I am a control freak. Type A personality. Pisces. Left-handed. Female. You get the point. There’s very little room to wiggle in my daily-budget-excel-spreadsheet, color-coordinated calendar and perfectly stacked bookshelves containing mostly last years’ musician’s atlases, DIY novels (is there even such thing?) and booking resources. So when it comes to my internet, the one that I use to spread the word and music that is CBE, I need control, I need it to be tight, and I need access to obsess over it. These mean different things to different people, and in this article, I’ll let you know what it means to me, and maybe there’s a little light to be shed in the realm of DIY Internet marketing.

On that bookshelf I mentioned before, there are scores of “how-to” books- like how to get the gig, how to publish your music, how to start a record label. In most of them, I saw a few consistent words of advice: get a good website and brand the hell outta yourself. Okay, got it. Now what??

After coming out with my first album 4 years ago, getting a friend to build me a website that I could edit, and setting up a Myspace account, I thought I was set. But when I was getting ready to release my second album last fall, the one I spend 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.

I had heard the word branding and decided it was time to brand myself. Not like a cow… like a company, thankyouverymuch. I started looking up other bands online just to see what their websites looked like. I kept a bookmark folder of these sites, with the hopes I could find a great web designer who could check them out and understand what I wanted. And that’s just what happened. 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, chose Josh Webb (www.joshwebb99.com). And with a name like that, I knew I was in luck.

Josh and I spend a few months going over my basic requirements. I wanted the design to match the graphics of my new album, with the same color patterns, fonts and image treatment. For content, I made Josh a “map” which 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:
1. Home- email signup; “next show” marquee and/or newest news; “buy cd” link; myspace link
2. Music- Music samples from both albums; store (from CD baby, or iTunes); pictures of album covers (2)
3. Tour- Show schedule from Sonicbids.com
4. Photos- I’d like a quick-loading photo album, with the following albums: Live- archive, Live- recent, On the road, Misc

I also let Josh know that editing the pages after the site was designed and launched was really important to me (and my controlling personalities). I didn’t want to have to depend on his schedule, or pay extra, to add some text to my “news” page, or to update my biography, and with very basic HTML skills, I didn’t want to spend days learning advanced Flash or CSS.

After a few months of back-and-forth, we got to what is now cbemusic.com. And I couldn’t be happier. Josh made an overall frame (the photos on the top and menu on the side) in Flash. The individual pages within each frame 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 and edit them in Dreamweaver, then drag the new files back to the ftp.

So now that my website was up to my par, I hired a friend who creates suped-up myspace pages. He designed my myspace page to match cbemusic.com (which matches the CD design… Cheryl “B-for-Branding” Engelhardt, at your service). I went through all of the other websites where I upload and/or promote my music: Garageband, iLike, AirSpun, PureVolume, FameCast, etc, and uploaded the same audio tracks and pictures that are featured on cbemusic.com. I went to my email-marketing program (more on this later), and had Josh do a quick design of my e-mail template to look like…. you got it…. my home page. So now when I send out an e-mail to my fans, they get a little piece of the website, which hopefully makes them want to explore the site more. My goal is to drive traffic to my website for the results of 1. obtaining a hard-core fan 2. CD sales 3. both.

After feeling totally confident that I had mastered branding, and was completely satisfied with my websites and my online image, I started to use these tools I had so carefully created.

As we all know, there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to anything technical or digital. With every web page and every email, there is a boatload of data behind it. I use key data-tracking features in my web hosting and email programs to target my market better, and to see what works and what doesn’t work in how I communicate with my listeners. Only recently, since I put out my new website in January, have I learned to really use the back end of the e-mails and web site statistics.

I have been using Constant Contact as my e-mail marketing software for a few years now, and have used their services of importing new subscriber data like e-mail, location and name, to send out e-mails about my shows, new albums, etc, to a targeted audience. For example, I send emails about New York shows only to people who live in the NY area so I don’t spam my Switzerland fans. 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.

Constant Contact allows me to look at a ton of great statistics, like how many people and who opened my email (this helps me hone my subject-line writing skills) and which links were clicked on the most (I use this to determine how interested my fans are in reading about charity causes I’m involved with, other artists I link to, and to see how many people clicked on directions to a show, and how many people are drawn to my website, iTunes, Cdbaby and myspace links). I use all of this information, especially when creating my next email. I may have learned that 40 people clicked on my website, 5 people were interested in my environmental charity initiative and 3 people clicked on directions to my show in Bumblefoo, Maine. Okay, so maybe mentioning my charity initiatives is taking a little attention away from other, more important links, like CD sales, and that there is probably going to be a low attendance in my Maine show, so I should do some additional promotion for it, or send a more personalized email to my fans in the Maine area.

I can do the same thing with my website. Once I login to my Startlogic (my web hosting company) account, I can see my website 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 (huh… people check out my website during lunch more than in the evening). I can see what pages get more hits and which pages I need to drive more traffic to. I can also see how people search for and end up at my website, and what other pages are linking to me, resulting in hits for cbemusic.com. I try not to get too obsessive with these statistics because, like friend or hit counts on myspace, none of it really matters. It is helpful to translate more hits to more CD sales, so if there is any information that inspires new ways to drive traffic to the site, that’s the ticket. But spending hours analyzing the site is a waste if you could be, for example, spending the time contacting websites that link to you and seeing if they would feature your music on their site. I have to force the die-hard businessperson in me to take over the “oooh-look-at-the-pretty-graphs-with-all-the-numbers” girl. It’s useful stuff, as long as you use it.

The long of the short of it is that I try to keep my space in the world wide web as neat as my space in the world, while reacting and being pro-active in this obsessive-compulsive business I call music.