10 marketing basics for musicians

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A sound music marketing strategy starts with the basics. Build from these 10 tips and before long you’ll have a blueprint for music career success.

Music Marketing Strategy

With the barrage of new websites and blogs targeting independent artists, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to your music marketing strategy. Information and ideas are everywhere and unless you’ve got a strong marketing foundation it can feel like trying to put together a giant puzzle without being able to look at the box. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 10 marketing basics to help expose the underlying structure that makes a music marketing campaign successful.

1. The music has to be great. If your music isn’t cutting it, your time will be better spent working on that rather than coming up with a clever music marketing strategy. Trying to market bad music is like trying to conduct electricity through plastic. You can ramp up the voltage, but the charge isn’t going to go very far.

2. Get in front of people. Good internet marketing should be used in combination with live performances, not as a substitute. You have to create a live show that’s remarkable. Get in front of real people and show them why you or your band deserve their attention and their money. You’re going to have an uphill battle trying to market a band that plays mediocre shows or that doesn’t play shows at all.

3. Tell people who you are. If I happen to walk in half-way through your set, don’t make me work to find out who you are. Make sure I know your name and that I’ll remember it. Put it on your kick drum. Have a banner. Mention your name a few times.

If I meet you somewhere, be able to tell me who you are as an artist-clearly and concisely. If you can’t condense the essence of your music into a short and interesting sentence then you will have problems marketing yourself.

4. Get email addresses. Have a friend or two go around and collect emails while you play. You need a means to market to the people who want to stay in touch with you. Don’t just count on people finding out how and when to buy your CD or go to your show. Be proactive. Make your mailing list a priority and don’t miss opportunities to expand it. I went to a panel discussion over the weekend that included Ariel Hyatt. She passed around a clipboard where people could write in their email address and in return they got some cool tips on web marketing. It’s not random luck that she is a very successful publicist.

5. Connect. I’ve heard a story of how Terry McBride of the Network Music Group came up with the idea to have one of the bands he managed take a different approach to selling CDs at their shows. Typically they would mention that they had CDs for sale for $15. What they decided to try instead was telling the audience that they wanted everyone to leave with a CD and that they could pay whatever they could – even if that meant it was free. They appealed to a sense of emotional connectedness with their fans and changed the dynamic of the sale. They ended up bringing in about 4x as much money per night with this music marketing strategy! And because they had more music in circulation in the towns where they did this, they ended up dramatically increasing their turnout for future gigs.

6. Simplicity is key. There’s a saying in marketing: “The confused mind always says no.” If you’re not clear on who you are and what you want people to do then your fans won’t be either. Don’t ask people to do too many things. If you’re at a show, don’t tell people to see Joe to buy a CD, then go to Cindy to buy a T-Shirt and then be sure to find Jamal to sign up for the mailing list. You can have someone collecting email addresses, but also have a signup form at your merch booth, where you sell your merch and CDs. Send everyone there. “Don’t forget to stop by and see Janet for CDs and T-shirts.” Mention this more than once.

The same thinking applies for your website. Don’t tell people to follow you on Twitter, vote for you in a contest, buy a t-shirt and listen to the new song all at the same time. Have those options available, but be clear about what is the top priority. If you decide that the priority is for people to purchase your music, make sure that when people visit your site they can clearly see how to purchase your music.

7. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson suggests that people need to be exposed to a product an average of nine times before they will take action and buy it. Don’t expect people to come to a show because they saw a flyer. Think long term. Stay on track and keep hammering your message home.

8. Create a funnel. One strategy that affiliate marketers use is creating a number of sites that support what they call their “money site.” They’ll create sites designed to pull in and engage new people, with the ultimate goal of sending them to the money site, which is optimized to convert these visitors into customers. I recommend thinking about your social networking profiles as your supporting sites that funnel traffic to your website, which is your “money site.” Test different ideas on your main site to see what works. Tweak and optimize it so that you convert more and more of your visitors into fans and customers.

