How to Start Promoting Your Music
Promoting your music is not so hard to start doing but finding out who is your ‘ideal fan’ and how to target them is more difficult.
Ideal Fan & Market
If you can find and target those that are they predisposed to like your music based on the type of music that they already like, your marketing strategy is going to be more successful. Also, a lot of marketing strategies are niche and genre specific.
For example, a marketing tactic that might work best for an EDM track, often won’t work for a country song. Handing a country song to a famous EDM DJ to play in their set isn’t going to help you but something like that would be an excellent marketing strategy for an EDM track.
What will work best for you, is often going to be a combination of common marketing tactics that work for most artists overall as well as focusing on a few ways that work best for promoting your particular sound, style, genre in your niche market.
Starting with the Basics
Don’t stress too much about niche targeting right away. That is something that you can learn over time as you evolve as an artist. For now we’re just going to start with the basics of music promotion and help you build your brand and fan base. This post is mainly going to focus on some common marketing tactics to help you get started.
Why You Should Promote Your Music
If you’re one of those artists that thinks people will just find and discover your music because it’s good, you’re wrong.
Gone are the days when record labels would discover and sign artists based on if they think they ‘have something’. The Artist Development Deals that existed in the 80s and 90s were when music sales were at their peak and you’ve probably seen the old movies with the a label exec/A&R discovering an artist at a gig. In 2020, those deals don’t exist. That A&R is not coming to your gig to discover you.
They are going to discover you online only after you’re successful as an independent artist. Otherwise you’re music is just going to get lost in the millions of other songs released that week.
Even signed artists these days are expected to help promote their music at least social media. So the label is not a replacement for all music promotion. These days all artists, whether signed or independent must be mini music marketing machines.
So these days, every musician, singer, rapper and artist needs to promote their own music.
When to Start Promoting Your Music
So when to promote your music is basically when you have a finished marketable product (more on that later). However, you can and in most cases should, start marketing yourself and brand prior on social media.
Ways to Promote Your Music
You can’t just do one of these. You need to do a combination. More on that later..
It might sound silly to include this but many artists these days focus so much on just making songs and marketing that they forget that performing IS marketing. Also the main source of income for most independent and even signed artists.
Social Media – Instagram
Follow people who you think might like your music on Instagram. Keep posting new content. Selfies. Photos. Videos of you performing whether just into the phone or on a stage, in the studio anywhere. Post short blog videos. Interact with users. Look up popular hash tags related to your music and what the post is about and use them in your posts so other people can find them and follow you.
Social Media – Facebook
Marketing on Facebook is pretty similar to Instagram. Facebook is a little better for writing about your thoughts, sharing your lyrics and ideas and posting longer length videos. Also people are more likely to share posts on Facebook. You can also pay for promoted posts to warm people up to your brand and your music.
Social Media – Twitter
Don’t overlook twitter. It’s not just for famous people. The good thing about twitter is that you can add hashtags for people to discover and find your tweets. You can also tweet at certain companies and individuals who might tweet back.
Since Google owns YouTube, if someone is searching for your song, not having it on YouTube is a problem. If you don’t have the budget for a full length video clip, just put the single artwork or your logo, or some lyrics or literally anything as the video so that you can put your song up on YouTube.
I’ll be honest, most independent artists think they can make a video clip and it will go viral on YouTube. The chances of that happening is slim.
College Radio & Satellite Radio
Why Not Commercial Radio?
Commercial radio can be hard to get onto. Payola is still a thing. The labels have just always found loopholes such as paying middle men/’indies’ and paying to ‘advertise’ an artist by playing them. That means the chance of getting on commercial radio as an unsigned artist is slim. Pretty much commercial radio is the last stronghold the record labels have on the music industry.
Even if you were to contact one of these ‘indies’ directly and pay them a million dollars to ‘promote’ your song, ie, get your airplay, chances are, they still might not to their job properly. Why? Because they know you’re probably not coming back. Whereas the majors labels will be back next week with another big cheque for them.
How to Get Onto Commercial Radio?
