The Ultimate Guide To Music Promotion

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Live shows and radio time aren’t the only way, or even the best way, to spread the word about your music. Blogs, social media platforms, and online music channels offer alternative avenues to help musicians build their fan base. Online options can be easier to access than mainstream methods. If you’ve got the talent, you’ve got as good of a chance to get noticed as anyone else.

Or do you? Getting your big break takes more than musical ability. You need to be your own public relations and marketing agency on top of that, at least at first. Don’t worry. We’ve got your road to music promotion mapped out, and the route is pretty simple. You’re about to get a primer on solid marketing strategy and an inside look at the psychology of hardcore fans. From there, we’ll break down how to use the best online music promotion tools available: music blogs and social media. You’ll be on your way to making your track the next song fans have on repeat.

Mastering Your Marketing Strategy

The good news is there’s a ton of different ways to promote your music effectively. Submitting your music to contests, hosting your own contests, going viral on social media, getting featured on music blogs and breaking into old-school radio can all get you the attention you’re looking for.

The bad news? No matter how good a marketing move is, you won’t see the results you want if you don’t have a sound, consistent strategy behind it. To build a successful career as a musician, split your work time 50/50. Half of your effort, time, and energy goes into making music, and the other half goes toward marketing and promotion. Think of it as a way of respecting the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making an album. You want people to be able to find and listen to it!

Playing local shows, contacting a few blogs, and posting videos are tried and true strategies. They’re also the first thing everyone else thinks of. To stand out, you either need to go all in and book 50 shows in the nearest three states instead of playing a handful of gigs at a local venue, or you need to find creative ways to market yourself. Email marketing, posting instructional videos or other creative content, or trying an unconventional PR stunt can be fresh ways to get attention.

Keep your marketing strategy working for you by following this pattern:

  1. Brainstorm ideas that could inject fresh energy into your marketing. Nothing is too off-the-wall to make the list.
  2. Pick the top three ideas. Go ahead and note a few runners-up, too. You may need them if one of your top picks bombs.
  3. Test the ideas to see which gives you the best results. You’ve got to think like a scientist for this one. Pick three similar events, like releasing three new singles or playing gigs at three similar locations in a short period of time, and market each one with only one of your top pick strategies. Downloads, plays, or ticket sales can quantitatively tell you what works and what doesn’t.
  4. Come back to your list or brainstorm new strategies, and repeat the process as needed. Some marketing tactics work in a cycle. They work great for a while, get overused, lose their power, get abandoned, and soon they’re the hidden trick that no one else is using.

Get in Your Fan’s Head

One common mistake that artists often make is assuming that every follower and track download represents a fan of your music. Online promotion is about getting fans, not “hearts” and retweets. An even bigger mistake, though, is thinking that all fans are basically the same.

Daniel Funk and Jeff James researched how sports fans shift from fair-weather fans to the kinds of people who paint their entire bodies in their team’s colors before a game. A similar model applies to fans of music. From bottom to top, the levels are:

Awareness: The most basic level, typically influenced by family or media. This would be you liking Elton John because your dad played the CD every morning, or jamming to whatever happens to be playing in a club.

Attraction: At a certain point, listeners start paying more attention to the different options in a sub-genre and forming preferences. You might see these fans at a concert, and even standing in line for merchandise, but they’re not loyal yet. Change your sound or wait too long between new releases, and they’ll move on.

Attachment: As fans develop a closer connection to a band or artist, their reason for liking the music changes. Extrinsic factors, like what their friends listen to, don’t matter as much. Intrinsic factors start to play a bigger role. That is, there’s a new psychological connection between fan and artist. The music might remind fans of a meaningful time in their lives, or fans might connect to an image or set of values the artist represents.

Allegiant: These are your ride-or-die fans, the ones willing to blow rent money to get backstage passes. Your music isn’t just a collection of awesome songs to them; it’s a part of their identity. Allegiant fans even tend to ignore negative news about their faves, since their loyalty ties in deep with their self-concept. Most artists will only ever have a tiny fraction of allegiant fans in their total fan base, but that’s enough.

Building a solid fan base through word-of-mouth is partly about numbers. But the majority of an artist’s revenue comes from the tiny slice of fans at the top who will drop whatever it takes for the experiences and exclusive content they crave. Marketing is your game plan to gradually move new listeners up the ladder to increase your allegiant fan base.

All of this sounds great, except that your tracks and blog posts are drowning in a tsunami of other artists trying to get their big break. How are you supposed to get allegiant fans when you’re stuck on the awareness level?

Unfortunately, we’re not about to reveal the one easy trick guaranteed to skyrocket plays on SoundCloud. That trick doesn’t exist. But lucky for you there are marketing tactics that can help you get the word out and grow your fan base if you’re willing to put in the work.

