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Jango offers free Pandora-style internet radio. Type in an artist’s name and it generates a playlist of related songs. Jango Airplay lets artists buy their way into the recommendation engine, promising guaranteed airplay alongside your pick of big names.
I’ve been running Jango campaigns pretty much continuously since the service launched in March of 2009. My songs have been played 270,000 times, 23% of which were unpaid “organic” plays. It cost me $1841.50 out of my own pocket, plus at least that much in affiliate earnings from my previous articles on the topic.
What’s my return on that investment? There’s no way to know.
Jango reports 25,000 likes and 9800 fans, but those terms have little meaning. A like on Jango is a simple thumbs-up that has nothing to do with Facebook, and most of those “fans” are unreachable. An average of one email address per day has been shared with me since that feature launched in early 2010, but those 700 email addresses alone don’t justify the expense.
The reason I stick with it is because I’ve seen so many Jango listeners become genuine fans. They friend me on Facebook, reply to my email updates, comment on my YouTube videos, and yes, buy my music. With the possible exception of Facebook Ads, I’m convinced Jango is the best passive promotion out there.
Others are skeptical. This site’s top Google search term is “jango airplay scam.” Some suggest that while the service does what it claims to do, any form of pay-for-play is payola (I address that argument here). Conspiracy theorists claim that the entire service is a fraud, and that the comments and realtime listener feed are faked (despite the fact that many comments clearly apply to a particular song, and that you can message listeners directly from the feed).
Jango could go a long way towards dispelling these concerns by finally fixing the weakest aspect of the service: artist-to-fan communication.
When I send out a mass email to 9800 fans, I typically get only one or two responses. With a response rate of 0.0002%, it’s natural to wonder if anyone is really out there.
The problem is that the listener’s inbox is tucked away in a drop-down menu. The vast majority of Jango users almost certainly don’t realize they have an inbox.
I suggest Jango eliminate all social networking features and share new fans’ email addresses by default, unless a box is unchecked. Then add a full-featured fan management system like ReverbNation’s FanReach, with an export function and full analytics including open and clickthrough rates.
While I’m making suggestions, I’d love to see a percentage of likes for each song, which would make it easy to tell the hits from the misses, and simplify running a focus group.
To their credit, Jango has added plenty of new features since I first wrote about it. Highlights include:
1. Custom promo module. You can now choose exactly what listeners see when your song plays. I’m using the “Facebook Likes” module, which connects directly to my Facebook page. It also includes a custom text link, plus icon links to web profiles and stores (you can see it at the top of this post).
2. Band Central. A new mini-site showcasing Airplay artists, sorted by genre, geography, or “popularity.” You’d think popularity would mean the number of fans, but it’s actually based on PopScore: a much-maligned metric of quality algorithmically derived from fan response.
3. The Jango Airplay Blog and how-to support links. The staff is much more accessible and social, and the site’s inner workings more transparent, than when the service first launched. The blog and how-to’s are full of tips and strategies, plus contests and weekly top 10′s. For example, one post walks you through creating a spoken audio intro for your songs. Great idea!
4. Royalties. This isn’t exactly a feature, but after much speculation I can now confirm that Jango does pay royalties. I received a whopping $13.23 from Jango via SoundExchange last quarter. Based on that low figure, my guess is that they only pay royalties on free “organic” plays, not paid plays through the Airplay program. Hey, it’s more than I got from Last.fm!
Though there’s still plenty of room for improvement, Jango is better than ever. I’ll continue to report back with my results, recycling all money earned through my affiliate link into plays.
Running a Facebook ad campaign is confusing. You bid for ad placement, but the price you pay bears little relation to your bid. What’s the difference between reach and social reach, connections and clicks, CPC and CPM? More importantly, is there any way to tell how many people played, downloaded, and shared your song, or signed up for your mailing list? (answer: no, there’s not)
ReverbNation’s new Promote It tool addresses those shortcomings, and then some. You pick a song, photo, and budget, and it automatically generates dozens of optimized Facebook ads based on past Promote It campaigns, and continually optimizes your campaign based on the performance of those ads. New fans click through to customized landing pages that track not just clicks and likes, but plays, downloads, shares, wall posts, and mailing list signups. As I’m quoted as saying in the press release, “It’s the ultimate ‘set it and forget it’ fan-making machine!”