There is a way for an unsigned artist to get onto commercial radio. Without knowing someone at the radio station the only way is to make them look dumb. If you can make them look extremely stupid for not playing your music, you can often get onto commercial radio. Such as a massive hit song in all the nightclubs and/or strip clubs. Or selling out multiple huge venues around your city. Playing at large music festivals etc… And/or… Blowing up on College Radio first.
Why College Radio is Good
The labels don’t have any power over College radio. College radio music directors and hosts are more open minded and able to play unsigned music. This can be great exposure and get young people interested in your music. College students also like going to gigs.
Satellite Radio is Also Good
Don’t overlook Satellite radio. It’s often easier to get onto than commercial radio and is another potential outlet to find fans.
Nightclubs & DJs
If you create nightclub friendly songs that are professionally mixed and mastered, you have a huge advantage in terms of promotion. You can approach DJs in nightclubs, bars, strip clubs and give them a copy of the song(s) on USB or CD. Don’t approach the DJ when he looks busy. The best way to approach them is either at the bar before or after their set or in small venues you might be able to approach them at the decks but speak to them after they have just crossed over and started playing a new song so they are the less busy or they might get annoyed.
Also if you are going to do this, make sure either your CD has some killer amazing artwork or if you are doing a USB make sure you give a nice business card or something attached to the USB stick ideally via a chain. Adding professionalism is the key to get them to listen to it. The artwork should closely reflect the genre of the song.
Also, don’t bother handing CDs to DJs that don’t play your niche and genre. You’re just wasting your time and theirs.
DJ Promo Pools
For those same people with club friendly professionally mixed and mastered songs. You can contact various DJ Promo Pools such as Zip DJ, DJ City and many of the other DJ Promo Pools. They will screen you music. If they approve, you can then pay them (sometimes they do it for free) to distribute your music to DJs. Also getting remixes from well known artists can be a great way to get a single noticed on the DJ Promo Pools.
Don’t Have Club Friendly Songs?
For those that don’t have club friendly songs, you can look into getting remixes of your songs so that you can utilize the Promo Pools. Pretty much any genre can be remixed, even country music it seems.
Spotify & Pandora Playlists
There are certain companies out there that can help get your music onto Pandora and Spotify Playlists. It’s a little too new for me to recommend any specific companies. If you have any suggestions of one that worked for you, please leave a comment below.
Share your thoughts and let people know what you’re up to. You can do this on any platform, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram (if short). Make sure to tweet about it.
Artist Website & Mailing-list
Create your own website on your own domain name and setup a mailing to keep fans informed of gigs and new songs. This is often overlooked but is very important. It also serves as a hub for people to find all of your social media pages. Make sure to link to all of your different social media pages. You can also integrate Instagram posts into your site. As well as integrate YouTube videos and a twitter feed. That way your website is always updating when you post on Instagram and twitter.
I’ll do an article on how to create your own music website on WordPress and do these things in the future. You can always hire a designer and developer to do it for you if you’re not very tech savvy.
Most artists don’t have a blog on their site but it couldn’t hurt to try. Especially if you use it to keep your fans informed of events, gigs and/or even just your own thoughts.
If you have knowledge about a certain subject related to yourself as an artist, sharing the knowledge is another way that can help bring exposure to yourself and your brand.
Giving Away Music For Free?
Should you give away your music for free? The answer is, sometimes, especially early on in your career you might consider this IF you’re getting something back in return and it helps you to promote and build your brand.
For example, the dance label Spinnin’ Records started out by having this crazy record contract that basically said if you signed to them, instead of paying you your percentage for sales, they will use that money to re-buy your songs on Beatport, thereby pushing your song up the charts.
The artists were earning nothing from their songs but they would hit the top 100 and often the top 10, top 5 and many number 1 positions on beatport. After that, they would gain a massive amount followers and fans and could start charging huge money for DJ gigs and performances. Most the big name DJs even signed a song with them for the exposure alone because they knew they would make it back in from gigs.
Now Spinnin’ Records is a major label which was bought out by Warner a few of years ago for a massive 100 million! The label helped launch full careers for many EDM artists.
