Copywriting Tips for Musicians

According to the late, great Nora Ephron, “Everything is copy.” As a writer, I love that; as a sometimes copywriter, I know it’s true. The phrase, which is also the title of a documentary about Ephron’s life, means that anything and everything in life is up for grabs to be written about. But I prefer to interpret it as everything that’s written needs to be as effective as copy.

How is copy different from writing?

Great question. Technically, there’s no difference; the two words are often interchangeable. The only time copy is drastically different is in copywriting.

You may be familiar with that term through that advertising course you took in college or from Peggy Olsen’s role at Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. Basically, copywriting is writing for business, promotional, or journalistic purposes. Copywriting can be creative, but it needs to get the point across clearly to a chosen demographic.

As writer and marketer Ray Edwards put it, “Great copy addresses a problem, makes a promise, offers proof, and ends with a proposal.”

Copywriting as a musician

You may think that, as a musician, copywriting has no place occupying space in your brain, but if you ever want to sell anything (albums, tickets, T-shirts, you name it), you need to bone up on your copywriting skills. Without words that are compelling enough to drive your audience to action, you may as well not even bother posting your wares at all.

Check out these copywriting tips to help you get started.

1. Target different audience segments

A former colleague once told me, “If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one,” and it’s true. You may think that the one unifying factor of your audience (the fact that they’re fans of/are following you) is enough to create one analogous block of copy, post it to everyone all at once, and call it a day.

Nope.

Here’s why. Imagine you’re promoting an appearance at a festival. You post a promo flyer on Facebook along with the copy, “See u IRL at next week’s fest! It’s gonna be lit! #rockininthefreeworld.”

Is that good copy or bad copy? It depends. For an event like this festival, whose demographic may be pretty young and hip, it may resonate. Keep in mind that you may get comments from your older followers asking for a translation. Therefore, if that festival’s draw is mostly adults who won’t understand what “lit” means, make your copy relatable to them: “Hope to see everyone next week at the fest! I can’t wait to play my new songs and see what you think!”

“Good” copy is all about who’s receiving the message. If you keep that much in mind, you’re halfway there.

2. Tailor the message

Just as you wouldn’t talk to your millennial fans the same way you would talk to fans who fall into older demographics, you shouldn’t use generic copy across every single medium. This doesn’t necessarily mean switching it up based on whether you’re posting to Facebook or Twitter, but rather adjusting your copy and messaging to fit the general vehicle you’re using to communicate it.

The three outlets below are pretty common; you probably use them right this moment to spread the word about your music and its accoutrement. In basic terms, here are a few copywriting shortcuts based on each.

Social media

Generally, social media is a bit more laid-back and casual, so leave your 10-dollar words at home. Make sure you’re communicating clearly and concisely, but use words that give some impetus as to what action you want the reader to take.

Social media posts are fleeting, so don’t bog down your readers with minute details; instead, try using flashy words to catch their eye.

Start with the five most persuasive words in the English language:

  • You
  • Free
  • Because (more on this in a second)
  • Instantly
  • New

These terms are sure to earn you some coveted eyeball time on your social media post of choice.

Merch store

Typically on your merch page and website, you’re going for the hard sell. Your visitor is obviously there because he or she likes what you’ve got and wants more. This is a good time to whip out those five terms above, but also give your merch some decent product copy.

Take your messaging a step further than the already-punched-up, “New T-shirt designs available now!”

Try, “Looking for the perfect gift for that special someone? Our new T-shirt designs just arrived, and the rest of our merch is back in stock. Why not pick something up during our 50% BOGO sale now?”

Obviously, some of these terms are conditional, but the main goal here is to echo Ray Edwards’ words above: “Great copy addresses a problem, makes a promise, offers proof, and ends with a proposal.” Never is this more important than when you’re writing copy for a tangible product because you’re trying to earn real dollars and cents. It’s your job to persuade your fans that your new T-shirt designs are irresistible with your words.

Email newsletter

Rather than get into the meat and bones of actual content within an email newsletter, let’s focus on the only element that really matters: your subject line. After all, 33% of people open emails based on their subject lines alone. Because it must be so succinct and on point, this is copywriting at its finest.

Think you can’t cram a problem, a promise, proof, and a proposal into a short-and-sweet subject line? Try these examples on for size:

  • Mondays don’t have to suck when there’s music
  • Never get bored sitting in traffic again
  • Forget everything you knew about hip-hop
  • This is country music for country-music haters

Of course, your subject lines can break the rules, too. Remember the hubbub around former President Barack Obama’s email subject lines? Allow me to jog your memory with a few of his greatest hits:

  • Hell no
  • Meet me for dinner
  • Today’s decision
  • This is potentially devastating
  • Take this seriously

In addition to these hyper-clickable subject lines, Obama’s emails featured the man himself as the sender and often included personalization. If you’re manually sending out your newsletter, this may be difficult to pull off, but if you’re using a program like Mailchimp or Constant Contact, you might be able to integrate a custom field. The payoff for this could be huge: emails with personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to get that click.

3. Write compelling copy

Okay, this seems like a tall (and rather broad) order, right? Actually, you might be surprised by how easy it is to increase the effectiveness of your copy by changing just a few things, tweaking different words, or simply adding more details. Anyone can write great copy; it just involves being a bit persuasive and keeping a thesaurus handy.

Here are a couple of common examples you might run into on a regular basis along with ways to refine their copy:

MEH: “Buy our new album out Tuesday via our website.”

BETTER: “After months toiling away in Derek’s basement, we’re so proud to announce that our brand new album, Copywriting Rocks!, is available for pre-order NOW via our website! It drops on Tuesday, and the first 50 copies sold will be personally autographed!”

MEH: “Our summer concert schedule is up at ourbandlovescopywriting.com.”

BETTER: “We’ve planned your summer concert season for you! Check out our full line-up of shows at ourbandlovescopywriting.com. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philly – we’re coming for you!”

Notice that, although we’re adding text and details, we’re not convoluting or losing the point of the copy.

Another way to strengthen your copy is by adding reasoning. A study by social psychologist Ellen Langer as relayed by Copyblogger revealed that simply by using the word “because,” over 30% of people were more likely to complete the requested action.

For our purposes, that means that if you say, “Hey guys, we need $1,000 to record our album. Donate at our Kickstarter page,” you may have around 60% of your target audience respond. A decent number indeed, but change that copy to, “Hey, guys! We’re crowdsourcing $1,000 to record our new album because we’re donating the proceeds to the ACLU!” and watch that number jump to around 90%. Even if you’re not doing something as noble as donating to a worthy cause, by explaining what you’re doing and why, you’ll draw in more people.

A basic overview of copywriting for musicians boils down to a few key points: be cognizant of who you’re talking to, where you’re talking to them, and how you’re addressing them. Make sure to use words that force readers to stop whatever they’re doing and pay attention to you, but, additionally, be sure there’s a payoff for them somewhere in your copy. Among a sea of musicians who haphazardly post, even just a few simple copywriting skills can take you far.

Allison Johnelle Boron is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Goldmine magazine, Paste, and more. She is the founder of REBEAT, a “blogazine” focused on mid-century music, culture, and lifestyle.

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