Another update about my ongoing war with ReverbNation’s FanReach newsletter template for musicians.  

Listen while you read to “Trying Over and Over Again” (No, I’m not going to rerun “A Shitty Day”, however appropriate it may be!)

By this point I am well on my way through a second 8-hour workday (which does NOT include the time I spent composing the content!) struggling with the ReverbNation template to get another newsletter sent out, only to have it get completely FUBAR’d this time, and the matter is still not quite resolved.  This was the worst yet, both in terms of wasted time and nerve damage.

So why all the angst?  What went wrong??  Well, EVERYTHING!!

First, I have been using a different email address to communicate with our fans since the last time I circulated a newsletter several months ago (which again was a big, time consuming, crazymaking nightmare, but at least the finished product that got distributed ended up bearing at least some resemblance to what I had intended on sending!), because the email address I had been using (hosted by Network Solutions) has been such a dysfunctional hassle to use, and it took forever for me to figure out how to update the email address on the newsletter template to the one I am presently using to communicate with our fans.

Second, trying several different models of the newsletter template to determine which one had the least objectionable presentation and stuff to have to bypass or edit out altogether, and offered the most flexibility for me to make it look like I wanted it to devoured a lot of time, but at least the form I finally settled on seemed to correctly display the text I had composed this time on Google Docs, complete with the links I had embedded to lead readers to content hosted on various other platforms (Flickr, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.) so I wouldn’t have to enter them all over again on the template, or so I was lead to believe.  In contrast, the last time I sent a newsletter, I had a mind-boggling ordeal simply trying to get the text into the template at all since I had composed it on a MS Word document and didn’t realize at that time that MS Word loads the text up with all sorts of formatting crap that doesn’t travel well to web-based applications.

Another annoyance was that ReverbNation’s free download feature is a one-trick-pony, but I found a way to bypass it in order to give our fans access to downloads in the form of presentation I want.  As part of that exercise, I discovered that SoundCloud is an excellent vehicle for distributing free downloads to fans.  I did end up having to upgrade to their paid subscription service (the free service has plenty of wonderful features, but the workaround to use it for this purpose entails a larger pain in the ass than I am willing to put up with, so I bit the bullet and shelled out still more cash for the paid service.  Further compounding the aggravation was having missed an opportunity to get the paid service at a discount since I didn’t realize that I needed it until it became glaringly apparent that RN’s free download feature wasn’t getting it done.

Ok, so, what’s so great about SoundCloud?  Well, even the free service allows you to upload two whole hours of tracks (regardless of file size, I think), and has loads of options for annotating them.  Of all the music hosting sites I have ventured into so far, SoundCloud is by far the best for warehousing metadata for tracks. The track description field is very generous and allows embedding links, which is superb for crediting side players, as well as artists and photographers who contribute artwork for your music.  The players look nice and allow listeners (and owners) to add comments right on the timeline of the tracks, AND they work with the WordPress blogging site, while ReverbNation’s do not!  The least costly paid service (€29/yr) on SoundCloud lets you upload a lot more music and “sets” of tracks, and offers enhanced stats, and also allows you to customize the players, which is terrific, but what really sold me was the ability to selectively “hide” tracks and distribute them via a “secret link” accessible only to people you send it to, which is perfect for the monthly free downloads circulated with our newsletter.

ReverbNation / FanReach’s “share” feature is great in principle, but that was what tipped me off that all was not well when I opened the link that got posted to FaceBook and Twitter.  That’s when I found to my horror that all the text/links/free download/etc. that I had gone to an infinite amount of trouble to put together NEVER EVEN GOT SENT, even though it looked just fine when I tested it (by clicking the “send sample email” button)!  Compounding the annoyance still more was the fact that this time I was actually satisfied with the finished product, or at least, what I thought the finished product was.  I also discovered that the cross post feature gets all squirrelly on Twitter, adding multiple posts emanating from various other sites linked to our RN profile, which seems to cause some sort of ricochet effect.

Other miscellaneous irritants included the usual things like the ReverbNation template insisting on steering readers of the newsletter back to our profile on RN instead of to our own website.  I haven’t yet figured out how to reroute the banner to our site.  Perhaps it’s just as well since that is a whole additional can of worms because our site is in transition now, and not as up-to-date as it should be (which is a gross understatement!); no straightforward way to add sales points for our CD/downloads/merch (I suppose if I had fiddled with it for a few more hours, I could have figured that out, but I was desperate to get the newsletter sent).

The aggravation continued apace as I went into a lengthy online discussion with RN’s user support trying (with mixed results) to get the problem(s) fixed, futzed around with the newsletter some more trying to get it sorted out and in the process realizing that there is indeed something awry with the “save” function and having to find a way around that, and upon thinking I had done so, sent it again and reposted to FaceBook & Twitter.  This time the text appeared as it was supposed to, but the embedded links still did not work.  That revealed the main source of the trouble to be that RN’s template does not play nice with any outside applications!  I compose using Google Docs (a great, portable document management system) in bits and pieces as I get ideas and have time available, so not being able to cut and paste a finished document from that application into the newsletter template is a monumental hassle.  My workstyle does not readily accommodate having to compose the whole thing inside the template all in one go, especially with its dodgy “save” function.

Does anybody know if FanBridge (a competing service) is any better?  I find it rather infuriating that a paid service is this buggy!

My apologies if this post isn’t making any sense, as I am still trying to mentally process what has occurred so that I can try to fix it.  I sure hope I haven’t annoyed the shit out of the subscriber base I have been working like a dog to cultivate with this absurd process!!  I am wondering what will be more or less of a hassle: possibly circulating a few more buggered-up posts from the RN template as I continue trying to get it to work properly, or trying to cajole our fans into jumping like circus critters through whatever array of hoops switching to a different service will entail at the risk of many of them unsubscribing in disgust, and then perhaps end up duplicating the same problems I have had with RN, or new incarnations of them??

Again in all fairness, at least ReverbNation’s user support is good.  If you can find the way to get in touch with them to communicate about your problem, a real person gets back to you via email within a matter of hours and tries their best to help you.