Does this sound familiar? You’ve just uploaded your brand new track to SoundCloud. You’re super excited. This is the one that surely is going to make you famous. 24 hours later, it has 4 likes. 50% of them are yours, the other 2? Your mom, and maybe she shared it with her best friend. Chances are, if you’re an independent musician, you’ve been in this situation many times before. For some of us, this is the daily reality of being an unsigned musician.
The music industry is over-saturated. And think about it, why would someone take the time to listen to an artist with 34 followers when Lil Nas X just dropped new music? He has a marketing team to promote his music to millions of fans around the world. You’re always going to have a disadvantage when marketing against signed artists, but who wants to sell their soul and music career to the musical corporate overlords?
It can be pretty brutal out there for independent music artists. The truth is that no marketing technique is going to guarantee you success. Music, as with any art form, is measured subjectively, in the ear of the beholder. Quality cannot be measured in an objective manner. Popularity, however, can be.
Let 2022 be the year that you decide to build upon your marketing game and start getting your music heard by music fans.
There are lots of options to explore in independent marketing, but if you are truly good enough, then you can build a solid music career. I’m going to be exploring some of the marketing techniques used by independent artists around the world so you can apply these tips to your offline and digital marketing efforts.
What is marketing for independent artists?
Put simply, music marketing (music promotion) is a method of increasing your music’s visibility. If you don’t promote yourself or your music, no one will know you’re even making music. Just with any form of marketing, you are trying to make potential customers (music fans in this case) aware of your product (your music).
Build a marketing plan
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail~ Ben Franklin
Making good music is one thing, getting people to hear it is a whole different ball game. If you have fewer than 50 followers, perhaps focus on building your fanbase? If you have 1,000 followers, you should still want to get more followers, but you also need to learn how to keep your existing fans interested and engaged.
As your audience reach grows, you need to focus on expanding your audience and engaging your target audience. Plan your marketing strategy around these two key factors. Throughout this article, I’ll cover some important points that will give you the tools to put together a plan. If you need help organizing and building marketing plans, there are several apps at your disposal that can assist you.
Focus on Quality or Quantity?
The age-old question that can be applied to so many walks of life. How much better is it to have one “Really good” thing over 1,000 lots of an “Okay” thing? My suggestion is to focus purely on quality.
Having 1,000 songs won’t make you any more appealing. In fact, it have the opposite effect. Having one hit song could make your career and elevate you beyond your wildest expectations. How many people had heard of Portugal The Man until “Feel it still” or Flo Rida until “Low”?
I mean no disrespect to these artists. They did of course have fan bases before these songs dropped, but these tracks were quality, and that is what took them to another level of Stardom. That is when you become a part of pop culture.
At the same time, who wants to be a one-hit-wonder? I’m not saying to limit yourself to one track, that’s not the point I’m making. The point is, put quality first and let quantity come naturally. I’d also always encourage any artist to have at least an album’s worth of songs before they start touring. For streaming, this isn’t as necessary.
- Don’t let procrastination stop you from finishing a track. Although quality is of the utmost importance, sometimes we artists can be guilty of giving up on a great idea mid-production. If you have a potential quality song, then be sure to commit time to finish the track.
- Do spend time getting feedback from other musicians/producers about your music. You can learn a lot from criticism if you can take it in stride. Here’s a great guide to handling reviews and criticism as a musician.
Use social media wisely
The benefits of social media as a marketing tool are not the focus of this article, but it should be mentioned nonetheless. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve previously put off sharing your tracks on your Facebook page or your Twitter feed in the fear of judgment from your peers. The truth is though, that you could be guaranteeing yourself hundreds of listens just by sharing your music with your friends/followers. Maybe even a few likes too.
Social media goes beyond just gaining likes, in reality, you want social media to be at the forefront of your career. Building a strong follower base increases your chances of people coming back to hear your latest track, and in time the hope is that not only will they fall in love with your music, but your personality too.
So if you’re nervous about sharing your tracks or you’re not on social media, I encourage you to make the most out of this marketing tool.
If you need some assistance with managing your social media profiles, there are some great content creation, social profile management, and scheduling apps available. See below:
Become an Email marketing Pro
Email is easily one of the most effective ways to promote your music and brand. Email is still alive and kicking and for many people, it’s the absolute best marketing channel. Tell your fans about a new track or a live show, introduce them to you or your band, ask your fans questions, link to a blog post – these are ways to use email effectively for marketing your music.
For a marketing platform to be successful, you will need one important thing, and – Captain Obvious speaking here – this essential element is a list of your fans’ email addresses.
The first part of this process is finding a way to gather your fans’ email addresses and manage them effectively. Add calls-to-action (CTAs) to your website, social media profiles, and other profiles.
A great way to add CTAs is to use popups and embedded forms on your website. (Ignore what the cool kids say these days – you need a website and domain name if you want autonomy over your marketing). Convert Pro and Optin Monster are good choices here.
You probably come across these on a daily basis, and well, they can be annoying. But they are also very effective.
