Post updated November 2016.
The authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide provide seven effective strategies to get your music noticed that are easy on the pocketbook.
In some music business schools, they still give students assignments that go like this: “Assume you have one million dollars. Make up a marketing plan on how to promote a band.”
Here’s a more realistic assignment: “Go online. Pick a band. You have zero dollars. Now go promote them.”
Although most bands would like to have the kind of budget to promote their latest album on TV, radio, and billboards, they are more likely to have just enough to print up posters for the next gig. And yet indie artists can get the kind of attention that major label acts get: you just need to plan appropriately and implement a few tried-and-true strategies.
Here are seven effective strategies to get your music noticed. The good news is they’re easy on the pocketbook and can be acted on today. All they take is a bit of time and some thought about how to get your music directly in front of the people who are likely to be your new fans. While they may not have heard of you yet, if you follow these strategies, they will.
You have one thing to do before you get started, though. It’s the one thing that every band must know: who is the audience for your music? What are their ages? Where do they hang out? What do they do? What are their interests? Who are they? The better you know your target audience, the easier you’ll find the strategies are to implement and the greater the return on your planning.
Once you know your audience, dig in.
Seven effective strategies to get your music noticed
- The Standing-Out Strategy
- The Piggybacking Strategy
- The Agent Strategy
- The Multi-Tasking Strategy
- The Long Haul Strategy
- The Street Team strategy
- The Stay-Tuned Strategy
1. The Standing-Out Strategy
The first thing most musicians think of when they want to promote their music is to get it reviewed by a music publication or played on the radio.
Don’t start there. Publications and media that cater solely to music are probably the hardest place to get your music noticed.
The competition for attention in music publications, music blogs, and promotional sites is overwhelming. For instance, National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered” receives hundreds of CDs submitted every week. Out of those, only eight get featured. And those are sandwiched in between other songs, and played just once. The same is true with music reviews. Although they are good for getting quotes for your press kit, it probably won’t get you many new fans, since it’s a music review in a pile of music reviews.
Instead of focusing on music publications and media, think in terms of audiences. Put your music where it will stand out from the crowd. As an example, consider one of the biggest sellers in the early days of CD Baby: an album about sailing. Instead of following the crowd and sending the album to a music magazine, the band instead cleverly sent their album to a sailing magazine.
The sailing magazine – which wasn’t used to receiving music, much less an entire album dedicated to exactly what the magazine was about – ended up reviewing the album. The band’s CD stood out. It didn’t have to compete against stacks and stacks of other CDs to get noticed. And because the magazine had a large audience and the CD got a great review, sales shot through the roof.
This is what we call the standing-out strategy, and the great thing about it is, there is room for everyone. While your music is in a musical niche, targeting the people that like that kind of music directly represents only one, highly competitive channel for your music. By putting your music where there usually isn’t any, your music can get noticed.
2. The Piggybacking Strategy
When you’re not well known, the quickest way to get the word out is to piggyback on something that people already know about. One the best known forms of piggybacking is listing the bands you “sound like” on your website and bio. This gives new listeners a clue as to what to expect by drawing on what they already know. Of course, another popular piggybacking tactic is to cover a well-known song. Often, these covers become your initial best-sellers. But they also act as a gateway. If listeners like your version, they’ll likely check out your original material.
But piggybacking on other bands or cover songs isn’t the only thing that you can piggyback on. You can piggyback on anything that already has an audience.
For example, our own band, Beatnik Turtle, wrote a song called “Star Wars (A Movie Like No Other).” It summarized the entire original Star Wars trilogy in a single song. Around the same time, StarWars.com released a video mashup tool, so we decided to make a video for the song. The video ended up getting played over 15,000 times thanks to the active community at that site. That popularity led to it getting picked up by Atom.com which in turn led to it being aired on SpikeTV to celebrate the Star Wars 32nd anniversary.
Current events and popular culture provide opportunities for piggybacking as well. When a topic is hot, a large number of people will be searching for information about it. For instance, The Brobdingnagian Bards, a Celtic Renaissance musical duo, are always looking for trends to ride, so when the Monty Python musical Spamalot got popular, they posted a blog entry about Spamalot and also mentioned that they covered a Monty Python song previously. The post got a ton of hits, got them noticed by new fans, and resulted in sales.
But piggybacking isn’t always about how to get publicity. It can be for a good cause as well. Grant Baciocco of Throwing Toasters put together two compilation charity albums called Laughter Is a Powerful Weapon, with music donated by himself and many other well-known comedy artists. The money from one went to the Twin Towers orphans fund and the other went to the Red Cross for Katrina victims.