I was invited to try it out and provide feedback during the beta period, and I’m flattered that some of my suggestions made it into the final product. So far I’ve run six campaigns. Let’s walk through the creation and performance of my latest and most successful one.
As of this writing, there are two types of campaigns available: promote a song, and promote your Facebook page. Soon you’ll also be able to promote a show or release. Most of my experience is with promote a song, so let’s continue with that:
I measure my success as a recording artist by the growth of my mailing list. The best way to get someone to subscribe is to offer something in return, and a great song is a powerful incentive. Here are ten techniques to negotiate that delicate exchange:
1. The classic squeeze page. You’ve probably stumbled onto one of these before: a fine-tuned infomercial-style pitch with a clear call to action and no exit links. The sole goal of the site, often just a single page, is to generate conversions. In our case, a conversion means “squeezing” an email address out of a potential fan. Seamus Anthony describes the method here and demonstrates it using his own music here. It may do the trick for first-time visitors, but returning fans have no clear path to explore the rest of your content.
3. The “free mp3 download” page. This is my current strategy, but there’s definitely room for improvement. An SEO friendly “yourbandname.com/free-mp3-download” URL and clever use of keywords can pull in traffic from Google searchers trying to freeload your music. While a simple “free mp3s” link in your site’s navigation isn’t distracting for repeat visitors, it’s easy to overlook. Still, I’m not going to force my fans to jump through hoops every time they want to post a comment.
4. The fan club. Thomas Dolby offers two full EPs exclusively to registered members of his forum. This soft sell approach encourages die-hard fans to join the conversation, but I doubt it pulls in much new blood. If your focus is to satisfy your existing fanbase, fan club exclusives offer a surefire way to retain their love and devotion.
5. The widget. Your mailing list service should provide a widget to gather fan addresses (I use ReverbNation’s FanReach, but FanBridge is another great choice). You’ll obviously need it for the squeeze page of your site. If you’re still sporting a MySpace page, you’ll want to embed it there as well. On sites where you can’t embed a widget, you can link directly to the signup form. ReverbNation and FanBridge provide every artist with a landing page to send potential subscribers to (for example, mine is here).
6. The Facebook page. As far as I know, you can’t embed a mailing list widget directly onto a Facebook page. Fortunately, RootMusic and ReverbNation have Facebook applications to run their all-in-one profiles, including mailing list signup, in their own tab. You can also build a custom HTML landing tab in Static FMBL, which isn’t as hard as it sounds. I’m using Facebook ads to direct potential fans to my FMBL tab, which encourages them to download songs from the Band Profile tab, courtesy of ReverbNation’s My Band application. Embedding a mailing list widget directly on my FMBL tab would streamline the process, but it’s beyond my technical abilities.
7. Viinyl. The slogan for this new service, currently in beta, is “one song, one site, one URL.” I’m auditioning it at colortheory.viinyl.com. It’s slick, simple, and direct, allowing the listener to focus on the featured song with minimal distractions. On the flipside, it doesn’t offer a clear path to the rest of my content. Whether or not that’s a fair trade remains to be seen.
8. NoiseTrade. Speaking of fair trades and horrible segues, NoiseTrade isn’t as streamlined, but it offers a high degree of control. Artists typically give away an entire release in exchange for an email address and a Facebook or Twitter update linking back to said release. Fans have the option to tip up to $100 (you get 80%), so it’s essentially a “pay what you want” model.
9. Tweet for a Track. A variation on the same theme, Tweet for a Track does pretty much what you’d expect. Fans enter their email address, which is passed on to the artist, and then share a link back to the song’s TFAT page on Facebook or Twitter. You can see it in action here. The catch is, they charge a minimum of $24.99 to share your fans’ email addresses with you.
10. Bandcamp. The backbone of my entire operation. Bandcamp offers up my discography to the world for sale, streaming, and sharing. Even if you don’t have anything to sell, you can host as much music as you’d like for free download in a variety of audio formats. You choose whether or not to require an email address on a per-song basis, and it doesn’t cost a penny if you stay below 200 downloads per month. Another great feature is their Facebook-embeddable widgets, which play right from the news stream.
Getting folks to subscribe is the easy part. The hard part is holding on to them! Nurture those new fans by communicating with them on a regular and consistent basis, and don’t think about selling anything until you hit 1000 subscribers.