Consider this, if you sent an email to 100 people about your latest show, even if only one person opened it, you effectively marketed your product. It’s always a good idea to have multiple methods of collecting email addresses. It can be as simple as asking your fans for their emails at your concerts.
Once you’ve collected email addresses, it’s time to send emails. Don’t use Gmail or your personal email address for this. That’s a quick way to get blacklisted or have all your messages land in spam.
Use a dedicated email marketing software platform. Here are some great options, all of which have free plans.
If you’re using WordPress and would prefer to keep the newsletter marketing “in house”, try MailPoet, the best newsletter plugin for the world’s most popular CMS.
Let your emails to your fans feel as personal as possible. Thank them for their support. Our careers wouldn’t be possible without them. For the subject matter, there are several options:
- Introduce yourself to your fans and link them to your social media and merchandise with welcome emails.
- A newsletter is an effective way to keep your subscribers informed about your tours/shows and everything you have going on in your world.
- Announcements also can be made via email to your fan mailing list. Let them know about a new album that you have coming out or a new line of merch that has just dropped.
Make use of Streaming platforms
Don’t limit yourself to Soundcloud. Yes, it’s the easiest way to upload music tracks because, technically, you’re not releasing them. Sadly, Soundcloud is a shadow of what it once was, and it doesn’t generate half the attention as it used to.
However, streaming platforms aren’t just a way for fans to hear your music; they can serve as effective marketing tools as well. An artist’s dream can come true when their music is included in a playlist. Would you believe how many new songs I have discovered via playlists? Probably 75% or more.
You are much more likely to be featured in a playlist if you are verified on platforms like Spotify. You get more control over your account and statistical visibility when you are verified in addition to a pretty checkmark next to your name. All you need is a short form application.
Spotify has playlisted 20% of pitches — about 72,000 artists — since launching the submission tool in 2018. With enough persistence, you could get yourself featured in a high-profile Spotify playlist without outreach to 1,000’s listeners.
You can of course also make your own playlist, which is much more likely to be found than your individual tracks. And you can also reach out to independent curators and journalists who will feature your song in their lists.
You can also use music playlist promotion services for a little boost. Here are a few to consider:
Make money by selling your music
Remember those iTunes gift cards you’d get for Christmas? Maybe you’d buy yourself 10 tracks worth of separate songs or you’d splurge on the latest Eminem album. Although this reality wasn’t too long ago, times have changed dramatically with the age of streaming upon us.
Buying tracks hasn’t gone away, people still buy music. But streaming is more convenient and people are finding fewer and fewer reasons to own their music.
The modern way to make money on your music is via streaming. This does have its pros and cons. The biggest con is that the artist (you) will get a smaller piece of the pie.
You’d need millions of streams alone just to make yourself a living. It’s still a good idea to have purchasing options for customers who do want to own your music.
Here are some key places to make your music available:
- Your branded website is one piece of internet real estate you 100% control
- Digital product sales platforms like PayHip, Lemon Squeezy, and Gumroad
- Bandcamp is a hybrid website, streaming, and sales platform for musicians.
- iTunes store – With 75 million songs and $5 Billion worth of sales, this is one platform you can’t ignore
Embrace Live music
No one expects you to sound as good in a live situation as you do in the studio, there are some exceptions to this rule, particularly in rock music.
Performing live is a great way to build your fan base, just think – One of your fans happens to bring 3 of her friends, one posts the whole thing on TikTok and maybe she has 10,000 followers. Great!
When real-life live music is not possible (due to pandemics and other circumstances), there are plenty of live streaming platforms that are musician-friendly.
- Twitch Music – hundreds of people stream their musical performances every day on Twitch. You can generate revenue through subscriptions, ads, and sponsorships.
- Bandcamp Live – stream live music events and showcase your work directly on Bandcamp
- Uscreen – Stream on-demand or stream live concerts, exclusive DJ Sessions, past shows, tutorials, new and older DJ Sets, and classes.
- DaCast – user-friendly, HD live music streaming platform favored by orchestras and professional bands
Take advantage of collaboration tools
Getting into a collaboration with an artist who has a bigger following than your own is a great promotional tool, but it can be a lot of work. I recommend starting small. If you have 50 followers, reach out to an artist with 100. If you have 100 followers, reach out to an artist with 200. Then you’ll be able to get in front of the big artists once you’ve built enough credibility.
Check out these collaboration tools for artists:
- Kompoz – Record your music, upload and invite collaborators. Offers a free plan.
- Landr – an AI audio mastering tool that also has a real-time collaboration tool that allows you to share HD audio directly from your DAW.
- Vocalizr – connects Vocalists and professivnal singers with producers.
- ProCollabs – collaboration management, session musician work directory, member spaces, live chat, and more.
- SoundTrap – a new collaborative music platform that makes it easy to record, edit and collaborate with anyone from anywhere.
The music industry has been hijacked by corporate interests, but the way music affects people and resonates with them hasn’t changed.