Shipping Wars

Being a musician, having to organize mailings and send out materials happens more often than not. Whether it is albums, merchandise, promotional materials, hard drives, sheet music…it all comes with a price.

Working with various levels of clients for years, I learned my way around shipping and also became a familiar face in the post office, at FedEx, at UPS..(and even at the other FedEx a few blocks away) visiting all of them at least once a week!

Being in New York, at first, I would always choose whatever is open and what is closest – but after a few years of doing this, I have become very selective in how and from where I send anything for my clients because if you get lazy, you can end up paying way more than you have to to get those posters to a venue in time.

It’s important to understand your choices in mailing and who will give you the best value. Mailing costs add up and are usually forgotten in budgeting, so you should strategize on how you are mailing your materials!

United States Postal Service – www.usps.com

PROS
Media Mail – offers the cheapest way to send media, including CDs, Books, Movies, etc. If you have the time to ship it and are in no rush, go to USPS first and ask to ship ‘Media Mail’. It usually will get anywhere in the United States in a week, if not sooner.

Cheap tracking – always recommended to get tracking with USPS. It doesn’t come standard like FedEx or UPS. Don’t waste your time, don’t take the risk, spend the extra few bucks (literally a few bucks – tracking starts at $1.95) and have peace of mind you can find a missing box or letter.

Lowest International shipping – if you are shipping internationally, USPS has consistently given me the best rates.

CONS
Limited hours – The post office is only open a limited amount of hours during the day – MondayFriday, 7AM-5PM, closed on holidays. It doesn’t leave you with a great window of time and certainly doesn’t help you in emergencies.

Crowds – Because of its limited hours, you can find yourself standing in LONG lines, wasting precious time in your day.

UPS – www.ups.com

PROS
Gives you options – One perk at my local UPS is that they offer USPS services as well as the standard ground and air shipping of UPS.

Online Shipping Services – It’s incredibly easy to use!
While on tour, I had to ship about 8 boxes when our tour bus left us. The hotel recommended UPS – which I hadn’t used before. In a matter of minutes I had created an online account, printed and labeled the boxes and were able to give instructions for them to pick up the next day at the hotel lobby. Extra plus, even though I didn’t know the size or weight of these boxes, an estimate is good enough for them!

CONS
Comes with a cost – They tend to be the most expensive out of other shipping companies in my experience.

No Media Mail – They do offer USPS services, but that is strictly for Priority and Express shipping. When I brought up Media mail, they gave me a blank face.

FedEx – www.fedex.com

PROS
Always open – A lot of their stores are open 24/7 and I have several locations walking distance from me. They recently saved my ass when I needed to ship a package ASAP!

Reliable – I’ve never had an issue with a package getting somewhere. In the 3 years of working with them, it’s always gone well.

Ground Shipping is fast – Usually Ground shipping means a week or more, at UPS and USPS, however, FedEx seems to work some magic and ground shipping gets anywhere in 3 days.

CONS
Not for rush mailings – If you are in a rush, it will cost you going with FedEx. One overnight envelope can be $30-$40!
My recommendation?

My experience has put USPS and FedEx in the lead as a close tie. USPS is great for when you are in no rush with what you are shipping. Also, if you have an emergency and can make it before they close, it’s great for overnight and 2-3 day shipping as well! But, if you are in a bind and need something to mail quickly, FedEx Ground is just as good, fairly priced and most locations are open 24/7.

Each mailing is going to be different, depending on where it’s going and when it needs to get there, but knowing a few secrets can help you save hundreds in the long run. And always, always, always, get tracking!

To happy mailing! 🙂

Open the window to your fans.

I hope you are surviving the cold this new year has brought – at least if you are in the east coast. I’ve turned myself into a bear hibernating whenever I can. As a Texas girl, me and winter don’t play well!

I did muster enough courage and bundled up last night to go see the Broadway musical, “Once”. Wow, what a great show! The talent that is in the cast – simply amazing. All of them were singing, acting AND playing the wonderful music. Musicals aren’t something I always get to go to, so it was such a treat to take the time and see the spectacular show.
This got me thinking, how many fans want to see their favorite artists but can’t because they aren’t performing where they are? As a musician, you don’t really have complete control as to where you play, so there are always fans that miss out. What a treat it would be for my client who lives in New York be able to play for his fans in Chicago, in Canada, really anyone in the entire world! But, booking doesn’t always happen, funds aren’t always there and your time isn’t always available.

In today’s world, there are ways to make performances happen anywhere, simply by live streaming.