9. Ask for the sale. Don’t be shy when it comes to promoting your product and asking people to buy it. If you don’t ask people to buy what you’re selling then you probably won’t make much money. If this feels weird or uncomfortable to you, I highly recommend checking out the work of T.Harv Eker. He’s got a great book called “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind” and does seminars all over the world, many of which are free.

10. Keep score. One thing that successful artists have in common with business people is that they know the score. They keep track of the results they get and use this feedback to help guide them.

Know what you sold on any given night. Know what your net profit was on a given night. Know how many people signed up for your mailing list. Compare those numbers to the last time you played at the same venue or in the same town. Establish goals and compare your numbers to your goals. Keep track of the traffic to your website and your conversions statistics. You can set up free traffic analysis for your site at analytics.google.com.

If you sell 10 CDs on your site one day and then you decide to put a “buy now” button on your home page and you only sell 8 CDs the next day, then you might start to think it wasn’t such a good idea. If you’re keeping track of your traffic stats though, then you might see that there were 312 visitors the first day, but only 150 the second day. This means that you actually converted a much higher percentage of visitors on the second day. If that trend keeps up then you know you’ve made the right move. If you don’t know how much traffic you’re getting then you’re working in the dark.

Another benefit is being able to see where traffic to your site is coming from. If you notice a spike in traffic and you see that it’s coming from a blog that posted about you, then you can capitalize by visiting the blog and initiating a relationship, or at least leaving a comment and reinforcing your presence.

If you understand the fundamentals of marketing you’ll have a solid frame of reference to help you make sense of all the new sites and services that are constantly popping up. It’s important to know not just how or what to do, but also why. I strongly recommend reading business and marketing books to help you with your music career. You might be surprised by the insights you get by reading authors like Seth Godin, Al Reiss, Jay Conrad Levinson, and Claude Hopkins.

Article by Scott James of The Independent Rockstar Blog.

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

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20 thoughts on “10 marketing basics for musicians

  1. Hey guys, check http://cloveser.com I heard a conference from the founders and the webpage will have all the right tools for independent artists.  The down side is they’re gonna let in just a selected number of artists. The webpage is up since yesterday so check it out.  Seems to be real easy and their main goals is making international super stars from a few indie artists.  

  2. I’ve heard alot of way to get heard and seen and they are all time consuming ,if you are really trying to make it in this industry. What works well in one area dose’nt work well in another part of the country or world but they all have there time in place finding a mix of them all is what works for me. No matter what you do make sure that name is leading the way check us out on the web at http://www.highrize1.com we did alot of whats been mentioned Michigan is a tuff market.

  3. Or can anyone explain me this.
    A new Dutch indie artist releases a debut CD on their own label on Jan 29th 2010.
    And sells 60.000 CD’s in two months time.
    On Apr 1st she receives a platinum CD in Holland. Hey it’s a small country!


  4. It takes a lot for me to read a blog, and to want to read all the comments. This is what makes the net so great, a well written blog, with great comments! Well done. IF you enjoy being taken to a different world, and enjoy guitar music, please come and visit my page! I have over 200 songs, all original, on this site. I suggest you take to, and call me in the morning!
    I want to thank you for getting this guitarists mind thinking in new directions!

  5. Thanks for the comments.
    I’m not saying that live performances are not important to the artist/band and the public.
    My main point was that they are relatively unimportant in your marketing stategy if you are still unknown to the public.

    Or can anyone explain me this.
    A new Dutch indie artist releases a debut CD on their own label on Jan 29th 2010.
    And sells 60.000 CD’s in two months time.
    On Apr 1st she receives a platinum CD in Holland. Hey it’s a small country!

    How come that so may people bought the CD?
    Because they went to the concerts? Let’s assume that they had 30 gigs in two months.
    That would mean 2000 visitors a night. Not in Holland and not for a new artist.
    Or would it be because the artist was all over the media.
    TV, radio, Youtube, papers, magazines, and (maybe most important) they were in a very cool Martini video commercial.

    I think, that people attend concerts if they know the artist/band and like their music allready.
    The coming two months the artist in question now gigs 19 times in the greater venues and on festivals in Holland.
    I guess the booking agents discovered them.