Two months ago, I began implementing Ariel Hyatt and Carla Lynne Hall’s strategy to increase my Twitter following, as laid out in their book Musician’s Roadmap to Facebook and Twitter. The basic idea is to follow potential fans in the hope that they will follow back. I discovered that the more selective I am in choosing who to follow, the more likely I am to connect with people who may become genuine fans. I’ll share my process and results below.
Optimize your profile. Every potential follower will first scan your profile to figure out who you are and why you followed them, and decide whether or not to follow back based on what they see. Be sure to include a short “elevator pitch” that accurately describes your sound, a link to your site, and a reference to a related band or two. I describe my music as “electronic indie piano pop for fans of The Postal Service, Depeche Mode, and Owl City.”
Follow related bands’ followers. In my case, that means finding the official profile of The Postal Service, Depeche Mode, or Owl City and following their followers. With any luck, they’ll click through to my profile, spot my reference to the related band, follow back, and maybe even take a listen.
But I don’t just follow anyone! I prescreen each potential fan to ensure they meet the following criteria:
1. At least 20 followers. I learned this the hard way! After my first indiscriminate following session, I received several direct messages asking “do I know you?” People with low follower counts are likely tweeting only to close friends. The idea here is to get noticed without invading anyone’s privacy.
2. No approval required. Along the same lines, I don’t send follow requests to users who keep their tweets private. It strikes me as rude. If I click on the follow button and see “pending (cancel),” I immediately cancel. Perhaps someone more bold than me will experiment with a request-only strategy and share their results.
3. Last tweet less than one week old. There’s no point in following inactive accounts. While our main goal is to attract potential fans, we might as well narrow our focus on people who can help spread our message. That means active Twitter users with public tweets that reach a respectable number of people.
4. No egg icon. While we’re on the topic of respect, no self-respecting Twitter user keeps the default egg icon as their avatar. If they can’t even bother to upload a profile photo, they’re not worth following.
5. Following 30-300. If a user follows less than 30 people, they won’t follow me. If they follow more than 300, they won’t notice me.
6. English speaking. I realize that users who Tweet in other languages could very well speak English, and even spread my message in their native language. Still, it’s disingenuous to follow someone when you don’t understand what they’re saying.
7. No businesses. Businesses are on Twitter to promote their brand and services. Even if they happen to follow related bands, they’re not likely to evangelize. Stick with personal accounts.
8. No back-scratchers. Many profiles state something along the lines of “follow and I will follow back.” My mission is to find new fans, not to artificially inflate my numbers with people who don’t care about my music.
9. No Beliebers. Justin Bieber takes up 3% of all Twitter traffic. If I see him mentioned in a user’s profile or tweet stream, I immediately unfollow. Beliebers have a nasty habit of retweeting anything even casually Bieber-related, including desperate pleas for the little man to follow them back.
These are guidelines, not rules. If I come across a person that interests me, I’ll follow them regardless. If someone meets the criteria but rubs me the wrong way, I won’t. Go with your gut.
I keep at this until I follow 50 new users, which takes about 20 minutes. To check my progress, I use the find function in Chrome to search for the word “following” on the current page until I see 53 hits (three instances of the word appear naturally on the page before you start following anyone).
Unfollow non-followers. After two days, I use JustUnfollow to unfollow the users who aren’t following me back, usually about 40. This step is crucial because 1) Twitter only lets you follow 2000 users unless a higher number follow you, and 2) high following counts coupled with low follower counts look amateur. After unfollowing, it’s right back to following related bands’ followers, ad infinitum.
Beliebers or no, your Twitter stream will quickly become cluttered. To counter this, create a list of users you actually want to keep track of, and bookmark that page. While it’s important to interact with your new followers, it’s tough to stay on top of more than 150. I have Twilert send me email updates that mention me, my band, or my latest album at 4 pm daily, so I don’t miss out on anything of direct concern.
Hey look, it works! On March 18, I had 700 “organic” followers, the natural result of using Twitter since December of 2008. Eight weeks later, I’m approaching 1000.
On the flipside, I’m following almost 400 users, four times more than when I started. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a chore. 20 minutes every two days may not seem like much, but it sure ain’t passive promotion.
If you’ve got any ideas to further refine the process, please share them in the comments! And if one day you discover I’m following you on Twitter, I hope you’ll recognize the high honor it confers and follow back.
