After coming out with my first album four years ago, I thought I was set after creating a MySpace account and having a friend build me an editable website. But when I was getting ready to release my second album – the one I spent 10 times as long making, put more money into designing and was overall incredibly proud of – I wanted to raise the bar on every other front as well.
HOW TO BEST DESIGN YOUR WEBSITE
I started looking up other bands online just to see what their websites looked like. After finding a few sites I really enjoyed, I contacted the bands to find out who designed them. I called 3 designers and, based on availability, price and design talent, I chose Josh Webb (www.joshwebb99.com).
Josh and I spent a few months going over my basic requirements. I wanted the design to match the color patterns, fonts and image treatment of the graphics of my new album. For content, I made Josh a “map” that included the pages of the site I thought were necessary and what features I wanted on each.
For example, part of my “map” looked like this:
A. Email signup
B. “Next show” marquee and/or latest news
C. “Buy CD” link
D. MySpace link
A. Music samples from both albums
B. Store (from CD Baby, or iTunes)
C. Pictures of album covers (two)
A. schedule from www.sonicbids.com
A. I’d like a quick-loading photo album, with the following albums:
1. Live – archive
2. Live – recent
3. On the road
I also let Josh know that editing the pages after the site was designed and launched was really important to me. I didn’t want to have to depend on his schedule or pay extra to add some text to my “news” page or update my biography. Having only very basic HTML skills, I didn’t want to spend days learning advanced Flash or CSS.
Josh made an overall frame (the photos on the top and menu on the side) in Flash. The individual pages within each frame are in HTML, which means I can drag them from my ftp onto my computer and edit them. I use the program Fetch to access my files, edit in Dreamweaver and drag the new files back to the ftp.
CREATING CONSISTENCY ON YOUR SITE
Now that my website was up to par, I hired a designer friend to make my MySpace page match www.cbemusic.com (which also matches the CD design). I went through all of the websites where I upload and/or promote my music: Garageband, iLike, PureVolume, FameCast and uploaded the same audio tracks and pictures that are featured on www.cbemusic.com. My aim was to keep my main artist image the same across all of the pages. I also use an e-mail template that looks like my home page. When I send out an e-mail to my fans, they get a little piece of the website, which hopefully makes them want to check it out because my main goal is to drive traffic to my website in hopes building an audience and boost CD sales.
ONLINE MARKETING TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
After feeling totally satisfied with my websites and online image, I started to use these tools I had created.
Mainly I use data-tracking features in my web hosting and email programs to better target my market and see what works best. I have been using Constant Contact as my email marketing software for a few years. This allows me to import new subscriber data (email, location and name) and send emails about my shows, new albums, etc., to a targeted audience. For example, I only send emails about New York shows to people in the NY area so I don’t spam my Switzerland fans. I also try to make the body of the email readable, personable and concise. I used to have a side bar within the email that contained links, but I have found that keeping important links in the body of the email results in more clicks. Setting up a good target-marketing plan before sending that email is extremely important. What I am finding is there is much to be learned after that email is sent as well.
Devising a way to test which emails are getting the best responses is an excellent way to focus future emails. One method is to split your mailing list into a few different sections and mail various drafts of the same message, slightly changed for each section. If one version gets vastly better results than the others, you may have learned how to more effectively communicate with your fan base.
INTERPRETING YOUR DATA
Constant Contact allows me to look at a ton of great statistics. I can tell how many people opened my email (this helps hone my subject-line writing skills) and which links were clicked the most. This information helps determine how interested my fans are in reading about charity causes I’m involved with, other artists I link to and how many people clicked on directions to a show. I use all of this information, especially when creating my next email. I may have learned that 40 people clicked on my website, five people were interested in my environmental charity initiative and three people clicked on directions to an upcoming show in a small town in Maine. From this, I can see that mentioning my charity initiatives is taking attention away from more important links (like CD sales) and there is probably going to be low attendance in my Maine show. Now I know to do some additional promotion for it, or send a more personalized email to my fans in the Maine area.
What I look for in my email stats:
1. Opens (what percent of emails I sent actually were opened and hopefully read, which tells me a lot about the appeal of my subject line.)
