If you read The Prescription religiously – and there are worse things to read religiously incidentally; try a Jilly Cooper novel; a Melanie Phillips column; or that bit in the Old Testament where Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt – then you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a hell of a lot of my advice to you young musical upstarts involves the internet. And this, quite simply, is because the internet is now the fulcrum point around which the music industry is turning; the current rumours that the major labels are to abandon the CD in 2012 in favour of selling files only underline this point.
The net gives most independent musicians something that they otherwise really would not have had – the opportunity to have their music heard by a large number of strangers (this was previously largely the preserve of signed acts). But it does something else too: it allows musicians to communicate directly with these strangers in rather sophisticated ways, through all manner of powerful tools: social networks, live video streaming services, email, the good old-fashioned website...the list goes on. This means that not only can strangers judge your music, they can judge you and form an opinion on how hip / sexy / annoying you are (delete as appropriate). And sadly, with the music industry being what it is, it’s often (perhaps usually!) the latter judgment that is of most importance to your career prospects. So getting your online reputation right is really important. Besides which, your online reputation is probably the only reputation you have. Sorry to be a bit downbeat about things, but the chances are that if you are reading this article, rather than sunning yourself in Barbados, then you are part of that non-exclusive club of musicians who are getting no press or airplay whatsoever and have turned to the internet in a desperate bid to compensate for the lack of general attention from the media. Understandable enough – but too often, musicians use the only tool available to them to come across as complete idiots.
Now, I have an admission to make: I’ve been a bit rubbish at managing my online reputation in the past. There are several traps that I’ve fallen into, possibly with the result that the music world thinks I’m an irritating Irish man who posts status updates way too often, and usually about his cat. I’m sure that as a result of my poor use of social media and email, there is a large section of the population that finds me more objectionable than Frankie Cocozza (who, incidentally, now has 331,000 people following him on Twitter; how did that happen?). Anyway, as it seems to be my role in life right now to let other musicians learn from my mistakes, in this article I thought I’d share some do’s and don’ts about managing your reputation online, so that you can avoid ending up as unhip as me.
1. Think about who you want to be online
Before you go near a computer, think about who you want to be online. Are you Jarvis Cocker or Cheryl Cole? Or the bastard lovechild of both? It’s very easy to set up a Wordpress site, a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, but whatever online tools you use to create your online presence, it should absolutely embody the kind of artist you want to present yourself as. Too many musicians just set up an online presence because they can, but really, you should only put anything up online once you have a very clear idea of who you want to present yourself as, and how you want to communicate. Just as you would not create a CD cover without thinking of the kind of music that’s on your album, you should not create a Twitter page only to use one of their default backgrounds and their standard egg-like profile picture. Your choice of photography, design elements and your tone of voice online are going to define your reputation on the web; get these wrong and you’re off to a really crap start.
2. Don’t overcommunicate
Social media makes it hideously easy to share your thoughts. In ‘real’ life I generally try to avoid articulating every thought I have, as they’d probably get me arrested or at the very least lead to some very embarrassing moments, but Facebook and Twitter seem to scream ‘Go on! Say it! Share it with the world!’. And a hell of a lot of bands seem to take Facebook and Twitter up on this offer, posting boring inanity after inanity (or in my case, lots of fairly non-rock-and-roll trivia about my cat Millie, who is a rather extraordinary black and white creature with a big tail…hang on, I’m doing it again). Anyway, what I’m getting at is most people aren’t interested in reading the drummer’s innermost thoughts on cheese every five minutes, so be careful not to overdo it in the tweeting and status update stakes. The same goes for email – do not send an e-newsletter every day to your hard-earned mailing list informing them what you’ve had for breakfast, unless you particularly enjoy seeing your unsubscribe rate treble.
3. Don’t undercommunicate
Just as it’s easy to overdo it, it’s easy to underdo it – some musicians are loathe to use social media at all. Sometimes it’s because they are too ‘old school’; sometimes it’s because they don’t understand its relevance or importance; sometimes it’s because they think their music is so good that a big, fat record deal will come along without any online effort on their part whatsoever. Whatever an artist’s reason for not taking online communications seriously, it’s a big mistake. You absolutely need to keep any social media profile, blog or site you run up-to-date with interesting content: for A&Rs, journalists, DJs and even those boring, normal people who may be inclined to check you out, these are generally the first port of call – and if it looks as though your online presence consists of an out-of-date Facebook profile with 10 fans (11 counting your mum), they’ll quickly draw the conclusion that you generally don’t give a shit. And consequently, neither will they.
4. Don’t spread yourself too thin
There are so many free online music services available to bands that it’s tempting to feel that your band has to have a profile on absolutely every single one of them. Or that if your band does, it will somehow become more successful. But it’s much better to focus on a few key areas rather than setting up 20 different profiles which you never update. Pick 2 or three profiles, and use them well; ensure they are well-promoted and always packed full of interesting content. Personally, these days I’m mainly concerned about Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud, but whatever tools you use, use them wisely, give them love, and keep the content fresh.
5. Don’t go on about your band all the time
Yes, you are primarily setting up social media profiles, websites and so on with a view to promoting your band’s music; and yes, the people who follow you will in theory like the racket you make. But even if your devoted fans think you’re the greatest artist since Daniel Bedingfield [we need a word - Editor], the chances are that your music is only going to form a small part of their lives (unless you’re dealing with the weird stalker type – I’ve had a few American fans which I’ve filed under that category, and I’ll fess up to being slightly proud about that). In short, your followers will not want to only ever receive updates about your latest album; they’re real human beings with interests outside of your music and will find you more engaging if you talk about stuff that relates to aspects of their lives. That could be topics like other artists’ music; politics (although be careful there); art; leather pants – whatever. But nobody likes a self-promoting bore – and as somebody who considers himself something of a self-promoting bore, I can tell you that for nothing. You will lose friends and alienate people if you only ever talk about your own music.
6. Remember your production values
The digital revolution hasn’t just made it easy for people to set up a Facebook page; it’s made it infinitely easier than it was even 5 years ago to create astonishingly professional-looking videos and photos, and fantastically well-produced music. Consequently, there is now a very high level of expectation from music fans regarding the kind of production values they encounter from an unsigned or indie band. OK, so you may want to be deliberately lo-fi, which is fine when done well. But in general, don’t post tracks that sound like they were recorded in a toilet, videos that were recorded on a phone, and photos that were shot by your Aunty Mavis on a family holiday in Torquay (unless she’s a great rock photographer). They just make you look crap.
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