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Using the Web to Build Fans, Book Shows & Build Contacts (Interview with Heidi Drockelman of Indie-Music.com)

Marcus’ note:
In the run-up to the next Epic Deal, i’ve been fortunate enough to speak to some pretty smart cookies on what artists should and shouldn’t be focusing on to promote their music. Rather than losing these tips in the depths of my inbox or in the ether of phone calls, I asked a few people whom I respect in the industry to share their pearls of wisdom here on The Musician’s Guide.

Up first is Heidi Drockelman, the editor of Indie-Music.com. Enter Heidi.

Q1: What are your favorite online music promotion tools for bands and why?

Heidi: Without question, CD Baby is one of the best resources for selling your music online. We have all been longtime fans of the affordability and variety of their services – which keep getting better, more easily integrated with distribution services everywhere on the web. They offer sync licensing, distribution, free tips and a ton of discounted partnerships with other reputable online promotion resources. They continue to evolve and maintain their place at the top of the heap in online music promotion.

I’ve been greatly impressed with Reverbnation’s PROMOTE IT service as well. Recently launched, it’s a super-focused method to place ads that are going to promote your music and shows in a logical and targeted way. There are options now for an independent artist to place their music/ad on heavily trafficked music discovery sites. The numbers seem to back this up and ReverbNation proves that they continue to “get it,” giving indie artists a promotion option that’s affordable, focused and smart.

The folks at Indie Ambassador have also put a new service/product into the mix with Presskit.to. What I like about this service is its ability to serve as a digital business card, taking the simple concept of the EPK and elevating it for maximum impact. The Pro account lets you create different kits – so you can be tour-specific on one, tailor for magazines on another, add one for contest/festival submissions, etc. It’s mobile-ready, looks great on tablets and smartphones, and is very easy-to-use and navigate. This is a highly affordable solution to the conundrum of having a professional and presentable press kit.

I’m also loving the way that independent artists are using Google+ Hangouts, YouTube artist channels and services like Ustream.tv to interact with fans, and give them a live performance presence online. Taking advantage of online video options only allows for more meaningful fan engagement – and drives them to merch options, ticketing for your next show and straight to your website. This bulks up your online presence, and looks good to venue owners and promoters who might be looking for an artist who is in touch with their fanbase to play their next show.

Q2: If an artist asked you for advice on how they can use the web to specifically book more national gigs, what would be your advice?

Heidi: That’s a tough question, because booking national gigs can certainly require a solid following, the ability to mobilize that fanbase for a wider-reaching gig and the patience and tenacity to follow up on any and all industry connections to make it happen. It starts with being consistent and “paying your dues” to some extent on the festival circuit scene and working your way up to larger venues. My advice on breaking into a larger market, or widening your potential audience, is to start with some of the smaller, indie-friendly festivals that aren’t overloaded with a ton of headliners and that will allow you to have more “face time” with the audience. Start with the festivals closest to you, and then work your way out by region or country (if you happen to be in Europe). If you score a few solid festival slots, you can use them as leverage to approach more well-known venues in the same date range as that festival or area and beef up your touring schedule.

Also, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there at a music conference – but don’t go crazy applying for showcases randomly. This can get expensive, so be selective and find out which conferences are going to be best suited to your style, genre and allow you the most opportunity to network. While this type of gig doesn’t necessarily get you fans, it does put you in front of a captive audience of music industry decision-makers and can lead to corporate gigs, more showcases and a wealth of new connections that can tap you into different geographical markets.

Using the web to search for potential artist sponsorships or endorsement deals is also a great way to to subsidize national travel, and get you the type of exposure that’s going to impress larger venues. There are so many companies and organizations that are looking for unique ways to market their products, services and causes. A great place to look for this type of opportunity is Sonicbids, but you can find a lot of great gear company opportunities by checking their website and seeing what type of sponsorship contests they might be running. Greater exposure, perks for using their products and access to gigs that may be more difficult to gain on your own. Check out your favorite gear suppliers and see if they offer any ambassador programs or contests online.

Q3: How important do you think it is for artists to get their live audiences into their online presence? What are your tips on getting fans to do this?