When Is It Worthwhile?
So sometimes, it can be worthwhile, if you’re getting back something in return. Usually, early on in your career. If you’re just giving away one song to build your fan base, then you can charge for the next song and they’ll be more fans to buy it.
Facebook used to allow Like-Gates. This basically meant artists could force people to like their page in order to give something away, like a song for example. This was a nice trick to help build your fan base. Facebook banned Like-Gate apps that you could embed on your Facebook page back in 2014 but you can still use websites like https://hypeddit.com/ to force a user to enter their email or like one of your pages on social media in exchange for a download.
Music for Mailing-list Subscription
You can also use https://hypeddit.com/ and other similar sites and apps to collect email addresses of your fans in exchange for giving a song. That way you can add them to your mailing list and try to convert them into a fan to buy your other songs, attend your gigs and follow you on social media.
Looking for More Ideas?
These are the main marketing points that most independent artists should focus on but if you’re looking for more music promotion ideas, you can checkout these blog posts by Bob Baker http://bob-baker.com/buzz/category/indie-music-promotion/
Diversify Your Marketing
As with any adverting campaign, whether it is for an artist, song, album or a completely unrelated company, the number 1 rule is really just to diversify.
If you’re old enough to remember the days of Myspace, most bands and artists just promoted and linked to their Myspace page. We all know how that turned out. They should have been linking to their own website and trying to collect emails from their own mailing list. Once Myspace went down, their online presence was destroyed and they had to start all over again.
Similarly, recently many rappers and DJs were only promoting their own music on Soundcloud. Then Soundcloud went broke and almost filed for bankruptcy but was bailed out by investors. Prior to that though, Facebook used to allow embedding playable Soundcloud songs on it’s platform as well as YouTube videos. The Facebook made them unplayable, making using them for marketing on Facebook difficult.
Technology Will Always Evolve
Technology is always evolving. You don’t want to put all of your attention on only one platform. Most independent artists don’t even have their own domain name and website. That is a mistake. On your own website you can collect emails and run your own mailinglist. As well as link to all of your social media and music sites so that people can stay connected with you.
This protects you from any change in trends and technology that could otherwise impact your brand and sales.
One Type of Marketing Will Often Work Better Than Another
Guessing which type of marketing will work best for you is almost impossible. You just have to try them. Depending on the results, if you see you are getting more results from a platform or area, you can then dedicate more time, effort and money into that area.
For example. If you’re a super hot female who is great at taking selfies and you’re getting lots of fans on instagram, you can focus more on building up your following on instagram by constantly posting photos and clips of yourself looking hot. As well as snippets of yourself performing. Rather than promoting your songs on Soundcloud. You can also spend more money on professional photos and single artwork.
Whereas if you’re an ugly DJ – Producer covered in pimples, you might find your time is better spend promoting more on Soundcloud. As well as to other DJs you know, nightclubs and to DJ Promo Pools. However, you still want to diversify by taking a few shots of the crowd during sets in the clubs and yourself, maybe from the back lol, for Instagram.
Artists are Brands
Artists these days are effectively bands. Being an artist is more about just making music. It’s about creating a brand and keeping engaged with fans. Even if you’re signed, your artist name is often going to tell your fans more about what to expect from your music than the name of your label. That makes YOU the brand. Not the label.
In terms of marketing, that means you need to think of yourself as a mini company/brand. That means advertising and have good ‘customer service’. You want your fans to be able to relate to you, love you and want to buy your music. You should to do this both through your music itself as well as your online presence and through social media. The same way that companies reply to reviews, you should reply to posts and keep engaged with your fans.
Have a Marketable Product to Begin With
Real Music Producers
Often strangely overlooked is the song itself lol. Major label artists still record their music at commercial recording studios where they work with the sound engineer and music producer.
You can buy all the gear you need for a home recording studio from a music store except for a sound engineer and music producer.
You don’t have a professional music producer in your home studio
The problem with this is, the music producer is always creating the song with the audience and market in mind and it’s their job to know what will go well in the market helps mold the song into a marketable product.
