There are a variety of different channels you can use to market your music, from traditional methods like radio and TV, to modern digital marketing tools like Snapchat and Periscope.
Some are free. Others cost a bit of money. And still others cost a lot of money.
The old idiom, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” certainly rings true when it comes to building a music career. You have to take some risks. But does this automatically mean that paid music promotion is always better than free music promotion?
Furthermore, is it better to use one or the other, or both? Let’s explore the differences between free and paid promotion, and which you should be using in your marketing efforts.
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The Difference Between Free Music Promotion & Paid Music Promotion
This difference probably does not need to be explained at length, but it is important to understand.
Free promotion is anything that doesn’t cost you money – posting to social media, blogging, podcasting, giving interviews, and so on. This type of promotion might require your time and attention, but your wallet won’t be any lighter afterwards. It is usually characterized by minor immediate results, but a better long-term payoff.
Paid promotion is anything that does cost you money – Facebook ads, YouTube ads, TV commercials, publicity, and the like. Paid promotion usually doesn't require a lot of work beyond initial setup. It is often characterized by a burst of immediate results with no longer term payoff.
So which form of promotion should you be using? Here are several reasons why you’d want to use both.
Free Promotion Is Sometimes Just As Effective As Paid Promotion, If Not More
Psychologically, when we pay for something, we automatically place more value on it. But when something is free, or when we get free advice from someone, we don’t take it as seriously. And sometimes that is a good thing, because we should be putting everything through a filter.
But in the world we’re now in, free resources are sometimes better than paid resources. And even paid resources run the spectrum. Sometimes they’re terrible, and sometimes they’re excellent.
Finding what works for you is part of your personal responsibility. This means having the willingness to dig in and sort your way through the endless supply of tools and resources available to find worthwhile products.
At times, free promotion (i.e. social shares, classified ads, word-of-mouth, etc.) can actually do more for you than paid promotion. So don’t assume that paid promotion is better just because you’re paying for it. Let the results speak for themselves, and do your best to suppress your natural human tendencies to see more value in something you pay for.
Paid Promotion Can Make You Lazy
Whether it’s Facebook ads or Feature.fm campaigns, initiating paid programs can, unfortunately, make you a lazy marketer. Advertising creates the illusion of being set-and-forget, but it’s better used as a tool to amplify your other ongoing promotional efforts.
Psychologically, we feel like our job is done when we input our credit card information in and hit that “launch” button. But if you’re new to advertising, your first ad probably isn’t going to strike a chord with your audience. Pulling off a successful campaign requires experience and ongoing experimentation.
You know as well as I do that you could be using free channels to spread your message even while your paid campaigns are running. But are you? Again, this is a mindset hurdle that you might have to overcome. Don’t “set-and-forget” and sit on your laurels. Keep blogging, keep sharing, keep performing – keep doing whatever’s working for you!
Paid Promotion Stops The Moment You Stop Paying For It
There are certain promotional tools that can work for you and keep working for you long after you’ve put in the initial effort in to set them up. Blogging is a great example. Certainly, blogging does require ongoing maintenance work, but that post you wrote five or 10 years ago could still be driving traffic to your website today, and can continue to attract an audience, help you grow your email subscribers, or sell your music.
And on the other side of the spectrum, we have paid promotion, which stops the moment you stop paying for it. It works great while you’re paying for it, which is why a lot of us utilize it in some way or another, but once the campaign is over, the promotion is over. You’re not going to get additional clicks, views, sales, emails, calls, or engagement after the fact.
When it comes to marketing, we need to adopt a long-term mindset. It takes a huge burst of initial energy to get a flywheel moving, but once it’s moving, you’d be hard-pressed to stop it! It works the same way with your marketing. But if you keep starting and stopping, your promotional flywheel will never gain enough momentum to drive results.
Paid Promotion Sometimes Neglects The Human Element
While not universally true, paid promotion isn’t always about making a human connection. Sometimes there is no substitute to shaking hands and meeting people face to face, especially in the music industry. Paid promotion sounds good in theory, but if it doesn’t tell a story, if it doesn’t have the interests of the target audience in mind, it won’t be very effective. Don’t rely 100% on ad networks to deliver your message.
It may sound as though I am not a fan of paid promotion, but I assure you that is not the case. Paid promotion is a valuable channel, no matter what you’re promoting. I just think it’s important to understand both the upsides and downsides of it.
On the flip side, free promotion almost always requires sweat equity – you have to put in the work! Some free promotion isn’t the least bit effective, even over the long haul. Plus, a lot of these channels can be crowded, because everyone’s using them.
Ultimately, both forms of promotion are valuable, and both are necessary. You should not ignore either. Used in combination, you can really get things going.