You need to promote your music on YouTube, but you can’t be cavalier about it if you want to make progress. It’s a big undertaking, and it can be incredibly rewarding.
It’s not a mystery why musicians want to be on YouTube. It’s the second-most visited website in the world (behind Google) and it is the number one most popular social media site, surpassing Facebook this year.1 One billion videos are viewed on YouTube every single day, and every minute, 500 minutes of video are uploaded to the site.
But it’s not just its sheer popularity that makes it attractive to musicians. YouTube has a history of breaking new artists (e.g., Justin Bieber, The Weekend, Pentatonix), it offers the ability to earn money via ad revenue streams, and it even has a platform for promoting artists, called YouTube for Artists.
So, why you should be on YouTube as an independent musician is a given. How to stand out from the rest of the millions of artists trying to promote their music on YouTube is the tricky bit, but we can help you get started.
There’s work involved
Before we begin, just a reminder that to properly promote yourself on YouTube, you are essentially signing up for a part-time job. You can’t just post a few videos with a couple of hashtags and expect the masses to follow. This is going to be an ongoing process. You’re going to have to constantly keep things fresh with new music and content. Also, understanding how the YouTube algorithm works is essential for your music career.
Creating your channel
In order to post videos on YouTube, you need to create your own channel. This is easy to do and you can find the instructions to make a YouTube channel here. Just remember to name your YouTube channel after your band’s name or your stage name so fans will know where to find you.
Optimizing your channel
Once your channel is created, you’re going to want to customize it. Simply click the blue “Customize Channel” button on your channel homepage and you’ll be taken to YouTube Studio.
These are the things your channel needs to look professional and maintain eyeballs.
Part of becoming a serious player on YouTube is looking professional, and every professional musician who is working his/her YouTube channel has a great-looking banner on their page. Use a professional photograph or illustration.
You can take a page out of Taylor Swift’s playbook and use this space to promote your newest release.
When someone first comes to your profile page, a trailer will play. As a musician, this is where you are going to want to post your latest video.
Notice how Taylor Swift includes all the most important information about her new single, “Anti-Hero,” including which album it’s from, and a link to buy, download, or stream the song.
She also includes a link to a new promotion connected to the song, the “Anti-Hero challenge.” If you click on that, it takes you to a short, inviting users to share their “anti-heroic traits,” complete with the hashtag: #TSAntiHeroicChallenge. So, TS isn’t just hitting you with a new song, but an entire campaign built around that song. This kind of music marketing strategy offers a nice way to build community, spread the word, and encourage active participation from your fan base.
3. Featured video for returning subscribers
The trailer will automatically play for people who are visiting your channel but who haven’t subscribed yet. But for returning subscribers, you can also choose a video labeled as “Featured video for returning subscribers.” It’s a good idea to choose a different video for this, as you’ll want to keep your channel page fresh for your returning fans. Note: This featured video will only play once. If a subscriber comes back again, a different video, one grabbed from your “Featured Videos” section, will play instead.
4. An organized feed
Give your fans some structure so they know where to find the videos they want — plus, your organization will give them a sense of the kinds of videos you offer. Think of it like the way Netflix organizes its browsing.
Artist Doja Cat organizes her videos into these sections: Music Videos, Albums & Singles, Acapella Videos, Doja Appearances, and Shorts.
Obviously, if you want to promote your music on YouTube, you’re going to want to make some videos to post there. Be creative and fun. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to hire a professional crew to help you make an official video. People just want to see your talent and personality shine through. Play to your strengths. If you’re a great singer, or killer drummer, or amazing lyricist, be sure to make videos that focus on that.
1. Release schedule
You are going to need to post videos regularly — at least once a month, preferably once a week (or even more) if you can. After all, you want people to return to your channel over and over again. Whatever schedule you choose, be consistent so fans will know when to come back for fresh content.
As for what time of day to release your content, be sure to check your channel’s analytics, which will let you know when your fans are most likely to tune in.
2. So much content, so few ideas
If you’re wondering how you’re going to come up with ideas to post that much content, here are some starter ideas:
- Host a Q&A session
- Livestream a performance (take requests from your video feed!)
- Behind-the-scenes clips of your next video or live show
- Do multiple videos for one song: official video, acoustic, acapella, instrumental, remix, etc.
For more ideas, I found a cool list of 30 YouTube Content Ideas for Musicians, but also, ask your fans what they want to see.
3. Cover songs
This is maybe the most important kind of video content you can post, at least until you get your own following. Covering more popular songs is a good way to leverage those songs’ success for your own ends and attract potential fans.