3. The Agent Strategy
Most bands start out promoting and representing themselves because they start out small. But it’s human nature to think more of someone when they have someone acting on their behalf. In fact, it’s been shown to be true in various psychological and sociological studies. Even if you’re just starting out, find someone to represent you and you’ll have more successes.
Having an agent is even more useful during negotiations, because they can be as tough as they want to. If you negotiate for yourself and you give the other side a particularly hard time, they might start to dislike you, rather than your agent.
4. The Multi-Tasking Strategy
The musicians who have the most success don’t just rely on one project for their income. Most of them work on many things beyond playing live, selling albums, and selling merchandise.
– Jonathan Coulton participates in the Popular Science magazine podcast at popsci.com and licenses his music.
– Brad Turcotte of Brad Sucks maintains multiple websites, including stripcreator.com, and also licenses his music.
– Grant Baciocco of Throwing Toasters writes and produces the multiple-award-winning podcast “The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd,” does voice-over and acting work, and produces a podcast for the Jim Henson Company, among other projects.
– George Hrab is a drummer in a popular cover band that plays at weddings and corporate events, writes and produces his Geologic Podcast, and has written a book.
– The members of Beatnik Turtle have day jobs, run IndieGuide.com, write books like The Indie Band Survival Guide and are regular contributors to Electronic Musician‘s The DIY Advisor.
Not only do musicians like these have a lot of projects going on, they use the projects to promote the others.
5. The Long-Haul Strategy
While major labels had to focus on making one-hit wonders because of their business model, that was never the best situation for the musician. Furthermore, it’s not even similar to the way most businesses work, which is to build a name over the long term and establish consistent income year after year. A band or artist can be just like any other business that starts out small and eventually becomes solidly established.
For example, years ago, Brad Turcotte released his first album online as a downloadable set of MP3s. The money he made from this allowed him to do a run of CDs, which got him another surge of new fans. Later, he released the source tracks to his music, this time making new fans among people who enjoy remixing songs. After he packaged the best remixes into another CD, he got a new surge of fans who loved both the remixes and the original material. By the time he released his second album, it not only did well in its own right, it generated interest in his previous albums.
6. The Street Team Strategy
Today’s artists are more connected with their fans than ever. In these days of social networks, word of mouth is many times more powerful than it’s ever been. Every fan you have is connected to many more people, and sometimes, all you have to do is ask in order to get their help in spreading the word.
In the past, a street team was all about putting fliers under windshield wipers and in coffee shops. With the web, they can distribute your music to new fans, get the word out about your shows through their social networks, or even get people to sign up to your mailing lists.
The key to a successful street team is to be explicit in asking what it is you want them to do. Then, be sure to give them the tools they need to be successful. And of course, reward them for their help by offering perks, exclusive material, special shows, or free merch.
7. The Stay-Tuned Strategy
Before radio DJs head into the commercials, they announce what they’re going to play after the break. This keeps people tuned in during the break. You can adopt the same technique. Always talk about your next project when you talk about your band, whether you’re talking to the press, your fans (via your blog, on Twitter and Facebook, etc.), or other musicians.
- Your fans will keep tabs on you until that next project is released.
- The press might ask questions about your upcoming projects and write future stories.
- It gets people involved: If you don’t announce what you have planned, you might miss out on a fan who can help.
- It keeps your own band members motivated and working toward the same goals.
So it helps to have a sound bite on the tip of your tongue about what you’re doing next. Movies have trailers, and a band should have announcements of what’s to come.
As you can see, many different strategies are available to help you get noticed. There are no rules to this new music business, so we suggest experimenting with as many strategies, projects, and ideas to see what works best for you and your music. When you find something that works, keep it up; and when you find something that doesn’t help get your music noticed, just move on.
Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Together, they’re musicians who are working on their 21st album, authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual For The Do-It-Yourself Musician, 2nd Edition (Macmillan), creators of the 15-hour online course, Making Money With Music (CreativeLive), and regular contributors to Electronic Musician Magazine, including the free weekly web column, The DIY Advisor. They also teach and consult about music business.
Image by katatonia82 via ShutterStock.com.
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50 thoughts on “7 effective strategies to get your music noticed”
This article is complete rubbish for dreamers, none of this will get anyone anywhere in a world where people only pay attention when you are famous, so it’s the old cliche catch 22 situation that man kind has created!
You made an interesting comment when you mentioned that when people are trying to get their music noticed they should focus on the audiences they are trying to reach. One of my friends is thinking it would be a good idea to start a band with some of his friends, and they are hoping they can eventually perform at concerts. I would imagine that hiring a concert promoter would be a good way for them to find events and venues to perform at.
