Archive for the ‘Ask Grassrootsy’ category

I Don’t Know html. How Do I Build a Website?

November 4, 2010

ARTIST: Eric Downs of Yours Truly (Pittsburgh, PA)
QUESTION: I was wondering if you could suggest a few things for me to research in regards to building a website. I’ve researched options like the cost of domain registration and hosting fees, but outside of that, I’m relatively oblivious. Do you think you could provide me with some guidance?

ANSWER: Hey Eric. Yea I think the biggest hangup preventing artists from owning their own website is not know html code.  Yea its easy to get someone to design a site for you, but you still need to be responsible for maintaining it.  Here are some great options.

1. Bandzoogle. I’ve heard really great things about Bandzoogle. Artists have told me its great because it helps you design a site without needing to have any html knowledge.  BZ handles all hosting and you can claim your desired domain name through them.  The minimum fee is $9.99/ month. This is more costly than registering a domain and buying annual hosting space on your own…but the ease and user-friendly approach of BZ is what sells the idea.

2. WordPress. Everyone uses WordPress. Believe it or not, many of the sites you visit today are created with WordPress. You have to register your own domain and hosting. And it’s definitely necessary to have some html and css knowledge to establish your site. But once everything is in place, updating your pages is easy.  Wordpress has thousands upon thousands of themes (i.e. designs) that you can pick for the layout of your website. Here are two ways to go about using WordPress.

  • Consider having someone do all the setup (if you can’t), then go in and do all the tweaking. My sister’s band,  The Peace Project,  just did this with their site, but you might never know it’s WordPress. She added and updates the content when she wants.
  • Consider having someone do the setup and design. Maybe you can’t find a WordPress theme that you like. Create one. This is a bit more work and would also require a third-party if you don’t know how to do this. I had someone custom make a design for my website, www.joyike.com. Css and html knowledge that I didn’t have was required. But it feels great not having to worry about using html when updating

Good luck with your website! I hope it goes well!
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Is Bandcamp Really Worth It?

October 13, 2010

THE ARTIST: Caleb Pogyor (Pittsburgh, PA)
THE QUESTION: I was just wondering if Bandcamp has been good to you in terms of fairness and profit. Is it worth signing up and selling a $5 record? I’m releasing my new album on October 25th and was trying to find a good site to sell through.

THE ANSWER: I really love Bandcamp and I’ve written alot about these guys in the past. Here’s one of those posts: Bandcamp- A Great Place to Pitch Your Tent. But is it worth it financially?  Here are my thoughts…

1. Bandcamp has the artist in mind. Most download sites take roughly 30% of your track sales. On Bandcamp you can set the price of downloads and it routes through your paypal. Bandcamp takes 15% and then paypal takes a cut as well…but it still doesnt add up to 30%.

Bandcamp is also a good place for doing  promotionals. The site allows you to get people’s email addresses in exchange for a free download.  Things like this will help you build your fanbase. You can also run special promotional code discounts and other promos that you wouldn’t be able to run through iTunes or the bigger download stores.

Bandcamp will also give you a good platform for allowing people to hear your full CD before they decide to buy it. Some people might never buy it if they can hear it anytime for free, but some will.

2. iTunes has more customer loyalty. The reality of it is that most people will get your music from iTunes no matter what. Use Tunecore for this. Tunecore is a platform that allows you to submit your music to big dogs like iTunes, Amazon, Napster…etc. Read this post for more on that:  Alternatives – CD Packaging, Production, & Distribution.   iTunes is pretty much a monopoly in this game of digital downloads. So if you’re looking for a spot where 95% of people are already visiting, put your stuff on iTunes.

3. Who says you can’t do both? iTunes in great, BUT  Bandcamp is awesome for the folks who dont want to submit to “the man” 🙂 and folks who are looking for unconventional ways to do what they do.  So who says you can’t do both. Put your eggs in multiple baskets and they’ll both benefit you in different ways.