We all know there is nothing like a live concert, but branching out and doing live streaming makes your followers more aware of your show, your vibe and will get them more excited and more involved in what you are doing, making them an even bigger fan!

Also, if you throw in a Q&A, you nurture their need for immediate interaction, something very important in today’s social media society. Gone are the days of the ‘we’ll get back to you in 24-48 hours’.

Online tools and platforms, most of them being free, are out there making it very easy for your fans to tune in, and more importantly, very easy for you to set up and manage!

Imagine, opening up your laptop in your living room, grabbing your instrument and logging on to play 30 minutes of new tunes and to answer questions from your fans while earning a few extra bucks if you wanted…and you didn’t have to lug your equipment on a bus or plane or have to spend dollars on a hotel.

Interested? Here are my recommendations to get you started in the world of online live streaming your intimate shows. I only went for free companies and I’ve tested out each of these platforms so you are getting REAL reviews here! There’s some good info here you won’t find anywhere else, so check it out! (Too small? Click here)

My choice?

In testing and comparing, my choice for a live stream concert and Q&A platform would be Concert Window. I love the ease of use, it was built to stream concerts specifically and it’s all online so no downloading of programs on your computer. However, I know some musicians would find it hard to give up the fact that it doesn’t record and archive the video. I would have to say that I think it gives the event more of an exclusivity – giving more incentive for fans to watch. They won’t be able to see this at any other time (which is ah ha!, similar to a live concert experience!).

It’s such an intimate and exclusive performance that there’s not reason why your fans wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to see you play from anywhere in the world.

You can do anything you want with your set, so get creative!

– Host a live 30 minute Q&A (yes, you can charge for this).

– Preview some songs for a new album release.

– Play and then also teach fans to play one of your songs.

– Why not turn to your followers and ask them what they’d like to see for more ideas.

I highly recommend whichever platform you do use that you test it out in advance. If you are planning a huge event, like a launch, be sure to start testing out these platforms at least two weeks in advance. You want to be able to be comfortable with the technology so you can sit back and enjoy playing for your fans!

Cheers to opening your world to your fans!

Musician Impossible!

Hello readers! If you are anywhere near the big apple, I hope you are staying inside and warm away from the storm! New York City keeps going despite any weather conditions…right now, one of my clients is rebranding of her online presence, message, and her career. I’m so excited to be a part of it! Days are longer with graphic design, proofings, streaming testing and planning, but the end result is always worth it.

To relax after an intense day, I’ve grown an addiction to Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible. Have you seen it yet? It’s absolutely fascinating, inspiring, eye-opening and a hint of hilarious. Robert Irvine, a successful entrepreneur and chef, steps in and helps failing restaurants figure out what they are doing wrong, give them a whole entire rebranding and gives them hope for success!


^Robert Irvine in front of one of many restaurants he’s helped on Restaurant Impossible.

A few episodes in, I saw a parallel in what these restaurants needed to go through in their saving owners from their branding mistakes (or lack of) and what I am working on in my client’s rebranding project. Not as intense, but lessons are to be learned. As different as music and restaurant business may seem, here’s what I learned from *guilty* a marathon of Restaurant Impossible:

Lesson 1. Fresh eyes! 
A term commonly used in the restaurant business, a run of fresh eyes always does the business good. In other words, from time to time you want fresh eyes on your overall look, your message and your interactions. As a musician, this is your website layout, your images, your bio, and your press quotes…A lot of things that folks tend to put up once and then forget about.

If you are feeling blah about your site or see your google analytics telling you people are leaving your site in less than 5 seconds – start by asking some friends, family, colleagues, or even better, strangers to look at your site and give them their opinion! People love giving their opinion.

Tip: An easy way to gather opinions is to build a survey and send to your mailing list as well as social media sites. Allow them to look at your site, your photos, choose their favorite press quotes, etc. and get all that great free feedback! However, participating can be swayed with a free song download or answer them any question they have as a fun reward.

Lesson 2. Consider your target.
Quite a bit of these restaurants were attracting older crowds, yet they were wanting to bring in more families and younger customers to bring in life to their dying business. One quick look at the menu by Robert, and it became painstakingly clear – the menu took 20 minutes to read through and even though there was a quantity, this hurt the restaurant as they couldn’t make all those items fresh and tasty and provide quality. Changing their menu to family-friendly meals that kids and parents will love, picking a few specialties and making them great makes sense because it brings in their target customers AND keeps them coming back for more.

