Marketing isn’t necessarily easy. But anyone who says it isn’t fun is lying to you.
You get to experiment, apply your creativity, and gain more exposure for your art. Seriously, what could be more fun?
Though there are many ways to promote your music, sticking to the following proven methods will help you cut through the noise and remain focused on the right things. Ready to learn? Let’s go!
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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1. Build Your Website
You can find several guides on our website talking about how to set up your website, so I won’t be talking about that here.
The most important part is that your website is the only online property you truly own. You do not own your social media accounts. You should promote your music on social media, but to me it makes more sense to put the lion’s share of work into your own website than anyone else’s.
You can use your website to sell your music and your merch. You can send people to your social media accounts to follow you. You can get people to go and stream your music. Whatever it is you want your fans to do, you can prioritize those things on your website. Social media sites don’t offer that level of customization.
See your website as an asset. I know, it’s easy to look at it as a nuisance because you must keep it updated, but you’ll thank me later if you take my advice and keep adding fresh content as often as you can.
Speaking of fresh content, there is no better way to keep your site updated than to share regular updates through your blog for your fans.
Should you blog or not? That depends on your level of commitment to the activity itself. You get what you put into it, so you won’t benefit from it unless you’re willing to work hard and put in the effort. You must commit to a schedule and stick with it.
A blog is good for a lot of things, including:
- Regular communication. Your fans want to hear from you. A blog is an excellent medium you can use to keep them updated.
- Building your email list. You can have a subscription form at the end of every blog post. Nobody else owns your email list except you, so it’s one of the most important assets you can build.
- SEO. I’m not going to be overly generous here. Someone is already ranking for every keyword you could possibly conceive of. But you might be surprised to find people finding you through search if you blog steadily for a year or two.
3. Build Community On Social Media
Much has already been said about social media marketing. Some of the podcasts I listen to seem to be obsessed with the topic to an unhealthy extent.
Let me say it like it is – 95% of the content and advice out there doesn’t apply to you. Why do I say that? Because you probably aren’t that far along in your music career yet.
Advertising, live streaming, Instagram Stories… All this stuff is great, and it will do little to nothing for you or your music unless you have a following.
If you’re just getting started, you need to ignore the noise and just focus on one thing at a time. Sell one product (i.e. an album). Use one traffic source (i.e. Facebook). Direct people to one place on the web (i.e. your website).
Keep at it until you begin to see the kind of traction you’re hoping for. Then, once you’ve mastered one channel, like Facebook, add another, like Twitter.
And, please, focus on building community, not on selling to them. You can certainly let your followers know when you have a new release, but above all find ways to engage your community and have fun.
4. Grow Your Email List
No matter what happens, your email list is yours. Your social media following could evaporate in a minute, but you won’t lose your email list.
I would suggest prioritizing the building or your email list over any other marketing activity, because people who sign up to receive updates from you are the most loyal and interested in what you can offer. They’ll come to your shows, vote for your song, call radio stations on your behalf, or stream your new release time and again.
This is not a guarantee by any means. Only a percentage of your following will ever open your emails let alone take an action that benefits you. But I’ve seen artists that have 40 to 50% open rates, which is anywhere from 20 to 30% above the industry norm! You can get a very decent response rate with an open rate like that.
You can use everything in your arsenal to build your email list, including your website, your social media accounts, your live shows, and more. Once your list starts to grow, send regular, engaging updates to keep people interested in what you’re doing.
5. Perform Live
There’s no promotion quite like playing live. The tricky part today is that you can play a lot of gigs that don’t pay or help you grow your audience.
Live performance isn’t everything, and there are career paths for artists who’d rather work entirely from home.
But I also know many artists who feel like they were born to perform. If that describes you, then prepare for what’s ahead, because you’re probably going to be doing a lot of playing out to uncover who your fans are. And, yes, unfortunately you might end up playing your fair share of dive bars and dingy clubs in the process.
Instead of dreading the process, set yourself up for success. Prepare an email list signup form for every show you play. Bring your merch and CDs. Get a banner made for your band so you can spread your name and your website address.
When you’ve gained enough experience to command a higher fee, that’s when you can start being a little more selective about your gigs. Until then, playing shows might seem like a means to an end. But honestly, if you like performing, you’ll still have a lot of fun along the way.