SOMETHING TO SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT:
You might want to apply for Paypal’s “Micropayments Rate“.  According to Bandcamp, if the items you sell are under $12, it’ll be more advantageous to go the micropayments route so you get the best bang for your buck.  Think of it this way:

If you’re selling a $.99 track through bandcamp, Paypal will still take 30% of that and bandcamp will take their 15%.  You’ll get roughly $.55 of every dollar. That’s not exactly ideal. But if you set up micropayments, Paypal will take a much much smaller percentage and you make more to the dollar.

This is yet another reason why i love working with Paypal and Bandcamp.

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Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?

September 29, 2010

THE ARTIST: Ben Rothermel (Lancaster, PA)
THE QUESTION: I recently played a show where the booking agent asked me to sell X amount of tickets. The amount was high on my fan draw but doable if I got almost every single fan to buy a ticket. I had an entire month to plan and promote for the show and started heavily doing so 2+ weeks out. I hung up posters with my info attached, created a facebook event and shared it daily in my newsfeed, and talked to everyone I knew in a friendly attempt to sell tickets to them. In the end though, I was left walking into the club with barely 1/3 of my quota filled. It was very embarrassing to hand them over to the booking agent and I’m quite sure we won’t be doing business together for some time.

Now, I did everything that I’ve learned works and still came out losing in this game of selling tickets. Do you have any insight into my situation? Should I avoid shows that require me to sell a minimum amount of tickets so as to avoid possible letdown? What has your experience with ticketed shows taught you?

THE ANSWER: Hey Ben, I think many people reading this can identify with your scenario and have probably found themselves in the same situation (myself included).   I’ve had a number of experiences with this and they’ve all been negative.  Here are my thoughts.

1. Don’t do it!
Just an opinione but  it seems like venues use musicians to make money off ticket sales…and the musician leaves with nothing. In most cases the number of tickets you sell isn’t fair for the amount of stage time you’ll be given. Personally i have a really really hard time selling tickets and if a venue asks me to sell them, I pass on the show. It’s never worth my time and all the hustling. In most cases, if a venue asks you to sell tickets, you only get to keep a small percentage of the sale. So lets say tix are $10 and you get $2 from every sale. Even if you sell 20 (and that’s alot), you’ve only made $40. That’s SHADY!

2. But if you do…
Realize that its a twisted trade-off. Musicians need venues just as much as they need musicians. And venues need to make their money too. It’s a business. Just read An Interview with Joe Squared – Things Every Venue Wishes You Knew. If you want to play at a venue but need to sell tickets, make sure the show is something you would regret missing out on. In other words, if you’ll hate yourself for passing up on the show, then do what you need to do to make it happen. Maybe you have a chance to open for a nationally touring artist you’ve always admired. That’s an good example of a show worth hustling for.

3. Ask Yourself these questions… (because they will affect ticket sales)

  • How close is this venue to the majority of my fanbase?
  • What day of the week does this event fall on?
  • Is this the type of venue/event my fans would come to?
  • How long is my set? Am I asking people to spend $10 on a ticket if I’m only playing for 15 minutes?

4. Also remember…

  • Venues are sometimes hesitant to give new artists a chance. If they don’t know your draw potential and you promise them 20 people, selling advance tickets is the best way for them to hold you to your word. If you honestly can’t bring out 20 people or 10 or 5 (or whatever their standard is), then be honest with them and wait till you can.
  • Give yourself enough time to sell tickets and hype the show. Sometimes people need to let an idea sink in before they buy into it. Ben, it sounds like you did this.
  • Try not to do ticketed shows too regularly.  The constant promoting will wear you down…and everybody else for that matter. Space out major shows by a few months

I’m interested in knowing what other Grassrootsy readers have to say about this topic. Leave your comments below.

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What Do You Think About Facebook Friend Swapping?

August 30, 2010

Tiffany Thompson

THE ARTIST: Tiffany Thompson (Washington, DC)
THE QUESTION: So I had this idea the other day about a possible way to broaden my online friend/fan base. What if two artists, for example me and you, gave each other permission to go through and friend all of the other person’s friends on Facebook. I know this is kinda looked down upon in the Facebook music world…especially when you do it without telling the other person. But it seemed like it might be a good way to get our music out to new listeners.

