If 15-year-old Conor were around—with curly hair down to his eyes and a sweaty Minor Threat t-shirt on his back—he would argue that marketing isn’t punk rock.
And perhaps he’s right. If there’s a Dead Kennedys deep cut about long-tail music keywords, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of hearing it.
But, that perspective is naive. The music industry is immensely competitive, and good marketing is essential for anyone looking to turn their art into a successful career. After all, artists can expect to make only about 70% of a penny per play on Apple Music, and a little more than half that on Spotify. A song with a million streams will earn you well under $10,000. Plus, touring is expensive.
As such, we’ve taken the time to create an accessible music marketing guide to help you reach as many unjustifiably angry 15-year-olds as possible.
Sure, we may be living in a digital era. Streaming platforms are dominant, and CDs are useful only to anthropologists. But, there will always be music lovers who appreciate all things vintage. Plus, over the past 12 years, annual sales of vinyl records in the U.S. have surged by 15 times!
Go to record stores and advertise your band however you like—posters, stickers, buttons, etc. You can also ask an employee if they’re willing to play your latest music. I was in a record store when I first heard Australian prog outfit King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since!
So, is social media an important part of your strategy? Is Radiohead’s In Rainbows criminally overlooked because people think it’s edgy to say Kid A is their favorite album?
Twitter is a great platform to promote new music in a casual way. Check out this tweet from Car Seat Headrest, posted the day the band’s most recent album dropped:
Facebook is terrific for organizing and promoting upcoming concerts. Each month, hundreds of millions of consumers use Facebook Events to find stuff to do in their cities and neighborhoods. In fact, Facebook Local, a standalone app, is designed to direct users to nearby Events based on their locations.
And, as of August 2018, Facebook enables you to sell concert tickets directly through the platform. Before, you had to hope that someone who saw your Event would remember to search for tickets on line. No longer do you have to worry about losing that concert-goer.
People often generalize hashtags as spam. But, did you know that your band can use them to bring fans together and create a super fun online community?
The amazing thing about your fans is that they want to spread your music to new listeners. If you create a hashtag for the release of your newest single, EP, or album, you can rest assured that your loyal followers are going to use that hashtag as well. And each time one of your fans shares it with their social media circles, tons of people you’ve yet to reach are getting exposed to your band.
A BROCKHAMPTON fan shares the group’s new single via hashtag.
Hashtags also allow you to find the people who are talking about you online and interact with them. Every music fan fantasizes about getting the chance to have a conversation with their favorite artists. Be the artist who thanks fans for listening and answers their random questions! This does wonders for your public images.
Music—particularly live music—is all about community. One of the best parts of seeing your favorite band live is reliving the experience with your friends immediately afterwards.
Your band can tap into the social aspect of concerts by launching a contest! When you create a Facebook Event for your upcoming show in Seattle, let your fans know how it works. Whoever invites the most new people to the Event gets a prize of your (or her) choice—a backstage pass, a free item of merch, and so on.
Running a contest like this is a fun, engaging way to get more people at your shows. Plus, you can do it for as many or as few shows as you want!
If there’s one thing that beats live music, it’s free live music. Of course, from an opportunity cost perspective, it’s expensive to give up a night that you could be using to make money from a regular concert. However, if you have the flexibility to occasionally play free shows in parks, town commons, and coffee houses, it can be a fantastic way to get your music out there and find new fans.
Plus, in an era when ticket vendors charge exorbitant fees for no apparent reason other than turning a profit, putting your music out for free is a surefire way to brand yourself as a cool, down-to-earth artist.
Much like vinyl, great radio is never going to die. Maybe I’m just in denial, but I truly believe that music consumers will always find value in the local (often college) radio stations that play stuff you wouldn’t otherwise hear over the airwaves.
Sunshine Brothers Inc. promoting an appearance on the UMass Amherst radio station.
If there’s an awesome indie station in your hometown, or if you have a show booked in a city with such a station, reach out and try to organize an album release appearance. Ideally, they’ll have a set-up that allows you to play live in the studio. But, if you’re limited to simply spinning a few tracks and providing commentary, that’s perfectly good, too.
Either way, local radio stations offer a way for your band to generate buzz and reach a captive audience that can (most likely) get something out of your music.
What better way to get new listeners to hear your awesome music than to play a show for an entirely different fanbase? Opening up for a more popular band—ideally one with a sound similar to yours—guarantees that you’re reaching audiences who want to listen. One amazing set is all it takes to get hundreds, if not thousands, of Spotify users to look up your profile before the headliner comes on stage. If you can get new fans out of every show, your band will be the one looking for openers some day soon.
When you think of music festivals, the ones that come to mind are the major players: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Governor’s Ball, and so on. While it’s no small achievement for a small indie outfit to get on the bill at one (or more) of these festivals, playing them may not generate as much buzz as you would hope. Your band may be superb, but if the majority of attendees are there to get wasted and bop to Travis Scott, they’re probably not going to pay much attention to your dream pop songs.
Alternatively, you can focus your festival energies on the festivals reserved for artists within your genre. For folk artists, there’s the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. For literary types, there’s Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA. For indie artists, there’s MAHA Festival in Omaha, NE.
By opting for more niche festivals, you’re playing your music for audiences that truly want to hear it. You know the attendees are there for more than the food and the booze; they’re there because they love the genre and want to discover more artists within it.
