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Music Marketing: 11 Effective Ways to Promote Your Music

Author: Tom Stein

Last updated: Apr 20, 2020

Reads: 1,506


Tom Stein is a Senior Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a visionary musical entrepreneur, music producer, artist development consultant, arranger, bandleader and performer. He is an Administrator of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and Multi-Media Tour Bus, and a member of the US State Department's Fulbright Specialist Roster for global entertainment and music industry.
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Wondering about how to market your music to your fans?

No matter how great your music is, it won’t help your music career if nobody knows about you and your music. Getting the word out to your future audience requires you to learn and adopt some real marketing techniques. Many musicians are unsure how to market their music, or don’t understand marketing very well.

In this post, I will give you some perspectives and overview, introduce the basics, explain how to get started, and give some current tips and hands-on advice for music marketing in the 2020s.

Our 11 top music marketing tips:

  1. Define your goals
  2. Find where your fans hang out online
  3. Figure out exactly who you fans are
  4. Get inside your fans’ heads
  5. Know what you’re selling
  6. Create a marketing proposal
  7. Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T.
  8. Revisit and revise your marketing plan
  9. Keep an eye on music marketing trends
  10. Brainstorm
  11. Put together a goal-oriented timeline

What Is Music Marketing?

Put in the simplest terms, music marketing is the process and set of techniques for making potential fans aware of your music. Even if you’ve recorded an album of the greatest songs ever written, you won’t have much music career success if nobody knows about you.

Marketing your music means creating branding materials that will resonate with those music fans who will most likely be interested in your music, and then using those materials to reach them through a variety of channels.

Most people don’t really understand what marketing is, and how it differs from sales. I’ll break this down for you, and share some of the tried-and-true marketing techniques used by successful artists. We’ll also take a look at some trends in music marketing and consider what goes into creating your own marketing proposal.

Marketing is a psychological endeavor, and there are many wonderful books written about the psychology involved. In the marketing classic Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (Warner Books, 1981), the authors write about “ladders in the mind” where the goal is for your name to be on the top rung, or first in mind, when a potential customer considers their own needs or wants for a product or service you are selling.

People are subjected to a constant daily bombardment of advertising messages, so we need a memorable name to cut through the noise. Additionally, we will need an innovative approach to getting our message to stick, if we want people to remember us when they are ready to buy.

In another book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007), brothers Chip and Dan Heath use the term “stickiness” to explain what makes a brand or idea interesting and memorable. Malcolm Gladwell previously discussed stickiness in marketing in his bestseller The Tipping Point (Little, Brown, 2000), which explains how trends and fads develop in society. The upshot: your name must “stick” in the mind of your prospective audience if they are to remember you and your music.

There has been much study in the cognitive sciences about marketing, focused on our cognitive biases, and how marketers work hard to exploit those biases. It might sound a bit nefarious, but you will need a few tricks up your sleeve to become a great marketer.

It’s also smart to educate yourself about marketing concepts, so you will recognize when they are being used on you. As you learn more, you’ll start to look at advertising differently.

How Music Marketing is Related to Sales

Getting back to music, we must introduce ourselves to our prospective music fans in a way that grabs their interest and attention, so they’ll remember us. Think about how your music will be perceived by your audience. Are you interesting and memorable? What makes you so? Write this down in a few sentences.

Consider what you want to happen next, once they’ve been exposed to your marketing materials. The goal of all marketing is to generate sales. Without sales, there is no business. Sales bring the revenue (money) you need to cover the costs associated with making your music and staying alive.

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11 Effective Ways to Promote Your Music

1. Define Your Goals

This means your marketing efforts should ultimately lead to sales of your music. Consider your music business model. How do you plan to earn money from your music? Live shows? Streaming your music on a platform like Spotify? Selling branded merchandise?

Maybe your model includes crowdfunding on Kickstarter or Patreon. Define and describe exactly what results you wish to achieve with your marketing in business terms, and write this down. You can’t have sales without marketing, and successful marketing should always lead to sales.

2. Find where your fans hang out online

There are a number of challenges here. As mentioned above, cutting through the noise on the internet will be a challenge. Finding the right channels will be key. Where do your prospective fans hang out? You should try to reach them there. For example, if they are all on TikTok or Instagram, you’d be wasting your time by posting on Twitter. Doing live shows can also be a way to reach fans where they are.

You should have a good idea of who you are trying to reach so you don’t waste your effort in reaching the wrong people through the wrong channels. You should also be thinking about how you can make it easy for them to consume and pay for your music.

