internet users, you would be guilty of spam, which is defined as commercial bulk e-mail sent indiscriminately to people who haven't solicited information from you. Spam can backfire and work against you in a number of ways, not the least of which is to damage your band's or record label's reputation by grouping you with business that push multi-level marketing schemes, hair-loss treatments, or penny stocks. A large number of Internet users get a lot of unsolicited mail, and companies that send it typically hide their true identity so as to avoid receiving hate mail in return. Do you want to run your promotional campaign that way?
The second reason I'm calling the statement fiction is the implication from it that you can put up a Web page and suddenly millions of music fans will be checking out your band and your music. A typical Web site is to an Internet user like a one line listing in the white pages of the New York City phone book is to a person that needs his friend's phone number but can't remember his name. A Web site serves a great purpose if a fan has your URL and can check out the additional information and sound clips on the Web. But if your goal is to publicize your music to a potentially new audience, then you are back to square one. How will anyone find out about your new site? The answer is: they will find your site through your promotional efforts. The site itself is not the promotion, it's an information and entertainment production; you still need promotion in order to build public awareness about your site. A lot of musicians and record labels put time and/or money into development of a Web site and then think they're done, when in actuality, the work has just begun.
Just like releasing a record, the decision to create a Web site requires a commitment of time and money.
Fact. This assertion could almost be called an understatement. Not that it should cost more to develop a Web site than it cost to produce your record, but the time you need to commit to it, both at the beginning and on an ongoing basis, is probably going to be much more than you would expect. That's especially true if you really want your site to expand your fan base and to get a lot more new ears to check out what you've produced. A rarely-visited site can be created with almost no money and very little time, however it won't help you expand your audience or help you sell CDs. You've got to get visitors, and a lot of them, in order to have a fighting chance to find new fans.
Remember, if you are Joe Satriani or the Rolling Stones, you can produce a Web site and immediately get thousands of visitors. That's because they are already known and have fan bases numbering into the hundreds of thousands or even the millions. If you are not in that league, then you won't find many Internet users going to Yahoo and keying 'Your Unknown Band' into the search box. It won't happen. We're back to the idea that you still need a dynamic promotional idea to get people to visit. And if you're not willing to pay for full page ads in Spin, Rolling Stone, Guitar Player and People magazine to promote your new web site, then it means your promotional ideas must paid for with time, instead of money.
There are thousands of bands and labels who have sites on the Web.
Fact. Mostly. Actually there are tens of thousands of bands and record labels with sites on the Web. The implication here is that you have to be on the Web if for no other reason than everyone else is on the Web. The bar has been raised. A business has to be on the Web now in order to compete. When I first went to a site that maintained a data base of all record labels in order to add Guitar Nine to the list, I couldn't believe there were that many labels out there, and already on the Web to boot! The list has doubled in under two years; it seems the only people without a record label are your parents and the President of the United States. The number of bands listed on the UBL (Ultimate Band List) is incredible. In short, creating a Web site only gets you even with every other band and label. The problem that remains to be solved is how to distinguish yourself, your music, or your record label from all the others on the Internet. What is it going to take? You guessed it--promotion, publicity and hard work.
On the Internet you can appear side-by-side with multi-million dollar companies. Both Warner Bros. Records and any single artist or small music business are on equal footing in the electronic environment.
Fiction. Fiction, fiction, fiction!! This statement is still being written in articles and I believe it is a holdover from the early days of the internet, when large record labels such as Sony and Atlantic Records and big name artists such as Santana and the Doors did not even have Web sites yet. The statement seems to suggest that Web surfers are so stupid that they would actually think your little one artist, one release label was the same size and importance as multi-national Warner Bros. Records. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure this was ever true. Think about it:
Bottom line: a big company is a big company, and if they choose to spend their money on a world-class web site, believe me they can build a site that will blow your site out of the water. Whether they choose to, or know how to, is beside the point. Does your ad budget allow for 1,000,001 banner ads on the Yahoo site (cost, about $20,000)? If not, never make the mistake thinking that you can compete on an even or equal footing with a giant. They have the money to make sure every man, woman and child on the planet with an interest in popular music knows about the Warner Bros. Record site. Your only chance is to employ the same tactics you need to compete in the non-Internet world--grass roots promotion, word-of-mouth, and a musical direction that big companies tend to ignore.
If you can have a band and/or make music you can create a Web presence.
Fact. It's not difficult at all to create a simple Web site. Many people have taught themselves and by now, almost everyone knows someone who has already put together at least a personal home page. So every band can either force the most technical member of the group to be responsible for creating a site, or find a friend of the band who would be willing to do the work for free in order to be considered a member of the band's "inner circle." As we've discussed earlier however, get clear about the goals of the site up front, because if you intend to sell your music or want to draw potential fans from the four corners of the globe, you'll need to be realistic about the hundreds of hours the 'anointed one' (your webmaster) will need to spend getting the word out.
Put the URL to your Web site everywhere (on stickers, CD inserts, letterheads, T-shirts, etc.) because just because you build it, doesn't mean that they will come.
Fact. The address to your web site is the second most important piece of information a new fan can know besides your band name. I can even think of a case when it is more important. If your band is called the Gardeners and you've created a web site called www.gardeners.com, then just remembering your address means that a fan who just caught the last half hour of your dynamic stage show in a club has enough information to look you up on the Web. That gives you an opportunity to give them more information about your band, tell them about your upcoming performances, or sell them a CD. If all they remember is your band name, the Gardeners, they might be attempt to find your site with a search engine such as Yahoo, but since 'garden' is a common word, it could take too long to actually find your site.
Through this example you can clearly see the benefit of an easy-to-remember Web address. How easy is it to remember a Web address such as www.guitar9.com or www.satriani.com compared to www.cse.ogi.edu/~dhouse/gothic.html? An address such as www.guitar9.com is known as a domain. You pay $50 a year to the Internic (a company that allocates domain names) for the right to register and exclusively use a unique domain name (in our case, guitar9) that you create. This provides you the opportunity to come up with something memorable, short, or even clever, in the hopes that more people will be able to remember your site's address upon seeing it for the first time.
The other advantage of paying extra for a permanent domain name is that it can be moved from service provider to service provider, which means that once you have it, you can keep it and use it indefinitely. If you go for a free web site with GeoCities or with your Internet access provider, you will be given a web address that will certainly change if you change providers or free services. That means any promotion you've done to get your original site known is essentially wasted and must be done again. Believe me, promotional efforts are not fun, so do it once and do it right. You'll get exactly what you pay for with a free web site, and in the long run it will cost you something even more precious--time.
Dan McAvinchey is a guitarist and composer living in Raleigh, NC.
He believes every musician or composer has the power to write, record and release their own music.
His 1997 CD release on Guitar Nine was entitled "Guitar Haus".
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