6. Sell Your Merchandise
Merch is a promotion tool as much as it is a revenue stream. Many artists spend years building their careers without even realizing this fact.
You make merch to sell it, true, but wearable merch is also a form of free advertising. When your fans wear it around town, they become walking billboards for you.
So, it’s best to be strategic about the merch you create. People might not notice something small like a pin or a sticker, even if your fans are wearing them. But a T-shirt, hoodie, hat, or coffee mug will always draw attention.
If your pins happen to be your best sellers, then I see no issue with selling them at your shows. Just recognize that the promotion value won’t be quite as high as a bigger merch item.
You may not have much of a budget to begin with. That’s okay, you will build it up in time. Save up revenue from your CD and digital sales, as well as your gigs. Then, reinvest in yourself. Anyone who’s serious about their career will always take a fair chunk of the resources available to keep growing their career, even if they do pay themselves a little.
Advertising will serve a limited function in your career until you build a bit of a following. The great news is that you can use the data you accumulate on social media (especially on Facebook), to build lookalike audiences and get them to like your page.
200 people is a decent enough sample size to begin to figure out who your audience is. Facebook Insights will tell you what the age range of your audience is, as well as the gender. And they have lookalike audiences built in as an option with boosted posts.
Another great option is to target people who like your page and their friends. You might be surprised how big that network is. What they say about six degrees of separation is true – you are literally only six connections away from anyone, and most of the time you won’t even have to dig that deep.
The short version is this – early on, you should just run “like” campaigns to grow your following. It’s not worth doing anything else. Either target a lookalike audience or those who like your page and their friends.
Video is one of the best mediums you can use to accumulate more likes. It doesn’t need to be a video explaining why people should like your page – a great live performance video will generally do the trick.
Even when you have a bigger following, the previously mentioned tactic can still be quite effective. One additional type of campaign that can be of some value is adjusting your targeting to people with specific interests, such as bands you sound like or have been influenced by.
8. Distribute Your Music
There is a definite difference between music marketing and music distribution.
Music marketing is the proactive process of promoting your music to the world. Music distribution is little more than the act of paying a distribution company to get your music on popular online stores and streaming sites.
But I see many artists torn about whether to distribute their music online. They worry endlessly about copyright and their music being stolen. Sadly, though, we all “steal” from somewhere, and there’s nothing truly unique about your art over anyone else's.
Distributing your music isn’t likely to make you a star overnight. But you could be missing out on some opportunities if your music isn’t available online. It could show up as a recommendation for someone, or even end up on a popular playlist without you even trying.
I’m not saying anything huge is going to happen the moment you distribute your music. But I would still suggest distributing it, because it certainly won’t hurt your marketing efforts.
9. Promote Your Music On YouTube
People now spend more time on YouTube than ever before. I think it’s fair to say that not being on YouTube can hurt your career. And, it’s still amazing to me how little some artists utilize it.
Live video is great. Lyric videos are fine. But people want to hear from you. They want to interact and engage with you. They want to know what you look like, what gear you use, what your studio recording process is.
Your goal should be to mix it up – upload music videos, vlogs, interviews, podcast episodes, announcements, acoustic covers, and so forth. Quality control is important, but your fans will understand if the production level of your videos isn't super high off the bat.
The best thing you can do for yourself is get into the habit of producing regular content and uploading something new every week. You’ll need to be disciplined, but it will be worth the effort that goes into it.
10. Get Radio Airplay
Did you just release an album you’re extremely proud of? Do you have some music in the works you think could hit it big?
Then you’re ready to put together your first college radio campaign. This will involve identifying about 200 stations that are accepting submissions for your style of music, putting together a mailout with your CD and one sheet, sending it out, and following up with stations two weeks after the fact.
Another great resource is Radio Airplay, which can help you get some free spins on internet radio. You will need to pay for their services if you want more than 10 plays per week though.
Once you’ve started getting airplay, be prepared to tour through the towns you’re being played at. This can help you reinforce that fan base.
Don’t worry about other marketing channels until you’ve mastered the above 10. These are the most critical ones, and the good news is that you may not even require all of them to build a sustainable music career.