I was on a panel recently at a music industry event here in Birmingham. The topic was ‘Is this the best time ever to be in the music industry?’. Naturally, there was some debate. My brief was to come up with some simple tips for coping — and thriving — in the music industry in these ‘best of times’. So I drew up a list of bullet points to discuss.
I was originally aiming for a top 10 list — but there are more things than that to understand if you’re going to make any headway in the music business online. So I made it a top 20.
In no particular order (but numbered so you know where you’re up to):
1. Don’t believe the hype: Sandi Thom, the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen are not super famous, rich and successful because of MySpace, and nor because they miraculously drew a crowd of thousands to their homegrown webcast. PR, traditional media, record labels and money were all involved.
2. Hear / Like / Buy: It’s the golden rule. People hear music, then they like music, then they buy music. It’s the only order it can happen in. If you try to do it in any other sequence, it just won’t work.
3. Opinion Leaders Rule: We know the importance of radio and press. There are now new opinion leaders who will tell your story with credibility. You need to find out who they are — or better yet, become one of them.
4. Customise: A tailored solution at best, or at the very least a bespoke kitset approach to your web presence is crucial. An off-the-shelf number will almost guarantee your anonymity.
5. The Long Tail: Chris Anderson has pretty much proved that the future of retail is selling less of more. Put everything online. Expand your catalogue. You will make more money selling a large number of niche products than you will selling a few hits.
6. Web 2.0: Forget being a destination — become an environment. Let your customers tag and sort your catalogue. Open up for user-generated content. Your website is not a brochure — it’s a place where people gather and connect with you and with each other.
7. Connect: Learn how to tell a story, and learn how to tell it in an appropriate fashion for web communication. Think about how that could be translated for both new media and mainstream PR outlets.
8. Cross-promote: Your online stuff is not a replacement for your offline stuff, and nor does it exist independently of it. Figure out how to make the two genuinely intersect.
9. Fewer Clicks: This is especially true if you want somebody to part with their money. If I have to fill in a form, navigate through three layers of menu and then enter a password, I don’t want your music any more.
10. Professionalism: Have a proper domain. MySpace is not your website. Learn to spell. Use high-quality photography. Get a web designer who understands design — not just code.
11. The Death of Scarcity: Understand that the economics of the internet is fundamentally different to the economics of the world of shelves and limited stock. Know that you could give away 2 million copies of your record in order to sell a thousand.
12. Distributed Identity: From a PR perspective, you are better off scattering yourself right across the internet, rather than staying put in one place. Memberships, profiles, comments, and networks are incredibly helpful.
13. SEO: You need to understand how Search Engine Optimisation works, and how you can maximise your chances of being found. Be both findable — and searchable.
14. Permission: This is very basic stuff. Don’t spam. Let people opt-in. Make the information you send them relevant, useful and welcome. Long lists of dates and events are impersonal and feel like work. Personalised messages seem far more important.
15. RSS: Provide it, use it and teach it. Relying on people to come back to visit your website is ultimately soul destroying. So is always making more content all the time. RSS is the single most important aspect of your site. Treat it as such – but remember it’s still new for most people. Help your audience come to grips with it.
16. Accessibility: Not everyone has a fast computer or high speed access. Not everybody has the gift of sight. Make everything you do online accessible. Make your site XHTML compliant. It’s easy to do, it’s important, and it stops you from turning people away at the door. You wouldn’t have a shop without wheelchair access, would you?
17. Reward & Incentivise: Everything is now available all of the time. Give people a reason to consider you as part of their economic engagement with music. A 30-second streaming sample is worse than useless.
18. Frequency is everything: Publish daily. There’s nothing more sad than an abandoned website or a disused forum. Search engines prioritise active sites. You want people to come back? Give them something to come back to that they haven’t seen before.
19. Make it viral: Whatever you do, make it something that people will want to send to other people. Your best marketing is word of mouth, because online, word of mouth is exponentially more powerful.
20. Forget product — sell relationship: The old model of music business is dominated by the sale of an individual artefact for a set sum of money. iTunes is still completely old school. The new model is about starting an ongoing economic relationship with a community of fans.
And a bonus: