Ralph Watson isn’t just Music Ally’s go-to guy for everything technical. He’s also a musician in his own right, who’s getting his hands mucky with all the DIY technologies we talk about on the blog and in the report. Having just revamped his website and launched an iPhone app, we got him to tell us in his own words about what he’s doing.
“I was doing music around 2004, and managed to amass a very small but loyal following, mainly in America. This was through forums and emailing MP3s, stuff like that. I was known as Geist then and released a couple of singles. I’m now coming back under my real name, and have been dripfeeding my new song out, ‘Londinium’. I posted it on one forum that I used to frequent all those years ago and the response has been amazing, so it’s started from there.
There’s a video for my first song done by a guy I met, Richard Peretti, who’s a short film-maker. He did it in his bedroom on a PC running Premiere and After Effects; he knows the programs inside out, so people who see it think it’s worth fifty grand. There’s a bloody big robot at the end! A process indicative of how I’ve approached everything.
The idea I have is not to do an album or EP. I’ve long lost faith in them: I don’t buy them, and even when I did, all I wanted to do was make compilation CDs and cherry-pick the good songs. I’ve always done that and I don’t get people being precious over albums. If you go back to the very beginning of recorded music, there were no albums; every song was its own entity and didn’t need to be a part of any anything else; so it’s just come a full circle in reality. For me, it’s going to be one song at a time, every song’s going to have a video, and they’re going to form a loose set of episodes in a series. That’s why the website is RalphWatson.TV.
My approach is to invest, artistically, in more than just the music, as an artist; I want a hand in every creative aspect. I think it helps when building an online presence to consider it a part of the art. The way that you present yourself and the way in which people will receive you and your content.
I managed to build the site from scratch using off-the-shelf stuff, pieced from all over the place in a way that looks completely seamless in terms of colours and fonts. It was important to me that it all looked the same and did not feature other company logos.
The site was built on the vBulletin forum platform and was then customised with hacks to give me the functionality I wanted. The first thing people might see is the ‘tweets’ tab which is a Tweetboard; free and very easy to install. This allows me to tweet from my site, a good idea as each tweet includes a link to my site with the tweetboard popping out inviting the visitor to tweet there and then as a reply from within my tweetboard.
I have also incorporated Facebook Connect onto my site which lets people register quickly and easily with their Facebook login details. Facebook Connect removes one barrier to registering on a new site by giving people a familiar option. I am looking at a solution called RPXnow for my site which adds all of the other single sign on services such as Twitter, Google and more. If someone is already logged into Facebook and then visits my site and clicks the FB button, they will be registered in seconds. Once registered, my site treats them as a standard member with all of the same privileges. Single sign on’s are growing massively and the sharing of information between sites seems to be the way things are heading.
Videos will be the prominent feature throughout my site with all modules being made to fit the 640×360 web video dimension to give more emphasis to the .TV theme. For the video, I’m using Vimeo, which is free but I use their ‘Pro’ service which costs $59 a year and will let you embed HD videos. But also, you can completely strip the Vimeo player and colour-code it to the look and feel of your website. Of course, I’m putting the videos on YouTube as well – you have to almost by default. The viral nature of my efforts with remixes and the video itself has resulted in over 30,000 views.
One big thing for me was to engage with other artists so for every song, I am going to offer up the acapella vocals as a download, and then invite others to upload their own remixes. So I did that for the first song Londinium, went onto a couple of the forums that I used to go on, and posted the link. Five hours later I had a remix from a Canadian producer, Crossworm, who’s big in the underground stateside. The next day I’d had two more, then three more the next day. It’s proven to be a great way to link with other artists.
I use SoundCloud for the remix submissions, so that I can privately review them and then put everything on the site. People love the fact that they can watch the video, and underneath is a massive button saying ‘Remix Track’. I’m not making people jump through any hoops to do this – and already, some kids in America have set their own remixes to the video and uploaded it to YouTube. So the viral nature of this has been good. I also have the SoundCloud APP on my iPhone so that I can review submissions instantly. SoundCloud lets people upload almost any file format so I’m not limited to my own server spec.
The remix player that is the main feature on the remix page; along with the main site-wide audio player, are both powered by KickApps. KickApps let you create apps from scratch. With no knowledge of Flash, you can create very advanced flash jukeboxes and video players, among other things. Their platform is amazing; so good that they have now started charging for it. When I signed up it was free and I owe a lot to that platform. I’ve included ‘share’ buttons on both the site-wide player and the remix ‘grid’ meaning people can post the tracks to their Facebook or MySpace or whatever. The remix player in particular has been reposted by a lot by the guys who have had their songs put up giving further exposure.
I have my Vlog page which is merely an embed of my YouTube channel. The nice bit of this is that I have my iPhone linked to the account meaning that I can shoot something on my phone and have it uploaded in seconds with it showing on the site in a matter of minutes. You can also email videos to your YouTube account so everyone should consider it a way to get content out from studio sessions of behind the scenes stuff.
The YouTube account is then linked to my iLike account which I use to power my own iPhone app. I managed to sign up when they were still only charging $99, as I knew they wouldn’t keep it at that price. I think it’s $195 now. I’d never bothered with iLike before, although I knew a lot of musicians used it. But when I found out you could create an iPhone app with them, I signed up. I had been looking at a company called Mobile Roadie, but they were way too expensive – $499 up front and then $29 a month to maintain it with a scalable cost related to how many people actually download it. You get a lot of control with the iLike platform and I like the fact you can have the songs streaming, with buy links if they’re available on iTunes. As mentioned, videos appear within the app and are linked from my YouTube channel making the whole workflow very efficient. I also liked the fact that you can put games into your app. I’ve got plans to upload codewalls that people will need to get right to reveal secret URLs to get free downloads. I’m charging 99 cents for the app rather than offering it for free. If you start free, you cannot change it and charge in future but if you start at 99 cents, you can put it up or down as you wish. I wanted to have that control.
Then there’s the Evidence section, which is my gallery section. The slideshow is powered by RockYou. They do all those crappy MySpace galleries, but they have some very smart options and with some tweaking, you can make it look just the part. Again, I can just upload pictures and they’ll automatically show up in the gallery – I don’t have to mess around tagging things or transferring them across manually via FTP. I nearly used a Flickr fed flash gallery but the RockYou gallery I chose fitted the ‘evidence’ theme I was going for.
For online sales, or ‘Supplies’ as I have called it, I went with a lesser-known company called Audiolife. There’s a lot of people out there like Nimbit and Snocap, who have embeddable Flash stores but who charge if you want to customise it to fit your site. Audiolife let you customise your store and take no cut except from what you sell. And they offer a merchandise fulfilment solution too, alongside the downloads and CD fulfilment. The prices are in US dollars only – I’d like to be able to offer items in other currencies also.
I’ve built a ‘Training’ section into my site which is basically a games arcade. It’s using an off-the-shelf solution called V3 Arcade, which is built into the website. So visitors are coming to my site, seeing the video, listening to the songs / remixing them are then playing against my scores at these reaction games. At one point, I posted a score up and said that I’d send a promotional CD to the first five people who beat it. Within an hour, the game had been played 600 times. And then 2,000 times by the next morning. One thing worthy of note is that you can’t record your score on the site unless you register – so again, I’m getting people to register and being able to engage them. I’ve got a couple more ideas to do with the whole arcade thing, but I’m keeping them close to my chest, as they’re quite ambitious and I’ve yet to see them before.
In the future, I will run a section named ‘CCTV’ and use my account on Ustream. I’m going to schedule live sessions in the studio, so people will be able to log on and watch them live. The reason I went for Ustream is that they offer password-protected access, so I will only reveal the password to people who have registered on my site.
Then there’s some other bits such as; I’ve got my phone to send my location to a Google Map, which is only viewable on my website. It’s a gimmick for now, but I’ve got some plans to tie it in with things in the future. There have been artists using maps in the past for treasure hunts and the like but I have something very specific in mind for this tie in of my phone and the resulting map and GPS location within my site.
It’s amazing what can be done nowadays using tools available to everyone!”
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