    And I’m not saying that Scott is wrong. “Getting in front of people” in my opinion should not be #2 on the list.
    But that might be unintentional 😉

    Scott is right about the fact that you have to market in all sorts of ways your b(r)and and your music.

    @ Mike/ “The Glass Poets
    I’m not in this discussion to promote my band or my CD. I’m here to learn from other people.
    But now you mention it! No, just kidding.



  6. All the advice is helpful if you follow the arrows but why didn’t anyone mention their bands while commenting on this site ? ” TheGlassPoets ” Google Us and leave a message and hope you enjoy what you hear ! Thank You !
    No Sarcasms Intended !

  7. Enock,

    I agree with you about the music being the 1st priority. There are a lot of great resources out there to help make your music better. When I write I assume that your music is already taken care of before the marketing comes into the picture.

    Learning principles and strategies for marketing your music shouldn’t come at the expense of the music itself. It simply requires that you become more efficient with your time. Every one of us could get more done if we cut into wasteful activities and habits.

    When things start to click and you start to see real world results of learning how to get more people to your shows and sell more music then I think that feeling of satisfaction naturally makes you want to learn and implement high leverage activities rather than watch tv or go out drinking, or surf the internet, or whatever your distraction of choice may be.

    I understand your frustrations about their being a lot of ‘how to’ advice and people giving conflicting or confusing opinions about what to do. I felt that way for a long time. My biggest breakthroughs came from learning about marketing in a different context.

    I felt that by learning marketing from people who had nothing to do with music helped me to understand the underlying principles much better. I always felt that most of the ‘music marketing’ material that I read was more surface level ‘how to’ type stuff. If was kind of like the old analogy of giving a person a fish instead of teaching them how to fish.

    When I started reading marketing books that had nothing to do with music then I felt like I was learning how to fish. When you can see some of the structure to how these things work then it makes everything else a lot easier to interpret. Suddenly the technology doesn’t seem as confusing when you start to understand the ‘why’ as opposed to just the ‘how’. Books written decades ago can often teach you more about how to use social media than current ‘how to’ blog posts about using social media.

    I recommend ‘Startup Guide to Gorilla Marketing’ by Jay and Jeanie Levinson, “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Jack Trout and Al Reiss, and “22 Immutable Laws of Branding” by Al and Laura Reiss as great book to start with. I also highly recommend checking out Seth Godin’s blog at http://sethgodin.typepad.com.

    As far as your statement about the music taking your everywhere you want to go, yes the quality of the music is an absolutely critical factor, but if you think that the music will just take care of everything for you then you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you still need to market your music to be successful and you need to do it well to maximize your success. U2 doesn’t release an album without a plan to market it – and everybody already knows who they are. They and everyone else on their team have to work to make each release a success.

    The truth is, you’d have a hard time avoiding marketing your music even if you tried. That would basically mean that you would keep it a secret from the rest of the world and not tell anyone about it. If you’re trying to get heard then you’re marketing.

    With the major shift in the music industry independent artists now have opportunities that they’ve never had before. If you want to take advantages of those opportunities then it’s to your advantage to become a more well rounded individual who knows more about their business than musicians of the past. You don’t have to know anything about marketing to be successful, but someone on your team does. That being said, you’ll always be dependent on those people who do if you don’t want to deal with any of it yourself. If you’re lucky then that person is in your band, which is great as long as you’re with that person. If not then you’re depending on people outside of your band. The further out you go, the more dependent you are and the worse of a deal you will get.

    Somebody’s going to market your music. If it’s going to be you then it’s in your best interest to learn how to do it well. As you become more successful and you assemble a team that will handle some of the marketing responsibilities, then first off, you’re never going to be totally separated from the marketing of your own music and second, you will still be steering the ship, so you’re probably going to want to have a clue about what’s going on. Knowledge and clarity give you power.

