The Shapes of Things to Come
(01 Dec 03)
Important Features - The next thing to do is to get your site up and going. Your site must have three important features: a way to sell your CDs, a way to point people to your gigs where they can buy your CDs, and last but not least, a reason for people to visit your site and leave with a CD ordered or a memo in their schedule book to go to your gig next Friday.
Sell From Your Site - One super easy and cost-effective way of selling from your site is to use PayPal. This system allows visitors to buy from your site using a credit card. PayPal simply charges you a small percentage and credits the rest to your account. You will have to mail each CD out, but can get your girlfriend to do that for you. Another way is to send them to an Internet CD shop that will do everything for you for a slightly larger cut. I'll get into this a little later on.
Point People to Your Gigs - This is easy. Post your concert schedule. It helps to include the time, door charge, and address and phone number of the club. I would also link to the club's site if they have one.
Reason to Visit - Since no one is promoting you, you're going to have to attract visitors to your site. You are going to have to find a way to make people who don't know anything about you want to become your fan and start a lasting relationship with you through your site. This is what I did: I put my knowledge of the guitar and experience as a teacher to work. I offer free guitar lessons on my site. I cover a bunch of different subjects such as music theory, scale and chord patterns, etc.
This is what usually happens. Someone sitting at home is having trouble sleeping because he is confused about the Phrygian scale. He heard someone say that this scale works nicely over a certain kind of dominant chord and can't figure out why. He goes over to his trusty computer with his guitar in hand and punches into his favorite search engine, "phrygian scale over dominant chords."
Low and behold, a link pops up for my website. He visits, finds the information he needs, may even e-mail with a question which I will, without fail, e-mail a reply to. He may even listen to one of my tunes, come to one of my gigs, or even buy one of my CDs. To be honest, I don't even mind if he doesn't buy one. I made a friend in the deal and helped an aspiring musician in the process. What could be more rewarding? I have people asking me questions from all over the world, from Russia to Hong Kong and everywhere in between. Spreading knowledge about the guitar is the niche that I fill with my humble site.
Net Networking - You will want to promote your site by networking. Link from as many sites as you can. I write articles (just like this one) for different sites from to time to time. No money changes hands but the whole thing works out because the website gets material and I get free promotion. It also helps me get my writing skills in order and organize my ideas on various subjects. Send your CD to Internet radio stations and music review sites.
Power in Numbers - You can also try to hook up with musicians like yourself. Seek them out on the web. I tied up with a great guitarist in Brazil by the name of Miguel Mega. I sent him a bunch of my CDs and he sent me a bunch of his. When you buy both of our CDs from either of our sites, you get a discount on them both. We use our fan bases to help each other out. Great way to make friends all over the world.
Keeping in Touch - Keep an e-mail list. Most of the sites I mention in this article will provide you with the e-mail addresses of customers who purchase your CDs. You don't want to be pushy but you may want to send out a newsletter when you release your next CD. I offer a newsletter that people can sign up for to get information on new lessons on my site, concert and release dates. Remember, don't bug anyone, if you get on their nerves with daily e-mails it will have the opposite effect.
Internet CD Shops - If you don't want to deal with mailing CDs out to different parts of the world you can use an Internet CD store. I use guitar9.com and CDbaby.com. All you have to do is mail a bunch of CDs to them, and they will sell them and send a check to you from time to time. All you have to do is link from your site to your page on their site and the whole thing comes together pretty easily.
The best thing about using a site like one of these is that music lovers browse through, searching for the undiscovered gem and may, by chance, discover you! I can't tell you how rewarding it is when someone I never met in a country I have never been to, buys one of my CDs because he found me in a Web store, listened to a track or two, found something that connected with him in the music that is very much connected with me, and parted with money that he probably worked very hard for. If I were signed to a major label, the whole thing would probably be a lot less rewarding.
