There are many approaches to songwriting these days.
Some musicians like to crank out as many tunes as they possibly can to create more opportunities for themselves.
Others like to take their time and put out quality music every time they release something new.
And many others lie somewhere in the balance of this spectrum of quantity versus quality.
Ultimately, you should do what works for you. I don’t think there is a catch-all solution.
But if you’re familiar with the Pareto principle or the 80-20 Rule, then you know that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. In simple terms, this means 80% of your music is not worth promoting, or at the very least not as worthwhile as your best music.
This might seem like a dire assessment of your situation, especially if you’re in the “quality” camp of musicians and you work hard on every song you publish. But promoting your best music will lead to more exposure for your back catalog. Make a great impression upfront, and people may begin diving into your archives. It’s a win-win.
But how do you pick which songs you should be putting most your marketing backbone behind? Here are some thoughts.
Ask Your Fans
Your fans love all your music, right?
Well, this might be news to you, but even they have their favorite songs. And while their choices may not match up with yours, and may even appear to be all over the place, you’ll probably see trends emerge as you perform more and talk to more people.
I play in a band called Long Jon Lev. We have a song called “Where Did The Water Go?” We know that people enjoy our live sets, but overwhelmingly this song continues to come up as a favorite among the people who come to see us. We seem to get the most feedback on it too. In my opinion, this would be a good pick for us to promote.
Similarly, you can think back on all the shows you’ve played and what songs your audience responded to most.
In any case, here are several ways to get feedback from your fans.
Pay Attention To Audience Reactions At Your Shows
Your audience is probably a little biased about you and your music, but that’s okay. Their reactions to your songs should give you a better idea of what they like most. Do they sing along with or get up to dance for any of your songs specifically? Do they cheer at specific moments in your show?
Likewise, you can also observe the response of strangers or other audience members who come to your shows. They might offer a more balanced perspective, too, since they might not know you or your music.
Finally, you can also ask your audience members after the show. Inevitably, there will be those who come to talk to you, so that’s a good opportunity to do a bit of market research.
Survey Your Social Media Following
Both Facebook and Twitter have convenient survey tools you can use to get feedback from your audience.
This doesn’t mean you will get a lot of responses this way, especially if you have a small following. But it can still be a good way to get a better sense of what songs your fans like best.
Plus, surveys are a fun way to engage your audience. It can be easy to run out of ideas for things to post to social media, so keep this one in your back pocket.
Survey Your Email List
Your email list is probably a treasure trove of great feedback and suggestions. Again, if your list is small, you may not get a lot of comments this way, but it’s still worth doing.
Your email marketing software may not have a built-in survey tool. That’s okay. There are some great free apps out there. I would recommend either SurveyMonkey or Google Forms within Google Drive.
If you prefer, you can also use the surveys you’ve created with these tools on social media, instead of using their built-in survey functionality.
Monitor Your SoundCloud Uploads
Do you upload your music to SoundCloud? If not, you could be missing out on a great opportunity to conduct a bit of market research.
Merely uploading your songs won’t tell you much at first, but if you give it time, you’ll begin to see plays, comments, and likes accumulate. You’ll be able to see which of your songs drives the most engagement overall.
SoundCloud also tracks stats for you, so that can be a handy option when looking at which of your songs are trending.
Most of my tracks on SoundCloud have about 30 to 40 plays on them. But there are those with over 100, and even some with nearly 200 plays on them. Those are the songs I would want to prioritize in my set lists and in my marketing.
Just in case – if you’ve embedded a specific track on your blog, or someone else has, that track will probably have a disproportionate number of plays over others. This could make it harder to gain a balanced perspective of which of your songs would be most worth promoting.
Again, you won’t necessarily spot trends right away, but if you keep posting your music to SoundCloud, you’ll begin to see which tracks people respond to.
Monitor Your YouTube Uploads
Artists don’t necessarily upload all their tracks to YouTube. That’s okay, it can still be used as a barometer to figure out which of your songs seem to resonate with people most.
You need to be looking for videos that are getting disproportionately higher views than others, as that will give you a bit of an idea of what people like. Typically, putting more marketing behind a track that’s already doing well is a good idea.
But you also need to look at why certain tracks are doing better than others. Is it because they are legitimately better songs, or is it because it’s a song that has some novelty (i.e. a Christmas song, a song about the current political climate, a parody, an acoustic cover, etc.). This can skew numbers, so it’s a good thing to be aware of.
