|Where do we go from here?
For years, the online music scene was built on a house of cards. Unsigned
artists took to the upstart music sites and were spoiled rotten. They not
only got free hosting and unlimited bandwidth to showcase their music but
they expected to get paid for those very streams. They had free access to
create as many one-off CDs as they wanted on MP3.com in just a matter of
clicks and still take a more generous cut than their major label brethren
-- and many still took that for granted.
Those pampered days? Toast. While venture capitalists funded the hedonistic
days of Payback for Playback on MP3.com and $5,000 bounties for babies named
Iuma (yes, Iuma.com did pay out $50,000 to ten parents that named their newborns
Iuma in 2001) only feasible, profitable business models need apply in the
suddenly barren space of Online Music Distributors (or OMDs).
While that might be bad news for the 250,000 artists gazing at their shoes
as MP3.com fades away, I'm going to tell you that this isn't a time to wax
nostalgic about the past -- it's time to get excited about the future.
Rather than competing with hundreds of thousands of your fellow artists who
were spoonfed the benefits of digital distribution you can be one of the
few to realize that this is the perfect time to take advantage of the medium.
While everyone puts the Music before the Business, your ascension will come
from switching those terms around. Your music is what it is. You can practice
your chops and hone your songwriting skills just fine without me. If you
don't think your music is marketable, then maybe this is a good place to
rest your bookmark and come back when you think you are ready to exploit
the web to further your career in music. This page isn't going anywhere.
I'll wait as long as it takes until you are ready.
Hurry up, though. The time to walk away from the crowded stage of obsolescence
and join the few pioneers on the next warm-up stage is short. If you're ready,
and if you think that your music is ready, it's time to capitalize on the
strengths of the Internet to make it in the, yes, Business Music. All you
need is a little PEP. Presence. Exposure. Product. It's three pieces that
interlock to create the complete package.
Let's get this PEP rally started, shall we?
My band, Paris By Air, was one of the lucky ones. We spilled ink on a major
label contract over a dozen years ago and had a few dance music hits land
on the Billboard club charts while we were signed to Sony's Columbia Records
label. It didn't last. It never does. But with a vast catalog of unreleased
material I took my band's entry into the digital world in 1999 seriously.
While we clearly never became mainstream famous I made it a point to snag
the ParisByAir.com domain even before we joined MP3.com in December of 1999.
Whether it would be scooped up by a freestyle cybersquatter or an online
travel agency I didn't want to take chances. By owning my domain I always
knew that any potential fans would always know where to reach us. Music sites
will come and go but an annually registered domain name is forever and can
be redirected to your next hub.
So the first step is to make sure that you own your band name. If your group
just happens to be called Oracle or Apple, you're out of luck. But even the
most common of words should be available in one form or the other. Adding
a "The" before your artist name or "Music" or at the end should help you
lock up the .com (preferably) or one of the other lesser domain extensions.
If you already own your domain and have ad-free hosting (in other words,
not a free site like Angelfire or Geocities), you've got Presence down. Move
on to the meatier part on Exposure. Everyone else, stick with me.
Is your domain available? Let's find out. I like Registerfly.com because
it offers variations of domains that you are looking up. And, right, while
Network Solutions or Register.com will run you $30-35 a year Registerfly
will charge you less than $10 for the registration. It also offers free URL
redirection which is important if you want to simply redirect that traffic
to your most impressive artist page on your OMD of choice. So, go ahead,
check with Registerfly.
Now you have to ask yourself if you will be needing a place to host your
domain. If you're fine just sending folks over to your favorite OMD page,
that's great. The beauty of owning your own domain is that it is under your
control. But if you want a bit more flexibility -- to, say, add a photo gallery
of your performances or provide an ad-free look or even host your own song
files -- you will need a webhost.
Thanks to the falling server prices you can now get a whole lot of bang for
your hosting buck. While some places like Yahoo! and Verisign still charge
$40-50 a month for basic hosting here are three options that will be far
easier on your pocketbook.
- If you want it all, this is the best value for you. At just $7.95 a month
(paid annually -- just $6.95 a month if you pay two years in advance) this
host comes with 500 megs of space (enough room for more than six hours worth
of MP3 files encoded at the 128kbps standard) and a huge 30 gigs of
- If you've got a few different music projects going on and
you don't want to associate them all to the same domain name, Jumpline
is the cheapest option for a virtual dedicated server. For less than $15
a month (or $2.50 per domain) you can run 6 different sites from the
same account. While you will only be getting 500 megs and 10 gigs of monthly
bandwidth to share between the six domains, it's an option worth considering
Doteasy - If you don't plan on making any of your
songs available on your site and you want the cheapest banner-free solution
-- how does free sound? DotEasy is the only free ad-free host that I have
come across. This site? It's hosted by DotEasy. But it's not entirely free.