The typical artist that record themselves at home, doesn’t have this knowledge and will usually just do whatever they like. The problem with this is, they often end up being the only person who likes it lol.
They have no one to push their performance to the next level. It’s hard to be objective of yourself while your performing. They lack the knowlege of popular sounds, genres, trends arrangements, what will keep a crowd moving on the dance floor, what will keep listeners engaged when their listening to the song. It’s unlikely they have the knowledge and training to manually tune every note they sing by ear in graphical mode in Auto-Tune. All of these issues instantly make the song less marketable and make marketing more difficult.
A song that will do well on the dance floor and be hot in the clubs might be as simple and cheap to promote as handing a $5 usb or CD to a prominent DJ. This happened to one of my artists back in 2006. I handed the song to a DJ I knew on a CD. They started playing it at their gigs. The club started going crazy. The other DJs in the club asked that DJ for a copy. They started sharing the song around and more and more DJs started playing it.
Some of the DJs playing it in the clubs also did sets and local radio stations. They started playing it on the radio. Eventually the radio stations put it onto rotation. Then it started getting requests, so many that it was being played about once an hour. Then it made it onto the radio station charts and a couple of weeks later it was number 1 on the radio station charts by the sheer number or sms requests and remained on high rotation for 3 months, outranking all major label artists and then the artist was offered a record contract.
How Much Did it Cost to Promote?
That song cost less than $1 to promote lol. The only money spent to promote the song was the cost of burning a CD. The difference was, that song was a professionally produced, mixed and mastered song written and created by a music producer for the artist.
I’m not saying this is normal. It’s obviously rare but what is common is that an amazing song is usually cheaper to promote than a sub-par song as fans will help promote it for you. That goes for both the song itself and the production, mixing and mastering.
Have Your Song Professionally Mixed and Mastered
You don’t have a professional sound engineer in your home studio either. There are very few artists that can produce, mix and master their own music who are successful. You can basically count them on one hand. Most independent artists these days like to record at home. Often they think it sounds fine. The problem is, fine is not good enough. When you want to release a song, the competition is super high. Each day millions of independent songs are released and go un-noticed. You have to sound better than ‘fine’ in order to stand out.
When you release and market a song, you are literally competing with major label artists with large recording budgets for production, mixing and mastering.
Why an amateur mix and/or master is a problem for marketing
A poor sounding mix and/or master creates massive marketing problems. Sure, some people can play it on their phones at it might sound ok but then what? Radio stations won’t play poorly mixed and mastered songs. Club DJs won’t play poorly mixed and mastered songs so you’ve just eliminated all public performance opportunities other than you’re own gigs.
Why you should think have your songs professionally mixed and mastered
A well mixed song can be played across thousands of clubs, bars, radio stations, not to mention the royalties. If the only way to hear your music in public is at the one venue you’re playing at that night, you’re missing a lot of potential reach.
The same goes for influencers sharing songs online, articles in high profile magazines, even college radio, satelie radio, Pandora and Spotify playlists, YouTube Playlist, syncs for commericals, syncs for film, all of these promotion and money making avenues can’t be accessed with a poor sounding mix and master.
Also, even your potential fans can be fussy when it comes to the sound quality. Most people these days throw songs onto their phones and listen to them within a playlist or on random at home or in the car and play them back to back with commercially produced songs. If your song doesn’t hold up in terms of sonic quality, chances are, it’s coming off their playlist and it’s less likely that their friends will find out about it.
I cover this in more detail in my article; home recording studios vs professional recording studios.
Have a Well Written Song
Another disadvantage of being independent is that major label artists, especially singers, have hit songwriters that write their songs. Most major label artists don’t write their own music. If they do, they often do it with a team of songwriters. Most independent artists DO write their own songs.
Even if you want to write your own songs, it doesn’t hurt to collab with a another songwriter or a group of songwriters. Doing so can often help enhance your song and make it better. The better the song is, the easier and often cheaper it is to promote. Not to mention, the more likely the promotion will result in more fans and sales.