Heidi: Maintaining and initiating fan engagement is crucial to building a steady audience, keeping them interested in your music long-term and getting people out to your shows. If someone has paid to come watch you play, it only takes a few minutes to say hello, jot down their email and find out why your music speaks to them. If there’s more than one of you in the band, then “fan” out and do your best to split up the room and just make a connection with everyone there.

Let me ask a question: if you go to a show and the artist takes even the minimal interest in saying hello, aren’t you more likely to leave with a positive impression? Let’s say that person goes home or logs onto their mobile device after (or during) the show and gives you a “shout out” on their page, leading their friends to also have a good impression and you end up turning a few more fans just by association with that ONE person you took a moment to engage at the show. It’s worth it. You want to build goodwill, because that leads to loyalty and the strong likelihood that person will come back to your next show, and drag a few more friends with them.

Download cards are great tools, and if you can spare some, leave them with the venue, scatter a few on any tables in the place prior to your set, add a QR code to your gig poster and make sure it’s posted in the bathroom and entryway of the venue. Say hello, tote your iPad/tablet/smartphone around with you and ask for their email. Most people are going to give it to you without question – fans are so much more likely to sign up for an e-mail list on the spot than to take the extra step to do it themselves after they leave. They like to feel appreciated, so show your fans some love.

But don’t let the email addresses and new “likes” on a page just sit there – get them added the next morning to your list, just make it part of your “morning after” 5-minute task. Same with doing quick checks of your fan pages, calendars and email and keeping all of your social media updated. There’s nothing more frustrating to your fans than not knowing when your next show is and how they can find your newest music. Make it easy for them to find you, both online and performing live.

Q4: How important would you say relationship building with promoters is for acquiring gigs – and is this something that can be done effectively online?

Heidi: It’s essential. Developing and maintaining positive relationships with promoters, venue owners and other bands who perform in your area and those who might share a cross-section of your fanbase make all the difference when you’re trying to book gigs. Promoters can be a tough group to develop rapport with; not because they don’t want to see artists and venues succeed, but because there can be a lot of “take” and less “give” when it comes to working with them. They may be skeptical, and sometimes cynical, especially if you’re new to the scene or overeager. Look, it’s a business. And everyone in the musical food chain relies on the promoters to drive numbers and profits on the local, regional and national levels.

I think it’s possible to nurture a positive relationship with promoters online, for sure, but you want to make sure you’re making a real connection. Ask them thoughtful questions about what you can do to help them promote the show and then follow-through. Solicit advice from them about how you can most successfully work together and be proactive about ideas you have to show them you’re serious about making everyone happy – venues to fans to ticketing companies. Don’t pester them. You know that saying about the squeaky wheel getting the grease? Don’t be the squeaky wheel. There’s a fine line between seeking their expert advice and not being mindful of their time and e-mail inbox limits.

Make direct contact, but make sure that you are also utilizing indirect methods like a Twitter mention or engaging on their Facebook page or letting a venue owner know when you’ve had a positive interaction with them. The small subtleties add up and they’re going to be far more receptive to a sincere request rather than bombarding them with emails every other day. Don’t stalk them, be patient and respectful, and maintain a professional relationship – don’t fall into a trap where your interaction is too casual, remember that this is their business. And their business depends on getting people to their shows and keeping venue owners happy.

Support your friends’ shows online and in person, be mindful of the types of artists they book and you’ll find yourself opening for someone with a strong fanbase or headlining your own show. It requires patience, and doing your homework, but it pays to be a loyal supporter to a promoter all the time, not just when you want your own show.

Q5: Where can people find & connect with you?

Heidi: Fans, bands, music and tech companies can find us online at http://www.Indie-Music.com, on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

News and product releases can be sent to us at pressrelease[at]indie-music.com or you can contact me directly at heidi[at]indie-music.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

About Heidi Drockelman / Indie-Music.com

Indie-Music.com was founded in 1996 by Suzanne Glass, and became known as one of the early online resources for independent musicians, DIY services and music industry professionals. Over the years, our website has evolved from what was once primarily an exhaustive resource database and music review service to what it is today, a daily news source for those who are making music and those listening to them.

About Marcus Taylor

In 2013, Marcus Taylor won the award for 'Young Visionary of the Year' at MIDEM. Marcus is passionate about marketing and the music industry, and has consulted to some of the biggest names in the music industry through his agency, Venture Harbour. Marcus founded this website in 2009, and has reached over half a million musicians ever since.