Your Online Presence
A hundred years ago, if you wanted to start a business, you probably started by acquiring real estate - a warehouse, office building, or store-front. Not only did the property provide a physical function, but it also told potential customers, “I am here, I am in business, and I have no intention of going anywhere.”
In today’s virtual marketplace, you still need to “own your space.” A number of platforms will give you a certain amount of online presence. This week, they include Bandzoogle, Reverbnation, Bandcamp, and even SonicBids, SoundCloud, Facebook and YouTube to some extent. But some of them - especially Facebook - change the “rules” constantly, and any one of those could go away as quickly as MySpace when something better (or even just “cooler”) comes along.
While you will eventually use some of those services, you don’t want to be dependent on them. You need your own “space,” and the best way to do this (the only way, in my opinion) is to own your own domain name and web site. That said, you will also need to “stake your claim” on Facebook and YouTube, while you’re at it, but neither of those can be your only presence on the internet.
Register Your Domain Name Now
$14 or so a year may seem like a silly expense when nobody but your immediate family knows or cares who you are. But there are hundreds of professional internet squatters literally looking for names to register so that when the person or business gets around to registering their own domain name, they only way to get it is to spend thousands of dollars. (A friend’s band just had what should have been their band’s domain name registered “out from underneath them” by a squatter who wants $100,000 for it.)
I use GoDaddy. You don’t have to, but they’ve been good to me, overall. Go to their home page and enter your band’s name without hyphens, ending in .com to see if it’s already registered. If not, register it now. Also register your own personal name. You never know when you might start a consulting career or something and discover that:
- Someone else with your exact name has already registered it as a domain name and is using it.
- Some squatter has come across your name somewhere and registered it just so he can offer to sell it back to you for $10,000, or
- Someone else with your exact name has already registered it and let it lapse, but their domain name registrar (Tucows or whoever) had picked it up and will be glad to let you buy it from them for $10,000 or so.
If it turns out that the name you want to use is registered by a squatter, go ahead and register something else that is relatively intuitive. For example, if you’re John Jameson, and JohnJameson.com is registered, consider registering JohnJamesonMusic.com. Don’t worry about the squatter coming back and starting a site called JohnJameson.com to steal your readers later - that’s not their business plan as a rule.
Once you register, do NOT be tempted to let the registration slide for any reason. I would register with the “auto-renew” feature. Also, if your band name could be spelled two different ways, register them both and have the second one point to the same site as the first one. There are freaks out there who - if you get popular - will register the alternative spelling and steer it to a porn site or some such. Or even bands with the same or a similar name who will resent you registering first and try to steal your fans.
By the way, as soon as you register a domain name, spammers and scammers will come out of the woodwork offering to build you a world-class web page, design your logo, get you on the first page of Google, and everything else for a ridiculously low price. If you decide to use one of these services, get their street address and mail them the keys to your house and car while you’re at it. What they really want is your passwords and credit card numbers, which they can use to load up your site with viruses and order bigger televisions than you would ordinarily buy for yourself.
Note: I have blogged about this before, on my PaulRaceMusic.com site. There is some overlap, but if you want to see it, the original blog is here.
Start Your Web Page
Once you have your domain name registered, you need to think about hosting. Eventually you’ll want to have your own site on a server you control. If you want to start out with Bandzoogle or Reverbnation or something, that’s fine; just keep copies of EVERYTHING you upload and any “bio page” or whatever that you type in online, so if they raise their rates or something and you need to change in a hurry, you don’t have to start completely from scratch.
My preference is to have something that I have complete control over from the start. If you have more money than time, you may certainly hire someone else to develop the site for your, but you must learn how to maintain it yourself. Otherwise, every time you want to change something out, you have to pay someone else to do it, which is one reason you occasionally see a crazy good site that is pretty much static. Of course, the other extreme is the roll-your-own that is a mess, but gets updated every day. You want to be somewhere in the middle.
Why do you need a web page on a server you control, when you can be visible on so many other platforms? Here are just a few reasons:
- If you manage to score a domain name that is easy to remember, your fans can find you just by typing it in.
- You want to control exactly what people see when they try to look you up. All of those other platforms have their own ideas of what they want to show, which may not be the same thing. Plus the rules change - you might work for hours to get the site to display your title photo, name, etc,. exactly like you want it; then the next day they change the margins or typeface or default colors or something, and you have to start from scratch.
- Having your own site, especially a good site that gets frequent updates, helps improve the chances that folks who “Google” your band will land on the site you control, with pictures the size you want, songs in the sequence you want, etc., rather than on YouTube or someplace.
- In addition, if you blog frequently on popular topics, Google will remember where those blogs are and link to them from searches that aren’t even about you. Whereas even the best Facebook posts will eventually work their way down the page and into obscurity.
- On a related note, there is an “if you build it, people will come” aspect to a growing, quality web page. The longer it’s out there, the more content people search for, the higher the thing will rise in Google rankings. Organic growth takes time, and it’s a lot cheaper and more effective to start your web page a year or two before you “have to” than to wait until you’re ready to release an album and then freaking out because you band doesn’t show up until the forty-second page of Google, even when you type in the name exactly.
