Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

How can my band be a hit on the net?
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Sandi Thom and the Arctic Monkeys supposedly reached the big time thanks to Internet publicity. How can my own band become successful online?

A whole bunch of sceptical Cyberclinic correspondents don't believe the hype. "These days," says Paul McDonald, witheringly, "no band ever achieves anything without heavyweight management behind them." To a certain extent this is true; most artists who have supposedly risen to prominence via the internet can't give credit to a groundswell of underground support so much as ongoing toil by web-savvy music publicists. But, equally, it's never been so easy to get your music heard - particularly by those within the industry. With record company scouts as active online as they are on the gig circuit, attractively packaging a CD demo along with a florid, handwritten note is probably a waste of effort. "A&R rarely consider bands who haven't bothered to establish an online presence," says Keith Harris from music business network, MusicTank. "Obviously, doing so doesn't guarantee success, but if you don't, you can pretty much guarantee failure."

What form should that online presence take? It has become clear over the past few years that rarely updated websites featuring tedious facts about the gauge of strings your guitarist uses quickly become deserted wastelands. As with the hard slog of touring, there are no overnight solutions; time needs to be put in to establish your band as part of an online community, either via your own website or various social networking sites. "MySpace has been useful," admits James Weaver. "Despite most of our 'friends' being other mediocre indie bands, we get 20 to 30 people a day listening to our tracks, and we've got gigs and radio airplay from it too."

It's easy to spot - and indeed ignore - overenthusiastic self-promotion, so the goal is persuading your potential audience that they're discovering something by themselves. If you're the bassist in a death metal band, bombarding Joni Mitchell fans with news of your forthcoming gig is just as unlikely to yield results as an A4 poster stuck on a lamppost on Charing Cross Road. Record labels are as guilty of this as anyone."One upcoming band has a separate MySpace page for each of their songs," writes Joe T, "and it's fairly obvious that someone's working a bit too hard on their behalf." And once routes to the audience get abused in this way, they start to lose their currency. "The key is to be recommended by word of mouth, by people who know each other," says Keith Harris, and Jo Phillips agrees. "It should feel like you're going round to someone's house and hearing their favourite sounds, the old-fashioned way."

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Tim Green:

"I'm trying to choose a new internet service provider. It's not clear which ones I can trust not to impose limits on the amount of data I download. How can I tell before I sign up for a 12-month contract?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.