I know this was written last year but the way music is heard and found out is changing faster and faster. In my opinion its almost pointless to worry about getting noticed at all anymore. Literally millions of people are doing exactly the same thing and want their band to become the biggest thing to where even getting gigs is like pulling teeth at times. I have a small following and when I try to get gigs outside my area, clubs and even bars now expect you to have an enormous social media following, play for pennies, and don’t care how “good” you are because guess what… 10,000 other bands are trying to play too lol. My best advice is this. Try to be ambitious about the music and put it online. Then shop it out to record labels and see what they say. Thats honestly the only thing that will save you is being signed to a label. Otherwise you are on your own to deal with be-gruding bar owners and clubs who are vampires that just want to make their drink money and could care less about a music scene. Good Luck.
Great informative article by you.
Thanks for sharing 🙂
Its a tough tough industry but, like many, persistence is so key. Don’t give up, stay positive and keep active! Best way to get noticed is to stand out – so apply this to your music!
Hmm.. This is a good point.
I believe you are right when you mention people trying to be famous. I believe you should do it for the passion and don’t become a slave to the industry. I believe people try a bit too hard. I’m not saying for you to not chase your dream, but don’t become a slave. Don’t sell your soul for something that can be accomplished by hard work.
Great info! With domino effect steps.
Its sound advise, however some where easier said than done. I agree the Best way to keep your goals moving is to Stay Active, even if it means selling out side of music. Being Indie has the advantage point of Handling things IE; Music, Meets, Gigs how you want, but the down fall of no Industrial Investor at your finger tips.. so #Motivation #Dedication and #Drive are key factors every Indie Artist should have.. Hard Work = Success! #Best Wishes to every1
I’ll tell you one way to NOT get your music noticed: promoting yourself shamelessly in the comments section of a blog designed to help musicians market themselves. No one reading these comments is going to buy your music – they are trying to get noticed too. Some of you guys need a reality check. Haha!
awesome info / i am going to use it / thanks
Great promotional tactics. Thanks for the tip on radio and reviews. I was actually looking at that method to use with Almost Dawn and now know that it is probably better to start somewhere else.
All of the articles are off the chain….Thank you for sharing!! SONNY JAMES ADAMS (SONGWRITER) BMI MEMBER….THANKS FELLAS’.
This was a very good article, helpful and keeps the mind goin
Nice article and some good tips. I was inspired! Even being relatively well-known through my work I’ve done in Europe the past several years, touring world-wide, being featured in TV series, writing jingles for big companies, etc.(speaking of multi-tasking!), it’s still essential to keep the ball rolling. It’s tough to keep that up in this roller coaster industry, but it’s essential to keep thinking outside the box and stay focused.
Another idea: don’t forget where you came from! If you’re originally from a small town (like I am), be sure to tell local publications, businesses & stores about what you’re doing, where you’ve been, who you’ve worked with – people need something to be proud of and there’s nothing like tooting the horns for someone who’s “made it” from YOUR home town! Maybe the local video rental place could feature / sell your CD on their counter with a “Support _(town)_’s own _(band / artist)_!” sign. People will see your name, CD & website, plus perhaps you could have a newsletter signup sheet there, too.
Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Aina, Epica, Avantasia, Kamelot…)
Amanda………..That’s what I thought!
But guess what?
The local newspapers did not even bother to respond to an emailed open invitation to an interview with me about my music. The local shopping centres did not want to even consider my offer of putting on a free show in return for allowing me to have a table set up to sell my own Cd’s.
The local Radio Station did not even bother to reply to my email offering to come in a share my Cd’s and my story with the local community on-air.
The local people just walked by without even a blink at my stand set up with my Cd’s on display at a local council market place.
It appears that either I am living in Hicksville, and that people are so busy getting their music for nothing that the thought of paying out is an anathema to them.
As for the local Radio station…..well, they are seemingly pre-occupied with “whatever” while claiming to “Keep the local community informed”.
So guess what?
They will all get nothing from me now and I shall look for other opportunities well away from my disinterested so-called “Local Community” !
Exactly the same here. People are so completely disinterested and so used to music being free that no one hardly cares. We have a small following and even trying to get gigs outside our area is like pulling teeth….and you know why….EVERYONE IS DOING IT!! Before I was in this band I knew there were alot of people who tried to make things work for their music but when I was in that boat as well its literally millions of people with bands….and guess what they are all doing what this article is saying as well hahahha. They all have facebooks and spotify songs and are on itunes, they all have pro looking pictures and whatnot. Its so flooded getting a bar gig is even difficult. Crazy times we live in. I remember back in 2000 getting a gig was easy as hell especially if you had a few pictures and a demo….not now. Bars/clubs expect you to pack the place, play for pennies, and have an enourmous social media following. Its turning into the new record company montage everyone hated in the first place. Hope we move on with it soon.
Beaking down the objectives make it oh so much more doable.