Well Written Songs are Easier to Market
This might seem obvious but music is emotional. If you can find people that will resonate with your message, you can convert them into a loyal fan. Loyal fans also help promote your music for you by sharing it around and telling people about you. Often artists might have amazing melodies but they distract from the message. Or the melodies are good but the message isn’t there.
Analyze Successful Songs that You Like
This is something that professional songwriters do that most artists rarely do. By finding commonalities within successful songs, you can get an idea of what people will like. I won’t go into too much detail here but subscribe to the newsletter at the bottom of the page for free lessons and tips on songwriting.
How Music Goes Viral Online
Waiting for your music to go viral in not a marketing tactic
The unfortunate reality is that a funny photo of a cat doing something silly is more likely to go viral than a new music video from an artist. Most music promotion online is going to be a steady, constant effort of interacting with potential fans and existing fans. You can’t rely sitting back and hoping to go viral. In most cases it won’t happen. Hoping for something to magically happen is not an effective tactic. Chances of it happening are probably less than wining the lottery unless you have connections to major label artists willing to help you out. Most of the time a song from an unknown artist goes viral online, one or more of the following things has happened:
One or More of these Single Events (Usually out of your control) Can Make a Song or Artist Go Viral
What all of the following have in common is that they are usually all caused by one single individual event snowballing, such as;
A tweet from a Prominent Person
A tweet or instagram post from a someone very prominent in the music industry such as a famous singer, rapper, producer or influencer with a huge following, linking to your YouTube video, or telling people to checkout your social media page or website or having your post or video shared by them.
Re-post(s) on Soundcloud
Less common these days but also, multiple reposts by predominant influencers on Soundcloud which have a large following on Soundcloud with high user interaction.
Viral Online Music Magazine Article
Article(s) in online music magazines that end up circulating on social media and/or other online magazine sites that go viral. For example, after Spinin’ Records signed unknown music producer Martin Garrix, the label basically manufactured a lie and fake leak that he was putting out a song ‘Animals’ which was a collaboration with Hardwell. By the end they had blogs saying the song was in collaboration with GTA, Hardwell, and Sidney Samson.
They took advantage of the fact that EDM blogs like to re-post topics, blog and information without fact checking them. Soon all the major EDM blogs started raving about this new song that was about to come out which got many DJs in the industry curious, many of which rushed out to buy the song when it came out and started played in in their sets. The whole thing was one big manufactured lie and when the song came out it almost instantly jumped to number 1 on Beatport based on sales mainly from DJs, instantly pushing otherwise unknown Martin Garix into instant top DJ status. You can read more about this here. Labels often can push articles onto prominent online magazines. They don’t usually go viral though.
Celebrity Endorsement on Youtube
Justin Beiber was the first ever unsigned artist to use major label artists on YouTube to vouch for him such as Usher and Justin Timberlake in order to build up his fan base and effectively land him a record deal. At the start, all of the labels rejected him. His manager, Scooter Braun was probably the first person to the show labels the power of online marketing and YouTube.
Interestingly, Scooter Braun is also the person who signed Korean pop star Psy, now known across the world for the song Gangnam Style which Braun marketed by using his connections with major label artists and influences to tweet and share the video. What made Gangnam style easy to market and be re-shared was basically the funny dancing and fun vibe of the song. A lot of it wasn’t even in English!
You don’t have a professional mix engineer in your home studio
Sure you can record at home to write demos and create music. That’s a great idea. However, that doesn’t mean that you can make it ready for commercial release and promotion yourself.
Of course there is not much point in promoting your music if it’s not available for your fans to buy. Services like TuneCore, CDbaby and Symphonic Distribution can put your music on all of the online stores, iTunes, Spotify, Pandora.
You cant go direct to iTunes and most of these other stores unless you’re a record label with 300 or so signed artists. As an independent artist, the only way onto iTunes is through a distribution service.
For those doing EDM and Dance Music, Symphonic Distribution is the only one I know of that will do Beatport. Symphonic also have other services like getting onto Spotify and Pandora playlists.