Breaking Into Blogs

Many DJs and artists that have gained critical and popular success, including Avicii, Arcade Fire, and Bon Iver, can trace some of their fame back to music blogs that praised their work early on. With all of the competition though, it can still be hard to get a foot in the door. So don’t just rely on your talent. Some strategic planning and a hard-working attitude can give you an edge up.

  1. Get your tracks and materials ready. You know you’re trying to attract an audience for your music. Why reach out to a blog when you don’t have your SoundCloud set up and your website still says “Coming Soon”? Be optimistic that a blog feature will draw crowds to seek you out, and prepare accordingly.
  2. Cast a wide net. How many blogs are you planning to contact? Five, ten, even twenty? If so, you’re not thinking nearly big enough. Try to put together a list of at least 100 sites that might feature your music. Search on social media for new music blogs, or use reverse image search on Google to find blogs that cover similar artists or genres.
  3. Personalize your email. Having a long list of blog options does not mean you should put bloggers on blast. Don’t think you’ve written a magically undetectable form email. Bloggers get hundreds of requests from artists. They know BS. Take a couple minutes to do the research to spell the blogger and blog’s name right, reference a similar artist they’ve covered, or offer a (genuine) compliment.
  4. Send your best work. We’ve all cringed at the movie moment where a wannabe pesters someone to listen to his demo (looking at you, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Don’t be that loser. You’ve got one chance to blow a blogger’s mind. Send a polished track. Oh, and don’t pick the one that opens a little weak, but gets good by the second bridge. You may only have a few seconds to make an impression.
  5. Tell a (short) story. Part of the fun of featuring an artist on a music blog is introducing readers to a cool person, as well as great music. Your intro email is a chance to share some of the inspiration behind this album, themes you like to get into musically, and who you are as an artist. Keep it brief, and don’t brag. You want to come across cool, not cocky.
  6. Follow up. Sent out an email and heard nothing but crickets? Don’t give up just yet. Emails can get buried in the shuffle of other musicians trying to get their work noticed. If you haven’t heard back in a week or two, forward them your original email for reference and follow up. You can do this a couple times, but if you’re still not getting any response, move on to the next blog.

Social Media Skills Musicians Need

Getting featured on other sites is great. You also need to pay attention to your own platforms to market your music effectively. For most artists, that means getting involved on social media. The benefit of social media is that you can achieve a wide distribution, since basically everyone has a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, or all three! Since people turn to social media to get news and develop relationships, it’s also a great avenue to build the personal connections that turn awareness-level listeners into attachment-level fans. Here’s how to use some of the main platforms to your advantage:

Facebook

Everyone and their grandma is on Facebook these days (two billion monthly users, to be exact). Skip a profile here, and it’s going to be a lot harder to seem legit. You don’t need to post constantly, but make sure your page is complete with relevant info and some great pics. This is likely to be one of the top results people will find when they search for you, so keep it up to date.

Twitter

A major advantage of Twitter is that you can post much more frequently than on other social media sites before you overwhelm your followers’ feeds. Making the rounds on music blogs? This is where you can post every link, plus regular reminders about your next concert or EP release, without spamming.

Instagram

Visual aesthetic is an important part of building your brand and making a professional impression. Top Instagram accounts tend to favor a strict visual style, whether you love a vintage, black-and-white vibe (hey, Adele) or brilliant colors and angles that transport you to an epic concert (Big Sean and Soulja Boy’s Insta are all about the baller life). Instagram Stories can also be a way to connect on a more personal level with fans.

YouTube

Stop arguing that people won’t buy your music if they can watch the video on YouTube. Even obsessive fans enjoy a free listen now and again. YouTube has launched the careers of some of the top performers in the industry, such as Justin Beiber, The Weeknd, and Karmin. Dismissing the distribution potential this platform provides is a mistake you probably can’t afford to make.

LinkedIn

You may think of LinkedIn as being way too corporate to apply to you as an artist. You’re kind of right, but you should set up a profile anyway. The good news is you don’t need to do much, if any, posting after you fill in your info. It’s like having a business card. If you meet someone you want to impress with your professionalism (maybe a PR rep), you’ll be ready.

Music-specific platforms

The advantage of sites like Musical.Ly, Bandsintown, or even SoundCloud (which operates like a social media network in certain ways) is that they’re designed with music in mind. You have built-in ways to showcase your work, stage a virtual sing-off, or make sure fans get concert date info. The disadvantage is you may not find the same numbers as mainstream social media sites. Look for ways to automate sharing between a music-specific platform and your other accounts so you reach all of your followers without creating too much extra work for yourself.

Music promotion takes a lot of work, but if you find strategies that work well for you, the effort is more than worth it. As artists, there’s nothing better than seeing fans fall in love with the music we worked so hard to create. Have any music promotion tips? Tell us more about them in the comments!

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