how to promote your music

DIY Music Marketing: How to Promote Your Music and Find Your Fan Base

This article explains how to conduct market research and find your fan base. From demographic profiling to psychographic research, we examine how musicians and bands can identify and target their prospective fan base using established marketing techniques. We will also look at what is contained in a marketing proposal and the role artistry can play in marketing and sales.

Some areas we will explore:

  1. General market description
  2. Target demographic profiling
  3. Psychographic imaging
  4. Defining your market
  5. Describing your products and services
  6. Fulfillment channels
  7. Competitive analysis
  8. SWOT your music business
  9. The marketing proposal

At some level, every band and musician understands that the key to their future success depends on marketing. Success in the music industry goes hand in hand with fame, which by definition requires that lots of people know about you and your music. The uninitiated may not realize that marketing and sales are two different things. The truth is, sales cannot happen without marketing, and the goal of marketing is to drive sales. You might have an amazing band playing incredible music, but if nobody knows about you, you won’t get very far.

Branding is also not the same as marketing, though the two are closely related. Positioning your brand is as much art as it is science, and it’s hard for the musician who’s just starting out to know where to begin. The words “promoting” and “marketing” may be used interchangeably. With all these terms being thrown around, you’re going to have to do some research and study to make it all work for you. To complicate things even further, luck and timing can also play a role.

Let’s dive right in and try to make sense of it all.

The Business of Music is Business

Remember that music is a business and the business of music is business. Marketing is a critical function of business, and should thus be studied and fully understood by aspiring music careerists. Fortunately, there are tons of resources out there. I realized early on that music is a fashion business, so I got some textbooks to read on fashion marketing. Music is also part of the entertainment, media, film, video game, events, sports, and advertising fields, so there are plenty of informative books and blogs about marketing in those areas, too. Many excellent books have been written on the psychology of marketing, like the classic Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (McGraw-Hill, 1981) and the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller The Tipping Point (Little, Brown, and Co., 2002). There are also great books about the music industry available that include sections on marketing, such as those written by Bobby Borg and Ari Herstand. These days, you could go to a university and get an MBA in music and entertainment marketing. Sports marketing is also very similar to music marketing. I found it helpful to view the music business through the lens of all these other connected industries, and to undertake a lengthy and serious study of marketing and how it applies to music. I recommend that any musician who wants a career get serious about learning business and marketing skills.

At some level, every band and musician understands that the key to their future success depends on marketing. Success in the music industry goes hand in hand with fame, which by definition requires that lots of people know about you and your music.

General Market Description

In my previous article about how to write a music business plan, marketing and sales comprised one of the sections of the plan. I explained how to write a description of your market, including characteristics such as size and location, any favorable trends, and your target demographic. We will drill down a bit more on demographic profiling below, but first, let’s consider the questions we want to answer about our business in order to get started with a real marketing plan. I recommend you write down the answers to these questions in as clear and professional language possible.

Thinking about those people who will listen to your music, pay you to record or perform, attend your concerts, or buy your merchandise, how do they “use” your music? Do they listen in order to relax, to party, for dancing, or for some other reason? Could your music be used in films, video games, sporting events, or advertising? Do you sell your music primarily to other businesses (B2B) or directly to the consumer (B2C)? Discuss your music business concept, including all your ideas, and then describe how people will consume the music you create. Mention some others who create closely similar products or services, and how and where those concepts are used. We will get more specific later with comparing your idea to some direct competitors, but for now, make sure to write down everything you can think of about your music business idea, plus how and why it should succeed. The next step will be to figure out who your future fans are.

Target Demographic Profiling

If you ask musicians for whom they are making their music, many would say something along the lines of: “for anyone who likes good music.” While this does have a certain logic to it, and makes sense on a very superficial level (“I make good music, so if you like good music you should like my music”), it does not provide the specificity that you need to make a marketing plan. Of course, your music could be for everyone and anyone, but it’s important to think about the core of your fans, so we have something to aim for. Let’s say you imagine that most people listening to your music might range from 16 to 32 years old; this doesn’t mean there couldn’t be an eighty-year-old or an eight-year-old who also likes your music. But we would call those people outliers, as they do not make up the bulk of your fans.