  8. Don’t be so hard on Harry. I think we all got into music because we love to make music and not twittering, marketing and all that stuff. Some musicians maybe confused because they love to make money more than making music while taking advice from too many people who done it a certain way when that way worked for them for a short time and if this is the case then they just may be in the wrong field. That’s too much work for one person and it sounds like too many musicians are putting too much time into making money and not making music and making music is what one needs to get better at doing because if your music is excellent it will bring you before kings but if you don’t spend that time into sharpening your craft you wont have any fans because of how bad you suck at making music but you’ll be a good business man though who knows how to manipulate fans who wont be fans very long. Trust me, when your music’s good enough the fans will find you if it’s available for them to find. Keep making music, sharpening your talent and don’t focus on all that garbage.

  9. Great points. The one I see un-used the most is the one covering “no signage” and not letting people know who you are. I can’t even count how many great bands i have seen performing, but they don’t tell you who they are before and after the show, and they have NO signs or banners with their band name anywhere. My very first performance onstage included a printed banner (from KINKOS) with my band name on it, and even though some people were just popping in and out of the bar, they remembered me the next time I saw them. i refuse to play on any stage unless i have my band name banner posted somewhere onstage. It is a prime essential for me.

    As for marketing, just take a look at average bands who have thousands of fans, just because they TWITTER while on tour and all the time in-between….yes, TWITTER is goofy and annoying to use, BUT it works, even if you hate to use it…

    Another thing is to assemble street crews. you would be surprised at how many fans will post flyers and spread the word about your shows, and not get anything in return except the satisfaction of supporting a band they love.

    Another great thing to do is enter remix contest, or anything where you can post your band’s music or video in a contest…yes, they are cheesy, but it spreads the word about your band in a big way.

    One thing I NEVER do anymore is play at festivals, unless they are major festivals. Festivals were a 100% waste of my time and hardly anyone who goes tot he festivals pays any attention to the bands. they usually go just to get drunk and have fun. It’s extremely hard to get any promotion accomplished at festivals…unless they are something like SXSW, Lollapalooza, etc.


  11. My main advice is if you’re not the persevering type, do not go in the music bizz! The world is changing, record labels used to be the only way. It’s now became much more involving for the artist but somehow much gratifying too! Get involved, be out there and bring to your audience what you’d like to have for yourself…

  12. some good ideas here. something I have done at smaller gigs is have fans write name and email address on a piece of paper and have a drawing for a free CD this is a way to get there contact info and to keep in touch.


  13. This is a great post. I have to thank Harry for reminding me that there are people that don’t get it. playing live emails and all this other stuff is the only option. thanks Scott

  14. Wow, Harry, I think you’re missing the point! It may be true that “Surveys show that most people never attend live concerts”, but people who DO attend live concerts are more likely to buy your CD, buy your T-shirt, and talk about you to their friends. You probably heard about the artists in your collection from someone who heard from someone who heard from someone who saw them live. Great things grow from small seeds, and for many artists, live shows are that small seed — even today.

    Free downloads are forgettable — I might have been one of the 37000 who downloaded the free album from that Dutch band. I probably listened to it once — maybe — and deleted it. There’s usually nothing special or memorable about a free download.

    On the other hand, I’ve NEVER forgotten a great live show! I still talk about them years later. My very first live show was thirty years ago, from an artist that most people consider a “one-hit wonder”. But those live shows helped him build a foundation for a career that’s still going three decades later. He’s far from famous, but he’s still able to make a living, and it was his live performances that turned me from a casual listener to a life-long fan.

    I’m sure that there are isolated cases of musicians making a living without performing live. But far more depend on live performance as an integral part of their promotional strategy — and income. Avoid at your peril!

    1. Hi Marcello,

      Thanks for the comment. I love to see people think differently.
      But this is the way I look at today’s music bussiness. How I collect my music and how I get interested in new artists.
      And I guess you do the same.

      We’re talking about (relatively) unknown artists here. Why would I go to their concert?
      At least I have to know their music or I happen to see them on a free festival/concert.
      And how could I know their music. Nowadays mostly through the internet.
      If I want to know about a new artist I allways check out their site, Myspace etc.
      Listen to their music first and then (maybe) order a CD. And then (maybe) (if they’re in the neighbourhood) attend their concert.

      I’d say most free downloads are forgettable. I play them before I download. Saves me the trouble of deleting.
      But last few weeks I bought 3 CD’s from (unknown) bands who offered their CD as a free download. I’m pretty sure they’ll never perform in my neighbourhood.