- You need to control when, and if, software upgrades happen. If your site is hosted on someone else’s server, you run a constant risk that a random software upgrade will break something on your pages. If you control the host, you can decide if an upgrade is worth the risk of breaking something. I usually allow upgrades, once I’m sure what they include, but I have several (non-music) sites running software that’s four years old because it works fine, and the “upgrades” will take away some features I’ve come to depend on.
By the way, as soon as you start building a web page of any kind, spammers and scammer will come out of the woodwork offering to build you a world-class web page, design your logo, get you on the first page of Google, and everything else for a ridiculously low price. If you decide to use one of these services, get their street address and mail them the keys to your house and car while you’re at it.
Set Up Your Facebook Artist/Musician/Band Page
In addition to a web site you control completely, you will need a Facebook page for your band or act or whatever you do. This is being written in 2016, while Facebook is still the main place for “social networking” for most people. When the “next big thing” eclipses Facebook, the principle will still apply.
Although, maintaining and feeding content into this page will, technically, be part of your “social networking” activities, described in a separate section, setting it up is part of the groundwork you need to do early on.
When you’re starting out, your “fans” may all be members of your circle of friends and family. So when you post a tour schedule, they don’t mind, and when you “like” your Aunt Millie’s funny cat video and they all see it, they don’t mind that either. But when you start getting people who follow you because of your music, you won’t want them exposed to every family discussion or argument or photo. In fact, it’s not safe for your family and friends, especially for any children whose photos are getting electronically passed around.
Now, there are things you can’t do with a Facebook artist page. For example, you can “like” other Facebook artist pages, but (this week anyway), you can’t “like” other folks’ personal pages. But that trade-off is worth it in the long run. Some of your old Facebook friends may want to sign up for the new page when you set it up. That’s fine. But it eliminates the problem of perfect strangers who only know you from your online presence suddenly having access to your family and close friends’ personal information.
Also if you work for an insurance company or somebody who periodically cyberstalks their employees to see if they’re involved in any risky behavior, there might be a benefit to have your Alice Cooper tribute band on a separate page. :-)
When you set this up, try to use a similar “look and feel” as your web page, so when folks transition between the two, they won’t feel like they’ve changed artists. This can be cumbersome, even if you have all the graphics, etc., from setting up your web page, because Facebook uses graphics funny. For example, they’ll say that your “cover image” should be a specific size, but when you make the image that size (say by cropping the image from your web page) it will either shrink it or expand it to the point that it no longer looks the same as what’s on your web page. Patience and trial and error are the keys.
Once you get this set up, go back to your web page and put links to the Facebook page from your web page. Many software packages, such as WebPress templates include little icons you can add activate by adding links.
Don’t feel bad if your artist page’s numbers grow slowly. You may get approached by someone promising to give you 10,000 “likes” or some such. If you take them up on that, you’ll discover, after spending all kinds of money on the program, that the “likes” are mostly from entities that have nothing to do with music, like dry cleaning companies whose Facebook page is set up to automatically like “back” any site that likes them. In other words, it may look good “on paper,” but it won’t bring you one inch closer to any of your musical or professional goals.
Note: I’ve blogged about this before, on my PaulRaceMusic.com page. There is some overlap, but if you want to see it, the original blog is here.
Set Up Your YouTube Page
You should probably go ahead and set up your YouTube page at the same time. Again, getting your band name “out there” early is good, even if you don’t have any videos to speak of. Load something. Think “placeholder,” unless you have a bunch of stuff to upload. But try hard to use the same “look and feel” as your web page.
Whenever you have enough on your YouTube site to make it worth linking to, go back to your web page and add the link.
Set Up Your Twitter Page
You may set up a Twitter page for your band at this time if you’d like. If you already have a page set up, this is a good time to try to make it have a similar look and feel to your web page as well.
If you’re already using, or ready to use Twitter, go back to your web page and add the link.
Start Your Mailing List Signup
You want to collect e-mail addresses on both your FB artist page and your web page. Again, maintaining and exploiting this list will come under a separate section, but you want to provide the facility early so you don’t miss any folks who would have signed up.
You may want to try a third-party e-mail management system like MailChimp. Or you may be able to link some other system to both pages for now, and investigate third party solutions later.
Once Your Online Presence is Started
You will get lots of scams and spams, but you will also get questions about your music or about your blogs from people you never would have heard from otherwise. Be sure not to let your web page go static (like the ones you click on and their tour schedule is from 2014).
Again, don’t be upset if your mailing list grows slowly - so far you’re just getting ready so when you start getting nibbles from potential fans or gigs, folks who track you down will see what looks like a “going concern” instead of a “work in progress.”
As always, please contact me with corrections, complaints, clarifications, etc. If your response is responsible, I'll try to include it in the "reader response" section below.
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