As with SoundCloud, YouTube also offers great stats, so you can keep an eye on how your videos are performing.
Get Your Releases Reviewed
The topic of getting your music reviewed has been covered in other guides. If you’re looking for the specifics on how to solicit reviews, I would suggest digging into the blog archives.
Getting your releases reviewed can help you identify songs industry people feel are strong entries in your catalog.
Note: This doesn’t work so well if you can only get your singles reviewed. It would be preferable to get your entire EP or album reviewed so the reviewer identifies what they think are standout tracks.
You know a reviewer thinks a track is special when they spend most of the review talking about it, or if they keep mentioning it throughout.
Also, getting multiple perspectives can be incredibly valuable. If you can get your music reviewed by more people rather than fewer, that’s always better.
Ask For Feedback On Forums & Online Communities
If you’re looking for blunt and honest feedback, forums and online communities are good places to go to seek the opinion of others.
It would be a good idea to set up your account and establish yourself on each platform before you go asking for feedback on your latest album. Keep in mind that people must take time out of their day to listen to your music and formulate an opinion on it. You’re asking for a lot, so you may even want to offer to do something in return.
Still, there is no shortage of places online you can go to gather feedback. Here are a few options to explore:
- Music Banter
- Music Life Coach
- Various Facebook groups
I am not recommending you use any one site or service over another. Depending on the cost of the service or the credibly of the person doing the reviews, you may choose to pass up certain opportunities. That’s perfectly okay. Pick and choose as you see fit.
Monitor Radio Airplay
Have you been submitting your music to radio stations? If so, which songs have those stations been playing?
It’s common practice for bands to create and send out one sheets to radio stations. And if you have done this, you probably highlighted the top two or three songs you wanted program directors to listen to most.
Now, the songs they’re spinning may not be the same as the ones you suggested to them. This is something you should look at, because it might give you a better idea of which songs you should be promoting.
Keep a close eye on any airplay you receive and determine which of your songs are getting spun.
Analyze Your Sales & Accounting Reports
Check with your music distributor. They should be keeping track of all sales and royalties collected from your music. By looking at the report provided, you should be able to see which of your songs are being streamed and purchased more often.
Now, when you’re looking at these statements, you need to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. For instance, it’s relatively normal for an album to be earning you more money than a single. So, don’t compare albums to singles.
Also, look at which songs on your album(s) are being streamed or purchased most often. Even your album is subject to the 80-20 Rule, which means some songs are worth promoting more than others.
If you’re anything like me, your eyes will glaze over looking at your reports. Once you’ve gotten a good idea of which songs seem to be gaining the most financial traction, just use the data available to you or move onto other methods of getting feedback.
Go With Your Gut
It’s all well and good to try to formulate an “objective” perspective on your music. The problem is that music and creativity is largely a subjective realm.
Your fans may be telling you they love one of your tracks over another. But you may have strong feelings about another track you’ve been thinking about promoting.
Sometimes, going with your gut can serve you well. I wouldn’t make any rash decisions unless you feel very strongly about a song, but no one knows your music better than you do. You know the time and effort that went into every one of your tracks. In some ways, you are the best decision maker overall.
Collecting feedback can be a lengthy process, and sometimes it just validates what you already know. If your head isn’t buried in the sand, then there’s a good chance you’re aware of both your strengths and weaknesses, as well as which of your songs have a chance to shine. Again, it can be difficult to be objective though.
If the feedback you’re gathering just isn’t constructive or definitive, then you may want to follow your instincts this time around. You can always revisit the comments you’ve received later, or start a fresh feedback gathering session later.
When in doubt, go back to the 80-20 Rule. 20% of your music is getting 80% of the results. Even if your catalog is small, this is already beginning to play out with your content. It will become more and more obvious as you release more music.
To determine which of your songs are worth promoting, you can look at your plays on SoundCloud and ReverbNation, video views on YouTube, and any other social media you may be using to promote your music. You can look at your financial statements. You can talk to your fans, join online communities, solicit reviews, or even ask industry people directly. There are so many ways to gather feedback.
There isn’t necessarily an exact process that will work every single time. But you will get better at this with practice, because you’ll see amazing things happen as result of the effort you put into the research process.