Besides age, we should think about your fans’ other characteristics. Are there more male or female fans? Where do they live: which countries or cities? What race are they or what religion, if any, do they follow? What TV shows, movies, video games, or sports do they like to watch? Where do they shop for clothes? Do they go to restaurants; if so, which ones? Do they use the gym? What about their income and education levels? Do they follow the news or read magazines? Which news outlets or magazines? Which social media platforms do they use? Harness your imagination. While you are considering all this, you could invent a fictitious individual that would represent your core customer base. This is called a demographic profile. Here’s an example:

Jim is a 26-year old resident of Cincinnati with a bachelor’s degree in economics from a state college. He works full time as a Sales Analyst at a regional bank and is in a serious relationship with Anna who also works in a bank as a Teller. They share a rented apartment in a close-in suburban neighborhood and commute to their jobs in the city. They like to meet after work for drinks and dinner a few times a week, frequenting a variety of local pubs or upscale restaurants. They attend the Episcopalian Church and their combined income is about $75,000.00 annually. On weekends they will occasionally buy tickets to a concert, either to see a national act or some other regional band they both listen to. They occasionally go to a sporting event and spend other nights watching movies or shows on Netflix when they aren’t going out.

This could go on and more details could be provided, but we now start to get a picture of what the target demographic looks like. You should create multiple profiles, perhaps between 3-6 in total. This is a fun exercise because you are describing your future fans. Let your creative juices flow. The next step is to look at our prospective audience’s psychological makeup.

Psychographic Imaging

What do your prospects talk to their friends about? What are they worried about? What keeps them up at night? What would they like to learn more about? Are there causes they feel passionately about? Look at the profiles you’ve already created and breathe life into them. Real people have real problems; what are your prospects’ most thorny issues? The next step is to create a psychographic profile for your customer.

All people have specific needs, whether real or imagined. Do your prospects care about status? Or are they more concerned with saving the planet? Perhaps they have some things in common with you. If so, what are those things? You want them to know about you and remember your name, first and foremost. This means that your image identity materials must resonate with them in some way. Marketing is a psychological undertaking that seeks to influence people in their decision making. If you are going to connect with your audience, you must know and understand them, and their cares. Then you can consider how your music might appeal to them, or help them, and influence their actions. This is what psychographic profiling is all about. Remember that we need them to open their wallet if we want to get paid for our work. This means we need to communicate to them with our branding and marketing materials in a language they understand. This is the true job of the marketer.

Consider that you have been marketed to your whole life, and start paying attention to the brands that grab your attention and how they do it. The result of demographic and psychographic profiling is that you arrive at a better understanding of the people you want to reach. You should hold this information in the front of your mind as you create and produce your music and your marketing materials. You aren’t making your music for just anybody, you are making it for somebody.

Defining Your Market

Now that you’ve zoomed in to look carefully at your prospects, you can extrapolate out from there to get a better idea of the total market you are aiming for. For example, if you believe that you would be popular with college students, you can research how many colleges there are all around the country, how many students attend college, and where they are concentrated. This will give you an idea of the size of your market, and where they are. If you tend to go over well with college crowds in Massachusetts, you could assume you’ll also do well at colleges in Chicago, Ann Arbor, or New Orleans. Try to devise realistic estimates of the size of your market and where you will find your biggest fans. This kind of metric will help guide you in your marketing efforts. The following steps in the process will help you create your marketing proposal.

Marketing is a psychological undertaking that seeks to influence people in their decision making. If you are going to connect with your audience, you must know and understand them, and their cares. Then you can consider how your music might appeal to them, or help them, and influence their actions.

Describing Your Products and Services

Next, we can talk about what you’re selling. Are you primarily a live act who can survive and thrive from selling concert tickets? Do you get revenues from streaming or sales on iTunes? List your top three money-making products or services. Estimate how much money you expect to earn from each. What is the unit cost? For example, how many tickets can you sell per show, and at what price for each ticket? How many shows can you do per week, month, or year? Are you selling merchandise like T-shirts or hats? How many will you sell and at what price each?

Do you have your music licensed for use in visual media like films, advertising, or video games? Do you make recordings for a flat rate? There are many ways to earn money in the music industry, so think about all the ways you will earn money and write them all down as precisely as you can. It’s okay to be ambitious here, but you should also consider carefully what might be realistic, given your target market size and the competition. Sometimes you will need to make an educated guess.

