Slides from New Music Seminar: Your music is your Art. Your website is your Business.

I'm writing this on the long flight back to Montreal, a little travel weary but also energized by all the great musicians we met at the New Music Seminar in LA and the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. For the benefit of those who who couldn't attend, we'll be posting a summary of our talks here, starting with mine from the New Music Seminar: "Your music is your Art. Your website is your Business." Here goes:

As a web business, we've designed our site, Bandzoogle.com, to grab visitors' attention and lead them toward an important action: signing up to try our service. Band websites are no different. Even if you have a great sound and a product that people want, if you don't design your site properly, you aren't going to engage visitors and they won't take the next step to download a track or buy your album.

Now, I am not talking about making your website look corporate--the art comes first--but let's face it, potential fans have unlimited choices, and very short attention spans. Web businesses have figured out some great techniques to make their websites as effective as possible, so I'd like to show you how these techniques can be just as effective for Bands.

Let's start with the wrong way to build an artist's web page:

artist web page

Unfortunately too many bands and managers focus on creating flashy visuals first. Important goals like growing your mailing list are tacked on after the design is done. The result is a website that may be pretty but doesn't engage your visitors.

Smart web businesses on the other hand, do the opposite:

web business

Before even thinking of a design, they'll decide the goals that they want to achieve on the page. When they're ready for the design step, they’ll make sure those goals are prioritized over other content or design elements. Then, they'll track their progress to make sure that visitors are accomplishing the goals they set out.

The good news is, planning things properly isn't hard. With a little thought up front the payoff can be huge--I've seen websites drastically improve their effectiveness just from a smart redesign.

The first step in planning an effective website is to figure out your goals. What do you want your fans do to when they hit your page?

An easy answer is "buy my music", but this will only work for bands with established fan bases. There is a process of building engagement that will get a casual visitor into an interested visitor, then into a fan, and then into a buyer.

Let's look at these engagement levels:

fan engagement levels

Engagement levels are important to think about, because they help you decide what goal is appropriate for your website. A casual visitor probably won’t buy your CD, but might want to download a free track. A super fan, on the other hand, checks your site regularly, excited about your new limited edition vinyl.

Let's match these engagement levels up to the real actions that fans of each engagement level might take:

engagement levels action

Web businesses refer to these steps as "the funnel." At the top of the funnel are all your potential fans; at the bottom are those who have completed your ultimate goal such as purchasing a product or referring a friend.

Your job is to decide what the #1 goal is that you want your visitors to accomplish on your site, taking into consideration the average engagement level of your visitors. Once you've decided your key goal, the next step in making an effective website is to design your website to support those goals.

There are several techniques that web businesses use to translate visitor goals to real functional web page layouts. I'll tackle this topic in my next blog post! If you have any questions about deciding your website's goals, feel free to comment here.

Posted by Chris on 02/26/2011 | 12 comments

The Art of Making Sellable Music

I’m writing this sitting at the gate for the Montreal - Los Angeles flight, on my way to the New Music Seminar (where we are speaking and where we’ll have a Bandzoogle meetup. See this post!). The New Music Seminar will be packed full of aspiring artists, looking for advice, hoping for their big break, or just for ways to further their career and leave the day job. This is perfectly timed with the guest post we have today from Bandzoogle member Rizzo (aka Michael Nelson Rizzo), who is an award-winning writer/producer with over 20 years' experience writing “sellable music” for the world’s best corporations, TV and cable networks, film companies, musicians, record labels and publishers. Able to stylistically navigate from hip hop to country, orchestral to techno, his diverse body of work has been heard by hundreds of millions of people since 1988, when at age 17 he wrote his first nationally syndicated TV theme song. His eclectic mix of abilities in entertainment, technology, law and business--coupled with his passion for people--has allowed him to thrive in such distinct creative communities like Minneapolis, Virginia Beach, Nashville and now Portland, Oregon. See his Bandzoogle powered site at www.EpicSoul.com. Rizzo’s advice is fantastic, and we hope to have him back often as a guest blogger. Let us know in the comments what you think.

THE ART OF MAKING SELLABLE MUSIC

“It’s More Than The Music”

by Rizzo

Recently, I was talking with a band about “sellable music.” “We want to make money but we don’t want to be commercial,” they said. “We make music our way in our bassist’s home studio. It really lets us take our time to make music that expresses who we are.” “So are you getting any attention or making enough money?” I asked. “No,” they chuckled. “We all have day jobs but gig when we can and we know that hard work pays off.” They were amazed at how I had made a living in music for 20 years and wanted me to hear their music. So they gave me a CD, a link to their MySpace and went on their way. I checked it out later. Their music was good, they had creativity and drive, maybe even the potential to be great. But it was not “sellable music”.

As I work with musicians, songwriters, budding composers, artists and bands, I find that most aren’t making music that strangers pay any sustained attention to. Instead of sellable music, it’s forgettable music that lacks lingering qualities and ultimately doesn’t matter to the world.

Don’t Let the Good Be the Enemy of the Best

Sellable music is about being great -- not good. Regardless of genre, style, units sold or the decade you were born into, it's about the subtleties of mastering your musical craft, as well as your professional image and relationships. I’ve observed that musicians of every age often don’t pay attention to those significant subtleties. And when an opportunity comes their way, they aren’t ready for it or they didn’t even notice they had one.

Which Path Are You On?

The true path to sellable music means following through on the subtleties. Evidence of that path looks like spending endless hours of practicing an instrument in solitude, showing up on time for a 9am meeting because you said you would, writing out a few dozen drafts of a new song, staying up all night alone working out your tone and effects while your bandmates only choose presets, taking a third job so you can save up to hire a great producer, gladly shaking the hands of all the fans who come to see your show, and reading books about the music business (all the way through).

Take the counterfeit path to sellable music and you're working hard but not smart. I’m talking about playing your instrument but not practicing, shaking hands with fans but not showing genuine interest, not knowing even basic music-business practices, calling someone a day later than you said you would, relying on presets because you don’t want to read the manual, playing the same guitar patterns song to song -- and the bombshell -- recording in your home studio. Yes, I really just said that.

The Home Studio: A Cancer to the Music Industry?

Could it be that the home studio, instead of being a creative benefit, is a “creative cancer?” Not only to your career, but to the entire music industry?

You probably assembled your home studio with the hopeful intention of gaining endless “studio hours” in the leisure of your home to create music non-stop. But you quickly became overwhelmed with software updates, manuals, electrical ground loops and airplanes flying overhead. I’m not saying home studios are evil in and of themselves. But the home studio “investment” -- in inexperienced hands at the wrong time -- may kill your passion. And maybe your career.

Recording studios used to be “temples of musical leadership” and were filled with master craftsmen in song creation, production and performance. There were systems of creative and personal expertise where seasoned producers, arrangers, engineers, songwriters and musicians interacted with and mentored fellow artists -- passing on the art of making sellable music.

You Just Need One Great Song

You might be thinking, “OK. That makes sense but I just can’t afford to hire that level of talent for an album.” Good point. But why do you even need an album? It’s 2011. The single is back and matters more than ever. Why produce a bunch of good songs when only one great song is enough to change your life?

My advice to today’s artists is to take your ten-song-album budget (or your home-studio budget) and sink it into your three best songs, and your branding. Hire a real producer whose music you like and actually sells. This is important because there are a lot of dudes calling themselves producers simply because they own some looping software and vintage gear. That is NOT a producer! The producer must know music, be able to navigate in the studio environment and have solid connections to other great musical craftsmen. Make friends with all of these experts. Pay them on time. Praise them for their talents. Be kind, respectful and grateful!

Get Yourself Out There

Then develop your image and brand. Create an amazing website using great pictures and carefully written content. Shoot one music video (even one of those photo-videos that are all over YouTube can be pretty cool). When you launch your online presence, nurture your fan base and update your content weekly. Then every 30 to 60 days, release another great song that is perfectly produced. This is all very strategic in that it will bring in revenue, involve you with professionals, win you necessary industry relationships and keep you in front of your fans.

As a show’s worth of material is created, it will be easier to learn and remember your parts, your fans will know all of your songs, and you can then release an album and even offer some alt mixes.

Great songs build relationships. Great songs get passed around. Great songs make you unforgettable.

And remember: unforgettable sells.



Posted by David Dufresne on 02/14/2011 | 40 comments

Better Than The Van: Free places to stay for touring musicians

We at Bandzoogle are big fans of the boys at Better Than The Van (... ever since they tried to feed me shrimp and boxed white wine at last year’s SXSW. True story.). The Austin, TX based dynamic duo of Todd and Scott created a simple service that can help lots of artists save some precious coin when touring, and involves music fans in ways that go beyond buying an oversized t-shirt at the merch table. They just did a major upgrade to their website and relaunched. And look who’s sponsoring them : yes, the home on the Web for your band. I went ahead and asked Todd a few questions about BTTV.

Can you explain the concept behind Better Than The Van and how the idea came to you ?

The new BTTV allows BOTH bands and music fans to find free places to stay, shows to attend and venues to play through out the US, Canada and Europe. In short, we are music’s home for hospitality. A hub for anyone traveling to see a show, looking to play a show or wanting to host a show. The idea came after spending years touring, running a small label and just realizing that having a tool like this would be really great as young/upcoming band or a music fan who wanted to travel to shows or support music in a different way.

Is it easier to recruit bands, or people offering places to stay ?

We see about a 50/50 split. I think some people who aren't in bands are a bit reluctant at first, but they get the hang of it. The nice thing with the re-launch of the service is that you don't have to be a host. You can be a voyeur of sorts. Still involved in the community but only online. Which is OK, because it's all about helping people connect the dots, whether that means landing a show or discovering a new band. Everyone plays a part.

