music marketing strategies

How to Make It in the Music Industry: Marketing

Many artists grumble about the “business” side of the music business. They want to make art, not marketing plans — which is totally understandable. Unfortunately, it’s also totally wrong. With the rise of home recording technology and free music streaming sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, the music market is absolutely flooded with more and more new artists. If you don’t have the tools to get your music in front of fans or industry influencers, the odds of them finding you in this oversaturated arena are very low, no matter how amazing your songs are. That’s why we’re kicking off our new blog series on how to make it in the music industry by focusing first on marketing.

Yes, musicians are not corporate entities and should not be treated as such. In fact, I’m guessing most of us don’t have a lot of love for the billionaire suit guys flooding your life with product ads, but at the same time, we all know those household names, don’t we? In this article, we’ll be stealing a page from their playbook and creating a marketing plan — albeit one much cooler, less greedy, and a lot more fun to work on. If you take the time to execute it properly, it might even lead your band closer to becoming a household name.

Using SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis is basically Marketing Plan 101. Show up for any college-level business class and you’ll encounter this thing. Luckily, it’s kind of fun — if you like thinking about your music, which you should, right?

Conducting a SWOT analysis is the first step in creating a strategic plan for your art. What kind of strategic plan, you ask? Here’s the great part. You can use this technique again and again. It’s super adaptable and can help you to make solid, well-informed decisions on really anything you want to market, whether it’s your new album, an upcoming tour, or your fledgling record label. Let’s spell it out and break it down.

Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

The first two components, Strengths and Weaknesses, are internal factors within your product. For the purposes of this blog, let’s say your “product” is your band, but as I mentioned above, you can use this tool if you’re starting a record label, launching a local festival, or engaging in any other music industry entrepreneurial actions. The last two components, Opportunities and Threats, are exterior factors stemming from the larger social, political, or economic climate.

What does this look like for a band? I’m glad you asked. I made an example for you, based off the nonexistent rock band I made up for the purposes of this article, Made Up Rock Band.

What SWOT looks like in action

Obviously, every band has different positives and different challenges, and as you create your own SWOT analysis, you’ll probably be surprised at what you find. Here are some examples of things you might learn about your own band, based off Made Up Rock Band’s made up analysis.

Strengths

  • 6,000 Facebook fans
  • Two visually striking YouTube videos with 2,000 views each
  • Positive EP reviews from local media
  • Single received “Best New Music” nod from a well-regarded college radio station
  • Unique, well-crafted band image that’s consistent across press photos and cover art

Weaknesses

  • Not selling any merch apart from the EP
  • Don’t yet have a cool logo to put on merch
  • Need to find replacement drummer
  • Difficulty getting national press

Opportunities

  • Invited to perform at high profile local festival in the summer
  • Planning crowdfunding campaign to record upcoming full-length
  • Good relationship with College Radio DJ who has invited the band to perform live on her show when they have new songs

Threats

  • One of the band’s hometown venues was recently shut down because it violated zoning laws
  • Harsh winter weather sometimes keeps the band’s audience at home

If you’re having trouble coming up with Threats, don’t fret! While 95% of SWOT analysis can be applied to the arts/non-profits/what-have-you, you’re not competing in the business realm of say, Nike, so free trade agreements and a declining Euro — events with the overarching power of a “threat” — won’t really apply to you.

Set measurable goals and give yourself deadlines. This will keep everyone focused and inspired.

Why you should use SWOT

SWOT gives you a warts-and-all look at where you’re at in your musical career. You’ll discover awesome advantages, as well as some kind of bummer disadvantages. But once you’ve identified your weaknesses, you can turn them around.

You can use SWOT to get a better picture of who your audience is and how you can engage with them. From looking at Made Up Rock Band’s SWOT, you can tell their audience skews young; they fare well on college radio and their fans are active on social media. Now, by defining their audience, the band can decide where best to direct their energies and where to place their priorities.

If the lack of a drummer is preventing them from writing new songs, they’ve got to find a drummer right away — then everything falls into place. Once the band is together as a unit, they can start writing those new songs, which they can perform on their college Radio DJ friend’s popular drive time show. They can then key in listeners to their crowdfunding campaign and perhaps entice some of them to dish out $75 for tickets to the festival at which they’ll be performing. In turn, they can let their robust Facebook audience know they’ll be performing new tracks for the first time in months on this show, perhaps by placing some targeted ads on the site. They can also record live performance videos from the radio session and launch those on YouTube. SWOT is about taking all elements of what’s going on with your band, tying them together, and using them to move your goals forward.

The band can also use the Weaknesses category to see what’s preventing them from making progress and then make a plan about what to tackle first. If they’re playing this festival and they want to record a new album but are low on funds, they need to find a cheap but good logo artist and start cranking out some inexpensive t-shirts and tote bags they can sell at a profit during the festival performance. (As they say, it takes money to make money.) If it costs $4 to make the shirt and the band sells it for $15, they’re pocketing an $11 profit they can put towards recording the album — plus now they’ve got all these fans in their cool shirts walking around marketing the band for them. Since bands must have a “story” (a new album, an impressive upcoming tour) before pitching Music Journalists for press, they’ll be on their way towards knocking one more Weakness off the list. (Although it might be a wise idea for the band to go even more in-depth on the SWOT and do one specifically designed to help them figure out why they’re not attracting press outside of the local scene.)

The Opportunities and Threats categories help the band see where they fit into the bigger picture and understand why things might not be going their way in some regards while also helping them acknowledge the great stuff in the works, too.

Marketing is an undeniable part of every artist’s success — think of Lana Del Rey’s carefully curated classic Hollywood image or OK Go’s outlandish, attention-getting videos.

Beyond SWOT

Now you’ve got your SWOT lined up, take a look at the market. Who is buying your output? Who do you see at your shows? How can you connect with them better? Take a look at your online fans. Talk to the people coming to your concerts. Is there a demographic you’re overlooking? Is there an opportunity you’re missing?

Next, take a look at your competitors, such as they are. Is there a more well-known band who’s doing something similar to you? How do they interact with their audience? Are they employing tools you hadn’t previously considered — releasing quirky cover songs, honing a super distinctive vision in their music videos? See what similar, successful bands are doing well and what similar, less successful bands are doing to keep themselves from taking off.

Use all this detective work, along with your SWOT, to establish and refine your marketing goals. Then it’s time to develop a plan of action.

Your Marketing Tool Kit

After refining your goals and identifying your strengths and weaknesses, you can make a more well-informed plan that really plays to what you’re good at. Set measurable goals and give yourself deadlines. This will keep everyone focused and inspired. You’ll also be able to see where you should spend money on marketing and on what you can do yourself.

Based on your goals and your competencies (or lack thereof), you’ll be able to utilize the following essential marketing tools:

  • Email mailing list
  • Social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • SoundCloud and/or Bandcamp
  • YouTube
  • Self-generated content (videos, funny and/or cool photos, new singles)

You can also take stock of whether it’s time to hire a Publicist, embark on your own DIY PR campaign, or start an advertising fund.

Marketing is an undeniable part of every artist’s success — think of Lana Del Rey’s carefully curated classic Hollywood image or OK Go’s outlandish, attention-getting videos. If you’ve got talent, drive, persistence, and music industry supporters (whether it’s fans or the Talent Buyer who has you on speed dial whenever a touring band in your genre comes through town and needs an opener), marketing is the piece of the puzzle you’ll need to succeed.

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