For example, say I have a music friend named James Smith. With his permission, I could add his friends and with the friend request send a message like : “Hi! I am a friend of James Smith and we are sharing our music with each other’s Facebook friends. Thought you might like to check out my music: www.tiffanythompsonmusic.com. Thanks! ”  Something like that?

What do you think? Be honest!

THE ANSWER: Welk I personally am not so hot on the idea. I actually tried this once with someone else. I went and added a bunch of his friends with a similar brief message.  Some people responded and some did not. But I’ve noticed that those people who did respond have not kept themselves in tune with my music. They don’t respond to comments, status updates, or participate in any of my FB conversations like my other fans. Their interest was high in the beginning but died almost immediately. So the way I see it, you have two ways to earn fans….

  1. Make friends to market – this would be the route we’ve just discussed. You’re basically adding these people so you can “advertise to them”. People don’t want to be spammed and they don’t want to be used for what you can get out of them.
  2. Earn friends, earn fans – this requires doing what you do without the intention of selling something. Go to the show, play music, earn people’s ears, and tell them to find you online if they like what they’ve heard. If someone goes out of their way to find you online, you can be sure they’ll be a longtime fan.

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Do You Have Any Tips on Successfully Booking Shows?

August 23, 2010

Via Linota

THE ARTIST: Via Linota Lancaster, PA
THE QUESTION: My  CD release party is coming up and I’m going to need to start playing as many shows as possible to get the word out. I noticed you are booking a lot of stuff. Just thought I might write and ask if you had any suggestions for being successful on booking shows. If you have a minute to give me a few tips i would really appreciate it.

THE ANSWER: Congrats on the new CD! That question has so many answers.  I highly recommend checking out this former post: 5 Tips for a Booking a Successful Show. But here are some newer thoughts on that matter that are maybe a little easier to digest.

1. Get other artists opinions on a venue before booking to see if it will be a good fit for you.

2. Decide what type of environment your music best fits. Are you cool with being background music (i.e. a bar)? Or do you want to play for listening audiences (i.e. listening rooms)?  Or both? I’ve personally decided that I don’t want to do background music shows anymore. They’re a waste of my time and they don’t help me build my fanbase b/c no one is listening. Just a thought. However, background music-type shows often pay the bills…so i wouldn’t write them off.

3. Always have an email sign-up sheet at EVERY show. Pass it around and get new subscribers as often as possible. This will give you the opp to stay connected with the people who like your music. If you’ve missed the opportunity to connect with them, you’ve lost a potentially long-term fan. See Mailing Lists & Social Networking.

4. Read your local city paper and find out what events are taking place. See if they need local music. You’ll be surprised at what you find out by reading the local paper, visit other musicians websites, and subscribing to community calendars. See Stay Informed: Read, Watch, Listen, Go.

5. Play at local farmers market, gallery opening and anything that could benefit from music. Even if it’s not their original game plan to have music, ask them if they’d be open to the idea. Never underestimate the power of suggestion.

6. House shows are great…espec since Fall is around the corner. See House Shows – Small Crowd, Big Return.

This website also has tons of other posts on everything from booking tours to deciding what type of venues are best for you. Ch-ch-check it out 🙂

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What Are Your Thoughts on House Shows?

July 7, 2010


THE ARTIST:
Brooke Annibale. Pittsburgh, PA. 
THE QUESTION: I was wondering if you’ve done many house shows in the region and how your experiences have been. Ever get any strangers requesting house shows that seem shady? Or have most of them been with people you know? Or established “house show houses.” Just really looking for any advice in this area that you may be willing to offer. Maybe you’ve done a blog about it that i’ve missed you could just pass on.

THE ANSWER: Yea, check out this Grassrootsy blog specifically on house shows:House Shows – Small Crowd, Big Return“. It’s got alot of helpful information!

