Let's face it, the wildfire spread of web-based portals designed to introduce independent music to the world has created a bewildering array of opportunities and costs. So where do they all balance out? When does the cost of signing up to yet another music promotion service yield results? What results are we looking for anyway?
The key is to make your web promotion targeted, systematic and rich.
What is the main drive for independent artists promote their music on the web? The fundamental incentive for web promotion is the opportunity to get your music heard by people who might otherwise never know that you exist! If people know you exist they can become fans and repeat-listeners. Which of those fans buy CD's and downloads? Targeted listeners.
The most important goal of web promotion is to attract targeted listeners.
Any independent artist who says they use the web to sell their music has missed the primary target - attracting targeted listeners. Attracting targeted listeners should be every independent artist's first priority. Remember, you don't sell your music - listeners BUY your music. It's a buyers market. The more targeted listeners you have, the more sales you make - provided you are systematic in getting your targeted listeners.
The best way to get targeted listeners is to be systematic.
Many artists tend to approach their web promotion thinking that since they have a website and have signed up to a couple of artist showcase sites, that the listeners will just come pouring in. Yes you have managed to target some potential listeners, but you still have to shout, "Hey, over here...you'll like the sound of this!" A systematic approach to getting listeners to hear your music will attract and maintain their interest. But remember to make sure you have the content ready for the listener to enjoy.
Sites rich in content will retain your targeted listener.
In the independent artist's case, the rich content is the music. This may seem like old news, but look at the amount of independent artist websites that give the visitor loads of info about the band but very little (or hidden) ear candy. Music should be the first thing a visitor gets. At the very least they need an obvious link to where they can listen to your music. And not just one or two tracks but a variety of your music. Independent artists have to remember they have not had the radio exposure to model the presentation of their music after more well established acts. Listeners need to be convinced they like your independent music before they will buy it.
So the question is how to make your web promotion targeted, systematic and rich?
Tips for Targeting.
The best targeted listeners on the web will be those that make it to your website. Find a way to know who they are. Setup a newsletter and make it easy to sign up to it. People interested enough to want to receive news about you are your hardcore web fans, keep them happy.
The next best group of targeted listeners are those that hear your music on other sites. Try to pick sites that allow listeners to link to your site. If they like your music they might click on that link to visit your site. You can then find out where these visitors are coming from. Find a good web statistics package that lets you know which sites your visitors are being referred from. Take note of those sites and focus your efforts with them accordingly.
When choosing sites on which to promote your music, check to see if they offer any individual stats relating to your music. Like how many track plays or page views you and your music receive on their site. This way you can check in periodically and monitor your performance with these sites.
The key to being systematic is organization. Keep a note of all the sites you use to promote your music, a brief description of what they do and how much it costs. Try to get into the practice of monitoring all of them regularly. Take note of which sites are getting better results than others and focus your efforts accordingly. You might pay for minimal promotion on one website, while another gets you loads of listeners for free. Naturally you'll want to put more effort into updating the sites that are getting better results.
Provide a link on your website and newsletters to all of the sites you use to promote your music. Remember your website visitors are your hardcore web fans and are the most likely to check out and spread the word about your spot on other websites. So encourage them to visit your profile on other websites. At the very least it raises your stats on those websites - making your music look more popular!
Try to create a ring of sites that link to each other though the content you supply. For example, you might have your music on your own website and two other showcase sites - Site A and Site B. Your site should without a doubt link with Site A and Site B. Site A should link with your site and Site B, Site B should link with your site and Site A and so on. What if these sites don't allow you to setup links to other sites? Put a web address in the areas where they do allow you to supply content. Like biogs or descriptions.
The ultimate aim of linking all your sites is to provide your listeners with a variety of access points to your music, as well as access to the different ways various sites may deliver your music. Remember to link to your specific page on the site and not just the site itself. Your site linked with a site that play your tracks on Internet radio, linked with a site that sells your downloads, linked with a site that sells your CD's provides for a powerful combination of exposure.
Without money! That is the challenge that most independent artists face. The conventional approach to selling music is that it should not be too readily available to listen to, should the incentive for listeners to actually buy albums be undermined. This has persuaded independent artists that they should limit web listeners to low-quality snippets of streaming audio.
Independent artists have to remember they don't have the resources and finances to support the "shotgun approach" of spraying their music across radio and music television. Big artists have big companies behind them that need to recoup the costs of mass media exposure, and therefore try to limit the extent to which listeners can sample their music on the web. Listeners have already heard the music and are trying to find a copy of their own.
Conversely, listeners haven't had a chance to listen to independent artist through conventional media. Therefore independent artists can't assume that people will buy their music off of a website if they don't get a chance to really listen to it. If people have already heard an artist's music, and like it, the value they pay for is in owning a copy they can play whenever they like. If people have not already heard an artist's music, the value is in being able to sample as much of the music as possible.
So being rich is providing your listeners with as much of your music as they want to listen to before they buy it. Now you don't have to make all your tracks available for free download, but you can provide good quality, full-length streams that impress the listener and enhance your sound. Not tight-fisted snippets that lose the listener because they are lo-fi and over before they attract the listener's interest.
Being rich is also making your music available in a variety of formats for different audiences. Telling fans that your music can be heard via Internet radio, on-demand streams, mp3 downloads and mail order CD means you can appeal to listeners who prefer more than one type of media. You can also use your web promotion to go beyond simply plays and sales - consider licensing.
Licensing your music for use with television, film, advertising, websites, video games and other multimedia will open up your listening audience, provide revenue and introduce a degree of professionalism to your career that attracts the notice of industry reps and A&R. Adding this depth to your web promotion helps to enrich the presentation of your music and retain targeted listeners.
So remember: a) maximise your targeted listeners, b) be systematic in obtaining them, and c) retain them by making sure your own site and other sites are rich in content.
Nick Hooper has helped to create Tunetrader, an online platform for the promotion of independent music at http://www.tunetrader.com