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‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
It’s an age old riddle, and the thought process behind it can be applied to a wide variety of situations. You could take it and rephrase it this way:
‘If I am creating the best music around, and no one is around to hear it…then who cares?’
Whether you’re a solo act or a full blown band unit, artists that are creating original music face a big challenge – how can you get your music out to the world? What are the best things that you can do to increase the size of your audience?
It’s an understatement to say that the music business has changed at extreme levels over the past 20 years or so. The advent of the Internet has greatly altered what it takes to make your presence known to a targeted audience.
The ‘old school’ approach of playing live as much as you can…then getting a recording contract with a major label…then playing some more to promote your latest single or album (ahh…albums – remember those?)…then targeting radio airplay…then making promotional appearances…then repeating the whole cycle ad nauseum…
Well, that just doesn’t exist anymore. So what are you to do?
Check out the video below which shows how the band ‘Radiohead’ completely changed the game, and where the industry is heading:
To expand on that, I’ve got 9 top tips on the best ways to promote your music in today’s culture and environment.
Many are DIY’s that you can pull off with a little elbow grease and not a lot of cost.
Let’s take a look!
Music is your business - treat it like one
Before you do anything at all related to promoting your music and unleashing yourself on an unsuspecting public, let’s get your mindset firmly in the right place.
They call it the music business for reason, and let’s be perfectly clear – it IS a business, regardless of your artistic ambitions. That being said, if what you want is to make your own recordings and distribute them freely just for the sake of artistic integrity, then by all means you should do just that.
But if you’re looking for more, as in ‘making your living doing what you love’ kind of more, then you have to approach your entire enterprise as a business. Every action that you take needs to be carefully thought out.
While it’s true that some of the things you can do to promote your music may not take a lot out of your bank account, they can take up something that ultimately can cost a lot more – your time.
That means you need to plan your attack for world domination.
Ensure that every move you make is destined to bring yet another step closer to your goal. If you treat your music career as a hobby, then that’s all it will ever aspire to be. Treat it as a business and you’ll have the focus to succeed where others may not.
The Music Institute offers a complete course (Music Business EDGE) on turning music into a career, with training in just about every area you can imagine. If music is what you want to do for a living, it’s definitely worth checking out. Below is a quick preview of the course:
Build an awesome website
One of the basic cornerstones of your promotional strategy is to have a website. And not just any website. It should have a professional look and feel to it that imparts a sense that you take yourself – and your music – very seriously.
The Layout is everything
That means a lot more than just a single static page with some info, a less than basic graphics layout, and maybe a download link or two. I’m referring to a well laid out site that has seperate pages for news and updates on your activities, downloads, videos, and contact information.
Basically you should plan to run the whole gamut – take a look at your favorite professional artist’s website and you’ll exactly what I mean.
Professionalism also means having a domain name that is reflective of how you want to be known. For the most part, domains are relatively cheap, and unless you have a very common name you should be able to get ‘yourbandname.com’ without breaking the bank.
The more simple, straightforward, and memorable your website URL is, the more likely your audience will be able to find you.
How can you create your own website?
I can hear multitudes of you saying ‘but I have absolutely NO idea how to create a website’. Fortunately, you don’t have to go at it all alone. Many web hosting providers have website builders built in, like WordPress for example. Alternatively, you could use something like Bandzoogle which practically sets the whole thing up for you.
Understanding what makes up a great music website is all you need to get going (along with some relatively minor costs for the web hosting itself).
If the thought of going the self-build route scares the daylights out of you, there are an unlimited amount of website developers that can give you exactly what you envision. Sure, it may cost more, but if you have a design in mind and no time to do it, it’s simply worth the investment.
Before you go throwing money at developers, take a look at how easy it is to do yourself in the below video:
YouTube is the biggest streaming service
While it’s true that MTV sure isn’t what it used to be (do you remember when they actually played music videos? Heck, some of you may not even know what MTV is), you’ll find a modern day equivalent in YouTube.
YouTube is a great repository for any videos that you may wish to produce, be it a performance, a concept-based video, or even if you just want to have video messages for your fan base.
Creating a channel gets everything located in one place in the YouTube space, and you could target any other promotional materials to include the channel link as well.
Here is a great video on setting up a professional YouTube channel especially focused on music, check it out:
Establish a strong social media presence
Social media is completely ingrained into today’s culture. So much so that you could potentially be seriously short changing yourself by not having a carefully crafted strategy to take advantage of the reach you can get with just a few posts.
Don’t limit yourself to just one platform, either – it may be best to have accounts on all of the major platforms. While it’s true that some people are Twitter-holics, those same people may despise Instagram with a passion…so if your focus is on IG then you may be missing a great opportunity.
Facebook always remains to be a social media behemoth, and having a presence there is almost a mandatory thing to do nowadays.
If you are fortunate enough to have some measure of a budget to work with, you may even consider investing into some well placed ads to help drive up your exposure. There’s no doubt that approach can work, and work well if managed properly.
Check out this highly energetic overview of the various ways available to promote your music through social media:
Make Use Of all the major streaming services
One thing – and a pretty major one at that – which record companies were needed for in the past was large scale distribution. Back in the day there were really only two ways to have your music available: radio airplay and going to the local music store to buy a record (that’s ‘vinyl’, by the way), then moving to cassette tapes, progressing further to CD’s.
The advent of streaming services has completely changed the game, and it has swung the pendulum in favor of the artist. Streaming platforms are becoming more plentiful by the day, and being able to use a digital format instead of a physical one has numerous aspects to exploit.
