A basic strategy for music in 5 steps

I was chatting to a good friend of mine yesterday about business strategies for her music.  She’s not planning on chart-topping super-stardom, she just wants to have a plan for getting her music out there and hopefully making some money on it.

So, I thought I’d put together my ideas for a good start-up web strategy for a musician or band.

1. Create a website.

This is about getting your web presence set up.  For your own website I’d recommend getting some cheap (but not free) hosting space with your own domain name.  Hosting space will cost you less than £50 / $100, and a domain name is frequently thrown in for free in your first year of hosting.

You’ll need web space with PHP and MySQL because you’re going to need to install WordPress—the same blog software that runs this site—along with a couple of WordPress plugins created by Illinois developer Dan Coulter.

Dan has two “must have” WordPress plugins for musicians:

The normal “blog” section of your blog should be regularly updated to keep your fanbase up to date on forthcoming gigs, progress on new tracks, inside info on the writing/recording etc.

Some sort of email newsletter plugin is also required.  I don’t have any recommendations for a particular plugin here – just one recommendation for strategy: don’t spam anyone.  The only people you want to receive your email newsletter are the people who want to receive your email newsletter.

When you’ve got all this set up (it’s about a 1 hour job for your neighbourhood geek) then you need to get a decent theme for your site – there are plenty of free themes on the WordPress Theme Viewer or you can get one designed specially for you by a decent web designer.

You’re now ready to upload all your MP3s and make them available for free on your website – you’re not going to make any money selling compressed digital files so set them free.  To quote Tim O’Reilly: “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy“.

2. Create associated social network profiles.

The next stage is to create a MySpace band profile page, a Last.fm profile…  There are other good social networks for music – I hesitate to name them here because in 6 months my list will be out of date.  Search them out and get on them.

Andrew Dubber has some very good suggestions for what to do on your MySpace page, as has Wired magazine.

Your aim (at this stage, anyway – perhaps always) is not to be able to afford a guitar-shaped swimming pool, but to get 1000 True Fans. Or perhaps it’s 500 or 5000 true fans – whichever figure is correct, the point is that you’re looking at an achieveable target, not a dream of superstardom.

3. Keep making music & playing gigs.

No matter how cool your website, how interactive your blog, or how many friends you have on MySpace, you need to keep creating music and making it available as free MP3 files on your site.

Keep playing gigs.  You could try giving away CDs at gigs (make sure your website address is clearly mentioned on the CD or case!) – I wrote about this strategy back in February explaining the rationale behind it.

4. Your first pay-for product.

Now, apart from getting paid to play gigs—and let’s face it, the money you get for paying gigs at this stage barely covers your gig overheads—you’re not getting any money from your music yet.

I think that a good starting strategy is to put together a good CD.  Spend time and money on the packaging (I love card-stock digipacks – they’re so much more appealing as objects than jewel cases).

Seek out local artists who might be prepared to create artwork for your CD.  Seek out graphic designers to put the artwork together with the text.  You might think you can do these things yourself, but the work of a good artist and a good graphic designer makes the difference between something that looks OK and something that looks great.

Small Limited Editions are almost a necessity (after all, you probably can’t afford huge print runs) so make a feature of it.  Hand-number them as limited editions, make the packaging really, really attractive, and sign them all to make them special.

5. Make more music and play more gigs.

You can’t sit back and just wait for your CD to sell.  You need to get out there, make more music, play more gigs, get on the latest social networks and music sites…

Don’t wait for your CD to sell out before you make the next one – otherwise it never will. The more CDs you make, the more opportunities you have to sell both your frontlist (your new CD) and backlist (your previous CDs).