See what they did there? They got exclusive. And as much as you want to say ‘I want everyone to listen to my music!’, that ain’t gonna happen. Derek Sivers says it best here:

“…know who you are, and have the confidence that somewhere out there, there’s a little niche of people that would like your kind of music. They may only be 1% of the population. But 1% of the world is 65 million people!

Loudly leave out 99% of the world. When someone in your target 1% hears you excluding the part of the population they already feel alienated from, they’ll be drawn to you.”

Tip: Write down a list of artists you don’t like, or whose fans who would probably not like you. Do the same to whom you do like and whose fans would probably like you. Look at their message, their online presence and find inspiration (or learn what you hate) and learn from them!

Lesson 3. You can’t do it all yourself.
In one episode, the owner had a difficult time letting anyone do their jobs. Losing money, she lost trust in her capable team, resulting in them acting up on the job. Robert took her aside, putting each task on a chain, and asking her one by one – what do you do in this restaurant? One by one, the chains went on her neck, getting heavier and heavier. The physical weight was a metaphor for the weight she was carrying in her job. After she realized she couldn’t do it all on her own and be successful, she took each chain and delegated them to her staff.

This goes the same for you, musicians, working to rebrand yourself. Here’s some common sense that you need to remember – You can’t do it all yourself! You may think you are saving money by designing that business card yourself, researching the perfect venue for your release party and scheduling your rehearsal, but truth is, it’s overwhelming, you’re wasting time, and it’s probably not your forte.

Tip: If you are on a budget, go to elance.com or freelancer.com and post your project around – ask for examples from any applicant you have a good feeling about and let them what they do best, in your budget & on your terms!

So there you go – interesting, right? Next time (or the first time) you tackle a rebranding, take these tips and get a head start!

Double your Performance Opportunities!

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As a musician you want to put yourself out there as much as you can – and one part of this means being proactive in finding your gigs (Read Bob Baker’s Get Your Ask Out). This means applying to be on a conference performance slots responding to a venue requesting submissions on Reverbnation, or with the rise of the idea of ‘concerts in your living room’, seeking out opportunities on Gigit or Concertsinyourhome.

You may start applications, and then fail to follow through and complete them because you began a different project, only to come back to it a few days later and realizing you missed your deadline. Or, you aren’t prepared for what they request in your profile or submission, for example, a high quality photo of the band or some attention grabbing press quotes. Not having these things ready causes the process to take way longer than it should!

Get organized by getting together in one folder:

  • 1-2 Hi-Res photos of you and/or your band, color and b&w
  • Band member full names/all instruments
  • 3-5 MP3s (most used format for submissions) of your top songs
  • 2-3 Videos on Youtube of your top plays or favorites
  • 3-5 killer press quotes from the top publications
  • Short (50 words) AND long current bio

You are also going to want to have that handy-dandy calendar I mentioned last week to be sure when you are available for the concert, event or conference.

Now, this is the hard part…sit down, start and finish that application!

The worst thing you could do is start the application, get distracted by something else, and then when you remember to return to the application days or even weeks later, discover you missed the deadline. Nothing is more frustrating than making such an easy error!

Once you get more comfortable with submitting to conferences, you can start a database with names of festivals you want to be a part of with deadlines/requirements and then you can clearly see that November is the time to submit to NAMM Conference in January.

Being that organized will make you efficient and quicker to get your applications in and on time, meaning more chances for you to perform!

How Musicians Waste Time

Musicians, your time is valuable. You need that time to dedicate to creating and developing your music. But, as you grow in your career and business, the busy work does too. Updating websites, keeping up on social media, submitting music, coordinating rehearsals and interviews comes with the territory of a musician – and it’s a lot! To lighten the load, I’ll be sharing tips over the next few weeks on how to make the days go by easier.

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Coordinating a Rehearsal

How many email chains do you have of you going back and forth with your band on rehearsal times, days, places…a bunch, right? Scheduling might seem like it takes no time, but when you think about it, it can take a chunk out of your day. Things that might be slowing you down is when and how you initiate the first email to schedule a rehearsal.

When scheduling a rehearsal:

  • You want the rehearsal to be a few days / no more than a week from the performance day – so send the initial email about 3 weeks before the performance date.
  • Be sure to give everyone a few days to reply – not everyone is glued to their email inbox!
  • Give clear times on when you are free. Don’t say “Oh, I’m free whenever this week or next.” Instead, choose times and say “after 6PM on Tuesday, or 1-5PM on Friday”.
  • Tell them how long you want the rehearsal to be, whether it’s 2 hours, 4 hours or a full 8 hour day.
  • Find a time before you worry about the where it will be, a much easier task when dealing with a 5-member band.

