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Launching your band online: You’re not making music, you’re making internet

By | Published on Friday 7 May 2010

So, yesterday CMU took to the stage at Apple’s Regent Street store in London as part of this week’s City Showcase festival to debate and advise on the best ways for new artists to launch themselves online. On the panel were five of the UK music industry’s top digital music people, the head of PIAS’s Digital Marketing department Darren Hemmings, Good Lizard Media director David Riley, SoundCloud’s Dave Haynes, Music Glue’s Mark Meharry, and Pledge Music founder and musician Benji Rogers.

CMU Publisher Chris Cooke, who chaired the panel, began proceedings by telling the assembled audience: “The internet has been a great equaliser in the music community, because it has ended the dominance a small number of companies had over the traditional routes to market. The biggest players no longer control access to consumers. They also don’t really know what they are doing. This is a great opportunity for young bands, who can now reach a global audience as easily and as well as a major label signed act”.

“However”, he continued, “the downside is that everyone else can do that too. Plus, while there are loads of great low cost or free online services designed to help new bands, there are also far too many. How can bands use the internet to launch their careers? And what services should they bother signing up to? This is what we are here to discuss today”. 

All the panellists agreed that it was important to use the internet to ‘engage’ fans, rather than simply pump out information. David Riley said: “Be interesting and be interested. The internet is not a broadcast medium, it’s a conversation”, while Darren Hemmings added: “Don’t just keep saying your new release is out, your fans probably already know that”.

Mark Meharry said that it was important not to rush your band or music onto the internet. He told the audience: “Spend more time honing your craft, write some really good songs and buy a van! The internet is a tool for fans to spread what you’re doing, but you need to excite some fans first with some great music. All the bands that have successfully used Music Glue are ones where a lot of effort was put into getting the product right first. It’s a long process”.

Patience was a theme which arose more than once, Riley saying: “Don’t expect instant results, and spend time building a quality fanbase. The average open rate for an email newsletter is 16%, you could have 16,000 people on your list, but you might be better of just having 1600 and concentrating on engaging with them”.

Elsewhere, Benji Rogers revealed: “I have a 100,000 friends on MySpace but I can’t communicate with them, because I can’t open my inbox, because every time I do there are 4000 pieces of spam in there. At shows, the main thing you want to do is get people to sign up to your email list. People won’t necessarily remember your name or your MySpace address. But if you get their email, you can connect directly with them. Once you have a fan’s email, communicate with the fan, and give them things to do. Don’t beg them for money, tell them what they’ll get if they join you”.

Other panellists agreed building an email list of fans was important, but stressed you must use that email list responsibly, and that, even with a great mailing list, you might still use Facebook or Twitter to do a lot of your fan communications. Haynes added that, whatever channel, online fan communication was more successful if you’re creative. He observed: “You don’t make music, you make internet. Last week everyone was talking about the new MIA video, and it was the video more than the song because it was something creative and interesting that engaged people”.

One musician in the audience asked about the logic of new bands giving away their music as free downloads – he was concerned that just giving everything away for free devalued all the effort he had made in creating his songs. But most of the panellists reckoned some sort of free track promotion was probably needed (though it needn’t involve a whole album). They said such promotions should be seen as an exchange rather than a giveaway – whether the exchange be an email address, some data or simple good will. Rogers said: “Don’t give anything away, trade it”.

Hemmings responded: “It’s about attributed value. There has to be a strategy. If you give away music away now and use that to build your fanbase, you might make your money back later. Use a service that collects data and insight, which are key to refine what you’re doing”. He also gave the example of an artist who had successfully built a strong fanbase using Bandcamp by giving his first release away completely free, the second for free in exchange for an email address, and then the third for £3, at which point he had a strong database and fans willing to pay for his music.

Meharry added: “In the early stages, you’re not in a position to sell. Those early fans are free PR, they’re the ones who will go and spread the word about your music”.

And so a conclusion. Being on the internet in itself won’t launch a band, but the right web-based platforms can engage and excite fans, and turn them into advocates of your music. By providing compelling and free content, and by communicating in a way suitable to your audience (and by tracking your online activity, so you know what is suitable), you can build a fanbase to the point at which they will start to pay to access your output.

Further information on the panellists is available here: Their recommendations for the best digital services will be added to this page later today.

For more info on City Showcase visit

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