2. Clicks (what percent of the people that opened the email clicked on any of the links, which is a good indicator of how many people really read the email.)
3. Specific clicks (knowing which links in my email got the most clicks gives me a better idea of what people are interested in.)
4. Opt-outs, spam reports, forwards and bounces (helps me understand if people are not interested or think I’m spamming them. It also lets me know if they forwarded my email to a friend, or if they just didn’t get it I can see who did what and for what reason.)
I can do the same with my website as I do with my emails. With my web hosting account (Startlogic), I can see my website’s statistics for as long as the site has been alive. I can compare the number of hits the site gets over years, months, days and even hours. I can see what pages get more hits and which pages need more traffic. I can also see how people search for and end up at my website, and what other pages link to me.
What I look for in my website stats:
1. Daily hits (this tells me which day of the week gets more visitors, which helps me know when to send emails and update my site. I try to update it on low traffic days, just in case I screw something up or need to test a link.)
2. Visit duration (this tells me how long people stay on my site. Using this info, I know if I should enhance my home page to send people to other pages within the site. If they stick around longer, they hopefully develop a relationship with me and the site.)
3. Operating systems and browsers (these are good statistics to know before redesigning your webpage. This tells you what systems your visitors are using. For example, 80% use Windows and 16% use Macs; 61% of my visitors use Internet Explorer and 25% use Firefox. This allows you to cater your site to the most traffic, making sure plugins, features, fonts and sizes are compatible with a majority of your viewers.)
4. Connect to Site From (this tells me what sites people were on when they decided to click on a link to my site. I can also see how many people typed my name or some keyword that included my site as a search result.)
Sell Your Music Online
NimbitSkin: NimbitSkin is the next generation of online music sales for artists. It lets you sell both hard copy and digital versions of your music and just about any other type of merchandise you can plaster your band name on. What’s unique about NimbitSkin is that it lets the artist customize the look of the “store” so it fits seamlessly onto any website without disrupting the page’s feel or sending your fans to an external website. Nimbit charges a monthly service fee and a one-time installation charge, but dues and installation prices are relatively inexpensive and setup takes less than a few hours.
Hoooka: Hoooka combines the community and networking aspects of MySpace with the digital selling format of sites like iTunes. Anyone, not just the artist, can make their own virtual store on various sites, from blogs to MySpace. This aspect is Hoooka’s stand-out point: a program that lets fans sell tracks for their favorite artist and then earn a 10 percent cut of what they sell. The 80 percent revenue share with artists is great, but the site won’t let artists set their own prices. The price tag ($.99 a song) can’t be negotiated.
Amie Street: Amie Street offers artist 70 percent of song sales (after it has made $5) and lets the artist retain all creative rights. They have a unique business model; people can download the song for free initially, and but the price goes up as the song gets more downloads (there is $.98 cap). This is an interesting idea to promote the discovery of new songs by offering them for cheap before the artist becomes “the next big thing”.
BlastMyMusic: BlastMyMusic is a simple, easy-to-use, easy-to-install widget that lets anyone sell their music on their own website. Its no-nonsense mp3 sales design is refreshingly simple, but the mandatory $.99 price per track is a drawback and their artist share percentage is slightly below what other sites offer.
Market Your Music Online
Constant Contact: Constant Contact is probably the best-known email-marketing program for small businesses. It works well for bands, too. The program is relatively simple and allows you to manage and monitor your mailing list, see which emails are being opened and which are being ignored and loads of other useful information. Its popularity is well-earned and its low cost makes it a great tool for indie artists who manage their own marketing strategies.
Champion Sound: Champion Sound is a very basic easy-to-use email-marketing program that focuses on the needs of musicians and venues. Not too many different marketing options are available, but it is a very easy way to let your fans know about upcoming shows or new releases. The best part is that it’s a free service.
MyNewsLetterBuilder: MyNewsLetterBuilder is a company that specializes in email marketing for various industries that has a format specifically for musicians. They provide all the tools needed to add a multimedia experience to emails. With a MyNewsLetterBuilder account, an artist can instantly add music, videos, playlists, profiles, events and photo montages to their messages. They charge a monthly fee for their services after a free trial period.