Reminders are heaven sent to someone who has a swamped schedule. Once a meeting or rehearsal has been confirmed, I set up reminders with Boomerang for Gmail (or reminders in Outlook if you have that). Boomerang is great as it lets me choose a date and time to send a reminder. So, once I know a rehearsal will be next Tuesday at 5PM for 2 hours, I schedule a reminder to everyone in the band to send a reminder the day before. This has prevented the dreaded ‘double-booking’ that will happen as you get busier. Be smart and set yourself (and your band) some reminders.

For meetings or interviews, I tend to follow the same process. Pick the time for them, be clear on how much time you have, give them your contact info and set those reminders!

5 Benefits of a Virtual Assistant – for Musicians!

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You know that image we all have in our heads about personal assistants? Only celebrities are busy (and rich) enough to have someone to keep them on track and book their first-class flights. Maybe you don’t see the need for an assistant – you are determined to be the DIY musician and actually believe it’s possible . But your life is feeling unbalanced, and you are finding yourself spending more time updating Facebook than working on your next album.

Hiring a personal assistant is costly for anyone, especially a musician getting their feet off the ground, but there is an option here for you – a virtual assistant. You could still be hurting yourself professionally, financially AND personally by not hiring a virtual assistant – want to know how?

Below are 5 benefits of getting a virtual assistant of your own.

1. Clear and efficient payment terms.

Virtual assistants understand that you are only paying them for the time they work on you – NOT for lunch breaks, sick-days nor vacations. Your money is 100% going to investing in you! You are not responsible for office space, office supplies, computer, etc as you would be with a regular full-time employee. Also, most VA’s work as independent contractors – this means to you that you don’t worry about insurance, benefits or taxes. Make the agreement clear and on your terms from the beginning and you’ll be set.

2. They do the ‘stuff’ you don’t want to do.

You know you should be writing a new blog post. You know you should be writing to venues or conference appearance opportunities. You might procrastinate, avoid and even all together not even start a task that you know should be done. But you would just rather tune out and practice on your instrument, spend a couple hours in the studio, and get to that next record as soon as you could. With an assistant to delegate to, those tasks are as easy as done. Bottom line – you don’t have to do stuff that you don’t want to do!

3. You’ll get organized without really trying.

Virtual assistants are all about organization, prioritizing and getting sh*t done. And the best out there are proactive and manage their time extremely well. Ever double booked yourself? Sure you have! When I start working with a musician, right off the bat I create their calendar. I share the file with them via Google Docs, as well as emailing it to them every other week. Their calendar includes performance dates, personal appointments, meetings, rehearsals and travel days. My musicians might have their own way of marking important dates down, but this allows for both of us to double check any possible future conflicts. Double bookings WILL happen with musicians handling their own schedule, but are typically avoided with 2 pairs of eyes watching. This would make any person, let alone the busy musician, more organized.

4. No training needed.

One musician I work with only hired interns before bringing me on board. I understand why she did this because you can hire them for zero to minimum wage. However, she found herself spending more time explaining and training rather than them getting the stuff she needed done, and it felt more productive for her to just do it on her own. Where she had it wrong was knowing what kind of support she needed. Yes, an assistant will cost more, but the right one will have the skills and knowledge already established and is only the best investment you can make in terms of starting your team. The time you work with them won’t be training, but delegating those tasks you don’t want to do (see no.2!) and concentrating on getting to your next show or writing the next Billboard charting hit.

5. They are real support – you’re not alone!

You might have already realized you can’t do everything yourself, so you went and hired the booker, manager and publicist to help you book shows, plan routes, plan recordings, promote your show, etc. You’re thinking, isn’t that enough? Truth is, as a musician, it might not be. An assistant’s job description is typically more flexible in the tasks they could do for you. While a publicist is hired only to promote and spread the word, or a booker is hired to book you an upcoming tour, the assistant works hand in hand with those positions, plus more. Who’s going to plan your band’s next rehearsal? Who’s going to update your mailing list after a show? Who’s going to mail out master copies to your distributor to meet a deadline while you are on the road? These sorts of things are not in a manager’s or publicist’s job description, and certainly NOT what a musician’s energy should be drained on – they should be focused on their music and building their own enterprises! With a virtual assistant, you aren’t alone anymore.