3. Figure out exactly who you fans are

To figure out where your fans are, you need to first know who they are. The social science of demography examines the characteristics of populations, defining and categorizing them by age range, geographic location, income and education levels, gender, race, religion, and more. Professional marketers create demographic profiles to describe the people they are targeting with their marketing efforts, and you can do this too.

Think carefully about the kinds of music fans that will be most likely to pay money to hear or see you and your music. Harness your imagination. As you consider your target, you might invent several fictitious individuals that could represent your core customer base. Write a paragraph or two about each of them.

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 wouldn’t be an 80-year-old or an 8-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, and as a group aren’t as likely to spend their hard-earned cash on your music.

Besides age, think about your fans’ other characteristics. Are there more men or women? Where do they live, in 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 watch or play? Where do they shop for clothes?

Do they go to restaurants, and if so, which ones? Do they belong to a 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?

As you consider all this, invent a fictitious person that could represent your core customer base and write their demographic profile. Get creative with your writing!

4. Get inside your fans’ heads

Next, see if you can get inside their heads. 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 they passionate about any causes?

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 fictitious fan. This will help you craft the right kind of messages with your marketing, to grab and hold their attention.

5. Know what you’re selling

Now that you know who you are trying to reach, and what they care about, you should consider again what you are selling. Make a list of the products or services, the cost for each, with the amount of profit you can earn based on predicted level of sales over a specific time frame (most people use a year, broken out monthly).

Clearly describe how the sales will take place, how you will get paid, and how you will deliver value to the fans with your products or services. This information will be needed in order to create your marketing proposal.

6. Create a marketing proposal

Many music business neophytes freeze like a deer in the headlights when asked to write a marketing proposal. They just don’t know how. There’s nothing mysterious about it; we can demystify some of the hype right here and now. This doesn’t have to be a dry exercise. A marketing proposal is a marketing plan.

A good proposal will take all the careful thought and research you’ve been doing and distill it into a written plan for the coming year. There isn’t one way to write this, so you can feel free to create your plan using elements that make the most sense for your own music business situation. Following are some possible ideas about structure and how to pull it all together with 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 A&Rs, Managers, label partners, Producers, investors, or colleagues, and will provide a quick overview of what’s in the proposal.

Next, give a brief description of your target market, including relevant demographics, and mention why they might prefer your product over your competitors’. Use numbered or bulleted points to make everything simple and clear.

7. Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T.

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, Relevant, and Timely. For example:

“We will play 200 shows next year in the mainland U.S. with an average attendance of 200 ticket buyers per show at $20.00 per ticket. This will increase our listener base as reflected by a 30% increase in monthly streams on Spotify by the end of the year.”

Now, write down your marketing strategy, keeping in mind your Unique Selling Proposition (USP): what makes you different or unique. You should explain exactly how you intend to achieve your goals.

Be as specific as you can about how you intend to reach your prospects with your marketing efforts. Finally, write down your budget (if you have one), outlining how much you will spend, and on what.

8. Revisit and revise your marketing plan

It’s a good idea to revisit and update your marketing plan at least once a year. You will need to evaluate what’s 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.

10. Brainstorm

Once you understand what marketing is, are following the current trends, know what your key products and services are and how you earn money from them, and are developing your marketing proposal, you are well on your way. Now, I’d encourage you to brainstorm about which specific marketing strategies will serve you best, and provide the best chance for success.

Brainstorming means coming up with lots of different ideas and writing them down. They don’t all have to be good ideas or even workable at this stage. The goal is to create a list of options from which we can then choose the best ones. Songwriters know you have to write a lot of bad songs to come up with a few good ones, and this is no different.

It’s important to have some bad ideas, so you can more easily recognize the better ones. Sometimes it helps to brainstorm in a team, so if you have trusted colleagues, advisors, or friends who can help you, invite them to brainstorm with you.

11. Put together a goal-oriented timeline

Once you’ve identified the best possible next steps, organize them into a timeline. The timeline should reflect your short, mid, and long term goals. Considering your resources, decide what actions you can take right away, and what you should do later on.

Maybe you need to work on building your social media following, before getting out and booking live shows or planning the release of a single. Maybe you need to do more demographic research, design your logo, or put up a website with an EPK.

Use your marketing strategies as steps to guide your artist development process. Marketing is a holistic process. Integrate your marketing with every other aspect of your music career, as success in one area will lead to success in others.

Keys to Success

As the well-known saying says: You have to plan your work and work your plan. Or: Failing to plan is planning to fail. If you do your research, study up on music markets and marketing, create your demographic and psychographic profiles, design professional branding materials that resonate with your target audience, and write a marketing proposal, you are setting yourself up for success in the music business.

Marketing is a skill that applies to all industries, so you can learn from how other products and services are marketed, and apply that knowledge to marketing your music. 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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