There are hundreds of groups that do not have money even for that! Playing in bars for a penny! But they have really talented!
When it comes to networks I HIGHLY recommend Soundcloud, I’ve gotten the
best feedback and most listens/downloads there, hands down.
Now everyone does that! lol. Its only a tool to use while its new. Once millions of other bands are on it you’re just part of the overcrowded internet.
Reverbnation and twitter are excellent tools, many people I never met are diggin me now, myspace is not helping that much, but facebook is alright.
Great article, I’m goign to implement all of these tips into my own music now.
Check it at http://www.songcastmusic.com/profiles/Barrenfrost
Thanks for the info. because it gave me depth as to how to truly and professionally market my music.I’ve just finished a dance music project from the comfort of my home-recording studio and your knowledge hasn’t gone in vain.Thanks again and i appreciate what your doing for those of us who are independant and underground.Allah Bless!
I love the indie survival guide!
Hey: Randy the author from IndieGuide.com here. Thanks for the great comments. Jason and I are musicians like most of you. We just love sharing ideas about what people did to succeed on their own, and it sounds like these stories resonated with you, just like they did with us.
Mark Pinkus: We’re glad that this article was helpful for you. I think you’ll do well, because you have so many releases, we’ve seen that as you release more, your sales in your prior catalog will also grow, so it sounds like you’re in great shape. (We found the same thing, as we have 18 albums at this point, and sales for prior albums, even the much older ones, only grows with each release.)
Ameatabh Bachan: I wish to respectfully disagree: This world doesn’t need less music; it needs more of it.
Robert A. Wolf: Totally agree that becoming famous isn’t a reason to do this. But while there’s more music than ever, there’s also more places to connect with people than ever before. We run into new ones all of the time.
Tim Dorn: That’s excellent! Hope this helps your paper out.
Bucket of Fish: Yeah, budgets suck!
J.C. Actually, there’s nothing instant about any of this. Hence the long-haul strategy…
Ben Kitchens: That is a VERY effective technique. We talk about that in the book, and we use it ourselves a lot. In the end, as a musician, there’s one thing you’re aiming for: getting an audience. And that audience can be gained from a chatroom or messageboard as much as anywhere else. In fact, the labels hire teams of people to do just what you’re doing yourself.
And to the rest of you: Thanks for the comments! Good luck with your music. If you need to contact us, just go to http://www.indieguide.com/feedback/create and we’ll get back to you.
Great info. Thank you for sharing.
Well, you make it all sound simple . . . unfortunately, it’s not! The article is too “pie-in-the-sky”, unrealistic and not too practical. I guess the tips are better than sitting around and doing nothing. If you think you’re going go be an instant hit by following these guidelines, better keep your day job . . .
Hey guys, great stuff, keep it coming!
This is great advice definitely going to use some of these ideas…thanks
Those are definately some bitchin tips!
thanks alot guys, budgets are a pain in the ass!
and if anyones looking to hear some awesome ska, check us out at myspace.com/bucket0fish
playing a show with the Voodoo Glow Skulls this sunday in San Diego
hi to all music fans and music lovers ,good luck to all and much success if anyones interested plz check out my son (j-fif) he is dubbed as the new hip hop sensation with flavor like drake ,and lil wayne he was also listed as drakes ,lil wayne and soulja boys favorite rapper on youtube so when you get a chance check him out…… and let me know what you think…thanx(J.X.B.from group detroits own)
Great article, Very helpful in many ways….
I would like to offer another tip for getting your music out there. I have spent the last 4 or 5 years becoming known to people in music chatrooms. This was before I decided to record an album of my original songs. I have developed quite a fanbase using this method. My CD is due to be released somewhere around mid-January 2010 and I have announced this quite frequently. I do not pidgeon hole myself into any one genre of music; I try to please everyone even though I know that is rather idealistic thinking. Even an hour per evening spent in a music chatroom will bring results if it is done on a consistent basis. Also, one can target certain age groups this way.
Great tips! Being active in online music promotion for a few years, I have noticed a change in consumer music tastes. Many European markets are reporting a tendency towards a ‘cross genre’ appetite for new music. Many folks who normally don’t listen to (for example) film score or modern classical are starting to download more of that type of music. For my part, I have programmed a radio program at Live365 called Night Vision Classical Radio (which features a unique blend of modern classical, film score, and ambient new age) that has gathered the interest of listeners from across the globe, which indicates that preference to some degree. At the same time I am tracking my own music as part of that presentation, calling attention to my works as well.
Nice article, and good ideas. Sometimes being creative can pay off. I remember Wayne Dyer saying he went to a bookstore that carried his first book and bought all of the copies so his distributor would see there was a demand for his books and expand his distribution.