Quality graphic design is expensive. I paid $500 just to license the cover image for my last album, plus $600 for the rest of the design. That’s fine every couple of years, but now that I’m releasing songs individually, I need a cover design every month or two. I decided to give 99designs a try, and the results far exceeded my expectations. For $145, I got 96 custom designs from 33 different designers. Sure, some were amateur, but a solid half were usable, and a handful were excellent.
Sound too good to be true? Yes, it does. In fact, I hesitated to write this article.
Click here to read the entire article
Let’s be honest. You don’t need the money.
Anyone can make a record for next to nothing these days. Almost any other hobby is more expensive: photography, mountain biking, even video gaming. When a teenager singing into a webcam gets exponentially more views on YouTube than your latest “professional” video, the answer isn’t more money.
You’re just not there yet.
(hey, don’t feel bad – I’m not either)
Tracking at Abbey Road Studios won’t get you there. Hiring T-Bone Burnett to mix your album won’t get you there. A full-day mastering session with Bob Ludwig won’t get you there. 10,000 pressed CDs with 18-page inserts won’t get you there. A $5,000 promotion budget won’t get you there either.
No matter how much money you throw at your project, we’re all limited by a stubborn principle called free market pricing. People are only willing to pay what a product is worth to them, not what it costs to produce. The intrinsic value of music is in free fall, and people won’t pay for it if they’re just not that into you.
My guess is that they figure “why not give it a shot”? Well, I’ll tell you why not, and offer a better option.
- It’s dishonest. I’m simply not willing to pretend it costs thousands of dollars to put out an album. If you can’t sell 100 CDs at $10 to pay for replication, make CD-Rs at $2 a pop, produce them on-demand, or go digital-only. Effective promotion doesn’t necessarily come with a price tag. And really, why should your fans pay to promote something they already bought?
- They own you. By entering into a partnership with your fans, you become accountable to them. Until you follow through on your promises, you no longer call the shots. As Hugh McLeod explains in Ignore Everybody, “The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. The best way to get approval is not to need it.” While some may actually like the added pressure, it comes with a loss of control.
- You could fail. Publicly and humiliatingly. Everyone will get their money back while you walk away empty-handed. Your fans may conclude that either your goal was too ambitious, or just maybe, your music isn’t as good as they thought is was. Your failure functions as a reverse testimonial. And then what? Are you really going to dump the whole project? If not, why hold it hostage in the first place?
We’re all adults here, right? If your project is so promising and you can’t scrape together $1500 from your “real job,” you could always write up a business plan and get a loan from the bank. Then again, they may just chuckle and offer to raise the limit on your Visa.
Fortunately, there’s a way to reap all the benefits of fan funding with none of the downsides: take pre-orders.
You can still create tiers with personalized extras, like phone calls with the artist, studio attendance, or a custom song. If you accept payments directly, you earn an extra 10% that would otherwise go to a third party. You can create a plan that scales with your goals (“if we reach 100 pre-orders, I’ll press CDs and all digital album sales will include physical CDs as well”). Or you can wait to add tiers until you reach certain milestones, so you don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Best of all, you’re not locked in to anything. You can adjust your approach as you go based on fan response.
Taking pre-orders puts free market pricing on your side, by allowing you to create only what you need to fulfill demand. Best of all, there’s no “goal” to reach, so you keep every dollar. Risk is no longer a factor.
When is fan funding a better choice than taking pre-orders? What can an artist do on a fan funding site that they can’t do on their own? Let me know in the comments!
You know your song is great, but is it a hit? Will it inspire listeners to share it with their friends, hand over their email address, or maybe even open their wallets? You need feedback from average music fans who have nothing to lose by being honest.
SoundOut compares your song to 50,000 others from both major labels and indies. They promise to tell you how good your track is with guaranteed 95% accuracy (I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what that means). Starting at $40, they compile the results of 80 reviews into an easy-to-read PDF report. Top rated artists are considered for additional publishing and promotional opportunities.
The head of business development invited me to try out the service for free with three 24-hour “Express Reports” (a $150 value). I used the feedback from my Jango focus group to select the best and worst tracks I recorded for my last album, along with my personal favorite, an 8-minute progressive house epic. You can download all three of my PDF reports here.
Summary of Results
I can describe the results in one word: brutal. None of the songs are deemed worthy of being album tracks, much less singles. In the most important metric, Market Potential, my best song received a 54%, my worst 39%, and my favorite a pathetic 20%. Those numbers stand in stark contrast to my stats at Jango, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit.