Downloading - You don't even really need to manufacture CDs anymore; you can just sell the data. There are plenty of sites that are designed to do just that. This is how it works: as you probably know by now, anybody can burn CDs at home. You can also print out anything. For this reason, rather then selling your CD, and shipping it around the world, you can simply have customers download both the music and the jacket art and make their own CDs at home.
Why would you want to do this? The answer is very simple: you can save a bunch of money doing it this way because it cuts down production costs. My CD, "Prospects" cost me about $2,500 to just manufacture. What I mostly paid for is mastering, burning the CDs, printing the jacket and labor costs (somebody has to put the jacket in the case and shrink wrap it). Every time I sell one, I have to ship it. As I mentioned before, if I had decided to put it in stores, I would have to pay for distribution and then the CD shop would take a cut.
The download concept eliminates all that. And the best part is this: your selling data, so there is no limit on how much you can sell. That's right, you could technically sell a zillion CDs. The conventional method only allows you sell what you manufacture.
No wonder the major labels and CD shops are sweating, you don't really need them anymore. Go down to the big CD shop on the corner and you'll realize that they have started selling way more merchandise (t-shirts, posters and other stuff). They have to because they are having problems selling the same amount of CDs that they used to, they are trying to make up the difference.
Magnatune - There are a bunch of sites that offer downloads. I found a great one: Magnatune. Most sites like MP3.com or garageband.com offer a similar service but the difference is that they do not filter the artists, no quality control. They charge the artists to sign up, if you pay, you're in. They do provide an important service: anyone can market and sell their own music regardless of how it sounds using these sites.
Magnatune is different. John Buckman, the president of Magnatune told me that he only accepts about 2% of submissions (yours truly, one of the lucky ones). For this reason, it is easy to find great music on his site. You are really going to have to search through the other sites for something great. The interesting thing with Magnatune is that they allow the customer to pick how much they want to pay for the CD they download (from five to eighteen dollars). When I first heard that, I figured everyone would only pay the minimum five bucks, but it turns out I was wrong. Most people pay more, looking through my sales records, anywhere from five to ten dollars. I guess they want to support independent artists like myself. Magnatune splits the money with me. What a great concept. Check out the site, you'll find some very creative music.
Which Method is Best for you - Technically you could record your music, have it mastered and just send the MP3 data to Magnatune or a similar site. It would cost you way less this way than the traditional method of selling music.
The only disadvantage is that your market would shrink quite a bit. True, since there are no manufacturing costs, you would not have to sell near as many CDs to turn a profit but you would still miss a lot of potential fans.
This system works great if you don't or can't gig around. Since I gig somewhat, it is in my best interest to manufacture CDs and sell them at shows (it is hard to get people in clubs to remember an url where they can download your tunes, they usually want your CD on the spot).
And to be honest, there are still a lot of people who just want to buy a CD and don't want to be bothered with manufacturing your CD themselves. The combination of these two methods works great for me, you can decide for yourself which works best for you. I have a strange feeling that downloading will be the way people will buy music in the future but it will take a few years yet.
A Word on Recording - The same computer technology that made the internet possible has also made recording simple and inexpensive. Ten years ago, not only did you have no place to market, promote and sell your CD, you also had no way to record it without spending some real cash. Computer technology has inspired thousands of engineers to open up studios in their houses or in other small spaces and you can get yourself recorded for a fraction of the cost these days because of this.
As I said in one of my last articles; no matter where you decide to record, make sure you are prepared before you go to the studio. The big and small studios both charge by the hour so make sure you have it together. If you want to research this subject a little more, check out my friend David Chambelin's site: http://www.dbwproductions.com. He produces and records various artists for a very reasonable price. He'll even arrange your stuff and play on it for you. His site offers advice on how to prepare for your session.
Have Fun - The whole thing is a blast. You have nobody to blame if you can't sell any CDs, and that's part of the adventure. You get a chance to use your head, grow in the process and make friends around the world. What could be better than that?
Until next time...