4 Useful Tools Caribbean Musicians can use to access American and European Markets

With the limitations of scale in the Jamaican music market, and the new measure of success moving away from CD sales to more of concert tickets, merchandise and digital downloads, most artists look toward other countries for exposure, fame and yes money. Used to be you needed to be or have a manager based overseas to capitalize on that market, but these days if you’re a savvy artist with the Internet, you’ll find that you can exploit a host of advantages yourself – and from ya’ad – with the help of a few nifty tools.  Here are a few that can help you if you’re looking toward the United States for fresh markets, distribution and gig bookings.

1. Facebook
Any of the musicians who stayed behind on MySpace will tell you Facebook is not the best place to be if you’re a band. They just don’t offer the right tools, but that’s easily forgivable when they’re offering up the shiny gem of over 600 million users ripe for the picking. And now the new third part applications you can pull in such as reverbnation, the custom pages you can create that showcases your video, audio clips from soundcloud and others. Facebook is evolving into a space where you can build and interact with a fan base on what is touted as a killer marketing ecosystem. Facebook is a great jumping off point for your music. It allows you access to the people who like your music, others who can be introduced to it.

One of the strongest examples of this strategy on Facebook is Jamaicansmusic.com which is a database of all genres of Jamaican music. Though they are far from their claim of being the #1 Caribbean Fan page with 318,749 likes (vs Bob Marley’s 21,075,212), they do a great job of capturing attention, interacting and directing traffic. The company has developed a strong following on their Facebook fan page, posting daily videos, photos and updates that keep you interested, but force you to visit their site for any real meaty information or that of their partners. Another great example is Sean Paul who maintains a 1,688,546 strong presence on Facebook updating with articles, tracks and tour dates, while Diana King pairs twitter and Facebook for her status updates which often direct you off Facebook for new music and merchandising on her official site www.dianakingdom.com.

2. ReverbNation
ReverbNation is a social networking site where fans meet musicians; it is also the meatiest offering on this list as it offers a host of tools neither MySpace nor Facebook offers.

A ReverbNation membership is geared specifically toward creating a long term relationship with fans and the highest level of fan/band interaction possible. This is great as  you can engage your fans with your music in different ways other than just uploading content for them to listen to. I like that the site is so practical, you get to make the most of the interaction with your fans – they are set up so that you can collect email addresses for continued promotion, you can convert your most rabid fans into your street team promoters, and get details about what fans are doing when they visit your profile.

It also offers practical tools such as Web Buzz to help you keep track of your music online as well as Viral marketing applications – including Facebook and Bebo. With stats and tracking you can find out how traffic to your profile compares to other ReverbNation artists, find out where your traffic is coming from and find out how widgets and banners you put on your non-ReverbNation profiles are doing, and you can update all of your profiles in one place.

Reverb Nation also gives you multiple ways to sell your music, from linking to any offsite shop on your Reverb Nation profile if you have a free membership, to having your music shopped through iTunes and Amazon if you have a paid membership.

ReverbNation also offers ”Fair Share” which is the promise that if you pull enough traffic to the site via your profile you’ll receive a share of the ad profits from the site. They set aside 50% of their ad profits for this, and the percentage of that you earn is determined by the percentage of traffic you were responsibly for pulling to the site.

With all that ReverbNation offers their one downfall is unfortunately a big one; they are not a general networking site, you have to be a musician or be specifically interested in music to seek it out so the captive market available to you is limited. However, in tandem with Facebook it’s an excellent tool.

Caribbean Artists capitalizing on ReverbNations offerings include Diana King, Etana (who has a featured Video), Shaggy, Rootz Underground, Ella Andall and Chutney Soca artist Ravi B with 32,263 fans.

3. CD Baby
If you’re trying to sell CDs in Jamaica then the cost of shipping defeats the purpose of CD baby – plus who in Jamaica buys CDs anyway? However, if the foreign market is what you want CD baby offers distribution for independent artists for a one time set up fee per CD of $39  and a fee $4 of the sale of each CD. You submit your music and artwork, stipulate how much you’d like the final product sold for and how many you’d like to run and CD Baby does the rest. With a link dropped anywhere/everywhere you maintain an online presence you can direct people to your CD Baby profile to purchase your CD. In 2004, CD Baby began offering a digital distribution service. By opting in to their digital distribution service, artists can authorize CD Baby to act on your behalf to submit music for digital sale to online retailers such as Apple’s iTunes, Emusic, Real Network’s Rhapsody, Napster, Amazon MP3, MusicMatch, Didiom, and MusicNet among others. Songs on CD Baby are now also available on Spotify.

Artists with available albums on CD Baby include Burning Spear, Prince Buster and Mystic Urchin’s Farenheit.

4. Sonicbids
Sonicbids I personally found to be a great tool,it helps bands find gigs, apply for opportunities. They allow you to sign up and create a profile which includes an Electronic Press Kit (EPK). They have partnerships with venues all over the US who let them know when they’re seeking artists, and for a per gig fee they’ll submit your EPK for consideration. .

They update you about gigs everyday and at $5 and upwards per pop this got very expensive very fast. There is no guarantee that you’ll get selected if you pony up the cash, so I largely considered it a waste of money, and I imagine so did many other artists. This led to a revision of their booking system – based on your site activity they now offer a limited amount of tokens per month which you can use to book gigs. While this is still not as ideal as completely free, and some bookings still attract a fee, it is an excellent source of information about who’s looking to book artists, with some fairly large and reputable events listed. And, Sonicbids is not the exclusive source of booking for these venues. So, sign up for the service, and when you receive notifications you’re interested in contact the venues independently.

While with Mystic Urchin Music I used Sonicbids to keep track of potential bookings for all our artists. While we never booked any gigs through it was a great tool for keeping track of what was going on, especially for the summer music scene, and ultimately Rootz Underground went on to book a few gigs which had been listed on the site.

With increased access to the Internet there are a lot of tools available to you to help you promote your music. The four listed represent a large step forward if you can figure out how to exploit them to your best advantage, but they are still only the tip of the Iceberg of what the lovely world wide web of connections can offer.

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