Personally speaking, I do alot of house shows. I do them especially during seasons when  i don’t have time to promote official shows. I actually havent done any shady house shows before. In fact, they’ve always been really profitable and little or no work at all to put together.  In general, most of my house shows come through people who have been to shows in the past or through friends of friends.

To get into the practice of doing house shows, heres’ what you can do:

1. Pitch the Idea to Your Fans. Tweet, post a status update or, put a little paragraph in your newsletter(s)telling your fans that you’re starting to take on more house shows. Since we’re in the heat of the summer, pitch it as the perfect idea for a weekend barbeque, a summer evening get-together for friends, a house party, or a potluck.

2. Consider Charging a Fee. When pitching yourself for house shows, negotiate your fee with the host. I think you should decide what you think is best. Maybe a fixed fee or a donation bucket for attendees to contribute to. Keep in mind that statistically, musicians make more $ at house shows than at gigs. It’s just a crazy fact that has alot to do with the intimacy and one-on-one interaction with guests. More on this here.

3. Draw Up a Contract. If you think that someone is questionable or that you’re about to dive into a shady house show experience, here are your options.

  • Run! Don’t do the show if you don’t feel comfortable about it.
  • Give it a try; see what happens. The great thing about house shows is that you’re not really losing all that much…except some time.
  • Draw up a simple contract and have them sign and give it to you when you arrive at their place. Tell them not to stress over the contract but that its something you have to do since its not an official venue. More on creating contracts/invoices here.

Good luck!

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What if a Band Member Can’t Make it to a Show?

June 16, 2010


THE BAND:
The Beggar Folk. Lancaster, PA.
THE QUESTION: So we have a gig in a few weeks and we promised them we’d bring out our whole band, but it turns out our string player can’t make it. Should we just show up with a smaller version of the band, or should we contact the booker ahead of time and risk having to forfeit the gig…especially if they’re expecting strings.

THE ANSWER: If you’re in a band, or if you sometimes play with a band, this has probably happened to you at one time or another. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Are you being paid. If you’re being paid for a gig, you’re basically being contracted for a project. It’s a way for a booker to use you on their terms. If they hire you as a band, then you need to arrive at the show with a full band. If they hire you as a solo artist, then come as a solo artist.  If they hire you as a band but you come with just two people, that might not go over too well.

If you’re not being paid, then you might have more flexibility…because if you think of it, you’re basically volunteering your time. Feel it out and get an idea of how serious the gig is and how serious your contact might take the change in band size. Just make sure that whatever you do doesn’t negatively affect your relationship with the booker/venue/event for the future.

2. Try a replacement. Sometimes this is annoying – having to teach a new person your tunes just for one gig. But it might not be a bad idea to have a backup plan and to bring this substitute musician into the mix anytime you have a missing member. Substitutes will always come in handy.  It would suck to have to miss a big opportunity simply because one member can’t make it.  It would also suck for your set to sound significantly different because a particular instrument is missing.

3. Just talk to the booker. Be upfront and let the booker know that one of your bandmates has had a conflict in his schedule and can’t make it.  It actually might not be a big deal. I’ve personally had a few instances where this happened to me. Here are a few different ways to handle it.

  • “Hi Ryan, One of our bandmates has had a conflict in his schedule and can’t be part of our gig next week.  I just want to make sure you know this since you are expecting the full band to show up. Please let me know if this will affect your interest in having us perform at the Arts Festival. I apologize for the changeup.”
  • “Hi Ryan, It turns out that my drummer and bassist are both tied up the evening of the event.  Would you mind if I did this show as an acoustic set?   If that will affect pay, I will understand. Please let me know your thoughts.  Sorry for the changeup.

4. What does Your Default Picture Look Like? When people see pictures on your website, myspace and facebook, do they see a picture of your band or of you as a singer/songwriter? You’ll probably get more requests for whatever “face” you show people. And if you show yourself as a singer/songwriter you’ll have much more flexibility and be able to present yourself in solo, duo, trio, and band form.  Just keep that in mind.

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