For whatever reason, we’re a little obsessed with the personal lives of the artists we admire. We hate to break it to you, but your most dedicated fans probably wonder what you eat for breakfast and which Netflix shows you love. A little creepy? Sure. Something you can build on? Absolutely!
You can use a blog as a platform for tons of different stuff. Provide inside looks into your songwriting process. Tell funny stories from the road. Recommend other artists that you love. Publishing content like this makes you a more likable persona and creates opportunities for people who have never heard of you to find your website while poking around Google.
If you’re not a wordsmith, vlogging is another great option. It allows you to give fans the behind-the-scenes content they want and opens the door for finding new listeners through popular video platforms like YouTube and Facebook. California surf-punk band SWMRS does this well with tour diaries:
Yes, they’re interested in weird stuff like your dietary habits and entertainment preferences. But, the connections your fans feel with your band and with your music go a lot deeper than that. Like we said under tip #3—they want to help you succeed. An email newsletter is an excellent way to incorporate them into certain processes: naming songs, creating album covers, writing liner notes, etc.
Iconic cover art for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.
You have to give them an incentive. Maybe you reward the first 100 people who download your newest single by adding them to the newsletter. Or maybe you want to emphasize your live performances, and the newsletter recipients are the first 100 people to buy tickets to your next hometown show. Whichever way you slice it, this is a great tactic to drive downloads and ticket sales. Building your fans into the album release process is certain to keep them engaged.
I know, I know. We may as well advise you to make good music while you’re at it. But, hear us out.
Nearly one-third of all Internet users watch videos on YouTube. Over half a billion people watch Facebook videos every day. Between the two platforms, 45% of people watch at least an hour of video content every week. More and more every day, video is the form of content people want the most.
Creating super compelling music videos is a stellar way to grab Internet users’ attention and introduce them to your music. Plus, people love to share videos with followers, friends, and family members.
The best part: you don’t need a huge budget to make a great music video. The music video for the Strokes’ “Someday,” one of the biggest hits off their debut album, is literally just the band and their friends hanging out and smoking a staggering quantity of cigarettes.
(Note: WordStream does not endorse tobacco use. Even though Julian Casablancas makes it look super cool and fun and artistic.)
As much as people like to poke fun at music critics for being too self-serious, a lot of them exert serious influence over which artists and albums get the time of day. For example, Anthony Fantano publishes tons of album reviews on his YouTube channel, theneedledrop. Earlier this year, he eclipsed 1.5 million subscribers. The visibility an artist gets following one of Fantano’s reviews is immense.
It may not be realistic for your band to get featured on such a popular channel. Regardless, you should email bloggers and magazine writers and ask them to review your latest material. In the same vein as opening for bigger artists, getting reviewed on a reputable website will undoubtedly direct music fans to your streaming profiles. Plus, if the writers are kind enough to link to your website, those blog posts you’ve been writing will inch higher and higher up the Google search results.
Now, assuming that your efforts to take your band to the next level are rather time-consuming, you probably don’t have the time to hold down a full-time staff writer gig.
But, making the time to write occasional guest reviews for music magazines could give you some great exposure. If there’s an EP or album you feel qualified to review, reach out to the editors at music publications like Pitchfork, The Wire, HipHopDX, and XXL. Put together an author bio and mention that, when you’re not writing reviews, you’re single-handedly keeping the indie rock genre alive.
Directing music publications’ readers to your streaming profiles is the obvious benefit. Plus, working as a freelance writer enables you to develop relationships with the editors who decide what gets reviewed. This boosts your chances of getting your music reviewed and generating serious buzz around new releases.
Under tip #2, we mentioned that Facebook is now encouraging artists and businesses to sell tickets directly through their Events. This is huge because it makes it a lot easier for consumers to purchase tickets to your shows. Nobody wants to catch wind of an exciting concert and then dig around a bunch of different websites for a ticket. The underlying principle is that you want to make consumers exert minimal effort.
This principle applies to your website design. If you bury your songs under a “Music” tab, you’re forcing the people who visit your site to click at least once to find your material. That sounds like nothing, but it makes a difference. Regardless of which streaming platforms you’re on—Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify—make sure to embed your newest music prominently on your homepage. This way, when someone visits your site, they don’t have to lift a finger in order to hear your music.
Generally speaking, people will listen to anything that sounds good. Unfortunately, we, as a society, have a nasty habit of supporting artists who do bad things in their personal lives simply because their songs are catchy.
That being said, music listeners really love artists who make great music and demonstrate some kind of moral compass. Getting interviewed—whether it’s on camera at a festival or in print on a website—is your best chance to show people how awesome and likable you are.
Even if someone has never heard of your band before, one fantastic interview could be all it takes to convince them to give your new single a spin.
And speaking of singles…
Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg are two dudes who wrote a book titled Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. Their principal argument is that most startups fail because they dedicate all their time and resources to product development, neglecting to develop their core distribution channels. These companies go to market with a shiny new product and have no mechanisms for building a customer base.
The music industry equivalent is a band that drops an album before anyone has ever heard of them. It’s understandable, of course. The creative energy is high and you’re cranking out the best material of your life—that’s awesome. But, unless you generate a healthy amount of buzz with some killer lead singles (and perhaps an EP), your debut album release is going to be a disappointment.
Take your time and build up a library of stellar songs that could fill three albums. Keep the momentum going while you gradually release songs and let the hype build.
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