Which streaming platforms and how do you get on them?
Which brings up a great point – with so many services available, there’s no doubt that going through and creating accounts for each one, then uploading your files can take a ton of time – time that would be better served actually making the music instead of managing its distribution.
A great way to get your music uploaded to multiple platforms is to use a distribution service.
There are numerous ones available, and most have partnered with a large amount of the ‘big guns’ as far as streaming services go. Individual business models may vary, but in a nutshell you simply upload your music, select which services you want to use, and pay a fee.
These services will then do the distribution work for you, all without taking a cut of whatever proceeds you earn from each individual platform.
Benefits of using a streaming service for music distribution
First off, there’s no physical inventory to manage. That means no costs to make that inventory in the first place.
Second off, there’s no cost for the actual delivery itself. Sure, there may be some costs involved with streaming service accounts that have better feature sets, but those are minimal when you consider the logistics of actually shipping a package.
Third off, these services are essentially ‘cloud based’. That means the files are stored on their servers, and they handle all of the traffic bandwidth. For a new artist with relatively little exposure when first starting out, that may not seem like that big of a deal. If you are a more established act, then having those mechanics being managed for you is a huge deal.
Fourth off, you can simply not ever worry about having to deal with a record company. Ever. Many artists have moved towards completely independent distribution, some with amazing results and benefits that they may not have ever realized if they were under contract.
That means, ultimately, more $$$ in the pockets of the artists themselves…and that’s kind of the whole point to begin with, right?
Collaborate with established music bloggers and YouTubers
If the Internet and – specifically – social media have done anything, they have made it extremely easy to network with others that have similar likes and interests. There’s no reason at all why that same approach can’t work when trying to promote your music – some of the connections you may make could have huge influences on your career.
Many times this type of approach is a ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ type of deal. Collaborations are a huge deal, and developing a relationship with someone that has a substantial online identity can pay off huge.
It’s all about leverage – if you can seize the chance to get your music out to a large audience while being recommended by the blogger which owns that audience, then you could have a potential gold mine of exposure on your hands.
Attract users to subscribe to your email list
No matter what you do with your website, having a form where people can join your email list is an absolute must. There’s no better way to build your fan base and keep them up to date with everything related to your music.
With a well managed email list, you can easily let people know when your new songs are being released, or you can keep them in the loop as to your performance schedule. Some may say that a small incentive may entice people to sign up, and that actually is a great tactic to pursue.
I’d recommend offering something that a potential fan can’t get anywhere else. An unreleased song would be great – it wouldn’t cost anything to distribute, and you can get it to them as easy as having a download link included in your ‘welcome’ email.
All of that being said, take the time to maximize the exposure that you can get from your individual emails. Besides offering current info, you can include links to your YouTube channel or to social media accounts as well; you’ll have the reader captive so it’s a perfect opportunity to capitalize on their attention.
Also, I’d recommend making sure that your content is well written and is useful to your audience. A poorly formatted and grammatically incorrect message may be a huge turn off, and you may have people unsubscribe just as fast as they joined.
The point is to take the level of professionalism that you have invested into your website, and carry that through to your email campaigns as well.
Find a great publicist and/or digital marketing specialist
All of the tips we’ve discussed so far can be, without a doubt, very effective in promoting your music to the masses. But yeah…it does take time. And money; maybe not a ton, but there is typically some sort of financial outlay to get some of these options up and running.
And, taking a look at the points on website creation, you just may not have the technical know-how to turn your website into a haven for weary Internet travelers, or turn the universe into your personal Twitterverse.
But what can you do if you just don’t have the time or the desire to learn how to Instagram your way to success?
Sometimes it may be best to let your wallet do the talking and hire some professional help to do the heavy lifting for you. A good publicist and/or digital marketing specialist should have the savvy to manage your press presence and social media accounts along with keeping your website looking at its absolute best.
And yeah, I get it – it’s super easy to say ‘just hire someone’ without knowing what your financial position may be. But if you think about it, it would certainly be money well spent – having someone to manage that end of your business is a great way to let you focus on the creative end of the game.
Play... Play... And play some more…
While it’s certainly true that many elements of promotion simply aren’t the same as they used to be, some things truly remain the same and will never change.
Regardless of how the use of technology fits into your plans, some of the ‘old school’ trains of thought still apply. There is nothing that will truly replace a good live performance. Getting your music heard and connecting with an audience is an experience that you just can’t get from uploading your latest video to your YouTube channel or announcing your latest release on Spotify.
Music is, at its very heart and soul, an emotional thing that was meant to be shared with the world. If you can achieve that with an exciting and engaging live show then you’ll have a benefit that all the money and promotion in the world can’t buy.
At the end of the day, if you want to make yourself and your music known to more than just your friends or the next door neighbor that hears you playing all the time, then you will inevitably have to take steps to promote what you have to offer.
A well thought out strategy that combines the power of the Internet, social marketing, and good ‘ol face to face interaction is a sure recipe for success.
How much success? That all depends on you – how hard are you willing to work to ultimately get the brass ring?
Fortunately, it may not be as difficult as you may think.
Technology has helped to transfer a large amount of control over your destiny from radio airplay and the record companies into your own hands. The ball’s in the artist’s court, much more than it ever has been – use it to your advantage!
And don’t forget to copyright your music. After all, the core of your business model depends on protecting your investment, and who knows – you may end up earning a ton of money from music royalties further down the line.
I’m keen to hear your thoughts and experiences. Have we left any critical advice out? Leave a comment below and share your knowledge!