Marketing your music online, and promoting your band on the internet using social media, websites, blogs, and streaming takes a lot of time and effort. This post is for independent musicians and bands looking for ways to attract an audience, build a fan base, and achieve lasting music success.
I’ll offer some strategies and tips on how to market and promote your band’s music in the digital environment, and describe some of the resources available for music promotion in 2020.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent Van Gogh
Celebrated Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) only sold one or two paintings during his lifetime, and those were to his brother, Theo. Today, his paintings hang in museums and private collections and sell for tens of millions. Imagine if he had had access to the internet during his lifetime!
Musicians and bands work hard to create beautiful art they hope will change the world. They face similar challenges in finding an audience for their work. Today, the digital landscape has flattened, allowing anyone direct access to millions of fans. For the same reason, the competition for attention has become fiercer than ever. Markets are saturated with new music, and bands need to stand out in a crowded field if they want to be heard.
For artists and bands, this means you must aggressively market and promote your music. Most people instinctively know this, but haven’t figured out the best ways to market their music and themselves. There are so many channels and ways to promote, you can’t try them all. I’ll narrow it down to a few of the best ways to get your music out there, to get known, and to succeed with your independent music career.
As we discuss how to promote your music online, some areas we will explore include:
- How to market your music online
- Do you really need a website?
- What social media platforms are best for you in 2020?
- Streaming and music videos
- Strategies for music release and promotion
- Networking with your Electronic Promo Kit (EPK)
- Music aggregators
- Using blogs and email
- Promoting your shows
- Cultivating your fan base
As I mentioned, there are many options, and the “right” way will be whatever works best for you! It does require real effort, significant time, and of course, it helps if you have high-quality music and can produce great recordings and music videos.
There are no shortcuts here. You are going to have to educate yourself, and fortunately, there are many resources. Google is your friend. There are also some great books, like Bobby Borg’s Music Marketing for the DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack on a Low Budget.1
To start, we should consider whether we need a website, discover which social networks your prospective fans use, learn to upload your music and video content to streaming platforms like YouTube or Spotify, develop strategies for releasing your music, network using an electronic promo kit (EPK), consider using music aggregators, use email and blogs to engage with fans, and promote your live shows.
I’ll cover each of these items in turn. Serious independent musicians and bands must develop some serious structure, to discover what works, and to execute the strategies.
The answer to this question is, maybe. There are some artists and bands that decide to go without a website, but it depends on whether having a standalone website integrates into the rest of your digital marketing plan.
If you are using a music aggregator site, you might not need a separate website (more on this below). You should at least secure your band name as a web domain, even if you aren’t using it. This will keep someone else from getting it, and will also help you show up in search results. This could be important if your band name is generic or has frequently searched words in it.
Getting your name as a domain is usually very inexpensive and can be done quickly using a site like GoDaddy.com. If your name is already in use by someone else for a different type of business, or by a person, you can get creative by adding the name “band,” “music,” or “official” to it.
You also might prefer to have your own website if you plan to sell merchandise, tickets, write a blog, host your EPK, or stream your music and video directly to fans.
Getting active on social media means you should always have some music to share. Develop a strategy for creating and releasing your recorded music and video. Having new content to release on a consistent basis is a must, and you can also repurpose older content in new ways.
For example, make a new video to an older song. If you are talking in your videos, include subtitles, since some people like to watch with the sound off. Your music should be professionally recorded, but video production levels don’t need to be as high, as long as your video content is engaging, entertaining, and alluring.
With playlists on streaming platforms, you can also share with your fans what you are listening to. A playlist is an effective way to consistently engage with fans, and it can be like having your own radio show. Consider launching a podcast, where you interview other musicians or talk about how you create your music. Podcasts have become more and more popular over the last few years.
Having a successful release of new music doesn’t help you much if you can’t follow it up with more success. Nobody wants to be a “one-hit wonder.” If you’ve been able to generate some buzz for your music, your fans will lose interest if you can’t continually give them more new music.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into what a strategy might look like. Many bands record an EP of five to seven songs. Instead of releasing the EP all at once, it might be better to have a new single drop every month for six months. Later, you can put the EP out as an independent release. Trickling your music out as multiple singles will also give you more time to produce a music video for each song.
You might also decide to hold back on releasing music if you intend to sign to a label. Working with A&R from the label, you could ask them to help you fund the next recordings, and keep your current work for later release. This might be especially important if you end up getting dropped by the label. Many artists want a label partner, since it gives them added credibility with Booking Agents.
Other strategies might be to time releases to coincide with an upcoming tour, or release special promotional tracks to fans who subscribe to your blog or playlists, or release tracks in certain countries only. These are a few examples of strategies you could come up with; of course, there are many more.
Having an EPK should be an integral part of your digital marketing strategy. The EPK is targeted primarily at Promoters, Agents, labels, and other industry professionals, but you can also make it available to your fans.
Your EPK could live on your website, or you may decide to only make it available to certain people. In this case, you could send it as a file or link via email. Elements of your EPK, such as your artist bio, photos, tour schedule, and of course music and video, can be used to promote through all your marketing channels, including social media, website, email, and blogs (more on this below).
A music aggregator is an online platform offering multiple ways to market yourself and get your music out, usually charging an up-front monthly subscription charge. They can get your music up on streaming platforms, plus house your website, blog, and EPK, all in one place.
Some aggregators also offer systems for promoting your shows and selling tickets, distributing or licensing your music, merchandising, and can assist with booking and other music marketing and band operations. Some of the top music aggregators include TuneCore, CD Baby, DistroKid, Bandzoogle, ReverbNation, AWAL, and Ditto. There are many more.
Aggregators at their most basic level are in the business of digital music distribution, but have added many functions (even music publishing) to help the independent musician. Some specialize in a few things, and others are more full-service.
If you are considering using an aggregator, do your homework and research each company’s costs and services. Read all the fine print before you sign up for anything.
If you want to use a personal touch, having an emailed newsletter, and a personal blog can be a good strategy. Or, you can email a link to your blog every time you put up a post. Be careful not to inundate your contacts with direct messages this way, as some might perceive it as spam.
The best way to approach this is to avoid sending spam. This means you don’t only reach out to people when you are releasing new music or promoting an upcoming show, but you stay in contact regularly by sharing content you know they will value and enjoy. It could be as simple as just sharing a few thoughts with them about music in general, some personal philosophies of music-making and your life, or general goings-on in the world or things you notice.
People like to feel a direct connection with artists they listen to, and done correctly, emails and blogs can work wonders, as can a podcast.
In the world of digital marketing and promotion, the end-goal is to build relationships with other people, who you hope will be inclined to love your music. Sometimes called “direct-to-fan” or “do-it-yourself” (DIY) marketing, engaging fans leading to building direct relationships is the biggest game in town.
Promising new technologies continue to evolve that might offer sleeker and more efficient ways to reach potential fans, such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and so on. Soon, we might be able to use holograms or robotics to offer live performances in the living rooms of our fans. (This is technically already possible, but still prohibitively expensive.)
Understand that no matter how good your band is, it won’t lead to a successful music career unless people find out about you. Analyze your competition’s marketing, and learn all you can about marketing, and how to develop a marketing plan.
One of the challenges of promoting your music online is the wide availability of options and the time it takes, using websites, social networking, email, blogs, podcasts, aggregators, and more. Figuring out what works best for your band will take sustained effort over time. Work smart, not just hard, keep at it, and the results will certainly be worth it.