Remember to put as much energy and creativity into these cover songs as your own tunes as these are likely going to be the videos that bring in new fans. Make your covers distinctive. After all, you’re not background music. You’re trying to expose people to your musical voice.
As for what kinds of covers to do, you can just follow your artistic heart and cover your favorite songs — and you should do that — but you can also take a more data-driven approach and start doing some YouTube searches to see what covers people are actively looking for. You’ll want to choose songs that are popular but haven’t been covered to death, otherwise, you’ll have a hard time standing out.
If you do want to cover a song that has been frequently covered, make sure you have a unique approach that people will search for. For example, “Stairway to Heaven cover” isn’t going to get you noticed, but “Stairway to Heaven rap cover” might do the trick.
As for how to know which search terms people are popular, you should look into getting a keyword research tool. Here is a list of some popular choices.
Shorts are YouTube’s answer to TikTok, and it seems to be working. (Shorts now have 1.5 billion active users, compared to TikTok’s one billion.)
Shorts are for videos under one minute long and they offer new ways to attract potential fans and viewers. People who mostly consume shorts are unlikely to stumble upon your long-form videos, so it’s a good idea to produce both.
Until recently, there was a problem with the YouTube algorithm where people who viewed your Shorts weren’t counted with the people who watched your regular videos, but that has been fixed now. Or, at least, it’s being fixed. Here is a helpful video about YouTube Shorts that discusses the changes to the algorithm and suggests why you need to be jumping on the Shorts bandwagon now. It even offers up tips on how to do it. (In general, TubeBuddy offers great how-to content for optimizing and promoting your YouTube channel. TubeBuddy is also an add-on that you can purchase to help you optimize your YouTube channel, discover more powerful keywords, find which videos have become demonetized, and more. Its users seem to like it, though I have not tried it personally.)
Shorts content is usually different from long-form content, not just in length, but in attitude and production value. There’s more of a DIY aspect to them. Of course, you can repurpose your longer videos into Shorts. Just find out which parts of your longer videos get the most plays and turn them into Shorts.
Like and subscribe!
Remember, always ask people to like and subscribe. Try to find ways to get them to comment. Have them make suggestions or answer questions. Get people involved on your music channel. And at the same time, stay engaged with them. If someone asks a question in the comments, be sure to respond. People love it when musicians reply to them.
Optimize your YouTube SEO
You not only want to make sure your content is as solid as it can be, but you want your video posts to be as effective as possible so the YouTube search engine will find you and your fans will be able to get to the information and content they desire.
An optimized video will have the following: a well-chosen title, a description jam-packed with links to all your social media accounts and websites, and keywords.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but your title is important, so be sure to give it some thought. After all, your video’s title will show up on search results, so it will play a huge role in determining whether or not someone clicks on your video. In fact, the words you put in your title may even determine if your video shows up at all. So, don’t just put the song title, be sure to list your name and whatever vital keywords you think will cause your video to show up in search results. More about that in #3 below.
If people are interested in your video, they’re going to want to know more about what it is they’re seeing. This is where you provide that information, along with links, links, and more links.
Check out the description for a recent video from Ed Sheeran. Not only does he have links to his YouTube channel and an Ed Sheeran playlist, but also links to all of his social media accounts. This link takes you to a page with links to every streaming service and store where you can hear his new album. Plus, he includes all the lyrics to his song and an updated biography, a trend I’ve been noticing lately.
Just like with any search engine, keywords are king when it comes to your ability to be found. I recommended using a keyword search tool earlier. Beyond that, I’m not going to go into much detail about keywords because this kind of thing changes, but here is a good video I found on the subject to get you started.
Unlike the major artists, where fans are actively searching for their music, you have to draw people in. And one way to do this is through YouTube (Google) ads. Yes, you can afford to buy ads on YouTube, often for just 5¢ per view.
This is a huge topic and we could do an entire article on it, or I can just steer you to a video that offers helpful tips on how to best use Google ads for your music.
Interact with other channels
Like and subscribe to other artists and channels that play your genre of music. Reach out to them. Go out of your way to write thoughtful comments on other artists’ videos. If your comment gets a lot of likes — or gets pinned to the top — it will also get you a lot of attention.
YouTube is just the start…
Even though YouTube Shorts have overtaken TikTok, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be on TikTok. In fact, you should be on every social media platform and they should all direct people to your Spotify and Apple Music profiles and your own website . After all, each platform’s algorithms are different (and often change), so a video that does poorly on one platform may blow up on another. Leverage music promotion services to gain exposure on the top streaming platforms to gain streams and sales on your next album.