SEO best practises for musicians

The Hard Baroquer is a home musician that has pursued music as a hobby for nearly 20 years. An intermediate guitarist, beginner bassist and even sometimes dabbling on the harmonica, he is always learning something. In his free time, he runs The Hard Baroquer blog.

By The Hard Baroquer

Being a music artist, whether that’s solo or a band, can be a small business like any other, even if it’s not a full-time gig (yet). If the aim of the project is to sell gig tickets, merchandise or copies of your recorded material, there are strategies you can use to assist with that. This is where SEO comes in: it won’t make you famous (or more famous), that’s what paid promotion is for, but the aim is to get your existing fans to you quicker and easier. We’ll explore a few ways you can achieve that!

Who is this guide for?

It’s for any music artist or project that wants to interact more with its audience. Regardless of whether you want to stay a local band, but want to ensure you get bookings, or whether you want to be the next Foo Fighters. This guide will help you get the visibility you deserve.

What this music artist SEO guide won’t do

Get you famous quickly. As a full-time SEO professional, there is often conflation with SEO and advertising. SEO is about getting your product to the existing demand, while advertising is about generating that demand. It’s never a quick thing but it’s about ensuring you’re there when your fans are thinking about you. By being strategic you can earn new fans, and we’ll explain how, but this won’t be for everyone.

The object of this guide is not to promote minimalism in your website. If you’re looking for a three page site where the home page answers the important questions and links out to other resources, then that’s a valid way of doing things too. If the site looks professional, and loads quickly that’s all you need concern yourself with.

Our aim is to ensure your website drives as much work for you as possible. So let’s get cracking with our best practises.

Step one: own your domain name

Many music acts go the free route to their online presence, and while that gets you up and running with low monetary investment, it means you’re tethered to your host with a website called bandname.wordpress.com; bandname.wix.com; bandname.weebly.com, and even worse there will be a banner ad for the host across the site. Web addresses like these won’t inspire confidence in anyone researching you music project and may cost you an interview or a album or gig review.

Domains can be cheap if your band name is unique, and if your band is a common word, such as Kansas, the appending a ‘band’ to the domain name should be available. Kansas, the band website is exactly that, kansasband.com.
You still need to host the domain on a site hosting server and that adds some cost. But these costs can be kept minimal by researching.

The benefit of owning your domain name is you’ll pass off as more established, and visitors that are researching your band will have confidence that you’re worth a listen.

Step two: organise important content in subfolders

Being organised about the content on your site helps Google understand what you’re talking about. Have dedicated pages for different forms of information and keep that information up to date and in depth.

If you’re going down a minimalist content route, then ensuring you have a bio, and contact page are fine; your home page can relay upcoming gigs and link to your pages. Some of these, like the Bio or Contact are no-brainers, while others are often ignored because it’s a lot of effort to keep things updated. The harder you work on what your website has to offer you, the more it will work for you.

Here’s a list of subfolders you’ll need to link to from your homepage:

  • Bio
  • Contact
  • Gigs
  • Tickets
  • Merch
  • Latest News
  • Photo Gallery
  • Discography
  • Lyrics
  • Press
  • Freebies

In an ideal world, you’ll want to have as many of these pages as you can maintain. It must be acknowledge in the real world, compromise will need to be achieved.

Step three: Be detailed

It’s really important to make sure every page is as detailed as it can be, and sometime that involves going a level deeper to another subfolder. Let’s take some time to elaborate on the pages suggested above and see what this means for you.

Gigs

Gigs are how you will no doubt build your audience, so this page is a high priority. For your gig page the aim of the game is to try get bums in seats for upcoming gigs, so you want to show those dates on this page as well as essential details – venue and start time. You should also link to the appropriate page to purchase tickets.

However, some fans might want to revisit previous gigs, so a link to a separate page called ‘past gigs’ will be useful too. In terms of URL structure, you want it to be a level below gigs.

Past gigs can have a page a level even deeper elaborating on information such as date, time, venue but also set list, any photos and the other acts you shared the stage with.

Discography

Your discography page will show albums, EPs and singles listed with release dates and album art, however, don’t stop there: for each release have a child page with track lists and album credits. There’s an opportunity to showcase the album art larger than the discography page. You can also embed the music video on the track page.

You can consider linking to any high-profile reviews of the album, but also consider linking to the relevant page to purchase the album. The LP, EP or single’s track lists can link to the lyrics for the relevant track.

With SEO, internal linking is vital to how Google understand your website, so you’re trying to tell an algorithm what is important.

Lyrics

In the lyrics page we suggested, you want to create an index of song lyrics. In an ideal world popular tracks will be visible on the lyrics page, but lyrics should also be searchable. Lyric pages should mention the release the track is from, and link to the relevant page on the discography section. Track pages will be linking to the track lyric pages.