TuneCore & CDbaby
TuneCore and CDbaby are pretty similar. Aside from Distribution both TuneCore and CDbaby can help organize syncs for your music movies, ads and TV but CDbaby take a very large percentage for this as they don’t do it themselves but outsource. Whereas TuneCore handles syncs themselves. is significantly.
CDbaby take a percentage of sales. TuneCore does not but charges an annual fee to keep your songs on the stores. Most really big name independent artists seem to use TuneCore. TuneCore overall has the best rates in terms of percentages but the yearly recurring fee can make it less attractive for those with lower sales who may be better off with CDbaby for that reason.
Distrokid is a newer less known one but has mixed reviews and more negative reviews than the others. There are a few others but remember the stores pay the distribution services and then the distribution services pay you. I’ve heard horror stories of independent artists using smaller and less known distribution services or individuals who have run away with their clients money without paying them anything! Best to use a large company for something like this as they’re less likely to screw you over.
Which is Better?
I’ll do a proper comparison of distribution services in another article. Which is better for you will depend more on your how much you think you will sell and how long you want to keep your music on the stores for as the fees vary. Subscribe to the mailing-list at the bottom of the page to stay informed.
When to Sign to a Major Record Label
Usually by the time you’ve successfully marketed your music enough to get the attention of a major label, you’re already making decent money off your music independently and you might not need them to be making a living off your music. They are just the next step of promotion and basically are usually still needed to make it onto high rotation on commercial radio.
Some artists get so big before being offered any sort of deal that they might not even want to sign with them such as Macklemore who basically got so big and was earning so much money from his music that he was able to pay for and hire, Alternative Distribution Alliance, which is owned by Warner Music Group to promote their music with some major label muscle, without actually signing to a major label.
So whatever you do, don’t wait around for a record deal to magically occur. It’s not going to happen.
Every Artist Needs to Promote Their Own Music
Starting to promote yourself as an artist and your music can seem daunting. You will probably make some mistakes. It will probably take a while to find build up your fan base and find followers. It will take a while to work out which ways work better than others for your style and demographic.
No One Will Do It For You
Remember, no one is coming to sign you off talent alone. To make it as an artist, even if you’re goal is to get signed, you have to become your own brand and music marketing machine. Sadly the definition of ‘singer’, ‘rapper’, ‘musician’ is now more than just making music. Artists are forced to market themselves in order to succeed.
Thinking that a manager will discover you and do all this for you is also not going to happen. They can’t take a selfie of you for instagram. They can’t pretend to be you and tweet.
Waiting for your music to go viral is not a smart marketing tactic. It’s not that likely to happen. Even if it’s an amazing song. The influencers need to hear it in the first place for it to go viral. Yet is seems to be what most independent artists do. Just sit around and hope the music markets itself. You have to be active and take action.
You Need To Be Constant Interaction and Quality is the Key
We have just touched on a few things here to help you get started in promoting yourself and your music as an artist. It is a slow and constant process of staying engaged with your fans and creating new music. I would personally advise against releasing a whole album at once if you’re independent. Most likely you’ll be compromising on the quality of the songs and there will be a large gap between when your fans will hear the next song. It’s better to constantly stay active in promotion and to be releasing new material rather than keeping your fans wondering when the album will come out and losing interest.
Don’t forget to be constantly improving and growing as an artist. Creating a marketable product is the first step to success. Focusing on marketing when the product isn’t there is useless. The product is YOU and your song. Don’t get so lost in marketing that you forget about the music. In saying that, you can’t get too lost in creating amazing music that you don’t focus on marketing either. Being a successful artist in 2020 means doing both.
Don’t Forget to Subscribe
Good luck. Subscribe to the newsletter at the bottom of this page to stay informed on more music promotion blogs as well as blogs on recording & home recording tips from Music Producer & Recording Engineer, Tom Watson at Current Sound, Hollywood.
If You Found This Article Useful, Please Share It
Help others succeed and share this article on social media by clicking one or more of the social media share icons below.