If you register your name through DotEasy (and it will run you at least twice
as much as it would on RegisterFly) the hosting free. However, the other
option is if you already have a domain registered. You can pay either a one-time
fee of $35 or refer two new accounts to DotEasy and have that fee waived.
Register your domain at Registerfly and have it hosted at DotEasy and you'll
be ahead by your third year. The downside is that the hosting is limited.
Just 20 megs of storage and a single gig of monthly bandwidth. You do have
some cool plug-ins like a guestbook but you will obviously be directing folks
to an OMD to hear your music.
There is a third option -- an even cheaper one. If your Internet Service
Provider has allocated some web storage space to you, you can use that and
just redirect your RegisterFly domain to your assigned web space.
The point is to have a clean host. You really don't want to send fans over
to a Tripod page with pop-up ad windows. If a label was interested in you
or if someone had a music licensing opportunity to pitch your way, they would
take one look at a free host and bolt. If an artist doesn't care about
establishing a professional online presence what kind of effort would one
expect in the recording studio or a live show?
Will you need to spend a fortune on web design? No. Simplicity is fine. Sure,
if you have a friend who can create a lavish flash site for you, go for it.
But the basic templates provided by the webhosts will suffice for now. If
you want some customized programming done,
the cheapest bids can be found
at Scriptlance, but it's not a dealkiller. Just make
sure that your first impression with every potential fan is a pleasurable
Presence pays, even if you have to foot the bill the first time around.
How did listeners come across your music? Were you pimping away on various
OMD message boards or did you achieve charting success organically? We're
playing in different times now and you need to learn some guerilla marketing
tips to stand out higher than the rest.
Let's start with the obvious. Who are you? Where would people looking to
hear your style of music congregate online? Think about this. If you sound
similar to an established act, go to Yahoo! Groups and seek out any of the
online fan clubs devoted to discussing said act. Make your presence known
and ask others to check you out to see how you compare? Don't make it a drive-by
spamming. These might very well be your biggest potential fans. Take the
time to engage in provocative thoughts and show your accessibility.
Then make some less obvious connections. Go to Google's Deja to find newsgroups
that appeal to a broader base that might be relative. If you're putting out
country music you're more likely to find more willing ears in a NASCAR forum
than you would a Star Trek usenet group.
Seek out as many high-traffic tie-ins as possible. The best part is that
this is the kind of clever sweat equity that does pay off and won't cost
you a dime -- only your time.
But if you really want to invest in exposure the performance-based text ad
revolution pioneered by Overture is booming and still untapped by independent
artists who are still a year or two away from grasping the significance of
Whether you are plugging your hosted site or simply an existing OMD page,
the magic behind the new breed of pay-per-click search engines is that you
only pay for traffic that comes on over to check you out. And these are real
people, coming over with legitimate interests. This isn't one of those NoMoreHits
or StartBlaze type of sites where the traffic is a forgettable nuisance.
Face it, if you have spent the last few years parked in front of OMD message
boards you may have made a few lasting friendships and possibly collaborated
on a project or two but you squandered your time as a promoter. It's true.
That's not where the fans go. You went online to widen your audience and
wound up settling for hanging out with your fellow artists for territorial
commiseration. Your potential fans don't know you even exist. Yet! But through
your sponsored placement in search engines you will be making new direct
connections to the kind of listener that would never find you on an OMD message
board or even on active newsgroups and related message boards.
Why do folks use search engines? Because they are looking for something.
You can be that something. How do these pay-per-click engines work? Simple.
You deposit an amount of money -- typically about $50. Then you proceed to
bid on certain keywords. The higher the bid the higher your placement. That's
why you will want to be selective. Checking out Overture's
tool you see that the top bid for MP3 is $0.92. That's too high.
You can bid lower and still be in the mix. Either way, your placement is
free. You only get charged when someone clicks on your ad.
But what about the search term: Rock MP3s? Much better. The only bid is a
dime! Not only is this cheaper but you won't be wasting traffic for folks
who were looking for MP3 players or information about MP3s or interested
in an entirely different genre. You have three lines of text to convey your
ad, but you still want to be as clear as possible by bidding only on targeted
keywords and the names of established artists that you think would share
the same audience as you.
Let's go over four of the largest pay-per-click players. We'll explain a
few more things along the way.
Overture - The original.
While the minimum bid -- a dime -- is ten times higher than the penny bids
that smaller players will let you make, the company claims to reach 80% of
the world's most active Internet users. Overture's high bids and its restrictive
minimums (you must spend at least $20 a month) might actually be a blessing
in that it scares off a lot of bidders so you will find many of your desired
keywords and phrases barren. Despite the musically termed domain the pioneer
of sponsored searches is fertile soil for the unsigned community to get heard.