Lots of people say that tours and gigs have become and will remain the main revenue source for the majority of musicians out there. Do you agree, and why do you think that is ?

Good question. It's tough when you're a young band. That goes without saying. But it can/does provide some revenue as the fan base grows and the band plays the right cards and tours smart. I think there are a lot of creative ways to make money alongside touring through all the direct-to-fan services now populating the web. It's really up to the band to decide if it's going to make "good" money for them. It's possible to tour, have a great time and still come home with money in your pocket. Seeing a band live is an authentic (sometimes life changing) experience that can't be downloaded for free. It's one of the largest shared experiences someone can have. As long as that remains, it will always be a possible source of cash flow.

Other than staying with friends and fans, do you have other tips for artists to help them minimize their expenses while touring ?

Take food with you and/or buy groceries and throw some stuff in a cooler in the van.

Don't buy beer in the venue. Get some before the show and keep it in the van.

If you need a hotel/motel drive about 15 minutes outside of the city you're in. It's cheaper out there.

Put all your gas on one credit card.

Live on $5 a day. (It worked for the band At The Drive-In).

Keep track of the money you make and only spend it on stuff you need.

When it comes to touring, do you think having a website, blog and an online presence on social networks is important ? Do you have specific tips ?

Yes! Stay on top of it. Remember that your band is a story, and people want to follow that story. As you tour, that story develops, so keep people up to date with quick blurbs, lots of tweets, photos and sounds, keep your website updated with the freshest content and your online store fully stocked for folks who resisted the impulse buy, but now regret not visiting the merch table. You can use so many tools like SoundCloud, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and of course your Bandzoogle powered website to easily keep people interested in what you're doing. I know it's tough, touring isn't easy but here is a lot of down time, plenty of free wifi and even if you only have an iPhone or an Android phone there are a ton of apps that make keeping this story going very easy.

Thanks Todd, we’ll keep an eye on how things go at betterthanthevan.com



Posted by David Dufresne on 02/11/2011 | 0 comments

Bandzoogle meetups ! Chris and David in Los Angeles and Memphis

That’s right, we have started packing clean socks, a few Bandzoogle t-shirts, and extra toothpaste. Next week Chris and I will have the pleasure of hanging out in Los Angeles and then Memphis, preaching the Bandzoogle gospel, and we hope we can meet a good number of Bandzooglers, old and new.

Los Angeles

As mentioned a few posts ago, we will be attending the New Music Seminar on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday at 1:40 PM, Chris will give an 18-minute presentation titled “Your Music is Your Art, Your Website is Your Business” where he will talk about, you guessed it, how to optimize your website as the hub of your online strategy and as the ultimate tool to help you reach your business goals. Expect a very informative session, building on our Rules to Build A Website That Rocks and Chris' 15-year experience building artist websites, with many real life examples and best practices to follow.

At 5:00 PM Bandzoogle is sponsoring a Breakout/Mentorship Session, where attendees will have the chance to meet face-to-face with an impressive list of professionals and experts to discuss different aspects of their career. See the schedule for details. I will be one of the mentors, on hand to discuss websites, but also how to make sense of the “new music economy”, how artists-fans relationships are changing and how this can ultimately translate in leave-the-day-job revenue. Check out the interview I recently did on All Access Radio for a sneak peek, or the long interview we did with Hypebot.

The L.A. Bandzoogle meetup will take place right after Chris’ talk, so around 2:15 - 2:30 PM on Tuesday at the hotel bar of the Universal Sheraton (venue for the New Music Seminar, 333 Universal Hollywood Dr.). If you’re in attendance, meet us near the stage after Chris gets off stage and we’ll head to the bar. If you’re not attending the NMS, you can still join us in the bar. It will be super casual and simple, share a few drinks, discuss what’s coming for Bandzoogle (features, new products, etc.), we can talk about your sites and music, talk about your careers etc.

Memphis

On Thursday we will catch a very (very...) early flight to get to the Folk Alliance International Conference and hang out there until Friday. Chris and I are both panelists on 2 different panels on Friday.

Chris will be on the “Website Derby” panel at 12:30 PM, that will feature live critiques of artist and business websites. I will be on the “Next Gen Internet” panel at 2:00 PM, to discuss how new music get discovered by fans nowadays and how the Web is changing how artists can engage with fans and forge meaningful relationships.

The Memphis Bandzoogle meetup will take place right after my panel, so at around 3:30 PM on Friday. Same deal as L.A., meet us near the stage after the panel and we’ll head down to the hotel bar (Memphis Marriott. 250 North Main St.), which will be open to non-attendees. Again, we’ll keep it super casual and simple, share a few drinks, discuss the future of Bandzoogle (features, new products, etc.), we can look at your sites and music, chat about your careers and projects etc.

Can’t wait to escape the snow and meet some cool Bandzooglers. See you soon !


Posted by David Dufresne on 02/08/2011 | 2 comments