The All-In-One Band Website/Blog/Merch And Record Store

Thumbnail image for MOBHEADER.pngMost
bands today have one site where they sell their merch (Big Cartel,
MerchNow, AudioLife, etc. or sometimes just a separate page on their
site), one where they sell their records (Bandcamp, iTunes) and one
where they disperse news (website, social networks, and if you have been
living in a cave – a MySpace Blog). I am always trying to raise as much
awareness for my bands as possible, and so wanted to see if I could get
all three of these things to feed one another. If I could, that would
mean maximizing the potential to spread the group’s message, sell more
merch, and get more fans aware of everything we have going on.

Luckily, one of the bands that I manage, Man Overboard, needed a new website. I wanted it to be something that had the strategy and structure to grow our fanbase, at a greater pace.

This is how I made Man Overboard’s all-in-one website happen, and how, thanks to the new music marketing tool TopSpin,
Man Overboard’s website became the central place to get not just
information, but music and merchandise from the group, and is improving
our fans’ experience, expanding our fanbase and social network presence,
and growing our fans’ appreciation of what we do.


Elements
Before we explain what we did to create the website we should go over some of the tools we used to make this website work.

WordPress – The
site is in a blog format since it was important to me to use
WordPress’s vast plug-in library (including a TopSpin plug-in to help
with checkout duties), have a easy CMS to work within, and a constantly
developing platform that will keep me up to date as social media and
technological advances change. I’ve used other CMSs (such as MovableType
and Drupal) in the past, but grew frustrated with their inability to
stay on top of changing technology. In my opinion, WordPress is the best
choice for anyone looking to design a website for their group.

Arras – We used the Arras theme to create the site (suggested to me on Musformation’s Facebook Group)
and I found it to be a perfect, malleable wire frame for what I wanted
to do. TopSpin has a store theme available through WordPress, but I
decided to not use it as it wasn’t flexible enough to do all we wanted
to do. Instead I incorporated their “Get It Now” buttons into our theme,
to power the buying process. Doing this left me open to use the blog
for news, and have more freedom with both our site’s content and
presentation.  

TopSpin -
On our site, the checkout process, “Get It Now” buttons, music player
and Email/ Tweet/ Facebook collection widgets were all made by
TopSpin.
Without TopSpin, the strategy I wanted to use for the band could never
have happened. They enabled us to easily sell merch, give away free
products, collect fans’ emails and Facebook Likes, and spread the word
on Twitter.

BandsInTown – This
company makes the widget that lists our shows in the right column, and
is available as a WordPress plug-in. It also makes it so that I don’t
need to update another site with concert dates. This can easily be
installed by searching in WordPress’s plug-in finder.

Strategy

Choices
Some
friends tell me that Man Overboard has far too much merchandise on the
site. One philosophy is that you shouldn’t give your fans too many
choices, because they might get overwhelmed and buy less.

But
our analytics have shown us the opposite. Many of our best selling
items get pushed to the bottom of the page by new merchandise, and yet
our merch sales only keep growing and even the items that are buried in
our site sell tremendously well.

I recently wrote an article arguing that you should Always Be Available (ABA),
by having many different designs for a rabid fanbase to choose from.
Man Overboard is the perfect example of this — many of our fans want
more than one piece of merch from us, or are sometimes only in the
market for an uncommon piece of merch (such as a hoodie, crew neck, or
mesh shorts).

Free
Man
Overboard has put out A LOT of free music. In the last year we put out
43 songs, almost half of which have been available for free at some
point. The group also has their own label which puts out free
compilations, EPs, LPs, Podcasts, even a zine.

We
have always given this music out either on the Man Overboard site
through Musformation’s share widget, or on Bandcamp. Both methods have
done a great deal for building our fanbase, but I felt by using
TopSpin’s powerful widgets we could find a way to make it even more
powerful.

I
wanted to make it so that when fans arrive on our site looking for
merch, tour dates, etc. they can easily get free music, especially if
it’s in exchange for a  Tweet or their email address. This would help
our new and old fans stay on the site and explore, instead of just
focusing on the one thing that originally brought them to the site.

We
have many different songs with a connect for media widget on the
website (15 to be exact). This means that as we get new fans who
discover us, they tweet for tracks and introduce the band to their
friends. As they make their way around the site and listen to the hours
of free music we stream, they are continually tweeting to their friends,
and spreading the word about what the group does. In this way, our new
fans make us more new fans, and our fanbase keeps growing.

We
also bundle a 8 song sampler, featuring at least one song from each
realease, with every piece of merch we sell. This adds what Zappos CEO
Tony Hsieh calls the “Wow Factor” — surprising your customers by going
further than they’d expect. This also helps us turn our newer fans into
more loyal fans. Too often musicians assume their fans know about their
back catalog, even though this often isn’t the case. Additionally, with
Man Overboard, some fans buy our shirts as fashion items, not to support
the band. By bundling this sampler we show these “fashion fans” that if
they dig deep, we have a ton of quality music to offer as well. In this
way, we hopefully turn those who are moderately interested into a rabid
fans, and a repeat buyers.