Freebies

At a low priority, there’s an opportunity for offering freebies. Share snippets of tabs and chords to selected songs, playlists you’ve curated and other ‘fun’ things. You can promote these on social channels, but also you’ll be assisting fans who are trying to learn your songs.

If you have a tab book with detailed tabs and sheet music, plug it and offer a specific lick or selected section for free.
Free resources are helpful for SEO because as the word gets out, blogs and news sites will link to your resources over time, generating backlinks which search engines value as a trust signal. Sure, these things take time and effort (and often you need to reach out and let these sites know you have a resource that might be useful – no such thing as passive benefits), but getting maximum benefits from SEO is never easy.

Step four: bring it in-house

Why pay commission on third parties for sales when you can do many things in-house? From merchandise, to physical or digital album copies, even to tickets, these can all be handled on your site, without needing to pay a commission to a third-party. While it might be too difficult to get off third party platforms entirely, consider having website exclusive merch or music releases to improve how much cash you keep from your sales.

Benefits of third-party sales

By using third-parties for selling products, you have the benefit of a streamlined platform for making money from your music. Since it’s commission based you don’t need to meet minimum revenue to justify your sales.

Some bands have reported 95% of their income relies on music selling platforms, such as Bandcamp, and this shows how important these platforms are.

Benefits of in-house sales

The man benefit of handling sales in-house is you’re in charge. But by tying yourself to a huge platform, that means you become beholden to them. And no rock star wants to be beholden to The Man.

It doesn’t really ever get discussed, but musicians and third party platforms have a mutually beneficial relationship. The third-party makes it easy to conduct your business, and you deliver them traffic as well as revenue in the form of commission.

There’s a conflict of interest that the musicians need to accept: the third party is not interested in your fans listening to your album on repeat. They’re interested in helping your fans discover new music. And earn commission.

There’s a conflict of interest that the musicians need to accept: the third party is not interested in your fans listening to your album on repeat. They’re interested in helping your fans discover new music. And earn commission. It’s not an evil thing to do, music discovery is a great thing, but endless distractions make it harder to keep an audience attention.

It’s a bigger benefit for the third party because they want the same fan to purchase multiple products from multiple bands.

In the power struggle between platform and band, the platform decides everything. If you have the opportunity to attract at least some of your own fans and keep them engaged in your own shop, then you reap that benefit.

In the power struggle between platform and band, the platform decides everything. If you have the opportunity to attract at least some of your own fans and keep them engaged in your own shop, then you reap that benefit.

Power struggle sounds very dramatic and all, but there’s that and they all charge a commission, taking money out of your tour-worn pockets. Here’s a scenario:

As an example: you sell your band t-shirts for £25.

Bandcamp makes a portion of sales that equates to “15% for digital and 10% for merch”.

So £2.50 of that shirt sale will go to Bandcamp (and you still need to account for any other costs), netting you £22.50 before any other costs you may have.

Selling directly on your own site means you can offer that same (or a website exclusive design) product for the same £25 (meaning an extra £2.50 to fund the next tour.) or any price between £22.50 and £25.

It may not seem like a huge difference, but fine margins always add up!

The same applies to digital sales.

No business wants to be too reliant on a single platform, and the same should be true for bands. What if Bandcamp goes bust? What if they increase their rates? Handling your own sales offers a degree of independence.

Nothing is free however – you’ll likely still pay for e-commerce services on an annual basis, but often these are one payment for the year instead of commission, so depending on the volume of sales, this will be a cost saving rather than a cost increase. Do the math before you make any business decisions though!

How can a band handle sales direct from their website?

To ensure you have at least some independent income, ou need to make sure your website has e-commerce capability (Shopify or Woo-commerce will be a good starting point, but there are others).

You’ll find that your preferred third party has other benefits that mean the majority of sales will always come from there, but the more you treat your website as a place of business, the more it will provide a larger share of your revenue.

This is ever more true if you sell website-exclusive items. Promote these on social media, and fans will appreciate the exclusivity of these, hopefully snapping them up.

Ideas for website-exclusive products:

  • Limited edition t-shirt designs
  • Limited edition album copies (alternative artwork, unreleased material etc.)
  • Premium position tickets (reserve a portion of a venue for fans that bought tickets directly from your site)
  • Meet and greet tickets

And any other great value offering that will entice fans to buy direct from your site. Your fans will appreciate you going the extra mile for them, and you’ll make a little more from each transaction, because you’re not relying on commissions.

Tips for in-house music e-commerce

Ensure you’re following e-commerce best-practises with detailed product titles and descriptions as well as high quality images. Products need to be structured in an organised manner too.

Optimise music product pages for SEO

Once you’re selling on your own platform, make sure your product descriptions are as optimised for search engines as possible. As well as design names, ensure colours are included in the name. Also make sure everything has a description.

E-commerce in itself is a whole new discussion – so let’s leave it there and build up on this in a future post!

A website that is optimised for SEO will drive traffic from all around the world and ensure your fans will find you and engage with you, not an external platform that prefers to keep them on that platform.