Fulfillment Channels

Now that we know something about our market and the products or services we will sell, we must consider how we’ll make the sales and deliver our product. Think of every possible way someone could purchase your music. How will you make sure people get access to your product when they want it? Think of all that could go wrong, from technical glitches to severe weather or storms that would keep you from getting to the concert venue. You should have contingency plans for everything, with the goal of never disappointing your fans.

Also, consider your pay systems, how you will get paid, and how you will manage your money as it comes in and goes out to pay for the things you will need in order to produce and deliver your product. If you have to pay people, whether for products or services, how will you accomplish that? Being in business means you’ll always deliver for your customers and you’ll always get paid. It’s important to understand the supply chain and have a fulfillment (sales and delivery) plan that will work.

Competitive Analysis and Comparisons

Take a closer look at your competition. As mentioned earlier, music is part of the entertainment industry, so competition could come from other entertainment market sectors like movies, video games, or sports. People have limited disposable income (the money they have left after they pay for everything they must pay for, like rent, utilities, food, etc.); this means you are technically competing with anything else they could spend their money on to be entertained.

For our purposes though, we will consider only those making and selling similar products and services as direct competitors. If you are a band, what other bands are most like you? If you are a Session Musician, who are some other successful players of your instrument? Pick at least 2 or 3 direct competitors and analyze their marketing, branding, products or services. Write a short paragraph about each competitor. Describe what they do particularly well, and what you think they could do better. Then describe how you will set yourself apart from them, and why customers would choose you instead. How can you improve on what they do for their fans and how will you communicate that to your prospective audience?

SWOT Your Business

S.W.O.T. is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats for your business. It is also part of any business plan, and you should include it with your marketing proposal. Strengths and weaknesses are about your internal aspects while opportunities and threats refer to external factors. For strengths and weaknesses, think about this from the perspective of your customers or fans. What is it about you, your product, or service that they will find compelling? What will they perceive as unique or different? Your weaknesses might have to do with difficulties in creating or delivering your product, high costs for production, or problems with getting your product out. Think (and write) about how you might overcome these weaknesses.

Opportunities will come from the marketplace, for example, if there is a strong demand for what you do. The threats could be from competitors with strong name recognition or better advertising budget and draw. There are barriers to entry for every market. Brainstorm ways to overcome the hurdles you’ll inevitably face when breaking into the market.

The Marketing Proposal

If you’ve been writing down the answers to all these questions as I’ve outlined them, you will be well on your way towards having a solid marketing plan. A good marketing proposal will take all the careful thought and diligent research you’ve been doing and distill it into a written proposal for the coming year. There isn’t one way to write a marketing proposal, so you can feel free to create the plan using elements that make the most sense to your situation and business idea. Following are some possible ideas about structure and how you can pull it all together to create your proposal.

First, write a brief executive summary to introduce the products or services you offer, and to summarize what will be in the marketing proposal. This is helpful to anyone who might read it, such as employees, partners, investors, or colleagues, and will provide a quick overview of what’s to follow. Next, give a brief description of your target market, including relevant demographics, and mention why they might prefer your product over your competitors’. You might consider using bullet points to make this simple and clear.

The next section will be about your specific goals. Keep this section short, and be sure to use the S.M.A.R.T. goals acronym: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example: “We will play 200 shows next year in the mainland U.S. with average attendance of 200 ticket buyers per show at $20.00 per ticket.” Now, write down your marketing strategy, keeping in mind your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). You should define exactly how you intend to reach your goals. Be as specific as you can about how you intend to reach your prospects with your marketing efforts. Finally, write your budget if you have one, outlining how much you will spend and on what.

It’s a good idea to revisit and update your marketing plan at least once a year. You will need to evaluate what is working and what isn’t. Be objective and honest in your assessment, and make changes as needed to adapt to the changes in your market and your business. Above all, be creative in your efforts.

Now you know how to research your market, how to brainstorm about marketing strategies, and what goes into a marketing plan. Use this information as a springboard to learn more about how to promote your music, develop a fan base, and reach your prospective audience.

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