      And most musicians that make a living from making music are musicians that are on a payroll.
      And musicians making a living without performing live are mostly songwriters that wrote world hit songs that live happily ever after in their mansions in Florida.

      I know I’m a bit cynical. But in the last 40 years I’ve seen so many outstanding artists/musicians who in the end had to have a daytime job to make a living.

      So performing to get people to know you is just a tiny part of your problem as an artist.

  15. “Get in front of people”:
    Surveys show that most people never attend live concerts. 99,99% of my LP’s, CD’s and DVD’s (about 1500) are from artists I’ve never seen in my life. Still I bought them because I heard of these artists through various media and also from my friends. So how long will it take as a new artist to reach say 5000 people through live concerts? Especially in small venues with 50 people present.

    So maybe new artists should focus on internet marketing, start with your friends email addresses and ask them to promote you with their friends. And of course you need a good website with your first recordings to download for free.
    A Dutch band offered their new CD on a torrent site for free and they had 37.000 downloads from all over the world in the first week! How’s that for promotion. Will they earn a lot of money? Probably not but a lot of people know about them and that’s a start.

    “Get email addresses”:
    Don’t think so. I will never give my email address to a stranger. Give them a bussiness card with your website’s address. Or put the website’s name on your kickdrum. And let them know that they can download your music for free or buy your CD when they mail you. Make them curious to visit your website.

    “Keep score”:
    Most musicians/artists I know are not bussiness man. Even if they read all the blogs and books about “how to market yourself as an artist”. They wanna make music.
    And as my father allways told me: “You’ll never get rich working. You’ll only get rich if you’re a merchant”!
    Buy and sell other peoples goods, knowledge, art, music and what not. And if you’re not a merchant find a good manager or have a nice daytime job.

    And remember the music industry is not about making good music! And the hotel industry is not about Paris Hilton.
    Live up to your dreams or take an exit.


    1. Hi Harry. I agree with you in some respects, but disagree much so as well.

      Live shows are where “moments” are created. One fan who was moved by a live performance quickly becomes many fans. Also, live shows are where the writers and DJs form their opinions of the artists they’ve heard of. Live performance is where people who were kinda interested in your music turn into your street team, become die hard “I’ll buy whatever you put out” fans, choose to promote you in an article, or become impressed enough to recommend you to their station’s program director.

      Collecting emails is really quite easy, and most people under 40 aren’t jaded enough to be so concerned with opting in to an artist’s mailing list. I agree that business cards and banners are also good, but gathering email addresses really isn’t as hard as you think, especially if you’re offering incentives like a free tune.

      I agree that most musicians are not businessmen straight outta the gate. However, a little applied knowledge can go a looooong way. Marketing is like learning a sport: most of the tactics are fairly simple, though you’ll only get good if you get on the field. Any artists that are actually actively applying what they learn from blogs and books will see some results, and by simply tracking those results, optimal areas of focus will become clear. Just throw everything up on the wall and see what sticks.

      Managers will always be helpful and useful because switching from wearing the musician hat to wearing the marketing hat takes a bit of time for the state of mind to catch up. People focused on their own expertise and working together will usually produce great results. Still, this should be what one does to take their careers to the next level, when demand for their music is so high as to require assistance in MANAGING the work load. It’s always wiser to know your manager’s job before you hire him/her anyway. Telling yourself that it’s “not the kind of stuff I’m good at” or “I can’t think like that” or “I don’t know what to do” is all crap. It’s a cop-out to avoid stepping up to the plate. If you’re not good (or don’t even know if you are), take a swing at it, learn, calibrate and swing again. It’s that simple.

      People are so afraid of discomfort in the moment that they’ll settle for discomfort as a standard of living. There definitely is a level of entrepreneurship required to be a successful independent musician. The thing most artists don’t realize is that entrepreneurship isn’t about smarts, esoteric knowledge or some inborn talent. It’s just taking action – trial and error… and not wasting time getting hung up on negative criticism or praise. Hear it, and then get back to action!

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