How
have these techniques been working? In the first week the store was up,
we saw an 800% increase in the number of emails we collected through
these widgets, compared to what we collected via our old website and
Bandcamp combined. 26 days later our mailing list has grown 123% and our
Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are getting followers faster than ever.
The results are hard to argue with.

You
would think much of this strategy’s success would come from the big
button that says Free on our homepage. But incidentally the Free page is
not as popular as the Clothing page on our website! While most bands
see the majority of their web traffic come from their free content, Man
Overboard’s web traffic is actually driven primarily by their merch
store. Merchandise can be a powerful driving force for webtraffic, which
shows why it’s so important that your merch page also display the
band’s news, stream the band’s music and list the band’s tour dates.

Keep it In-House
Before
we had TopSpin, Man Overboard was using Big Cartel to sell merch, and
getting thousands of visitors a week to that page. The problem was that
on Big Cartel I couldn’t tell our fans about news, tour dates or give
away free things and collect emails. We couldn’t even gain social
network followers from their site. We were getting all of this traffic
to our Big Cartel store and not making the most of it.

Now,
with TopSpin, I am able to easily retain all of our customers emails as
they buy merch directly from us. In the past I would have to go through
the painful process of exporting all of the addresses of buyers from
our PayPal to gain access to our customers email addresses, and keeping
up with it was never easy.

Awareness
Another
key element to the site is having a newsfeed prominent on the site.
This means press releases, blogs, news and cool stuff now get posted
either in our blog or in our newsfeed. I try to keep our blog for
superfans and off the front page. Both feeds aggregate to our Twitter,
MySpace, Facebook and Tumblr but I feel there should be a space on the
front page where big announcements don’t get drowned out by band members
writing what they have been listening to and sharing YouTube links of a
cute dog running around in one of our shirts. Having superfans click
our blog to see those things and get more info is definitely a valuable
asset and it bring in traffic, but it shouldn’t drown out a big tour
announcement.

We
also see a direct correlation between when we announce news on the site
or give away something free and our biggest days for sales. Looking at
TopSpin’s backend, the charts move in complete symmetry, showing that
yes, bringing fans in looking for news or free stuff will increases our
sales. Since the website’s re-launch 26 days ago, our sales have gone up
133%.

What
this means every time we blog about something, or share news, or
announce a tour, we’re also bringing in sales. Even having to announce
bad news has an upside: bringing in sales.

Own Your Label
Man
Overboard not only releases its own material on its label, Lost Tape
Collective, but also releases music from our friend’s bands. Man
Overboard’s popularity helps these bands grow, which in turn helps the
label grow, which in turn helps Man Overboard grow. Visitors can choose
whether they want to see just Man Overboard’s merchandise or the label’s
merchandise, giving each fan a more personalized experience.

Other Key Factors:

  • I
    made the site as social as possible (and it will get more social with
    time). All of our important social networks are linked at the top of the
    page, the rest of them are on the side bar. We also used the Facebook
    Like plug-in (one piece of merch already has 60 Facebook Likes from it)
    and Socialite to make it easy for fans to share our merch

.

  • Our
    merchandise goes out on the same RSS feed as our news. This also means
    it aggregates to our social networks as it comes out. Our fans regularly
    Re-Tweet and Tumble these announcements (fans can also strictly
    subscribe to a news feed from the band, if they’d rather not view all
    the merch).
  • I could not have done this without Daniel Wagner of D-Dub Designs who made the site look much better than I was able to, and who made that great looking header and skin for the site. Also Musformation’s Jackie Brennan and Matt Hucke bailed me out when I got in over my head with the tech stuff and killed it as usual.
  • There’s
    still work to be done, we need to make all the pictures of our merch –
    ACTUAL PICTURES and not mock-ups. Some of the pricing and pages where
    we sell stuff can still look better, but we are getting there. I see
    every website as an on-going process of refining and testing. Websites
    with versions and timed updates miss out, instead you should be evolving
    and changing your strategy as you go, a little bit at a time. Google
    Analytics and TopSpin allow us to do just that and as we analyse data we
    will continue to make the site better and better.

By
embracing this new form in website we have made every goal we have go
up. We have raised awareness, found a better and easier way to give our
fans a good experience and make more money to support the group
continuing to make music. Who knew a hundred or so hours of web coding
could be this fulfilling?

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • Ronnie Neeley

    Incredible information you’ve given away. As someone starting up an indie label, I really thank you for sharing this. Most articles about this kind of information just regurgitate the same info as every other article; this one has some things I’ve never thought of before! Again, thank you.