AdWords - Everyone loves Google. Maybe too many people. Due to the
AdWords has become a haven for affiliate marketers bidding up even the most
obscure of keywords. Google's minimum is only a nickel but you will find
the playing field far more crowded than Overture. Still, it's reach is wide
and that's just what you're looking for when it comes to exposing new ears
to what you have to offer.
Ah-Ha.com - A penny
for your thoughts? Ah-Ha is probably the largest of the penny traffic sites.
Can you imagine drawing 5000 interested fans to your site for just $50? We're
not talking about click-and-run traffic. We're talking about 5000 folks who
hit affiliated search engines like Excite or LookSmart, read your three line
ad and still wanted to find out more about you. This isn't that MP3.com artist
that you agreed to swap streams with. We're talking thousands of visitors
with every intention to check you out.
FindWhat - Like
Ah-ha, FindWhat is another search provider that can be bought with penny
candy. Actually, this month they're offering an extra 500 clicks with your
$50 deposit so you're talking about 5,500 potential fans and buyers of your
You probably don't want to use all four at the same time. Try the one that
best suits your needs and then add to your network of promotion if you are
satisfied with the results.
You're almost done. You created your Presence. You are drawing traffic through
your successful quest for Exposure. Now is when you have to close the deal
with what? Yes, the Product.
What are you selling? Music? If only it were that simple. It's not a trick
question really, it's only that every artist has something different to sell.
What drew you to the online medium in the first place? Were you a hot, rising
band looking to get signed or were you a seasoned performer more interested
in getting paid to have your songs licensed for film and television? Are
you a single musician looking to collaborate on recording projects with others
online or did you just press 1000 CDs and want to sell them fast?
Once you come to grips with your reasons for taking your music online you
will quickly identify your original goals. Are you selling your songs, your
musicianship or your band? While it might seem like a lousy time to take
a strategic U-Turn here, identifying your Product will actually shape your
approach to Presence and Exposure.
If you're trying to license your music you're not going to have to cultivate
much of an image, but you will have to provide access to your content library.
You may find yourself bidding on keywords that appeal to your fellow artists
or music licensing professionals rather than a passive listening audience.
If you want to sign that lucrative record deal then you will have to give
your Presence a little more polish. You won't need to reveal your entire
catalog of music, simply your most marketable tracks. You want fans. You
will seek them out through guerilla marketing and sponsored searches.
That's why the Product is always different. While a CD may appear to be the
most tangible piece of merchandise for an artist to sell you are actually
selling your visions of what you hope to accomplish through your music. Realistic
or not, it's what you will be pitching outside of your virtual lemonade stand.
As far as the CD goes, people took the MP3.com CD program for granted. Sure,
the sonic quality was that of your basic MP3-encoded track but it was a free
and painless way to move a CD. My band sold nearly 150 CDs on MP3.com until
MP3.com was sold -- then sold again -- with the CD program abandoned.
Where does one turn to create CDs for free beyond MP3.com? Unfortunately,
you don't have a whole lot of options.
CafePress just launched an audio CD program. However, you
will have to mail in your songs (which means that the CD will be of greater
quality, but it also means a little extra legwork on your end).
is another free
solution, and this time you can just upload your MP3 files if you don't want
to mail in a higher quality master -- though that option is certainly available.
SwiftCD is another option.
Mixonic also makes regular CDs. If you're looking to buy in significant sums,
Discmakers has been around for ages and the CDs will come with their own
UPC bar code -- which will come in handy if you ever want your disc to be
stocked in stores. Shop around, ask around. There are plenty of CD manufacturers
but if you have a CD burner at home, and most new personal computers do,
then you are always welcome to burn your own.
How do you sell those CDs? If you want someone else to stock your discs and
handle all of the fulfillment you will have to pay upfront fees.
CDBaby is the best on that
front as it has sold more than 500,000 CDs and mailed out over $4 million
to its artists. You can also pay to become a member of
Ampcast and take advantage
of its solid CD program.
Then again, if you're going through the trouble of creating your Presence
and drumming up Exposure maybe you don't need a middleman for your Product.
If you're able to burn your own CDs at home and sell them as such or if you
have an existing inventory of pressed CDs why not be your own retailer? You
made the music. You promoted your music. Now you can face the music.
(if you're not a member yet you will get a $5 bonus just for signing
up). Once you sign up, go to the Merchant Tools area and set up a Buy Now
button for a single item. Fill out the form (including the shipped price).
And that's it. You can plug the code you will receive on your artist page
and every time that someone uses that link to buy your CD you will receive
an e-mail notification with the address to ship the CD and the funds (after
PayPal's small bite) will be in your account. It's that simple.
Got it all down? Don't worry, this page isn't going anywhere. Bookmark the
page and you can work that PEP on your own schedule. More ways to make a
difference in the crowded space of online music will follow in the coming
weeks. Stick around.
-- Rick Munarriz