Despite the huge swing in percentages, the track ratings only vary from 4.7 to 5.9, which implies Market Potential scores of 47% to 59%. For better or for worse, those scores are weighted using “computational forensic linguistic technology and other proprietary SoundOut techniques.” Even the track rating score is weighted! I would love to see a raw average of the 80 reviewers’ 0-10 point ratings, because I don’t trust the algorithms. The verbal smokescreen used to describe them doesn’t exactly inspire confidence (isn’t any numerical analysis “computational”?).
Perhaps to soften the blow, the bottom of the page lists three songs by well known artists in the same genre that have similar market potential. Translation: your songs suck, but so do these others by major label acts you look up to. Curiously, two of the same songs are listed on my 39% and 20% reports, which casts further doubt on the underlying algorithms.
I found the Detailed Feedback page to be the most useful. It tells you who liked your song based on age group and gender. I don’t know exactly what “like” translates to on a 10-point scale, but it makes sense that 25-34 year-olds rate my retro 80′s song higher than 16-24 year-olds, since the former were actually around back then.
The track positioning chart maps your song relative to 1,000 others in the genre, based on rating and consensus of opinion. It’s a clean and intuitive representation of how your song stacks up to the competition. Still, it would be nice to know what criteria (if any) was used to select those 1,000 tracks.
The Review Analysis section is utterly useless. The elements listed change from song to song. The only element that was consistently judged excellent is guitar, which is quite generous considering there’s no guitar in any of my songs.
The actual reviews are no better or worse than the comments on my Jango profile. They ranged from overly enthusiastic (“THIS SONG WAS GREAT I REALLY LIKED IT IT HAD A GOOD BEAT TO IT I MY HAVE TO DOWNLOAD IT MYSLEF”) to passive aggressive (“this song wasn’t as bad as it could be”). At the very least, the reviews prove there are real people behind the numbers.
Unfortunately for me, they don’t appear to be fans of electronic music. Not a single reviewer mentioned an electronic act. Instead of the usual comparisons to The Postal Service, Owl City, and Depeche Mode, I got Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston(!), and Alan Parsons Project.
Scouting for Fame and Fortune
As puzzling as the mention of guitar in the review analysis was, it was a comment about my “20% song” that convinced me to review the review process. It said “the lack of vocals is a shame.” Those seven words reveal a key flaw in their methodology: reviewers only have to listen to the first 60 seconds of your song.
If you’re considering giving SoundOut a whirl, I highly recommend trying your hand as a scout on their sister site, Slicethepie. In just five minutes, you too can be one of the “real music fans and consumers” reviewing songs for SoundOut. You’ll start well below the minimum wage at $0.02 per review, but top performers can level up to $0.20 a pop.
Hitting the play button starts the 60 second countdown until you can start typing your review. If you don’t come up with at least a couple quality sentences, it nags you to try harder. The elements in each track are not explicitly rated. Instead, the text of each review is analyzed, as evidenced by the scolding I received when one of my reviews was rejected:
“A review of the track would be good! You haven’t mentioned any of our expected musical terms – please try again…”
I didn’t appreciate the sarcasm after composing what I considered to be a very insightful review mentioning the production and drums – both of which are scored elements. This buggy behavior may explain my stellar air guitar scores. Perhaps my reviewers wrote “it would be NICE to hear some GUITAR” and the algorithm mistakenly connected the two words.
Even though I only selected electronic genres when I created my profile, I heard everything from mainstream rock/pop to hip hop, country, and metal. Reviewers are not matched to songs by genre. Everyone reviews everything, which opens us all up to Whitney Houston comparisons.
Can you tell if a song is great by listening to the first minute? No, but you can tell if it’s a hit.
If you operate in a niche genre, searching for your 1000 true fans, SoundOut may not be a good fit. For example, my best song doesn’t pay off until you hear the lyrical twist in the last chorus, and my “20% song” doesn’t have vocals for the first two minutes. With that in mind, how useful is a comprehensive analysis of the first 60 seconds? Less useful still when the data comes from reviewers who aren’t fluent in the genre.
While I have some reservations about their methodology, SoundOut is the fastest way I know of to get an unbiased opinion from a large sample of listeners. Use it wisely!